The Weekend's Television: Timewatch – The last day of World War One, Sat, BBC2

Consuming passions: 100 years of Mills & Boon, Sun, BBC4

The American future: A history, By Simon Schama, Fri BBC2

Stop all the clocks

"Ninety years on, I'm going on a journey to tell the story of the last day of World War One," Michael Palin promised at the beginning of Timewatch – the Last Day of World War One. "Oh, please don't, Michael,"

I thought. "Make a film" about it by all means. "Tell the story", "investigate" or "examine". But please don't "go on a journey", that flabbiest of all the flabby prefatory clichés. And, while I'm on my hobby horse, couldn't a few more television producers fight the battle against the tedious, cookie-cutter predictability of table-of-contents openings in favour of something a little more trusting of the audience's intelligence? Michael Palin could certainly have delivered it, and there was no shortage of raw material in the film that followed. But instead we got the "forthcoming-highlights" montage that blights so many films, suggesting that they've all been cut according to some Microsoft documentary template.

All right. Dip head in bucket of cold water, shake vigorously, and move on, perhaps to the exceptionally lovely serendipity that led to Palin filming one sequence in a Belgian cemetery on a day of frost and sun-infused fog. It didn't look like this world at all. It looked like something from a Powell and Pressburger sound stage, and it gave an extra poignancy to what he was showing you: a double line of British headstones, one rank of which marked the graves of men who'd fallen in the first month of the war and the second of which commemorated men who'd died in its final hours. The brutal immobility of the conflict, which had ebbed and flowed across this one spot, and its relentless crop of young lives, were neatly bracketed in this one small square of a foreign field.

Whether there should be a greater poignancy to a death that occurs just hours from ceasefire was a point properly acknowledged by Palin at the end of this film. That it was only at the end, though, tacitly acknowledged that we have some difficulty in suppressing the feeling that proximity to safety makes a death more terrible than it might otherwise be. There is no question that it alters the culpability of military commanders, many of whom paid with other mens' lives for ground that in just a few hours they could have strolled towards freely. In one particularly egregious case, a US general called Wright ordered his men to assault the town of Stenay so that they could take a bath, a nicety that resulted in 300 utterly pointless casualties, not counting those on the other side.

Palin did go on a journey, incidentally, travelling to stand in overgrown trenches and walk a field still dense with ammunition and shrapnel. He also visited a military hospital in England, where he examined the records of some of those who didn't die on 11 November and for whom the war didn't really end that day either, since they carried wounds that would mark them for life. You saw a man with half his face blown away, a living anatomy diagram that was a painfully ugly counterpoint to the crisp, white decorum of the war graves, but an honourable one, too. I was in a much better mood when this film ended than I was a minute after it had begun.

Consuming Passions: 100 Years of Mills & Boon was a strange affair, a drama that layered together the story of the founding of the publishing house with two related narratives: about a glum, romance-starved secretary who found herself stirred into fantasy by her mother's hip surgeon, and an English lecturer whose course on popular romance was invaded by an incredibly bumptious student who had a penchant for cheesy seduction. I use the word "incredibly" advisedly. Emma Frost's script occasionally had fun with the gap between readers' real lives and the romantic fantasies they used to escape from them. But that put something of a premium on being able to tell the "real" world from the invented one, and it wasn't always as easy as it should have been. I may have missed the point, of course. Perhaps it was a sly way of demonstrating the dated misogyny of the books, their implication that even the most intelligent women are mere putty in the face of an arrogant demeanour and a tawny six pack. Clearly, the three implausibly happy endings the drama contrived were a knowing commentary on genre satisfaction, but sadly not quite knowing enough to excuse the implausibilities that had preceded them.

The American Future: a History, by Simon Schama, an excellent series in which Schama has traced the roots of some of America's deepest instincts, could also be viewed as the longest and most thoughtful party political broadcast the BBC has ever transmitted. This week's episode, about America's evolving attitudes to its immigrants, began and ended at the Democratic National Convention, with Obama as the apotheosis of America's highest ideals. "Without starry eyes, I do believe in the American future," Schama said, as the fireworks ascended. Just a little starry, I think.

Arts and Entertainment
Cillian Murphy stars as Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks in 2011

Review: A panoramic account of the hacking scandal

books
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian Jack Dee has allegedly threatened to quit as chairman of long-running Radio 4 panel show 'I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue'

Edinburgh Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Director Paul Thomas Anderson (right) and his movie The Master featuring Joaquin Phoenix

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
There are no plans to replace R Kelly at the event

music
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>Laura
Carmichael- Lady Edith Crawley</strong></p>
<p>Carmichael currently stars as Sonya in the West End production of
Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre. She made headlines this autumn
when Royal Shakespeare Company founder Sir Peter Hall shouted at her in a
half-sleepy state during her performance. </p>
<p>Carmichael made another appearance on the stage in 2011, playing
two characters in David Hare’s <em>Plent</em>y
at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. </p>
<p>Away from the stage she starred as receptionist Sal in the 2011
film <em>Tinker Tailor Solider Spy</em>. </p>

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana admits she's

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices