Last Night's Viewing: The Sinking of the Concordia: Caught on Camera, Channel 4<br />Divine Women, BBC2<br />Beautiful Minds, BBC4

 

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The Independent Culture

We've had a lot of ersatz maritime disaster over the last few days, what with the Titanic centenary, but The Sinking of the Concordia: Caught on Camera could proudly boast that it was the real thing. "No director, no camera crew, no reconstructions," promised the voiceover at the beginning of this collage of home videos of the event. It relied for its raw material on two features of modern life: the ubiquity of hand-held video cameras in the age of smart-phones and the readiness of some people to experience their entire holiday from behind a view-finder. As this film proved, some of them won't even press the pause button when their own children are weeping with fear in front of the lens.

It began with the familiar tedium of the holiday video. The 360-degree survey of the cabin interiors, the slow pan across the dockside, one of those long shots of the ship's wake, which seems so evocative when you take it and so pointless later on. And though there was horror of a kind – in the glimpses of the ship's eye-scalding interior and the on-board entertainment – there was nothing really interesting until they hit the rocks, when suddenly things started to get chaotic. "At this point, the situation is under control," reassured the ship's loudspeaker over scenes showing that it was anything but.

Some people instantly assumed the worse. Others appeared stubbornly reluctant to acknowledge the gravity of the moment. "Why is it tilted like this?" one shrewd child asked of his father as the ship started to heel. I'm sure it's fine, his father replied blandly. Occasionally, realisation came with a bump: overhearing a muffled announcement one cameraman suddenly noticed an alarming word: "'Lifeboat'? Oh shit." Elsewhere, people were taking time out to record the intriguing sight of plates cascading across the dining-room floor or larkily posing on the canted deck.

Was it like this on the Titanic, you couldn't help wondering. Did passengers applaud when their lifeboat finally smacked free into the water, and then have to be hushed out of respect for those left on board? And did anyone say, clinging to a normality that had already manifestly gone under, "We haven't even eaten dinner yet"? Finally – a question for the people who made this film possible – did any of them come out the other side thinking that perhaps they should spend less time behind a camera?

 

In Divine Women, Bettany Hughes acts as a kind of Indiana Jones of gender redress, touring archaeological sites to reveal how the feminine principle has been systematically purged from our notion of divinity. They even have an Indiana Jones map, charting her journeys across the globe with a little red line. Last night, it tracked from Gobekli Tepe in Turkey (location for an open-crotched bit of neolithic graffiti) to Rome (where the Phrygian goddess Cybele enjoyed a second career as Magna Mater) and finally to Assam, where Hughes paid a visit to the goddess Durga's vagina, a narrow cleft inside a local temple. She also revealed in passing that doctrinal relativism is not the monopoly of the Church of England. The goddess Durga doesn't literally have 10 arms, a female devotee helpfully explained. It's to show her as "a woman who's multi-tasking".

Professor Jenny Clack, I learned from Beautiful Minds, is responsible for making Devonian tetrapods "one of the hottest areas in palaeontology". I realise that however hot palaeontology gets it will still be tepid to some viewers, but I loved this programme – a profile of a modest, determined woman who eventually had a major impact on her field. It had everything: love of knowledge for its own sake, psychological drama and a proper sense of how arduous research can be. "Anything white caught our eyes and we thought for an instant 'I've found a fossil!'" recalled her husband about a difficult Greenland expedition. "But a lot of the time it was bird shit."

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