tue 07/07/2020

TV reviews, news & interviews

Being Beethoven, BBC Four review – from grubby kid to grumpy genius

Peter Quantrill

Documentaries like this one make me sentimental for a time, until about 25 years ago, when classical music was a more or less weekly presence on terrestrial TV.

The Kemps: All True, BBC Two review - more self-promotion than self-mockery

Adam Sweeting

The spoof “rockumentary” always sounds like a great idea, but it’s hard to pull off. Largely this is because rock stars are so divorced from reality that an element of self-parody is already built in, albeit unwittingly (“everybody’s so different, I haven’t changed” as Joe Walsh deadpanned in "Life's Been Good").

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, Sky Atlantic...

Adam Sweeting

American history of the 1930s and ‘40s suddenly seems to be all the rage on TV, cropping up in the reborn Perry Mason, Das Boot and now this new...

Storyville: Welcome to Chechnya, BBC Four review...

Tom Birchenough

David France’s revelatory film may have been subtitled “The Gay Purge”, but from the start it was clear this wasn’t just another documentary from...

Das Boot, Series 2 Finale, Sky Atlantic review -...

Adam Sweeting

The second series of Das Boot (Sky Atlantic) began strongly, and by the time we reached this last pair of episodes it was almost too agonising to...

The Hidden Wilds of the Motorway, BBC Four review - mysteries and marvels of the M25

Adam Sweeting

Naturalist Helen Macdonald takes an imaginative journey around London's orbital motorway

My Brilliant Friend, Season 2: The Story of a New Name, Sky Atlantic review – a troubling friendship deepens

David Nice

Painstakingly vivid serialisation of Elena Ferrante’s masterpiece glows again

Alan Bennett's Talking Heads, BBC One review - still lives run deep


Bennett double-bill gives wounding voice to the lonely and the loveless

The Choir: Singing for Britain, BBC Two review - the pandemic versus the power of song

Adam Sweeting

Gareth Malone's music therapy from the frontline

Roswell, New Mexico, ITV2 review - they've landed!

Adam Sweeting

Schlock meets sci-fi in soapy desert drama

Perry Mason, Sky Atlantic review - low life and hard times in Depression-era LA

Adam Sweeting

What Perry did before he became a courtroom superstar

The Luminaries, BBC One review - one of the most visually arresting dramas of the year

Joseph Walsh

Based on the Booker Prize-winning novel, this new big budget murder mystery sparkles and shines

Tutankhamun in Colour, BBC Four review - amazing enhanced images bring fabled Pharaoh to life

Marina Vaizey

Revelatory treatment of the historic discoveries of Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon

The Woods, Netflix review - missing-person mystery reveals a heart of darkness

Davide Abbatescianni

Harlan Coben adaptation isn't profound but it keeps viewers hooked

The Salisbury Poisonings, BBC One review - the Cold War comes to Wiltshire

Adam Sweeting

TV drama not the perfect medium for the Skripal spy story

A House Through Time, Series Finale, BBC Two review - timely series reaches uneven conclusion

Adam Sweeting

The best came first in David Olusoga's Bristolian history

Hillary, Sky Documentaries review - facing the fire and fury

Tom Baily

A successful and heavily scrutinised life. Were all the questions answered?

What We Do in the Shadows, BBC Two review - the vampires of Staten Island are back

Markie Robson-Scott

Undead in the suburbs: Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi's inspired creation lives on

Freud, Netflix review - hysteria and horror

David Nice

Anything but a tame biopic of the Herr Professor Doktor's early professional life

Das Boot, Series 2, Sky Atlantic review - multi-layered war drama goes from strength to strength

Adam Sweeting

Divided loyalties and moral dilemmas in the heart of Hitler's Reich

The World's Greatest Paintings, Channel 5 review - enthusiastic presenter but no dazzling revelations

Marina Vaizey

Andrew Marr subjects Leonardo's masterpiece to banality and cliché

The Other One, BBC One review - entertaining odd-couple sitcom

Veronica Lee

Two women discover they're half-sisters when their dad dies

Little Fires Everywhere, Amazon Prime review - in every dream home a heartache

Adam Sweeting

Mother and daughter duo shatter the calm of affluent Ohio

A Very British Hotel Chain: Inside Best Western, Series Finale, Channel 4 review - let's hear it for Alasdair the hotel inspector

Adam Sweeting

Inexplicable fly-on-the-wall doc throws caution to the winds

Shutdown: The Virus That Changed Our World, Sky Documentaries review - a chaotic response and an uncertain future

Adam Sweeting

The Covid-19 story so far through the eyes of Sky News correspondents

Philharmonia, Channel 4 review - death on the podium

Adam Sweeting

Music, mayhem and madness as Parisian orchestra gets a new conductor

Space Force, Netflix review - fails to launch

Veronica Lee

Steve Carell's new sitcom is short on laughs

Larry Kramer: 'I think anger is a wonderful useful emotion'

Jasper Rees

Remembering the AIDS activist who wrote The Normal Heart and the screenplay for Women in Love

Unprecedented, BBC Four review - perspectives on the pandemic

Adam Sweeting

Playwrights find different ways to approach an unfathomable crisis

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


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

Bette Howland: Blue in Chicago review – the city on trial, w...

You feel at times, while reading the collection Blue in Chicago, that Bette Howland might have missed her vocation. In another life,...

Album: Rufus Wainwright - Unfollow the Rules

After Unfollow the Rules: The Paramour Session and the...

Terri White: Coming Undone review - a British journalist unr...

The journalistic addiction-memoir is a crowded genre these days: Details editor Dan Perez chronicles his massive intake of Vicodin and...

Camille Laurens: Little Dancer Aged Fourteen review - the st...

Edgar Degas is famous for his depictions of ballet dancers. His drawings, paintings and...

Reissue CDs Weekly: Philip Rambow - The Rebel Kind

“Strange Destinies” is the first track. “Take your eyes off me Svengali” is its memorable opening phrase. Conjuring up Van Morrison, Tom Petty,...

Dom Joly / Daniel Sloss, Brent Cross reviews - UK's fir...

It was a weary and frustrated Dom Joly (★★) who left the stage after performing the first drive-in...

Homemade review - laughs, loss and madness in lockdown

If COVID-19 isn’t the only topic being tackled by creative folk at the moment, it certainly feels like it. That’s perfectly understandable, when...