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45 minutes
First broadcast:
Monday 07 February 2011

Andrew Marr talks to the British film-maker Mike Figgis about directing Donizetti's most psychologically profound opera, Lucrezia Borgia. Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell looks to the end of the world as the Mayans believed it, to discuss the communication of science. The businesswoman Margaret Heffernan asks how and why individuals and society as a whole choose to turn a blind eye to the uncomfortable truth. And society is also under the spotlight from the historian Edward Higgs, who champions the on-going importance of the census.

Producer: Katy Hickman.


    Lucrezia Borgia’s name has been a byword for evil for five hundred years; the femme fatale accused of murder and incest. But at the heart of Donizetti’s opera is the doomed relationship between Lucrezia and her illegitimate son, amidst the brutality of Machiavellian politics and the struggle for power. Making his opera debut at the ENO, the film director Mike Figgis is at pains to understand the psychological make-up of Lucrezia. In a series of short films he explores her back story and abusive family relationships, to explain how she can be at turns viciously ruthless and extraordinarily tender.

    Lucrezia Borgia is on at the ENO in London.

    Lucrezia Borgia

    Why do we avoid seeing obvious threats and instead choose to keep ourselves in the dark? When we’re faced with an uncomfortable truth, how can we turn away? In her new book, Wilful Blindness, academic and writer Margaret Heffernan examines what it is about human nature that makes us dodge the unpalatable to avoid action and debate. She explores the dangers to people and organisations of ignoring what is right in front of us and suggests steps institutions and individuals can take to start combating wilful blindness.

    Wilful Blindness: Why We Ignore The Obvious At Our Peril is published by Simon & Schuster.

    Margaret Heffernan

    Will the world end on 21 December 2012? The date marks the end of the Mayan calendar and, some believe, the end of everything. Astrophysicist Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Visiting Professor at Oxford University, talks about astronomical fact, prediction fictions and what apocalyptic scares can tell us about the communication of science.

    Jocelyn Bell Burnell will be giving the Faraday Lecture on “The end of the world in 2012? Science communication and science scares” at the Royal Society on Thursday 10 February.

    The end of the world in 2012?

    Next month sees the 21st census of the British population. It began as a head count in 1801 following fears that population growth would outstrip food supply. But the records and data generated have become invaluable in understanding how society has changed. While the first census recorded just seven or eight questions, the curiosity of government in 2011 has become insatiable, and it’s expected to be 30 pages long. Professor of History Edward Higgs celebrates two centuries of the census, and as speculation grows that this year’s could be the last, argues for continuing relevance.

    Edward Higgs is one of the speakers at the British Library’s talk “Broken Down by Age, Sex and Religion: The History of the Census in Britain” on Monday 14 March.

    Broken Down by Age, Sex and Religion: The History of the Census in Britain


Arts & Culture selection

Damian Lewis on reading A Delicate Truth

A selection of highlights from our arts and culture programmes.

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