TV / DVD

Black and British: A Forgotten History

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As part of the BBC’s Black and British season, running throughout November, historian David Olusoga presents this four-part documentary on the black presence in Britain.

The programme opens with repeated images of the quintessentially green and pleasant British landscape. Olusoga’s aim is to project black presence not onto but into this scene. In a sweep from Roman Britain to the present, he describes how black and British history are intertwined.

Cleverman

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For any politically engaged viewer, the fierce social criticism at the core of the television series Cleverman will be immediately apparent. The series pulls no punches in its attack on the Australian government’s racist policies towards Indigenous people and asylum seekers, while commenting on very real debates among these communities and their allies over how best to resist them.

Embrace of the Serpent

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This remarkable film, set in Amazonian Colombia in the early 20th century, achieves what so many fail to — it transports you not only to another time and place, but to a different mind-set and approach to storytelling.

It is at once dreamlike as the shaman Karamakate leads his western travellers down the river in search of a hallucinogenic plant, but also political and angry in its depiction of colonialism and the social and environmental destruction it brings.

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.

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