TV / DVD

56 Up

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Available online on ITV Player

In 1964 Granada TV took the Jesuit maxim "Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man" as inspiration for a series which documented the lives of 14 seven year olds every seven years. Now they are 56.

When it was first broadcast, Seven Up! shocked many with its emphasis on class - but that is what made it such compelling viewing. For me, this first programme remains the most powerful - at the time, I had been teaching seven year olds in an east London primary school.

White Heat

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This six-part drama follows the lives and loves of seven housemates. It starts in the present day when one of them has died and then goes back to the 1960s where they seem to be part of some kind of social experiment conducted by a young radical called Jack in a flat in London.

In his will the deceased has left the flat to his "former flatmates". Like my own brother he was dead for two weeks before he was found, so the flat needs some cleaning up. We see a group photo which shows the seven main characters as they were when they first moved in.

Jack wants to run a sort of island of egalitarianism where people do not have exclusive relationships - but he imposes his own rules, such as no one being allowed to sleep with anyone else for more than three nights.

Playing the Empire's game

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Computer games are now a massive industry, with a huge reach into many people's lives. Ruairidh MacLean discusses the political significance of some recent games and asks how socialists should engage with this expanding cultural industry

Not long ago video games were seen as being exclusively the refuge of children and of men unable to escape their childhoods. Perhaps little has changed, but the huge profits recorded by the industry over the last decade have proved, if nothing else, that for many video games have become a medium of choice. Moreover, games like Braid and Penumbra have proven that, even when commercial, games can still present challenges that test not only players' reflexes, but the nature of the medium itself and even the society that has produced it.

The Borgias

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Watch The Borgias and you will be entertained by a gripping, sumptuous drama telling the story of Rodrigo Borgia, a man who schemed, bribed and poisoned his way to become Pope Alexander VI. This nine-part series follows the rise of the despotic Borgia family as they struggle to maintain their grip on power.

Actor Jeremy Irons is so convincing as Rodrigo that he makes God's envoy on earth appear "human" despite the inhumane methods he uses. Murder, intrigue, treachery and sex make this so much more than a stilted costume drama - although the costumes are stunning.

Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle

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Stewart Lee

There are three comedians that I think embody the stand-up scene today: Frankie Boyle, talented but toxic; Michael McIntyre, pleasantly babbling like Boris Johnson's bozo blood brother; and Stewart Lee who is, apparently, the current comedian's comedian.

Stewart Lee's stand-up divides opinion. Not fluffy or feel-good (unless you enjoy his riffs), he does upset people. Fortunately he upsets the right people.

The War You Don't See

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Director: John Pilger, Release date: out now

"Light 'em all up," comes the voice on the radio as we see footage from an Apache gunship over Baghdad in 2007. A group of men are then mown down by machine gun fire. "Nice," continues the voice, impressed at the carnage. This footage was never before shown on TV.

This is the war we don't see - the daily violence of the "war on terror". Instead we are served a diet of false stories about weapons of mass destruction and imminent terrorist attacks, repeated on loop 24 hours a day and awarded an unquestioning reverence.

Shadows of Progress: Documentary Film in Post-War Britain 1951-77

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This sumptuous four-DVD box set produced by the British Film Institute (BFI) contains 34 rare documentary films from the post-war period.

The 100-page accompanying booklet makes grandiose claims for the significance of these films but the reality is quite different: this box set is not worth buying and only a handful of these films are worth watching even once.

In fact this set is only worth reviewing because it throws an interesting sidelight on the relationship between socialist politics and film, culture and art.

You can see the issue played out clearly enough in the recently released feature Made in Dagenham.

The Beaches of Agnes

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Director Agnès Varda, Release date: 22 February

Agnès Varda heads backwards through the sands, weaving together memories of her life, clips of her own films, and images of her friends and neighbours (some celebrities, many not).

She is retracing her steps and, in her own words, "imagining oneself as a child is like running backwards". Now 80 years old, having successfully experimented with photography, cinematography and documentary, Varda combines them all in a film about her own life. But with Varda it is never that simple.

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