By Louise Bolotin
US TV is raiding the Israeli networks to remake their shows (think Homeland) – last year’s Hostages, starring Toni Collette as a surgeon pressurised by terrorists to botch the president’s operation and kill him else her family would die, was one such. It started off well but was faltering by the second episode and wasn’t recommissioned. The original Hostages (Sat, BBC4, 9pm) looks a better prospect. Same plot, but this time it’s the Israeli president at risk of assassination. It opens with a double episode and is in Hebrew with subtitles. Jed Mercurio’s latest drama Critical (Tues, Sky 1, 9pm) aims to do for hospitals what his Line of Duty did for the cops. This is high octane stuff, set in a major trauma centre with the gore of hardcore medical casualties squaring off against the stories of the staff’s personal lives. Casualty this ain’t, though. Mercurio doesn’t do fluff. Lennie James, headline actor in the first series of Line of Duty, stars alongside Claire Skinner.
Another chance to see: Burton and Taylor (Sat, Drama, 9pm) – the Bafta-winning last biopic made by BBC4 stars Dominic West and Helena Bonham-Carter as the star-crossed lovers. They both turn in brilliant performances as the film stars preparing to go on Broadway, with their ill-fated relationship causing havoc for their professional lives.
The media is so heavily focused on Nigel Farage and the party oddballs who make offensive statements that little attention is paid to Ukip’s rank and file. Meet the Ukippers (Sun, BBC2, 10pm) attempts to portray the reality of Farage’s foot soldiers. Director Kevin Hull took the cameras to Thanet to follow the party activists hoping to get their leader elected in the constituency and it lifts the lid on why and how Ukip is attracting voters. True to form though, offensive comments are expressed. Perhaps not entirely unlinked, the makers of the highly controversial Benefits Street have made Immigration Street (Tues, C4, 10pm). They’ve not risked a whole series this time, just a single one-hour film that has already attracted its own share of controversy over fears among the residents of Southampton’s Derby Road being misrepresented as a hotbed of racial tensions.
I spend a lot of time (and money) on trains, like many regularly frustrated at high fares and patchy services. The Nation’s Railway (Tues, BBC4, 9pm) is a delightful look at the heyday of the nationalised British Rail. Travel times in the 1970s were not much longer than they are today, which rather puts major question marks over the privatised franchise-holders and what the high fares are doing apart from lining shareholder wallets. So while this documentary may at times seem a nostalgia-fest it is in fact an incisive spotlight on what worked then and what doesn’t now. Although we can probably agree onboard catering has improved.
My documentary of the week, no scratch that, of the year is the extraordinary Citizenfour (Wed, C4, 11.05pm), which stars the whistleblower Edward Snowden (above). This Oscar-nominated, Bafta-winning film by journalists Laura Poitras and the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald reveals how Snowdon uncovered the abuses by the US National Security Agency, which scraped personal data from the internet on an unprecedented scale as it sought to spy on, well, everyone. Utterly compelling, the film adds an immediacy to the thousands of words in the press about America’s illegal surveillance. And I defy any viewers not to fall in love with Snowdon, who risked everything to tell the truth.
The musical of the traditional American south is explored in Reginald D Hunter’s Songs of the South (Sat, 9pm, BBC2). This is a thoughtful three-part series in which the American standup comic looks at how the history of the region, and the wider US, has been shaped by its music from country to bluegrass via the now-controversial minstrels. It’s part-travelogue, as Hunter drives around in a very fancy Cadillac to visit festivals, former slave plantations and moonshine distilleries to grasp the finer nuances of the culture. Singer of the moment Sam Smith is up for five gongs in the Brit Awards (Wed, ITV, 8pm) but could lose out to Ed Sheeran, who was 2014’s biggest-selling artist. Along with Madonna and nominee Paloma Faith they perform live during the bash at the O2. British musicians had a phenomenal year globally – will the prizes reflect that?
The feature-length Joy Division (Fri, BBC4, 9pm) is a serious profile of one of the UK’s most important and influential bands, who formed after seeing an early gig by the Sex Pistols in Manchester (the same one that spawned the Buzzcocks) and whose trajectory above cult status was cut down by singer Ian Curtis’ suicide in 1980. It’s partly a portrait of Manchester too – grey and in post-industrial decline in the 1970s, but a hothouse of creativity and political activism. Interest in Joy Division is enjoying a renaissance, and this film portrays how four working-class lads created a unique sound that still informs pop culture today. All surviving band members participate here, despite their rancorous split as New Order, and the archive material it draws on – previously unseen archive gig footage, personal photos, period films and newly discovered audiotapes – brings a fresh perspective to their story.
The Oscars (Sun, Sky Oscars, from 7.15pm) are here at last and Sky has dedicated a channel to the entire shebang. There’s a warm-up in the early evening with a look back at past wins. The red carpet goes live at 11.30pm and the award ceremony starts at 1.30am. Oscars highlights can be seen on Monday on Sky Living at 9pm. In Mark Lawson Talks to Kazuo Ishiguro (Sun, BBC4, 8pm) the Booker prize-winning writer of Remains of the Day discusses his life and career with the renowned arts journalist, and talks about his newest novel, The Buried Giant. Picasso: Love, Art and Sex (Wed, BBC4, 9pm) profiles the artist within the context of his relationships with his lovers, female friends and muses.
After the red-nosed Bake Off comes The People’s Strictly for Comic Relief (Wed, BBC1, 9pm), in which six ordinary people pair up with the Strictly pro dancers to compete over the next four weeks to lift a charity glitterball on Red Nose Day. The contestants are on the floor by dint of being nominated by their friends and families for being good citizens. Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman host.