When a young girl joins a fanatical religious cult in America, her very English family is thrown into a turmoil of conflicting beliefs, in a new BBC drama. Eddie Gibb talks to the writer Michael Eaton.
Michael Eaton. a screenwriter whose credits include the paranoid McCarthy-era movie Fellrm' Travel/er. was once a cultural studies lecturer. For several years he journeyed through that fashionable vacuum of academic thought which abhors meaning. morality and absolute truth. in a world where people will deconstruct anything that moves, post-modernism and post-structuralism have become gods that hold a
Eaton became disillusioned by this relentless relativism. where a simple fact becomes a hotly disputed political idea. but the experience provided the spark for his new television drama Signs and Wmiders. it has belief as its central theme but is essentially a thriller. ‘1 wanted it to be Bergman with
car chases.‘ he quips.
Signs and Wonders cuts between three central characters — all members of the same family — who have deeply held. but conflicting beliefs. Claire Palmore (Jodhi May) is a teenager who has rebelled against her village green upbringing by running off to a Moonie-stylc religious cult in Los Angeles. The hurt to her family is more deeply felt because her father is the parish vicar (David Warner). a man who
by Donald Pleasance.
Mind control: Claire is dominated by the cult's ‘father' is woven into the establishment fabric. Completing the triangle is Stephen — this bit may sound familiar — a cultural studies tutor who is heavily influenced by Van Damme. the sinister post—everything guru played
‘Thcre's a lot of me in Stephen.‘ agrees Eaton. ‘lt was the sort of philosophy I was attracted to. and as the story progresses you find it's a philosophy that‘s useful to Stephen given his own experiences.‘
Desperately trying to glue back together this fractured family is Elizabeth. played with superb niceness by Prunella Scales, who is being slowly destroyed by the separation from her daughter. Unknown to the rest of her family. she has hired a group of LA ‘exit counsellors' who plan to snatch
she recruits new members among the
bustle of lowlife on Hollywood Boulevard. Cue the
‘The ideas are what are really important to me.‘ explains Eaton. ‘but i hope l‘ve found a form which will compel people to watch it. What i set out to do was look at all kinds of belief and crises of belief.‘
The contrasts between belief systems are heightened by setting half the story in the neon glitz of west coast America and the other in England‘s quiet, leafy heartland. The Singaporean ‘father' who heads the powerful and charismatic cult represents the new breed of religions which try to meet directly the needs of the emotionally empty young people who are attracted to them.
‘In California especially, they generally have this attitude that your situation can be changed. You can remake or
remodel yourself, whether it’s a career
or a new body.’
Claire has turned away from her father's stern C of E worship. with its emphasis on deferred blessings rather than today‘s bliss, which she regards as having more to do with flower arranging than spirituality. in turn the vicar is a man losing his religion. but trapped by the whole cultural and social importance of the
‘ln California especially, they generally have this attitude that your situation can be changed.‘ says
can remake or remodel yourself, whether
it’s a career or a new body. in Britain there‘s this notion that you are stuck with what you are — we don’t have that ideology of transformation.‘
The first of four episodes sets up an exciting story which works on the simple cult—busters level but also invites the viewer to do a bit of semiotic sleuthing; as the title suggests. it‘s about reading the signs and wondering at their meaning.
Signs and wonders is on Monday 16 January at 9.30pm on BBCZ
The Holocaust ended 50 years ago. Memories are dimming and soon the extermination of European Jewry will cease to exist in living memory. Channel 4 and 8802 should, therefore, be praised for their seasons of remembrance programmes.
Liberation, a new documentary from ilex Bloomstein, is in many ways a fine film but its weaknesses are reminders of the difficulties with such seasons and with any attempts to portray the Holocaust.
The main problem filmmakers face is cliche. Too many raindrops on Auschwitz barbed wire, too much Gorecki on the soundtrack, too much repetition of the appalling death camp
Liberation: chilling revelations archive film can all contribute to a cheapening of the Holocaust.
All there is to keep genocide on the verge of the unspeakable, where it should be, is the imagination of those who are representing it. Imaginative historians have found new documents a in Moscow from gas chamber . engineers Topf und Siihn, which show i in grim detail how the camp buildings
were specifically designed for mass murder. Claude Lanzmann can make a l nine-hour film Shoah without archive
footage or sad music.
As it did with Lanzmann’s film, Channel 4 is showing the 70-minute Liberation without advertising breaks. The documentary uses interviews with nine men and one woman, soldiers on the east and west fronts, who liberated the concentration camps. They describe the scenes and emotions of those first days in Maidanek, Auschwitz, Dachau, Bergen- Belsen, Buchenwald and Dhrdruf. The ‘final solution to the Jewish problem’ lay before them as, in a different way, it lies before us 50 years on.
The film moves conventionally from
i one eye witness to the next and, ‘ despite what the publicity notes imply,
much of this is not new and has been recorded before. The archive footage of piles of bodies is heavily relied on, to the much less effect, on me at least, than Lanzmann’s ghostly tracking shots through the camps. That said, Liberation has sequences
, of great power which add to what we know. Felix Sparks’s account of US 45th Division’s out-of-control shooting of 85 men at Dachau captures a complex truth about liberators. Kay Bonner Hee calmly and movineg admits to an awful mistake we could all make - some survivors died because she gave them food which was too rich. And US-German Werner Ellman’s final revelation is chilling. (Mark Cousins)
Liberation is on Sunday 22 January at 9pm on Channel 4. 3302’s Remember season continues on Saturday 14 January with Bringing the Holocaust Home, a documentary about the role of museum archives in keeping the memory alive.
Mark Cousins, director of the Edinburgh lntemational Film Festival, co-directed ‘Another Journey by Traln’ about a survivor of Auschwitz returning to the site with four neo-
58 The List l3—26 January 1995