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TV review: Storyville: Praying for Armageddon, Spacey Unmasked, and Red Eye

24 May 2024

BBC/Upnorth Film/Michael Rowley

Evangelicals protest at the Lincoln Memorial in Storyville: Praying for Armageddon (BBC4 Tuesday of last week)

Evangelicals protest at the Lincoln Memorial in Storyville: Praying for Armageddon (BBC4 Tuesday of last week)

BBC4 should have prefaced Storyville: Praying for Armageddon (Tuesday of last week) with a hefty “viewer alert”, warning the less perceptive that, while its underlying message remained terrifyingly current, its context was significantly out of date — more historical record than contemporary reportage.

We are familiar with exposés of the vast power and influence of the US Evangelical Right, which adheres to literal interpretation of, and delight in, the Bible’s — and especially Revelation’s — most violent passages. For Christians of this tendency, Jesus will return not as a harbinger of peace, but as a bloodstained warrior leading his righteous army in the final world battle — a physical event about to happen very soon indeed. So, you need to keep stockpiling and practising with your arsenal of weapons.

Jesus’s return is, of course, devoutly to be longed for; so Christians must do all they can to hasten that day. Practically, that means helping Israel to drive out the heathen Palestinians from God’s Holy Land. War engulfing the entire Middle East? It’s foretold in scripture; so bring it on! Vast sums are sent to bolster Israel’s most aggressive legal, political, and military policies, and, appallingly, far too many US politicians, those controlling its decisions, support this scenario. It is unclear, however, whether they actually believe it, or whether it provides them with a huge electoral advantage for their personal ambition.

All this is essential knowledge for understanding US-Israeli relations; but the film has taken a year to reach UK screens, and, even then, was significantly out of date. It implies that Donald Trump is still President, knows nothing of Joe Biden, and does not analyse whether the storming of the Capitol was a playing out of its perpetrators’ dream of righteous violence, and yet gave no sign that God was fighting alongside them. Above all, it hasn’t heard of the war in Gaza; so, while it presents essential background information, the complete absence of contemporary events undermines any essential urgency in its message.

A different range of scruples presents difficulties in acceptance of the recent Spacey Unmasked (Channel 4, 6 and 7 May). While acknowledging that the actor had been cleared of all charges in both US and UK courts, it presented a succession of other men claiming that he had sexually abused them. Is this trial by television? Should we accept these stories without forensic evidence? In themselves, the testimonies were disturbing enough, with a distressing ring of truth: the grimly familiar story that power and prestige overwhelmed victims, even when they foiled the advances,and of lives blighted with shame and guilt, sometimes more than three decades after the alleged events.

In the thriller series Red Eye (ITV1, Sundays), an overnight flight to Beijing descends from opening brilliance to concluding over-egged cliché: try to avoid the grisly Doubting Thomas scene in which, to retrieve vital evidence, a hand is literally thrust into our hero’s side.

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