Television Review: Stonehenge: Secrets of the Stones

VIEWERS CAN usually expect a certain level of intellectual rigour from a documentary on Channel 4 and, in that regard, Stonehenge: Secrets of the Stones was confusing. Until the final credits rolled, that is. Then it emerged that it was a Yorkshire Television production for the Discovery Channel.

A generation ago, Yorkshire produced Arthur C Clarke's Mysterious World and it was clear from Stonehenge's production values and exotic pseudo- scientific claims that what we had here was a direct descendant. The faintest hint of echo on the Geraldine James voiceover aligned with some new-age sound effects consisting of wind chimes, muffled cymbals and swirling synthesiser chords.

The film's main advocate was a physicist by the name of Terence Meaden, a man with a simplistic, sex-obsessed analysis of the stone circles of the south-west of England. There is no physical evidence to back up his theory that an Earth goddess cult existed in ancient Britain, but, in spite of this, his views formed the basis of a film which was a muddled monument to blind assertion. At Stonehenge on midsummer morning, a phallic shadow is cast from the "Heel" stone; this penetrates to the centre of the monument where its tip touches the allegedly sacred "Goddess" stone.

"The first arch is wider than all the others; this is the vulva of the monument," Meaden argued unconvincingly. "Inside we reach the first pair of stones which are..." (there followed a suitably pregnant pause while Meaden glanced into the lens for reassurance) "...regardable as the cervix stones, and inside this we have the uterus". One could sympathise with the poor cameraman as a horrible mismatch emerged between what Meaden was talking about and what the cameraman thought he was meant to be pointing his camera at. The compromise was a vague sweep across the rubble as he half-heartedly cast about for anything vaguely uterine. The shot lingered in comic confusion on a pile of old stones. I didn't see a uterus among them, but, then again, I suppose I wasn't looking for one.

Here was a man wandering deliriously in an empirical desert, and the wrap-up line was typical of the film's confused approach. It vacillated between the notion of a single truth and a rag-bag collection of subjective interpretations. "A sacred place whose meaning shifts with each generation... enigmatic and beautiful, Stonehenge guards its secrets." What was going on here? The first half of the sentence seemed to advocate a relativist view - which was prudent in light of the fruitcake theories which had preceded it - but the second half drifted into objectification suggesting that there were, indeed, "secrets" to discover.

After a full hour of this, one could imagine ghosts of gods past haranguing the director for his unsubstantiated allegations: "I want you to listen to me, I'm going to say this again. I did not have sexual relations with that stone circle." Which brings me to The Clinton Complex (BBC2), a condition which one contributor defined as the notion of morality as a function of proximity. In other words, if a bad thing happens at a distance, perhaps it isn't so bad after all. Writer-director Mark Lawson made a witty and insightful case to explain the inexplicable: why Bill Clinton is more popular than ever after unzipping his flies in the Oval Office.

At times, like his subject, Lawson couldn't help himself. He canvassed the American mid-west's opinion through the corny device of visiting a town called Clinton, Missouri, a Newsnightian trick as stale and time- honoured as political corruption itself. This is a quibble, however, a faint stain on an impressively undressy analysis, the high point of which was a brilliant deconstruction of Clinton's appeal to black voters, 90 per cent of whom voted for him at the last election. "While Clinton has been accused of most things," Lawson drawled, "he is probably the only US president not to be accused of racism."

He is evidently at ease in an Afro-American context, as the footage of him performing in a baptist church showed. He had the congregation in the palm of his hand thanks to a combination of self-ease, natural charm and his slippery preacher's syncopation. A combination which, up until now, has got him into and out of trouble in equal measure.

Arts and Entertainment
Rebecca Ferguson, Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible Rogue Nation

Film review Tom Cruise, 50, is still like a puppy in this relentless action soap opera

Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams in True Detective season 2

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Off the wall: the cast of ‘Life in Squares’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Books And it is whizzpopping!

Arts and Entertainment
Bono throws water at the crowd while the Edge watches as they perform in the band's first concert of their new world tour in Vancouver

MusicThey're running their own restaurants

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'
    Singapore's domestic workers routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals

    Singapore's hidden secret of domestic worker abuse

    David Cameron was shown the country's shiniest veneer on his tour. What he didn't see was the army of foreign women who are routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals
    Showdown by Shirley Jackson: A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic

    Showdown, by Shirley Jackson

    A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic
    10 best DSLRs

    Be sharp! 10 best DSLRs

    Up your photography game with a versatile, powerful machine
    Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

    Solved after 200 years

    The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
    Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

    Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

    Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
    Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

    Sunken sub

    Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
    Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

    Age of the selfie

    Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
    Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

    Not so square

    How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
    Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

    Still carrying the torch

    The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
    The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

    The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

    ...but history suggests otherwise
    The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

    The bald truth

    How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
    Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

    Tour de France 2015

    Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
    Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

    A new beginning for supersonic flight?

    Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash