Saturday, June 22, 2013


It struck me today that one of the things that I do that simply isn't reflected in my blogging is watch a lot of television drama. I love the small screen. Why? Well, I love stories; and the big screen simply doesn't tell stories very well: it tends to hide weak characterisation and plot behind big visual impact. Two hours isn't long enough to develop a story - even trilogies tend to attempt to go one better than the film before on impact more often than attempt to take us on a journey. Eight or ten 50-minute episodes allows a story to be told (and the BBCs The Hour shows that you can have amazing attention to visual impact through colour, rather than big budget set piece special effects). I like story-telling; but I don't read very well - reading takes such an effort for me (a consequence of dyspraxia and dyslexia) that I very rarely get more than two-thirds of the way through a novel, however engaging I find it. So I watch a lot of TV drama.

Earlier this year, we watched Broadchurch (ITV). Seaside town is rocked by the death, in suspicious circumstances, of a young boy. As a Whodunnit it didn't work: the identity of the person responsible was telegraphed by the refusal of the investigating officer to believe that anyone could be unaware if someone close to them was a killer. But then, I would suggest that Broadchurch was not a Whodunnit, but an exploration of what such an event does to a community. And as such, it was excellent. At first, the town turns on itself: everyone is a suspect; everyone has secrets, and, as those secrets are dragged into the public glare, more than one person who had moved to the town to rebuild their life after some sorrow or other finds their life made unbearable once more.

In Broadchurch, everyone is a complex character. And yet the script-writers do something very interesting: every character is likeable. Not in a too-good-to-be-true way, but in a people-are-both-flawed-and-yet-still-likeable way. This is a truth we need to be reminded of, when tempted to dislike our neighbours.

The town goes on a journey, from turning against itself to coming together, in order to rebuild their lives. Interestingly - unusually in fiction, though an accurate observation of real events - the vicar and the church building plays a central role in this process, despite the vicar's own struggles as an alcoholic in recovery, despite the suspicion with which clerics are tarred in relation to young boys, despite the irrelevance of the church for many most of the time.

A second series has been commissioned. It will be interesting to see where the story goes.

More recently we have watched The Fall (BBC). Sexually predatory female police officer heads up the hunt for sexually predatory male serial killer. In many ways, each is the mirror of the other. Both see themselves as outside, and above, 'herd' morality. As such, neither is as interesting as they believe themselves to be. Nor as unique, for it turns out that moral ambivalence runs through everyone. When we write our own rules, it turns out that we have no originality in us.

Whereas in Broadchurch every character is in some sense likeable, in The Fall there is not one likeable character in the entire cast. And this, too, is a very honest portrayal of people: a great many of whom are quite unlikable, if how we feel about others, and behave ourselves, is any guide. Honest, but without any sense of hope.

I don't believe that the Church has a monopoly on hope, and I certainly wouldn't want the church portrayed as the place of hope in every drama, but hope is necessary. It must be found somewhere: and it must be found somewhere outside of ourselves; must be found and cherished with others.

A second series has been commissioned. While I suspect awards will be won, I'm not sure I can be bothered to keep watching.

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