Religion gets some fair treatment on the box

Religion gets some fair treatment on the box Kate Winslet, Jean Smart and Neal Huff star in a scene from the television show Mare of Easttown on Sky Atlantic. Photo: Courtesy HBO.

Sometimes I have to leave the room when I think someone is going to give away crucial plot twists in a TV drama series, so have no fear that I’ll include spoilers this week.

I’ve largely enjoyed the new crime drama series The Pact which finished on BBC One, Tuesday of last week. It was the story of a group of female brewery workers who engaged in a conspiracy (not far-right!) to cover up a potential crime, a prank gone wrong. One of them kneels at her bedside to say her prayers after insisting on the cover up and later we see her in church in a touching conversation with one of the others who is an ex-prisoner on probation and can’t afford to get mixed up in anything remotely illegal. She has several touching conversations with her local clergyman about her purpose in life though at another level she is morally compromised. The clergyman has issues of his own but his character is underdeveloped.

Effective mix

It’s an effective mix of conspiracy, paranoia, moral dilemma, tight plotting and excellent ensemble acting, though with the usual woke elements – especially in relation to same-sex relationships – and relatively restrained ‘adult content’. We also get to see people for whom religion is an important part of their lives, however much they struggle with its challenges. Another struggle features an unplanned pregnancy- the father tries to bully the woman into having an abortion but she resists, and there’s a touching scene where we see the unborn baby in an ultrasound. The pro-choice rhetoric is there but the pro-life choice is seen as the better one. There were several high impact plot developments in last week’s episodes, though I wasn’t so enamoured with the morally questionable ending.

Mare of Easttown (Sky Atlantic) is another hard-hitting drama series just finished last week. It’s a tightly plotted crime drama, but like the best of them the emphasis is as much on character and relationships as it is on figuring out whodunit. There are plenty of surprises and unexpected plot twists as the murder of a troubled girl is investigated by Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet), a cop with quite an amount of her own baggage, as is the way with most TV cops these days.

Positive treatment

The treatment of religion is pretty positive overall, though the spectre of clerical child abuse hovers. There are a few excellent sermon scenes and themes of forgiveness and redemption are strong. Church attendance is unnaturally large in one of these scenes, but it’s a useful dramatic device for gathering most key players in one place. There’s a benign view of a same-sex relationship, prominent enough though ultimately it feels tokenistic, ticking the diversity box. The language is foul, worse than I’ve come across for a long time. The profanities are particularly grating and strangely gratuitous. Does the scriptwriter not trust his story to be gritty and hard-hitting enough without all this? Mare Sheehan is particularly foul-mouthed, but Ms Winslet excels in the role, conveying a whole range of troubled emotions.

New series

While these shows were finishing, a new series, Time (BBC One, Sunday) was just getting started. I’m not particularly a fan of prison drama, but when I heard this one was written by Jimmy McGovern (Broken, Moving On, The Street) I thought I’d have a look, and I’m hooked after the very promising first episode. Sean Bean plays a teacher jailed for killing a man while driving drunk. The disorientation, even terror, he feels in his first few days in jail is palpable and makes for uncomfortable viewing. There’s a low level of unpredictable violence, and certainly some arrogant and even psychotic prisoners, but there’s also a warm and understanding humanity. This is particularly evident in the emotional visiting scenes, where we see a variety of prisoners engaging positively with their families. Middle aged Mark (the Sean Bean character) is visited by his aging and worried parents in a particularly poignant moment.

Mark is uncertain when asked about his religion and ultimately declares himself a lapsed Catholic. Always kind and obliging he agrees to help when Sr Marie-Louise from the Catholic chaplaincy asks him to help with some young students on a visit to the prison. When she asks he says “I’m not into God I’m afraid”, whereupon she replies cheerfully “You don’t know what you’re missing!”


Pick of the week
Everybody Loves Raymond
Channel 4 Sunday June 13, 6.15 am

Prodigal Son: Debra challenges Ray on why he doesn’t go to Mass with the rest of the family.

Sunday Morning Live
BBC One Sunday June 13, 10.30 am

Return of the topical magazine show hosted by Sean Fletcher, covering the week’s talking points and exploring the ethical and religious issues of the day.

Faith and Life
EWTN Sunday June 13, 5 pm and Tuesday June 15, 11 am

Host Campbell Miller speaks with Fr Richard Gibbons, the rector of Knock Shrine, scene of the apparitions of Our Lady, St Joseph, St John and the Lamb of God in 1879.