sun 22/05/2022

TV reviews, news & interviews

The Essex Serpent, Apple TV+ review - tradition and superstition versus the march of progress

Adam Sweeting

Sarah Perry’s 2016 bestseller The Essex Serpent has been described as “a novel of ideas”, which almost sounds like a warning to anybody wanting to televise it. Happily, director Clio Barnard and screenwriter Anna Symon picked up the gauntlet, and have wrought a kind of contemplative television in which the story’s historical and philosophical preoccupations are expressed through landscape and imagery as much as dialogue and action.

Ozark, Series 4 Part 2, Netflix review - crumbling consciences and a last stand

David Nice

As the final slew of episodes in the last series of Ozark begins, Marty and Wendy Byrde, ever more the Macbeths of Osage Beach, are “in blood stepp’d in so far” that we don’t much care about their fate.

The Staircase, NOW review - addictive...

Adam Sweeting

The real-life case of Michael Peterson and the death of his wife Kathleen in 2001 has generated a steady stream of TV documentaries, though this new...

DI Ray, ITV review - Parminder Nagra battles...

Adam Sweeting

Somehow or other, fictional representations of the police have become an off-the-cuff index of changing times and evolving values. Dixon of Dock...

Chivalry, Channel 4 review - Steve Coogan and...

Veronica Lee

It was inevitable that someone would soon tackle the question of how does Hollywood start behaving in the post-MeToo world, but few would have put...

Ten Percent, Amazon Prime review - a hit and miss British makeover of the French comedy 'Call My Agent'

Helen Hawkins

The guest stars shine, but 'Ten Percent' is a satire with an identity crisis

Life After Life, BBC Two review - déjà vu all over again

Adam Sweeting

Fine adaptation of Kate Atkinson's novel is touching and profound

Why Didn't They Ask Evans?, BritBox review - a feast of murder, deception, misleading identities and forgery

Adam Sweeting

Multi-tasking Hugh Laurie brings wit and insight to Agatha Christie's novel

Anatomy of a Scandal, Netflix review - sex, sexism and the abuse of power

Adam Sweeting

Sarah Vaughan's novel gets a binge-watching makeover from David E Kelley

Gentleman Jack, Series 2, BBC One review - the queer Victorian heroine swaggers back in style

Helen Hawkins

Suranne Jones’s performance as Anne Lister is as engaging as ever

Hacks, Prime Video review - what's so funny about a career in comedy?

Adam Sweeting

Jean Smart sizzles in caustic Sin City drama

The Split, Series 3, BBC One review - the Defoes are back, more conflicted than ever

Markie Robson-Scott

Will Hannah and Nathan's marriage survive? Nicola Walker and Stephen Mangan star in Abi Morgan's legal drama

Thatcher & Reagan: A Very Special Relationship, BBC Two review - when the Iron Lady met the Cowboy President

Adam Sweeting

The transatlantic partnership that helped to shape the Eighties

Slow Horses, Apple TV+ review - the sleazy underbelly of the espionage racket

Helen Hawkins

Oddballs and losers populate flavourful dramatisation of Mick Herron novel

Bridgerton, Season 2, Netflix review - power politics and love triangles as Regency fantasy returns

Adam Sweeting

No Duke of Hastings and not much sex doesn't bode well

The Last Kingdom, Season 5, Netflix review - Danes-and-Saxons saga hurtles towards an epic climax

Adam Sweeting

How much longer can the heroic Uhtred keep riding to the rescue?

Holding, ITV review - Graham Norton’s novel moves seamlessly to the small screen

Helen Hawkins

A fine Irish cast does justice to a gentle but dark whodunnit set in West Cork

Drive to Survive, Season 4, Netflix review - bitter rivalries on and off the track

Adam Sweeting

Ratings-grabbing F1 docuseries revisits the explosive 2021 campaign

Shane, Amazon Prime review - the outsized life and times of cricket's King of Spin

Adam Sweeting

Much-lamented Aussie legend tells the story of his remarkable career

The Ipcress File, ITV review – adaptation of Len Deighton thriller fires on all cylinders

Adam Sweeting

Joe Cole, Lucy Boynton and Tom Hollander light up this Cold War classic

Killing Eve, Series 4, BBC One review - has Villanelle found God?

Markie Robson-Scott

The final series may be hard-pushed to sustain glamour or momentum

Peaky Blinders, Series 6 review, BBC One - have we reached peak Peakies?

Adam Sweeting

Steven Knight's Brummie bandits approach the final curtain

Chloe, BBC One review - good start, weak finish

Adam Sweeting

Identity-swapping drama runs out of steam in the final furlong

Inventing Anna, Netflix review - fake heiress saga outstays its welcome

Adam Sweeting

Rambling dramatisation of the Anna Delvey story never finds its focus

This Is Going To Hurt, BBC One review - hospital drama with a realistic difference

David Nice

Ben Whishaw is supremely nuanced as the screen alter ego of obstetrician Adam Kay

Magpie Murders, BritBox review - not only a whodunnit, but also a two-dunnit

Adam Sweeting

Superb TV adaptation of Anthony Horowitz's bestseller

Pam & Tommy, Disney+ review - the infamous sex tape that went global

Adam Sweeting

The exploitation of a historic episode of exploitation?

The Teacher, Channel 5 review - inappropriate behaviour in the school environment

Adam Sweeting

Sheridan Smith's masterclass in the art of falling apart

Ozark, Series 4 Part 1, Netflix review - the Macbeths of the southern lakes in even deeper waters

David Nice

Marty and Wendy Byrde continue to thicken the swamp

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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