Small-Screen Jabber 27 October – 2 November 2018

Drama

little drummer girl florence pugh

On the heels of 2016’s ultra-glamorous spy thriller The Night Manager, comes another John le Carré adaptation from the same team (BBC/AMC) – The Little Drummer Girl (Sun, BBC1, 9pm). This has none of the former’s sexy Bond-style antics and glossy visuals. It’s decidedly grittier and multi-layered. Florence Pugh stars as Charlie, a jobbing actor and leftie activist – on a work trip to Greece she is recruited by the Israelis to trace the whereabouts of a wanted Palestinian terrorist, Khalil, who is bombing Jewish targets in Europe. Charlie goes deep undercover as a double agent, in a Palestinian training camp, where her growing sympathy for their cause puts her under huge mental strain. Le Carré’s 1983 novel is highly topical right now, exploring loyalty and conflict in the febrile Middle East. Pugh’s central performance is exquisite, and she’s ably backed by Martin Shannon and Alexander Skarsgård as her Israeli handlers.

dark heart

Gory and atmospheric crime thriller Dark Heart (Wed, ITV, 9pm) stars Tom Riley as DI Will Wagstaffe, a workaholic cop with a complicated personal life. So far, so clichéd. And when he finally decides to take a holiday he’s called to a grisly case in which a man in his mid-30s has been found tied to his bed, mutilated and strangled. It appears the victim had been investigated for sexually abusing his young daughters. And amid a heatwave in London, Wagstaffe must deal with a similar shocking murder, of a lawyer also suspected of child sexual abuse and also tied to his bed. It seems Wagstaffe and his team are about to deal with a spate of killings of unconvicted paedophiles. Based on Adam Creed’s series of Wagstaffe novels, Dark Heart has a few too many crime drama tropes scattered across it, but it’s pacy and gripping.

the first sean penn

Hollywood stars Sean Penn and Natascha McElhone bring their dazzle dust to The First (Thurs, C4, 9pm), a glitzy sci-fi drama that follows a team of astronauts on a mission to Mars, with the aim of settling there. This is Penn’s first bite at doing a TV series and he heads up a strong ensemble cast as Tom Hagerty, one of the five-strong team selected for the mission, with all his usual moody method swagger. McElhone plays Laz Ingram, the visionary CEO who runs the commercial corporation funding the space programme. Alongside the core story about pioneering space exploration, there’s a focus on the ground team at the space centre, plus the astronauts’ families and loved ones. It’s been scripted by Beau Willimon, who wrote the US version of House of Cards, and has a Hollywood-sized budget to feed the production values. With Penn and McElhone fronting the cast, it feels cinematic as well as epic and bold. And there’s a sharp twist halfway through the first episode that suggests where this new series just might be heading, and not just to Mars.

Factual

Summerland fire 1973

Flammable cladding was designated as a high-risk factor for fires as early as the mid 1970s, when the Summerland holiday complex on the Isle of Man went up in flames, killing 50. Its cladding was the reason the fire spread so quickly. The Fires that Foretold Grenfell (Tues, BBC2, 9pm) looks at the Summerland tragedy and four other tower block infernos between 1991 and 2009 where flammable cladding was a factor, alongside poor advice from the fire service to “stay put” and the absence of sprinklers. Firefighters, survivors, politicians and safety experts are among those testifying in this sometimes deeply distressing documentary about the multiple failures of housing policies and the inability to learn lessons.

Music

People’s personal jukeboxes are endlessly fascinating, as we saw last week when New Order members Gillian Gilbert and Stephen Morris sat down in Synth and Beyond to discuss their favourite tracks. In Indie and Beyond with Shaun Ryder and Alan McGee (Fri, BBC4, 8pm), the Happy Mondays frontman and boss of Creation Records boss explore the songs that had a formative influence on them. It’s a slightly predictable but cracking playlist that takes in a raft of indie, punk and ska classics from Buzzcocks to The Specials, Junior Murvin to Marc Bolan, Orange Juice to Underworld and more.

paul weller radio 2 in concert bbc

Recorded at the BBC Radio Theatre in London, Radio 2 In Concert: Paul Weller (Fri, BBC4, 10pm) features the former front man of The Jam and Style Council, and now a successful solo artist, performing in a semi-unplugged set-up with members of his regular backing band. The intimate setting of Broadcasting House lends itself well to this kind of live recording in front of a small, select audience. Having just turned 60 and put out an impressive 26th album, Weller is in a reflective mood as he plays new tracks and classics from his extensive back catalogue.

Sport

One of three matches for the International Rugby League, England v New Zealand (Sat,BBC1, 2pm) comes live from Hull’s KCOM stadium. The home team will be hoping for another strong win after thrashing the Kiwis 36-18 last June. Kickoff is at 2.30pm. Or go to the red button for Ireland v Scotland – kickoff 2pm, followed by France v Wales – kickoff 6pm.

 

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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