I’ve been sampling a few TV dramas of late, and while some deal with religious themes it’s usually peripheral, as if the programme makers are either unwilling or incapable of more depth when it comes to religious faith.
The Split (BBC1, Tuesdays) captures relationship conflict and family dysfunction in a credible way. The first few episodes of this second season have been entirely absorbing, with skillful writing and pacing. For all that’s happening on the surface, there’s much that’s hinted or hidden. Sometimes it seems like there’s a subtle second script bubbling away in the background – what characters say carries more meaning than their actual words.
It features a family of lawyers – a mother and three daughters – dealing with divorce, pre-nuptial agreements and the like. Their own lives are often as messy as the lives of their clients.
Despite the immoral goings on, I think it does have a moral sense at its core. We watch the damaging effects of adultery on children, and how otherwise likeable characters foolishly risk their families and marriages by indulging in marital infidelity. It’s tough to watch the emotional destruction at times, and I don’t think the show is necessarily promoting any of these behaviours.
Maybe, if anything, it’s staying neutral or perhaps offering subtle but salutary warnings.
Abortion features in at least two story arcs and the line taken seems to be that it’s an available choice, but the wrong one. There are a few gay couples but I didn’t feel like I was being hammered over the head with an agenda. In the first series, one of the husbands was seen to be a serious Christian, with the couple attending a pre-marriage course, but this angle hasn’t resurfaced yet.
The acting is excellent throughout (especially by Nicola Walker and Stephen Mangan) and the closeness of the three sisters involved is touching. It’s certainly a drama for adults – frank but not exploitative, though one scene last week went a bit too far in the ‘adult content’ department.
The Welsh drama series Hidden (BBC4, Saturday nights) is a dark, slow-moving affair. Not as dark as the first series, it’s disturbing enough in its story of the killing of an alleged child abuser. Annes Elwy is chilling as a calculating and destructive teenager, though she does elicit some sympathy considering her unpleasant uncaring mother and the mother’s latest live-in boyfriend.
Last Saturday’s episode was particularly atmospheric with the victim’s funeral service taking place in a fog shrouded church set in the rugged Welsh countryside. The pastor’s sermon was quite strong as he called for those with information to come forward – one young man’s conscience was suitably disturbed.
Some said they were not religious but were going on out respect and the event led to some other religious discussions. The main policeman (Sion Alun Davies ) was in two minds about whether he’d have his child baptised; the female detective (Sian Reese-Williams) was more open to religious faith and had fond memories of being consoled by a sympathetic vicar when he mother died. Unfortunately the same episode featured a crude scene that was gratuitously suggestive.
Like the other shows, Baghdad Central (Channel 4, Monday nights) has its share of bad language but is quite tense, enthralling and very earnest. Waleed Zuaiter is in fine form as an Iraqi policeman investigating the disappearance of his daughter who has perhaps joined the insurgency against the American and British – occupiers or liberators, depending on your political point of view.
The human drama is well portrayed and the political context well developed too. We see these characters under Saddam Hussein, and later in the fragmented post-Saddam era, with US army personnel seen as arrogant and culturally insensitive, while a British official alternates between apparent concern and outright sleaze. Considering the cultural context, I thought more could have been made of religious issues and tensions, but there’s very little so far.
On a lighter note, The Windsors (Channel 4, Tuesdays) is a rather crude and unsubtle send-up of the British royal family. The mimicry is well done, and it’s bang up to date topical, with focus on the withdrawal of Prince Harry and Meghan from royal duties and sly references to Prince Andrew and Jeffrey Epstein. More slapstick than satire, the approach is rather scattergun with an unnecessary smattering of foul language and more than a touch of cruelty.
Like the others, it’s not the most comfortable of viewing.
Pick of the Week
Stations of the Cross
BBC2, Saturday (night), March 7, 1.45am
(Film) Fourteen-year-old Maria is undergoing instruction within a strict fundamentalist Catholic order to prepare for her Confirmation. Challenging.
BBC Radio 4, Sunday, March 8, 7.10am
Topical religious affairs with William Cawley.
EWTN, Tuesday (night), March 10, 3.30am, also Friday, March 13, 7am
Exploring Pope Pius XII’s response to the Nazi persecution of Jews, revealing how his discreet yet decisive actions saved tens of thousands of Jewish lives.