sat 18/01/2020

TV reviews, news & interviews

Cobra, Sky 1 review - entertaining mix of political mischief and cosmic chaos

Adam Sweeting

If nothing else, you’d want to tune in to Cobra (Sky 1) for its cast. Robert Carlyle is steely and decisive as Prime Minister Robert Sutherland, his indispensable fixer Anna Marshall is played by Victoria “Queen Mother” Hamilton, and David Haig oozes bullying malevolence as Home Secretary Archie Glover-Morgan.

Messiah, Netflix review - con-artist or the Second Coming?

Adam Sweeting

It’s an intriguing question. If a new Messiah appeared today, what kind of reception could he (if it was a he) expect? Possibly something similar to the one which greeted Jesus, according to Netflix’s new series Messiah.

This Is Our Family, Sky Atlantic review - can...

Adam Sweeting

Sky Atlantic is usually where you go for big-hitting dramas, so this quartet of observational documentaries is an unexpected development. Each film...

How to Steal Pigs and Influence People, Channel 4...

Adam Sweeting

Filmmaker Tom Costello’s opening question in this quixotic but fascinating documentary for Channel 4 deftly skewered the journey he was about to take...

Deadwater Fell, Channel 4 review - dark murder...

Markie Robson-Scott

An idyllic Scottish classroom full of happy children making sponge paintings of flowers with two enthusiastic young teachers – clearly, doom is in...

White House Farm, ITV review - gripping opener of true crime drama

Veronica Lee

Freddie Fox is excellent as murderer Jeremy Bamber

Jonestown: Terror in the Jungle, BBC Four review - meticulous account of a haunting American tragedy

Adam Sweeting

How deranged cult leader Jim Jones led his Peoples Temple to the slaughter

Cornwall: This Fishing Life, BBC Two review - a precarious trade on the ocean wave

Adam Sweeting

Can Mevagissey's seafaring traditions survive tourism and second-home owners?

Dracula, BBC One review - horrific, and not in a good way

Adam Sweeting

Superfluous remake of Bram Stoker's novel outstays its welcome

Dame Edna Rules the Waves / The Graham Norton Show, BBC One review - two ways to run a talk show

Adam Sweeting

Titans of the TV sofa ring in the New Year

The Trial of Christine Keeler, BBC One review - famous sex scandal makes uneven drama

Adam Sweeting

Power, corruption and lies in Sixties London

Best of 2019: TV


The shows we liked and the ones we deplored over the past 12 months

Liam Gallagher: As It Was, BBC Two review - no expletives deleted in exhausting rock-doc

Kathryn Reilly

Is Liam the last great rock'n'roll singer or just tedious in the extreme?

Gavin & Stacey Christmas Special, BBC One - a big cwtch from Barry

Veronica Lee

Festive fun with the Shipmans and Wests

Martin's Close, BBC Four review - where did the scary bits go?

Adam Sweeting

Mark Gatiss adaptation of M R James story is a damp squib

Cinderella: After Ever After, Sky 1 review - preposterous fairytale sequel tweaks the funny bone

Adam Sweeting

David Walliams drives a coach and horses through Fairyland

Hugh Grant: A Life on Screen, BBC Two review - hiding in plain sight?

Marina Vaizey

A clever mixture of self-deprecation and self-promotion

A Christmas Carol, BBC One review – Dickens classic recast as gruelling horror story

Adam Sweeting

Scrooge reimagined as asset-stripping vulture capitalist

Heston's Marvellous Menu: Back to the Noughties, BBC Two review - ghost of food trends past

Jill Chuah Masters

An overindulgent but enjoyable romp through the 2001 restaurant scene

The Brexit Storm Continues: Laura Kuenssberg's Inside Story, BBC Two review - rehashed political history fails to set pulses racing

Adam Sweeting

Behind-the-scenes doc upstaged by general election

Charles I: Killing a King, BBC Four review - sad stories of the death of kings

Adam Sweeting

Historian Lisa Hilton's somewhat over-extended voyage round the doomed monarch

Agatha and the Curse of Ishtar, Channel 5 review - a diverting melding of fact and fiction

Veronica Lee

Some clunking exposition but it looked lovely

Traces, Alibi review - pedigree cast battles implausible plot

Adam Sweeting

Dundee-set forensic thriller has too many coincidences for its own good

How They Built the Titanic, Channel 5 review - the great liner revisited again, but why now?

Adam Sweeting

It's always a great story, but this didn't tell us anything new

Elizabeth Is Missing, BBC One review - a tender but tough-minded drama about ageing and loss

Jill Chuah Masters

Glenda Jackson makes a welcome comeback in this psychological thriller-lite

Giri/Haji, Series Finale, BBC Two review - a thriller, but much more besides

Adam Sweeting

Bravura climax for Joe Barton's ingenious drama

The Family Secret, Channel 4 review - lives destroyed by historic sexual abuse

Adam Sweeting

Revelations from 25 years ago wreak havoc in Anna Hall's devastating film

Takaya: Lone Wolf, BBC Four review - enigmatic predator baffles boffins

Adam Sweeting

Outcast of the islands poses intriguing questions about animal behaviour

The Man Who Saw Too Much, BBC One review – death camp in the clouds

Tom Baily

Holocaust survivor documents his experiences as a prisoner and salvaged writer

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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