fri 14/08/2020

TV reviews, news & interviews

Mandy, BBC2 review - Diane Morgan's new creation

Veronica Lee

Mandy started life in the Comedy Shorts season last year, and has now been given a six-part series. Diane Morgan, who has a solid CV in other writers' work including Philomena Cunk, Motherland and After Life, here writes, directs and stars as the title character, who has a messy  beehive, always wears thigh-high boots, has a fag on the go and a face set to permanent grimace.

AIM Awards 2020, SBTV review - a game attempt to rewire awards ceremonies

Joe Muggs

Music awards shows are a strange beast: part window display, part industry conference and part party. Especially if you don’t have Brit Awards or Mercury Prize budget to create a whizz-bang spectacle, the ceremonies can be an interminable pileup of attempts to earnestly celebrate both musicians and behind-the-scenes figures, in front of a room full of increasingly drunk and impatient people.

Cuba: Castro vs the World, BBC Two - turbulent...

Adam Sweeting

During World War Two, President Franklin D Roosevelt described the USA as “the arsenal of democracy”. Only a couple of decades later, Fidel Castro...

The Adulterer, Channel 4 review - atmospheric,...

Sebastian Scotney

It has taken a good half decade for the Dutch series Overspel (The Adulterer) to make it on to TV screens in the UK. Its 32 episodes were made in...

Everything: The Real Thing Story, BBC Four review...

Joe Muggs

This documentary is bittersweet viewing on quite a number of levels. First, it’s got all the glory and tragedy of the most compelling music stories:...

Imagine... My Name is Kwame, BBC One review - interesting but incomplete

Matt Wolf

Profile of Young Vic artistic director could go still further

The Deceived, Channel 5 review - who's fooling who?

Adam Sweeting

Confused drama can't decide whether it's a thriller or a ghost story

Little Birds, Sky Atlantic review - decadence and intrigue in 1950s Morocco

Adam Sweeting

Adaption of Anaïs Nin's stories is raunchy and risqué

The Talk, Channel 4 review - coping with the legacy of racism

Adam Sweeting

Black Britons discuss their personal struggles against prejudice

Prodigal Son, Sky 1 review - meet Michael Sheen, psycho killer

Adam Sweeting

Macabre humour and ghoulish killings make this a highly bingeable series

Our Baby: A Modern Miracle, Channel 4 review - trailblazing couple's amazing journey

Adam Sweeting

Jake and Hannah Graf are Britain's first parents who are both transgender

Laurel Canyon, Sky Documentaries review - musical bliss in lotus land

Adam Sweeting

Evocative history of the Los Angeles musical community in the Sixties and Seventies

Bears About the House, BBC Two review - uphill struggle to save hunted animals

Marina Vaizey

How conservationist Giles Clark has been trying to rescue the persecuted bears of south-east Asia

The Real Eastenders, Channel 4 review - timewarp on the Thames

Adam Sweeting

Idiosyncratic doc records the life and times of the Isle of Dogs

Institute, BBC Four review – masculinity and memory in a nightmarish world of work

Sam Marlowe

Physical theatre company Gecko's debut film is compelling and technically skilled

Rockfield: The Studio on the Farm, BBC Four review - the amazing story of Britain's own honky chateau

Liz Thomson

Rockin' at Rockfield

The Plot Against America, Sky Atlantic review - fascism comes to 1940s USA

Adam Sweeting

Fascinating adaptation of Philip Roth's alternative-history novel

The Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty, BBC Two review - how the Aussie tycoon acquired huge political leverage

Adam Sweeting

New documentary told us what Rupert did, but not what he's really like

Mrs America, BBC Two review - how a conservative revolutionary scuppered the Equal Rights Amendment

Adam Sweeting

Cate Blanchett as the Republican housewife superstar who battled the Seventies feminists

The Choir: Singing for Britain Finale, BBC Two review - stirring songs from a garden shed

Adam Sweeting

Inspiring finale for Gareth Malone's Home Chorus project

The Battle of Britain, Channel 5 review - 80th anniversary of the RAF's finest hour

Adam Sweeting

Behind the scenes of the air war that saved the nation

Being Beethoven, BBC Four review – from grubby kid to grumpy genius

Peter Quantrill

Attention-span anxiety yields more insight into man than music

The Kemps: All True, BBC Two review - more self-promotion than self-mockery

Adam Sweeting

Spandau Ballet-boys show willing but spoof rock-doc misses the point

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, Sky Atlantic review - the good, the bad and the unspeakable

Adam Sweeting

Shape-shifting Natalie Dormer wreaks havoc in a combustible 1930s Los Angeles

Storyville: Welcome to Chechnya, BBC Four review - trauma, tension and resistance

Tom Birchenough

David France's 'guerrilla' documentary charts brave Russian response to extreme anti-LGBTQ campaign

Das Boot, Series 2 Finale, Sky Atlantic review - deeper and darker

Adam Sweeting

The casualties mount as the waters keep getting rougher

The Hidden Wilds of the Motorway, BBC Four review - mysteries and marvels of the M25

Adam Sweeting

Naturalist Helen Macdonald takes an imaginative journey around London's orbital motorway

My Brilliant Friend, Season 2: The Story of a New Name, Sky Atlantic review – a troubling friendship deepens

David Nice

Painstakingly vivid serialisation of Elena Ferrante’s masterpiece glows again

Alan Bennett's Talking Heads, BBC One review - still lives run deep


Bennett double-bill gives wounding voice to the lonely and the loveless

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.

Close Footnote


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

latest in today

Spree review - a wild ride through social media madness

Allergic to that word “influencer”? Afraid that social...

Mandy, BBC2 review - Diane Morgan's new creation

Mandy started life in the Comedy Shorts season last year, and has now been given a six-part series. Diane Morgan, who has a...

Theatre Unlocked 4: Shows in concert and a contemporary clas...

After months spent sifting amongst the virtual, I'm pleased to report that live performance looks to be on the (socially distanced) rebound. The...

Pinocchio review - wooden heart

This seems a perfect project for Matteo Garrone, a director who has found new ways to conjure old Italian dreams, and invests even his most grimly...

AIM Awards 2020, SBTV review - a game attempt to rewire awar...

Music awards shows are a strange beast: part window display, part industry conference and part party. Especially if you don’t have Brit Awards or...

Charles Owen, Fidelio Orchestra Café review - high-profile,...

Composer Gian-Carlo Menotti once asked rhetorically what society wanted of performing artists – “the bread of life or the after-dinner mint?”...

Album: Biffy Clyro - A Celebration of Endings

Together for over 20 years and with a string of incredibly successful albums, the...

Fanny and Stella, Garden Theatre review - a saucy slice of q...

In a purgatorial summer, this boisterous, camp and chaotically charming...

Cuba: Castro vs the World, BBC Two - turbulent life and time...

During World War Two, President Franklin D Roosevelt described the USA as “the arsenal of democracy”. Only a couple of decades later, Fidel Castro...

The Telephone, Scottish Opera/Cargill, RSNO, Søndergård, Edi...

Lockdown, perhaps more than any other time, has amplified how ...