The best films and TV shows on BBC iPlayer (17th December 2017)
Ivan Radford | On 17, Dec 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 Murdered for Being Different and Don’t Deport Me, I’m British, click here.
Pick of the Week: Feud: Bette and Joan
In 1962, Hollywood legend Joan Crawford realises that good roles are not being written for women of her age, so she decides to find one for herself. Coming across the novel What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? by Henry Farrell, she knows that she has found the perfect part. She convinces director Robert Aldrich to champion the movie, but now she needs to bring her bitter Hollywood rival and star of equal magnitude, Bette Davis, on board the project. Sparks swiftly begin to fly, as Ryan Murphy’s docudrama provides a stunning showcase for two uncanny performances from Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange. With both on blistering form, the show’s combination of light humour, dark resentment and period glitz makes for a deliciously watchable box set. (All eight episodes are now available.)
Christmas Box Set: Line of Duty
When Steve Arnott is transferred to an anti-corruption unit, he finds his target is the city’s top detective. Can Gates really be as good as he appears? That’s the starting point for Jed Mercurio’s crime drama, Line of Duty, and it gets more and more unpredictable with every season, as corruption, deceit and good old detective work break cases, reputations and your normal heart rate at an alarmingly frequent pace. Read: Why you should be watching Line of Duty.
Christmas Box Set: Taboo: Season 1
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.
Christmas Box Set: Wolf Hall
Mark Rylance is on magnetic form in this superb adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s historical novels, which chart the rise of Thomas Cromwell in the court of Henry VIII. Read our full reviews
Christmas Box Set: The Mighty Boosh: Season 1
Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt are on superb form in this modern comedy classic, which follow the surreal adventures of zookeepers Vince Noir and Howard Moon. From illegal kangaroo boxing matches to a bizarre vision of gorilla hell, this inspiredly offbeat cross between sketches and sitcom gives us a wealth of memorable characters and laugh-out-loud guest stars, from Matt Berry as a heavily-moustached explorer to Rich Fulcher as clueless zoo manager, Bob Fossil, who really doesn’t like cricket. Words: Ivan Radford
Christmas Box Set: Fleabag
She’s back – and you really should miss this chance to get acquainted with Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s brilliant comedy creation, a young woman who’s angry, pervy, outrageous and hilarious all at once. Read our full review. Words: Ivan Radford
Christmas Box Sets
For the full range of Christmas Box Sets currently available on BBC iPlayer, click here.
Volcanoes are cool. Whether you’re watching them erupt in a movie or reading about them in a geography lesson, there’s something about the ferocious power of nature that’s spellbinding to witness – as long as they’re not interfering with your travel plans. What a treat, then, for the BBC to stump up the cash for this jaw-dropping tour around the world to some of the most spectacular lava spewers, as Chris Jackson, Xand van Tulleken and Aldo Kane head off to Nyiragongo for some studying. Educational, informative and gob-smacking telly.
Would I Lie to You?
It’s hard to say what’s less believable about Would I Lie to You?: the fact that it’s now in its 11th season, or the fact that it’s still hugely entertaining. Rob Brydon is on cheesy-grin form as the host of the show, which sees guests trade truths and bluff lies. It’s the resulting banter, of course, that’s the star attraction, and captains David Mitchell and Lee Mack remain bitter and pedantic to laugh-out-loud effect, while Jo Brand and Kimberly Wyatt both more than hold their own against panelists David Baddiel and a show-sealing Ed Balls, who turns out to be wonderfully up for some silliness. It’s hardly groundbreaking telly, and the world doesn’t need another male-dominated panel show, but compared to the dated stuffiness of Have I Got News for You, this is an amusing 30 minutes that you won’t regret enjoying – and that’s the truth.
Labour: The Summer That Changed Everything
This BBC documentary goes behind the scenes with Labour MPs during Jeremy Corbyn’s recent election campaign. In the current political climate, nobody needs another reminder of what’s happened in the last year, but if you’re tired of the sensationalist, reactive headlines jumping on every little event, this is a welcome, thoughtful antidote that takes a look at the generational change within Labour outside of the bubble of hype and hysteria.
Blitz: The Bombs That Changed Britain
World War II is hardly an unfamiliar presence on our screens, but this BBC documentary takes a novel, moving approach to the conflict, as follow the impact of specific bombs during the Blitz. The first is an unexploded bomb on Martindale Road in Canning Town, which led to an evacuation of the entire neighbourhood, some going across the River Thames and some heading into Epping Forest for shelter. Looking back at those affected through their descendants a generation or two later, this is poignant, insightful look at the all too real destruction that was wrought on home soil.
Michael McIntyre’s Big Show
Michael McIntyre returns to his Saturday night variety show slot after a welcome break from our screens – and with that breathing space following a lengthy period of ubiquity, you can remember the affable charm that made McIntyre a household name in the first place. His stand-up routine still lacks a sharp edge, but his interactions with others remain fun, while the Unexpected Star of the Show is a piece of talent spotting that provides a harmless antidote to the singing contests elsewhere. The real reason to tune in, though, remains Celebrity Send to All – tellingly released on YouTube by BBC One after each episode – which gets a welcome boost in Episode 2 from the fact that it is Danny Dyer’s phone being hijacked by our host – and Dyer, who won the nation’s hearts in Who Do You Think You Are? this year, is as gracious, amusing and game for mocking himself as ever. A proper legend, that one.
“Sometimes, we are so swathed in cant that I long for someone to tell me my ideas are too sheltered and academic.” EM Forster’s classic novel is brought to the screen in this sumptuous costume drama, which sees two families become increasingly entwined: the Schelgels and the Wilcoxes. Kenneth Lonergan pens the adaptation, delving gently into the class differences between them. The former clan is liberal and arty, while the latter is stuffy and British, represented beautifully by the contrasting presence of Hayley Atwell as Margaret “Meg” Schlegel and Matthew Macfadyen as Wilcox patriarch Henry (complete with impressive facial hair). A rather daft romance brings them together, but it’s the friendship between Meg and Mrs. Wilcox (Julia Ormond) that offers us our bridge into future episodes, which only promise to tease apart the pillars of English society further – something that feels all too relevant to Brexit-era Britain. Watch out for Alex Lawther and Tracey Ullman among the impressive supporting cast.
Peaky Blinders: Season 4
Cillian Murphy is in mercurial form in the fourth season of this impeccably stylish thriller, which whisks us back to 1920s Birmingham for a fresh slice of gang violence. He plays, of course, Tommy Shelby OBE, and as a now-legitimate businessman, he’s got his eye on keeping his company going – and a family legacy from which he’s now been estranged. But as Christmas looms, something more sinister than Santa is coming to town (hello to Adrien Brody, the latest big name to join a superb ensemble cast), and Tommy slowly gets the Shelbys back together to put their differences aside. Clinically paced, impossibly polished and as threateningly acted as ever, it’s a pleasure to have Peaky Blinders back. And not just because it’s an excuse to listen to Nick Cave’s Red Right Hand every week.
Gregory Porter’s Popular Voices
Gregory Porter has held people spellbound in recent years with his mellifluous, soulful voice. It turns out he can do exactly the same thing without even singing, as he presents this new BBC documentary series looking back at the greatest voices in modern music. Crooners, showstoppers and pop stars are all here, united by the infectious passion Porter has for the art of singing. He takes us from gospel star Mahalia Jackson to the belting lungs of Mariah Carey and Freddie Mercury, offering technical insight and genuine appreciation for high and low notes alike. With a sprinkling of superbly edited archive footage, the result is a fantastic, more-ish piece of musical history, as spellbinding when we’re watching someone in action on stage as it is watching Gregory on a park bench with some headphones on. A tour de force.
Love, Lies & Records
Ashley Jensen is excellent in this charmingly familiar series from Kay Mellor, which is set in a Leeds register office. It’s an inspired idea for a location, giving us a window on to all kinds of domestic dramas, and not just ones to do with the clients. Jensen plays Kate, who is promoted in the office, much to the disgruntlement of one of her colleagues. But that’s just the start of the excitement, as the opening hour brings us citizenship tests and a transgender coming-out. One marriage between a man and his partner, who has cancer, will genuinely move you to tears (as it does Jensen, who switches between funny, sharp, smart and sincere throughout). As for the disgruntled employee (the always-brilliant Rebecca Front), a blackmail subplot doesn’t make much sense, given it would more likely have taken place before Kate’s promotion, but it’s all so well performed that it feels churlish to question dramatic contrivances – especially when you’re so busy drying your eyes.
Detectorists: Season 3
By the time a show is reaching its third and final season, you expect certain things from its farewell run. Big events, major character arcs, dramatic confrontations. Not in Detectorists. Mackenzie Crook’s endearingly low-key comedy (so well-written and performed that it doesn’t feel like it’s been written or performed at all) heralds its looming end with typically tiny revelations. A whistle two inches beneath the ground. Lance’s (Toby Jones) daughter slicing cheese the wrong way. The fact that someone talking about moister conditions leading to deeper penetration is inherently, immaturely funny. Together with Crook’s Andy (who is struggling to get along with his mother-in-law, with whom he and his partner are staying), the show remains a charmingly downbeat ode to unsatisfied men looking to escape the drudgery of their existence through the hope and dream of one day finding something of value – and through their long-lasting friendship. Little do they know, though, that a solar farm could well be on the way to Danebury, putting an end to their metal-detecting altogether. That’s as close as we get to melodrama (neither of their domestic situations are truly terrible, just mildly inconvenient) – and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
The A Word: Season 2
Peter Bowker’s brilliant drama returns for a second season, continuing to explore autism with real heart and sensitivity. Morven Christie and Lee Ingleby reprise their roles of Alison and Paul Hughes with moving sincerity, as seven-year-old Joe (the excellent Max Vento) begins to notice that he’s different from the other kids at school. It’s a step that broaches a whole new challenge for Alison and Paul, as they not only have to find a way to communicate with their son, but also communicate to him why that challenge exists. Throw in the presence of a new boyfriend from Rebecca and you have a show that continues to develop every member of its ensemble with real complexity and nuance.
Motherland (Box Set)
“Did you try calling my husband? Oh, you just called me.” That’s Julia (Anna Maxwell Martin) in Motherland, the BBC’s new sitcom about the reality of being a mother. Motherhood, of course, is presented to us by the deceitful world of TV as a beautiful time of sanguine purpose and light-hearted farce – where all of life’s problems are made better by a laugh and a cuddle at the end of a stressful day. Mothers and kids, eh? What are they like? Mothers and mothers, though, is another matter entirely – and Motherland doesn’t pull any punches, as it throws us into the ring of child-rearing chaos and hits us with blow after blow of stress, barely contained rage and flat-out hilarity. Read our full review.
Blue Planet II
There aren’t enough superlatives for the BBC’s landmark nature documentary, which returns to our screens years after its first run for some more absolutely gob-smacking images. Orcas, dolphins, terns, all life is here and it’s beautifully captured with all the tension, horror, relief and warmth that we encounter in our existence. Instead of the terror of missing a bus, the fear of being hunted by whales off the coast of New Zealand. The tides of climate change, though, affect us all, and the more the BBC and David Attenborough reveal to us about ocean life, the more fragile the whole thing appears. Accompanied by soaring music from Hans Zimmer, this is essential viewing, even if you don’t know your phytoplankton from your kelp.
MasterChef: The Professionals
Gregg Wallace is back with Marcus Wareing and Monica Galetti for another round of the cookery contest – and knowing that the contestants’ professional reputations are on the line as always gives the reality series a welcome dose of dramatic stakes. With the challenge new asking chefs to create and cook a dish from scratch in 20 minutes, the result is as tense and entertaining as ever.
Robot Wars: Season 10
The BBC’s pitch-perfect reboot of everyone’s favourite family-friendly show of mechanical warfare returns for a third season. Dara Ó Briain and Angela Scanlon are back, with Jonathan Pearce on commentating duties, so things are all set for more of the same. But the Beeb is still tweaking with its formula, so while Nuts 2, Jellyfish, Rapid, TMHWK, Sabretooth, Terrorhurtz, Aftershock, and Crank-E take to the bullet-proof arena, there’s a new twist: entanglement devices are now allowed, which builds on the fact that hitting the Arena Tyre no longer automatically lowers The Pit. It can also release a House Robot to attack any competitor for a period of 10 seconds. Carefully rebooted carnage with added potential for new types of carnage? What’s not to like? See our 5 reasons why the BBC’s Robot Wars reboot works.
Michelle Keegan, former resident of Coronation Street, once again reprises her role of Georgie Lane, Britain’s own military medic. In fact, it’s a role that once belonged to Lacey Turner, former resident of Albert Square, and it’s testament to just how good Keegan is that you’ve probably already forgotten that. Now in its third season, the show has swapped out the usual army scenario for a slightly different backdrop: Nepal, where the troops have been sent to help with the rescue, repair and restoration of order following a catastrophic earthquake. It’s a shift in context that highlights the weaker points of the increasingly familiar formula, from the attractive local man with a heart of gold who is wealthy enough to sponsor villages but too decent not to be getting stuck in with his hands, to Georgie’s handsome, calm superior officer. The weakest link is Private Maisie, who is solely there to talk back to our heroine and be disrespectful. But all of these only highlight how charming Keegan is in the lead, as she brings far more nuance to the character of Lane that one could reasonably expect. Aye, that’s Our Girl. Tuning in for more is always worth it.
Louis Theroux once again proves he’s king of the interviewers with his return to BBC Two. From his awkward demeanour to his untrendy jumpers, he’s a natural at disarming anyone just enough to make them divulge their innermost thoughts. While that can often feel borderline cruel, and regularly becomes amusing, this new season begins with something that’s neither, as he talks to heroin addicts in Huntingdon, West Virginia. With 1 in 10 babies in the city born dependent on opiates, he talks to everyone from young women to absent fathers, and where they might normally lie to their family and friends about their addiction, they open up to him with a devastating honesty. In anyone else’s hands, this could feel exploitative, but in Louis Theroux’s hands, it’s just a poignant tragedy.
Boyz N the Hood director John Singleton turns his hand to TV for this cocaine-addled drama. Snowfall may lack the gritty, low-key realism of that seminal cinematic classic, but the 10-part series is unafraid to go for the other extreme, with a stylish soundtrack and a gorgeously, Day-Glo sheen. The setting? Los Angeles in the 1980s, just as crack is beginning to hit the streets. Caught up in that rising trade is a Mexican wrestler who has become a courier and a CIA agent running a secret drug ring. There’s intrigue in both plot strands – including a party featuring a woman blowing powder up someone’s bottom (yes, really) – but the most involving is Franklin (an excellent Damson Idris), whose own greed draws him into the illicit business, from swimming pools to guns. Could you have had his story just as its own mini-series? Perhaps, but if Snowfall often drifts across colourful surfaces rather than dive into deeper substance, it’s never less than fun.
“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.)
Man on the Moon
Jim Carrey delivers a fantastic performance in this biopic of controversial comedian Andy Kaufman, the often misunderstood star of Taxi and Saturday Night Live. Perfect viewing to go with Netflix’s behind-the-scenes documentary about the film, out now.
Directed by The Imitation Game’s Morten Tyldum, this adaptation of a Norwegian thriller sees an art thief and business headhunter (Aksel Hennie) go head to head with a model candidate (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Dark, violent and hilarious, this is Nesbo-rilliant stuff.
Who ever thought the 90s would be something to be nostalgic about? If you’re not looking wistfully back at the decade, though, Matt Whitecross’ film will soon have you gazing at the past. Following the Stone Roses, a band once tipped for insanely great things after their first album (before diving off a cliff with their second), Spike Island – a film about their legendary show of the same name – fell under the radar upon its UK cinema release, but deserves to have its moment in the spotlight.
Kung Fu Panda: The Kaboom of Doom
A kick in the balls to other money-grabbing sequels, Kung Fu Panda 2 is a laugh-out-loud fest of purest awesome.
Shadow of the Vampire
While on location in Czechoslovakia to film the 1920s classic Nosferatu, director FW Murnau (John Malkovich) and actor Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe) conceal a secret from the crew…
Banned from making movies in Iran, director Jafar Panahi poses as a taxi driver, driving around Tehran recording the lives of its inhabitants and the difficulties they face.
It’s not every day you see a old man wielding an 18th Century blunderbuss ordering a boy to make him a cup of Tetley. It’s a novel touch to what would otherwise be a by-the-books British drama about a teen trying to come good with the help of an unlikely mentor. That novelty stays fresh throughout.
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.)