Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Return Of The King

How nice to see an example of the pageantry we Brits are supposed to be so good at happening in a city that isn't London. There was a Lady Di vibe. The coffin on its gun carriage being pelted with white roses.

Jon Snow- curating for Channel 4- was ill at ease with his material- at one point turning from Richard Coles- who had just given an articulate little speech about reconciliation between Catholic and Protestant- to a local Asian entrepreneur with a hearty "Well, that was a load of mumbo-jumbo wasn't it!" thus disrespecting and discomposing both his guests. He needed to be reminded he wasn't dealing with a bunch of slippery politicos who were asking to be pinned down.

But Channel 4 as a whole seemed embarrassed by what one has to call the spiritual dimension of the occasion. I'd been looking forward to the choral compline but as soon as it started we were hustled out onto the streets for some vaccuous vox-pop. Snow was fixated on whether or not Richard was a bad king. There's a place for that debate, but this wasn't it. Something odd and atavistic was going on, ancestral ghosts were stirring- and it seemed to be passing the broadcasters by.

The sight of Cardinal Nichols in his red robe served as a reminder of that other controversial figure from English history who is buried in Leicester. Like Richard, Thomas Wolsey was laid to rest in a monastic church that has since disappeared- and the site of the grave is only approximately known. Maybe the archaeologists from the University of Leicester should get out their spades again.

One of the knights in armour who escorted the coffin was unmasked in Snow's studio as a keeper of arms and armour at the Wallace Collection- and an American. Richard belongs to the world. His two closest living relatives- whose DNA was used to identify the bones- are a Canadian and an Australian.

The knights in armour were- depending on whether lunch had agreed with you or not- a bold imaginative touch or unutterably kitsch. I loved them. Ritual well done can evoke the invisible and here it did. Time was foreshortened, jumbled up, transcended. Richard was sung to rest with the glorious anthem Herbert Howells wrote for John F Kennedy- to words translated by Helen Waddell from the 4th century Latin of Aurelius Clemens Prudentius.

Take him earth for cherishing,
To thy tender breast receive him
Body of a man I bring thee,
Noble even in its ruin..
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