tue 21/10/2014

TV reviews, news & interviews

Storyville: Russia's Toughest Prison - The Condemned, BBC Four

Tom Birchenough

The initial challenge – and there should be no underestimating the scale of it – of Nick Read’s documentary Russia's Toughest Prison - The Condemned must have been getting into a location which the great majority of its inmates will never leave. That was likely facilitated by the acquaintance between the film’s producer Mark Franchetti, the longterm Moscow correspondent of The Sunday Times, and Subkhan Dadashov, the laconic governor of Penal Colony 56: Franchetti had been the first foreigner to...

Schama on Rembrandt: Masterpieces of the Late Years, BBC Two

Marina Vaizey

The chatty, loquacious, exuberant Simon Schama, whose seminal 1987 book on Holland in the 17th century, The Embarrassment of Riches, transformed the anglophone’s understanding of the Dutch Republic, describes himself as historian, writer, art critic, cook, BBC presenter. He is also the University Professor of History and Art History at Columbia, and has written 14 substantial and even significant books. On several of his subjects, from British art, slavery in America and landscape in culture to...

The Great Fire, ITV

Lisa-Marie Ferla

It takes some brass neck to look at one of the most destructive events in London’s history, which destroyed a chunk of the poorest part of the city...

The Knick, Sky Atlantic

Fisun Güner

That there is something of the Sherlock Holmes about Dr John Thackery – the Shakespeare-quoting, opium and cocaine-addicted surgeon in this Steve...

The Apprentice, Series 10, BBC One

Veronica Lee

It's on later in the year than usual, but The Apprentice is back. Yippee! For the tenth series Lord Sugar and his producers have done a little...

Gotham, Channel 5

Adam Sweeting

Batman origin story makes a promising start

Cosmonauts: How Russia Won the Space Race / The Spaceman of Afghanistan, BBC Four

Tom Birchenough

A history of the Soviet space programme, and the story of one of its more unlikely participants

Homeland, Series 4, Channel 4 / The Code, BBC Four

Adam Sweeting

Maybe the post-Brody 'Homeland' might succeed after all

The Great British Bake Off 2014 Final, BBC One

Lisa-Marie Ferla

More tasty treats from the nicest contestants on television (this review contains spoilers)

DVD: Red Shift

Tim Cumming

A cult classic from the golden age of British TV drama

Human Universe, BBC Two

Tom Birchenough

The universe, human life, everything: Brian Cox begins his biggest project yet

Bad Education, BBC Three

Matthew Wright

Jack Whitehall can write a good joke, but plotting and characterisation are desperate

Cat Watch 2014: The New Horizon Experiment, BBC Two

Marina Vaizey

Latest attempt by boffins to unravel the mysteries of 'Felis catus'

Genesis: Together and Apart, BBC Two

Adam Sweeting

In which an epic musical career doesn't necessarily make an enthralling documentary

Peaky Blinders, Series 2, BBC Two

Adam Sweeting

Lots more racketeering and mayhem as the Shelby family plan to invade London

Blenheim Palace: Great War House, ITV

Marina Vaizey

Lord Fellowes of Downton explores one of Britain's most historic stately homes

The Paedophile Hunter, Channel 4

Jasper Rees

Documentary about a vigilante in action is riveting and deeply discomfiting

Marvellous, BBC Two

Jasper Rees

Toby Jones shines in a fantasy football drama that happens to be true

Jungle Atlantis, BBC Two

Marina Vaizey

New technology brings revelations from Cambodia's astounding mega-city

Scott & Bailey, Series 4, ITV

Florence Hallett

Manchester's detective duo are as disaster-prone as ever

The Driver, BBC One

Matthew Wright

David Morrissey puts his foot down, but the script barely passes its MOT

Our Girl, BBC One

Lisa-Marie Ferla

Heroics in Helmand as Tony Grounds's drama gets the series treatment

Downton Abbey, Series 5, ITV

Adam Sweeting

On this evidence, there's still plenty of life in Lord Fellowes's beloved national institution

Legends, Sky 1 / The Strain, Watch

Lisa-Marie Ferla

Sean Bean joins the FBI and Guillermo del Toro does vampires: latest US drama

This World: Ireland's Lost Babies, BBC Two

Jasper Rees

Martin Sixsmith pursues the harrowing story of Catholic children born out of wedlock

Glue, E4

Veronica Lee

Jack Thorne's latest is a gripping whodunit set in the English countryside

Cilla, ITV

Adam Sweeting

Anodyne biog sanitises showbusiness legend

The Village, Series 2 Finale, BBC One

Tom Birchenough

Gripping final episode, but is the very existence of 'The Village' threatened?

British Art at War: Bomberg, Sickert and Nash, BBC Four

Marina Vaizey

Andrew Graham-Dixon begins an excellent trilogy about World War One artists with Paul Nash

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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