What we're watching on TV
- Credit: Michelle Faye/FX
Under The Banner of Heaven, Streaming now on Disney+
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Disney+ is hitting it out of the park with its ‘adult’ (and I do not mean that in the seedy sense of the word) content.
The newest addition being Under The Banner of Heaven, created by Dustin Lance Black, and cast against a foreboding, almost sepia tone landscape of dusty cattle fields and mountainous outcrops.
This is Utah. God’s country. Mormon country. A place where the lines between state and religion are so thinly drawn even smalltown detective, unworldly Jeb Pyre (Andrew Garfield) struggles to separate his faith and beliefs from the letter of the law.
Jeb is a man of the lord...and a family man. From the opening scene wrangling his young daughters with a lasso, dressed as an old-time sheriff, to tender caresses with his wife, and the delicate and sensitively loving moments shared with his dementia-addled live-in mother – there's no doubt where his heart lies.
Jeb feels. And he feels deeply. Which is rather troubling, considering his profession. When he and partner Bill are called to a domestic in the ‘burbs, which turns out to be the double homicide of Brenda Lafferty (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and her infant daughter, Jeb can’t conceal his horror or sincere devastation.
This is not the kind of thing that happens where he lives. Aren’t his friends, his neighbours, good, God-fearing people?
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His whole being is shaken in what becomes a watershed moment in his life. One which has him questioning the very faith on which he bases every single part of his day. Early on, we see Jeb won’t even leave for work without first gathering his entire family for prayer.
The suspect list for the murders initially is short, chiefly honing in on Brenda’s husband Allen, hailing from the Lafferty family – considered Utah’s answer to the Kennedys.
They loom large, literally. And in flashbacks we witness the dynamics ebb, flow and change as headstrong wannabe TV presenter Brenda challenges the ‘norms’ of the religion she also holds so dear, much to the chagrin of the men of the household.
Brenda’s story is cut through with imagined sequences of the creation of the Church of Latter Day Saints – from Joseph Smith’s first proclamations to Emma, to his deeply worrying spiral into polyamorism.
It soon becomes clear (as mud) there’s something more sinister happening within the Lafferty clan.
Under the Banner of Heaven palpates with an undercurrent of unease, showing how frighteningly easy it is for impressionable young people (men in particular) to be swept up into the arms of radicalism.
Black has been brave with his script, which has been met with negativity from the church. It’s a bold depiction of a horrific crime that shook a community and a religion.
The Commonwealth Games, BBC and iPlayer
Even if you’re not especially into sport there is a lot to love about watching sport on television. When the Tour de France finished I was bereft. I had been treating the every-evening highlights as a travelogue and couldn’t get enough of glorious mountain scenery (with the added joy of knowing I don’t have to pedal up them or zoom perilously down), quaint villages, swathes of sunflowers and charming chateaux. And I’d come to rely on my daily dose of aerial shots of bicycle pictures created from haybales and commentators explaining when echelons appear in the peloton.
But there was no need to worry, it was straight into the women’s Euros and when that reached its glorious conclusion, the Commonwealth Games.
The other evening I was watching weightlifting. I have no interest in weightlifting and no knowledge of weightlifting and yet it was as compelling as any drama or soap as men heaved enormous weights – many kilos or tonnes or elephants, I’m a bit hazy on the details – above their heads. I had questions too, and they didn’t even include “Why?” because the correct answer is always “Why not?”
But why do they tighten their belts before each lift?
Another evening it was swimming, which is as beautiful as ballet when seen via the underwater camera. Obviously the competitors are really good at swimming, but some, in particular the man in a zipped-up, hood-up cagoule, are not so good at choosing what to wear at the start of a race.
Then there are the stories. Alice Tai won para backstroke gold months after having her foot amputated. Eilish McColgan won the 10,000m in a Commonwealth Games record time, watched by her mum, Liz, who had won the same race in 1986 and 1990.
When Bethany Firth took Northern Ireland’s first Commonwealth gold it was a chance to discover that their anthem was the lilting Danny Boy. And when Wales win I immediately award them extra points for having the best flag. No-one can beat a dragon (except St George I suppose.)
There’s so much more to discuss, including what the Commonwealth actually is. I now know it isn’t simply the old British empire and it isn’t just places where our Queen reigns.
Luckily no-one seems to have mentioned this to the mighty USA as although the Commonwealth Games are not just about winning, it’s wonderful to watch our winning stories.