The best films and TV shows on BBC iPlayer (18th February 2018)
Ivan Radford | On 18, Feb 2018
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, click here.
Pick of the Week: Collateral
A pizza delivery is shot in the street in the opening scenes of this BBC One crime drama, and that brutal introduction to present-day London sets the tone for what’s to come. Penned by playright David Hare, the resulting web of shock, secrets and sinister pizza chain owners introduces us to a cross-section of societ, from John Simm as a frustrated Labour MP and Billie Piper as his troubled wife, not to mention Nicola Walker as a lesbian vicar. Topical issues are lining up to be tackled with complexity and nuance, and the opening episode, while heavy on exposition, sets about doing so in confident, accomplished and compelling style. Key to that is Carey Mulligan, who is remarkable as DI Kip Glaspie leading the investigation into the Syrian refugee’s murder. Smirking, composed and steely, she’s growing into a national treasure of an actor right in front of our eyes.
Mum: Season 1
A funeral is the starting point for this sitcom from the creator of Him & Her, which returns for Season 2 this week. And sure enough, all the familiar family members show up as the first season (back on BBC iPlayer) gets underway, from Cathy’s snooty sister-in-law (“Is that tea brewed in the cup?”) to her son’s ditzy new girlfriend (“Is it weird that I’m borrowing your pants?”). But the cast, particularly Peter Mullen as her dead husband’s besotted Best Man, give each stock type substance and depth – the kind of warmth and nuance that made Him & Her so charming, even if this has less laughs than its raunchier predecessor. At the heart of it all is Lesley Manville, whose understated restraint is quietly magnificent.
Troy: Fall of a City
The Night Manager’s David Farr turns his talents to something more ancient with this retelling of the famous siege of Troy. We begin long before any gigantic wooden horses can be buitl, with Paris (Louis Hunter), a sheep herder who challenges nearby Trojan warriors to a fight, only to be unmasked as the missing Prince Alexander of Troy. It’s a fresh insight into a familiar legend, but you’d rather see things from Helen’s perspective than follow young Paris’ journey to settle in among unexpected royalty. Fortunately, Bella Dayne sinks her teeth into what screentime she does have in this opening episode, giving us – along with her daughter, intended for marriage to Paris – a sense of fiery frustration within the restrictive court of Sparta. By the time she’s trying to sneak off with her new lover, there’s enough political intrigue and violence to explain Troy’s label as a Game of Thrones imitator, although it’ll need to do something more unique with its remaining episodes to earn it.
Eve Myles almost quit acting before getting the script for this new drama, so the story goes, and you can immediately see the appeal, as she plays Faith Howells, a lawyer, wife and mother who finds herself having to hold down all three forts, when her husband disappears. As the rest of the community takes an interest, she finds herself trying to get back into the routine of work while facing new relevations about the man she thought she knew. There’s risk of melodrama at every turn, and the soundtrack ties too hard to dial up the emotion, but Myles herself is reason enough to tune in; tough, vulnerable, funny and kind, she’s rarely been better.
Daytime TV has a bad rep, but if you ever doubted the substance on offer between the BBC’s 1 O’Clock News and Neighbours on Channel 5, Moving On is wonderful proof that substantial drama can be found in the middle of the afternoon. Now in its ninth season, the anthology programme continues to tale a series of unconnected tales about people trying to move on from past or present events and progress in their life. Aired daily across the week, the five episodes are led by the blisteringly good Invisible, which follows a happily married mother of two, who recalls a trauma from her childhood when a familiar face from the past appears at a local school. Jodhi May is heartbreakingly good as Rachel, whose live fractures and fragments, as she finds herself torn between getting justice, not alienating those around her and simply trying to confirm that she hasn’t imagined the whole thing. May writes the script too, fusing the whole drama with a fragility, vulnerability and resilience that makes for powerful viewing – never let it be said that daytime TV can’t tackle important issues with nuance, sensitivity and gripping storytelling.
The BBC once again delivers comprehensive coverage of the Winter Olympic Games, with Claire Balding, Hazel Irvine and more out on the slopes of Pyeongchang to report on Britain’s attempts to bring home some medals. With the Summer Olympics such a stalwart presence in the sports broadcasting schedule, the novelty of watching less familiar sports, most of which involve people falling down something slippery, never wears off. The opening ceremony, meanwhile, is genuinely spectacular to witness, if you can put aside the three hours required to catch-up, not just for the sight of North and South Korea’s teams marching together under one flag.
“I think of it as more like a movement than a company,” says one eager participant in Flatpack Empire, the BBC’s latest in a string of inside-the-industry documentaries. The show takes us behind the blue and yellow scenes of – you guessed it – IKEA, the Swedish furniture chain. With countless catalogues, BILLY bookcases and smiling instruction manuals distributed worldwide, IKEA really has become an empire in its own, with 900 million customers a year. Peaking behind the MDF curtain, then, is something that is inherently fascinating; if you don’t have something from IKEA in your home, you know someone who does. The documentary gives us an equal look at the people who make the company what it is and the corporate’s plans to expand its range by teaming up with external designers. Seeing the bizarre creations that are thought up by creative types is the main fun of tuning in: enfant terrible Tom Dixon comes up with an idea for coffins, before settling on the notion of a bed-sofa (which he happily explains at length is different from a sofa-bed). Another, meanwhile, conceives a long, folding string of triangular pillows, which we’re told could be a side table, carpet or… well, goodness knows. Watching UK managers get the chance to travel to Almhult, IKEA’s Swedish hometown, meanwhile, is a cute reminder that no one is immune from the shared excitement IKEA has instilled around the globe. Maybe it is a movement after all.
20 years ago, a girl disappeared from a Welsh village. But what does that have to do Matilda, a successful cellist who is busy with her music career when her mother commits suicide? Those expecting the usual detective mystery from the Beeb will soon have their expectations set straight by the atmospheric opener to Requiem: Cold Case 101 this ain’t; this is full-on horror. And Lydia Wilson’s Matilda is a perfect anchor for the chilling enigma that slowly unravels, balancing grief and curiosity with mournful cello playing. Joel Fry offers charismatic support as her accompanist, Hal, while Joanna Scanlan is movingly troubled as Matilda’s mum, Janice. Their arrival in the village at the same time that Australian Nick (James Frecheville) inherits his deceased uncle’s wealthy estate, meanwhile, promises a heap of twists and turns, as things go bump in the night. Co-produced with Netflix, the confidently unsettlingly vibe alone makes you want see more – thank goodness, then, that BBC iPlayer has taken a leaf from Netflix’s book and made it their latest all-at-once box set release.
Animals with Cameras
What if we could see nature from the animals’ point-of-view? That’s the starting point for this new nature series, which sees Gordon Buchanan team up with scientists to strap cameras to a bunch of different species and follow through the wild. It’s a simple premise, and one that pays off repeatedly with stunning visuals, as we see inside a meerkat family home and go hunting with penguins urgently seeking food before their offspring die. All the while, Buchanan watches back footage, a bit like David Attenborough doing Gogglebox, and tries to track a pack of chimps through his array of mobile gadgets. Brilliant stuff.
Stealing Van Gogh
From the Napoli mafia to Amsterdam, this gripping BBC documentary charts the story behind the greatest art heist of the 21st century – the theft of two priceless paintings from the Van Gogh Museum in 2002. “For me, it’s the story of the sacred and the profane,” says art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon, as he trots the globe to uncover the tiny details behind the robbery, the process used to recover stolen art and the thriving industry behind the illegal trade of paintings. He’s clearly having the time of his life pretending to be a detective – and with such slick editing together of meticulous research, you will too. If someone hasn’t made a film of this riveting true tale yet, you can bet it’s only a matter of time until they do.
The Mash Report
After its promising run last year, The Mash Report is back for a second season, and the BBC comedy series is really finding its feet. Topical late night shows have struggled on the this side of the pond, with notable failed attempts ranging from Channel 4’s 10 O’Clock Live to ITV’s The Nightly Show. The Mash Report, though, is the best of the bunch by a long way. A spin-off from The Daily Mash, the UK’s answer to The Onion, it feels distinct from all the other satirical shows out there (hello to the tired Have I Got News for You), and that tone and identity feels more confident. That’s partly thanks to the way the ensemble serve up fake news headlines among the more familiar skits and observations – even the social media comments they read out are satirising typical social media comments. But it’s mostly thanks to its team of up-and-coming talent. Led by charmingly brash Nish Kumar, they’re an energetic bunch with the excitement of kids being allowed to play in a TV studio while the adults are out. Rachel Parris, in particular, is a side-splitting standout, as she gets a bigger portion of the running time not only to read out tweets, but to deliver a scathing lecture on sexual harassment that repeatedly surprises, even as it reiterates the common sense rules of decency that all humans should know already. The fact that Nish keeps corpsing should be a problem, but frankly, you can’t blame him for not being able to keep a straight face.
All Together Now
If you’re going to do something, do it well. That’s not the maxim used for the BBC’s latest attempt at a Saturday night singing contest – which clearly we need more of in our lives. Hosted by Rob Beckett, who was on typical everyman form, the format was rushed together by someone who appeared to have fallen asleep while reading abotu The Voice and watching The Muppet Show, as the programme posted 100 people in a colourful grid on one side of a studio and judged each singing contestant on the stage by how many of the panel chose to join in and sing along. How can they hear the contestant if the person next to them is filling out harmonies or beatboxing their own accompaniment isn’t really addressed, and neither is the presence of an underused Geri Horner, née Halliwell, who was one of the panel. It’s underwhelming and derivative stuff that lacks the sheer vocal charm of choir series Pitch Battle, but it will serve its purpose for those who just want another singing contest to fill up their evenings – and thankfully, it abides by another maxim: if you’re going to do something unremarkable, don’t do it for more than an hour.
The Graham Norton Show
Oh, Graham. With your grizzly beard that can’t quite cover up your squeaky, exciteable charm. And your catty references to the fact that you lost a BAFTA to Ant & Dec yet again. The man is a national treasure, and his BBC talk show proves it again and again each week, as he wheels out train upon train of celebrities and teases them with a coquettish sarcasm. This episode is a cut above the rest, though, as it sees Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Rebecca Ferguson and Simon Pegg on the sofa talking about the new Mission: Impossible movie that they’re currently filming in London – a refreshing change from the usual interviews that occur just as a film is being released. The show doubles down on it, with footage of Tom’s on-set ankle injury from six months ago replayed from every angle to get the stunt in sickening detail – and the reaction even from the people who were there is as entertaining as Graham’s cackling commentary. If you’re turned off by the self-centred nature of US talk show hosts, our Graham is the antidote late night TV needs.
The Truth About…
At the start of a new year, everyone will be making promises to themselves about what to change or improve over the coming 12 months – and for some, that will be to do with their appearance. But is there any difference between the cheapest and most expensive beauty products on the high street? This BBC documentary series delves into the science of such everyday questions, and while it might be a nice change to have a programme less focused on reinforcing the notion that beauty products are needed, it’s a welcome chance to dispel some of the myths that more expensive brands do anything special – and a handy piece of consumer advice, when it comes to looking for ingredients in your favourite product.
If you’ve ever watched a cop drama and wished it were more apocalyptic, then BBC’s Hard Sun is for you. Things are literally apocalyptic in this absurd new show, which follows what would happen in the run-up to the end of the world – and, more specifically, what would happen if a random police detective stumbled across a government cover-up about the run-up to the end of the world. And, even more specifically, what would happen if that police detective (Agyness Deyn) happened to have enough of her own troubles to deal with already, was paired up with a dodgy second cop (Jim Sturgess), and was also in possession of a USB memory stick with a CGI counting down five years until the sun explodes or something. If all of this is sounding daft, you’d be right: even Luther creator Neil Cross can’t make this silliness serious enough to work. But there’s something enjoyably barmy about the BBC’s new high-profile Saturday night thriller, one that opens the series with someone falling off a building and landing in a tree and someone else getting stabbed in the face with a fork. A stand-off in the streets with shady MI5 agents, meanwhile, is surprisingly tense – just enough to make you curious to come back for more. The good news is you don’t have to wait to find out how far the rabbit hole of absurdity goes: the whole box set is available on BBC iPlayer already.
Money’s bad, ok? That’s the take-home message from McMafia, the BBC’s new glossy drama about global corruption and corporate finance. Except, it turns out, not all money is bad: bad money is bad, but good money is good. Alex Godman (James Norton) is the latter. He comes from a family of bad money, but is trying to do good, setting up his own investment fund away from his family’s name and without using their criminal connections to get an easy ride. He could have started a hospice for children, or provided support for refugees, but that’s not as cool as watching people glide about in fancy clothes and shiny cars, and so we watch as Alex struggles to be a decent capitalist – and, inevitably, gets drawn into his family’s shady shadow anyway. That’s mostly courtesy of his sinister Uncle Boris – A rich, powerful man called Boris we can’t trust? Who’d have thought? – and a bunch of rumours that Alex is doing dodgy deals anyway. Boris’ Israeli friend, Semiyon Kleiman, may be able to help Alex avoid financial failure, but letting him in will, of course, come with some moral compromise. It’s a little hard to find sympathy for Alex, but Hossein Amini’s script (based on the non-fiction book by journalist Misha Glenny) makes up for it with a huge serving of intrigue, while director James Watkins (one of Britain’s best) delivers polished visual after polished visual, as we’re whisked from London to Moscow to Tel Aviv. A co-production with AMC, whether this can live up to their last collaboration, The Night Manager, is yet to be seen, but this is a promisingly small start to a thriller that promises corruption on a dizzyingly wide-reaching scale.
“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 2020
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.)
Did you miss Birdman in the cinemas, before it won the Oscar for Best Motion Picture? Alejandro González Iñárritu’s comedy – which sees Michael Keaton play a former superhero star attempting to prove his worth as an artist by staging a theatrical production on Broadway – is breathtaking, uproarious stuff.
A Most Violent Year
Oscar Isaac stars in this period drama about a fuel businessmen, who is trying to fight the corruption of 1980s New York, which threatens to undermine both his marriage and his business empire.
The Third Man
A visiting American investigates the apparent death of a friend and uncovers some unpleasant truths in Vienna in this stone cold classic film noir.
Mel Brooks’ horror spoof is a tour de force of laughter, as Gene Wilder plays a descendant of the famous doctor, who finds himself following in his namesake’s footsteps and reanimating the dead. Wilder’s hilarious and Marty Feldman’s Igor is wonderfully daft, but it’s Brooks’ visuals that really win the day, as the exaggerated parody of expressionism makes for a gorgeously smart and stylish satire that marks a high watermark for the horror-comedy genre.
“Killing a priest on a Sunday. That’ll be a good one.” That’s an unknown congregation member to Father James (Brendan Gleeson) one day in the confession box. Told he has one week to get his house in order, the priest finds himself facing death – for the price of other people’s sins. Blackly funny and movingly sincere, the result is a powerful story of a decent man coming to terms with his own mortality. Killing a bad priest? That’s nothing. Killing a good priest? That really does stay with you.
Plan B’s gritty drama follows a drug dealer who is dragged into a multi-stranded tableau of London misery. Mobile phones, guns and babies all collide in something that feels like EastEnders, but – thanks to its effective use of music – has a sound all of its own.
The Young Victoria
Emily Blunt is magnificent in this undemanding historical drama, which is elevated above its slightly clunky script by an engaging cast, swooning romance and stunning costume design. Who needs Parliamentary tension when you’ve got pet dogs, moustaches, Paul Bettany, and kissing in the rain?
Margherita, a well-known director working on her latest film, suffers an existential crisis when she has to come to terms with her mother’s terminal illness in Nanni Moretti’s moving and funny drama.
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
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.
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.)