Small-Screen Jabber 13-19 January


Before We Die

If McMafia (currently on BBC1) isn’t giving you a decent enough fix for fictional organised crime, check out classy Swedish thriller Before We Die (Tues, C4, 11pm). Detective Hanna Svensson finds herself drawn into a violent gang feud when her lover and colleague Sven disappears while investigating a bikers club thought to have ordered a murder. She gets her son to infiltrate the bikers and be an informant – he learns about drug trades and a plot involving Balkan Mafiosi, but is soon in danger himself. Before We Die is set primarily in Stockholm, providing dark and claustrophobic cityscapes, and is packed with violence, a twisty plot and plenty of tension. After the first episode, you can find all 10 as a boxset on Channel 4’s Walter Presents.

britannia embed

It’s 43AD, and the Romans are invading our fair isles again, nearly a century after Caesar’s unsuccessful attempts, in Britannia (Thurs, 9pm, Sky Atlantic). Aulus Plautius (David Morrissey) is more determined, but he must subjugate the bloodthirsty Celts first, and the druids. Queen Antedia (Zoe Wannamaker in an impressive blonde wig) sets aside her rivalry with Princess Kerra (Kelly Reilly) to form a united force to repel the Romans, and call upon the druids to build the resistance (check out a barely recognisable Mackenzie Crook as their chief). However, Aulus is hiding a dark secret that could imperil his mission. There are inevitable comparisons to Game of Thrones, given the lavish sets and cinematic production values alongside the setting, and it’s all a bit crazy as Jez Butterworth’s screenplay is only loosely based on the facts. But it looks fabulous and certainly has the feel of authenticity as you watch Aulus’ legions marching through the countryside, plundering and killing as they go. My drama of the week.


the coronation

Sixty-five years after she inherited the throne, Queen Elizabeth finally succumbs to an interview in The Coronation (Sun, BBC1, 8pm). Her Maj never gives interviews so reporter Alistair Bruce has a proper scoop. And while she is less bland than expected (but only just), this hour-long documentary is most interesting for its look at the crown jewels and the symbolic role of the St Edward’s Crown, only ever dusted off for coronations and reputedly heavy enough to break the wearer’s neck.

Never mind the jewels, Art, Passion and Power: the Story of the Royal Collection (Tues, BBC4, 9pm) explores the monarchy’s obsessive acquisition of artworks down the centuries. Art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon looks at how Henry VIII founded the collection on the premise that owning art equalled having power, while down the line Charles I became the biggest royal collector, believing this way he could compete against the European royal houses in terms of taste. In four parts, this covers 500 years to the present day, and is wonderfully detailed.


madonna rebel heart tour

Pop icon Madonna filmed the Australian leg of her 2016 tour, and you can see the two-hour-long official cut in Madonna Rebel Heart Tour (Sat, BBC2, 10.30pm). The Material Girl plays a good selection of her hits stemming right back to her early career as well more recent material from the Rebel Heart studio album. There’s also plenty of backstage footage intercut with the songs. A must for fans. Earlier, Emma Willis presents The Brits Are Coming (Sat, ITV, 5.45pm), a chance to see live performances at the O2 from this year’s Brit Award nominees, who include Paloma Faith, Jorja Smith and former One Directioner Liam Payne. No Ed Sheeran, although he’ll undoubtedly scoop gongs on the night.

hits hype hustle

The three-part Hits, Hype and Hustle: an Insider’s Guide to the Music Business (Fri, BBC4, 9pm) shouldn’t be confused with the channel’s recent three-parter on Nile Rodgers’ How to Make it in the Music Business. This is about the behind the scenes stuff rather than a musician’s success, how it all actually works. Agent Emma Banks, who has enjoyed a long career spotting and breaking acts, and working with top artists like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Kanye West, shows how it’s not just luck and talent, but the team behind someone – the record label, the A&R team, the record pluggers, the press… But there’s more to it than global superstardom or reuniting bands that broke up acrimoniously two decades earlier. Banks also looks at the also-rans and nearly-made-its, for me the more interesting aspect – why some amazingly talented musicians never get the break they deserve. Contributors include Nona Hendryx of Labelle, Arista’s Clive Davis, Martha Reeves and Alex James.


It’s clearly a moment for iconic Irish writers – last week Gabriel Byrne was discussing George Bernard Shaw and this week it’s Anjelica Huston on James Joyce: a Shout in the Street (Mon, BBC4, 9pm). Huston spent her early years in Ireland so she’s well-placed to front this detailed retrospective of the author’s works and life. Adding to her insights into of the 20th century’s greatest novelists are contemporaries such as novelists Colm Toibin, Eimear McBride, Anne Enwright and John Banville, Irish all of them, and The Wire creator David Simon.

Louise Bolotin is Screenjabber’s TV critic. She has a penchant for quality drama and quirky documentaries, slums it with EastEnders and pities people who watch reality TV, which might be why she never writes about The X Factor.

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