Born To Kill
9pm, Channel 4
THE first time we see Sam (Jack Rowan), the troubling protagonist of Born To Kill, he is alone in his room, talking to himself. Standing shirtless before a mirror, practising his end of an imagined conversation, there is the inevitable echo of the Travis Bickle who asked his narcissistic, paranoid reflection: “You talkin’ to me?” Robert De Niro has owned mirror-cracked scenes like this since 1976, and isn’t letting go anytime soon.
Sam’s speech, though, is of a slightly different nature. Travis, a lonely, speed-fuelled Vietnam veteran with a gun, was rehearsing for his starring role in the movie unspooling in his mind, a violent fantasy he would soon force into reality.
Sam is just a 16-year-old British schoolboy, and seems merely to be practising for some polite everyday chats. In one, he will drop in a charming statistic he has heard, about how many times babies smile per day. In another, he will sadly explain how his father died, a brave soldier killed in Afghanistan while attempting to save a woman and her child, when he stood on a landmine … Or was he shot? The details change sometimes.
But in the way he studies himself, studies the way others will see him, there is something about Sam that is just as unsettling as the Taxi Driver, even if he is only a schoolboy. Or precisely because of that. Chrissy (Lara Peake), a cynic with her own problems who he encounters as the new girl at his school, puts her finger on it: for all the different smiles he’s practised, none of them reach his eyes. All the same, they hook up, two outsiders, each bad for the other.
Sam lives alone with his mother, Jenny (Romola Garai), a tired nurse on a busy geriatric ward.
To her, he’s the model son: smart, cheery and helpful, involved with the school diving team, and willing to spare time to visit the lonely old people on her ward, reading to them, listening to their stories. She doesn’t know that, some nights, he follows her, and spies on her with binoculars, like a stalker. Or that he secretly collects souvenirs from her patients when they die.
She hasn’t detected the blankness others have noticed, including a colleague who finds Sam just slightly … off. One blank spot might be the hole where a father could be. Sam knows his dad wasn’t killed in Afghanistan. Jenny has told him he died in a car crash. Thing is, she told a lie. Sam’s father is very much alive, and about to be released from prison, where he’s been serving time for a very violent crime.
Co-written by Kate Ashfield, until now better known as an actress, and Tracey Malone, who set the creepy crawling in the recent Rillington Place, the four-part Born To Kill is uneasy watching from the first, and only gets more disturbing.
The bleakness can feel piled on a little too high, it’s schematic in parts, and there are some convenient coincidences, like the way Jenny meets Chrissy’s single father, Bill, played by Daniel Mays (great physical casting; he and Lara Peake really could be parent and child).
But the story touches sadly timely subjects – issues of loneliness, disconnection and mental health in young adults; a slow crisis in parenting; the fraying state of care for the elderly – and, as it follows the development, or blossoming, of Sam’s problem, and his own psychotic fantasies emerge into reality, it oozes forward in compelling style. You might not want to see this stuff, but you can’t help watching.
Line Of Duty
9pm, BBC One
LOD regulars might dimly recall last week’s episode ended at quite a critical moment…But let’s step back from that precipice, to sing the praises of Adrian Dunbar’s endlessly entertaining performance as the AC-12 gang’s fearless leader, “Super” Ted Hastings. With his “see heres” and “fellas” and “darlin’s”, Big Ted is a simmering rhapsody in throwback Northern Irish attitude; close your eyes, it’s almost as if Corrie’s Jim McDonald had joined the force, so it is. Tonight, this all factors into arguably the best line of dialogue this programme ever delivered, as a smarmy lawyer suggests to him, “C’mon: let’s dial down the Ian Paisley.” It comes during the first of two excellent interview scenes, one featuring nervous
Nick Huntley (Lee Ingleby), the other his wife,
Roz (Thandie Newton), who is maintaining her icy front, despite the fact she’s running a fever from her infected wrist. By now, her plots within plots have woven a ridiculously tangled web, as Jed Mercurio continues to write like a man with his hair on fire.
Hunting The KGB Killers
9pm, Channel 4
The appeal might be slightly unwholesome – we’re talking about real murder, after all, with real lives affected – but for anyone with any interest in the bleak, secret game of spying still going on just beneath the diplomatic surface today, this is a fascinating film. The killers of the title are the assassins who silently executed former KGB man Alexander Litvinenko in the streets of London in November 2006, slipping the deadly radioactive poison polonium 210 into a cup of tea – “a million times the lethal dose”, according to one of the detectives on the case here. The documentary explores the work of that Scotland Yard team, whose job began with following the toxic traces the killers left through the heart of London. It was the start of an international manhunt that would lead them all the way to Moscow where, the investigators claim, they were eventually poisoned themselves. The film recounts the political obstacle course they faced in investigating the killing, and there are contribution’s from Litvinenko’s widow, Marina.
Billy Connolly & Me: A Celebration
Marking his 50th year in the business of being funny, this sweet (if sweary) documentary is an hour-long love letter to Mr C – a TV equivalent to one of those big cards that get passed around at work for a colleague’s birthday, where everybody scribbles a message inside. At the heart of it lies a new interview, interspersed with archive clips of stand-up performances going back to the banana-boots-and-banjo days, classic interviews, and some new clips of recent live turns. Studded around this come little video-diary style testimonies from fans, talking about how much his work has meant to them, or recalling encounters with The Big Yin in the wild. (Connolly himself describes a time walking down Buchanan Street with his little daughter: “Daddy, do you know...everybody?”) Among these fans come more than a few familiar faces, from Elton John and Judi Dench, to Peter Kay, David Tennant, Eric Idle and Connolly’s wife, Pamela Stephenson, discussing life with Billy.
Corman’s World: Exploits Of A Hollywood Rebel
The subject of this enormously entertaining documentary is Roger Corman, of course, the legendary no-budget movie genius behind cults including Little Shop Of Horrors and biker flicks like The Wild Angels. If Corman had done nothing but direct films such as the startling X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes or his famous 1960s Edgar Allen Poe adaptations he’d be remembered. Meanwhile, as hustling producer of some 400 exploitation movies since 1955, he remains the most successful independent filmmaker Hollywood has ever known. As Stapleton stresses, though, Corman’s greatest legacy might be the incredible roster of talent he nurtured, giving breaks to names including the Easy Rider team Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda, Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Jonathan Demme, Peter Bogdanovich, James Cameron and more. Many pay tribute to the great man here – most touchingly, Jack Nicholson, chuckling, then choking up, as he confesses he owes it all to Rog.
The Story Of Funk: One Nation Under A Groove
9pm, BBC Four
A repeat for this short but thick and fine documentary on funk’s development
in restless 1970s America, which
begins by pinpointing the form’s big bang as the day in 1967 that James Brown went off the soul train rails
with “Cold Sweat”. Sections on
Brown, Sly And The Family Stone and the great
George Clinton (who features among the interviewees) leave you wishing for full fried nights devoted to
each. But with contributions from members of those bands, Earth Wind And Fire, Kool And The Gang, War and many more, it does a fine job of covering the rise and fall of the music in a brisk, eye-popping, ear-worming, super squelchy 60 minutes. The
archive performance footage is particularly amazing. The stuff gathered from the BBC archives for the Genius Of Funk compilation that follows at 10pm isn’t too shabby either, featuring most of the faces mentioned above, plus Average White Band, Herbie Hancock and others.
7.20pm, BBC One
See, this is frustrating. Tonight’s adventure boasts the best locations Dr Who has had in ages. Partly filmed in Spain, at Valencia’s Prince Felipe Science Museum, it takes
place against a vast, weird, and weirdly deserted backdrop, a building the size of a small city, gleaming, white and looking
as piercingly futuristic as a 1960s sci-fi dream. It’s exactly the kind of place a Doctor Who story could unfold, but this one never fully takes off. For her first real trip in the Tardis, Bill asks to be shown the future, and is whisked off centuries from now, to a human settlement built on a planet far, far away. The only
signs of life at first, though, are the little robots running the place, begging the question of where the colonists might be. Turns out, they’re in the garden…Written
by Frank Cottrell-Boyce, it’s charming and clever enough, but might have played better in four 25-minute old-fashioned episodes with cliffhangers, rather than one 45-minute chunk. Capaldi and Pearl Mackie have
a real click, though.
Last week's highlights
It’s no news that, to grab our ever-diminishing attention, TV networks are edging into a full-fledged war to out-sexy each other. Over the past few weeks, my inbox has been filled with emails bearing the subject “hot girls wanted turned on”, which I’ve only belatedly realised aren’t just more spam waiting to be dumped into the trash folder I like to call my aching Viagra box. In fact, it’s information on a new Netflix documentary series landing this Friday, which promises “personal stories about people whose lives are affected by the explosion of the Internet where social media, pornography and virtual relationships are all just a click away…”
It all sounds edgy and important and totally on Vicetastic trend. But I’m in no rush to watch any more hot topical taboo. Because I’m in mourning for the loss of a true love. A programme that swam against the sexy tide.
A programme that came on as demure as
Audrey Hepburn in a wimple, yet was just as alluring. A programme that smelled not of Dothraki massage oil and stained rubber, but of sawdust, varnish, elbow grease and glue,
and maybe a nice cup of tea. You might know what I’m talking about. I’m talking about Repair Shop (BBC Two).
Buried away at 6.30pm every weeknight, for the past fortnight this series afforded the opportunity to mainline the Zen pleasure of simply watching nice people in a shed fixing things. Like an injured Antiques Roadshow, citizens brought in cracked, broken, rusted and otherwise damaged old objects – rocking chairs, teddy bears, vases and bowls, paintings and cuckoo clocks and mechanical toys – and, with a firm handshake, The Repair Shop’s assembled experts pledged to restore them.
Of course, The Repair Shop was also part
of a trend, the same cosy security blanket wave that has brought us all the Bake Offs and
Pottery Throwdowns, a throwback desire in reaction to economic crisis, political fragmentation and the accelerating change of the internet age – a way to keep in touch with an imagined better past, when things were made with care and built to last.
As such, it tended to emphasise the emotion we invest in objects. It’s an interesting line, although, if there was anything wrong with the programme – something that smacked too much of calculation – it’s that it went overboard on the teary family stories attached to the shabby relics on display.
Yet it was worth all that just for the long, satisfying stretches that concentrated on the restorers at work, carefully scraping, filling
and sanding down, then painting, varnishing and buffing up, bringing things back to life.
Is it wrong of me to be more interested in watching someone painstakingly trying to
hide the cracks on an ugly old ceramic bulldog than in hearing about someone’s shiny new internet porn addiction? Maybe. But now The Repair Shop has finished, part of my heart lies broken, and it won’t be fixed until those shed doors open again.
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