TV review: Why lionise this crusading king?

Richard the Lionheart, BBC2, SaturdayGavin and Stacey, BBC3, Sunday

WHEN is a religious extremist not the tabloid bogeyman incarnate? Why, when he's that brave English king, Richard the Lionheart, of course. As every schoolboy is doubtless unaware, this noble historical hero led the third Christian crusade into the belly of Israel to butt swords with those pesky Muslim heathens.

Richard and his army, as well as that of Kurdish warlord Saladin, represented, "a new kind of warrior, one prepared to risk everything for his faith". These men kicked up an almighty stink over who owned the rights to Jerusalem which still rumbles on violently more than 800 years later. An utter waste of time and humanity, frankly.

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Part of the consistently enjoyable Heroes And Villains series, this dramatisation of England's 12th century Holy War against Islam offered some insight into Richard's conflicted soul, as he wrestled with both his loyalty to God and the welfare of his men. Brought beefily to life by actor Steven Waddington (who also plays King Richard in the BBC's Robin Hood – he must have a thing for chain-mail balaclavas) this Richard was prone, as most onscreen warrior leaders are, to delivering rousing speeches in the heat of battle, pausing only occasionally to stare thoughtfully into the distance and muse upon his mission.

Although he loved a good ruckus, Richard was no warmonger – he even offered his sister's hand in marriage to Al-Adil, Saladin's brother, in an effort to secure peace. This was clearly a man who, with God's allowance, would do whatever it took to achieve his goals – because Richard was essentially a religious bigot, and those sorts of people tend to be somewhat, shall we say, dedicated to their cause.

"It's no sin to kill Saracens!" roared Richard at his men, "so kill them all!" You would, quite rightly, get pelted with eggs for yelling such things on Speaker's Corner today, but I suppose Richard's troops probably needed a bit of robust racist ranting to gee their spirits up by that point.

His casual arrogance was something to behold. At one point he flippantly remarked to Al-Adil that all he had to do in order to marry his sister and become king of Jerusalem was to convert to Christianity. The proud Saracen gave as good as he got: "I wouldn't marry your sister if she were the last woman on Earth." You could almost hear the rattling of the sabres ringing in Richard's ears.

Eventually, however, Richard retreated twice upon the eve of attack. But before he could set sail for home, 10,000 Saracens attacked the Crusader stronghold of Jaffa. So, with a squadron of just 2,000 men, Richard mounted a surprise attack on the city.

Yelling, "C'mon! Fight me!" like a boozed-up thug at closing time, such was Richard's presence that Saladin's troops retreated, and a compromise was eventually reached. If only all wars could be stopped by shouting.

Although far from the saviour of sitcom as some have claimed, Gavin And Stacey is still appealing, warm, and amusing, which is all it tries to be, and all you could really ask from it.

The introduction of Sheridan Smith as a Catherine Tate/Lauren clone is distinctly unnecessary, however. Best exchange: "How many Nurofen would it take to finish me off?" enquired a suicidal Smithy. "You?" said Gavin, eyeing Smithy's girth. "Probably hundreds." "That's no good, I can't afford that. Not if I'm going to have a holiday this year."