I Am Nicola

10pm, Channel 4

Watching I Am Nicola is like watching a kettle slowly come to the boil – watching from the inside, with no way out as it all starts to simmer.

To begin with, though, very little happens, to a degree that’s unusual in a TV drama. In fragments, we simply watch this woman Nicola (Vicky McClure) go about her humdrum day – working in a hair salon, shampooing clients, bantering with colleagues, picking up shopping. It’s when she gets back home to her nice quiet house that the tension starts to build.

Again, very little occurs you can put your finger on. Nicola just has a conversation with her partner, Adam (Perry Fitzpatrick), telling him about her day, about a workmate who is heading off on a trip abroad, and about how she sometimes feels she has little to tell anyone herself, because they never really do anything or go anywhere. They don’t argue – not yet – but, as the discussion goes on, Adam refuses to let it go. He’s always just behind her, keeps asking questions, keeps moving the conversation in other directions. It’s at this point that a sense of claustrophobia begins to descend, sharpened by the way the close, handheld camera refuses to give Nicola any space either. No room to breathe.

Where is this all heading? Admirably, beyond knowing that we’re watching a relationship going badly wrong, it’s impossible to tell. The director, Dominic Savage, strives to ensure that I Am Nicola doesn’t follow the path we have been conditioned to expect by regular crime thrillers and issue-of-the-week dramas. It would be easy, for example, to imagine this story laid out in a well-meaning ITV drama about domestic abuse and coercive control: we’d see the blissful beginning of the relationship; then growing hints of something being off; the steady decline of one partner ending in some act of violence; and then a resolution.

Here, though, it’s impossible to see the outline of “a story,” because Savage drops us straight into the middle of it, so that it unfolds as a series of moments that feel awkward and real, rather than designed in advance. The rough-edged quality is partly due to the fact that the actors are discovering their story as we watch them. Savage is credited as co-writing the piece with McClure, but the film is largely improvised within the basic structure they’ve worked out, and as she and Fitzpatrick feel their way through it, the thing ebbs and flows with them.

McClure is excellent as ever, and spurred on by the terrific, unshowy work Fitzpatrick does in the less sympathetic role. He presents an unsettlingly accurate picture of passive-aggression, and the possibility of hostility and violence is never far away; but as the piece goes on, there come glimpses of his confusion and uncertainty that arouse sympathy and alter the emotional current, if only briefly.

This is the first of three standalone dramas Savage has made under the I Am banner, all focusing on a woman at a moment of crisis. I Am Hannah, with Gemma Chan, sees her character considering whether to have children; but the film to really look out for is I Am Kirsty, about a struggling mother who turns to sex work, which Savage has made with the great Samantha Morton. This is an unfashionable, important little series, and I Am Nicola sets the project rolling with quiet, uncompromising style. It’s an uncomfortable watch, not only because of its subject matter, but also its raw, unformed style. It doesn’t offer answers or even a conclusion, but it provokes a lot of questions.



Storyville: Being Evel Kneivel

10pm, BBC Four

“I never thought of him as a daredevil,” says Jackass’s Johnny Knoxville, the driving force behind this soundly entertaining documentary on the 1970s folk legend. “I thought of him as a superhero.” That sums up the perspective of the generation who grew up while Knievel seemed like a real life action figure, trying to ride a rocket across Snake River Canyon. He became as famous for his bone-breaking accidents as his successful motorcycle stunts, but the film looks past the showmanship to examine the figure behind. Turns out the man born Robert Craig Knievel in Butte, Montana, in 1938, was not always a nice guy, as evidence of a chronic womaniser, boozer, con artist and short-tempered control freak piles up. But the portrait gives him his context: dressed like Vegas Elvis, cutting a Stars-n-Stripes flash against the grim backdrop of Vietnam and Watergate.


Who Do You Think You Are?

9pm, BBC One

The always fascinating celebrity genealogy show kicks off a new series in fine style, as actor Daniel Radcliffe goes delving into his family’s history. The man who is probably destined always to be known as “the Harry Potter star” explores the life of his great-grandfather, whose jewellery business at Hatton Gardens became the centre of its own heist back in the mid-1930s. Investigating the story in greater detail, Radcliffe discovers the true events were darker, more dramatic, and more tragic than he first suspected – and as he examines the police reports written at the time, gets a stark glimpse of the anti-Semitism that was endemic to the era. Elsewhere, there’s a deeply moving sequence as he learns about the short life of his great-great uncle Ernie, who died in action during the First World War.


The Widower

9pm, STV

Originally show in 2014, one of the most unsettling things about this three-part true-crime drama is the casting of Reece Shearsmith as real-life British killer Malcolm Webster. Shearsmith is hugely effective in a restrained but detailed performance, but given his track record of playing odd and creepy suburban killer-types for laughs with The League Of Gentlemen, fans might spend the whole thing waiting for it to become a black comedy. Sjearsmith’s future Inside No 9 collaborator Sheridan Smith co-stars as Webster’s wife, Claire. When she confronts him about his spiralling debts, he hatches a plan to keep her quite…Three years later, he has a new wife and a new life, but the financial pressures are mounting once more. Archie Panjabi and John Hannah also feature in the excellent cast.


Another Life


This new sci-fi adventure is a bit of a genre pick’n’mix: the plot, concerning the arrival on Earth of an alien artefact, offers elements that stir vague memories of Alien, Arrival, Stargate, 2001 and sundry others, although it remains to be seen whether it can stir them all together into a potent whole across the 10-part series. Battlestar Galactica’s Katee Sackhoff stars as Niko Breckinrige, the commander in charge of a bickering mission that blasts off on a perilous journey toward the mysterious object’s point of origin. Meanwhile, back on Earth, a team led by her husband, Erik (Justin Chatwin), attempts to examine and make contact with the UFO. Pretty soon, both parties have bad news to deal with. Among the most notable faces in the cast is Selma Blair, as Harper Glass, a reporter attempting to break the story.



9pm, Sky Arts

At the last count, there were more documentaries about punk than actual punk bands, but if you need another, you could do worse than this lively four-part series, executive produced by the mighty Iggy Pop, without whom most of the stuff it covers wouldn’t have happened, and who still looks and sounds better than many of the other interviewees. Opening with a double bill, tonight’s first film covers the seminal Detroit explosion of the 1960s – the motorin’ garage sounds of The MC5 and Iggy’s Stooges – and how it bled into the New York City scene of the 1970s, and the impact of The Ramones. Episode two follows the stain as it spread across the ocean to the UK, where young Johnny Rotten was waiting. There’s nothing that devotees of BBC Four’s music documentaries won’t know. But, then again: Iggy, man.