A century after the first blood was spilt in a conflict that killed some 16 million people, the BBC launches its biggest ever series of programmes to remind us why. More than 2,500 hours of TV and radio content has already been commissioned, with presenters, historians and political commentators all lined up to offer their analysis of the conflict.
The art, music and poetry of the Great War will also be examined in seasons such as Radio 3’s Music on the Brink, which begins this week (see page 122), and there are dramas such as The Ark, about nurses who staffed the frontline field hospitals. Suranne Jones is among the cast. She says: “It’s important not just because of the war but because it was a transitional period for women, liberated in some respects but still shackled by the conventions of the past.
Hayley’s death: Coronation Street’s moral maze
Over the past 53 years Coronation Street’s scriptwriters have produced thousands of hours of fine drama, but few will be as poignant as those we’ll experience in the coming weeks. The story of Hayley Cropper’s terminal illness is one of the most beautifully crafted ever to have come out of the Corrie writing factory.
Actress Julie Hesmondhalgh says it’s an honest portrayal of the conflicting emotions death by cancer can produce and she embraces the right-to-die approach of her character Hayley. “I’ve always understood Hayley’s decision, whereas David [Neilson, who plays her husband Roy] hasn’t. We have very different views, so we’ve just played what we feel. The storyline has touched so many people.”
Peter Capaldi: The new Doctor turns into Cardinal Richelieu
This time last year Peter Capaldi was best known as Malcolm Tucker, the expletive-spewing spin-doctor in The Thick of It. On Christmas Day he swooped onto our screens as a very different doctor: the latest incarnation of the Time Lord.
Who fans will have to wait until later this year for a second sighting, but this month Capaldi is back to his menacing best: he plays the machiavellian Cardinal Richelieu in The Musketeers, a swashbuckling ten-part BBC1 drama based on Alexandre Dumas’ classic novel. Where Malcolm Tucker assassinated his enemies with colourful insults, Richelieu prefers to employ subterfuge and a blood-curdling smile. This time, however, he meets his match in the King’s sword-swishing, musket-wielding – and very dashing – bodyguards.
The Game: BBC1’s Cold War Spooks
This slick six-part Cold War spy thriller from Toby Whithouse will air in the spring and stars Brian Cox as Daddy, the charismatic head of MI5, battling to crack a constant stream of Soviet conspiracies. When a defecting KGB agent informs him of a Russian plot involving the reactivation of sleeper agents across the UK, Daddy assembles a secret committee of his trusted colleagues to investigate. There’s his razor-sharp deputy Sarah Montag (Victoria Hamilton), head of counterespionage Bobby Waterhouse (Paul Ritter) and Joe Lambe (Tom Hughes), a troubled but brilliant interrogator.
Jamaica Inn: Smugglers ahoy! on BBC1
Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey) and Matthew McNulty (The Paradise) take on Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel, which comes to BBC1 this summer. In 1930, after a visit to the Jamaica Inn on Bodmin moor, du Maurier came away compelled to write a dark and eerie tale of smugglers and murderers in the 1820s. The result? The tale of Mary Yellan (Brown Findlay), an orphan who goes to live with her aunt (Joanne Whalley) and brutish husband (Southcliffe’s Sean Harris), the landlord of the Inn. Why are there never any guests? And who can Mary trust?
And if your appetite for Cornwall isn’t satisfied by this, Cutting It’s Debbie Horsfield is writing a new version of Winston Graham’s 18th-century romantic saga Poldark, also for BBC1 later this year.
Doll & Em: The Trip for the ladies
Emily Mortimer and Dolly Wells are childhood friends who both dreamed of becoming actresses, but while Emily’s career has seen her star in Hollywood movies and critically acclaimed US TV series The Newsroom, Doll’s career has somewhat stalled. This real-life relationship forms the basis of a semi-improvised comedy from the makers of The Trip, coming next month on Sky Living.
The ladies play fictionalised versions of themselves as their friendship is tested when Emily employs Doll as her personal assistant. While Doll struggles to perfect Emily’s latte order and navigate the streets of LA, Emily starts to resent her friend for stepping out of her shadow.
Swinging from a warm and honest look at friendship to an awkward and cynical glimpse into how fame and success can change everything, this is meta-fiction at its finest.
Hostages: Is this C4’s new Homeland?
The last time America took an Israeli political thriller and adapted it to make it their own, it was called Homeland. So are there similarities with current US show Hostages, which arrives on C4 later this month? Danger and secrets at the heart of an American family? Yes. Trouble at the centre of the political system? Absolutely. Just as the US President is scheduled for surgery, his surgeon Ellen Sanders (Toni Collette) and her family are taken hostage by a team led by FBI Special Agent Duncan Carlisle (Dylan McDermott). Everything will be fine, he tells her, so long as she kills the President on the operating table…
As the episodes unfold (each one covers a 24-hour period over a fortnight), the lines blur. Is Carlisle as unsympathetic as we first imagine? You can see the original Israeli Hostage on BBC4 later this year.
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