Ever since Robert Webb donned a leotard in 2009 for his strangely erotic version of Flashdance, this fundraising show has produced a string of magnificent performances – all in the name of charity.
Returning with a slightly revamped format after an absence of four years, this edition kicks off with what promises to be some classics from a typically diverse range of celebrities. Visualise, if you can, Russell Grant indulging his disco diva side as Diana Ross performing Chain Reaction. Or Sara Pascoe, who admits she may have made “a terrible mistake”, transforming into Sia for her anthemic Chandelier. Or – and this will stretch your powers of imagination – DJ Matt Edmondson as Nicki Minaj.
To be fair, it’s more about entertainment value than talent (and men dressing as women always seems to be strangely popular with voters), but guest panellists Paul O’Grady, Jo Brand and Frank Skinner will try to pick the best from a bad bunch. Bake Off fans can come out of mourning as Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins reunite to host proceedings, hopefully to the strains of If I Knew You Were Comin’, I’d’ve Baked a Cake.
This Danish drama set in the world of financial fraud hardly ignited the schedules last year. Series one took on business corruption (wind turbines, yawn), but no matter. This second series moves on into the sexier banking sector with many of the same players in place, and newcomers can pick up from here.
Mads, the rugged fraud-squad detective, is still pursuing his targets 18 months later, especially Claudia Moreno, the crooked lawyer who’s just been released from a cushy-looking jail. Well, this is Denmark. She takes a job as a barista and moons over her absent son, who won’t speak to her, but is soon back among the movers and shakers and almost manages to make a virtue of duplicity.
I took a shine to the wiry mechanic/hoodlum, Nicky (Esben Smed), and the plight of Hans Peter, a bankrupt carpenter at breaking point. He’s played by Soren Malling, a familiar face from The Killing and Borgen. Follow the Money isn’t in their league but soon becomes involving.
The cloud cast by Dr Turner’s prescribing of thalidomide grows darker as little Susan, badly deformed by the drug, is taken to nursery by her mum, Rhoda. But Rhoda is humiliated and angered, telling Dr Turner that her daughter has been rejected because the nursery “doesn’t take sick children”. It’s yet another piece of unthinking, hurtful prejudice that Rhoda and her husband must face in their quest to make the world a better place for their little girl. Ignorance, though, is widespread. “Why isn’t it in the papers more?” she wonders.
Here in 2017 we know that the parents of thalidomide babies faced a decades-long battle for recognition and compensation, and that knowledge weighs heavily as a little knot of families meets tentatively for the first time to gain strength and support.
For entirely different reasons Phyllis needs both when a driving lesson ends disastrously, and Trixie feels that her new swain, the dentist, is giving her the runaround.
Right, take two. Last year’s relaunch turned into a pile-up of tabloid controversy (remember the stunt near the Cenotaph?), fan fury and ratings low enough to earn “Flop Gear” headlines. Can the second attempt do better?
The fact that Chris Evans is no longer involved is bound to help. For all his brilliance as a broadcaster, Evans never felt right in Top Gear mode. The production had thrown the kitchen sink at replacing Clarkson, Hammond and May (they tried seven presenters in all) but they couldn’t replicate a formula that played on the chemistry between a trio who had worked together for years. So too often it all felt creaky, like a half-finished sketch show.
Now we’re back to a central trio of Matt LeBlanc, Rory Reid and Chris Harris – the best of last year’s new arrivals. Tonight, they race across Kazakhstan in high-mileage bangers: a Mercedes saloon, a Volvo estate and a London Taxi, all of which have done at least 480,000 miles. Meanwhile, actor James McAvoy takes to the track.
The second solo outing for Hugh Jackman’s clawed mauler is a definite improvement on X-Men Origins: Wolverine. This Far East adventure begins with mardy mutant Logan in the depths of despair following the events of X-Men – the Last Stand. However, he’s persuaded to leave his mountain retreat and travel to Tokyo to see an old friend, who promises to remove his healing power and relieve him of the burden of immortality. But it’s not long before yakuza and ninjas crash the reunion, as a clan turf war erupts. Director James Mangold makes great play of the fish-out-of-water element of the story and Wolverine’s status as a ronin (a masterless samurai), while a beefed-up Jackman rises to the occasion with a powerful but restrained performance. There are some exhilarating workouts for the hero (on a superfast train, in a battle with ninjas that recalls Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood), one or two unexpected turns of events, and formidable femmes fatales in acrobatic samurai Rila Yukushima and slinky Svetlana Khodchenkova, who plays a venomous chemist with her own set of deadly claws. However, extended romantic interludes with clan princess Tao Okamoto and the need to include standard blockbuster action scenes hinder Mangold’s valiant attempt to deliver a film to match the game-changing quality of X-Men: First Class and Avengers Assemble. But it at least it whetted appetites for the next big X-fest, Days of Future Past.
What if the Nazis won the war? SS-GB has given us one theory, but this Amazon series has a more interesting answer: its vision of Axis dystopia stars the brilliant Rufus Sewell as a ruthless resistance hunter.
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