Television preview Recommended viewing this weekend

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The Independent Culture
The Place of the Dead Sat 9pm ITV

Texas Justice Sat 9.15pm BBC1

Arena Sat 10.20pm BBC2

The Great Sell Off Sun 7.30pm BBC2

People's Century Sun 10.30pm BBC1

To judge from the portentous opening music, you'd think that The Place of the Dead (Sat ITV) was about something of great public import, instead of a British Army "adventure training" expedition to the jungles of Borneo that nearly went pear-shaped. You might remember this news story from 1994 - how half an expedition to a remote valley in Borneo nearly perished after getting left behind with insufficient rations.

Written by Jeff Pope, LWT's Head of Factual Drama, The Place of the Dead is part of a growing British fascination with a genre which the Americans have been mining for decades - the behind-the-headlines drama (capsized yachtsman Tony Bullimore is alleged to be fielding offers from Hollywood as I write). The story is framed around an army enquiry into the incident, which allows Timothy West, as the officer in charge of said enquiry, to butt into the action from time to time with remarks like "It seems to me that this conversation between Mayfield and Neill was crucial". Pay attention at the back, in other words. This is just as well, since otherwise the viewer might drift off into a comfortable torpor, enjoying the Malaysian scenery but largely disinterested in the human drama unfolding within it. As with LWT's film about the SAS mission inside Gulf War Iraq, The One That Got Away, events are based on one team member's accounts - and the air is thick with the smell of threatened legal action from colleagues less sympathetically portrayed.

Also based on a real story, albeit from the 1970s, Texas Justice (Sat BBC1) is more involving in a glitzy, often laughable, post-Dallas sort of way. However, it started last night so I won't waste too much space on it, suffice to say that fans of NYPD Blue's Dennis Franz can catch their hero playing a shyster lawyer.

To tie in with his first film in nearly 15 years, Arena (Sat BBC2) has a portrait of Michelangelo Antonioni, subtitled "Dear Antonioni" after an open letter to the Italian director (who, after a stroke, can no longer speak) from Roland Barthes. Taking up the tone of Barthes's letter, Gianni Massironi's film errs on the side of the hagiographic, ignoring the fact that one or two major film critics are utterly turned off by Antonioni's work. Still, it's a useful overview of his oeuvre, from his early neo-realist-tinged Italian features to his current release, via Blow Up, Zabriskie Point and that exploding house. Which tale of youthful alienation brings us handily to People's Century (Sun BBC1), which, this week, deals with the mass juvenile revolt that culminated in the events of 1968 - a time when, according to one of our reminiscents, "the best way to seduce a girl is to talk about Trotsky or revolution". New Lads in 1968 dressed like Che Guevara.

Meanwhile, the latest entry in BBC2's recent fine tradition of instant history lessons, The Great Sell Off (Sun BBC2), charts the story of privatisation under the current Conservative regime. Except that "privatisation" existed neither in word nor manifesto intent at either the 1979 or 1983 general elections, and was, as in so much of politics, the result of a make-do policy - that of off-loading government shares to raise cash. Even old Labour sold BP shares in the 1970s. It was the Falklands factor which changed all that - and a wild-eyed Maggie who, having launched the fleet, decided that she could launch the biggest, single share flotation ever - British Telecom. Rejoice.

The big picture


Sat 11.50pm BBC2

The 1959 film which marks the beginning of the high period of Michelangelo Antonioni (above), also saw the start of the Italian director's muse-like relationship with actress Monica Vitti. It is also where the landscape first begins to dominate his characters, as a group of friends, yachting off the coast of Sicily, lose one of their number. Subtle, visually stunning and something totally new - it was neatly described by one critic as "upper-class neo-realism". Just so.

The big match

Five Nations Championship

Scotland v Wales

Sat 2.25pm BBC1

The new Five Nations rugby union championship kicks off today (at 3pm) with one of the most even-looking competitions in years, thanks to England's relatively unsettled team. The match at Murrayfield should prove educational. Scotland nearly took the grand slam last year and with Craig Chalmers (above) and Bryan Redpath in the backs, could well surprise us again. Wales, with their rugby league returnees Quinnell, Gibbs, Bateman, Young and Davies, are the competition's dark horses.