Three Girls

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday

9pm, BBC One

For anyone playing spot the trend with their TV, the rise in the rate of true-crime dramas on relatively recent cases is one of the most notable at the moment. In the past few months, there has been a conspicuous run of these – The Moorside, Damilola: Our Beloved Boy, Little Boy Blue – all made with care and commitment to their individual cases. None can say “this is exactly how it happened,” but all have offered a chance to deepen our thinking and feeling about events we thought we knew, and the society in which they took place.

As good as these programmes have been, however, Three Girls, a brilliant, harsh and very human account of the Rochdale child grooming and sexual abuse case that broke in 2011, is on a different level. I can’t think of another drama of this kind that has had such quiet anger – or such subtlety, such tender determination to get close to the victims in all their flaws, and such willingness to ask questions about the attitudes of those charged with protecting them – since 2010’s Five Daughters, about the Ipswich murders of 2006. That both were made by the same director, Philippa Lowthorpe, speaks for itself, and the similarity of titles is surely a signal we are intended to take them as a pair.

Of the three vulnerable young schoolgirls who become entrapped and get hopelessly trafficked and abused around grim, anonymous, recognisable places, the first episode focuses on Holly (Molly Windsor). We first encounter her as a new girl in town, still resentful that her parents have dragged her away from the life she knew, still trying to fit in, and thinking she has finally found pals when she meets local sisters Amber (Ria Zmitrowicz) and Ruby (Liv Hill).

They introduce Molly to their mysteriously carefree existence in the dingy paradise of a kebab shop backroom, supplied (or plied) with free food, free alcohol and free cigarettes – until, one night, one of the men supplying the freebies asks Molly, “When’re you going to let me have sex with you,” then rapes her.

From here, it is hellish, as the terrified girl is handed around her abusers, while being let down by everyone else – especially, when she builds the courage to report what is happening, the police, social services, and Crown Prosecution Service, who refuse to believe her, or care much if they do.

In episode two, we learn more about Amber. There is brilliant work by writer Nicole Taylor, as she suddenly confronts us with how Molly is viewed as “the right kind of victim” – a nice girl, a good student who could have had a bright future – where Amber, from a more chaotic household, with a hard shell, is discarded as “the wrong kind.”

The script throughout is thoughtful and complex, yet entirely natural. It is also unafraid about tackling the most charged aspect of the case – that the abusers were mostly British-Pakistani men – a particularly explosive area during an election season poisoned by Brexit.

TV with this kind of power and significance is rare today – telling, or asking us something about ourselves, in the Cathy Come Home tradition – and to see it three nights running in prime time on BBC One is astonishing. It seems irrelevant to mention that the acting is superb, but the three girls are exceptional, and Maxine Peake is magnificent in her straightforward passion as the sexual health worker who, for a long time, seems to be the only part of the entire system still trying to help, or care.


OJ: Made In America

9pm, BBC Four

Director Ezra Edelman’s Oscar-winning documentary was available earlier this year on iPlayer, but the superb series gets a proper BBC Four airing now, with all five episodes going out nightly until Thursday. For anyone who watched last year’s drama on the OJ trial, The People V OJ Simpson, it’s a must-see. (For anyone who avoided that because they don’t like to watch actors re-enacting someone’s version of real history, it’s a must-see too.) Edelman doesn’t just focus on events surrounding the killing of Nicole Brown Simpson, but dives deeper and casts wider. The first episodes reach back to the 1960s and 70s, to build a vivid picture of just what a phenomenon Simpson was as a young American football star, while placing his celebrity in the social, cultural and political context of the era. There are interviews with key players including friends, associates, family, cops, attorneys, even jury members. But Edelman’s troubling tapestry is really set singing by the wealth of evocative archive documenting Simpson’s life, times, achievements and crimes.



10pm, BBC Two

No apologies for choosing a 2015 repeat as the best thing on tonight. Originally shown on BBC Four, this gemlike sitcom is one of the greatest TV creations this decade, but still not enough people even know it exists. There have been two series and one Christmas special so far, and the great news is that a third series is currently being made – so a perfect excuse to begin watching the first series from the start again tonight. Created by Mackenzie Crook, who forms a perfect double act with Toby Jones, Detectorists is about two men with metal detectors, Andy (Crook) and Lance (Jones), who wander muttering through empty summer fields in the morning sun, looking for treasure. Other things happen – accidental betrayals, misunderstandings, melancholy, rival evil detectorists who look like Simon and Garfunkel. Really, though, all you need is the constant banter between the two leads. Although the presence of the terrific Rachael Stirling as Lance’s bemused girlfriend, Becky, doesn’t hurt. And neither does the music by Johnny Flynn and Dan Michaelson.


A Time To Live

9pm, BBC Two

Sue Bourne’s documentary is made with care and serious intent, yet an admirable lightness of touch. Still, some might find it a very difficult watch, where others might find it very valuable. The subject is death, or rather, what we do before it. Bourne conducts intimate interviews with 12 people who have been diagnosed with terminal illness, and told they have probably only months left. The subjects range in age from their 20s to their early 70s, and candidly discuss their differing reactions to the news, from telling their loved ones, to deciding how they want to spend the time they have left. In some instances, this has meant really realising how they want to live for the first time: when she learned she had cancer, Annabel’s response was to break up with her husband, to pursue the life she really wanted. Cindi, meanwhile, says she enjoys her life now more than ever: “My death is an adventure. I’ve never done this before. It’s all new to me.”


Kat & Alfie: Redwater

8pm, BBC One

It’s been a while since I had to watch EastEnders, so the news they’ve made an Irish spin-off featuring Kat Slater (Jessie Wallace) and Alfie Moon (Shane Richie) was unexpected and highly baffling. Jessie Wallace was pretty great as Pat Phoenix in The Road To Coronation Street, but still. Surely, if you were going to make an Eastenders spin-off, the character to spin would be Lofty, the enigma all the kids still talk about, played by Tom Watt. Specifically, a six-part drama exploring the moment in 1985 when, away from the Square, he released an electro-cockney cover version of Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues, accompanied by a video featuring members of The Fall and New Order. This happened. Why is no-one making programmes about it? Anyway, in this six-part adventure, Kat and Alfie have pitched up in the Irish postcard harbour village of Redwater, where she hopes to find her long-lost son. But there are dark secrets stirring among the locals. It’s weirdly like a cheaper Broadchurch, set in Ireland, with Kat and Alfie from Eastenders.


Count Arthur Strong

8.30pm, BBC One

The Quay Sessions

10pm, BBC Two

Inexorably, the Count continues moving toward world domination. Steve Delaney and Graham Linehan’s brilliantly daft sitcom began life on BBC Two in 2013. Series two jumped to BBC One, but was banished to the night shift, going out after 10pm. Finally, though, with series three, here he is, meeting his destiny: prime time BBC One, Friday night, the perfect spot for the unashamed throwback vibe. For bewildered newcomers, Arthur (Delaney) is a former variety show performer turned staggering old duffer who hangs around a café; Rory Kinnear co-stars as Michael, a shy, slightly bitter writer, whose late father once had a double act with Arthur. Filmed before a studio audience, it’s bright, light and cleverly old-fashioned, building escalating mayhem with its own internal logic, while striking a balance between being very sweet and very stupid. Tonight, for no reason, Arthur is called upon to perform an exorcism. Ventriloquists’ dummies feature. The climax is hilarious. Viewers with good taste are further directed toward The Quay Sessions on BBC Two later, featuring Sir Edwyn Collins.

Doctor Who

7.25pm, BBC One

After a run of pretty decent stories, tonight’s episode is pretty decent…ish, before it finally collapses on itself in a big cloud of what-huh-this-doesn’t-make-any-sense. But there are some great mad bits early on, including some genuinely surreal moments featuring priests in peculiar places. Following last week’s adventure, The Doctor is still blind, and doing his best to prevent anyone from finding out, with the exception of Nardole. This becomes trickier when he is approached by a shadowy emissary from The Vatican, seeking help. Deep within the papal palace’s dark library of banned literature, there lies an ancient heretical text known as The Veritas, held under lock and key because anyone who ever managed to translate its lost language and read it wound up dead soon after. Now, however, a new translation of the book exists, and it is out in the wild, on the verge of going viral, putting millions at risk. The best news tonight is that the tremendous Michelle Gomez returns as Missy, hurrah.


Ever since the day we woke to discover that, having taken her vow of silence and disappeared to live in an isolated underground bunker with her fingers in her ears chanting “la-la-la-la-I-can’t-hear-you” all through the Brexit referendum, Theresa May had suddenly popped back up again and become the new Supreme Leader, I’ve been intrigued by her husband, Philip. Clearly, not intrigued enough to actually fire up Google and try to find out anything about him – let’s not go mad. But as soon as I saw him promenading up Downing Street toward No. 10 by her side that sunny day, I thought: here, I like the cut of this guy’s jib.

Specifically, what I value most about Philip J May is the style he rocks. The requirements for the job of being husband to the PM are many, subtle and varied. Most important of all, however, is the ability to, at all times, resemble a man who has just stepped out of any British comedy film made between 1943 and 1966. Dennis Thatcher, the great originator, had this in spades, although he always opted for the slightly-sticky-villainous-bank-manager-hoping-to-sneak-away-for-a-golfing-weekend-with-his-secretary look.

Philip J May, though, has a brisker, more dapper thing going on: almost exactly 65 per cent Richard Wattis to 35 per cent Arthur Askey. This is a brilliantly canny combination, for no matter how bad things ever get, the idea that, somewhere, the PM’s husband is riding a bike between hedgerows while smoking a pipe, or being outraged by the St Trinian’s girls, or singing The Bee Song – well, it’s just comforting.

It was with great trepidation, then, that I joined the rest of our restless nation to watch The One Show (BBC One) on Tuesday, as Matt Baker and Alex Jones put Mrs & Mr May to the grilling of their lives. The last thing we want from Philip J May is to hear what he has to say about anything, unless it’s along the lines of “Ladies, please! Don’t forget your pork pies!” And, as ever, Baker and Jones had come up with a cunning pincer-movement interrogation strategy: from one side, hitting the Prime Couple with questions that were a shockingly merciless parody of the kind of thing Tory HQ might have approved for an interview with Modern Knitting magazine in 1973; from the other, choking them with an oleaginous tide of obsequiousness.

A lesser man might have cracked and tried to hide behind his wife’s strong and stable shoes. But, to the end, Philip J May kept up the Ealing front, politely answering bland questions with even blander answers in a way that cancelled out the entire thing. At the end of 30 minutes it was eerily as if the interview had never happened at all, and, with one bound, he was free to get back to John Le Mesurier in the club, and wind up in a terrible scrape having somehow lost his trousers.