Small-Screen Jabber 31 March – 6 April

Drama

hamlet andrew scott almeida

The title role of Shakespeare’s most acclaimed play, Hamlet (Sat, BBC2, 9pm), is occupied by Andrew Scott in the Almeida Theatre’s 2017 production. Filmed live at London's Harold Pinter Theatre, this contemporary staging directed by Robert Icke – which uses tech such as CCTV and video screens, with court styled as Scandi-modern – won unanimous praise from the critics. Scott presents convincingly as the troubled young prince beset by ghosts. His co-stars are Juliet Stevenson as mother Gertrude, Jessica Brown Findlay as Ophelia and Angus Wright as Claudius, who is both king and uncle. At a tad over three hours’ long, it requires some commitment but this is possibly one of the finest versions on the small screen in recent years.

ordeal by innocence

Agatha Christie’s classic Ordeal by Innocence (Easter Sun, BBC1, 9pm) explores the staple whodunnit angle of “he did, no he didn’t” in this new three-part adaptation (postponed from Christmas). Bill Nighy stars as widower Leo Argyll, on the cusp of marrying again 18 months after his wife Rachel (Anna Chancellor) was brutally murdered. Her adopted son Jack (Anthony Boyle) was convicted of the killing, but died soon after in a prison fight. Then a stranger turns up with proof that Jack was innocent and the Argylls must face up to the fact that one of them is the real killer. Writer Sarah Phelps ratchets up the tensions nicely as the family members eye each other with suspicion, especially as none of the Argyll daughters seems to like Leo’s fiancée and the body count soon starts to rise.  

kiss me first

The dark side of the world of massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) is the setting for Kiss Me First (Easter Mon, C4, 10pm), a state-of-the-art thriller based on Lottie Moggach’s YA novel and written by Bryan Elsley (Skins). Tallulah Haddon plays Leila, a shy and lonely teenager who is addicted to a MMORPG and becomes embroiled behind the scenes with a confident player called Tess (Simona Brown), who invites her into a Matrix-style virtual world called Red Pill. This secret group is led by the charismatic Adrian, who has selected them for his nefarious plans. There are some terrific performances from the young cast, as well as truly innovative use of computer-generated virtual world sequences that make you feel as drawn into the action as the characters are.

dave allen at peace

Legendary Irish comic Dave Allen gets his own biopic in Dave Allen at Peace (Easter Mon, BBC2, 9pm), which uses the format of his TV show to tell his life story. Aiden Gillan manages to reproduce Allen’s charisma, aided by those props of a cigarette, a glass of whiskey, a missing half-finger and recreations of many of his most accomplished sketches, but it doesn’t quite shape up to its promise. One strictly for fans, who might prefer to watch the documentary on Allen that follows.

China Miéville’s complicated hybrid novel The City and the City (Fri, BBC2, 9pm), part fantasy and part classic police procedural, is set in the fictional European city-state of Besźel, where Inspector Tyador Borlú (David Morrissey), of Besźel’s Extreme Crime Squad, is tasked with solving the street killing of American student Mahalia Geary. Geary had been embroiled in unification protests about the neighbouring city of Ul Qoma, which many believe should be joined together as one, but the two cities are separated not just by a rigid physical border ruthlessly patrolled by the secret police known as Breach, but also divided mentally. And then there’s the legend of a possible third city – Orciny – lying between them. The story is disturbing, with its nods to Philip K Dick and Orwell’s 1984 – the sombre grey palette of the cinematography adds to the sense of oppression and darkness.

Factual

attenboroughs wonder of eggs

Easter means eggs, of course – usually the chocolate variety, unless you’re a famous naturalist. Attenborough’s Wonder of Eggs (Sat, BBC2, 8pm) is all about birds’ eggs and the science is astonishing. That something so fragile can be strong enough to withstand a parent sitting on it so it incubates, yet not so invincible that the chick can’t peck its way out when ready. Attenborough asks the big questions – why do birds lay eggs at all, why are they the shape they are and how is the egg made? As usual, he presents all the facts with charm, passion and enthusiasm.

Housing is the biggest political issue right now – the national shortage, affordability and the tragedy of Grenfell Tower, which served to highlight how broken our housing market is. In Housing Yorkshire: Somewhere to Call Home (Wed, Channel 5, 9pm), the cameras follow staff at the UK’s biggest social housing provider, in the largest county. Managing social housing is a complex matter – officers have to confront the tenant of a desirable property, when they learn he is renting it out privately for a lot of money, they deal with a couple who have inadvertently turned their home into a firetrap and they must make decisions on who to offer vacant homes to from a long waiting list of deserving applicants. It’s a compelling eye opener that dips into the downsides and may confirm your worst prejudices about tenants on benefits, but it also demonstrates why social housing is an essential force for good.

Current affairs

Hot on the heels of winning his fourth presidential term and his country implicated in the Salisbury nerve agent poisoning, Vladimir Putin is under scrutiny as never before. Putin, Russia and the West (Thurs, BBC4, 9pm) aims to examine Putin’s rise in depth over the next four weeks, from his KGB spy beginnings, to a seemingly valued ally of the west when he first became president, to his current status as borderline international pariah. How did he rise so seamlessly, and why did the west start to turn on him? There are clues in the opening episode, when then US president George W Bush thought Putin was a man he could do business with. But Putin issued his own warnings, ahead of 9/11, about the Taliban (which he sought to ally with against America) and Afghanistan. Putin’s highest ranking colleagues open up on what makes him tick, as do western politicians who have had to deal with him.

Comedy

cunk on britain

The glorious creation of dimwit Philomena Cunk (played by Diane Morgan) has moved on from appearances in Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe and her two one-off mockumentaries to get her own full series, Cunk on Britain (Tues, BBC2, 10pm) also written by Brooker. This five-part whirl through Britain’s history has Cunk touring the length and breadth of the country examining our history, with trips to Stonehenge and the Cerne Abbas Giant, musings on Brexit and the Big Bang and ambushing experts such as Robert Peston to help her explain stuff. As parodies of serious examinations of the state of the nation go, this is the finest I’ve yet seen. Unmissable.

Sport

The Commonwealth Games (from Wed, BBC1, from 10.30am) take place on Australia’s Gold Coast this time round, so if you’re missing the Olympics already and can cope with the nine-hour time difference, then get stuck in. Clare Balding will be anchoring coverage from the BBC’s sports base in Salford for the next fortnight, while Hazel Irvine heads the coverage from Queensland. Day one kicks off with the opening ceremony, followed by the first live track events at 12.15am.

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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