Top TV shows and films on BBC iPlayer (21st June 2015)
Ivan Radford | On 21, Jun 2015Reading time: 15 mins
Father’s Day. A day for making connections. For taking a moment of appreciation. For watching cavemen talk about women and sex. And listening to a strange guy talk in a silly voice.
If you’re celebrating Father’s Day on BBC iPlayer with Matt Berry, that is. The comedian’s topical (and highly educational) short film is just one of the many exclusive videos on the Beeb’s catch-up service, which also includes the Women’s World Cup and a new collection of Muslim Comedy Shorts, primarily dealing with the current month of Ramadan.
Other, more serious affair doesn’t always pay off: The Interceptor is a cliche-ridden crime thriller, starring a solid O. T. Fagbenle, who tries to breathe life into the unsubtle cheesiness (Run D.M.C.’s It’s Like That plays over the top of a drugs killing in the opening minutes). But the tale of a maverick Customs officer who, damn it, always gets results – “I would sacrifice the big fish to get payback for my mate,” he insists – is so run-of-the-mill your feet practically feel exhausted after 30 minutes.
But not all of the BBC’s light entertainment is great, either: SunTrap, a comedy starring Bradley Walsh and Kayvan Novak, is a sitcom that exists solely to allow Novak’s undercover investigator to parade a string of unfunny voices in a sea of lazy stereotypes.
Luckily, though, there’s still more than enough to savour from the broadcaster’s streaming library, from Dances with Wolves to My Week with Marilyn. The Clangers are even on hand to wind down afterwards.
We review the top titles currently available on BBC iPlayer:
Matt Berry Does… Father’s Day
Matt Berry proves once again that almost anything he says is funny, mostly because of the way he says it. After several excellent comedy shorts for BBC iPlayer, the IT Crowd and Garth Marenghi star now has his own series of short films titled “Matt Berry Does…”. After a profile of the Oxford vs. Cambridge boat race earlier in the year, he turns his anthropological gaze to Father’s Day, providing a history of parenthood that dates all the way back to our primate ancestors. Alongside the bizarre and silly turns this spoof documentary takes, not to mention the vaguely satirical swipes at the failed evolution of men, the highlight is simply Berry using the phrase “UK daddy”, something that he repeats over and over again. It doesn’t stop being funny. This is the second of six “Matt Berry Does…” specials. Roll on the other four.
Available until: 14th July
Muslim Comedy Shorts
BBC iPlayer’s original content has always thrived on giving a platform to talent that might otherwise not be seen on the TV. These five comedy shorts combine that knack for showcasing comedians with an insight into the highs and lows of Muslim life, particularly the struggles faced during Ramadan. Sadia Azmat’s to-the-camera rant about misperceptions from people in the street delivers a wonderfully surreal flourish, while Tez Ilyas’ inner monologue of a fasting Muslim in an office smartly swerves between endearingly timid and amusing arse. Prince Abdi’s account of trying to fast is the highlight, though: a sharp, four-minute blast of conflicting perspectives and childish adult behaviour.
Available until: 18th July
Photo: BBC iPlayer
“This is the Earth, our home…” begins Michael Palin at the start of each episode of The Clangers. “A tiny, wet planet, lost and alone. Lost in the vast silence of space…”
It’s not the introduction that older viewers will be used to, but it’s immediately clear that the Beeb’s updated version of Oliver Postgate’s classic has no intention of rebooting the show for modern audiences. In a year where Gerry Anderson’s equally loved series was given a CGI makeover, new characters and a different back-story, The Clangers feels like the antithesis to ITV’s Thunderbirds.
Palin’s avuncular tones are the perfect fit for The Clanger’s reassuring voice-over, which rejoices in the small details of our creatures’ lives. The result is something that feels as timeless as ever, because it doesn’t alter what made The Clangers special in the first place: its ability to present imagination as the most natural thing in the universe. Read our full review.
Available until: 9th July (Episode 1)
Photo: BBC/Coolabi, Smallfilms and Peter Firmin
Women’s World Cup
If you’re missing the Premier League, the Women’s World Cup in Canada hits the (penalty) spot, with all matches available to watch in full on BBC iPlayer, following their broadcast. Best of all? An iPlayer-exclusive series of catch-up videos, which round up all the goals and updates in handy 10-minute chunks. Just the thing for those joining in with only two weeks left of the tournament.
Available until: 6th July (Day 1 Catch-Up)
Photo: BBC/ANdrew Hayes-Watkins
“It’s easy to get on one’s high horse about Napoleon’s looting…” says Andrew Roberts, before going on to list artworks stolen by the legendary French leader. The first of three documentaries charting Bonaparte’s rise from army officer to ruler, the historian’s determination to repaint the tyrant of textbooks as a sympathetic figure doesn’t convince, but some previously unseen private letters that offer personal insight into his love life and the on-location shoots in St Helena and Italy make this series worth checking out – if only to be surprised by just how much you dislike Napoleon.
Available until: 11th July (Episode 1)
Photo: BBC/Back2back Productions
Christian Cooke stars as Stewart in this adaptation of Iain Banks’ story about a guy who goes back to his Scottish fishing home for the funeral of his best friend, Cal. His return, though, digs up all kinds of skeletons in the seaside closets, from Cal’s sister, Ellie, to whom he was engaged, to his dad, Don (Peter Mullan), the local big bad of the area. The mystery of what happened to Cal may not always grip and the romance is only just starting to kindle, but there are some good moments in this promising opening hour, from a shot of red high heels in a bathroom toilet and some nice background locations to a literally suspenseful finale. The cast, though, are the main reason to tune in, if only to see Peter Mullan intimidate everyone else on screen.
Available until: 11th July (Episode 1)
Photo: BBC/Slate Films/Graeme Hunter
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
This lavish production, based on Susanna Clarke’s novel, is an amusing and intriguing delight. The tale of two magicians in Georgian England boasts two excellent performances from Bertie Carvel (the arrogant, clumsy Strange) and Eddie Marsan (the reclusive, nervous Norrell) and a sharply condensed script from Peter Harness, which leans on period drama tropes to sell its parallel history of England. But the programme’s real power lies in its ability to build the extraordinary out of the ordinary. Director Toby Haynes presents a world that is wholly believable, grounding the story’s magic in practical, everyday objects; an approach that makes the incredible surprisingly credible. Read our full review.
Available until: 23rd June (Episode 2)
Photo: BBC /Todd Antony
Episodes: Season 4
Sean and Beverly’s Hollywood career refuses to die as they are dragged back from London to make six more episodes of Pucks! The sight of everyone’s miserable faces – and Matt LeBlanc’s ever-amusing take on himself (especially after losing half of his money) – is more than enough to keep the return of this sitcom a pleasant treat. A depressingly believable take on the incompetency of the entertainment business, which has developed its supporting characters enough to pull off a subplot devoted to Carol having to work with someone whose husband she slept with.
Available until: 24tg June (Episode 3)
Photo: BBC / Hat Trick
An Hour to Save Your Life: Season 2
Earlier this year, Sky 1 brought us Critical, a medical drama that borrowed 24’s real-time premise to follow a team of surgeons trying to save emergency patients in the “Golden Hour” following their admission to hospital. Now, the BBC has responded with a second season of its own one-hour documentary about the same thing. Interviews with the doctors post-event provide welcome explanations of the procedures we’re watching – reminding us of the harsh reality that more than makes up for the lack of gory, fictionalised injuries. Sky’s show is sensational and gripping. These cases actually happened.
Available until: 2nd July (Episode 1)
Photo: BBC / Boundless
“Think torpedo with teeth.”
If the title of the BBC’s new nature series – simply “Shark” – doesn’t grab you by the teeth, the fact that it’s narrated by Paul McGann will have you falling for it hook, line and sink. Typically beautiful and full of fun names to repeat to your friends, this is Jawsome stuff.
Available until: 27th June (Episode 1)
Photo: BBC / Morné Hardenberg / Atlantic Edge Films
Mary Berry’s Absolute Favourites
Everyone’s favourite floral bomber jacket wearer Mary Berry returns to our TV screens once again with this new cookery show. The recipes are inspired by her childhood memories – including one interlude showing how to make ice cream – but it’s her no-nonsense presenting that makes her so easy to watch. The odd candid shot of her attempting to lick the spoon between takes only cements her status as a national treasure.
Available until: 23rd June (Episode 2)
Photo: BBC / Shine TV
Women Who Spit
“Your shabby, slipped-stitch mistakes make you miraculous,” spits Vanessa Kisuule in a short poem urging women to stop shrinking back and to take up space. It’s one of countless brilliant lines you’ll hear during this series of short films, which see female poets tackle topics facing young people today.
Cecilia Knapp’s explanation of why she writes is inspiring, Deanna Rodger’s look at those forced off the street is provocative, while Jemima Foxtrot’s double-performed examination of confidence and doubt is an entertaining and powerful reminder of the importance of self over surface. Each are excellent performers, leaving your tongue tripping back over syllables to savour their taste, but keep Megan Beech’s passionate cry for more women on our TV screens until last: after the previous four fantastic compositions, you’ll be hard pushed not to agree.
Important and urgent, this collection shows just how valuable BBC iPlayer can be as a platform to voices that should be heard more often.
Available until: May 2016
Photo: BBC/Thomas Caron Delion
Murder in Successville
BBC Three’s improvised murder mystery comedy sees DI Sleet joined by a variety of celebrity guest stars to solve a crime. In Episode 1, it’s Made in Chelsea’s Jamie Laing, who has to work out who shot restauranteur Bruno Tonioli. He finds himself surrounded by other celebrities – Alan carr, Taylor Swift – but these are played by impressionists. And so the chaos begins, throwing the unsuspecting sidekick into scenarios that increasingly ridiculous.
The jokes are often on the disappointingly crude side, but as much fun as it is to see Tom Davis growl his way through over-the-top cliches, the real enjoyment lies in seeing Laing fail to keep a straight face. Is corpsing a mark of the hit-and-miss “script” failing or the production working? Either way, it’s absurdly high concept and unabashed silliness make this original idea exactly the kind of thing that BBC Three will hopefully continue to produce as it moves towards its online-only future. Call it Murder in Semi-Successville.
Available until: 25th June (Episode 1)
Photo: BBC/Tiger Aspect/Ollie Upton
Private View – Jo Brand on Grayson Perry
The fifth entry in BBC iPlayer’s always interesting Private View series continues to open doors on exhibitions that might otherwise be out of reach for viewers. Here, Jo Brand gets exclusive access to the latest exhibition of Grayson Perry’s work at Turner Contemporary in Margate. Jo takes us on a personal tour around the artist’s early pots, prints, tapestries and sculptures – sharing her admiration for his ability to turn outrageous social observation into beautiful works of art.
Available until: 23rd June
Photo: BBC iPlayer
Rev: Season 3
The coffers of St. Saviour’s are empty. The church seniors are looking to close the building. Adam and his wife (Olivia Colman) are losing their patience with each other. Sounds bleak? That’s because Season 3 of Rev is. And that’s a good thing. Rev’s strength has always been in its ability to take the serious with the silly: more sit than com, it’s drama first, entertainment second. The supporting cast (from Miles Jupp to Steve Evetts) occasionally slip into stereotypes but Holland and Colman always feel genuine – and it’s their marriage and Adam’s faith that fuel this run of increasingly dark episodes, which climax with a beautifully conceived Easter tale, complete with an inspired Liam Neeson cameo. If you missed their first run on TV, catch these repeats while you can.
Available until: 30th June
As each new version of Great Expectations arrives, the title Lowered Expectations seems more appropriate. Ever since David Lean’s definitive film, the playing field has felt crowded. Even the BBC produced a third (very admirable) adaptation last year. Do we really need another? 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.
Available until: 22nd June (11pm)
The History Boys
Alan Bennett’s superb stage play is turned into an equally excellent film, with the inimitable Richard Griffiths as Hector, a history teacher trying to coach a class of 1980s Yorkshire lads into successful Oxbridge candidates. If the clash of backgrounds recalls Dead Poets Society, it is no bad thing, as Bennett takes the sentiment of carpe diem out of the present and into a uniquely British and altogether moving future: sometimes all you can do is pass it on.
Available until: 21st June (1.55am)
Paul Bettany plays Charles Darwin in this drama that follows the completion and publication of his theory of evolution – one that contravened his wife’s religious beliefs. Bettany is great, while his chemistry with an excellent Jennifer Connelly turns Darwin’s public controversy into a source of private conflict. An absorbing watch.
Available until: 16th July
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.
Available until: 24th June (5.15pm)
It’s always worth catching a Hitchcock when it’s on TV and Suspicion is no exception. The thriller, which stars Joan Fontaine and Cary Grant as an heiress who is convinced her husband is trying to kill her was famously re-written for its leading man – an insight into not just Hollywood’s inherent sexism, but also the fact that Hitch was, despite his reputation, a director with a fondness of female characters to root for.
Available until: 13th July
Carey Mulligan stole a nation’s heart with her superb performance in this coming-of-age drama. which sees young Oxbridge candidate Jenny whisked away into a world of glamorous possibilities by the Peter Sarsgaard’s older man, David. Watch out for a scene-stealing turn by Rosamund Pike.
Available until: 3rd July
My Week with Marilyn
Michelle Williams transforms herself completely for this tale of Marilyn Monroe and her affairs with a young assistant during the production of The Prince of the Showgirl. Kenneth Branagh’s Laurence Olivier is equally delightful, but amid the joyful hamminess sits Eddie Redmayne’s naive suitor, whose devotion makes this a charming watch.
Available until: 6th July
We Need to Talk About Kevin
Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel may not always be the psychological mystery that either set out to be, but Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller’s performances as troubled teen Kevin and his mother are horribly convincing.
Available until: 25th June
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.
Available until: 29th June
Leave to Remain
Anything with Toby Jones in is always worth watching – something that indie drama proves beyond doubt. He plays a well-intentioned officer who helps refugees obtain citizenship in the UK, just as an Afghan teenager finds his case interrupted by the arrival of a boy from back home. The soundtrack by alt-J is a bonus.
Available until: 30th June
Adam Curtis’ bizarre, surreal, brilliant provocative documentary deconstructs the media’s presentation of politics and history with a dizzying complexity and a dark sense of humour. At over two hours, it’s a daunting watch, but an important one – not least because it showcases the potential for BBC iPlayer as a platform for bold, experimental work. (Read our full review)
Available until: 2016