fri 22/08/2014

TV reviews, news & interviews

Bright Lights, Brilliant Minds: A Tale of Three Cities, BBC Four

Fisun Güner

Eight seconds in and my toes were already curling. Perhaps it was the authority with which the voiceover delivered some juicy clunkers. “If you wanted to be an artist in 1908, Vienna is where you’d come to make your name,” it intoned. Wow, who’d bother with Paris, eh? Picasso, you idiot, messing about with Cubism in a Montmartre hovel when you could have been sticking gold leaf on your decorative canvases, à la Klimt. Or perhaps it was James Fox’s predilection for banal generalities – cut-...

Young Vets, BBC Two

Lisa-Marie Ferla

Britain, as Tamsin Greig’s soothing voiceover told us at the top of this hour, is a nation in love with its animals. Still, it’s unlikely that BBC Two is betting the house on this docu-soap, which will follow the lives of 10 students through their final year at the Royal Veterinary College and which is screening every night for the rest of this week. The cynic in me expects that the channel had a few too many episodes and not enough weeks before the next series of The Apprentice was due to...

The Great War: The People's Story, ITV

Tom Birchenough

The best thing about The Great War: The People’s Story is the variety of intonations and accents that reveal the characters of the individuals whose...

DVD: The Changes

Kieron Tyler

Fantastic is the only word for The Changes. Fantastic as in fantasy, and fantastic because it's a television drama that's brilliantly conceived and...

The Beauty of Anatomy, BBC Four

Florence Hallett

If the idealised human body forms the heart of the classical tradition in Western art, the close study of nature is its lifeblood. It is inevitable...

Kate Adie's Women of World War One, BBC Two

Lisa-Marie Ferla

Documentary shatters myths of female participation in the Great War effort

The Village, Series 2, BBC One

Jasper Rees

Peter Moffat eases off on the misery as the rural series enters the Twenties

The World's War: Forgotten Soldiers of Empire, BBC Two

Adam Sweeting

How colonial troops were thrown into the blood and horror of the Western Front

In the Club, BBC One

Jasper Rees

Kay Mellor's new drama set in an ante-natal class suffers from too much incident

Melvyn Bragg's Radical Lives, BBC Two

Fisun Güner

A plainly told tale of that other ill-fated hero of the Peasants' Revolt

Great War Diaries, BBC Two

Tom Birchenough

Hybrid pan-European docu-drama on real-life WWI stories doesn't quite cohere

Art of China, BBC Four

Florence Hallett

Andrew Graham-Dixon's series offers so much more than the title suggests

A Hundred Million Musicians: China's Classical Challenge, BBC Four

Jasper Rees

Will China's army of young instrumentalists conquer the planet?

Red Arrows: Inside the Bubble, BBC Two

Adam Sweeting

On manoeuvres with the world's best-known aerobatics team

The Secret History of Our Streets, BBC Two

Veronica Lee

Return of enthralling social history series

Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony, BBC One

Jasper Rees

Twitter votes no but Scotland puts out a cheerful welcome mat

The Mill, Series 2, Channel 4 / The Lancaster: Britain's Flying Past, BBC Two

Adam Sweeting

Return of 19th-century industrial saga is dingy, drab and didactic

The Joy of the Guitar Riff, BBC Four

Andy Plaice

Beethoven, Berry and Black Sabbath: cracking the rock'n'roll code

Glasgow Girls, BBC Three

Lisa-Marie Ferla

More drama than musical in TV adaptation of the inspirational true story

Coast, Series 9, BBC Two

Jasper Rees

Maritime series washes up on screens at the wrong time of night

Utopia, Series 2, Channel 4

Adam Sweeting

Dennis Kelly's tortuous spine-chiller roars back in lethal form

Opinion: The docusoap must die, again

Jasper Rees

A generic mutation has come back from the grave, and it still sucks

Britain's Most Dangerous Songs: Listen to the Banned, BBC Four

Adam Sweeting

Stories of the tunes the Beeb refused to play

The Lance Armstrong Story - Stop at Nothing, BBC Four / The Nation's Favourite Motown Song, ITV

Adam Sweeting

The inside story of the biggest fraud in sporting history

Common, BBC One

Matthew Wright

Jimmy McGovern shines a light on both the humanity and legality of joint enterprise

theartsdesk Q&A: Writer Jimmy McGovern

Jasper Rees

Television's premier dramatist on righting wrongs in his new courtroom drama Common

The Honourable Woman, BBC Two

Adam Sweeting

In which Hugo Blick tackles the personal and political complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian question

Rebels of Oz: Germaine, Clive, Barry and Bob, BBC Four

Fisun Güner

A lovely Howard Jacobson essay on four fearless expat Aussies

The Culture Show: Girls Will Be Girls, BBC Two

Lisa-Marie Ferla

Exploration of women in punk strikes only a few bum notes

Footnote: a brief history of British TV

You could almost chart the history of British TV by following the career of ITV's Coronation Street, as it has ridden 50 years of social change, seen off would-be rivals, survived accusations of racism and learned to live alongside the BBC's EastEnders. But no single programme, or even strand of programmes, can encompass the astonishing diversity and creativity of TV-UK since BBC TV was officially born in 1932.

Nostalgists lament the demise of single plays like Ken Loach's Cathy Come Home or Mike Leigh's Abigail's Party, but drama series like The Jewel in the Crown, Edge of Darkness, Our Friends in the North, State of Play, the original Upstairs Downstairs or Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy will surely loom larger in history's rear-view mirror, while perhaps Julian Fellowes' surprise hit, Downton Abbey, heralds a new wave of the classic British costume drama. For that matter, indestructible comic creations like George Cole's Arthur Daley in Minder, Nigel Hawthorne's Sir Humphrey in Yes Minister, the Steptoes, Arthur Lowe and co in Dad's Army, John Cleese's Fawlty Towers or Only Fools and Horses insinuate themselves between the cracks of British life far more persuasively than the most earnest television documentary (at which Britain has become world-renowned).

British sci-fi will never out-gloss Hollywood monoliths like Battlestar Galactica, but Nigel Kneale's Quatermass stories are still influential 60 years later, and the reborn Doctor Who has been a creative coup for the BBC. British series from the Sixties like The Avengers, Patrick McGoohan's bizarre brainchild The Prisoner or The Saint (with the young Roger Moore) have bounced back as major influences on today's Hollywood, and re-echo through the BBC's enduringly successful Spooks.

Meanwhile, though British comedy depends more on maverick inspiration than the sleek industrialisation deployed by US television, that didn't stop Monty Python from becoming a global legend, or prevent Ricky Gervais being adopted as an American mascot. True, you might blame British TV (and Simon Cowell) for such monstrosities as The X Factor or Britain's Got Talent, but the entire planet has lapped them up. And we can console ourselves that Britain also gave the world Jacob Bronowski's The Ascent of Man, David Attenborough's epic nature series Life on Earth and The Blue Planet, as well as Kenneth Clark's Civilisation. The Arts Desk brings you overnight reviews and news of the best (and worst) of TV in Britain. Our writers include Adam Sweeting, Jasper Rees, Veronica Lee, Alexandra Coghlan, Fisun Güner, Josh Spero and Gerard Gilbert.

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