fri 15/01/2021

TV reviews, news & interviews

Spiral, Series 8, BBC Four review - dark days in the City of Light

Adam Sweeting

The discovery of a grotesque murder is the traditional way to begin a new series of Spiral, and this time around the cadaver belonged to a young Moroccan boy, nicknamed Shkun. He’d been beaten to death with an iron bar and stuffed into a laundromat washing machine.

Steve McQueen: The Lost Movie, Sky Documentaries review - the classic motor racing film that never was

Adam Sweeting

The motor racing passion of movie star Steve McQueen is well documented, from his motorcycling exploits in The Great Escape to the rubber-burning car chase around San Francisco in Bullitt to his weird but mesmeric sports car odyssey Le Mans. Less widely known, however, was his plan to shoot a movie about Formula One during the mid-Sixties.

The Great, Channel 4 review - Russian history...

Adam Sweeting

History ain’t what it used to be, not on television at any rate. Recently we’ve witnessed the ongoing furore about the factual accuracy or otherwise...

The Serpent, BBC One review - tracking down the...

Markie Robson-Scott

“They’re only rich assholes. They don’t merit your concern,” serial killer and psychopath Charles Sobhraj (Tahar Rahim, A Prophet, Heal the Living),...

Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks, BBC One...

Laura De Lisle

The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) has a simple routine: she gets up at the same time every day, tramps out for her allotted hour of exercise, and spends...

Best of 2020: TV


A terrible year for many, but a priceless opportunity for television

Black Narcissus, BBC One review - a haunting in the Himalayas

Saskia Baron

'Sister Act 4'? Only if you've eaten too many brandy-soaked mince pies...

Roald and Beatrix: The Tail of the Curious Mouse, Sky One review – twinkly tale for troubled times

Joseph Walsh

Dahl-meets-Potter Christmas drama with Dawn French, Rob Brydon and Jessica Hynes

Bridgerton, Netflix review - bodice-ripper cliches recycled in Regency romp

Adam Sweeting

Mixed-race historical mashup is entertaining but shallow

All Creatures Great and Small: Christmas Special, Channel 5 review - big and little dramas in the Dales

Adam Sweeting

Revived vet show hits a Yuletide home run

Upstart Crow: Lockdown Christmas 1603, BBC Two review – plaguey beaks and bubonidiots

David Nice

Ideas needed for a Scottish play from David Mitchell’s Will and Gemma Whelan’s Kate

Small Axe: Education, BBC One review - domestic drama concludes groundbreaking film series with quiet power

Thomas H Green

Systematic prejudice in the 1970s school system gives emotional punch to Steve McQueen's finale

Tin Star: Liverpool, Sky Atlantic review - massed mayhem on Merseyside

Adam Sweeting

It's high noon as Jack Worth and family come looking for vengeance

Coronation Street: 60 Unforgettable Years, ITV review - inside story of the world's longest-running TV soap

Adam Sweeting

They said it wouldn't last, but 'Corrie' became an all-time classic

Small Axe: Alex Wheatle, BBC One review - elliptical telling of a writer's troubled early life

David Nice

Steve McQueen engages powerful performances and fine filming to show rather than tell

The Dambusters, Channel 5 review - yet another telling of the Bouncing Bomb story

Adam Sweeting

An eager Dan Snow recreates the fabled mission of Guy Gibson and 617 Squadron

The Undoing, Series Finale, Sky Atlantic review - bluff and double-bluff as the truth is revealed

Adam Sweeting

Murder mystery reaches dramatic courtroom climax

Small Axe: Red, White and Blue, BBC One review - sobering real-life story of police officer Leroy Logan

Adam Sweeting

One man's bid to change the Metropolitan Police from the inside

What a Carve Up!, Barn Theatre online review – ingenious whodunnit

Aleks Sierz

Film adaptation of Jonathan Coe’s 1994 bestseller is a postmodern masterpiece

Arena - Fela Kuti: Father of Afrobeat, BBC Two review - the music that never dies

Tim Cumming

Intimate and in-depth portrait of West Africa's great cultural icon

The Good Lord Bird, Sky Atlantic review - picaresque account of the myth of John Brown

Adam Sweeting

Ethan Hawke leads an outlandish ride through American history

Offended by Irvine Welsh, Sky Arts review - are we seeing the end of free speech?

Adam Sweeting

'Trainspotting' author examines the insidious march of cancel culture

Small Axe: Mangrove, BBC One review - explosive start to five films about racial injustice

Demetrios Matheou

London's burning in Steve McQueen's account of the Mangrove Nine trial

The Crown, Season 4, Netflix review - royalty rocked by personal and political turbulence

Adam Sweeting

Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher steal the limelight

David Crosby: Remember My Name, Sky Arts review - a rock icon looks in the mirror

Liz Thomson

America's town crier - still singing out

His Dark Materials, Series 2, BBC One review – upping the ante whilst retaining the magic

Joseph Walsh

A third world and the promise of a divine war to come worthy of Dante

theartsdesk Q&A: screenwriter Jed Mercurio

Adam Sweeting

The mastermind of 'Line of Duty' and 'Bodyguard' has created an online screenwriting course for the BBC

The Queen's Gambit, Netflix review - chess prodigy's story makes brilliant television

Adam Sweeting

Anya Taylor-Joy excels in adaptation of Walter Tevis's novel

Harlots, BBC Two review – sublime, ridiculous, and always entertaining

Laura De Lisle

Samantha Morton and Danny Sapani ground third series of madcap brothel drama

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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