Dystopian nightmare The Handmaid’s Tale (Sun, C4, 9pm) returns for a second run, based on Margaret Attwood’s 1985 novel but with all new storylines, as series one concluded with the book’s ending. It’s fair to say that these 13 episodes are even bleaker – the opening scenes are incredibly difficult to watch, we get a glimpse of The Colonies, where dissidents are sent for hard labour, and we pick up with Offred being taken away in a prison van for transgressing against the Commander and his wife. Elizabeth Moss is simply extraordinary as Offred/June, a performance of great subtlety where her character may often not be able to speak and must convey everything by facial expressions. Ann Dowd as the cruel Aunt Lydia also excels.
Hugh Grant, last seen in a TV drama in 1999 – if you exclude the Love, Actually Comic Relief special, is back on the small screen in A Very English Scandal (Sun, BBC1, 9pm) and what a treat. He plays Liberal MP Jeremy Thorpe, party leader and secret gay, and soon to be on trial for conspiracy to murder his former lover Norman Scott (Ben Whishaw). Back in the 60s, Thorpe had embarked on a 10-year affair with model Scott when homosexuality was still illegal. After a messy break-up in the mid 70s, he tries to keep Scott a secret to protect his career but his lover threatens to go public. Then Scott’s dog is shot dead in what appears to be a botched attempt to assassinate him. I’ve longed for Grant to ditch the flimsy rom-coms and get stuck into something properly meaty and he doesn’t disappoint, in a perfectly tuned performance as the charming, powerful and increasingly desperate politician. He has great chemistry with Whishaw, who is equally delightful as the troubled lover who refuses to be shut up and go away. This is an all-star production – written by Russell T Davies and directed by Stephen Frears, the cast includes Monica Dolan, Jason Watkins, Eve Myles, Alex Jennings and David Bamber. My drama of the week - unmissable.
I’m struggling to recognise much of what I see in Manchester: a Year of Hate Crime (Mon, C4, 10.35pm) as I live in the city. It’s a year since the terrorist attack at a pop concert at the Arena and this documentary covers the 12 months since, 12 months in which hate speech against the city’s Muslims proliferated and ugly scenes of racially motivated violence on the local tram network. It’s disturbing stuff alright, and mayor Andy Burnham is right to point out in the interview he gives here that the ethnic tensions we see depicted are what terrorist groups hope to engender, and what the local police have to mop up. It’s grim viewing. But Manchester also flourished with love and hope after the attack, and it’s important to remember that.
A year to the day, Manchester: the Night of the Bomb (Tues, BBC2, 9pm) revisits the grim events, told through the eyes of the teenage girls who were at Ariane Grande’s concert and survived the attack. There is also testimony from the emergency services workers who attended the scene, some previously unheard audio clips and unseen mobile phone footage, and a brief attempt to analyse what motivated the bomber. There are thankfully no bloody close-ups of what happened – there are, however, some poignant shots of the empty Arena and some lovely footage of Manchester after dark.
As the Brexit saga drags on, with the government tying itself in knots over the exit terms, spare a thought for our MEPs. Carry On Brussels (Wed, C4, 10pm) is a three-parter that films the tensions existing among our elected representatives to the European parliament. Like Westminster, Brussels is a bubble and the British MEPs go about the business end of European politics in a rarefied atmosphere where they know they are likely to be out of a job soon. And they are divided by party lines, as we see all too clearly when Ukip’s Gerard Batten (the recently ousted leader) picks arguments with Labour remainer Seb Dance. A shame this wasn’t filmed or aired before the 2016 referendum, as it lifts the lid on the workings of the parliament and could have helped voters better understand how the EU is run. Ah well…
Björk makes a very rare television appearance (her first in nearly a decade), popping up on Later Live… with Jools Holland (Tues, BBC2, 10pm) to plug her latest album (which actually came out last year) – expect the unexpected from her, it’s what she does. She’s joined by jazz singer Hailey Tuck, female group Les Amazones d’Afrique, former Pixies singer Kim Deal with her indie band the Breeders and Deva Mahal, soul singer and daughter of the more famous Taj. Relish this all-women roster – I suspect it’s a first for Jools.
The first night of the BBC’s four-day, four-city music festival The Biggest Weekend (Fri, BBC4, 7.30pm) kicks off at Belfast’s Titanic Slipway, with a lineup that boasts Father John Misty, Courtney Barnett, the Manic Street Preachers, Beck, Orbital and the Breeders. The BBC is spreading its coverage across the radio, its website and the red button, so check those out for Friday’s Perth roster if that also appeals.
Having played Oscar Wilde in the West End, Rupert Everett embarked on a decade-long film production about the end of Wilde’s life. He has written, directed and stars in The Happy Prince, which was released in January. He pops up in Imagine… Rupert Everett: Born to be Wilde (Sun, BBC1, 10.30pm) where we are taken behind the scenes of what was clearly a tortuous project. Everything that could go wrong, did. Everett is, of course, fabulous – not least in the scenes from the final cut.
If you must, although it IS avoidable, the Royal Wedding (Sat, BBC1/ITV/Sky1 and Sky News, from 9am) dominates Saturday daytime. The actual ceremony isn’t until noon, so you can expect three hours of blah before then – typified by interviews with pundits, shots of the crowds and Union Jack bunting, and vacuous commentary by the presenters desperate to fill airtime with something. All live footage is being shot by the BBC, but the least fawning coverage is likely to be Sky, followed by ITV.
The other big tellybox events on Saturday are the cup finals. First up is the Scottish Cup Final (Sat, BBC1 Scotland/Sky Football, from 2pm) with Celtic v Motherwell at Hampden Park, with a 3pm kickoff. The FA Cup Final (Sat, BBC1/BT Sport 2, 5pm/4pm) is at Wembley with Chelsea v Manchester United, and a kickoff at 5.15pm.