Small-Screen Jabber 23-29 September

Drama

the child in time cumberbatch

Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Stephen Lewis, a successful children's author, in the feature-length The Child in Time (Sun, BBC1, 9pm). Lewis’ three-year-old daughter Kate goes missing in a supermarket, an event that permanently rips apart his marriage to Julie (Kelly Macdonald). So far, so very reminiscent of the first series of The Missing. This, however, is an adaptation by Stephen Butchard of Ian McEwen’s award-winning novel and what unfolds in the face of such terrible loss is very different. As each parent deals with their grief, there are dark surprises in store for Stephen but also an outcome that no one could have predicted. Cumberbatch executive produced this slimmed down adaptation and it has overtones of the film Don’t Look Now, but the two leads turn in great performances.

electric dreams channel 4 bryan cranston

Electric Dreams (Sun, C4, 9pm) – a epic ten-part anthology of Philip K Dick’s famous sci-fi tales – actually started last week, but I was on my hols. The hour-long episodes explore different worlds and universes, always with a focus on humanity. The adaptations, by leading British and American writers, for the whole series are ambitious and unafraid to push boundaries, helped by a fabulous cast that includes the likes of Steve Buscemi, Bryan Cranston, Timothy Spall, Anna Paquin, Tuppence Middleton and Benedict Wong, and a roster of globally acclaimed directors. Channel 4 has pulled off a thrilling and inspiring ride into the far reaches of the imagination.

Factual

During World War Two, broadcaster Humphrey Jennings made a short propaganda film called Listen to Britain that had no soundtrack, just a kaleidoscope of national images aiming to unite the country. Film director Kevin Macdonald introduces the film on its 75th anniversary in Listen to Britain 2017 (Sun, BBC4, 9pm), followed by a dozen 10-minute features by new and emerging filmmakers that were not only inspired by the original film but also explore listening to the often voiceless and questioning what Britishness means today. Together they form a wide-ranging portrait of our diverse and sometimes divided nation, a glimpse of lives made visible through wry observation. Ambitious and challenging.

ken burns vietnam war

Another war, the Vietnamese, is explored in PBS’s The Vietnam War (Mon, BBC4, 9pm), a ten-part series broadcast in two episodes at a time. Half a century on, directors Lynn Nowick and Ken Burns try to make sense of the long and bloody conflict, filming those on all sides to create a full picture. Forget Hollywood’s versions – The Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now, et al – this is real and essential, and it took the directors a whole decade to illuminate the truths of the war. The first two episodes examine firstly Ho Chi Minh and his revolutionaries’ overthrowing of a century of French colonial occupation and, as the Cold War intensifies, the subsequent division of the country into the communist north and the US-backed Diem regime in the south. In the second episode, President Kennedy faces a political crisis as the communists fight Diem’s dictatorship and Buddhists protests on both sides of the divide.

Music

later jools holland liam gallagher

Paul Weller, Van Morrison and Foo Fighters are just a handful of the greats in the two-hour lineup for Later…with Jools Holland 25th Birthday Show. It’s live from the Royal Albert Hall in London. That quarter century seems to have whizzed past and, as well as the likes of KT Tunstall, Gregory Porter and Dizzee Rascal – also veterans of the show – new musicians also debut their tracks. Say hello to hip-hop artist Jorja Smith, R&B singer Kali Uchis and Songhoy Blues. A new series of Later… kicks off on Tuesday at 10pm on BBC2, featuring Liam Gallagher and his new solo album, As You Were.

Culture

Pirate station Radio Luxembourg led to pop music being officially broadcast on the BBC, but the pirates are still out there, pushing boundaries and creating new stars. The Last Pirates: Britain’s Rebel DJs (Fri, BBC4, 9pm) looks at the generation of urban, working class radio radicals in the 1980s – the ones who were playing new black music from council estates around the UK and who were shut out of legal stations and the mainstream music industry. This documentary tells the story of how they embarked on a cat and mouse game with the authorities, using legal loopholes and technical trickery to stay one step ahead and on air. DJ and rapper Rodney P presents this alternative history, interviewing the DJs, station owners and Department of Trade and Industry enforcers, and demonstrating how his own career would not have been possible without such entrepreneurialism. The social upheaval is well depicted, set to the backdrop of Thatcher's Britain – the irony being that Thatcherism encouraged just such creative entrepreneurship.

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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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