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Similarly, Christian, Jewish and Hindu fundamentalism was rising in contemporary America, Israel and India, and the Islamic revolution had swept to power in Iran. Contrary to enlightened hopes, militant religion was not dying but alive and kicking all too vigorously.

The new way of seeing the Civil War as a religious conflict filtered out of the universities. In his deservedly popular An Utterly Impartial History of Britain: (or 2,000 Years of Upper Class Idiots in Charge), John O'Farrell headlines the section on

Oliver Cromwell "England's Ayatollah Khomeini". "Quite what his statue is doing in pride of place outside Parliament is one of our democracy's great mysteries," he says. "During the decade following the execution of Charles I, England was ruled by the Protestant version of the Taliban."

So it was, but you would never guess it from The Devil's Whore. The notion that religious hatreds dominated the period does not occur to Flannery. Channel 4 takes us back to the intellectual atmosphere of the mid-20th-century Left. Again, religion is just a gloss that covers "real" class and political interests.

How strange it is to see these old ideas on the screen now that messianic theocrats have killed thousands of infidels in New York, Madrid, London and Mumbai, and, in Iraq, blown up mosques and churches and killed tens of thousands more in a religious civil war. No one who looks at radical Islamists squarely can deny that apocalyptic religious passions inspire them. Yet Channel 4 and, I suspect, the majority of its audience are nervous about seeing reflections of the present in the past. They prefer to turn away and suppress their fears by seeking the comfort of familiar ideas.

For all its many dramatic virtues, it is what The Devil's Whore does not tell us about the mid-17th century that says most about the early 21st.

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January 4th, 2009
1:01 PM
Cohen's article may have a few errors, but he is bang on in his observation that progressive left opinion just can't handle religion. This religious illiteracy leads to the routine 'recoding' of declared religious motivations as always 'really' about class or power or gender. It is simply unthinkable to certain left-wing temperaments that people might be motivated by ideas of eternal destiny, the immortality of the soul and the eschaton. Revisionist histories of the Civil War have put religion right back at the centre of it. It was a war of rival religious ideas much more than competing classes. A bloody coda to the British Reformation.

Michael Sweeney
December 24th, 2008
11:12 AM
I once recall listening to a BBC play about the civil war where the roundheads were depicted as working class northerners and Cromwell as a 17th century Scargill figure. A very eminent historian I knew back then commented 'But Cromwell was a member of the Cambridgeshire gentry...' The past is a different country etc etc

Ross Burns
December 23rd, 2008
11:12 PM
Resistor, I thought you'd like that last bit.

December 23rd, 2008
9:12 PM
Thanks Steve, now I know that facts are no longer sacred in Britsh journalism. Sadly Nick Cohen is getting a reputation as the best example of that. And Ross, the idea that Billy Bragg would have introduced the song by saying, 'I'd like to dedicate this song to Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers' is laughable. Cohen thought Bragg had written the song and was using the 'fact' as another attempt to bash the anti-war left.

December 23rd, 2008
10:12 AM
Steve, Nick is not writing of the programme with that bit about 'religion being just a gloss' etc - he is saying it was historians in the seventies who were starting to realise that religion was the main motive for the violence, and not what had been accepted by others. And that should answer your last sentence too. If you have an idle moment, would you give 3-5 other excellent historical drama's that prove Nick wrong. You aren't just Nick bashing are you? Resistor, I have checked and Rosselson is the composer of said song. However, this slip shouldn't have caused the start of the earthquake you seem to be experiencing. Have you never been at a wedding party before, when the groom says he'd like to dedicate this song to my lovely new wife and then sings a famous song, probably written by Elton John or the Beatles. Or, perhaps if he isn't Malcolm Rifkind, by Billy Bragg.

December 23rd, 2008
5:12 AM
yeah! bang on there resistor, the entire crux of the review is the billy bragg reference- yeesh.

December 22nd, 2008
4:12 PM
'Not to be outdone, Billy Bragg outflanked them on the left and dedicated a song to Gerrard Winstanley, the Digger leader.' Complete rubbish, the song sung by Bragg about the Diggers, 'The World Turned Upside Down' was written by Leon Rosselson. when was the last time Cohen did any fact-checking.

December 21st, 2008
10:12 AM
The Devil's Whore is the best historical drama in years. nonsense. It had a few good performances but historical drama needs to be wedded to the history of the time. This was more like a Philippa Gregory novel than a proper historical drama. and as for this: 'religion is just a gloss that covers "real" class and political interests'? Religion was ALL OVER the programme. You are watching it selectively, Nick. In fact you seem to have misread almost everything you've watched this year. Maybe that's the fault of the left too. Because everything else is in your eyes. I also fail to understand the immediate parallele drawn between the civil war and Islamist terrorism. Where is the reflection of this aspect of the present in the civil war? you never actually say.

Ross Burns
December 19th, 2008
11:12 AM
Not only is Nick Cohen of the highest standard as an author, journalist and polemicist, his television criticism shares that height too. Brilliant piece.

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