wed 24/02/2021

TV reviews, news & interviews

Bloodlands, BBC One review - ghosts of the Troubles return to poison the present

Adam Sweeting

Belfast-based thriller Bloodlands comes from the pen of first-time TV writer Chris Brandon, though he may find some of his thunder being stolen by the show’s producer, Line of Duty supremo Jed Mercurio. Line of Duty is filmed in Belfast too, though it doesn’t advertise the fact on screen.

Framing Britney Spears, Sky Documentaries review - the rollercoaster ride of the former teen icon

Adam Sweeting

She became one of the most successful pop stars in history, but Britney Spears has also become a paradigm of the horrors and pitfalls of life in the white heat of showbusiness.

Whirlybird: Live Above LA - Storyville, BBC Four...

Adam Sweeting

A story of obsession, media madness and the price of fame, as well as a filmic incarnation of Jim Morrison’s “bloody red sun of fantastic LA”, Matt...

ZeroZeroZero, Sky Atlantic review - how drug...

Adam Sweeting

Based on a book by Roberto Saviano, author of the Neapolitan gang saga Gomorrah, ZeroZeroZero (Sky Atlantic) is an account of the international drugs...

The Drowning, Channel 5 review - unbelievable

Adam Sweeting

The theme of a parent haunted by the loss of a child can have powerful dramatic potential, and this is the premise behind The Drowning, Channel 5’s...

theartsdesk Q&A: Isabella Pappas on how 'Finding Alice' is a blueprint for bereavement

Laura De Lisle

Youngest star of the ITV drama discusses grief, teenage girls, and getting into character

Spiral, Series 8 Finale, BBC Four review - justice is done in stormy climactic episodes

Adam Sweeting

Epic French cop show rides off into the sunset

Marcella, Series 3, ITV review - Anna Friel returns as the defective detective

Adam Sweeting

Terror and trauma in a high-risk mission in Belfast

theartsdesk Q&A: actor Polly Walker on 'Bridgerton' and the new breed of period drama

Laura De Lisle

Talking wigs, women, and her (brief) experience of coronavirus

It's a Sin, Channel 4 review - poignant, funny, vibrant masterpiece

David Nice

Russell T Davies's deep and shapely drama about the impact of AIDS on 1980s London

Call My Agent!, Series 4, Netflix review - the final bow for the Parisian showbiz saga?

Adam Sweeting

It's daggers drawn in the caustic actors-and-agents drama

Silenced: The Hidden Story of Disabled Britain, BBC Two review - documentary fails to deliver

Saskia Baron

Worthy programme flawed by the omission of the learning-disabled

Servant, Apple TV+ review - shocks, shivers and black humour in missing-baby saga

Adam Sweeting

M Night Shyalaman's drama is fascinating and confounding

Finding Alice, ITV review - thriller, comedy or melodrama?

Adam Sweeting

Keeley Hawes leads a strong cast in no particular direction

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

Adam Sweeting

Final series of the show that's more than just a 'policier'

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

Adam Sweeting

How fate conspired against the car-crazy star's Formula One movie

The Great, Channel 4 review - Russian history gets a whirl in the fictional blender

Adam Sweeting

Screenwriter Tony McNamara refuses to let the facts stand in his way

The Serpent, BBC One review - tracking down the hippie-trail murderer

Markie Robson-Scott

Charming psychopath Charles Sobhraj's motives remain elusive in real life and on-screen

Doctor Who: Revolution of the Daleks, BBC One review - a perfectly predictable romp

Laura De Lisle

Jodie Whittaker's Doctor sparks up a festive adventure with no real surprises

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

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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