The Innocents Friday Netflix

For the benefit of moaning old git film fans who get easily confused, like me, it’s worth making clear that Netflix’s eight-part The Innocents has absolutely nothing to do with the 1961 movie of the same title, Jack Clayton’s brilliant adaptation of Henry James’s Turn Of The Screw, with Deborah Kerr as the Victorian governess spooked by her inner phantoms, which remains one of British cinema’s greatest ghost stories.

True, the new TV show is another supernatural tale shot against moody British backdrops. And, true again, both Innocents hide a metaphor for repression and roaring desire just under the skin. But where the old movie is all subtlety and whispering suggestion, wrapping you in a shadowy cocoon of unsettlingly comfortable creepiness, in the new series the atmosphere, dialogue and attitude are rather more what-you-see-is-what-you-get. Which is ironic, given that the show is explicitly about things not being what they appear.

This Innocents is less gothic novel, then, and more misfit teen photostory: a tale of star-crossed young lovers on the run, given a photogenic post-Twilight twist. Our Juliet and Romeo are June (Sorcha Groundsell) and Harry (Percelle Ascott), both still at school, and both ready to escape their little northern town, and, in particular, suffocating family situations. For Harry, whose mother is a detective with the local police, his days revolve around the routine of caring for his father, left incapacitated by some as-yet-unrevealed past trauma. Harry loves his dad, but it’s a heavy load for such sensitive young shoulders, particularly since he fell for June, and started thinking about making a life of his own with her.

June is under a heavier burden, squashed by the concerns of her strangely, almost paranoiacally overprotective father. With her sixteenth birthday looming, he plans to whisk her away to live on remote Fair Isle, hidden from everyone and everything. He may have his reasons, and they may or may not have something to do with June’s absent mother who, he claims, abandoned her and disappeared when she was but an infant. But it’s the last straw for June, and so she and Harry run away together, heading south in a cheap second-hand car, dreaming of freedom in London.

What neither yet knows is that June, who has been fed sedatives by her father over the years, has a strange power lurking inside, one that is about to come bursting into the open. Meanwhile, far away in an isolated part of sunny Norway, an enigmatic and melancholy professor (the infallible Guy Pearce) is working desperately with a small group of women who share the same talent – or curse? – trying to learn more about it. June’s destiny is about to catch up with her, and entwine with theirs.

Since it’s been featured in all the trailers, it’s giving little away to reveal that June’s gift/affliction is shapeshifting, the power to physically take on the form of other people. This is the show’s big hook, and its ropiest angle. As befits a modern us-versus-the-world teen romance with angsty music, the tone is romantic and weepy, yet many moments in the first few episodes absolutely cry out for a slyer, more absurd, blackly comic touch. It gets over the po-faced bumps thanks to the charm of the two leads, flawless work from Pearce, and an atmospheric look – a few shots fleetingly recall the stylishly damp, drab landscapes of Under The Skin. The younger audiences Netflix hopes to snare might fall in love, while others keep searching the menus, hoping Deborah Kerr is still hiding somewhere.


Unforgotten 9pm, STV

This third series of Chris Lang’s cold case crime drama has been as good as the first two (a strike rate the more widely chattered about Broadchurch couldn’t boast), and doesn’t drop the ball tonight, delivering an engrossing, at times electric, and occasionally skin-crawling final episode. Last week’s instalment ended with the arrest of the gentlemanly GP Tim Finch (Alex Jennings) for the historical murder of teenager Hayley Reid, and the discovery of trophy-like items hidden in his home that seemed to constitute damning proof of his guilt. But before long, what had seemed like rock-solid evidence is riddled with holes. Meanwhile, as the entire case begins looking back to square one, there come some devastating new discoveries. As it all piles up, the already fragile Cassie (Nicola Walker) begins to crack. Lang mixes up a solid, slightly soapy mix of mystery, inhumanity, and human warmth, delivered by a superb cast. Jennings, in particular, is fantastic.


Dwarfs In Art: A New Perspective 9pm, BBC Four

Richard Butchins, who a decade ago made the provocative and unsentimental documentary The Last American Freakshow, brings a similarly frank, quizzical and sometimes angry approach to this essay, exploring one very particular subset of art history: the changing representation of dwarfs in art, from the days of ancient Egypt through to the present. Aided by contributions from artists, academics and curators with dwarfism, and pulling out images from across the centuries, Butchins traces how such representations have reflected not only those with the condition, but their wider society. From the days when dwarfs were seen as figures of fun to be collected as ornaments to Royal Courts, through the roots of the Snow White story in European folklore, to the unblinking photography of Diane Arbus and the Pop paintings of Peter Blake, Butchins contrasts demeaning characterisations with others that show deference and respect in a thoughtful study about the treatment of disability in art.


Kidnapped: A Georgian Adventure 9pm, BBC Four

A good complement to Katherine Rundell’s recent documentary Abducted: Elizabeth I’s Child Actors (still available via the BBC iPlayer), this 2011 film by Dan Cruickshank vividly brings to life another tale of child abduction from an age when “you could kidnap a child and it wasn’t even a serious crime.” Cruickshank’s subject is the case of 12-year-old James Annesley who, in 1728, was snatched from the streets of Dublin and sold into slavery in America, cast off on a ship for the New World, destined to work on a plantation. The son of an aristocratic family, in line for a massive inheritance, James fell victim to the plotting of his wicked uncle, who was out to steal his fortune. Thirteen years of hard labour passed before he was able to return. If any of it sounds familiar, it’s because these were the real life events that helped inspire Robert Louis great novel, Kidnapped.


Horizon: Stopping Male Suicide 9pm, BBC Two

In this powerful film, presenter Dr Xand Van Tulleken seeks to analyse the all-too familiar statistic that, in the UK today, suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50. Setting out to examine why people develop suicidal thoughts, and whether there is anything we can do about it, he meets with contributors who have had first-hand experiences. These include Kevin Hines, who tried to kill himself by jumping from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, and is one of very few people to survive such an attempt (he says that, as soon as he jumped, he knew that he’d made a mistake and wanted to live); and Steve Mallen, who became a suicide prevention campaigner following the loss of his 18-year-old son, who took his own life in 2015. Alongside their raw and compelling accounts, Tulleken also meets scientists researching the issue, including a team in America who might have come up with a way to predict potential suicide cases months in advance, and doctors who have developed a method for reducing the suicide rate among their patients.


Grayson Perry: Rites Of Passage 10pm, Channel 4

Artist Grayson Perry doesn’t have a bad documentary in him, and his latest series is another striking and memorable undertaking, taking big, almost intangible ideas and handling them at a human scale. He is out to explore life’s landmark events – birth, coming of age, marriage, death – and how we mark them, asking whether our traditional, habitual rituals really suit the modern, secular age. He begins at the end, with the most taboo subject, death. To prod his thinking outside the British box, Perry travels to the Indonesian island of Sulawesi to spend time with the indigenous Toraja people, whose approach is markedly different to ours. Back in the UK, he meets families going through different forms of grief. One is still mourning the sudden death of a 17-year-old son. The other is facing the loss of the husband and father, Roch, who has been living with motor neurone disease for nine years. Working with them, Perry attempts to create personal, personalised ceremonies for each individual. The results are deeply moving.


Anita And Me … And Me 9.05pm, BBC Two

Continuing the BBC’s Big British Asian Summer season, Meera Syal presents this documentary, exploring the personal experiences that fed her 1996 novel, Anita And Me, which she subsequently adapted as a film in 2002. Journeying back to Essington, the small Black Country mining village where she grew up in the 1970s, she recalls how she felt something of an outsider, caught between her parents’ Indian culture at home, and the white, working-class community around her. Revisiting her old house, she recalls the impetus for writing the book: “I wanted to record the lives of us, the first generation of British Asian kids born here, and especially the lives of our parents.” The documentary serves as an introduction to the movie (showing at 9.55pm), an amiable coming-of-age tale charting the relationship between the teenage Meena (Chandeep Uppal) and her rebellious neighbour Anita (Anna Brewster), whose way of life scandalises Meena’s traditionalist parents. The ensemble includes Sanjeev Bhaskar, Kathy Burke, Lynn Redgrave, and Syal herself.