One of the wackiest tales to hit our screens is actually “based on real events”, and, what is more, these real events intimately affected the life of the lead actor. Thus – bear with me – Ruth Wilson stars as her own grandma, Alison Wilson, in Mrs Wilson. When Mr Wilson (Alec) dies suddenly in 1963, a whole army of skeletons tumble out of the closet, much to the distress of all concerned. It’s an involving drama, because you share with Mrs Wilson that sense of devastating, unbelieving bewilderment when, after a quarter of a century and a couple of kids, you discover that the man you shared a life and a bed with isn’t what you thought he was. To say the least. Yet when he’s gone, he’s gone, and there are no answers to the questions he leaves behind.
Anyway Ruth Wilson, I suppose naturally, makes an excellent job of her grandmother’s predicament, as a young bride and as a widow, while Iain Glen carries off the rare quality of credible insouciance that only a truly outrageous cad possesses. And Patrick Kennedy is also excellent as a further casualty of Alec’s unusual way of life, while Keeley Hawes pops out of the woodwork too. Maybe one day her characters will settle down and meet nice boys.
While Hollywood had Lara Croft/Angelina Jolie, Channel 5 makes do with Baldrick/Tony Robinson in Egyptian Tomb Hunting. Well, not Baldrick – that would be asking too much – but it is a very promising documentary series, and further proof that Channel 5, from rather unlikely origins, has converted itself into some sort of documentary powerhouse. Those old pharaohs were around for quite a while, so there’s more than enough for a couple of hours of light factual content.
So Tony, we’re promised, enters tombs that have been sealed shut for thousands of years, meets mummies, holds a prime minister’s heart in his hands (no jokes, please), and discovers hieroglyphs only seen by the ancient Egyptians who created them. Egyptian Tomb Hunting joins Our Yorkshire Farm, Inside Russia’s Toughest Prisons, Eight Years Old and Smuggling Drugs, all new on Tuesday alone. I’ve no idea whether Channel 5 will have more luck than it enjoyed in previous incarnations, but it is certainly a welcome move. I hope Tony didn’t pick up any pharoaic curses while he was down Cairo way.
BBC1’s The Little Drummer Girl reaches its penultimate episode on Sunday, and this I can recommend as wholeheartedly as all the prior episodes. This dramatisation of the Le Carre novel lives up to the original – elegant, intricate and taut. It’s old-fashioned, in the sense that there are some longeurs, but I find the pacing much preferable to six hours of non-stop car chases, shagging and bombs going off (though they do that too). Plus the music, the performances (Michael Shannon in particular as Israeli spy chief Kurtz) and the breathtaking attention to detail all add to the sense of occasion. This week we’re lucky enough to have Charles Dance turn up as a crusty old British spymaster, about as far away from George Smiley as you can be and still inhabit the same corridors of the British securitariat.
I’ve always enjoyed my stays at fancy country house hotels, mainly because, as a journalist – plot spoiler here – I’ve rarely had to incur much expense. So I find myself in a privileged position, and maybe a bit less interested in enjoying them vicariously. A recent series (Amazing Hotels) featuring Giles Coren and Monica Galetti was simply international hotel porn and, even if that is the point of that sort of Sunday colour supplement telly, not for me. Anyway that’s a very roundabout way of mentioning that A Very British Country House arrives on Channel 4, checking into the famous Cliveden House joint in Bucks, while BBC1 opts for A Hotel for the Super Rich & Famous, which means the Corinthia hotel in London, which is a very nice spot, I can tell you, and unfairly overshadowed by some more storied names.
I’m not sure what to make of the return of Vic and Bob’s Big Night Out. They’ve had their ups and downs since they first launched their sense of humour on a mainly student audience in the 1990s, and all those physics and psychology students are well in their middle age now. Vic and Bob too, of course, whose faces inevitably tell a few surreal tales of their own.
My recommendation would be to keep the recipe as before, but try to ration the smut, or else the “boys” will just end up looking like a pair of dirty old blokes, and that really would be a shame.
I’ll admit that I’m still inclined to place Jon Pertwee (1970 to 1974) and Tom Baker (1974 to 1981) in prime spot in the Whovian pantheon (I’m allowed to have opinions), but Jodie Whittaker is definitely what industrialists would describe as a “competitive product”. How charming it is that she has landed in 17th-century Lancashire to interrupt a witch hunt and take theological advice from King James I (of England) and VI (of Scotland) – he of Bible special edition fame. Alan Cumming is the Stuart.
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Louis Theroux seems to have recovered some of his old journalistic form with Louis Theroux’s Altered States on BBC2, so a bit less faux naïvety and slightly more actual concern with the nominal subjects of his explorations. Knocking around America, as he does, means he is less likely to be rumbled for his shtick, and has a larger reservoir of, erm, human experience to draw upon. This Sunday he’s in Texas surveying the “open adoption” business. Like Louis, I’ll not be judgemental.
Curiosity compels me to mention that, if you’re really hard up for distractions, Vice TV are premiering a new series of The Therapist, this week featuring one time Sex Pistol (and actually decent guitarist) Steve Jones. Apparently, he is going to tell us all about his addiction to, and his inability to develop, intimate relationships. No further questions m’lud.
Mrs Wilson (BBC1, Tuesday 9pm); Egyptian Tomb Hunting (Channel 5, Tuesday 9pm); The Little Drummer Girl (BBC1, Sunday 9pm); A Very British Country House (Channel 4, Sunday 9pm); A Hotel for the Super Rich & Famous (BBC1, Thursday 9pm); Vic and Bob’s Big Night Out (BBC4, Wednesday 10pm); Doctor Who (BBC1, Sunday 6.30pm); Louis Theroux’s Altered States (BBC2, Sunday 9pm); The Therapist (Vice, Thursday 10pm)
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