Small-Screen Jabber 10-16 March


below the surface embed

When three men dressed in fatigues and balaclavas board a metro train in downtown Copenhagen and start firing guns, you know you’re in for a thrilling ride in Below the Surface (Sat, BBC4, 9pm). The terrorists turn out to be English and have 15 passengers as hostages – they want a €4m ransom. Tasked with finding out who they are and taking them out is Philip Norgaard (Johannes Lassen), head of Danish counter-terrorism and himself a former hostage. Journalist Naja Toft (Paprika Steen) is angling to interview the hijackers and raise the ransom money through her news show. Can she and Philip stop the terrorists before they start killing? It’s dark, it’s violent and it’s brooding, and while it’s not quite The Bridge it’s watchable enough. Eight episodes, shown in pairs – each covering one day, and in Danish and English with subtitles.


being blacker

Documentarist Molly Dineen’s warm and intimate film Being Blacker (Mon, BBC2, 9pm) gets under the skin of Brixton’s black community, chiefly through following Blacker Dread (born Steve Martin) around with a camera. Dread is a music producer who was forced to shut his reggae record shop, and is now facing an unrelated prison sentence while mourning the recent death of his mother. His sister June is attempting to keep the family together but Dread decides to return to Jamaica with his partner Maureen, where their son is at school. Meanwhile Dread’s sidekick Naptali is going straight after a stint as an armed robber. Through all these characters, with their complicated and sometimes messy lives, Dineen explores what it means to be black and British today, and how class, racism and crime can impinge on black identity.

Ruth Ellis Files very british crime story

Either that or The Ruth Ellis Files: A Very British Crime Story (Tues-Thurs, BBC4, 9pm) would qualify as my documentary of the week. Ellis shot her racing driver lover David Blakely in cold blood and was the last woman to be hanged in Britain for her crime. The police ignored the fact she was a victim of repeated domestic violence and the press portrayed her as a ruthless femme fatale, simply for being blonde and glamorous. Gillian Pachter’s sensitive film – showing over three consecutive evenings – examines the flaws in the police investigation, which included failing to interview key witnesses and making assumptions, because of a 1950s culture riddled with the class system and sexism.

Last year’s terror attacks in London and Manchester are explored in Four Days That Shook Britain (Thurs, ITV, 9pm) from the point of view of those caught up in the atrocities. Survivors, witnesses and emergency service workers share a wide range of stories – harrowing, poignant and heart-warming. Most interesting is how everyone is coping, weeks and months down the line – some have experienced life-changing injuries and many paramedics and police officers struggle with PTSD after attending the scenes.


It’s Irish rock night on BBC4’s regular Friday night music strand. Both shows are repeats but worth catching if you missed them first time. From 2015, The Irish Rock Story: a Tale of Two Cities (Fri, BBC4, 9pm) looks back over five decades to how rock changed Ireland – north and south – through the music scenes in Belfast and Dublin. Narrated by Richard Dormer, who starred as Belfast band manager and record store owner Terri Hooley in the film Good Vibrations, it explores how the 50s showbands gave way to a rich lineage – from Van Morrison and Thin Lizzy to The Undertones and U2 – along the way creating a definable Irish sound that married Belfast’s hard, angry rock with Dublin’s softer, melodic style and reflected the politics of the day. Contributors include Bob Geldof, Sinead O’Connor and U2.

Here comes the summer story of undertones

It’s followed at 10pm by sassy 2012 rockumentary Here Comes the Summer: the Undertones Story. Their iconic 1978 hit single Teenage Kicks turned them into unlikely stars but their perfect pop tunes about adolescence and love belied the fact they’d been forged in Derry, a northern Irish city that was the violent epicentre of the 1970s Troubles. There are plenty of archive clips, plus interviews with band members, friends, family and peers – theirs is a sweetly funny and very moving tale of their improbable rise above sectarianism.


psycho shower scene

Hitchcock’s most famous film scene is dissected in Hitchcock’s Shower Scene: 78/52 (Sat, BBC2, 9pm) – the numbers refer to how it took 78 set-ups and 52 edits to create Janet Leigh’s brutal bathroom stabbing by Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). At 90 minutes, it’s what you might call forensic, as Alexandre O Philippe analyses this most iconic scene that changed the horror genre and popular culture. He also interviews key people – including Leigh’s daughter Jamie Lee Curtis and her body double Marli Renfro, who recounts her experience entertainingly – and industry figureheads such as Peter Bogdanovich and Guillermo del Toro.


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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