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.