thu 26/11/2020

TV reviews, news & interviews

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

Tim Cumming

There have been Felabrations, stage musicals, bands featuring his sons Seun and Femi that have continued the legacy. There has been the slew of re-releases from his massive catalogue, and a number of films, including Alex Gibney’s Finding Fela, and the 1982 classic, Music is the Weapon. In his afterlife, the legendary Fela Kuti and his music feels more alive than ever.

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

Adam Sweeting

On the face of it, this new Sky Atlantic series sounded as though it might be a grave and sombre slice of American history, telling the story of the anti-slavery crusader John Brown and how his raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia helped push America into the Civil War.

Offended by Irvine Welsh, Sky Arts review - are...

Adam Sweeting

Do we have a right not be offended? It's a question that’s growing bigger and uglier, thanks to the censorious “cancel culture” which has become such...

Small Axe: Mangrove, BBC One review - explosive...

Demetrios Matheou

With the Black Lives Matter movement spurred this year by another wave of police brutality against African Americans, Steve McQueen’s blisteringly...

The Crown, Season 4, Netflix review - royalty...

Adam Sweeting

Pre-release excitement about the fourth coming of The Crown (Netflix) has centred on Emma Corrin’s portrayal of Princess Diana, still big box-office...

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

The Same Sky, More4 review - Cold War thriller from both sides of the Berlin wall

Markie Robson-Scott

Deutschland 74: German-British co-production explores the surreality of spying

The Sister, ITV review - half-baked dramatisation of esteemed novel

Adam Sweeting

Neil Cross's 'Burial' falls on its face on telly

The Undoing, Sky Atlantic review - trouble in paradise for gilded Manhattan couple

Adam Sweeting

New York elite rocked by scandal and murder

Bruce Springsteen's Letter to You, Apple TV+ review - his new album is a matter of life and death

Adam Sweeting

Documentary takes an emotional journey through the past with the E Street Band

Roadkill, BBC One review - David Hare pokes under the floorboards of the Conservative party

Adam Sweeting

Hugh Laurie plays an ambitious government minister with a shady history

Taskmaster, Channel 4 review - comedy show makes seamless transfer

Veronica Lee

Still utterly daft and joyous

Emily in Paris, Netflix review - addictive escapism in the City of Light

Adam Sweeting

Lily Collins shines in Darren Star's fashionable fantasy

Enslaved with Samuel L Jackson, BBC Two review - ambitious history of the slave trade falls short

Adam Sweeting

Noble intentions undone by loss of focus and rambling content

Brave New World, Sky 1 review - Aldous Huxley's novel doesn't look very happy on TV

Adam Sweeting

Lame adaptation enlivened by gratuitous slaughter

Black Classical Music: The Forgotten History, BBC Four review - sounds to treasure

Jessica Duchen

This spirited zip through three centuries of scandalously neglected composers has never been more necessary

Bernard Haitink: The Enigmatic Maestro, BBC Two review - saying goodbye with Bruckner

Peter Quantrill

Candour and warmth light up a thoroughly musical portrait

The Movies: The Seventies review - a mirror on malaise

Graham Fuller

Sky's Hollywood documentary series reaches the Watergate decade

A Special School, BBC Wales review - heartwarming film about special needs education

Saskia Baron

Lovingly made and inspiring new series shows what's possible for students with special needs

Extinction: The Facts, BBC One review - David Attenborough tells a devastating story

Marina Vaizey

This horrifying prognosis on the future of our planet was essential viewing

The Singapore Grip, ITV review - colonial clichés

Saskia Baron

Christopher Hampton’s lacklustre adaptation of JG Farrell fails to develop characters beyond caricature

Away, Netflix review - pioneering voyage to Mars descends into astrosoap

Adam Sweeting

Ambitious multinational space mission is more melodrama than sci-fi

Sheridan Smith: Becoming Mum, ITV review - will motherhood be the gateway to a new life?

Adam Sweeting

Raw account of how depression and insecurity derailed a stellar career

All Creatures Great and Small, Channel 5 review - revival of vintage vet show is full of Yorkshire promise

Adam Sweeting

Comforting escapism for an age of pandemics and eco-panic

I Hate Suzie, Sky Atlantic review - Billie Piper excels as an actress on the edge

Markie Robson-Scott

Celebrity and its perils: a thrilling co-creation by Lucy Prebble and Billie Piper

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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