The best films and TV shows on BBC iPlayer (15th January 2017)
Ivan Radford | On 15, Jan 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.)
Sound of Musicals With Neil Brand
The irrepressible Neil Brand returns for another music series and, once again, hits all the right notes in exactly the right order. This time, he charts the history of the musical. From Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s Show Boat in the 1920s to Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s My Fair Lady, he’s a colourful tour guide who points out the racial themes, innovative use of songs to further narrative and borrowing from popular styles that marks out the best and most influential productions. But it’s the attention to detail that makes Brand’s work so satisfying, as he picks apart not just wordplay but chord sequences and wrong-footing melodies that have kept audiences surprised and singing signature tunes for decades. If only more music coverage was like this; expert and informative, but accessible and entertaining. That technical understanding only makes a stand-out performance of Ol’ Man River even more spine-tingling.
Spy in the Wild
Already missing Planet Earth? The BBC has got your back with yet another nature documentary. This one has its own USP: hidden cameras to infiltrate the animal world undetected. It’s been done before, of course, but not like this: the old Boulder Cam has been given an upgrade, replaced by animatronic creatures, from pups and crocodiles to bush babies and penguins. The result is some fantastic close-up footage of affection in a wild dog pack, some perilous recording of a tortoise tumbling through the forest, as it becomes the play-thing of a chimp, and some surprising snapshots of giraffes. It’s not as jaw-dropping as peak David Attenborough, although David Tennant’s narration has an endearing warmth to it, but what it lacks in spectacle it makes for with intimacy. The fact that the fake animals look so creepy is a bonus.
The NHS has been in the news in the last week, thanks to the Red Cross declaring that Britain’s health service is facing a humanitarian crisis. This BBC documentary series is almost perfectly timed to make it clear just how severe this crisis is. “We have never started winter with so little spare capacity,” says one of the senior management team at St Mary’s, Paddington, while people on the ground begin the day with a Red Code, meaning there are no beds available for new patients. So when two patients both urgently turn up in need of a bed – one to remove a tumour from his oesophagus; the other, to repair a ruptured aneurysm in her aorta – the pressure is on. The filmmakers manage to draw out the human drama of the staff and patients working under such conditions, but this is no episode of Casualty, and the cost of it all is all too real. There are five more episodes to go. Now imagine another episode every day for the next year.
We live in a post-expert age. A post-truth age. An age where the President-elect shouts “fake news!” at publications that dare to undermine him. It’s an inspired, all-too-apt idea from the BBC to take Channel 4’s Gogglebox format and apply it to current events, as we see people in corner shops and markets talk about the week’s headlines. After all, why get your news from a journalist when you can get it from normal people in the street? And so we’re treated to butchers talking about the merits of fracking, or dinner ladies chatting about Tony Blair’s reemergence. The topics aren’t as edgy as they might be on another broadcaster, but it’s a superb demonstration of how the media can give more of a voice to the ordinary Briton who feels left behind by what they feel is a metropolitan media. Ruth Jones’ voiceover doesn’t judge or correct, which means that everyone on camera appears as well-informed, or as ill-informed, as they actually are. The question is whether Common Sense can fully exploit its potential: it smartly acknowledges the bubbles that exist in our country. It just needs sharper teeth to start bursting them.
David Bowie: The Last Five Years
As David Bowie’s birthday, and death-day, come around in the annual calendar, it’s easy to think that we’ve had too much David Bowie this January. But that’s forgetting two things: 1. There is no such thing as too much David Bowie, and 2. There are still so many questions left unanswered by the late musical legend.
And so, after David Bowie: Five Years, we get this new BBC documentary, The Last Five Years, examining the build-up to both The Next Day and Blackstar, plus their subsequent release. How did he manage to record them all in secret? Did he know he was dying? And how much did that impact his music, which seemed so eerily prescient? Featuring interviews with his producer and the studio musicians who worked on both, the result is a hugely insightful portrait of the artist at work – and we get a wonderfully generous dose of just that too, from interview footage to clips from music videos and stage performances. We even learn the thinking and inspiration behind Johan Renck’s disturbing, poetic music video for Blackstar. The editing is astonishing, echoing the chronological accounts with deftly used excerpts from the archives, and lines taken from songs and isolated to hang over the top of other narration. The final moments of hearing his vocal tracks playing by themselves reveal just how much of himself he put into his work. Throw in some funky titles and a glimpse of Bowie’s stage musical, Lazarus, and you have an eye-opening, ear-dazzling, unmissable documentary that brings you a fresh reminder of what a genius David Bowie was – and is. (Tip: Keep watching to the very end for an exclusive audio clip that will make you smile.)
Photo: BBC/BBC Studios/Jimmy King
It is 1814 and James Delaney reappears in London after 10 years in Africa to claim a mysterious legacy left to him by his father. He’s creepy. He wears a hat. And he looks like Tom Hardy. That’s pretty much all there is to Taboo, Steven “Peaky Blinders” Knight’s new BBC series. Devised by Tom and the brilliantly-named “Chips” Hardy, the eight-part drama follows the tussle between James and the East India Company over his inheritance. But wait, there’s more beneath the surface of this extremely intriguing period piece. And the surface is already very grimy, full of swearing, violence, talk of testicles and Tom Hardy looking like death warmed up. Within the first 50 minutes, we have hints of otherworldly goings-on, the suggestion of forces fighting back from beyond the grave – and that Delaney might even be one of them. Hardy is monstrously good, all bulging eyes and unspoken threats of doing very bad things to you. While the dialogue might be a tad clunky and the plot hard to fathom, there’s so much pleasure to be had in watching Tom Hardy being, well, Tom Hardy that there’s no point in complaining. Nobody leans across a table like Tom Hardy, every inch bringing you closer to probably being assaulted. Nobody wears a hat quite like Tom Hardy – and this is basically one hour of Tom Hardy wearing a hat and staring angrily at people. Any man who can do that, while still standing up to Jonathan Pryce and making incestuous advances on his now-half-sister (Oona Chaplin), can frankly do what he wants. We’ll still be watching.
Photo: FX Networks
Let It Shine
With The Voice starting over on ITV, BBC One strikes back this weekend with the launch of its new music talent contest: Let It Shine. But while it might look like a rival to the poached singing show, this is actually another beast entirely: it’s effectively a sequel to How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?, the West End audition show from Andrew Lloyd-Webber over 10 years ago. The plan this time? To find boys to play the leads in a new theatre show based on the music of Take That. It’s a distinctly less starry prize than The Voice’s record label deal, but the main difference between the two lies in that Graham Norton-hosted Maria competition: Let It Shine is a little bit dated, a little bit knowingly cheesy and, most of all, exceedingly nice. The four judges are Danni Minoque, who’s nice, Glee’s Amber Riley, who’s nice, and Martin Kemp, who displays a hitherto unknown sense of humour about himself, and is also, yes, nice. Leading them is Gary Barlow, who is very nice too, apart from that time he didn’t pay all his taxes a few years ago. Norton, tellingly, is back in the hosting role, alongside Great British Bake Off’s Mel Giedroyc. And what follows is a nice demonstration of how nice people can be when faced with nice singers – and, to the programme’s credit, it does find some fantastic crooners, from one teen with a deceptively deep voice to former Pop Idol contender Jason Brock. There’s a solid format worked out involving the stage design and the judges’ secret voting, but out-of-studio segments and the sight of Mark Owen and the other one from Take That trying to be funny behind-the-scenes are more awkward than enjoyable. Still, the bravura opening number proves that Barlow and a team of producers know how to put on the old razzle-dazzle – and at a pleasant 85 minutes, this is one show that understands it mustn’t go on for too long. Nice isn’t always a bad thing.
Photo: BBC/Matt Holyoak
After their Brexit comedy special, Brexageddon, Heydon Prowse and Jolyon Rubenstein return with a full comedy series charting the state of the nation today. A neat mix of skits, spoofs and hidden camera pranks, the result is as hit and miss as any sketch show, but Revolting repeatedly strikes gold. Its fake Tory and UKIP politicians are easy targets with little new to say, but a sketch called The Real Housewives of Isis is an inspired look at the sad, troubling trend of radicalisation by extremists among young people. “Hashtag Matchy-Matchy!” cries one newly radicalised housewife, when she discovers that two of her fellow housewives have been given matching suicide bomber jackets by their recruiter, Ahmed. A spoof movie trailer about a man who’s been on hold to EE for so long he’s fallen in love with the automated voice message is just as laugh-out-loud funny. With The Revolution Will Be Televised under their belts, this pair are no strangers to satire, and let’s face it, the way things are going, we’re going to need all the satire we can get.
Photo: BBC/Hat Trick Productions
Sherlock: Season 4
There’s a thin line between clever and clever-clever. In the past, the BBC’s modern reboot of Sherlock has walked it like Johnny Cash in his prime, allowing Sherlock to be clever-clever and the show to remain clever; one smug, annoying and insufferable, the other entertaining. In 2016, though, a New Year’s Day special crossed that line, as Sherlock disappeared up his own mind palace for an indulgent story with no real dramatic stakes. Clever became clever-clever in the worst possible way. A year on and the programme returns for its fourth run with an episode designed to have much higher, more real stakes – an ancient, death-laden tale, The Appointment In Samarra, is name-dropped early on – but the show still can’t help being too clever-clever for its own good. Read our full review.
Photo: Hartswood Films / Todd Antony
Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes
Roald Dahl’s genuinely revolting rhymes are brought to brilliant life in this darkly funny animation. The author’s wit is perfectly voiced by Dominic West’s narrator, with a cast that includes Tamsin Grieg, Bertie Carvel, Gemma Chan and Rob Brydon. While the witty reimagining of familiar fairytales is as entertaining as ever, though, the real treat is the way the standalone stories have been reworked into a two-part narrative, including a sincerely nail-biting cliffhanger that will have the whole family on the edge of their seat.
A comedy programme trying to make you laugh about the past 12 months might not sound like the best idea. But BBC Two’s annual round-up isn’t your average comedy programme: it’s 2016 Wipe, and there’s no one better qualified than Charlie Brooker to dissect the last 12 months. As bleak as he is laugh-out-loud funny, Brooker is like someone crossed the Grim Reaper with Statler and Waldorf from The Muppets. The result is the most depressing, uplifting hour of TV you’ll see this Christmas; a blast of misery and humour that’s just what we all needed. Read our full review.
Peter Pan Goes Wrong
Mischief Theatre brings Peter Pan Goes Wrong to television, with David Suchet narrating a group of amateur actors putting on a production of JM Barrie’s iconic story. As props malfunction, lines are missed and behind-the-scenes drama erupts on-stage, the result is far from groundbreaking, but it’s performed with such enthusiasm and commitment by the cast that it’s irresistibly funny. Nancy Zamit delivers a showstopping turn, singing with as much gusto as her physical slapstick. Suchet, meanwhile, is just as game as the rest of them, deadpanning his way through a string of increasingly meta gags. The enjoyable result doesn’t outstay its welcome – it’s only 60 minutes and there’s a big laugh in each one.
To Walk Invisible
If you’ve seen indie drama Shell, you’ll be delighted to spot Chloe Pirrie in the credits of the BBC drama, which takes a new look at the Brontë family. Now imagine that same thrill of an artist getting a deserved spotlight multiplied by three, as Sally Wainwright’s film charts the rise to fame of all three of the literary sisters, from obscurity and family obstacles to turning up unannounced in a London book store and revealing their identities. Pirrie is predictably brilliant as Emily, but it’s Finn Atkins as Charlotte Bronte who emerges as the ensemble’s natural lead, supported by an excellent Charlie Murphy and the always-reliable Jonathan Pryce. Adam Nagaitis as ill-fated, alcoholic brother Branwell, meanwhile, brings nuanced pathos to an already moving script. For fans of the sisters’ writing, this is a real treat, from the opening line of Jane Eyre getting a mention to a stirring rendition of Emily’s poem, No Coward Soul Is Mine, against the grey and green moors. It’s all brought to life as vividly as the opening sequence of the Brontë siblings as children, a prologue that puts the writers’ imaginations front and centre. They might walk invisible later in life, but underneath, they burn with an inspiring fire.
The Great Christmas Bake Off
Two standalone episodes won’t give you anywhere near enough of a Bake Off fix, following the full season earlier this year, but they make for a perfectly bittersweet farewell to the show, as it prepares to depart BBC One for Channel 4. How fitting, then, that the contestants should be familiar faces in the tent – watch out for Chetna’s stunning orange Converse – which only makes the goodbye all the more poignant. A montage at the end may well have you in tears.
Robot Wars: Battle of the Stars
Celebrities and Robot Wars? It sounds like a disastrous idea, but this is the same team who brought us one of the best TV reboots of recent years and once again, they don’t drop the mechanical ball. The stars (including Robbie Savage, Scott Mills and Suzi Perry) actually design their brand new robots, created by old veterans of the programme, which brings a welcome burst of novelty to the usual carnage, while even Dara O Briain and Angela Scanlon get the chance to drive some robots around. The result is as funny, and as filled with shredded bits of robot, as you could hope for. Roll on Season 2 in 2017.
Available on BBC iPlayer until 27th January 2017
The Entire Universe
The only person better at explaining the universe than Professor Brian Cox? Eric Idle. Here, the duo pair up to tell the entire story of our world and more in under 60 minutes. It’s a tall order, not least because Brian doesn’t know that they’re putting on a musical extravaganza. Eric Idle’s songs are old-fashioned, but as stuffed with witty rhymes as his best Python numbers, while Warwick Davis is impressively up for anything to get a laugh. Cox, though, is the real star, managing to sell his faux-anger with a straight face that proves genuinely funny. Entertaining and informative? What more could you want?
Outnumbered: 2016 Christmas Special
It’s a strange sight, seeing the Brockmans all grown up, not least because this BBC comedy staple worked best when the kids were so young that their improvised lines actually could flummox the adult cast. But while that novelty value has gone, the younger cast members (now not so young) prove just as good at delivering scripted lines, as the family find themselves trapped in a pub waiting for their car to be towed away, following a minor crash. Daniel Roche’s Ben is as full of tosh as ever, while Ramona Marquez steals the whole show as the slightly-more-grown-up Karen, who immediately suspects the other person in the crash of trying to pull an insurance scam – and doesn’t care if she offends straight man Jake (Tyger Drew-Honey) in the process of explaining her theories to her friends over the phone. Amusingly awkward stuff.
James May: The Christmas Reassembler
“Is it a bolt or a screw? We’ll come on to that discussion in a minute…” If the thought of James May discussing the exact nature of a piece of metal in minute detail excites you, then the return of Reassembler – a format that sees him put a household item back together from its tiny component parts – is for you. May is as likeably shambolic as ever, while the choice of object (a Hornby train set) is engagingly nostalgic. Best of all, though, is the fact that BBC Four keeps its “Slow TV” flagship show to just 30 minutes, so even fans can’t get bored.
Cunk on Christmas
Diane Morgan’s hilariously dumn TV presenter returns to uncover the exact meaning of Christmas. The result isn’t as funny as her dissection of Shakespeare, thanks to a script that’s full of too many clever observations, but Morgan’s delivery is impeccably idiotic and, in a post-expert age, the presentation a smart, satirical jab in the face to the modern TV documentary.
Flying Scotsman: From the Footplate
The latest in BBC Four’s “Slow TV” productions sees a camera sit in the locomotive carriage of the Flying Scotsman as it rides the Severn Valley steam railway. The hour-long journey contains more talking than normal, though, as the staff explain to us what’s going on – something that will either make this less boring or more annoying, depending on your taste.
Alan Bennett’s Diaries
The author, playwright and beloved British wit delves back into his old diaries for some delightfully droll viewing. Self-deprecating, smart and always up for an anecdote, what a national treasure this man is.
Katherine Jenkins: Home for Christmas
Who wouldn’t want Katherine Jenkins to come to their house for Christmas? The Welsh singer has always come across as a down-to-earth sort, which makes her comfortingly easy viewing at Christmas. Behind-the-scenes skits with Aled Jones (hello to jokes about The Snowman) are a bit forced, but it’s concert that you’ve tuned in for and it doesn’t disappoint, with guests including all-female vocal group Bella Voce and the Llangennech Junior School Choir. Jenkins’ vibrato voice isn’t always the best fit for the Christmas carols chosen, but the orchestral arrangements are lush and a bit involving giving a glamorous night out to a hard-working nurse at a kids’ hospital is genuinely heart-warming. Just the thing to accompany wrapping presents.
The Cook Who Changed Our Lives
Christmas telly will be full of festive recipes and seasonal serving suggestions, so it’s a pleasant change to have a piece of mouth-watering programming that doesn’t focus on the food, but on an unsung hero of the food world: writer Anna Del Conte who, moving to England in 1949, helped transform Britain’s understanding and appreciation of Italian cooking. Nigella Lawson leads a tribute to the unassuming Anna, with other chefs and presenters lining up to celebrate her influence in making Italian cuisine so accessible. One for foodies.
Inside the Factory: Christmas
Gregg Wallace is simultaneously the best and worst thing about Gregg Wallace. So the idea of Gregg Wallace walking around a factory exchanging working class banter with the people putting together mince pies for the festive season will be either enjoyable or interminable, depending on where you sit on the Gregg Wallace scale. But before you shove all the food you can fit into your mouth this December, there’s something to be said for the plethora of statistics and factoids that the Wallace, Cherry Healey and Ruth Goodman enthusiastically bellow at us between cogs and conveyor belts – it might not be something to digest seriously, but it does put the annual gorge into perspective.
Inside Chernobyl’s Mega Tomb
Tired of the festive cheer already? This sobering documentary about the attempts to contain Chernobyl’s radioactive legacy is for you. Following the construction of a trailblazing 36,000-tonne steel structure to entomb the ruins of the nuclear power plant, this a fascinating piece of filmmaking that sheds a grim light on a subject that we all too often forget about. Bah, humbug.
Insert Name Here: Christmas Special
If you need a comedy panel fix this holiday, you can’t go wrong with one hosted by Sue Perkins. It’s no QI, but the former Great British Bake Off presenter is on fine form in her festive red suit, while guests Danny Baker, Sara Pascoe, Deborah Meaden and Kate Williams bring enough laughs to while away the counting down to present-opening time.
Planet Earth II
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 10 years since the last Planet Earth – and even harder to believe that the BBC and David Attenborough still seem to find it so easy to find such stunning, incredible glimpses of our planet. Well, maybe not that hard. Gather the family around the telly and marvel together – before gripping the edge of the seat, while watching snakes hunting iguanas.
QI: Series N
Sandi Toksvig steps into Stephen Fry’s shoes for the new season of QI and it’s as if she’s been doing it for years. Of course, she has, over on Radio 4’s The News Quiz and that experience has kept her witty banter as sharp as ever. Given a more diverse panel than older seasons of QI might have offered to play with – Episode 1 features Cariad Lloyd, Romesh Ranganathan, Phill Jupitus and Alan Davies – Toksvig is in her element among intelligent people and silliness, able to make catty remarks without being cruel, dispense knowledge without being pretentious and, best of all, laugh genuinely at everyone else’s jokes. A fantastic choice for Fry’s replacement, she brings a charming, generous, understated new energy to a format that had previously become a little too familiar. QI just became quite interesting again.
Photo: BBC/Brian Ritchie/Talkback
Panorama: Living with Dementia: Chris’ Story
“It’s really confusing when you get lost in your own house, it looks really different at night time.” This documentary, filmed over two years, follows a 55-year-old man, as he and his family come to terms with his Alzheimer’s. The result is a surprisingly candid, movingly intimate account of the disease’s advancement, caught in simple, everyday moments (sometimes from CCTV-like footage) that make the hour-long film tragically relatable and all the more powerful.
Photo: BBC/Iolo Penri
Frank Skinner On Demand with…
BBC iPlayer’s latest original series sees Frank Skinner and an array of celebrity guests discuss – yes – iPlayer. Talking through their favourite things they’ve been watching recently, the result is like a 15-minute podcast presenting highlights from the catch-up service. A bit like our weekly column, but less comprehensive and with more famous people. Worth watching just to hear them discuss iPlayer’s original feature film Fear Itself and horror movies in general.
Available until: New episodes arrive every Friday – available for 7 days
Photo: BBC iPlayer
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 2017
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 2017
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
Naomi Watts is sensational in this US remake of the famous Japanese horror, which fuses her emotional intensity with some juddering effects to make for one truly creepy scare-fest.
Martin Freeman stars in Debbie Isitt’s charming comedy about a grumpy teacher put in charge of his primary school’s nativity. The improvised hijinks from the young performers prompted the director to return for multiple sequels, but the real sparkle and shine is in this cute original.
Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa
North Norfolk’s finest radio DJ ends up in a siege in this feature-length outing. A big-screen adventure that keeps things decidedly small, Alpha Papa impresses not because of its laugh count but because of its surprisingly mature take on Steve Coogan’s ageing non-celebrity, which emerges as something tender as well as silly.
The Lady in the Van
The true story of Miss Shepherd, an eccentric woman of uncertain origins, who ‘temporarily’ parked her broken-down van in writer Alan Bennett’s London driveway for 15 years.
Dances with Wolves
Kevin Costner plays a Civil War soldier, Lieutenant Dunbar, who slows becomes part of a group of Sioux Indians at a deserted outpost. The well observed clash of culture and military duty and John Barry’s moving music helped Costner’s sweeping epic to win Oscars for Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Score and more. The star’s moustache is a bonus.
Do we really need another version of Dickens’ story? To its credit, Mike Newell’s Great Expectations convinces us we do. The initial scenes of Pip’s home life never quite come to life, but once we are whisked away to London, via Miss Havisham’s ruined mansion and her cold-hearted ward, Estella, Newell’s version begins to find surer footing. David Nicholls’ script lets Pip and Estella’s anti-romance take centre stage: despite a deliberately understated turn from Helena Bonham Carter, Jeremy Irvine and Holliday Grainger steal the show; Irvine’s Pip is determined and passionate, while Grainger’s stunning, bullied Estella evokes genuine sympathy.
Lesbians and gays support the miners in this heartwarming take on a true story, which sees one group of social outcasts stand side-by-side with another during the 1984 miners strike. Simply lovely.
Offbeat satire about a young ballroom dancing sensation who causes uproar among the tradition-loving Australian Dance Federation when he tries out some unorthodox new steps.
This animated adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book, about a young orphan girl who meets a giant who creates dreams, is simply charming.
The Man Who Fell to Earth
David Bowie delivers an iconic turn in this fantasy about an alien who visits Earth in search of water for his dying planet, only to be seduced by the empire he creates to fund the building of a spaceship to return home.
Errol Morris’ film follows former Wyoming beauty queen Joyce McKinney as she kidnaps a mormon she’s in love with and, according to him, does bad things. Picked up by the British media, the sordid true story soon became a spectacle, covering everything from brainwashed religions to – yes – the clonong of Joyce’s dog. This is a tale of love, abduction, scheming newspapers, silly disguises, an evil cult and magic underwear. It’s also a documentary.
Queen of Versailles (Storyville)
Kill them with kindness. That’s the old adage for dealing with not very nice people. Director Lauren Greenfield seems to take it to heart for The Queen of Versailles, a documentary that depicts the lavish lifestyle of David and Jackie Siegel. The property mogul and his wife are at the pinnacle of the housing boom, his timeshare business never better. Their plan? To build a home. Not just any home: the biggest home in the US, modelled after none other than the Palace of Versailles.
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.)
Main photo: Des Willie / BBC