fri 24/02/2017

TV reviews, news & interviews

Roots, BBC Four

David Nice

Those of us who saw the first, 1977 TV adaptation of Alex Haley's Roots in our teens still remember the shock and horror at its handling of a subject about which we knew little, American slavery. We know a lot more now, but the visceral reaction to inhumanity and injustice is no less strong.

The Halcyon, Series 1 Finale, ITV

Mark Sanderson

A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now…

Storyville: Life, Animated, BBC Four

Saskia Baron

Slipped out in the Storyville slot without much fanfare, Life, Animated is the Oscar-nominated documentary which won a theatrical release and rave...

SS–GB, BBC One

Adam Sweeting

“What if the Germans had won the war?” has been a recurring theme in fiction, from Noel Coward’s Peace in Our Time to Philip K Dick’s The Man in the...

Tom Waits: Tales from a Cracked Jukebox, BBC Four

Liz Thomson

“I’m not necessarily the ‘I’ in my songs” declared Tom Waits in James Maycock's documentary, its title a tipping of the proverbial hat to another...

The Kettering Incident, Sky Atlantic

Mark Sanderson

Noises off and incomprehensible goings-on Down Under

Life of a Mountain: A Year on Blencathra, BBC Four

Jasper Rees

Panoramic homage to a lesser-known Cumbrian peak

10 Questions for Actor Conleth Hill

Jasper Rees

He's George to Imelda's Martha, Varys in 'Game of Thrones', and an acting genius

Andrew Marr: 'I don’t want to look like I'm in pain'

Saskia Baron

Filmmaker Liz Allen explains how she persuaded a wary political journalist to let down his guard

Arena: Alone with Chrissie Hynde, BBC Four

Adam Sweeting

Reclusive rock'n'roller doesn't give much away

Unforgotten – Series 2 Finale, ITV / After Brexit: The Battle for Europe, BBC Two

Adam Sweeting

Historic crime unravelled, and the EU's existential crisis

The Moorside, BBC One

Mark Sanderson

Sheridan Smith excels in the story of the missing girl who wasn't really missing

Timeshift: Flights of Fancy - Pigeons and the British, BBC Four

Marina Vaizey

From pigeon post to war service, the bird in the nation's consciousness

Apple Tree Yard, Series Finale, BBC One

Jasper Rees

Emily Watson triumphs in punishing criminal melodrama

10 Questions for Actress Phoebe Fox

Jasper Rees

Cumberbatch's queen, Mark Strong's guilty secret, and now she's pocket Olivia to Tamsin Greig's Malvolia

The Good Karma Hospital, ITV

Adam Sweeting

Tropical sun, sutures and surgery in new subcontinental medical drama

Cheetahs: Growing Up Fast - Natural World, BBC Two

Marina Vaizey

Speedy cats battle for survival in the African wild

Endeavour, Series 4 Finale, ITV

Mark Sanderson

Is the 'Morse' prequel turning into 'Midsomer Murders'?

Francis Bacon: A Brush with Violence, BBC Two

Adam Sweeting

Portrait of the artist as disaster area

Dr Michael Scott: How to make the most of globalisation

Michael Scott

We urgently need to learn more about our globalised past, argues the historian

John Hurt: 'If I’ve been anything I’ve been adventurous'

Jasper Rees

Remembering the magical actor who was most comfortable playing enigmatic outsiders

Who Do You Think You Are? - Ian McKellen, BBC One

Jasper Rees

Wizard! Gandalf finds an actor and an activist on his family tree

Case, Channel 4

Jasper Rees

It's grim up north in Icelandic crime drama featuring yet another young female corpse

Apple Tree Yard, BBC One

Mark Sanderson

Dr Yvonne Carmichael discovers the cost of careless rapture in finely-drawn thriller

Homeland, Series 6, Channel 4

Adam Sweeting

Carrie Mathison has a new job and the USA has a new President

Meet the Trumps: From Immigrant to President, Channel 4

Jasper Rees

Donald Trump's dodgy morals were inherited from his forebears. Here's how

Sound of Musicals with Neil Brand, BBC Four

Marina Vaizey

The magic swirling trip from the Edwardian musical to the Broadway blockbuster

Hospital, BBC Two

Jasper Rees

Unmissable insight into the inner workings of the biggest, sickest patient of them all

Interview: Claire Foy, Netflix queen

Jasper Rees

Celebrating the great British actress who rules the waves (and the Golden Globes)

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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