A sweeping tale of women on the frontline in World War I and another about the complexities of the Middle East.
SATURDAY JANUARY 3
Outdoors with Geoff (TV3, 5.00pm). Armchair fishers rejoice – Geoff Thomas is back with new episodes of the outdoors show that hardly seems like work. In fact, he ticks an item off his bucket list this season: jet boating down the Wairaurahiri River in Fiordland. Good on ya, Geoff. Everything piscine is here, starting today with netting flounder at Oreti Beach, where Burt Munro raced his world’s fastest Indian motorcycle.
The Great British Bake Off (Prime, 7.30pm). Will the pies have soggy bottoms, will the cakes be dry? It’s the final of Bake Off and the challenges for the remaining three bakers are a picnic pie, pretzels and the ultimate test, a wedding cake. More than nine million Britons watched this final. We don’t know what that means.
Scott & Bailey (UKTV, Sky 007, 7.35pm). We’re in Sally Wainwright territory again: here’s an earlier series from the creator of Last Tango in Halifax and Happy Valley, and it again features strong female characters in northern England. Janet Scott (Lesley Sharp) and Rachel Bailey (Suranne Jones from Corrie) are detective constables with the Manchester Met. The series follows their investigations and their at times messy personal lives. UKTV is screening season two; a fourth season has just finished in the UK.
SUNDAY JANUARY 4
The Crimson Field (TV1, Sunday, 8.35pm; Monday, 8.30pm; and Tuesday, 8.40pm). Whereas Australian and New Zealand World War I commemorations have naturally been largely focused on Gallipoli, Britain’s remembrances began earlier last year and are scheduled to run until 2018 – about the length of the war, in other words. The BBC has scheduled a huge series of programmes that it describes as the “biggest and most ambitious pan-BBC project ever commissioned”, with documentaries and dramas across all TV and radio channels.
One of these has now reached our shores. The Crimson Field is a miniseries based on The Roses of No Man’s Land, by Lyn Macdonald. As with Anzac Girls, it’s about nurses on the frontline, most wholly unprepared for the horrors to come. The Crimson Field was created and adapted by Sarah Phelps, who was once described as EastEnders’ best writer and went on to write the 2011 version of Great Expectations (she will also be adapting JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy). She describes Edwardian Britain before the war as “a really schizophrenic place to be. Although 1900 had been and gone, the 20th century hadn’t begun yet. In some of the Edwardian ladies’ diaries that I read, there’s a feeling of boredom that’s almost depraved, as if everyone’s waiting for something to happen – and then this war explodes.”
Women in their thousands signed up for the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD), and for the first time, women of different social classes were thrust together. To that end, the series focuses on a group of newly arrived nurses: Kitty (Oona Chaplin, who has already seen the battlefields of Game of Thrones); Flora (Alice St Clair), a posh girl out of her depth; and sheltered spinster Rosalie (Marianne Oldham), a stickler for the rules. Forward-thinking Sister Joan (Suranne Jones) arrives by motorcycle, and the women are under the charge of Matron Grace Carter (Hermione Norris) and Sister Quayle (Kerry Fox).
“It’s quite rare to have scenes between or among women of different ages and social backgrounds all in one place,” Fox told the Telegraph. “The rivalries and bitterness and fake camaraderie and friendships between them seem a lot more interesting because it’s so submerged and complicated.”
On top of that, there are the horrific injuries and casualties caused by a war the likes of which the world had never seen.
“I wanted it to have an epic scope and intimate detail and also for it to be the study of change,” says Phelps. “I pitched it to myself as War and Peace meets Breaking Bad.”
The Honourable Woman (SoHo, Sky 010, 8.30pm). An extraordinary political thriller that addresses the complexities of the Middle East with startling depth and breadth. It also features an incredible performance from Maggie Gyllenhaal, who plays Nessa Stein, a British baroness and businesswoman (her accent is flawless), who’s trying to forge a better connection (literally) between Israel and Palestine by putting optical fibre cable into the West Bank. But nothing’s ever simple when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and there are layers within layers, including Nessa’s own connection to Palestine. Stephen Rea is also very good as a kind of Johnny Worricker-style MI6 agent, and the cast is rounded out with Andrew Buchan, Tobias Menzies, Janet McTeer, Eve Best and Lindsay Duncan. Gyllenhaal has been nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance and the series conveniently starts screening just before the ceremony on January 11.
MONDAY JANUARY 5
Tennis (Sky Sport 4, Sky 054, noon). Another strong field for the ASB Classic, which begins today in Auckland. It includes world No 9 Caroline Wozniacki as well as veteran Venus Williams (No 18) and her compatriot, rising star Sloane Stephens. Kiwi No 1 Marina Erakovic sneaked into the main draw and the field also includes world No 14 Sara Errani and frequent visitor Svetlana Kuznetsova. It’s a short tournament – the semi-finals are on Friday.
TUESDAY JANUARY 6
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Comedy Central, Sky 015, 12.00am). The satirical comedy show that has become the most trusted name in news in the US. What a sad indictment on the state of the US networks. Shame it’s on so late – something for the series link, then.
WEDNESDAY JANUARY 7
Mike & Molly (TV2, 7.30pm). Melissa McCarthy may be the undisputed star of Mike & Molly, but she has competition in tonight’s new episode from the amazing Kathy Bates, who guest stars as an old friend of Peggy’s. TV2 is screening two new episodes of the comedy series from today.
Babylon (SoHo, Sky 010, 8.30pm). A police satire for once, not a serious and intense serial-killer drama. Huzzah! And this one comes with a pedigree: creators Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain are the brains behind Peep Show and they both worked on The Thick of It and co-wrote the terrorism satire Four Lions. Babylon is like “a mash-up of The Bill and The Thick of It”, according to one UK critic, in that it follows American PR person Brit Marling and her dealings with foul-mouthed (shades of Malcolm Tucker) London Police Commissioner James Nesbitt. It’s also about the force’s attempts to maintain its public image as two policing units, the Territorial Support Group and the Armed Response Unit, go about their business quelling riots and such.
The Persuaders! (Jones!, Sky 013, 9.30pm). At the time, one of the most expensive TV series ever made (and its cachet lives on – the yellow Aston Martin DBS used in the show by Roger Moore was sold in May last year for more than $1 million). It’s a James Bond-style adventure series in which “millionaire playboys” Roger Moore and Tony Curtis circle the globe solving crimes and having, well, adventures. According to legend, Curtis smoked pot throughout the production (Moore claimed in his autobiography that Curtis even smoked in front of a police officer while they were filming at 10 Downing St) and it’s also lore that Moore and Curtis didn’t get along. It ran for 24 episodes from 1971-72, before Moore was asked to play Bond.
Compulsive Shoppers (TV1, 9.50pm). The Help! My House Is a Zoo lady from last week returns to look at another compulsion. Jasmine Harman, best-known for presenting A Place in the Sun, meets three Brits whose buying is out of hand.
THURSDAY JANUARY 8
American Idol (Prime, 9.30pm). Yes, it’s still a thing, and Prime is screening it within hours of the US broadcast, so there’s no need to worry about the internet ruining things. For the first time, there will be no Randy Jackson; instead, it’s down to judges Harry Connick Jr, Keith Urban and Jennifer Lopez and new mentor Scott Borchetta, the man most famous for discovering Taylor Swift.
FRIDAY JANUARY 9
Live at the Apollo (TV3, 9.05pm). New episodes of the British stand-up show, although they’re from 2009. But does it matter when it’s the lovely Sarah Millican? Rob Brydon hosts tonight and International Comedy Festival favourite Jason Byrne is also in the line-up.
Martin Scorsese had already captured the last concert of the Band in his 1978 documentary The Last Waltz and directed Michael Jackson’s music video for Bad, but The Blues is a step up: a seven-part series of feature-length documentaries executive-produced by Scorsese that explores the roots of blues music from Africa to Chicago. Scorsese assembled a number of well-known directors for the project, including Clint Eastwood, and he directs the first film Feel Like Going Home (Sky Arts, Sky 027, Saturday, 8.30pm), in which he pays homage to the Delta blues. There are performances from Willie King, Taj Mahal and Ali Farka Toure and archival footage of Son House, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. Four more films in the series screen every Saturday this month on Sky Arts.
Not quite in the same league is Tourettes: I Swear I Can Sing (Prime, Monday, 9.40pm), a BBC doco about Ruth Ojadi, whose life was turned upside down by a diagnosis of Tourette’s syndrome. Before that, she’d been studying music at university and looked to be on her way to a brilliant singing career.
Ojadi is candid about her condition, managing a joke or two, but even visits to the supermarket are painful. However, in the doco, she works on rediscovering her singing voice, culminating in an open-mic performance.
“Was it really about taxidermy?” asked the Telegraph’s critic of All Creatures Great and Stuffed (TV1, Thursday, 9.55pm), a doco purportedly about the increasing popularity of stuffing dead animals. However, it’s mostly about the oddballs who undertake the practice, including Essex nightclub worker Jayne Brown, whose latest project is turning a white lamb into a black unicorn foal. Another unsettling sight is the rat dressed in spectacles and a cape, which its taxidermist names “Pedro the Paedo”.
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