The best films and TV shows on BBC iPlayer (18th June 2017)
Ivan Radford | On 18, Jun 2017
We review the best TV shows and films currently available on BBC iPlayer. (Click here to skip to our reviews of the best movies on BBC iPlayer.)
For BBC Three recommendations, including Clique, Murder in Successville and Five by Five, click here.
Pick of the Week: Pitch Battle
If you liked Pitch Perfect, BBC One’s new Saturday night music contest is for you. The show makes no pretence about its inspiration coming from the Anna Kendrick flick, even hiring Deke Sharon, the musical director on the movies, to provide commentary on events from a balcony overlooking the flashy stage. And it’s that straight-forward quality that makes this such an unexpectedly disarming delight: there are no gimmicks here, no live phone-ins, revolving chairs, buzzers or inter-judge rivalry. And, crucially, there are no sneering car crash failures to keep people cruelly entertained. If that sounds dull, compared to what you’re used to from this tired old talent show slot, you clearly haven’t listened to the show yet: Pitch Battle’s secret weapon in the competitive Saturday night arena is good old-fashioned musical talent.
Rounding up groups from Liverpool (LMA), the University of Birmingham (The Uptone Girls), Leeds (Leeds Contemporary Singers), London (gospel group A Flame) and more, the show simply sits back and lets them sing – and boy, can each of them sing. If you like singing, or a capella, it’s a treat just to have a programme dedicated to people being really good at singing, whether against each other in a “Riff Off” format stolen from the films or on their own (LMA’s rendition of Purple Rain is astonishing).
American R&B singer Kelis and choirmaster Gareth Malone are harmless as judges, while guest judge (the first of many) Will Young is likeably enthusiastic – and with the quality on display, you can’t really blame him. Essentially Gareth’s Best in Britain but with more sequins and added Will Young, the result is, at worst, relentessly cheesy, and, at best, genuinely different.
Pick of the Week: Poldark
Poldark’s back – and it’s as good as ever, as the BBC’s costume drama gallops along the coastlines of Cornwall at a confident pace. Now in its third season, the literary adaptation knows exactly what its fans want: some star-crossed romance, as Ross and Elizabeth continue to shoot glances at each other, even though she’s now married to the loathsome George Warleggan; some salt-of-the-earth affection, as good and honest Demelza tries to rebuild her marriage to Ross; some pretty shots of the sun-dappled cliffs; and a bit with Aidan Turner’s top off.
Almost of them are on the cards in this opening episode, with George ordering his stepson, Geoffrey (child of Francis and Elizabeth), and family to stay away from the Poldarks, just as his new governess (Elizabeth’s cousin, Morwenna – Ellise Chappell) finds herself swooning over Demelza’s brother, Drake (Harry Richardson). More star-crossed romance and mining in the British countryside? Yes please. The only thing missing is Aidan Turner getting his top off, but we all know that’s only a matter of time.
One Love Manchester
Staged by Ariana Grande less than two weeks after the terror attack that occurred following her gig in the city, this benefit concert is estimated to have raised more than £2 million for the victims of the bombing. With Grande joined by stars such as Robbie Williams, Take That, Katy Perry, Little Mix, Justin Bieber, Coldplay and Liam Gallagher, the music is good, but the treat comes from seeing the latter two put aside their past feuds to duet on a cover of Oasis classic Live Forever, while Martin and Grande both lead a crowd singalong to Don’t Look Back in Anger. A moving demonstration of the uniting power of pop music.
Frankie Boyle’s New World Order
Insightful, incisive and intelligently obscene, it’s a treat to have Frankie Boyle back on BBC screens after a string of successful BBC iPlayer exclusives. His new show sees him turn his disparaging eye upon the week’s events, before debating his bleak world view with guest panelists. Sara Pascoe and Miles Jupp are ideal, upbeat foils to Frankie’s nasty, depressive monologues – and it’s testament to how much promise this show has that it’s still funny, even though its opening episode suffers hugely by being recorded before the general election, the result of which the programme doesn’t quite predict.
Last Chance: Detectorists: Season 1 (Box Set)
A sitcom about metal detectorists? You could be forgiven for skipping past this unassuming BBC Four series, but Mackenzie Crook delivers his script – about two show ground-gazing friends – with an endearingly downbeat charm, supported by the excellent Toby Jones, who manages to be both socially inept and amusingly sympathetic. Dig past the quiet surface and there’s treasure here. Read our full review.
Last Chance: Paula
Hot on the heels of The Replacement comes another three-part psychological thriller from the BBC. While that disappointed many with its climax, though, Paula’s opening episode promises depths galore with no hint of unevenness. Denise Gough is sensational as the eponymous heroine, a science teacher who is tangled in an affair with PE teacher Philip (Edward MacLiam). As she tries to end their relationship, she stumbles into bed with handyman James (Tom Hughes), whom she hires to help get rid of the rats in her basement. A vermin infestation soon becomes the least of her worries, though, as her life spirals into a shadowy haze of blackmail, violence, obsession and heated confrontations. Gough’s performance brings a wealth of complexity to Paula, who is full of contradictions, spiky edges and sullenly flawed nuance. Hughes, meanwhile, is broodingly intense as the mysterious James, whose own domestic circumstances are decidedly less clear. Conor McPherson (The Weir) is a playwright with a knack for blurring the mundane and supernatural, and there’s a clinging sense of two people being haunted, by both past losses and new decisions, as they collide messily and overturn each other’s lives. Those hidden infestations, it seems, run deep.
Photo: BBC/Sophie Mutevelian
Last Chance: The Met: Policing London
The Metropolitan Police is a vital part of London life, but what do they actually do? This BBC series returns to give us new insights and behind-the-scenes accounts of day-to-day policing, from what car chases are actually like to gunmen targeting businesses. In an age where the division between the police and the public has never been so charged, this is an engaging and eye-opening piece of television that, crucially, does the job of humanising our boys and girls in blue.
Last Chance: Sgt Pepper’s Musical Revolution with Howard Goodall
What is it that made The Beatles so remarkable? Between the frenzied fans and 60s hairstyles, it can be easy to forget one of the things that cemented the Fab Four’s place in music’s hall of fame: just how ground-breaking they were. Composer Howard Goodall proves it with this fantastic documentary, which delves into the band’s innovative, iconic album just in time for its anniversary – unearthing the bold instrumentations, deliberately wrong-footing drum rhythms and unplanned experiments that formed the bedrock of a radical piece of music production. Producer George Martin, for example, got a whole orchestra to play random notes from their instrument’s lowest point all the way up to an E major chord, a discordant jumble of chaos that results in one of most mind-blowing sounds in record history. Add in a brave use of sustainers to keep the piano chord going for as long as possible and you have something truly magical. And that’s just one track. That creative approach set the bar for every band that followed, blending art and pop into something still dazzling 50 years on. A must-see for fans of The Beatles or music – or, in other words, everyone.
Last Chance: Cardinal
Moody detective? Check. Old case looming over their shoulders? Check. Returning to duty after a period of absence? Check. Cardinal sounds like all the usual Scandi cop conventions, but this drama actually hails from Canada, a fact that gives it a slightly more distinctive tone. Billy Campbell is engaging as the brooding cop, who was demoted years ago for believing a missing girl had been murdered, while Karine Vanasse provides strong support as Lise, the cop watching to see what he knows and doesn’t, as the girl’s body eventually turns up. The conventional script is solid enough, while director Daniel Grou captures the landscape with haunting aerial shots that make this more than just easy on the eye.
Bill Cosby: Fall of an American Icon
It goes without saying that this documentary about Bill Cosby isn’t very cheerful viewing, but it’s certainly very informative and important viewing. If you’ve wondered in the last year why the downward spiral of one of Hollywood’s brightest stars, following accusations of sexual assault, has been out of the UK media headlines, especially as his criminal trial kicked off at the start of June, this is the programme for you. There’s a reminder of his influence and inspiration within the TV world decades ago, but that’s offset with disturbingly frank accounts of Cosby’s alleged drugging and raping of women.
Glastonbury: My Hero
BBC’s Glastonbury coverage is one of the highlights of BBC iPlayer every year, but this summer, the Beeb is building up to the festival with this rather neat series of short films following tribute acts for each of the three main Glasto headlines: Foo Fighters, Ed Sheeran and Radiohead. Tribute bands used to mean podgy men in Beatles suits and hen parties, but these days, serious money can be made, while some take their imitations even more seriously. The trio of shorts begins with car salesman Jay Apperley, who spends part of his life living as Foo Fighters legend Dave Grohl.
Sean Bean is brilliant in this drama from Jimmy McGovern. Bean plays a priest in northern England who’s haunted by his harsh upbringing, his traumatic flashbacks interrupting mass as he tries to educate and encourage children about communion. It might sound cliched, but McGovern’s portrait of a flock of troubled sheep struggling to get by in modern Britain is superbly well realised, full of rounded characters, believable troubles and moving dilemmas. Anna Friel is remarkable as Christina, a single mother of three children whose job is lost, whose money is already gone and whose mother is on death’s door. Friel’s barely contained anger, as she faces a job centre encounter reminiscent of I, Daniel Blake, is heartbreaking to witness, but it’s Bean’s understated gruff grunts and forced smiles and jokes that really get under your skin, as doubts visibly creep across his face about whether he can really act a shepherd to the people around him (although who better than Sean Bean, a man well versed in dying on screen, to counsel people through tough times?). Rev without the laughs, Broken is cracking stuff.
Photo: Des Willie
Frank Skinner on Muhammad Ali
Frank Skinner may not seem like the most obvious person to present a documentary about Muhammad Ali, but the comedian approaches it from the place he knows best: his admiration for an entertainer and natural comedian as much as a sporting legend. The result is a reminder of the impact the hard-punching icon had upon the world, filtered through the perspectives of his neighbours, her young brother, his business manager and Frank’s own charming wit.
Photo: King Bert Productions / Mary Crisp
White Gold (Box Set)
Essex. 1983. Vincent Swan is a double-glazing salesman willing to go to any length to get cash out of a customer. He smarms, smiles, swears and straight-up threatens his way to sales, a brash, unlikeable twonk of a man. The problem? He knows it. And he’s not ashamed to parade up and down in front of the camera and tell us so, with a fourth-wall-breaking arrogance. So far, so expected. And that’s the only problem with White Gold, released all-at-once as a box set on BBC iPlayer: we already know that wide-boy salesmen in the 1980s were dodgy hustlers with no morals, which means there’s little in the opening episodes to surprise. What there is, though, is a cocksure performance by a charismatic Ed Westwick. He’s enjoying the hell out of the chance to play the slimy Swan, who comes across like Del Boy doing an impression of Frank Underwood. Support from The Inbetweeners alumni as his two hapless co-salesmen helps to bring the laughs by giving Vincent a chance to be embarrassed as well as immaturely cruel – one golfing game gone awry is satisfying to watch, as he gets knocked down a tee or two. Whether we’re meant to root for him or not isn’t yet clear, which is perhaps what White Gold needs to decide before it can fully work. But for fans of retro comedy stylings, there are chuckles to be found.
Photo: BBC / Fudge Park
Kat and Alfie. Remember them? Kat and Alfie? Alfie and Kat? Landlord and Landlady of EastEnders’ Queen Vic? Erstwhile on-off residents of Albert Square? It’s been a while since they departed the BBC soap for the umpteenth time, but now they’re back… in a different place entirely. It’s a bold move to relocate the iconic East End couple to Ireland for a miniseries, but it’s only once you watch Redwater that you realise how bold it really is: removing any trace of soap opera histrionics, the show takes Kat and Alfie to the titular Irish town, a place haunted by a tragedy 25 years ago, as they seek out Kat’s long lost son. Sinister secrets, parental separation and mysterious rural communities? There’s a nod to The Wicker Man in Episode 1, but Redwater is closer to Broadchurch, as unspoken grief haunts the stormy coast and Kat and Alfie bring bags of emotional turmoil with them. Jessie Wallace and Shane Richie take time to adjust to their surroundings, gradually toning down their performances from EastEnders to normal drama, but they never lose a sense of the charisma that made them so popular to begin with, while Oisin Stack’s Dermott and Peter Campion’s Andrew Kelly bring warmth and weirdness to the local populace as a nuanced priest and possible candidate for Kat’s child. Director Jesper W Nielsen (of Borgen and Dicte) brings a suitably stylish European TV flair to proceedings, but it’s Matthew Graham’s script that makes this work, as the Life on Mars writer wastes no time in solving the programme’s first mystery – who is Kat’s son? – and replaces it with another, more surprising and more interesting mystery entirely. It may still derail as the story unravels, but the show’s ability to be unpredictable shouldn’t be underrated.
Clique (Box Set)
BBC Three’s new, much-touted campus-set drama has finally begun, and it’s as glossy and OTT as promised. Having been compared to everything from Gossip Girl to Skins, which its writer Jess Brittain also worked on, it’s full of beautiful young things, and set in an Edinburgh of bright lights, affluence, and glamour, although it also has a pitch-black underside.
Holly (played by newcomer Synnove Karlsen) and Georgia (The Fall’s obsessed babysitter, Aisling Franciosi) are childhood friends and first year students who find themselves sharing dorms and classes. After going to a lecture given by economics professor Jude McDermid (Sherlock’s Louise Brealey), in what appears to be the bowels of a futuristic spaceship, they are introduced to a dubious feminist ideology and encouraged to apply for a mysterious internship.
Next thing you know, the pair are being driven around by a chauffeur, snorting class As, and attending glamorous parties in fancy houses with swimming pools in the basement. But there’s a sinister element to the whole enterprise, and the stakes are high. This isn’t student life depicted with anything resembling realism; it’s more of a psychological thriller, which uses campus life as a backdrop. Clique promises to examine the nature of female friendship, with its rivalries, jealousies, and competitiveness. Judging by this first episode, it will doubtless be a huge hit.
Photo: BBC / Sophie Mutevelian
Murdered by My Father
Following the critically acclaimed, BAFTA-winning Murdered by my Boyfriend, BBC Three tackle so-called ‘honour killing’ in this brave and harrowing drama. It tells the story of 17-year-old Salma (Kiran Sonia Sawar), the responsible yet independent daughter of Shahzad (Adeel Akhtar), who has been promised to Haroon (Salman Akhtar), yet is in love with Imi (Mawaan Rizwan). Screenwriter Vinay Patel researched the subject through real life testimonies and the input of charities, but the result is not a run-of-the-mill, based-on-true-events drama. The writing and performances are nuanced and sophisticated; Adeel Akhtar’s Shahzad, for much of the piece, is no caricatured monster, but a loving and hard-working father, who is devoted to his family, although he puts extra demands on Sal since her mother died.
Sal and Imi’s love affair is evocatively filmed, and the leads are engaging and beautifully played by the actors. Yet we know the way this will end. The question that baffles the viewer for much of the drama is how – How can a loving father be brought so low? How can a young woman so full of life and love be snuffed out in such a cruel and unnecessary manner? The film ends by telling us that 12,000 cases of honour-based violence have been reported in UK since 2010. This is shocking, moving, essential viewing.
Sal and Imi’s love affair is evocatively filmed, and the leads are engaging and beautifully played by the actors. Yet we know the way this will end. The question that baffles the viewer for much of the drama is how – How can a loving father be brought so low? How can a young woman so full of life and love be snuffed out in such a cruel and unnecessary manner? The film ends by telling us that 12,000 cases of honour-based violence have been reported in UK since 2010. This is shocking, moving, essential viewing. Words: Helen Archer
Panorama: What Facebook Knows About You
We live in an online age, where people plonk their data willy-nilly into social media services without thinking about who sees what. For anyone who hasn’t worked in advertising, this Panorama special is an eye-opening must-see, as it explores the way that Facebook uses the profile information of each of its users to build up a giant database for advertisers to use to target their adverts. Darragh MacIntyre quizzes people in the street to show just how little people consider their privacy online, while raising the question of whether there should be regulation on this new sector of advertising, which is becoming increasingly important for political campaigns and elections around the world.
Madeleine McCann: 10 Years On
What a strange, perplexing, sad case Madeleine McCann’s is. 10 years after her disappearance from an apartment in Praia da Luz, we are still no closer to knowing what happened to daughter of the McCanns. BBC reporter Richard Bilton, who first covered the case in 2007, heads back to the Portuguese resort to recap the evidence that was found at the time. After entertaining the possibility that Madeleine’s parents might have been involved, he then takes us on to the subsequent British police investigation, which centred around the theory that three Portuguese thieves turned to kidnapping after a burglary gone wrong. Panorama’s special promises to connect the dots of the much-covered case, giving us some new perspective a decade on. Sadly, though, there’s no new evidence to bring to the table, which leaves this with little option other than retreading newspaper headlines we’ve all seen before. In an age of Making a Murderer and Casting JonBenet, the result feels far less cinematic or gripping than it could be, although there’s something to be said for the BBC’s determination not to sensationalise events – even the suggestion that the McCanns might have been guilty is dealt with as tastefully as possible. It’s telling, perhaps, that the most interesting moments are when Bilton argues that Theresa May (Home Secretary at the time) was pressured into an inquiry by The Sun, and that Bilton himself was asked to spy on other journalists by people close to the McCanns. Whether that warrants a TV documentary or not is another matter entirely, but this is an absorbing reminder of the frustrating lack of answers surrounding Madeleine’s disappearance.
Tom Binns, Tom Binns and Tom Binns star in this mockumentary series about the people who work in a hospital. A comedy about doctors with one man acting half the parts? It sounds tired and tedious, but Hospital People is an entertaining sitcom with a sizeable dose of likeable charm. That’s partly thanks to writer Paul Doolan, whose decision to focus on the other people who work in a hospital, from self-centred manager Susan Mitchell to the painful comedy stylings of the in-house chaplain. Radio DJ Ivan has a sub-Alan Partridge quality , but Binns’ enjoyable performances are colourful enough to make each caricature stand apart from the others and still bring the giggles. And, just to be on the safe side, the show makes the smart choice to bring in a guest star to join a strong ensemble: the always-superb Alex Macqueen as former TV doctor Jeremy Lace, who runs about the building trying to cure patients with his non-existent medical knowledge. Looking for an easy-to-watch sitcom with a steady laughter count? This is just what the doctor ordered.
Doctor Who: Season 10
“After a year and a half off air (barring Christmas specials), Steven Moffat kicks off his final series by penning an episode that sheds the heavy continuity and arc-driven storylines of recent season openers (Series 9’s The Magician’s Apprentice, in particular) and gives audiences a fresh new insight into the series. Enter Bill Potts, played by Pearl Mackie, a university canteen worker and grown-up foster child with an insatiable yet unfulfilled desire to learn. Pearl Mackie makes Bill a bubbly, inquisitive and utterly charming presence; she is arguably the foil that Capaldi’s Doctor has needed since 2014. The Twelfth Doctor’s regeneration is yet to come, but with the introduction of Bill Potts, this soft reboot suggests a series that’s raring to show us some new tricks. It’s hard to think of any other TV series that can start as fresh as this 10 seasons in.” Read our full review.
“I have written and directed a film about veganism,” says Simon Amstell. “I’m sorry.” If you laughed at that, you’ll love this. Set in 2067, when the human race has apparently converted entirely to veganism – an alternate universe to rival The Man in the High Castle and SS-GB for unnerving chills – Amstell’s mockumentary looks back at the years when people slowly began to realise the horror of consuming meat, eggs and other produce sourced or derived from animals. The film purports to explore the strange, alien idea that humans and animals aren’t equal, aiming to break the taboo surrounding Britain’s carnivorous past. It’s a neat way to tackle an oft-derided concept, by deliberately presenting what’s considered normal as the absurd – but Amstell, crucially, doesn’t lose sight of the ridiculousness of his own concept. The result is simultaneously laugh-out-loud funny and unsettling – and, most of unsettling of all, is the knowledge that, deep down, you may even feel yourself being won over by Amstell’s viewpoint. A thought-provoking, rib-tickling, stomach-churning satire. Read our full review.
As BBC iPlayer’s Original Drama Shorts return for another season, one of 2014’s best, My Jihad, returns as a miniseries of three 15-minute films. The first introduced us to Fahmida (Anjli Mohindra) and Nazir (Hamza Jeetooa), two single Muslims who crossed paths at an unsuccessful speed-dating night. Picking up events one month later, this is a universal exploration of love in modern Britain that packs in twice as much warmth and wit as most 30-minute shows do in a whole season. (Read our full review.)
Available until: June 2018
Original Drama Shorts
BBC iPlayer continues to prove a platform for new talent with its latest bunch of shorts. From a moving demonstration of isolation and connection in an online age to a darkly funny – and unpredictable – story of female love and family loyalty, this is an impressively versatile collection of stories that are more than worth spending time with. (Read our full review.)
Available until: June 2018
Steve Coogan and Judi Dench make a charming odd couple in Stephen Frears’ drama about an old lady teaming up with a jaded journalist to find out what happened to her son, after being separated from him when younger by a Catholic home.
Shia LaBeouf stars in this modern take on Rear Window, which combines the actor’s charismatic presence with techno-paranoia.
Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut, adapted by Ronald Harwood from his own play, is exactly what you’d expect from the congenial actor; a warm-hearted ode to the act of performance. Maggie Smith on vocals? Another OAP on piano? This is The Best Exotic Marigold 2: The Musical. Or, Classic FM: The Movie. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing; the talented old farts stop their clarinets getting too full of hot air. Despite cliches and syrupy key changes, Hoffman’s relaxed helming keeps the tempo up – one opening montage is beautifully. The result hits all the right notes – and most of them in the right order.
The Damned United
Tom Hooper and Peter Morgan’s dramatised take on Brian Clough’s 44-day stint as manager of Leeds United in the 1970s is performed with uncanny accuracy, amusing wit and a quietly compelling sense of character.
Kenneth Williams: Fantabulosa!
The chameleonic Michael Sheen is as brilliant as ever in this TV movie dramatising the life of Kenneth Williams, the comedian who craved fame but was never comfortable in his own skin.
Adam Curtis’ latest documentary is perfectly at home on BBC iPlayer, freed from broadcasting constraints to ramble through the last three decades of global history to try and work out how we got to today’s world of Donald Trump and Brexit. The result is typically simplified and willfully obtuse, but there are thought-provoking flashes of inspiration amid the experimental mash-up of polemic and pop culture. Clocking in at almost three hours, no one else is making documentaries like this, and that’s something to be celebrated.
The Rack Pack
BBC iPlayer’s first scripted original drama follows the rise of snooker in the 1980s, as a young Steve Davis faces a heated rivalry with Alex “Hurricane” Higgins. Snooker may not be the most exciting or mainstream sport, but the film understands that it’s about people as much as potting – and Will Merrick as Davis and Luke Treadaway as Higgins are uncannily good, one hilariously awkward and the other tragically self-destructive. Together with business guru Barry Hearn (a brilliant Kevin Bishop) crafting a new, professional era for the sport, The Rack Pack is a moving tribute to a bygone sporting age and a legend who simply wouldn’t exist today. The result is something everyone should go snooker loopy over, whether they’re fans of the sport or not. Read our full review.
Photo: BBC / Zeppotron / Keiron McCarron
BBC iPlayer’s second original feature is the follow-up to teen documentary Beyond Clueless. Young director Charlie Lyne and the Beeb’s streaming platform prove a scarily perfect match, the lack of constraints giving him the chance to fully embrace the experimental nature of his film essay. The documentary stitches together clips from existing horror movies to explore how and why they scare us, but instead of an explanatory voice-over critiquing and giving context, we’re given a whispered narration from an anonymous woman who is working through her own fears. Contrasting cuts and eerie echoes arise during the hypnotic 80-minute montage, quietly raising questions while offering a fresh insight into films that have, in some cases, become all too familiar. As interesting as it is creepy. (Read our full review.)