December 4th, 2008

The Devil's Whore: Episode III

The Devil's Whore is too fast. Originally planned as a twelve part series, it got edited down into a four part series- and so everything just goes whizzing past. Now Cromwell's in Ireland; now he's back in London again. Free born John Lilburne yo-yos in and out of prison.  The character development is perfunctory too. 

But still it grips.  When Angelica briefly- everything happens briefly- teamed up with the hippie-communist Diggers it had me remembering, with a lump in my throat, all the times in my life when I thought we were bringing in the earthly paradise.  Love was all around and Jesus was coming soon- maybe tonight.  There was a rumbling in the sky, there were lights.  Could this be him now?  No, of course it couldn't.  It was a line of horsemen with torches- a seventeenth century KKK- come to burn the corn. Suddenly- (another wonderfully unforgettable image, of the kind you rarely get in TV drama) our fear has turned them huge, and- image superimposed on image- they fill the sky, like an on-coming tsunami, like the horsemen of the apocalypse, towering over the landscape and the tiny men and women who are running away.  The earthly paradise is, of course, an impossibility. We are too nasty, ignorant, greedy, egotistical.  All the same, we have some of our finest moments when we're feeling our way  towards it.

John Lilburne- of whom I'd never heard before- pamphleteer, soldier, rabble-rouser, awkward cuss- was, on this showing, one of the greatest Englishmen who ever lived. So why isn't there a statue of him in Trafalgar Square? It's not good enough to say- as I was originally trempted to do- that it's because our masters suppress his memory. It's subtler than that. I think it's because he wasn't a party man- and so there's no one to lobby for the funds, no-one to organise the public subscription or collection.   He opposed tyranny whatever flag it flew. Charles I banged him up, so did Cromwell.  He's played here as a rumbustious, Rabelaisian Geordie, but his contemporary portrait shows a neat, little, clerkly man- a dead ringer for Edgar Allen Poe.  I need to know more.

Free Born John Lilburne