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Radio review: Forgiveness: Stories from the front line and The Moral Maze

16 February 2024


Rosemary West, portrayed at her trial. In Forgiveness: Stories from the front line (Radio 4, weekdays of last week), the sister of one of her victims expressed pity for her

Rosemary West, portrayed at her trial. In Forgiveness: Stories from the front line (Radio 4, weekdays of last week), the sister of one of her victims ...

PAUL’s story perfectly lends itself to shlock treatment. As his assailant held above his head the heavy oak door that would surely crush him to death, he met the man’s eyes and saw only fear. These were the same eyes into which he was now staring, months later: the eyes of a terrified prisoner.

There is, thankfully, little of this kind of narration in Forgiveness: Stories from the front line (Radio 4, weekdays of last week), which has returned for a second series (the first was broadcast in July 2022). The five accounts of wrongdoing and redemption are told with a concision and clarity that allow the drama to speak for itself. Other than the occasional plangent piano chord, the clichés of trauma narratives are largely absent. It is to the great credit of the presenter and interviewer, Marianna Cantacuzino, that these stories come unadorned with portentous commentary.

The psychologies of forgiveness which these episodes reveal are varied and complex. Paul was given the chance to meet one of his assailants as part of a restorative-justice programme. The process represented for him an assertion of strength over the intruder who had made him feel so vulnerable. Marian Partington — the sister of Lucy, who died at the hands of the Wests — expressed her pity for Rosemary in some vivid language drawn from Buddhism: her sister’s killer was an impoverished soul, poisoned by greed, hatred, and ignorance.

Friday’s episode engaged with a story of institutional failure: Tobi Steven, a student failed by NHS mental-health services. In such a case, the admission of personal responsibility goes only so far, and forgiveness is meaningless without a commitment to change.

The Moral Maze has a track record in hyperbole and grandstanding, but of late has turned down the volume. Certainly, last week’s episode (Radio 4, Wednesday), on immigration, was a good deal more sedate than many programmes on this topic. I confess that I tuned in to hear if anybody would have a go at the Church of England; but everybody was being, in the words of Tim Stanley, “damnably reasonable”.

Richard Tice said something silly about cricket, but, otherwise, I could hear no difference between what he was saying — about not imposing large numbers of immigrants on already socially deprived neighbourhoods — and Canon Giles Fraser’s call for “immigration by consent”. All agreed that it was difficult to acknowledge the challenges of immigration without being deemed racist; but then everyone talked openly of those challenges. So, not that difficult, after all.

Radio 3 has just announced a “digital extension” to its scheduled programmes, designed to help “listeners unwind, destress, and escape the pressures of daily life”. It will include strands with titles such as “Mindful Mix” and “Ultimate Calm”, and promotes the branding of classical music as aural Ritalin. But what of those who don’t endure constant pressure or stress, yet, for fear of appearing trivial or superficial, would never dare admit as much — the great, silent mass of the contented?

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