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TV review: The BAFTA Television Awards

17 May 2024


Timothy Spall after winning the Leading Actor at The BAFTA Television Awards (BBC1, Sunday), for his portrayal of Peter Farquhar in The Sixth Commandment

Timothy Spall after winning the Leading Actor at The BAFTA Television Awards (BBC1, Sunday), for his portrayal of Peter Farquhar in The Sixth Commandm...

RELIGION played an unexpectedly large part in The BAFTA Television Awards (BBC1, Sunday). Not because there was a category for Best Religious Programme — don’t be silly! — but because two of the award-winners enthusiastically placed God at the head of their list of thank-yous.

Jasmine Jobson (Best Supporting Actress) was forthright: “First of all, I want to thank God,” a testimony only slightly undermined by her subsequent effusive declarations of how much she loved every member of the cast, crew, her family, BAFTA, and, finally, everyone.

Gbemisola Ikumelo (Best Female Performance in a Comedy) went even further: “Let’s get a bit Black Church in here,” she demanded, proclaiming “God is good!” The gathering included enough people familiar with the responsory to roar back “God is good!” It took two black women to come out in this way; mainstream Britain’s last remaining closet is to admit publicly that you’re a Christian. Eventually, a handful of white males might be empowered into similarly standing up to be counted.

More positively, it pointed towards the wide diversity and inclusion that the event showcased. Whatever mountains still remain for our society and culture to climb, here, in TV’s most public face, every kind of difference — same-sex spouses; cross-dressing; racial, physical, and neural disability — was not just accepted but celebrated, with the kind of whoops and yells that I certainly wouldn’t permit in our church.

Dame Floella Benjamin’s long journey from children’s TV presenter to House of Lords was sealed with the BAFTA Fellowship: her rousing acceptance a call to arms that such national shames as the Windrush scandal must never recur. Ellie Simmonds, as she collected the Single Documentary Award for her Finding My Secret Family, delivered a similarly moving appeal for far more of us to foster and adopt children with disabilities, enabling lives like hers to flourish and flower.

But religion, Christian religion, even the Church of England variety, was, above all, celebrated — if only subliminally by those who had watched the series — by the award given to The Sixth Commandment, and personally as Leading Actor to its star, Timothy Spall (TV, 28 July 2023). This superlative TV series dramatised the true story of the chilling murders of Peter Farquhar and Ann Moore-Martin in Maids Moreton in 2015, for once presenting personal faith and church life as admirable and serious — wholly inadequate protection against pure evil when brilliantly plotted and executed.

The only downside to Mr Spall’s entirely deserved accolade was that it trumped Steve Coogan’s similarly astonishing portrayal of Jimmy Saville in BBC1’s The Reckoning (TV, 20 October 2023). But what message do our best TV dramas deliver by re-enacting true stories of vile abusers who hid their crimes behind extravagant public displays of Christian faith and action?

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