The Holy Family Album (1991)

“a searing critique of Christian imagery”

The Holy Family Album, Angela Carter’s sacrilegious take on Christian iconography, was one of the points of inspiration for curator Marie Mulvey-Roberts for the Strange Worlds Exhibition.  The programme conceives of the representation of Christ in Western art history as photos in God’s photo album, only God the Father is not in pictures because he is behind the camera, taking the photographs, “calling the shots”.

Written and narrated by Angela Carter, directed by JoAnn Kaplan, produced by John Ellis, Large Door Productions for Channel 4. First broadcast 3 December 1991.  Angela originally wrote a highly visual script without words for this programme. It was only in post-production that John Ellis and JoAnn Kaplan persuaded her that some narration was necessary. She then wrote and recorded the startling commentary.

The programme caused controversy on its first and only broadcast, but a complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Council was not upheld. Sadly, it has not been included in the Collected works, and perhaps for this reason has still received very little critical attention, apart from a chapter in Charlotte Crofts’ book, Anagrams of Desire. John Ellis has recently made the programme available on the Large Door Productions website, together with the script. The achievement of bringing three of the paintings featured in The Holy Family Album together under one roof, is not to be underestimated.

PHOTO: John Ellis. Arnulf Rainer’s Wine Crucifix, William Holman Hunt’s The Shadow of Death and Stanley Spencer’s The Marriage at Cana on display together for the first time at RWA.


PHOTO: Charlotte Crofts. Wine Crucifix by Arnulf Rainer and The Shadow of Death by William Holman Hunt on display at RWA

Large Door Productions was set up in 1982 to produce Visions, a magazine series for the then iconoclastic Channel 4 (its remit was “to encourage innovation and experiment in the form and content of programmes to cater for interests that ITV did not to provide overall a distinctive service”). Their inaugural programme, which was broadcast in the new channel’s first week, featured Angela Carter’s piercing cinema review of Peter Greenaway’s The Draughtsman’s Contract. This demonstrates both Angela’s first foray into the world of television and her critically engaged relationship to cinema – which seeps into her writing.

A screening and Q&A with producer John Ellis, Charlotte Crofts and Marie Mulvey-Roberts (both at UWE) took place at RWA on Wednesday 11 January during the RWA Strange Worlds Exhibition. There’s a wonderful illustrated transcript of the Q&A over on Angela Carter Online.

Free. Booking advised.