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Tuesday September 28
A House Through Time
BBC Two, 9pm
No 5 Grosvenor Mount, in the Headingley area of Leeds, enters the modern age and the era of living history as the ever-reliable David Olusoga begins the final chapter of another absolutely absorbing and surprising slice of social history. Rather cheekily, one tiny detail trailed as a longstanding mystery is instantly solved by the current occupants: the “J Wood” carved into a wall in the backyard referred to the youngest son of John and Rita, the owners of the semi-detached house as the Second World War broke out, Luftwaffe bombs began to fall and their older son, Geoffrey, entered the Atlantic convoys of the merchant navy.
Later stories once again run the gamut from the most wretched luck to tremendous courage to great joy and all points in between; there is the couple who, it is believed, met in an Italian internment camp; another who came together while working for The Yorkshire Post (“Yorkshire’s national newspaper”, as it then called itself) and then finally a touching return visit for the students who had digs there while the owners were abroad for work. Charming, moving and always enlightening, it has been another triumphant series. A fifth must surely be a formality. The only question – where to next? GT
The Great British Bake Off
Channel 4, 8pm
It is biscuit week, which means brandy snaps, jammy biscuits and – a truly peculiar showstopper, this – an interactive toy made out of biscuit, where imagination and ambition look likely to outrun ability for more than one baker. GT
Channel 5, 9pm
The concluding part of Max Hastings and Onyeka Nubia’s engaging, forensic analysis of June 6, 1944, as the Nazis are slowly overwhelmed by the combined efforts of the British, Americans and Canadians, but not without serious casualties being taken. GT
Never Mind the Buzzcocks
Sky Showcase, 9pm
Your second dose of Noel Fielding for the evening, as the Bake Off host continues to moonlight in his old gig, this week joined by comedian Jamali Maddix and in-yer-face phenomenon Yungblud; singers Ellie Goulding and Tom Grennan are alongside Daisy May Cooper, with Mick Hucknall and Rod Stewart among those to crop up in the ludicrous banter. GT
Spice Girls: How Girl Power Changed Britain
Channel 4, 9.30pm
Friendship never ends? The 21st-century history of the Spice Girls suggests otherwise, and this thoughtful series reaches its final episode with a look at their solo careers and personal lives, which interweaved sporadically until the combination of #MeToo and a final reunion tour crystalised their complex legacy. GT
Standing Firm: Football’s Windrush Story
BT Sport 3, 10.30pm
BT Sport marks Black History Month with a documentary which, in the light of the unconscionable abuse meted out to England’s players of colour following the near miss of Euro 2020, could hardly be more timely. Narrated by the poet Benjamin Zephaniah, Standing Firm celebrates the impact of the Windrush generation on English football, from the late-1970s pioneers, including Viv Anderson and West Brom’s so-called Three Degrees, to Ian Wright, Paul Ince and their peers who played at the top levels with such distinction. GT
Back to Life
BBC One, from 10.35pm; NI, from 11.05pm
A double bill brings the second run of Daisy Haggard and Laura Solon’s superb sadcom to a close, with poor Miri Matteson (Haggard) trying to stay steady while her worries over John’s (Adrian Edmondson) fate threaten to turn her life upside down again. Adeel Akhtar and Geraldine James excel in support. GT
Contraband (1940, b/w) ★★★
Talking Pictures TV, 2.20pm
Conrad Veidt and Valerie Hobson team up during the London Blitz to smash a German spy ring in this larky Hitchcockian thriller from Powell and Pressburger. Its depiction of the Phoney War stage of the Second World War, when blackouts blanketed London in darkness, and danger sparked over the wireless, is well-judged; the leads, too, are impressively cool-headed among the zany zigzags of the script.
A Night to Remember (1958, b/w) ★★★★★
Film 4, 4.20pm
If James Cameron’s Titanic went head-to-head with Roy Baker’s film about the 1912 tragedy, made for less than one per cent the cost of the 1997 version, it’d sink. A Night to Remember lacks the special effects, but it’s far more emotionally involving. Kenneth More is heroic as Second Officer Bertie Lightoller, and (crucially) there’s no sentimental syrup to clog all the drama up. Baker’s film is an unfairly forgotten gem.
Cowboys (2020) ★★★★
Sky Cinema Premiere Proving adroitly how adaptable the Western is as a cinematic form (and how far it has come since John Wayne’s surly cowpoke days), Anna Kerrigan writes and directs this tender-hearted drama about a father (Steve Zahn) who flees into the Montana wilds with his transgender son (Sasha Knight). On their trail is his Bible-bashing mother (Jillian Bell) who believes her daughter has been corrupted. A beautiful, meditative tale.
Wednesday September 29
The nightmare of a child going missing is a powerful theme for a TV drama. The only problem is that Stranger Things, The Missing, The Bay, and dozens of other mysteries have already done it, and it remains to be seen if this four-part thriller by Blood writer Sophie Petzal can mine new intrigue from the tired trope – but tonight’s opener certainly grabs the attention.
It opens with a tense family barbecue featuring sisters Theresa (Anna Maxwell Martin) and Helen (Rachael Stirling), who live with their families in the same glamourous suburban cul de sac (Theresa’s house is so swanky it’s distracting). When one of their children’s school friends disappears, Theresa suspects that her 10-year-old, Ben, is somehow involved.
So in this case the missing child belongs to somebody else, but this cataclysmic event on the close causes secrets to surface and puts relationships under strain. Maxwell Martin shines as a character very different from her roles in Motherhood and Line of Duty: Theresa is a closed-off woman, dogged by flashbacks to a violent event. Helen, meanwhile, is a control freak whose personal life is nonetheless out of control. Plot seeds are scattered that look likely to grow into a taut thriller. VP
28 Up: Millennium generation
BBC One, 9pm
The spin-off of Michael Apted’s 7 Up series returns, finding its subjects aged 28. Tonight’s episode is a heartening catch-up with millennials such as Sanchez, who had to give up football but found his calling as a DJ, and Courtney, who discovered she loves teaching. No so-called snowflakes here. VP
How to Paint the Mona Lisa
More 4, 9pm
This charming film follows artist Adebanji Alade as he attempts to recreate the Mona Lisa using the same pigments, brushes and methods. It’s a gripping art history lesson as Alade learns Leonardo’s famous sfumato technique of subtle shading and experts fill us in on the history of Renaissance painting. VP
Janine Jansen: Falling for Stradivari
Sky Arts, 9pm
This feature-length documentary follows violinist Janine Jansen as she records an album with 12 important Stradivari violins. Jansen’s virtuosity is evident as she tries them out, but her analysis of each one’s sound is quite technical. Including experts detailing the history of the violins, this is one for devotees. VP
Sky Comedy, 9pm
This daft comedy starring Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins as bungling assassins Fran (Perkins) and Jamie (Giedroyc) returns for a deserved second run, with gags hitting their target more often than Fran and Jamie do. In tonight’s double bill, Sanjeev Bhaskar guest stars and Katherine Parkinson is a hoot as their old schoolfriend, Kat, who inserts herself into their double act. VP
The Blob: A Genius without a Brain
BBC Four, 10pm
A single-cell organism that is a billion years old – nicknamed “The Blob” – turns out to be so smart it can solve mazes, for example. In this documentary, leading scientists explain the surprising things Physarum polycephalum is teaching them about human intelligence. VP
Dave’s bid to replace Taskmaster is this new reality series that, like its predecessor, features comedians doing daft things. Six contestants, including Kerry Godliman, Ed Gamble and Jamali Maddix, tackle outdoorsy tasks that are judged by city softie David Mitchell. In tonight’s opener, they cut down a tree and administer first aid, rather badly. Mitchell is suitably droll and the comedians deliciously competitive. VP
Hour of the Gun (1967) ★★★
Paramount Network, 2pm
“This picture is based on Fact. This is the way it happened” – John Sturges’s drama sets out its stall early in its treatment of that most-mythologised Western moment: the shootout at the OK Corral. Sturges had previously tackled the same subject in the celebrated Gunfight at the OK Corral. This more judicious version stars James Garner as the outnumbered Marshall Wyatt Earp, while Jason Robards is the ailing Doc Holliday.
Boy Erased (2018) ★★★★
BBC Two, 11.15pm
Joel Edgerton, writing and directing, adapts Garrard Conley’s agonised memoir about being sent to a Christian “gay conversion” camp into an equally pained film. (Edgerton co-stars too, as the director of the unpleasant camp.) Lucas Hedges is superb as Jared, whose sexuality is revealed to his mother (Nicole Kidman) and father (Russell Crowe); neither are open-minded. It’s a difficult but bracing treatment of an enormously thorny issue.
True Grit (2010) ★★★★
This gripping Western directed by Joel and Ethan Coen is a remake of the 1969 John Wayne film. Hailee Steinfeld plays Mattie Ross, a sharp 14-year-old trying to find her father’s killer. Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) is the ageing gun she hires to help her, and Matt Damon is a Texas ranger along for the ride. As in all the Coens’ best work, violence and dry humour punctuate the sumptuous cinematography.
Thursday September 30
Don’t Exclude Me
BBC Two, 9pm
Prior to the pandemic, permanent exclusions from state schools in England were at their highest for almost a decade, with rates among children aged five to six years doubling in the previous three years. At Milton Hall Primary School in Southend-on-Sea, despite having a £200,000-a-year pastoral unit with four staff dedicated to behavioural issues, some pupils were so aggressive and disruptive that the school authorities felt obliged to call in specialist behavioural consultant Marie Gentles. In this opening episode of two – essential viewing for any parent with challenging offspring – Gentles heads into classrooms and homes with a view to tackling three of Milton Hall’s most disruptive children, all of them already on the brink of exclusion.
“Exclusion isn’t the answer. We need to change our story,” says Gentles, the former head of a pupil referral unit, who has developed a pioneering approach to transforming pupils behaviour and reducing the rate of exclusions. “It can work for every single child, every single time.” Quite a claim, yet watching her in action, working not only with the children but the adults around them as well, seems to bear it out. GO
The Problem with Jon Stewart
The charismatic former Daily Show host returns to television after an absence of six years, presenting this serious-minded (though Stewart’s satirical bent will doubtless make it more enjoyable than that sounds) new US-focused topical series from Apple that “brings together people impacted by different parts of a problem to discuss how we come up with change”. GO
The World’s Most Scenic Railway Journeys
Channel 5, 8pm
The fabulously photographed rail-travel series returns, starting in Australia with a four-day coast-to-coast journey aboard the Indian Pacific from Sydney to Perth. There’s also a trip on one of the southern hemisphere’s oldest lines, the Zig Zag Railway which climbs the precipitous western flank of the Blue Mountains in New South Wales. Wanderlust inducing. GO
BBC One, 9pm
Filmed at the height of the pandemic, the latest run of the Bafta-winning documentary series introduces a new cast of paramedics from the North West Ambulance Service as they care for the people of Lancashire and beyond, beginning with a potentially fatal cardiac arrest in Blackpool and a serious road traffic accident on the M55 motorway. GO
The Real Manhunt: the Night Stalker
Following last week’s drama series, Susanna Reid presents a documentary about the investigation that inspired it: the 17-year hunt for the UK’s most prolific serial sex attacker. There are fascinating interviews with the detectives involved, most notably former DCI Colin Sutton who eventually cracked the case. GO
Channel 4, 9pm
With the battle to become the 12th Taskmaster champion already well under way, this week the contestants (Alan Davies, Desiree Burch, Guz Khan, Morgana Robinson and Victoria Coren Mitchell) are called upon to put their individuality aside and demonstrate a capacity for teamwork while investigating dodgy doggy bags and slapping suspicious Space Hoppers. Zany fun. GO
All Creatures Great and Small
Channel 5, 9pm
The excellent second series continues as James’s (Nicholas Ralph) crisis of conscience over a widow’s cattle herd leads to a deepening of his relationship with Helen (Rachel Shenton). GO
Bridge of Spies (2015) ★★★★
Film 4, 6.15pm
Steven Spielberg conjures up a rewarding Cold War thriller that swirls with intrigue; its tension is worthy of the best of Hitchcock’s films. Tom Hanks stars as James Donovan, a US lawyer recruited by the CIA to defend Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance, in a role that won him a Bafta and an Oscar) and arrange to trade him for a captured US pilot in East Berlin. Amy Ryan and Alan Alda also stalk through the fog
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) ★★★★★
BBC Four, 9pm
This superb adaptation of John le Carré’s brilliant Cold War spy novel is a triumph. It follows the hunt for a Soviet double agent at the top of the British secret service, with Gary Oldman spearheading the excellent cast which includes Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt and Benedict Cumberbatch. Funny, seductive and suspenseful, director Tomas Alfredson captures scenes with silky fluidity.
The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) ★★★★
Talking Pictures TV, 11pm
Until 2006’s The Prestige, David Bowie’s best performance was as the mysterious alien in Nicolas Roeg’s film of the Walter Tevis sci-fi novel. Thomas Jerome Newton, as the alien calls himself, sets out to raise money so he can restore water to his drought-ridden planet, but gets sidetracked by tacky American culture, a pulpy romance with waitress Candy Clark, and booze. An off-kilter gem.
Friday October 1
Richard Osman’s House of Games Night
BBC One, 8.30pm
A boiling brain of good gameshow ideas and now a mega-selling author, Richard Osman has a Midas touch that has yet to desert him. Tonight, his amiably slight parlour games concept returns to primetime following a successful first run last year (alongside plenty of teatime editions). The quartet in competition for the next three Fridays are three stand-ups – teatime champion Ed Gamble, Dara Ó Briain and Sindhu Vee – and Car Share star Sian Gibson. Osman knows just how much to tweak a winning formula, adding a house band led by the “low-energy musical whimsy” of David O’Doherty, a willing foil for our host’s gentle barbs, and a level of audience participation, especially in the cunning opening round where the stars must pick out from the crowd, for example, a systems engineer on Mars Rover or Louise Brown, the first test-tube baby. Keeping the atmosphere conversational and the stakes very low (prizes include a smoking jacket and carriage clock), pinching discreetly from other series (the art-project round comes bearing a distinct whiff of Taskmaster) and finding the right combination of contestants, House of Games keeps it simple and reaps the rewards. GT
Diana: The musical
Beating Pablo Larrain’s Spencer, starring Kristen Stewart, to the punch of a wide release, this astoundingly camp-looking stage musical interpretation of the life of the Princess of Hearts, introduced as “a lonely girl aswirl”, premieres ahead of its Broadway opening in November. GT
The Thames with Tony Robinson
Channel 5, 7pm
This latest episode of the Blackadder star’s yomp along the river may already be a little out of date, with supply-chain issues and shortages in water-treatment chemicals leading to a loosening of regulations on the sewage that can be dumped into our rivers. Back in happier times, Tony Robinson here looks at the significance of the Thames in keeping our water clean, from the construction of Bazalgette’s sewer system to a lab-based recreation of the Great Stink of 1858 that inspired it. GT
BBC Two, 8pm; NI, 12.05am; not Wales
Hillary Rodham Clinton, former First Lady, joins Mary Beard for tonight’s edition, with their conversation ranging from the art, music and literature that has inspired her through her life in American politics to her own writing process. GT
The Cotswolds with Pam Ayres
Channel 5, 8pm
Another leisurely hour in the company of the estimable Pam Ayres as she tours her home district. This week she travels to Britain’s longest high street, a potter’s workshop, Adam Henson’s pioneering farm park and – a compulsory inclusion on any celebrity travelogue – a trip on a steam train. GT
Never as cosy as its trappings would suggest, the soft-focused images and daft humour of Grantchester have often disguised a flintier, more daring side, this week approaching its peak as Leonard’s (Al Weaver) trial draws near and Will (Tom Brittney) considers whether to risk his career in support of his friend. There is also, of course, a weekly case to crack: this time the death of a bystander during an armed robbery. GT
The North Water
BBC Two, 9.30pm; NI, 11.05pm
Tempers rise when two Inuit men arrive with a proposition; Drax (Colin Farrell), ever ready to exploit weakness, sees a chance at freedom and, as Sumner (Jack O’Connell) spots a bear, Andrew Haigh’s mesmerising drama takes a turn for the hallucinogenic in its penultimate episode. GT
Diana: The Musical (2021) ★★★★
In a fresh initiative from the streamer, Netflix will be broadcasting this stage production before it opens on Broadway. Based on the life of the Princess of Wales, it promises to bring us “face to face with one of the 20th century’s most compelling figures”. From the team behind Come From Away, which tackled 9/11 with jazz hands, it could be unexpectedly sensitive; or it could be a disaster. Either way, snobs beware: Diana herself probably would have loved its glorious campery.
The Guilty (2021) ★★★★
A thriller with a spine-tingling premise, Jack Gyllenhaal plays a bored 911 call operator whose ordinary day takes an unexpected turn when an apparently kidnapped mother phones in. Directed by Training Day’s Antoine Fuqua, and written by True Detective’s Nic Pizzolatto, it capitalises on its claustrophobic set-up with aplomb as Gyllenhaal’s desperate attempts to rescue the woman contrast with a panicked voice at the end of the line.
Invictus (2009) ★★★
BBC One, 11.25pm
To get you nicely warmed up for the Autumn Internationals, here’s Clint Eastwood’s take on the victorious South African team of 1995. As the country emerges from apartheid, Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) sees the potential for the national rugby union team, led by François Pienaar (Matt Damon), to be a catalyst for harmony. It’s polished, capable and uplifting; though some might feel it could do with more mud, grunt and sweat.
Catherine Gee (CG), Gerard O’Donovan (GO), Vicki Power (VP), Gabriel Tate (GT), Rachel Ward (RW) and Jack Taylor (JT)