Entertainment

Look out, the Roman Women’s Institute are out on the lash… CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV

Bacchus Uncovered: Ancient God Of Ecstasy (BBC4) 

Rating: Look out, the Roman Women's Institute are out on the lash... CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night's TV

The Vietnam War (PBS America)

Rating: Look out, the Roman Women's Institute are out on the lash... CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night's TV

Staggering in a shrieking mob through shopping precincts with bottles of Prosecco in their fists, and pawing at male strippers in a nightclub, ladies on a hen night are one of the scarier phenomena of binge-culture Britain.

Or so you might think. It turns out they are part of an ancient religious tradition. They’d probably qualify for an Arts Council grant.

Professor Bettany Hughes traced the history of girls behaving badly, in Bacchus Uncovered: Ancient God Of Ecstasy (BBC4), and discovered that boozed-up Roman matrons were such a problem that the dirty deity had to be banned.

As god of wine, not to mention rampant sex and orgies, Bacchus was just too popular. When the Roman Women’s Institute started kidnapping boys under 18 for purposes of disporting, the authorities had to get involved.

Professor Bettany Hughes traced the history of girls behaving badly, in Bacchus Uncovered: Ancient God Of Ecstasy

Professor Bettany Hughes traced the history of girls behaving badly, in Bacchus Uncovered: Ancient God Of Ecstasy

Professor Bettany Hughes traced the history of girls behaving badly, in Bacchus Uncovered: Ancient God Of Ecstasy

Professor Bettany marshalled a mass of information superbly, leading us at a gallop from wine-making in the earliest farms on the steppes, 8,000 years ago, to hippie free love in the Sixties.

But she was not so comfortable with the earthier elements of the documentary. For her, Bacchanalian debauchery was a cerebral, academic business.

She looked on primly as three Greek men played a traditional drinking game that involved slopping a dish of wine into a jug: the more you spilled, the more you drank as a forfeit.

And she turned away hurriedly when a youth on the island of Skyros whipped off his shirt to don a traditional costume of mask and bells. ‘I’m not going to watch, don’t worry,’ she gasped, as she fortified herself with a gulp of retsina.

The young man just grinned and waited for her to peep between her fingers at his torso. For a moment, it all went very Shirley Valentine.

The Prof was more at ease among the Roman ruins of Jerash in Jordan, where a local shepherd was driving a ragged flock of sheep through the remnants of a temple.

There's plenty of time to absorb everything in The Vietnam War (PBS America), a ten-part series with a strong claim to be the greatest documentary ever made (stock image from the war)

There's plenty of time to absorb everything in The Vietnam War (PBS America), a ten-part series with a strong claim to be the greatest documentary ever made (stock image from the war)

There’s plenty of time to absorb everything in The Vietnam War (PBS America), a ten-part series with a strong claim to be the greatest documentary ever made (stock image from the war)

He stared in puzzlement at the camera while the presenter talked earnestly about the rivalry between devotees of Bacchus and Christ.

No wonder he looked a bit baffled. There was masses to take in. Professor Bettany had so much to cram into the hour that we hurtled from archaeology in London during the Blitz, to the plays of Euripides, to India, to an art house cinema. Honestly, you’d need a stiff drink just to keep up.

There’s plenty of time to absorb everything in The Vietnam War (PBS America), a ten-part series with a strong claim to be the greatest documentary ever made.

It has already been shown in a condensed format on BBC4 last year, but now the U.S. Public Broadcasting Service is screening the uncut, 15-hour version.

Scarecrow of the month: 

Mackenzie Crook promised he would return to the countryside after the success of his bucolic sitcom, Detectorists. This week, he announced he’s remaking Worzel Gummidge. He’ll need his thinking head on.

The first episode covered a century, from the French invasion of Indochina in 1858, to the forming of the Viet Cong rebel army in 1960.

Film-makers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick tell the story by interviewing dozens of veterans from all sides of the conflict in the Sixties and Seventies — American soldiers and peaceniks, bereaved mothers and sisters, North Vietnamese soldiers, South Vietnamese villagers and politicians — who all talk with compassion and deep emotion.

Added to that is a welter of extraordinary war footage, shot by journalists who flew on the helicopter gunships and faced firefights on the ground beside the embattled Marines.

It’s set to a spine-tingling soundtrack of classic rock. The wailing guitars of Hendrix and Led Zeppelin take on a whole new significance. This is unmissable. And it’s on Freeview.

 

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