TV / DVD

Undercover

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Legal dramas are invariably bedevilled by overacting and wild scenarios which bear little comparison with what really goes on in the criminal justice system. These misgivings aside, I was attracted by the presence of two talented black actors, Sophie Okonedo and Adrian Lester in the lead roles as Maya and Nick.

Episode 1 begins with a flourish. A juggernaut bears down on Maya’s car as she struggles to answer a crucial phone call. She is racing to Louisiana where her client Rudy Jones is waiting to be executed.

Culloden/The War Game

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At a time when historical programming consists almost entirely of royalist sycophancy and “celebrities” ambling around ruins, it is instructive to recall the early works of radical film-maker Peter Watkins. Both Culloden (1964) and The War Game (1965) were commissioned by the BBC under the aegis of Huw Wheldon, then head of the BBC’s Documentary Film Department when BBC 2 was still in its infancy.

Deutschland 83

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This eight-part spy thriller is said to be auguring a golden age for German TV — and it’s been a long time coming.

The series will air on Channel 4 and is the first show to launch its video-on-demand service for “quality foreign television”, Walter Presents, a strand of the online platform All4.

In recent years the British audience for “Scandi noir” has expanded to welcome French and Italian thrillers, but there’s been nothing from Europe’s economic powerhouse.

Hard to Be a God

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Russian director Aleksei German’s last film Hard to Be a God (2014) is an adaptation of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s 1964 novel of the same name.

The Strugatskys were Russian brothers who wrote science fiction novels in the former USSR (Arkady died in 1991 and Boris in 2012). Their most famous work, Roadside Picnic, was filmed by Andrei Tarkovsky as Stalker (1979).

Kill the Messenger

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For the past 40 years the films of Alan J Pakula have defined the genre of the conspiracy thriller. The Parallax View and All the President’s Men depict the sinister, secretive world of the intelligence community and its covert activity brought to light by crusading journalists to a grateful nation.

Kill The Messenger is a forceful rewriting of the genre. A true story, it is a powerful indictment of government collusion and media complicity in the destruction of a fearless principled journalist who uncovered the story of his life and pays the ultimate price for doing so.

Medium Cool

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The year 1968 was a defining one for a generation of political activists and it is not surprising that artists sought to reflect this. In Europe film makers such as Jean-Luc Godard and Lindsay Anderson made explicitly political movies savaging the ruling class and calling for revolution.

In Hollywood the studios were floundering under their own weight and insignificance. They could only hint at the cataclysms going on in society, bringing out subversive genre movies such as Planet of the Apes and Once Upon a Time in the West.

This is England '90

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It is almost a decade since Shane Meadows’ film This is England was released and his characters — from 12 year old lost boy Shaun to the terrifying National Front supporter Combo — grabbed us by the throat.

The original film was set in 1983 with a backdrop of the Falklands War and Thatcher’s re-election entrenching her reign of destruction. Its bleak setting in a non-specific East Midlands/South Yorkshire town presented a world of limitations and small horizons. The central characters’ identity as skinheads gave them a sense of being part of a culture.

Life in Squares

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This new series on Virginia Woolf is perhaps the most radical, and truthful, on-screen account of her life to date.

Refreshingly, the programme’s director, Simon Kaijser, does not portray Woolf merely as a writer plagued by mental health problems, but instead situates her within her own historical and social context.

This allows us to appreciate just how progressive much of her thought and work really was.

Stonemouth

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Stonemouth is a two-part drama adapted from Iain Banks’s novel of the same name. It is the first adaptation of one of his novels since his untimely death in 2013. It is billed as a romantic mystery.

The story is told by Stewart Gilmour, who was run out of town by his girlfriend Ellie Murston’s family. He is now returning from London years later to attend the funeral of his best friend, Ellie’s brother Callum.

Up the Auntie?

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While we do not know yet who will win the May election, it is already clear that among the biggest losers will surely be the BBC. Whatever government we have, it is certain that the BBC will be mangled and probably dismembered. When a disease-carrying rat like Jeremy Clarkson abandons the Good Ship BBC (and please do not tell me that the “fracas” was anything but a stage-managed exit strategy), it is clear that we are in a Titanic and iceberg moment.

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