The BBC today announced new religion and ethics programming for 2017 across BBC One and Two.
New landmark series for BBC One looks at the world’s greatest religious sites
BBC One documentary strand of five films exploring faith and ethics in all major religions
Neil Morrissey, Ed Byrne and The Reverend Kate Bottley, amongst others, travel the famous medieval pilgrim route, the Camino de Santiago in BBC Two’s The Pilgrimage
Also on BBC Two, to mark 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the doors of All Saint’s Church in Wittenberg, renowned historian David Starkey tells the story of the Protestant Reformation
On BBC One, Earth’s Sacred Wonders (3x60), explores how faith and religious belief have driven people to extraordinary acts of creativity. Each film will look at how humans have built the most awe-inspiring buildings and used the most stunning natural surroundings as places of worship.
Also on BBC One, a new strand of five films (5x40) a year explores faith and ethical issues in all the major religions: Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism and hears from a range of voices to explore issues of faith and ethics in stimulating and contemporary new ways. The new strand provides an exciting platform to new talent both on and off screen and an opportunity for promising new directors to work alongside established film-makers. The first two commissions to be announced are The Hotel For Refugees, a heart-warming film about a small Irish Catholic community grappling with the impact of the arrival of Syrian refugees and The Jews Of Canvey Island, which follows the North London Hasidic Jewish community as they relocate from urban Hackney to the greener pastures fields of Canvey Island in Essex in search of more affordable housing.
Through the prism of personal experience, The Pilgrimage (3x60, BBC Two) explores how relevant the medieval rites of pilgrimage are in today’s society by following a group of famous faces - Neil Morrissey, Debbie McGee, Heather Small, Ed Byrne, The Reverend Kate Bottley, Raphael Rowe and JJ Chalmers - as they join thousands of other pilgrims on the epic route through the Spanish landscape. Their own personal journeys offer a unique chance for reflection on their own individual perspectives on questions of faith, ethical and spiritual issues.
Also on BBC Two, to mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the doors of All Saint’s Church in Wittenberg, the renowned historian David Starkey tells the story of the Protestant Reformation. Starkey reveals how and why Luther’s simple act of defiance would gain such momentum, and explores the consequences of his actions – both on the Christian faith, and on society at large.
Tom McDonald, Head of Commissioning, Natural History and Specialist Factual says: “Religion is at the heart of our offer in Specialist Factual - we're committed to growing our reputation for bold and contemporary ideas which bring religion content to the broadest possible audience. Each of these titles, in different ways, explores how the challenges of modern life and questions of faith intersect with surprising, moving and often uplifting results.”
Fatima Salaria, Commissioning Editor, Religion says: “Earth’s Sacred Wonders will be a powerful and inspiring exploration of the creative force of belief. The series will reveal true stories of how personal belief and faith can often be so intimate even in epic and grand surroundings.
"In our new faith films, I’m excited to be working with and nurturing new talent on and off screen. These films are a great way to access fresh new ideas and to play with form and content.
"I am also committed to marking and shining a light on key areas of our shared religious history and I am thrilled historian David Starkey is returning to BBC Two with Reformation.
"My ambition for The Pilgrimage is to show how a group of well-known faces, taken out of their comfort zone, discover what their faith means to them as they walk in the footsteps of ancient pilgrims.”
Notes to Editors
The BBC’s commitment to religious broadcasting is unequivocal and Christian programming is, and will remain, the cornerstone of the BBC’s religious output. In addition to exploring and celebrating all the other major faiths in the UK, the BBC will continue to deliver a range of content that both reflects, celebrates and debates religion and ethics across BBC TV, radio and online.
In the coming months there will be live worship marking and celebrating the main religious festivals, including Christmas and Easter from King’s. Meanwhile, Songs of Praise, Sunday Morning Live, which have been reinvigorated with a range of new talent and voices, and The Big Questions continue to be at the heart of our schedules this year.
Earth’s Sacred Wonders (3x60) - BBC One
This new series takes viewers on an amazing journey to some of the greatest spiritual buildings and places of worship to celebrate the scale, ingenuity and faith embodied by the world’s most remarkable religious sites.
Each destination is observed through the story of individuals at key moments of belief as they worship, celebrate or arrive at these places on pilgrimage.
Earth’s Sacred Wonders explores the beliefs of the five major faiths - Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism - as well as many of the world's other religions. The series features a wide range of remarkable places of worship, such as the magnificent Buddhist temple of Bagan in Myanmar, the fantastical Cathedral of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona and the symbolic Jewish palace of Masada in Israel.
It examines how different faiths deal with the great religious themes like birth and death, creation, renewal, the soul and the afterlife. As a landmark religion series for BBC One, Earth’s Sacred Wonders features awe-inspiring visuals at its heart, drawing on the latest camera and drone technology to ensure these sites and their ceremonies are captured in their full glory.
Earth’s Sacred Wonders was commissioned by Charlotte Moore, Director of Content and Tom McDonald, Head of Commissioning Natural History and Specialist Factual. The BBC Commissioning Editor is Fatima Salaria and it will be produced by Scotland-based Pacific Quay Productions, part of the BBC’s commercial production arm BBC Studios.
The series will be a co-production with PBS in America.
The Pilgrimage (3x60) - BBC Two
Human beings have been making religious pilgrimages for thousands of years and the 21st century has seen a marked rise in people making these moral and spiritual journeys.
The Pilgrimage is a three-part series bringing together religious and spiritual debate and personal stories of self-discovery. Seven well-known people, some with strong faith beliefs, others atheists, are stripped of the trappings and comforts of fame and celebrity to become modern day pilgrims for 15 days, travelling the famous medieval pilgrimage, the Camino de Santiago in Spain.
Living as simple pilgrims, including staying in traditional hostels and carrying everything they need on their backs, Neil Morrissey, Debbie McGee, Heather Small, Ed Byrne, The Reverend Kate Bottley, Raphael Rowe and JJ Chalmers embark on their own spiritual journey of a lifetime and explore the spiritual meaning of pilgrimage.
Walking alongside thousands of other pilgrims they visit historic and religious landmarks, meet incredible people and encounter extraordinary events. But it’s anything but a walk in the park. The physical challenge proves too much for some, theology debates divide opinion but an unexpected confrontation brings the group together.
So, how will this experience impact on their own faith and does medieval pilgrimage have any modern spiritual relevance? As they learn about more about themselves and each other, they gradually reveal and understand their own beliefs more and discover a greater insight into the meaning of faith.
The Pilgrimage was commissioned by Patrick Holland, Controller, BBC Two and Tom McDonald, Head of Commissioning, Natural History and Specialist Factual. The BBC Commissioning Editor is Fatima Salaria and it is being made by CTVC where it is produced and directed by Toni Williamson and Michael Ogden and executive produced by Caroline Matthews and Robert Thirkell.
Reformation (1x60) - BBC Two
In this one-hour documentary for BBC Two, historian David Starkey reveals how the Protestant Reformation unleashed fundamentalist beliefs, terror and holy war across Europe in a way that is all too familiar to us today. "There was the same literalism," he says, "the same passionate intensity, the same apocalyptic violence as now."
Timed to coincide with the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the doors of All Saint’s Church in Wittenberg, this programme will chart the spread of Luther’s ideas across Europe and into Britain. David Starkey will explain how and why Luther’s simple act of defiance would gain such momentum, and will explore the consequences of his actions – both on the Christian faith, and on society at large.
Filmed in Rome, Germany and the UK, the programme will concentrate on the early years of the Reformation, looking - in particular - at the impact and legacy of the Reformation on England. It prompted Henry VIII to split with the Catholic Church in Rome and declare himself Supreme Head of the Church of England.
Martin Luther's attack on Rome would transform the western world and Henry VIII's actions would set Britain apart from both Roman Catholic and Lutheran countries. Starkey argues that Henry's break with Rome was a "Tudor Brexit" that laid the foundations of our conflicted attitudes to Europe today.
The Reformation was commissioned by Patrick Holland, Controller BBC Two and Tom McDonald, Head of Commissioning, Natural History and Specialist Factual. The BBC Commissioning Editor is Fatima Salaria and the programme is written and presented by David Starkey. Chris Granlund is the Executive Producer from BBC Studios’ Documentary Unit and the Producer/Director is Alex Leith.
The Hotel For Refugees (1x40) - BBC One
This uplifting film features two religious communities, Muslim and Catholic, as they learn to co-exist and come together through their faith.
Ballaghaderreen is a remote and traditional town in the west of Ireland. Since March 2017, its small and staunchly Roman Catholic community has been dealing with the arrival of hundreds of Syrian war torn refugees. Many of the townsfolk and local children are determined to give the refugees a warm Catholic welcome. Others fear that the new arrivals could soon overwhelm the town.
Amongst the refugees is Ghassan, aged 21, who fled Syria with his grandmother, aunt, niece and nephew, leaving his parents behind. While their asylum claims are being processed, home for the next six months is the Abbeyfield Hotel - built during the Celtic Tiger boom, but long since abandoned.
As the refugees arrive and settle in, the film meets some of the townsfolk who are helping: Jackie who gave up a career in luxury hotels and now runs the Abbeyfield and helps the refugees to acclimatise; and Mary who runs the local clothes shop, and believes the Irish history of emigration behoves them to open their doors to the Syrians.
The film explores how much the local community is motivated and driven by their faith, and whether the refugees feel defined and supported by their own faith. Can the townsfolk and the newcomers put aside any differences they may have and find a shared humanity?
The Hotel for Refugees was commissioned by Fatima Salaria and is made by Films of Record and TV3 (co-production). It is produced and directed by Alex Niakaris; executive producer is Katie Buchanan.
The Jews Of Canvey Island (1x40) - BBC One
After decades of rising house prices, many of the North London Hasidic Jewish community - a community based on an 18th century Ukrainian sect - are upping sticks and relocating 50 miles east to the more affordable marshy green fields of Canvey Island Essex. This film follows the reactions of the island’s Anglican and agnostic residents as they get to grips with their new neighbours. With unique access to the Hasidic community we watch as they attempt to settle into their new seaside home - which was recently voted ‘the most English place in Britain’. It has the potential to be a culture clash, but leaders on both sides of the sea wall are determined that good neighbourly relations will prevail.
The programme follows Chris Fenwick, island native and manager of rock band Dr Feelgood, as he organises a joint dinner party for both communities with social integration at the top of the menu. Will the islanders tuck into kosher food and will the Hassidic wives agree to sit next to any island men folk? And With Anglican priest David Tudor and key Hasidic elders on side, can Chris join the new Canvey Island community together in peace and integration?
The Jews Of Canvey Island was commissioned by Abigail Priddle and is made by Spring Films and Eyewitness Films (co-production). It is produced and directed by Riete Oord; executive producer is Andre Singer. Riete Oord has two National Film & TV School graduates working as part of her production team, Yvann Yagchi (camera) and Fritz Polzer (sound).