A Very English Scandal

9pm, BBC One

The Handmaid’s Tale

9pm, Channel 4

He will always be haunted by the oh-gosh fluttery romcom toff charmers of his most commercially successful outings, but Hugh Grant has always been at his best when given a character who uses that same charming front as cover for something else: something more slippery, or calculating, or desperate.

He is also an actor who, as though coming to understand this, or perhaps being given the chance to express it more often, has gotten better as he’s gotten older, and seems to be enjoying himself more in the process. His performance in A Very English Scandal as disgraced former Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe might be his most fun yet, balancing a black-eyed sinister side with a dynamic and witty old-buffer charisma, so that you can kind of understand where the guy’s coming from, even as his story disintegrates into shabby madness.

In the early 1960s, Thorpe was a rising star in the House Of Commons. Grant’s performance pitches him tonally as though Donald Sinden had swallowed Boris Johnson, but Thorpe was a progressive MP – we catch snatches of pro-immigration and pro-Europe speeches that could have been made today. By 1967, he had assumed leadership of his party. Less well known was that he was gay, at a time when that was illegal in the UK.

Around 1960, Thorpe had a secret relationship with a young man, Norman Josiffe (who later changed his name to Norman Scott). After it ended, Norman wouldn’t quite go away, and started contacting Thorpe demanding cash and other help, with the implicit threat of going to the press and destroying the politician’s family man image, and career. As the decade ended, Thorpe began trying to think of ways to make sure Norman would stay silent...

Grant’s performance perfectly catches the spirit of Russell T Davies’s script, which, adapted from John Preston’s book, casts the case as a particularly British tragicomedy, a delicious, deranged, somewhat sad dance of class and power and ambition and sex and greed, mired in and amplified by the repressions, prejudices and fears of its period.

Opposite Grant, Ben Whishaw is terrific as Norman, a pretty thing whose looks quickly fail to disguise an obnoxious, pathetic side. Again, though, he is presented as a character who has his reasons. The whole thing is never exactly pantomime, but always within reaching distance of farce.

The three-part series is directed by the great Stephen Frears, who keeps it moving at a clip, spiked with frenzies of grotesque comedy and desperation. Frears has sly fun with Davies’s script: Norman is introduced in an outrageous Catherine Cookson scene, stripped to the waist among horses in a stable, washing himself straight from a bucket. Even better is the moment he first tracks Thorpe down in Westminster, arriving at the House not only with puppy dog eyes, but clutching an actual puppy under his chin, a tiny thing called Mrs Tish. (Dogs are important in this story.) The drama is serious at heart, yet also the jauntiest entertainment Davies has written since his first two years on Doctor Who.

Slightly less joyous, but hardly trying to be, The Handmaid’s Tale returns for a second series tonight. It’s a dicey moment, as the show now fully leaves behind Margaret Atwood’s source novel to spin its own heavy tale from the implications. As we begin, there are already consequences for previous actions, as Aunt Lydia unleashes punishments on Offred (Elisabeth Moss) and the rest of the women for refusing to participate in the stoning of their comrade.


The Town That Floored The World

9pm, BBC Two

You’ll never have heard the word “linoleum” pronounced with such rich, fruity relish as John Sessions gives it as narrator for this documentary on how the stuff transformed the humble east coast town of Kirkcaldy into the centre of the durable flooring universe. It was local entrepreneur Michael Nairn who, in 1847, first thought this new-fangled “floor cloth” might be a goer and opened a factory in town. By 1877, Kirkcaldy was the world’s biggest lino producer. Many current and former workers contribute to the film, and talk through the history of a material that several describe as “magical” – originally the result of a happy accident, one contends that, were anyone to try and invent lino today, “they’d probably get sent to a psychiatrist”. Filled with evocative archive, the film paints a vivid picture of how the industry dominated and nourished Kirkcaldy for over a century: recalling her childhood, writer Val McDermid describes how, both figuratively and geographically, the factories were the heart of her town.


Fahrenheit 451

9pm, Sky Atlantic

Directed by Ramin Bahrani (99 Homes), this adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s 1953 novel ditches the odd pop poetry of Francois Truffaut’s 1965 version, and feels less the result of a desire to do justice by Bradbury, and more like a TV company (HBO) seeking another dystopian classic, following the success of The Handmaid’s Tale. But, adding a slick, hard-action bent, it’s an interesting attempt at bringing Bradbury’s prescient concerns into focus for an age in which we’ve bought into so many of them we might barely remember what he was worried about. The basic story remains: in a happy totalitarian regime, books (in this telling, the written word in general) have been all but outlawed, and, while citizens have their minds pacified by endless screens, storm trooper-like firefighters patrol streets, hunting and burning the last few books secretly hoarded by an underground resistance. Michael B Jordan plays the young fireman who begins to question everything, with Michael Shannon in sinister standby mode as his twisted father-figure superior.


Big Skies, Big Dreams, Big Art: Made In The USA 9pm, BBC Four

Waldemar Januszczak is in characteristically enthusiastic form for the first film in this three-part documentary, an ambitious whirlwind tour through the history of what he terms “the golden age of American art”. As per the title, it’s a big topic, and so he approaches the task by subdividing his subject geographically, splitting the States into three crucial territories whose landscapes and atmosphere helped shape an art that couldn’t quite have happened anywhere else. He begins his roadtrip in the most mythologised American landscape of all, “The Wild West”, beginning with the Hudson River School of the mid-19th century, whose romantic evocations of vast landscapes fuelled the myth of the place as God’s Own Country. Januszczak also considers the mysterious rock art of the Native Americans, tracing an influence down the years to the rockstar of abstract expressionism, Jackson Pollock, who was born in Wyoming, and first arrived in New York wearing a Stetson and cowboy boots.



9pm, BBC Four

This horror-tinged science fiction series from France, which started last week, is quite content to serve up themes, situations and even scenes familiar from countless sci-fis gone by, but it whips them together neatly into something of its own. There’s much to enjoy – not least the fact each episode only lasts a Scooby-Doo sized 22 minutes, meaning you can do a double bill in less than an hour. The bickering crew

of a French mission to Mars have just survived a near-fatal landing on the red planet (well, most of them survived), but so far, beyond some scattered wreckage, there has been no sign of the privately funded American mission that beat them there by a few weeks, and vanished after reporting some mysterious crisis. On the other hand, they have encountered a lonely Soviet cosmonaut who was believed to have been killed back in 1967, and doesn’t seem to have aged since then. Things get strange and tense tonight as the team struggle to process the discovery.


The Biggest Weekend

7.30pm, BBC Four

The BBC’s cross-country music festival is set to take place in four sites, in four nations, from now until next Monday. Things kick off this evening at the Titanic Slipway in Belfast, where Father John Misty gets things going with a one-off collaboration with the Ulster Orchestra. Also on the line-up tonight come Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett; Manic Street Preachers; the magnificence that is The Breeders, aka Kim and Kelly Deal; Beck; and, closing things down for the evening, the reunited brotherly head-nodders Orbital. There’s more of this kind of thing tomorrow, with further transmissions from Belfast (including performances by Neneh Cherry, Franz Ferdinand, and a closing set by Underworld) as well as sections beamed in from some of the other sites coming online around the UK, including Perth’s Scone Palace (where Simple Minds will be at it) and Singleton Park in Swansea (from where the coverage features Wolf Alice and Chvrches). Laurene Laverne and Colin Murray present the live action.


Cabaret (1972)

9pm, Talking Pictures

BBC Two joins BBC Four tonight for extra coverage of the Biggest Weekend festival, with sets by Emeli Sande, Clean Bandit, Sam Smith and Noel Gallagher. But, if that stuff’s not your bag, you’re onto plums, as the rest of the main channels are awash with the usual Saturday guff. Riding to the rescue, as it often does, comes Talking Pictures with a screening of Cabaret, Bob Fosse’s 1972 take on Christopher Isherwood. Liza Minnelli is at her most iconic as Sally Bowles, the blinkered, big-eyed American gal in 1930s Berlin, caught amid a gaudy whirl of decaying, decadent glamour as the city slides down the Nazi plughole. The movie sometimes loses direction, but there’s vicious, vigorous life in any scenes to do with music and dance. It’s followed for absolutely no reason at all by Invasion (1966), a daft but atmospheric, odd and memorable low-budget British sci-fi, written by Avengers/ Doctor Who men Roger Marshall and Robert Holmes, about rum doings around an isolated hospital. Old school Saturday night graveyard telly.


Whoever it was in the acquisitions department of the BBC who picked up the rights to start showing the excellent Atlanta last week (Sundays, 10pm, BBC Two) deserves a pat on the back, if not an outright bonus. The show’s driving force, Donald Glover, has steadily grown into a phenomenon in the US, but, until recently, hasn’t been much mentioned in the mainstream of the British media, although a cognoscenti cult has already signed up. Viewers of the comedy Community will know him for playing the show’s amiable geek Troy, and, before that, he was among the key writers on Tina Fey’s 30 Rock.

Earlier this month, however, Glover’s name – or, at least, that of his rap alter ego, Childish Gambino – became much better known across the globe, with the release of his single “This Is America,” and its accompanying all-dancing, all-shooting state of the nation video, which clocked up some 50 million views in its first week.

Glover’s grounding in the music community permeates Atlanta, which was first shown in the UK on the Fox channel in 2016, with the result that hardly anybody here saw it, a true shame, as it’s one of the most winning and deeply felt US sitcoms of recent years. (Fox will debut the second series in the UK later in summer)

Glover, who writes, directs and produces the series, also stars, as Earn, a 30-something who’s either still waiting for his life to begin, or wondering exactly when, where and how it ended. A college dropout, he drifts around his Atlanta hometown close to homelessness: his parents love him, but won’t let him in their house; he spends nights crashing with his sort-of-ex girlfriend, with whom he has a baby; and by day he struggles through a dimly hated job, cold-selling credit cards.

He was once involved in the local hip-hop scene, and spies a chance to reconnect and force himself into a direction when his cousin, an abrasive rapper called Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry), begins getting attention. Earn proposes himself as his manager, but life has a habit of derailing his plans.

Glover brings a baffled soulfulness that feels personal, while Henry forms a brilliant double act with Keith Stanfield as Paper Boi’s stoned sidekick, Darius. The show is a slow flow: dry, deadpan, downbeat, detailed and blunted, but with gags that are subtle, sneaky, and sharp.

There’s not much subtlety on offer in Bulletproof (Tuesdays, Sky One), but, then, that’s not what they’re promising to sell you. This slam-bang cop-action series is out to do a London version of popcorn crunchers like Bad Boys and Lethal Weapon, with lots of one-liners zinging among an atmosphere of cordite and high octane. The storylines could do with some tuning up, but co-stars Ashley Walters and Noel Clarke bring a charisma that burns through, and the partnership is reason enough to keep you watching, if never actually thinking.