We catch up with some of the TV shows and films currently available on free VOD services in the UK. (For BBC TV reviews and round-ups, see our weekly Best on BBC iPlayer column.)
Vet School (ITV 1 / ITV Player)
“Still to come: Fanta the goat proves a handful in theatre…” That’s the kind of cliffhanger you can expect from ITV’s Vet School, a show that jumps right into all the possible animal TV show cliches you could imagine. The docu-series follows the work of vets and students at the Edinburgh Royal School of Veterinary Studies, a setting that provides variety in its subjects – an important factor for keeping a series going for longer than the initial awww-look-it’s-so-cute novelty – but the softly spoken voice-over, which tries to create tension from not very suspenseful or dramatic scenarios, only emphasises the show’s generic qualities. Broadcast in a prime-time slot on ITV 1, that’s a problem. On ITV Player, though, should its target audience use the online service, the unsurprising 30 minutes fit comfortably enough into a lazy Sunday afternoon catch-up or a quiet weekday morning.
Available until: 14th August (Episode 1)
A Very British Brothel (Channel 4 / All 4)
What exactly makes a brothel “British”? This knowingly titled Channel 4 documentary nails the tone from the off, making the most of the juxtaposition between the naughty goings-on in the establishment’s bedrooms and the city of Sheffield that surrounds it. It’s tastefully done, not invading the privacy of its clients’ unseen sessions, but bizarrely upbeat, profiling the mother-and-daughter team that runs the place with the kind of air you expect to find in an EastEnders launderette. They chirpily change sheets and make cups of tea for customers as they wait in the living area – one seems to come back every week just for the company (and biscuit) in the reception. It’s that weird combination of unashamedly serving up sex and timidly acting like nothing is happening at all upstairs that makes for amusing watching, even if the closest to serious examination of the brothel’s legal status is the boss complaining that an employee keeps turning up late. “I bought you a pie from Greggs,” says one, after returning from a break. “Corned beef?” comes the reply, then: “Oh, you’re a good ‘un.”
Available until: 4th September
Photo: Charlie Fearn / Transparent Television
Sex in Class (Channel 4 / All 4)
Nobody likes talking about sex in Britain, but why? It arguably goes back to sex education in schools, which is tip-toed around in the national curriculum: health, not pleasure, is the sole focus. Enter Belgian Sex Therapist Goedele Liekens, who agrees with one Accrington college to trial a more explicit course with a group of 13 volunteers between the ages of 15 and 16.
What follows is fascinating piece of TV, as Liekens does everything from get the class to write their own porn to explaining to girls where the clitoris is. When she raises such subjects with those higher up the educational chain, the response is an embarrassed silence, but the boys are all too eager to jump in during classroom debates. One says he’d dump a girl for having a hairy fanny. “You need to grow up”, comes the reply from a female classmate, as Liekens not only encourages the teens to consider their sexuality, but also the way that porn has affected their views. “The average woman takes 3-4 minutes to orgasm,” she reads from one student’s homework, then mutters: “She’s going to be disappointed in life.”
There are moments of comedy, but this is not a game: the insightful and likeable Liekens is serious about changing the face of sex education, smartly giving the pupils an exam to “make them take it seriously”. Consent is an issue she emphasises, as the girls in the group gradually become more confident to speak up against the blokes. As the teachers supervising her slowly shift from concerned to convinced, you also end up fully behind her campaign. It’s not just about teaching health and pleasure to kids: it’s about respect too.
Available until: 6th September
Photo: Charlie Fearn / Stephen Wells (Above: Charlie Fearn / Matt Squire)
Best movies on Freeview VOD
Drag Me to Hell – Demand 5
Sam Raimi’s horror about a young girl who is cursed by a gypsy woman is full of the cheesy, over-the-top and practical effects that first made the director’s name. A refreshingly old-fashioned piece of scary silliness.
Available until: 9th August
James and the Giant Peach – 11th August
This stop-motion take on Roald Dahl’s book captures the magical fantasy of a young boy escaping from his aunts (by travelling in a giant fuzzy fruit with a team of talking insects) with wit and magic.
Available until: 11tn August
Harry Brown – Demand 5
A pensioner turns vigilante against the troublesome youths on his council estate. Michael Caine brings gravitas to the role.
Available until: 12th August
The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans – Demand 5
Werner Herzog’s remake of Abel Ferrara’s 1992 cop thriller follows a drug-addled detective in New Orleans, whose corrupt debts make for a darkly hilarious, disturbing and compelling watch. Nic Cage is so out of it he’s practically horizontal.
Available until: 17th August
Samantha Morton and Ciaran Hinds star in this adaptation of the Bronte classic, which sees the young Jane become governess at Thornfield Hallf – only to fall for the mysterious Mr. Rochester.
Available until: 18th August
Nic Cage and Nicole Kidman are held captive in their own home in this enjoyably stupid thriller.
Available until: 25th August
The Princess Bride – Demand 5
Need a charming, clever, funny adventure that appeals to boys and girls alike? As you wish.
Available until: 28th August