tue 06/10/2015

TV reviews, news & interviews

The Celts: Blood, Iron, and Sacrifice, BBC Two

Marina Vaizey

Not a ray of sunshine illuminated the landscapes that were explored in this stormy programme, the first of a three-part history of the Celts. It aimed not only to show the latest investigations into the Bronze and Iron Age tribes who inhabited Europe from Turkey to Britain but to suggest their culture was richer than the simple cliché of barbarians at the gate.That last claim though was slightly vitiated by roaring reconstructions of the Battle of Allia near Rome, about 387 BC. The Romans were...

From Darkness, BBC One

Adam Sweeting

This is the first of two new TV series this week to feature a female police officer investigating the discovery of long-buried skeletons (the other one is Thursday's Unforgotten on ITV). The two shows are different in tone, but still reminiscent of numerous noir-ish policiers of recent vintage. It makes you wonder whether commissioning editors are trying hard enough. We hear a lot of earnest talk about "diversity", but it doesn't seem to apply to themes and subject matter.Anyway, From Darkness...

Storyville: A Syrian Love Story, BBC Four

Tom Birchenough

Managing the boundaries of closeness in documentary filmmaking can be a complicated issue. Does the documentarist figure only as a fly-on-the-wall...

Cider with Rosie, BBC One

Jasper Rees

For the final instalment of its season of 20th-century classics, the BBC left the world of fiction behind and took a Rosie-tinted amble along the...

Piers Morgan's Life Stories: John Lydon, ITV

Barney Harsent

The British, it is said, are victims of reserve – eschewing anger, open affection and hurt for crossface winkyface sadface. While an over-simplified...

Midwinter of the Spirit, ITV

Adam Sweeting

Something evil stirs in darkest Herefordshire

The Naked Choir with Gareth Malone, BBC Two

Matthew Wright

A rushed competition obscures the human interest of communal singing

The Go-Between, BBC One

Adam Sweeting

Sun-dappled remake of LP Hartley's saga of forbidden love

Downton Abbey, Series 6, ITV

Jasper Rees

Sex, blackmail and money worries attend the last hurrah of Julian Fellowes' juggernaut

The Gamechangers, BBC Two / Narcos, Netflix

Adam Sweeting

The magic deserts Daniel Radcliffe, and Netflix goes to Colombia

This Is England '90, Channel 4

Tom Birchenough

Shane Meadows' happy-go-lucky lot are back - in fine, funny form

The King Who Invented Ballet, BBC Four

Hanna Weibye

David Bintley takes a look at Louis XIV's impact on classical dance

Gogglebox, Channel 4

Barney Harsent

A chance to catch up with Channel 4's runaway success and have a nice sit down

Doctor Foster, BBC One

Jasper Rees

Marital revenge drama is implausible but riveting

Treasures of the Indus, BBC Four

Marina Vaizey

An outstanding guide takes us through the culture, and wider history, of the Indian subcontinent

Lady Chatterley's Lover, BBC One

Marianka Swain

Sanitised Lawrence is more sentimental than scandalous

Boy Meets Girl, BBC Two

Veronica Lee

Superb new comedy about transgender romance

Love and Betrayal in India: The White Mughal, BBC Four

Marina Vaizey

William Dalrymple finds in an Anglo-Indian marriage that crossed cultural boundaries hope for today

Cradle to Grave, BBC Two

Barney Harsent

Danny Baker's autobiography is witty and charming, but could prove too sweet for some

The Trials of Jimmy Rose, ITV

Tom Birchenough

Ray Winstone surprises as concerned grandad - but old habits die hard

Oliver Sacks remembered

Howard Male

The acclaimed neurologist and author Oliver Sacks has died aged 82

A Day in the Life of Andy Warhol, BBC Four

Florence Hallett

24 hours in the king of Pop Art's shoes

Soup Cans and Superstars, BBC Four

Marina Vaizey

Panorama of Pop art from Alastair Sooke ahead of the Tate Modern show

Building the Ancient City: Athens, BBC Two

Marina Vaizey

Cogent narrative of the pioneering achievements of ancient Athens

The Scandalous Lady W, BBC Two

Tom Birchenough

Notes on an 18th-century scandal, with visuals dominating over character

Very British Problems, Channel 4

Barney Harsent

Attempt to turn tweets into telly had too much to live up to

Aquarius, Sky Atlantic

Adam Sweeting

Charles Manson and the squalid underbelly of the hippie dream

The Race for the World's First Atomic Bomb, BBC Four

Tom Birchenough

Details of the Manhattan Project abound, to the exclusion of its wider implications

If Katie Hopkins Ruled the World, TLC

Barney Harsent

A bleak vision of a haunted dystopia in a brand new light entertainment show

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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