Small-Screen Jabber 11-17 November

Drama

murder on blackpool express

The star-studded ensemble film Murder on the Orient Express has just been remade so what could be timelier than a star-studded ensemble spoof in the shape of Murder on the Blackpool Express (Sat, Gold, 9.30pm). Griff Rhys Jones stars as David van der Clane, a renowned crime novel author on a literary coach tour with a bunch of superfans who want to visit his books’ locations. At each stop, someone gets bumped off, hideously re-enacted in a scene from the book. As the body count rises and the police don’t seem interested in investigating, driver Terry (Johnny Vegas) realises it’s up to him to save the last few on board. And hopefully win the affections of coach tour operator Gemma (Sian Gibson) in the process. It’s all a bit daft but highly watchable. The cast includes Nigel Havers, Una Stubbs, Nina Wadia, Kevin Eldon and Mark Heap.

howards end hayley atwell

Also shifting from big to small screen is the glossy four-part production of Howards End (Sun, BBC1, 9pm), which stars Hayley Atwell, Matthew Macfadyen and Tracey Ullman in an adaptation by Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea) of EM Forster’s novel. It’s 1905 and the unconventional Schlegel sisters, Margaret and Helen, are emancipated and modern-thinking. Helen’s hasty but brief engagement to a man she meets on holiday at Howards End triggers a series of events that affect the two families. Lonergan’s screenplay is more energetic than that of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala for the 1992 film, and less stuffy. Despite being twice as long, it fairly hurtles through the years. Atwell is delightful as the compassionate and idealistic Margaret, while Tracey Ullman’s uproarious Aunty Juley is a rare chance to see the comedian in a straight role.

boy with topknot

Sacha Dhawan stars as Times journalist Sathnam Sanghera in The Boy with the Topknot (Mon, BBC2, 9pm), based on the writer’s own memoir of growing up in Punjabi Sikh family in 1970s Wolverhampton. After graduating from Cambridge, Sathnam moves to London and begins a career in journalism. On a home visit, when he plans to tell his parents he won’t be having an arranged marriage as he’d fallen in love with an English woman, he discovers a disturbing secret about his dad that rocks the whole family. A deeply emotional and touching tale about love, family ties and mental illness.

A quick nod to Peaky Blinders (Wed, BBC2, 9pm), back for a fourth run and with a cracking set piece opener – dawn and four nooses await Polly, John, Arthur and Michael (who you may recall were arrested at the end of series three). Is the game up for the Shelby clan?

love lies and records embed

Hatch, match and despatch are all in a day’s work for Kate Dickenson (Ashley Jensen), a registrar in Kay Mellor’s new drama Love, Lies and Records (Thurs, BBC1, 9pm). This is classic Mellor – it’s northern (Leeds, to be precise), it’s warm, it’s emotional and it’s humorous, and Kate is a strong northern woman who won’t take shit from anyone. She’s just been promoted and her passed-over colleague Judy (the wonderful Rebecca Front) is furious and bitter, like a younger Ena Sharples who’s bitten into an Eccles cake and found it full of lemon-flavoured sawdust instead of juicy currants. A register office is a great setting for storylines and this opening episode kicks off with Kate suspecting a marriage ceremony is bogus.

Factual

The BBC’s Russian season turns a spotlight on the British double agents who spied for the Kremlin in the 50s and 60s then defected. Toffs, Queers and Traitors: Guy Burgess – the Charming Spy (Mon, BBC4, 9pm) examines the scandal that erupted in 1951 when the government had to admit that the diplomats Burgess and Donald Maclean had disappeared. Burgess was a charming, clever and very well-connected Etonian, as well as an out and flamboyant gay, who had secretly joined the Communist Party in the 1930s. Recently declassified documents help to explain why his decision to spy on his country was fuelled by class politics, sexual hypocrisy and a hopelessly incompetent security service. It’s followed by a repeat of Kim Philby: His Most Intimate Betrayal. Historian Ben Macintyre explores the truth behind the most famous double agent in modern history, and argues that Philby was a caricature of the gentleman spy, which belied the fact that he was a ruthless killer who betrayed everyone around him.

football stickers

One for collectors – Stuck on You: the Football Sticker Story (Tues, ITV 4, 10.15pm) is an entertaining look at the history of football stickers, invented by an Italian newsagent in the 1960s. This enjoyable documentary looks at how four British men quit the Italian Panini printing firm to start their own sticker business in the UK in the 70s, launching a swapping frenzy as kids struggled to fill huge albums and track down elusive players. Footballer Ryan Giggs shares his childhood love for football stickers, along with superfans who explain the technical appeal of quality stickers and the next cult market in pop stars.

Music

A great double bill on 4 coming up. Gregory Porter’s Popular Voices (Fri, BBC4, 9.50pm) sees the Grammy-winning jazz star enjoy a three-part stroll through vocal history. Part one is subtitled “showstoppers” and canters through the roll call of recording stars from the opera singer Caruso, Ella Fitzgerald and Mahalia Jackson, via Freddie Mercury and Prince, and on to Whitney Houston.

van morrison live eden

And to another great singer, Van Morrison Live at Eden (Fri, BBC4, 11.50pm) – the Irish soulster takes to the stage at Cornwall’s Eden Project, recorded last July. Now in his 70s, but still with a fine set of lungs on him, he breezes through his phenomenal back catalogue of hits  plus some inspired cover versions of early rock ‘n’ roll standards.

Sport

A bumper rugby feast on Saturday with the autumn International Rugby Union matches (Sat, BBC1/2, Sky Sports Action/Main Event, BT Sport 1, from 2pm). You’ll have to flick through the channels to pick your matches, but the local teams are as follows: Scotland v Samoa (k/o 2.30pm BBC1), England v Argentina (k/o 3pm Sky Sports), Wales v Australia (k/o 5.15pm BBC2) and Ireland v South Africa (k/o 5.30pm Sky).

The ATP Tour Finals (from Sun, Sky Arena/BBC2, from noon) mark the end of the tennis season. With big names like Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic out from injury, and only Nadal and Federer of the big names, it’s a chance for young thrusters such as Dominic Thiem, Jack Sock and Alexander Zverev to shine.

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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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