The changing seasons may see a cooling of the weather, but things are hotting up on the TV schedules (yes, you may groan at that one), so let Radio Times be your guide to the best new and returning dramas to keep an eye out for…
The Fall, BBC2
A few eyebrows were raised when Belfast-based thriller The Fall hit our screens last year starring acclaimed US actress Gillian Anderson and… a former Calvin Klein underwear model. Although it wasn’t Jamie Dornan’s first acting role, it was all too easy to dismiss him as another model-turned-actor, his stubbly good looks concealing a lack of talent.
However, Dornan’s sceptics were quickly proved wrong by his mesmeric performance as Paul Spector, a bereavement counsellor-cum-killer. It was an unnerving contradiction – the ultimate pretty boy committing the ugliest of crimes – but one that the actor pulled off with sinister aplomb, earning himself a Bafta nomination in the process.
A part in Channel 4’s Civil War epic New Worlds followed and then, just as he seemed to find his niche as a credible TV leading man, Dornan landed the most talked-about film role in recent years – sadomasochistic anti-hero Christian Grey in the big-screen adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey. His next project is an as yet untitled Harvey Weinstein film with Bradley Cooper and Uma Thurman.
Anderson is currently wowing audiences – and the critics – in A Streetcar Named Desire at London’s Young Vic. The Fall’s creator Allan Cubitt was delighted to secure her for the role of Stella Gibson. In fact, he had Anderson in mind when he started on the screenplay in 2010: “It’s quite something watch- ing her work. She really is a consummate artist.”
James Norton played an attorney in Death Comes to Pemberley and a rapist in Happy Valley. Next he’s a 1950s clergyman fond of hot jazz and haunted by his time in the Scots Guards in the Second World War. Grantchester is adapted from a novel by James Runcie (whose father Robert was Archbishop of Canterbury) and set in a Cambridgeshire village. Affable priest Sidney Chambers turns sleuth when a parishioner perishes in suspicious circumstances. It wouldn’t be a murder mystery without a sidekick – a plain-speaking police inspector (Robson Green).
The Missing, BBC1
Set in France and London, The Missing tells the story of a young boy who disappears on a family holiday during the 2006 World Cup.
The dual setting adds to the trauma of his distraught parents (James Nesbitt and Frances O’Connor). “We chose France because it needed to be a place that was familiar,” explains executive producer Willow Grylls. “This place starts off feeling sunny and exciting but becomes incredibly scary because the family don’t speak the language and the social mores aren’t the same. You wouldn’t have that same feeling if the drama was set within the UK.”
Doctor Who, BBC1
A new Doctor with an older face than we’ve grown used to, Peter Capaldi looks set to be the hard man of the Tardis. Baddies like the
Daleks, Cybermen, Keeley Hawes’s evil banker Ms Delphox and Ben Miller’s Sheriff of Nottingham, and even friends like Clara (Jenna Coleman), can expect a bumpy ride. But a grumpy Doctor is still the Doctor. Capaldi, a lifelong fan of the programme, wrote to Radio Times aged 15, saying that no matter how bad the situation, “Ah, but we’d be safe, as we’d have Dr Who to protect us!” It’s enough to make your heart swell.
The Great Fire, ITV
One of the most ambitious costume dramas in recent years, this painstakingly recreates 17th-century London – then sets it alight. As every schoolchild knows, a fire began in a bakery in Pudding Lane in 1666 and ravaged great swathes of the City. The fabled culprit – baker Thomas Farriner – is played by Andrew Buchan (The Honourable Woman, Broadchurch), while Daniel Mays (Mrs Biggs) is diarist Samuel Pepys. The Great Fire was written by ITV’s political correspondent Tom Bradby, in a bold departure from his day job. Or is it? “The challenges aren’t so very different from our own,” he tells RT. “People in power still get confronted by whether they’re going to take decisions on the basis of pragmatism or principle – and that’s a daily feature of my working life.”
Last Tango in Halifax, BBC1
Celia and Alan (Anne Reid and Derek Jacobi) tied the knot in a cockle-warming Christmas special, but creator and writer Sally Wainwright has hinted that the honeymoon period will be over by the time series three reaches our screens this autumn. She promises “really exciting new storylines that move Celia and Alan’s relationship forward with hopefully the same mix of gusto, comedy and drama”. Rumour has it that someone from Alan’s past will cause a rift between them. There’s also a newcomer, a mystery bachelor, played by Rupert Graves – best known as bumbling Inspector Lestrade in Sherlock.
Believe it or not, folks, but under that flaming barnet is actress Sheridan Smith, who’ll step into the stilettos of Cilla Black this autumn.
The three-part biopic takes us back to 1960s Liverpool, to the days when the Blind Date and Surprise Surprise host was known as Priscilla White and worked in a typists’ pool yearning for fame.
Her long road to chart-topping success is both helped and hindered by future husband Bobby (Aneurin Barnard) and legendary manager Brian Epstein (Ed Stoppard).
Of course, Cilla isn’t the only veteran of the Merseybeat music scene: the Beatles also cut their teeth at the Cavern Club and pop up in this, fresh-faced and quiffed. Expect a “lorra lorra” laughs – and a few tears, too.
The Driver, BBC1
After a spell on US zombie hit The Walking Dead, David Morrissey returns to the UK to play Vince – the eponymous “Driver” whose stale marriage and humdrum routine ferrying disgruntled passengers around the streets of Manchester propel him into a life of crime and car chases. Writer Danny Brocklehurst gives us plenty of tyre-screeching action but this is also the story of the everyman, fed up, stripped of his masculinity and racked with guilt thanks to his son’s mysterious absence. “It’s about a family in crisis,” explains Morrissey. “He’s stuck in his life and something presents itself that drives him and gives him his mojo back.”
When writer Peter Bowker read the extraordinary life of Neil Baldwin in a newspaper, he knew he had to tell his story. As a boy, Baldwin was dismissed for having learning difficulties but he’s never let that stop him. He’s been a potter, clown, lay preacher, kit man at Stoke City and was awarded an honorary degree by Keele University.
“I’ve long been interested in how we use labels to limit the people we’re describing, even to dehumanise them,” says Bowker. “But Neil defied those who wished to define him. A drama about Neil had to reflect his fluid and eccentric story, so this is part-biopic, part-musical, part-fantasy. It isn’t always an easy story. It isn’t sugar-coated, but I think it is ultimately optimistic.”
Baldwin is played by Toby Jones whose previous roles include Truman Capote and Alfred Hitchcock.
Downton Abbey, ITV
With her illegitimate baby being secretly raised by one of Downton’s tenant farmers and her lover (magazine editor Michael Gregson) last seen confronting some political thugs in brown shirts in Germany, we left Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) at a particularly low ebb last Christmas. A year on, however, could the fortunes of Lord Grantham’s middle daughter finally be looking up? Having been overlooked for her prettier elder sister, Mary, most of her life and then left at the altar by her first love, Edith deserves a break more than most at Downton…
Except perhaps valet Bates, who, following a stint in prison for possibly murdering his first wife, is still under suspicion for the murder of the man who raped his second.
Peaky Blinders, BBC2
It was one of the most stylish and memorable dramas of last year which saw Cillian Murphy as Tommy Shelby, turn a group of smalltime hoodlums into big-time gangsters. So just how do you keep the intensity that oozed out from the screen? Well, the fact that Tom Hardy is joining the cast is a good starting point. In this series the gang cement their hold on Birmingham and also expand the business to the north and the south of the city.
And coming next year…
Series one captivated the nation and garnered three Baftas – now its creator Chris Chibnall is once again eating, sleeping and breathing Broadchurch as he oversees the much-anticipated second series on whiteboards in an office in his Dorset garden. “You have to be very methodical. It’s like a mathematical puzzle where you put all these blocks together and move them around for the most satisfying thing.”
The recommission was announced during the closing credits of last year’s finale, with the return of David Tennant and Olivia Colman confirmed earlier this year, joined by newcomers Charlotte Rampling and James D’Arcy.
Chibnall has always claimed there was a “very different story” he wanted to tell, but remains tight-lipped on just what that might be. “We’re very stricty. I’d love people to know as little as possible about it when it airs on ITV. I want you to follow the story when I’m telling it, not before.”
One rare exception to the rule is a hint he’s hidden in a new novel, written by Erin Kelly and based upon the events of series one. “About three days before we went to press, Chris put in one tiny little clue about something that happens in series two,” reveals Kelly. “It’s something only the die-hards will pick up on, but there’s one line quite early in the book that won’t make sense to anybody.”