Of artists and orators

11th April 2003 at 01:00
Be enlightened by this year's eclectic Easter offerings. Robin Buss reports

At Christmas, the television schedulers imagine us sitting around the fire with the shadows closing in, and so treat us to bloodcurdling stories of the supernatural and horrible crimes. At this time of year, by contrast, what we are supposed to want is Art.

The BBC's top offering for the season is Leonardo (BBC1, Easter Sunday), a series heralded as "the BBC's first major biography of the artist" (I must have missed all the minor ones), which should be very improving. Before that, on Easter Saturday, Andrew Graham-Dixon presents a biography of Constable (Constable in Love, BBC1, 7-8pm) in which he argues that the painter's passion for his (eventual) wife Maria Bicknell showed him a new way of expressing his feelings through the depiction of landscape.

Whether or not you go along with this thesis, the film is an informative account of Constable's life which should give its viewers a fresh perspective on his work and may convince them of Graham-Dixon's other argument: that Constable's art is not as insipid and mundane as all those reproductions of "The Haywain" may have led us to believe.

BBC4's contribution to our enlightenment is a couple of films on film directors, and a season about DNA, including, second in the series, a film on the neglected contribution of Rosalind Franklin, The Dark Lady of DNA (April 25, 9-9.50pm), to Watson and Crick's discovery.

The film directors are Luchino Visconti (April 19, 9-10.50pm), and Woody Allen (April 21, 9-10.30pm), the subjects of two very different documentaries. The programme on Woody Allen is more of an autobiography: Allen himself talks us through his career and highlights the main themes of his films, with slips to illustrate each point. By contrast, Adam Low's The Life and Times of Luchino Visconti is a critical account of how the life of the Italian aristocrat is reflected in his films. Visconti, a man of many parts - communist, homosexual, artist and horsebreeder - was one of the outstanding figures in a brilliant period of European cinema.

On Good Friday morning, BBC1 offers a meditation by the Reverend Joel Edwards, leader of the Evangelican Alliance, on Dr Martin Luther King, The Crucified King (April 18, 10-11am). He talks about the significance of King's faith in his adoption of a policy of non-violence, and visits some of the places connected with the civil rights leader's life, talking to people who knew him.

Later this month, Discovery Civilisation broadcasts Square Planet (April 29, 7-8pm), an investigation into the global influence of television: the box and its effects on our minds and behaviour. This may be an incitement to give the eyes a rest and switch to steam radio.

On Easter Sunday, Radio 3 broadcasts a profile of God's First Englishman, the Venerable Bede (April 20, 5.45-6.40pm), author of the eighth-century Ecclesiastical History of the English People.

Listen out, too, for Brian Patten's week-long Walk on the Milky Way (Radio 4, April 21-25, 10.45-11am), a daily selection of poems for children on war, magic, childhood, nature and journeys, from his anthology, the Puffin Book of 20th-Century Children's Verse.

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