TV COLUMN: 6 Nations Rugby, Masterchef, Easter on TV

Columnist James Waller-Davies gives his view of some of the recent events on television.

James Waller-Davies

Well, England did it. They won a Grand Slam, the first since 2003 (the same year as the World Cup win) and with an edgy, if not quite nail-biting, win in Paris against France.

In the pundits’ studio, former England players queued up to use speeches prepared for every one of the last thirteen years. It was, (as even this Celtic columnist will admit) about time.

The television coverage, shared for the first time between the BBC and ITV, lost a little of the continuity viewers have become used to when the BBC held the monopoly. The build-up and half-time punditry has to give way to advert breaks on commercial television, which is a shame as the current bunch of former players bring a clarity and incisiveness to a sport which is becoming ever more technical to the layman.

However, in a television world where sport is increasingly dominated by satellite and subscription services, the 6 Nations remains one of the best annual sporting tournaments held exclusively by terrestrial providers. With this mass audience profile, rugby, lacking the mega-bucks of football, still goes from strength to strength. A lesson cricket could do well to learn from.

Masterchef (BBC1) is back (didn’t it just end?) for its twelfth outing, introduced again by the town criers of the kitchen, Gregg Wallace and John Torrode. Our appetite for reality cooking competitions ensures there’s something on the TV menu almost every week of the year, be it a Bake-Off, a Great British Menu, or any one of the three or four Masterchef spin-offs.

The standard is getting better every year, no doubt in part down to the impact of these programmes on our own kitchens. The early Masterchef rounds used to be characterised by the inclusion of a fair sprinkling of hackers and hatchet men, whose dishes appeared to have been honed in a concrete mixer and served up with as much panache as someone nailing custard to the wall.

Not anymore. Everyone can cook. We’ve become a nation of the bon vivant and culinary voyeurs, addicted to food-porn in all its foodie fetishes. Television usually gets poked with the dirty end of the stick when it comes to an assessment of its impact on our social mores, but it has been revolutionary in changing our food culture. It’s no surprise that the evolution of the British domestic kitchen has gone hand-in-hand with the evolution of television.

Easter is always to the poor TV relation compared with Christmas. The Christmas story is an easy sell to producers and every year another half-dozen ‘Christmas movies’ get added to the canon. Easter and the passion is not quite as comfortable a watch.

A quick scan of the Easter TV schedules shows just BBC2 dipping its toe in the religious waters with King of Kings (1961). So if you feel like a bit of reflection to wash down your hot-cross buns and chocolate eggs, here are five suggestions to suit all the family.

1. The Passion of the Christ (2004). Mel Gibson’s direction is graphic. In the words of the then Pope, John Paul II, “It is as it was”. The script is in Aramaic and charts the last twelve hours of Christ’s life, from Gethsemane to Golgotha and the resurrection. It has to be one of the most powerful pieces of cinema ever made, but not to everyone’s taste – as the other (only) three people who watched it in the cinema with me might attest.

2. Jesus of Nazareth (1977). This TV mini-series was a sensation when it was

first shown over three weeks leading up to Easter, 1977. One of the first genuinely cinematic-scale pieces of television, it tells the entire story from nativity to resurrection. The cast is, quite literally, Biblical in scale, with Robert Powell as Christ and almost every other actor of that generation getting in on the act. Has stood the test of time and continues to be more then watchable.

3. E.T.the Extra-terrestrial (1982). What? I hear you say. Yep, this family classic is reworked sci-fi allegory of the Christ story. It oozes wit, charm and its own share of poignancy. If you’re still not convinced, just to get you started: ET comes from ‘above’, does ‘miracles’, dies for his friend, comes back to life and returns to the heavens. You can work the rest out for yourself.

4. The Matrix (1999). Another Christ allegory, which layers multiple Biblical references over ground-breaking special effects and martial arts fight scenes. Once you being to see the references and allusions, they are impossible to ignore, from names, signs, and dialogue. A seminal movie of its time and yet the religious significance took a little while to be realised.

5. Rev (BBC, 2014). The Easter episode of this BBC comedy saw hapless vicar,

Adam Smallbone (Tom Hollander), carrying his cross through the streets of London for his own private penance. It was one of those pieces of quintessentially British comedy, balancing dark with light, culminating with Adam meeting God, disguised as a tramp (played by an oddly not so out of place Liam Neeson) on the top of his hill. Very moving and thought provoking.