Archive for the 'Television' Category

This and that

May 7, 2015

A few quick notes about items of interest:

Wolf Hall: I mentioned before that a television mini-series dramatizing Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall is being broadcast. I myself haven’t seen any of it, but I have noticed a fair bit of commentary. When I read the book I complained about the slanted characterization of St Thomas More. At, Nancy Bilyeau unpacks the historical accuracies — or lack thereof — of the adaptation. Spoilers abound. (Hat-tip: Supremacy and Survival)


Chesterton: An appreciative essay on GKC from an unexpected source: The Atlantic. James Parker writes with a certain cheeky abandon, but with what strikes me as a good understanding of the man:

Chesterton was a journalist; he was a metaphysician. He was a reactionary; he was a radical. He was a modernist, acutely alive to the rupture in consciousness that produced Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”; he was an anti-modernist (he hated Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”). He was a parochial Englishman and a post-Victorian gasbag; he was a mystic wedded to eternity. All of these cheerfully contradictory things are true, and none of them would matter in the slightest were it not for the final, resolving fact that he was a genius.

Parker doesn’t try to hide the fact that Chesterton’s prose is something of an acquired taste, but then that is true of many good things in life:

His prose, if you don’t like it, is an unnerving zigzag between flippancy and bombast—and somewhere behind that, even more unnerving, is the intimation that these might be two sides of the same thing. If you do like it, it’s supremely entertaining, the stately outlines of an older, heavier rhetoric punctually convulsed by what he once called (in reference to the Book of Job) “earthquake irony.” He fulminates wittily; he cracks jokes like thunder. His message, a steady illumination beaming and clanging through every lens and facet of his creativity, was really very straightforward: get on your knees, modern man, and praise God.

It’s a funny and enjoyable essay, and I’d like to know more about this James Parker.


TS Eliot: Speaking of Eliot, the 52 Authors series continues at Light on Dark Water, and the most recent entry, written by Maclin Horton, is on his poetry. Don’t neglect to read the long comment by Cailleachbhan as well. Meanwhile, at the University Bookman, Martin Lockerd reviews a volume of Eliot’s correspondence, and at The Hudson Review William H. Pritchard reviews a collection of his early prose. So many books, so little time.

More on Mantel’s malicious More

January 24, 2015

My central complaint about Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell novels was her “mean-spirited and calumnous” treatment of Thomas More, whom she portrayed as “a remorseless kill-joy and sadist.” (I am quoting myself.) At the time I recommended Peter Ackroyd’s biography of More for its more balanced appraisal.

Today I came across an even better, because more intimate, assessment of More’s character:

In a word, if you want a perfect model of friendship, you will find it in no one better than in More. In society he is so polite, so sweet-mannered, that no one is of so melancholy a disposition as not to be cheered by him, and there is no misfortune that he does not alleviate. Since his boyhood he has so delighted in merriment, that it seems to be part of his nature…

In human affairs there is nothing from which he does not extract enjoyment, even from things that are most serious. If he converses with the learned and judicious, he delights in their talent; if with the ignorant and foolish, he enjoys their stupidity. He is not even offended by professional jesters. With a wonderful dexterity he accommodates himself to every disposition. As a rule, in talking with women, even with his own wife, he is full of jokes and banter.

In other words, hardly the crabbed old vulture of Mantel’s imagination. These words come from the pen of Erasmus, the great humanist of the age and no sycophant. Read the whole thing at Supremacy and Survival.

From the same source I learn that there is a new television programme based on Mantel’s novels, which more than justifies a renewed critical look at her portrayal.

(Incidentally, to base a television programme on those books seems an odd choice considering that their greatest merits are distinctly literary: their tone, diction, and even grammar, none of which translate well to the screen.)

Father Brown on the BBC

January 24, 2013

I’ve just learned that a new television series based on Chesterton’s Father Brown stories has been made by the BBC. The ten episodes of the first (only?) season have aired over the past two weeks.

I am not a huge enthusiast for the Father Brown stories, but I’ll probably make an effort to see a bit of this. Episodes can apparently (I haven’t tried it) be viewed online for another week or so.

Does it seem odd to anyone else that all ten episodes have aired in the space of just a couple of weeks? Is that a normal thing in the UK? Here in the colonies episodes would normally air on a weekly basis.

Anyway, if anyone has seen the programme and cares to offer an opinion, I’d be interested to hear it.

All of this reminds me that I forgot to post something at The Hebdomadal Chesterton this week. I’d best head over there now.

Of Gods and Men, and monks

April 27, 2011

I finally had opportunity to see the recent French film Des Hommes et Des Dieux (translated, and transposed, into English as Of Gods and Men). I noted this film a few weeks ago when it first appeared in theatres. It tells the true story of a small group of Cistercian monks who were killed in Algeria by jihadists in 1996.

It is an extraordinary film from start to finish, and it has justly been winning praise from all quarters. The film is focused on the period in which jihadist violence was increasing in Algeria, and on the monks’ earnest and sometimes agonizing deliberations about whether to stay or to leave the country. The screenwriter has allowed not only considerations of safety and human solidarity to complicate the decision, but the monks also wrestle with the nature of the monastic vocation and the demands of Christian discipleship. Indeed, I cannot think of another film in which sound and serious Christian theology has been integrated so naturally into an intensely dramatic and emotionally compelling story, without any trace of didacticism. The screenplay had to navigate a minefield of political correctness and oversimplification; that it succeeded as well as it did is something of a miracle. There were a few bold decisions made by the director, especially in one crucial scene, that might divide opinion, but personally I thought they worked. The actors do full justice to the material. In short, it is a film of high moral beauty (and cinematic beauty too, not incidentally).

A few years ago I wrote some notes about a book, The Monks of Tibhirine, by John W. Kiser, that tells the same story as this film. (The linked post includes spoilers.)


A documentary about monks has recently been made by Salt + Light Television, the Catholic television station in Canada. This film, called This Side of Eden, is about the lives of the monks of Westminster Abbey in Mission, British Columbia. I have been to this monastery myself, many years ago. (In fact, it was the first monastery that I ever visited.) I have not seen the film myself, though I would like to do so. Fr. Raymond de Souza saw an advance screening, and he liked it. Apparently it has recently aired (or will soon air) on both Salt + Light and EWTN. Has anyone here seen it?

This is the trailer. It is nice to see so many young monks.


Finally, on Easter Sunday the programme 60 Minutes aired a segment about the monasteries of Mount Athos in Greece. Television cameras are generally not allowed on the island – it has been twenty years since the last crew was invited – so this was a rare glimpse into the spiritual heartland of Orthodox Christianity. I found it fascinating, quite respectful, and, as is often the case with 60 Minutes, candid. There were perhaps a few moments in which the “Golly gee” attitude that marred, for instance, Oprah’s forays into religious life was evident, but for the most part the interviews were well done, with a not inappropriate element of delighted curiosity.

Here is the first half of the segment. A higher resolution video can be seen at the 60 Minutes site. Part 2 is here.

The Wire and Breaking Bad

October 11, 2010

A couple of weeks ago I briefly remarked on some positive things I had heard about a television programme called Breaking Bad.  I had heard it compared, favourably, to The Wire, which had caused me to sit up with a startled look.

I haven’t written much about The Wire in this space — in fact, I don’t think I have written about it at all. Without wanting to overstate the case, I will just say that The Wire was the best television drama yet conceived by the mind of man.

The show was set in Baltimore, and was, broadly speaking, about the drug trade in that city. Over the course of its five seasons, it studied various aspects of the city’s life — its politics, its schools, its media, its industry — but the relationship between the police and the drug traffickers remained at the heart of the story. What was so brilliant about The Wire was, first, its characters, and, second, its careful and nuanced storytelling. The characters were so superbly written and acted that they attained a kind of reality reserved for only the rarest creations. In my mind they are still walking around, with a life of their own that went on — if they were lucky — after the show had run its course. The plotting was intelligent and focused, without any of the artificial climaxes at commercial breaks that mar so many television programmes, and it steadfastly refused to settle for simple answers to the social, political, and moral problems that it portrayed. I am not a television enthusiast, but it is fair to say that The Wire changed my conception of what television was capable of doing.

(This praise, I suppose, might incline someone unfamiliar with the programme to watch it, and so I must insert this caveat: if episodes of The Wire were movies, each one would receive a well-deserved R rating. It is emphatically not for children, or even for many adults. Use your judgement.)

Enter Breaking Bad, a programme about an under-achieving high school chemistry teacher who finds himself in desperate financial difficulties, and undertakes to solve his problems by producing and selling “crystal meth”. That’s an intriguing premise. Over the past couple of weeks I have somehow managed to watch the first couple of seasons of the programme (three are currently in the bag), and I think it has given me a reasonably good idea of what the show is up to.

First of all, it has a lot going for it. Its principal strength, I think, lies in the tension it sets up within the main character between his criminal life and his ordinary family life, each of which he tries to keep hidden from the other. His duplicitousness, however, progressively involves him, by a kind of remorseless logic, in greater and more pervasive evils. Having strayed from the straight and narrow, he falls into a kind of moral quicksand from which escape seems impossible. In this respect it bears comparison with the film A Simple Plan (which in my books is high praise indeed).

But, having said that, I must also say this: Breaking Bad simply cannot stand toe to toe with The Wire. The reasons are many. The acting is inferior, with more than one character in Breaking Bad having a cartoonish quality about him. The lead character, Walter White, is well acted, but he cannot hold the screen like Jimmy McNulty or Stringer Bell. The direction of Breaking Bad is often laborious, with too frequent reliance on cheap theatrical tricks like slow motion and intrusive music at dramatic turning points. Most of all, the writing is just not very strong. The dialogue is often flat, the plot is repetitive and hesitant, and the heavy hand of the writer, setting things up, is too often evident. All this in contrast to The Wire, in which, despite the organic pace and logic of the story, one nevertheless felt that the writer had it securely in hand.

I conclude, therefore, that The Wire‘s claim to greatest television crime drama remains secure. I am through with Breaking Bad, I think, and if I should have a hankering in the future for this sort of thing, I’ll just watch The Wire again. Lightning, it seems, only strikes once.

ADDENDUM: Maclin Horton’s comment below reminded me that he wrote some interesting things about The Wire at his blog, which you can find here.