thu 05/03/2015

TV reviews, news & interviews

Super-Powered Owls: Natural World, BBC Two

Marina Vaizey

The owl – symbol of wisdom, harbinger of death – is a powerful if disparate symbol in human mythology worldwide. But this outstanding visual essay provided a riveting array of astonishing facts to make of the bird something even more remarkable than the myth.The species (all 240 varieties) is a great survivor, at home on all the continents bar Antartica, inhabitating the world from the frozen north to the desert, with home county barns in between. The film alternated touchy-feely moments...

Arthur and George, ITV

Matthew Wright

“Something strident and stirring – play to us now, please!” demands Martin Clunes’ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to the piano-playing vicar’s wife, on apprehending that their conversation is being eavesdropped on. Sherlock Holmes himself could hardly have responded more adeptly to frustrate the eavesdropper, and as Conan Doyle’s pursuit of the intruder leads him to a sinister, candle-lit shrine containing the vicar’s daughter’s long-lost favourite doll, it’s clear that ITV has a new thriller both...

theartsdesk Q&A: Actress MyAnna Buring

Adam Sweeting

There came a moment, around three years ago, when MyAnna Buring suddenly seemed to be in everything. "I'm so sorry!" she shrieks (ironically) when I...

Pompidou, BBC Two

Veronica Lee

Judging by its early-evening slot and diddly-dee theme tune, Matt Lucas's latest project is aimed at family audiences – far removed from the...

Wolf Hall, Series Finale, BBC Two

Jasper Rees

Wolf Hall divided viewers from the off. It mesmerised many and left a vocal minority cold, for whom apparently - mystifyingly - it has all been...

Picasso: Love, Sex and Art, BBC Four

Fisun Güner

Picasso's women and the role they played in his work

The South Bank Show: Mark Rylance, Sky Arts 1

Adam Sweeting

Lord Bragg explores an actor's life

Hostages, BBC Four

Tom Birchenough

Tension runs high in Israeli original of television drama we know already

Reinventing the Royals, BBC Two

Adam Sweeting

Belated arrival of the story they tried to ban

Saints and Sinners: Britain's Millennium of Monasteries, BBC Four

Florence Hallett

Dr Janina Ramirez throws light on the Dark Ages

The Romanians Are Coming, Channel 4

Tom Birchenough

Immigration story told from the inside - comedy unexpected

UKIP: The First 100 Days, Channel 4

Florence Hallett

A restrained but chillingly plausible cautionary tale

The Casual Vacancy, BBC One

Jasper Rees

JK Rowling's adult fiction debut becomes a Sunday-night treat with a social conscience

Indian Summers, Channel 4

Marina Vaizey

The writing's on the wall for the Raj, but will we ever make sense of all these characters?

Asylum, BBC Four

Veronica Lee

Clever political satire inspired by Julian Assange

Better Call Saul, Netflix

Adam Sweeting

Eagerly-awaited 'Breaking Bad' spinoff makes assured debut

Inside the Commons, BBC Two

Jasper Rees

Entertaining insight into the ossified ways of the Mother of Parliaments

The Secret World of Lewis Carroll, BBC Two

Marina Vaizey

150 years on, Carroll’s surreal, truthful masterpiece under the magnifying glass

Kraftwerk: Pop Art, BBC Four

Barney Harsent

Kraftwerk go under the microscope for this portrait of the artists

Fortitude, Sky Atlantic

Adam Sweeting

Love, death and monsters in the Arctic Circle

Timeshift: Battle for the Himalayas, BBC Four

Jasper Rees

The remarkable story of Everest on film highlights John Noel's restored footage

Touched by Auschwitz, BBC Two

Tom Birchenough

Powerful documentary by Laurence Rees allows Auschwitz survivors full reflection

Mr Selfridge, Series 3, ITV

Adam Sweeting

Despite the ravages of the Great War, the retailing saga bounces back looking fighting fit

Surviving the Holocaust - Freddie Knoller's War, BBC Two

Tom Birchenough

Testament of character and endurance told with disarming modesty

Cucumber, Channel 4

Matthew Wright

Russell T Davies' new series turns observational comedy into melodrama

Wolf Hall, BBC Two

Jasper Rees

Mark Rylance works rare marvels as Hilary Mantel's scheming Tudor fixer

The Eichmann Show, BBC Two

Adam Sweeting

Not just a historic war crimes trial, but also an international TV event

Catastrophe, Channel 4

Barney Harsent

Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney have created a sitcom for grown-ups to fall in love with

theartsdesk Q&A: Novelist Hilary Mantel

Jasper Rees

A BBC adaptation of Wolf Hall is only the latest triumph for the double Booker winner. But what is the novelist's story?

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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