Monday

Man In An Orange Shirt

9pm, BBC Two

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Queers

10pm, BBC Four

Written by novelist Patrick Gale, the two-part Man In An Orange Shirt forms the centrepiece of the BBC’s Gay Britannia season, marking the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act that decriminalised “homosexual acts” between men over 21 in England and Wales. (In Scotland and Northern Ireland, it pays to remember, the law wouldn’t change until the 1980s.)

For his story, which splits – too neatly – across two time frames, Gale has drawn on personal and family history, particularly a story his mother told him about an incident shortly before he was born. One day, while pregnant with him, she found some old letters stuffed in his father Michael’s desk. Beginning to read, she realised it was a cache of love letters – and then that, rather than being from some passionate old girlfriend, as she first assumed, they were from the man she had always known as Michael’s best friend.

A version of that discovery lies at the heart of the first episode. Following a present-day prologue in which we meet the elderly Flora (Vanessa Redgrave) and her adult grandson, Adam (Julian Morris), the drama flashes back to the final years of the Second World War. While she teaches in England, young Flora’s fiancé Michael (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is overseas, fighting alongside Thomas (James McArdle), a war artist. Convalescing after a heavy attack, they spend more and more time together until, on the final night before they get posted in different directions, they grab a last-chance kiss.

After the war, rather than return immediately to Flora, Michael tracks Thomas down to his London studio. The two retreat to a country cottage owned by Michael’s family, and spend a brief, idyllic spell living together, before returning to the city, and to real life in a country determined to crush and dehumanise them, where being gay is an imprisonable offence. Michael marries Flora, and resigns to keeping his true self hidden – until the bitter night she finds love letters Thomas wrote him.

Gale’s drama is sincere, well intentioned and from the heart. But there’s something lacking. Man In An Orange Shirt feels familiar and predictable, a story we’ve seen far too often before. Of course, it represents a story too many people were forced to live out, but there’s no convincing heat or life.

Next week, part two, which flips to the present to see the still-bitter Flora trying to come to terms with her life and feelings as her grandson wrestles with his sexuality in today’s ostensibly easier climate, is more interesting, if only for giving the imperious Redgrave more screentime. But the opening episode doesn’t offer many reasons to return. Mired in syrupy music, it’s prettified, worthy, tragically hand-wringing and deadeningly polite, doffing its cap to gain entrance to the prime time living rooms of the UK. Compared with the subversive, two-fingers-up stance of “a gay drama” like Prick Up Yours 30 years ago (in which Redgrave also featured), it looks like a backward step.

There’s more surprising and moving life, however, in Queers (BBC Four), also part of the season. Eight monologues by different writers operating in different moods and different periods, all directed by Mark Gatiss, these 20-minute miniatures are going out in double bills Monday-Thursday. Look out in particular for tonight’s opener, The Man On The Platform, written by Gatiss, with a wonderful performance from Ben Whishaw as a First World War soldier; and Tuesday’s Missing Alice, by Jon Bradfield, brilliantly delivered by Rebecca Front as a 1950s wife.

Sunday

Poldark

9pm, BBC One

I’m not sure, but I’m beginning to get the feeling young Hugh Armitage has taken a little bit of a fancy to Demelza. Can’t put my finger on it, but there’s just something about the way he keeps looming up, sniffing her, and staring fixedly at her like an unblinking wet cow that is just coming out of a coma and trying to focus. Add to this that he’s started writing poetry in her honour (“Demelza, you’re swellza, of the ball you’re the bellza”) and that he’s given her a drawing he did of Barbra Streisand and, well … trouble brewing. Mind you, Ross Poldark can hardly complain tonight if his missus is getting stared at, not after he runs into Drippy Elizabeth in the church and, well … trouble brewing. Elsewhere, Rev Osborne Footsucker Whitworth is behaving like an insatiable monstrous animal to his pale and suffering young wife, Morwenna. But, when she is invited to stay, it seems her younger sister, Rowella, may have a cunning plan to take care of beastly vicar.

Tuesday

Old People’s Home For Four-Year-Olds

9pm, Channel 4

This moving, largely heartening two-part documentary follows a project at the St Monica Trust retirement home near Bristol, in which 11 pensioners in their eighties volunteer to spend six weeks in the company of 10 four-year-old children as they attended a temporary nursery school among them. Instigated by a team of geriatric specialists, it’s the first time such a social experiment has been carried out in the UK, although similar schemes are well established in the US. As part of the plan, the residents undergo tests to measure mood, memory and mobility during their daily contact with the young kids. Often, though, the results are plain to see: the pensioners, some of whom were sunk in depression beforehand, visibly brighten and bloom. But can a situation where four-year-olds and 84-year-olds work and play together really improve the health and happiness of the older group? And could such intergenerational therapy have implications for the pressing issue of how Britain cares for its aging population? The concluding episode follows tomorrow.

Wednesday

Casting By

10pm, Sky Arts

Highly recommended for movie lovers, this excellent, star-studded documentary by director Tom Donahue shines a light onto one of the most overlooked and least understood jobs in cinema: the work of the casting director. As the film points out, casting is the only main-title-credit in moviemaking that is not recognised with an award by the Oscars, but a host of contributors – including Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, Glenn Close, Woody Allen, Al Pacino, Robert Redford and Robert De Niro – are on hand to explain why it is also one of the most vital roles in making a movie what it is. Donahue presents his case by focusing mainly on the career and influence of the industry’s doyenne, the late Marion Dougherty. A New Yorker who came up through TV in the 1950s, following the collapse of the Hollywood studio system, she turned casting into an art in the late-1960s and early 70s, along the way opening the doors for everyone from James Dean and Warren Beatty to Eastwood, Robert Duvall, Bette Midler, Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman.

Thursday

Top Of The Lake

9pm, BBC Two

The series I’m trying hard not to think of as “Mrs Doyle Investigates", or get mixed up with The Handmaid’s Tale, continues. Part two of Jane Campion’s mystery begins by flashing back to the marriage we’ve heard Detective Robin Griffin (Elisabrth Moss) almost went through with, but walked out of on the day of the wedding itself. Sure enough, the flashback shows us Robin almost getting married … then walking out of it all on the day of the wedding itself. So thanks for clearing that up. Meanwhile, in between scenes of the young nerds posting reviews of prostitutes online and the male cops being all sexist, the investigation into the murder slowly begins to eke forward with a revelation: in keeping with the mums-and-daughters theme, it turns out the dead woman was pregnant, although it’s not quite as cut-and-dried as that. The best scenes, though, involve Robin’s reluctant friendship with her new sidekick, Mirada (Gwendoline Christie), and her nervous meeting with her long-lost daughter, Mary (Alice Englert).

Friday

Oh! You Pretty Things: The Story Of Music And Fashion

11.05pm, BBC Four

Fashion-loving pop insomniacs could do worse than tune in for this repeat of Lauren Laverne’s 2014 documentary series on the crossovers and collaborations between British designers and musicians from the 1960s-80s, all three episodes of which are going out tonight. With contributions from performers, stylists, theorists and the fans who tried copying the looks on the street and in the clubs, the series begins, of course, with the Beatles and the Stones embracing psychedelia in all its frills and Edwardian militaria. Part two is maybe the best single programme, rummaging through 1970s wardrobes from glam to post-punk. There’s the obligatory Bowie montage early on, but the episode really gets going with an in-depth appreciation of Suzi Quatro’s leather biker-catsuit “Can The Can” combo. Elsewhere, Rick Wakeman is on hand to discuss the monumental moment when he first decided to wear a prog cape, and Sex Pistol Glen Matlock considers the seemliness of bondage trousers for the aging punk.

Saturday

Billy Connolly: Portrait Of A Lifetime

9pm, BBC Two

Another chance to see this wonderful film, documenting BBC Scotland’s project to mark Mr C’s 75th birthday by commissioning three new portraits of the man by artists Jack Vettriano, Rachel Maclean and John Byrne. Along the way, as Connolly returns to his old stomping ground to sit for the artists, and revisits childhood haunts like the Kelvingrove Art Gallery And Museum, it also becomes in passing a film about Glasgow then and now. Between performance footage from across his career, including his most recent stand-up shows, Connolly discusses the effects of getting older, of suffering Parkinson’s Disease, and of coming from this city: “It’s like that, Glasgow. You don’t get guys who are famous for coming from Edinburgh …” The best stuff, though, is his interaction with the artists, especially his delight in Maclean’s “off its head” work and the deep-fried Bonnie Prince Billy picture she creates of him; and his tender reconnection with his dear old pal Byrne, who first painted him in the 1970s.

LAST WEEK…

You don’t have to look far these days to find something else to get depressed about, nauseated by, or, ideally, both at once. And that’s just staring into the big bathroom mirror. Even so, the news that Tuesday’s live finale of reality bikini show Love Island had become the biggest ratings smash in the long and storied history of ITV2 – trumping even that celebrated 97th repeat of some random episode of You’ve Been Framed from 2011 – was worth getting freshly miserable over.

Following the happy news that a record-breaking 2.6 million viewers had tuned in on the night, if you include all the ones who just couldn’t work out how to turn their TV off again after watching the Channing Tatum movie about a troubled bad boy hip-hop dancer who forms an unlikely relationship with a young ballerina, ITV’s executive chairman Sir Peter Bazalgette issued a triumphant declaration.

“Love Island is Love Island,” Bazalgette said, and it was hard to argue with him there. But his statement grew more open to debate as it continued: “It is a really delightful show. I think it hits the mood of the times. It is romantic, positive, upbeat. Love Island demonstrates that young viewers engage in great TV content.”

Reading this, a sceptic might assume Bazalgette was lying, that he didn’t really feel Love Island was any of those things or demonstrated anything of the sort, and that he was just glad to have any kind of good ratings news to try and sell when UK TV advertising revenues have fallen to their lowest point since the banking collapse of 2008, and ITV’s annual pre-tax profits have similarly slumped by 16 per cent. Then again, Bazalgette is the broadcast visionary who imported Big Brother to the UK. So maybe he does genuinely like this stuff, and isn’t just out to turn a cynical buck by contemptuously producing cheap and lazy TV that panders to the lowest and laziest ambitionless gawp spots of the terrified and relentlessly pummelled human psyche.

(It’s always worth repeating that Balazgette is great-great-grandson of Sir Joseph Bazalgette, the Victorian civil engineer. Sir Joseph’s visionary creation of the London sewer network was a herculean project that helped eliminate disease, save countless lives, increase opportunity and improve quality of life for generations to come. Sir Peter helped bring Changing Rooms to the screen. Thus, to the mighty drumbeat of progress, does our civilisation march on toward its ultimate destiny.)

For anyone not involved in trying to sell TV advertising, the news that Love Island was a particular hit among the 16-32-year-old audience that is otherwise abandoning traditional television en masse was particularly disheartening. Thankfully, however, there was a flicker of resistance elsewhere, a cause to hope tomorrow's generations might yet still be inspired to create something great. CBBC rolled out a new series of Horrible Histories, and episode one featured a song about Sir Francis Drake, delivered in the style of The Wurzels “Combine Harvester".