It’s funny how a weekend comes together. You do things seemingly at random and together they make perfect sense. First, I’ve been watching Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi. It takes a whole weekend as it weighs in at around 3 1/2 hours, and I could spend a week’s blog posts just talking about the scope of it: a film as vast as India itself (I only gained an inkling when I went, travelling for hours on a train and then seeing the scintilla of map that I’d covered). But instead of reviewing the film I want to think about the man and how much he achieved. As a boy Gandhi was shy, but he overcame his shyness to achieve in one lifetime more than most of us could achieve in a dozen. Though the ideas of satyagraha – ‘truth power’ – were embedded in Hindu tradition, Gandhi brought them into the modern age and taught an entire nation to practise non-violent struggle.
No sooner had I finished Gandhi than I was plunged into a nuclear-free session, ‘Can Nuclear Weapons Make us Safer?’ On the whole it was a rhetorical question with the answer ‘no’ – but to be fair, politicians on the other side of the debate had been invited and had declined (or been unable) to come. But the ideas of Gandhi were key to our discussion. It is hard to imagine a more violent weapon than nuclear missiles and in my view it is our duty to oppose them in any way we can: the idea that because our ‘opponents’ (whoever they may be) have them then we must have them is no different from the American saying that because the bad guys have guns, so must the good guys. We all know where that ends up. This is a discussion for another blog topic, but the reason North Korea has nuclear weapons (in my view) is because they fear the Americans. We need to deconstruct fear, not escalate armaments.
So, to complete the day, enter the latest BBC costume drama. Lately this type of drama has come in for a lot of criticism for being dewy-eyed and romanticising royalty and aristocracy. Not a scintilla of that here. This was a very clear-eyed view of the times, beginning with a rough and tyrannical search by the King’s men of a Catholic house which has just been celebrating Mass. Like many such houses it features a priest hole: however the Kings’ men know this trick and compare measurements outside and inside. At this point a young acolyte, about to set off for Europe, is discovered hiding in a chest. Though still very young, he is subjected to little more than a show-trial before being hanged, drawn and quartered, this being shown in enough detail to register its barbarity. Before this we see the lady of the house put to death by the peine forte et dure, her ribs gradually broken by heavy weights while all the while her tormentor tries to get information from her.
The courage of people to undergo torture and death has never failed to impress me, particularly as I doubt very much whether I’d have similar courage.
Mark Gatiss (that man has an impressive talent) is excellent as William Cecil, the spider at the heart of the anti-Catholic web, sending out spies and poisoning King James’s mind with reports of Catholic conspiracies. He’s the McCarthy of his age: played with the superior detachment of a Mycroft with the monstrousness of a Richard III (Shakespeare’s, not history’s). The episode largely sets up the involvement of Catesby in the gunpowder plot, and Guy Fawkes is introduced to us right at the end. This is costume drama so good that you just think of it as drama.
And how are the two guys celebrated? One is burnt in effigy every year while the other continues to be venerated and his ideas practised the world over.
Great guy, that Gandhi.
Anyway, here’s the BBC drama – you can watch Gandhi on Netflix or DVD: