Catch Up TV reviews: Vanity Fair, Married to a Paedophile, Taskmaster S7, The Great British Bake Off
James R | On 09, Sep 2018
Vanity Fair (ITV Hub)
Do we really need another TV version of Vanity Fair? When it looks this good, why not? ITV’s new Sunday night drama is a wonderfully lavish affair, presented with a whooshing confidence and adorned with gorgeous costumes, and that’s just the opening frames of each episode, that spiral round in sync with a carousel until a stately home spins the right way up on our screens.
Olivia Cooke fits right in as the forthright Becky Sharp, determined to claw her way out from poverty and rise the ranks of English society during the Napoleonic Wars. She’s sparky, sharp-witted and ruthlessly manipulative, much to the amusement of her best friend, Amelia (Claudia Jessie), and the shock of her parents (the delicious Simon Russell Beale and Claire Skinner). The quality of the cast only gets better the more you wade into the period waters, and so each new episode of the drama yields greater rewards – from Martin Clunes grunting as the sleazy (and aptly named) Sir Pitt Crawley to Suranne Jones as the haughty Miss Pinkerton and Frances de La Tour as the encouraging Miss Matilda Crawley. Johnny Flynn’s Dobbin, David Fynn’s Jos, Tom Bateman’s Rawdon Crawley and Charlie Rowe’s George Osborne all add to the array of manly dishes waiting to be sampled or pushed asunder by the wily Miss Sharp, and watching those social interactions play out alone is worth tuning in for – the ensemble are having such a ball that it’s hard not to join in.
The pacing is slick, the direction slicker, and it’s all bookmarked by none other than Michael Palin, who introduces each chapter as William Makepeace Thackeray himself, a carnival showman who chuckles at the fools striving to get what’s not worth having. It’s only fitting that surface should be front and centre of such a tale, and while there’s topical relevance to the subject matter, Cooke leads the way with a knowing style – right down to the occasional looks into the camera, as she dares us into giving her game away. House of Cards, eat your heart out.
Taskmaster Season 7 (UKTV Play)
Get your clipboards out and perch on the homemade red throne in your living room, because Taskmaster is back and its seventh season is as hilariously brilliant as ever. In fact, it’s a step up, after the lacklustre sixth run, which suffered partly from having to follow the peak of Season 5 and partly from a line-up that never quite clicked. This new crop of contenders, though, is already promising much, as tension brews between Rhod Gilbert and Phil Wang, Jessica Knappett and Kerry Godliman waste no time in bringing the funny, and James Acaster slots in between with acutely observed quips. From the opening challenge, which introduces a cardboard cut-out of MC Hammer, when asked to produce something that people want to touch, you know you’re in safe hands. Umpiring the absurdity, Greg Davies and Little Alex Horne are on clinically laugh-out-loud form.
The Great British Bake Off (All 4)
Sandi, Prue, Paul and Noel are back in the tent once again this autumn, and Channel 4’s take on The Great British Bake Off is as mouth-watering as ever. Noel and Sandi have settled into their presenting roles, from an opening Back to the Future skit to constant japes and bad puns, while Paul Hollywood’s twinkling judgements are offset by the more scathing wit of Prue Leith. Episode 1 is a tad underwhelming, as they both encounter a wave of disappointing bakes (including a Wagon Wheel technical), but Episode 2 shines like a classic, as chocolate-collared cakes yield some genuinely jaw-dropping showstoppers, and a spinach-based technical challenge brings novelty to the tent. As for the bakers, prepare to be won over by the frank Briony, the F-bomb-dropping French contender Manon, the endearingly creative scientist Rahul and the artistic (and impressively moustached) Terry.
Married to a Paedophile (All 4)
“It’s not me. I didn’t do it,” says the wife of a man jailed for possessing child sex images. She calls herself Helen in her letters to her spouse, a fake name to protect herself from the hate mail that targets their home. But she’s not even a woman pretending to be Helen – she’s one of several people played by actors in this documentary, which takes real life words and gets others to lip-sync them for the camera. It’s a creepily effective device, one that echoes the jarring discovery made by over 100 women every week that what they think of as they normal domestic life is anything but. From forgiveness and shame to helping partners move back into homes just around the corner enough to stay undetected, this is an eye-opening, queasy programme that peels back a layer over a nasty part of modern society that usually stays hidden. “Why couldn’t I be enough as I’m meant to be?” asks one woman – you’ll be left wondering exactly the same thing.