The Weekend's Television: After Rome: Holy War and Conquest, Sat BBC2
The Devil's Whore, Sat, Channel 4
Louis Theroux: Law and Disorder in Johannesburg, Sun, BBC2

The jolly japes crusader

It wasn't an ideal weekend if you were hoping to spend less time with Boris Johnson. On Sunday, he turned up in the Reasonably Priced Car on Top Gear, hoping to expunge the memory of a particularly dismal track performance in an earlier visit, but finding traction something of a challenge on a day of heavy rain.

He's more at ease in the dry, really, when what's being tested is the speed with which he can power his way through 250 words of historical narrative, and there was plenty of scope for that on Saturday, in the second half of After Rome: Holy War and Conquest, his two-part series on the troubled relationship between Christianity and Islam.

He got off to a tyre-smoking start in Jerusalem, recalling the sack of the city by Christian knights in 1099, when the victors waded ankle-deep in blood and the bodies of the city's inhabitants were piled in pyramids "innumerable to all except God himself" – evidence, for any that still need it, that no religion has a monopoly on God-perfumed atrocity. In Johnson's words, the Crusader army was composed of "cranks... fizzing with religious fervour". But they were murderers, too, and ethnic cleansers and, but for a lack of means, genocidal maniacs as well, persuaded by Pope Urban the Second's lethal ecclesiastical propaganda that the Muslims they encountered were less than human.

That was the crux of the programme, really, if the term is not tactless in this context, that the actions of these zealous soldiers of Christ left an indelible impression behind them. In the most telling scene, Johnson sat on a sofa with several Muslim women and explained that the word "crusade" had now become so depleted of confessional animus in the West that it could be applied to litter campaigns or anti-binge-drinking programmes. Their astonishment made two things clear: that the word still carries something of the intensity that the word "holocaust" has here, and that George Bush could scarcely have chosen worse when characterising the war on terror.

Against the barbarities of Christian armies, Johnson set – without illusions – the comparative chivalry of Saladin and the intellectual achievements of Islamic Andalusia, which finally ended with the expulsion of the Moors, still a source of grievance to al-Qa'ida's equivalents of Urban the Second, now calling for their own Crusade. And he ended with an injunction to the audience to recall the oases rather than the desert when looking back on the story of the West and Islam, those moments when two civilisations intermingled and enriched each other rather than clashed in blood. "If we don't have the wit to escape from history, then let's at least try and relive the good bits," he concluded.

"The good bits" meant something very different in The Devil's Whore, episode three of which opened with a double execution, cutting between Angelica's hanging and the king's beheading. Eager bystanders pressing forward to dabble their handkerchiefs in Charles's blood counted as a good bit, or the execution of Leveller leaders at Burford churchyard, or a Cromwellian atrocity in an Irish church. Unfortunately, these historical good bits came so thick and fast that Angelica's interleaved drama was compressed to the point of absurdity. At one moment, she was being rescued from the gallows, next she was throwing her lot in with the Levellers, and then they'd chucked her out and she was on to the Ranters. It moved at such speed through some of the most fascinating episodes in English history that you felt almost as if you were watching a trailer for a drama rather than the thing itself, and there was very little time for Andrea Riseborough to establish much about her character other than her earnest devotion to feminism and her heavy-lidded allure, which had men of all camps offering a curiously doggy form of devotion. When I first wrote about the series, I suggested that it would involve a civil war between serious political drama and something more Gone with the Wind, in which the history provided a backdrop for more conventional melodrama. Sadly, given the time constraints, both sides appear to be losing.

In Louis Theroux: Law and Disorder in Johannesburg, our man spent time in the poorer districts of Johannesburg, places that make inner-city Philadelphia look like the choicer parts of Kensington. This time, Theroux wasn't riding alongside the police but the private-security companies that have sprung up to plug the gaping holes in South Africa's civil society. They plug it with unapologetic violence, or what one man called "medicine", a euphemism for serious beatings with a sjambok. Unnervingly, though, thieves may well prefer this rough justice to that of the local citizens, most of whom appear to believe that a death sentence is an appropriate punishment for minor robbery. The fact that one of the more successful security firms is called Bad Boyz probably tells you all you need to know about their approach to law enforcement. The film is well worth catching on iPlayer.

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee