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What to drink while watching American Crime Story

If you’re bracing for a bleak winter by lining up a box-set binge, then at least there’s a glut of options on the gogglebox right now. And as you settle on the sofa, the moment will be capped if you find the most appropriate drink to sip as you get square eyes. Here then, are some perfect pairs. Succession, with Old Fashioned Sky Atlantic/HBO’s Succession revels in a luxurious backdrop of deal-making private helicopter drops and tête-à-tête tension on over-sized yachts, along with impossibly expensive tailoring, timepieces and indeed discerning drinks. From Connor Roy’s hyper decanted wine poured from a blender to Roman’s dirty martinis, or Greg and Tom’s bottle

Grimy, echt and gripping: Netflix’s The Forgotten Battle reviewed

The Forgotten Battle is a Dutch feature film commemorating the desperate and relatively little-known Allied assault on the Scheldt estuary in October and November 1944. When I went to the battlefield decades later with veterans of 47 RM Commando, they told me it was worse than D-Day because the Germans knew they were coming and had prepared stronger defences. Nearly 13,000 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded (about the same as the German casualties), half of them Canadians. It has been a long time since I watched a half-decent second world war movie, mostly because they hardly bother making them any more. In the past decade, I can think only

Exquisite to look at, strangely tense and wholly riveting: Netflix’s Passing reviewed

Passing is Rebecca Hall’s adaptation of the Nella Larsen novella (1929) about two biracial women, one of whom chooses to pass for white, and one who does not, and the effect they have on each other, and it’s superbly done. It’s tightly made, exquisite to look at, strangely tense, wholly riveting and it’s also, let’s be honest, just the right length for a film (90 minutes). Hall — who wrote the screenplay and directs, and is otherwise an actress — is the daughter of theatre director Peter Hall and opera singer Maria Ewing and you could say she has skin in the game. When she was growing up, she has

A highly polished exercise in treading water: Season 3 of Succession reviewed

At one point in an early Simpsons, Homer comes across an old issue of TV Guide, and finds the listing for the sitcom Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. ‘Gomer upsets Sergeant Carter,’ he reads — adding with a fond chuckle, ‘I’ll never forget that episode.’ Even for British viewers unfamiliar with the show, the joke is clear: that’s what happens in every episode. Sad to say, this popped into my head while watching the first in the new series of Succession. The acting, script and direction are as brilliant as ever. Nonetheless, once Logan Roy began yet again to dangle the possibility of becoming the next CEO of his media empire before

‘You should see some of the other scripts that come through’: Robert Carlyle interviewed

‘I always feel slightly sick when I hear actors talking politics,’ says Robert Carlyle — that polished Glaswegian burr sounding no less arresting over a slightly patchy Zoom connection. ‘I mean we’re all entitled to an opinion,’ he continues, sounding for a second as though he might be about to opt for a more diplomatic track. ‘I just find that too many actors find it difficult to get theirs across without sounding like a twat.’ It’s a fair point, you might think. But for Carlyle, it’s also been a good professional move. Reflecting on his career, he credits this aversion to mouthing off with inspiring his long-term commitment to keeping

Lurking beneath the gore are moments of wit and sensitivity: Squid Game reviewed

Should we be worried that Squid Game is the most popular show in Netflix’s history? If it’s a case of art imitating life, then the prognosis for our civilisation is not good: most of us will die, horribly, sooner rather than later, but for the very few who survive there will be untold riches to enjoy in the company of the cruel and capricious controlling super-elite. Squid Game is a Korean update of the Japanese cult classic Battle Royale (2000) which spawned — or revived; let’s not forget Rollerball (1975) — the genre known as ‘death games’. These films take place in a dystopian future where ordinary, desperate folk compete

Granada’s Brideshead Revisited remains the sine qua non of mini-series

It is 40 years ago today since Granada’s masterly adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited first beamed into British homes. This 11-part serialisation of a book originally entitled A Household of the Faith soon gathered millions of faithful householders. The autumn of 1981 was an especially cold and wet one and it was still too soon in the Thatcher premiership for her patron saint, Francis of Assisi, to have worked his magic. So while ITV was not able to deliver harmony, truth, faith or hope, it certainly provided 659 minutes of romantic escapism. It began very soberly with the credits — a simple black screen announcing the first episode’s actors in stark white script — propelled only by Geoffrey Burgon’s majestic score. The opening scene —

Blair & Brown: The New Labour Revolution should be called ‘The Tragedy of Gordon Brown’

Murder Island features eight real-life ‘ordinary people’ seeking to solve a fictional killing on a fictional Scottish island. What follows is so confused and confusing that you can only imagine it was pitched to Channel 4 as ‘Broadchurch meets The Apprentice’ and nodded through as a result, without anybody asking such pesky questions as ‘So how might that work, then?’ Or if they did, that they were silenced by the news that Ian Rankin was signed on as the writer — whatever that might mean, seeing as most of the programme is necessarily unscripted and the investigation itself impossible to plot in advance. Tuesday’s opening episode began with the ordinary

In defence of Marvel

The teaser for Spider-Man: No Way Home, out this Christmas, which had a record number of 355 million views in the first 24 hours of online availability, delivers three minutes of thrills. Tom Holland is back, in the titular role, with his girlfriend from the previous Spidey movie, his best friend Ned, references to Mysterion, jokes from Benedict Cumberbatch as master wizard Dr Strange, plus engagement with that most playful of Marvel concepts, the multiverse. Bring in the multiverse, and anything, everything, is possible. Are you old enough to recall that moment in Dallas when the shooting of JR was revealed to be a dream? Well, the multiverse does all

Somewhere between eye-opening and jaw-dropping: Sky’s Hawking – Can You Hear Me? reviewed

It is, of course, not unknown for a man to become famous with the support of his family — and, once he has, to prefer global adulation to being with them, before leaving his wife for a younger woman. What’s rather less common is when the man in question is almost completely paralysed. This was the story told by Hawking: Can You Hear Me? and, in advance, it might have sounded an over-familiar one. After all, not only was Stephen Hawking one of the few physicists to become a tabloid staple, but he was also played to Oscar-winning effect by Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything. As it transpired,

Amateurish and implausible: BBC1’s Vigil reviewed

Tense, claustrophobic, gripping, thrilling, realistic: just some of the adjectives no one is using to describe BBC1’s Sunday night submarine drama Vigil. Were one of Britain’s four Vanguard nuclear subs to launch retaliatory strikes on Broadcasting House and the show’s producer World Productions, I think it would be entirely reasonable and proportionate. It’s so amateurish and implausible it makes even the dreadful Sky One remake of Das Boot look classy by comparison. Which is a shame because its screenwriter, Tom Edge, has done some good stuff in the past. Besides writing for The Crown and on the likeable J.K. Rowling detective series Strike, Edge created and wrote three series of

Tanya Gold

Why The Sopranos remains the greatest gangster drama of all time

The Sopranos is called the greatest television show in history. It is the tale of Anthony ‘Tony’ Soprano, a middle-aged man in psychotherapy who also happens to run a New Jersey crime family. Anthony means ‘priceless’; the choice of name is surely deliberate. The Sopranos is complex — all masterpieces are — but it is fundamentally about greed: for money; for sex (the crew inhabit the Bada Bing! lap-dancing club, where breasts are landscape); for alcohol; for power; for the base drug of food. In the first episode Tony, who is played by James Gandolfini as a human devil, all need and charm (he is defiantly sexy with his fat

Is the life of Jimmy Savile a suitable subject for drama?

One day in 1975 the Israeli cabinet found themselves being lectured on the most intractable political problem of our age — how to bring peace to the Middle East — by a peculiar white-haired British entertainer wearing a pink suit with short sleeves. His name? Jimmy Savile. That’s how he told it anyway. Remarkably, witnesses back up the generality if not the specifics of the anecdote. Savile indeed visited the Holy Land in 1975. And he did talk to the Israeli president Ephraim Katzir, saying (so he claimed): ‘I’m very disappointed because you’ve all forgotten how to be Jewish and that’s why everyone is taking you to the cleaners.’ Jimmy

Bleak, unashamedly macho and grown-up: BBC2’s The North Water reviewed

‘The world is hell, and men are both the tormented souls and the devils within it.’ This was the cheery epigraph from Schopenhauer with which The North Water introduced itself — aptly, as it transpired. Certainly, BBC2’s starry new Victorian drama is not for those who prefer their television characters to be loveable. The first person we met was Irishman Henry Drax (Colin Farrell), who gruntingly concluded his business with a Hull prostitute before heading for the docks in a way familiar to viewers of Victorian TV dramas: shamble up the cobbles, straight on past the women in shawls, turn left at the urchins. Following a restorative dose of rum,

Up there with Succession and Chernobyl: The White Lotus, Sky Atlantic, reviewed

Every now and then, you see a new series — Succession, say, or Chernobyl or To the Lake — which reminds you why you watch TV. The latest such joy is The White Lotus (Sky Atlantic), a darkly comic satirical drama created, written and directed by Mike White. White seems to be a curious and engaging character with lots of hinterland. His father used to be a speechwriter for ‘religious right’ preachers Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson (and later came out as gay). He wrote the charming comedy School of Rock because, though not himself a rock fan, his friend Jack Black wanted an excuse to perform all his favourite

The BBC’s strange obsession with remakes

BBC Director General Tim Davie, in his proclaimed push to create ‘landmark’ TV shows appears to be steering the Corporation in an increasingly conservative (small ‘c’) direction, intent on trading off past glories. Former soft drink marketer Davie’s lack of programming and editorial experience is often painfully apparent; he is increasingly given to sweeping crowd-pleasing statements, such as the remarks he made to the public about BBC’s staff’s attendance of Pride marches, telling staff to stop virtue-signalling on social media. Despite having spent 16 years in various senior roles at the Corporation, Davie doesn’t appear to have the antennae to pick up on the mood of his workforce. He may well believe upsetting the

Apocalypse, Seventies-style: BritBox’s Survivors reviewed

When the apocalypse comes, I want it to be scripted by a 1970s screenwriter. That’s my conclusion after watching the first few episodes of Terry Nation’s landmark 1975 ‘cosy catastrophe’ series Survivors on BritBox. Everything was so much more innocent and charming back then, including the end of the world. Survivors establishes its MacGuffin in the opening credits: a montage which begins with a masked, enigmatic oriental man in a laboratory where he accidentally smashes a vial; we then see clips of him in a suit travelling through various airports, with passport stamps (New York, London, etc) taunting us from the past with just how easy it was back then

A total mess: BBC2’s The Watch reviewed

Last Sunday on Channel 4, a man called Eric Nicoli proudly remembered ‘the bravest thing I’ve ever done’. In November 1975, Rowntree was poised to launch the Trek chocolate bar. The packaging was ready, along with an advertising campaign featuring, for some reason, potholers. But as the company’s new product manager, Eric couldn’t rid himself of the niggling feeling that Trek was boring. So — and this is the brave bit — he went to the boss and said that Rowntree should think again. ‘You better be bloody right, young man,’ the boss replied. And with that, Eric returned to the drawing board where he came up with the name

Switch over to Eurosport: BBC’s Olympic coverage reviewed

I’ve not been allowed anywhere near the TV remote control this week because of some kind of infernal sporting event taking place in Japan. You may gather that I have mixed feelings about the Olympics: on the one hand, I like most of the competitors, who are so much more affable and modest (those delightful Gadirova twins!) than the overpaid, overindulged prima donnas who recently took part in the Euros. Also, it’s impossible not to get sucked into the drama of individual stories such as that of Beth Schriever, the humble, underfunded former teaching assistant who took gold in the women’s BMX. But on the other, it’s bread and circuses

When family viewing was full of creeping menace

Strange, really, that the scheduled output of traditional broadcasters became known as ‘terrestrial’ television, given that TV is an etheric medium and nowadays exclusively a digital one. Or perhaps it’s not so strange at all. Television is ‘bonded to the earth’, writes Rob Young, whose roving survey of small and silver screen creativity between the 1950s and 1980s seeks to connect those airborne signals to the soil beneath our shoes. Young’s first book, the excellent Electric Eden, rummaged around the untrimmed hedgerows of the British psyche via the medium of folk-related music. The Magic Box has a similar aim. The intention is to ‘gorge on a huge cross-genre feast of