thu 05/05/2016

TV reviews, news & interviews

Peaky Blinders, Series 3, BBC Two

Adam Sweeting

Sometimes compared to Boardwalk Empire or The Wire, and raved over by the likes of Brad Pitt, Snoop Dogg and even Jose Mourinho, Peaky Blinders opened its third series by becoming positively Godfather-esque. Writer Steven Knight whisked us away from the satanic mills of Birmingham to Tommy Shelby's sprawling Warwickshire mansion, where the Peakies supremo was trying to celebrate his unexpected wedding to Grace.It was a fraught gathering of clans, set in a tenebrous anti-Downton. The extended...

The Silk Road, BBC Four

Marina Vaizey

Terracotta warriors, Bactrian two-humped camels, Heavenly Horses, Buddhist caves, sand dunes, the world’s first printed book, a silk factory and temples galore including one that was the great mosque in Xi’an, were but some of the ingredients in a breathless first hour in a trilogy of programmes about the world’s oldest trading routes. They were opened up by the explorer and trader Zhang Qian of the Western Han dynasty, about 2,300 years ago.The Han were experts in mobile warfare and were...

Line of Duty, Series 3 Finale, BBC Two

Jasper Rees

At last, after three series, Line of Duty delivered a denouement that felt like a satisfying jackhammer to the solar plexus. In the first series the...

Mary Beard's Ultimate Rome: Empire without...

Marina Vaizey

The world of antiquity, from Greece to Rome, is both so familiar and so unknown. So it was more than welcome when the immensely knowledgable...

Louis Theroux: Drinking to Oblivion, BBC Two

Adam Sweeting

Every few months we get a new Project Fear campaign by "experts" announcing that a small glass of Bristol Cream twice a week now qualifies as "binge...

Arena: All the World's a Screen – Shakespeare on Film, BBC Four

Mark Sanderson

How the Bard has become part of our collective movie memory

Blue Eyes, Episode 5, More4

Mark Sanderson

Racism, mutual mistrust and murder in fraught Swedish drama

Elizabeth at 90: A Family Tribute, BBC One

Marina Vaizey

Slightly wearisome jog down memory lane with the royal home movies

Victoria Wood: 'Please could you repeat the question?'

Jasper Rees

She was the most gifted comedian of her generation, male or female

Tom Jones's 1950s: The Decade That Made Me, BBC Two / Jim Carter: Lonnie Donegan and Me, ITV

Adam Sweeting

Veteran entertainers recall the music that changed their lives

Normal for Norfolk, BBC Two

Jasper Rees

Posh doc about East Anglian farmer clinging to the wreckage provides blameless fun

The Tunnel: Sabotage, Sky Atlantic

Mark Sanderson

Franglais 'tecs battle baffling epidemic of Euro-crime

Europe: Them or Us, BBC Two

Marina Vaizey

Nick Robinson tiptoes cautiously through the minefield of Britain's relations with Europe

DVD: Doomwatch Series 1-3, The Remaining Episodes

Adam Sweeting

Seven-disc collection of the prophetic Seventies sci-fi show

11.22.63, Fox / NOW TV

Adam Sweeting

Can JJ Abrams tell us who killed JFK?

Merle Haggard: Learning to Live with Myself

Graeme Thomson

The country music legend as profiled in a riveting documentary made over three years

Marcella, ITV

Adam Sweeting

Hunt for a serial killer in Scandi-on-Thames

Undercover, BBC One

Jasper Rees

Sophie Okonedo and Adrian Lester play a married couple caught in an intriguing cat's cradle

Two Doors Down, BBC Two

Veronica Lee

Gentle suburban comedy about neighbours

Maigret, ITV

Adam Sweeting

Soporific reinvention of Georges Simenon's veteran detective

DVD: Ken Russell - The Great Passions

Kieron Tyler

The cultural provocateur takes on Henri Rousseau, Isadora Duncan and Dante Gabriel Rossetti

The Night Manager, Series Finale, BBC One

Adam Sweeting

Masterly Le Carré adaptation gallops to a thrilling conclusion

Blue Eyes, More4

Matthew Wright

Taut and topical, Blue Eyes is more substantial than the typical Scandi noir

Line of Duty, Series 3, BBC Two

Adam Sweeting

Sizzling return for Jed Mercurio's bent-coppers thriller

The A Word, BBC One

Jasper Rees

Important drama about a family living with autism clutters the view with family baggage

Peter Bowker on making 'The A Word'

Saskia Baron

Exploring the writer-producer’s approach to autism in his new BBC One drama series

Brendan O'Carroll: My Family At War, BBC Two

Matthew Wright

Foul-mouthed, cross-dressing comedian becomes sensitive history presenter

Happy Valley, Series 2 Finale, BBC One

Jasper Rees

No praise is high enough for Sally Wainwright's script or Sarah Lancashire's performance

Art of Scandinavia, BBC Four

Marina Vaizey

TV's peripatetic art historian wallows in Nordic gloom and melancholia

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.

Close Footnote

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

latest in today

Peaky Blinders, Series 3, BBC Two

Further down the road to perdition with Tommy Shelby and family

I Saw the Light

Darkness risible: Tom Hiddleston stars as Hank Williams in lacklustre biopi...

Frankenstein, Royal Ballet

New ballet has lavish production values, but the story's stretched thi...

An Enemy of the People, Chichester Festival Theatre

Hugh Bonneville returns to the stage after more than a decade in Ibsen...

Chris Cornell / Fantastic Negrito, Royal Albert Hall

Unusually potent programme pairs smooth romance and political protest

Who was St Clair Bayfield?

Florence Foster Jenkins's biographer tells the true story of her commo...

Mona Hatoum, Tate Modern

The pain of life in exile provides powerful subject matter

CD: Jessy Lanza - Oh No

Canadian singer-songwriter telescopes the history of electro together

Knight of Cups

Terrence Malick's first movie shot in LA is a star-studded disappointm...

theartsdesk in Denmark: Ambition and Attack in Aalborg and A...

SPOT Festival shows there’s more to Denmark’s music than Lukas Graham