Small-Screen Jabber 28 January – 3 February

Factual

small screen jabber 28 january 3 february 2017 sicily embedIf you enjoyed 1994’s The Madness of King George then you’re in for a treat with George III: the Genius of the Mad King (Mon, BBC2, 9pm). Presenter Robert Hardman was given exclusive access to the Royal Archives to view George III’s private papers before they go online for public viewing. The papers have been locked away for 200 years but now reveal that Britain's longest reigning king was a political micromanager and a restless patron of science and the arts, as well as a man who was driven by his sense of duty to his family and his country. It features Simon Callow and Sian Thomas as the voices of King George and Queen Charlotte.

Italy’s largest island – Sicily – is also one of Europe’s most intriguing. It’s been invaded by practically everyone down the centuries, and Moors, French, Turks and Spaniards have all left their mark on its eclectic culture. In Sicily: the Wonder of the Mediterranean (Tues, BBC2, 9pm), historian Michael Scott reveals that there is so much more of interest than a fascination with the Mafia. In two parts, the first episode explores the early Greek, Carthaginian and Roman incursions that began shaping Sicily’s future.

Culture

Francis Bacon was one of the most important artists of 20th-century Britain, a man who sought to construct a personal façade behind which he could conceal his complex personality. Twenty-five years after his death, Francis Bacon: a Brush with Violence (Sat, BBC2, 9pm) assembles a troupe of prominent art historians, artists such as Damien Hirst and Maggi Hambling, plus the likes of actor Terence Stamp and singer Marianne Faithfull to reassess Bacon’s life and work. Those in this group who knew him personally also reveal what he was really like.

Painting is also scrutinised in Art of France (Mon, BBC4, 9pm), as art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon attempts to shoehorn centuries of French artistry into a handful of themed episodes. He’s suitably irreverent as he illustrates how the French kings used art to show off both their wealth and power, with particular pops at Louis the Sun King. He kicks off with Gothic architecture, tracing what followed as a struggle between tradition and revolution. Indeed, revolution is where this episode ends because the revolution brought new demands. En route, there are paintings by Chardin, Watteau, Boucher and Poussin to sigh and marvel over.

Entertainment

small screen jabber 28 january 3 february 2017 piers morgan nigel farage cunts embedPiers Morgan is one of the UK’s singularly most unpopular journalists and presenters, and it’s not hard to see why (his Twitter feed tells you all you need to know). However, he is an extraordinarily good interviewer who can draw out surprisingly intimate confessions from his subjects and for that reason alone Piers Morgan’s Life Stories (Fri, ITV, 9pm) is usually worth catching. His new series kicks off with Nigel Farage, a man currently in his pomp after pushing the UK into Brexit and getting pally with US president Donald Trump. Much of his extraordinary life is already in the public domain, and he’ll be grilled on Ukip, his battle with cancer and surviving a plane crash, but it’ll be interesting to see what else Morgan can coax out of him now he’s (allegedly) quit politics.

Comedy

Last year, comedian Tracey Ullman pulled off a triumphant return to these shores after a 30-year sojourn in America, so it’s good to see her ratings hit Tracey Ullman’s Show (Fri, BBC1, 9pm) get a second spin. She’s brought over some of her successful impressions from the first series – the self-obsessed Angela Merkel and kleptomaniac vandal Dame Judi Dench – but also has some new targets. Check out Nicola Sturgeon as a Brexit-fighting Bond villain, Jerry Hall as a sitcom matriarch and intensely arty Tracey Emin. She also does some sharp spoofs of Adele and Clare Balding. Comedy gold.

Sport

small screen jabber 28 january 3 february 2017 nadal and federer embedIt’s the closing weekend of the Australian Open (Sat/Sun, Eurosport 1, from 8am). Two extraordinary finals await. On Saturday, Venus and Serena Williams will meet in their first slam final since 2009, with a combined age of 71. On Sunday, veterans Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will battle for the men’s singles title. The pair last met in 2011 in a slam final and both had been written off as unlikely to win a major again – expect a thrilling five-set match. There’s a double FA Cup match treat this weekend too – Millwall v Watford (Sun, BBC1, 11.50am) kicks off at noon, while Manchester United v Wigan Athletic (Sun, BBC1, 3.35pm) kicks off at 4pm.

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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