Stuck for what to watch on the box this weekend? Here’s a handy guide to the best of the unmissable TV coming up, including a surprisingly fascinating take on country music, a grim exploration of medical torture at Guantanamo Bay and the new tense BBC drama that everyone will be talking about on Monday morning.
Land Of Hope And Glory – British Country Life
Friday 4th March at 9pm on BBC Two (CH 102)
Country Life magazine may have been in print for almost 120 years, but who actually reads it? We’re about to find out, in this eye-opening new three-part series taking us across our green and pleasant land.
The filmmaker who gave us Inside Claridge’s tackles another beloved British institution in this new programme, and this time the subject is Country Life – both the magazine and the thing itself: country living. A world so foreign to most of us that entering it would be as jolting as a ride back through time. This is a realm where young women still compete to come out to society through its pages, ideally by gracing its cover like the blooming English roses they are.
It’s also a realm where families open the doors of their country piles to daytrippers, and where having a suitable abode may get you into the Architecture pages of Country Life. So will this be a knowingly twee bit of comfort telly for city folk to dabble in? Perhaps, although we imagine there’ll be some harder truths about rural Britain in here too, especially when the focus turns to a dairy farm hit by disease. A far cry from Darling Buds then.
What’s the verdict?
Taking us from sprawling grand mansions to struggling farms, this promises to be a warts-and-all look at the reality of life away from the machine-like regularity of the cities. Drape your living room in bunting and have a taste of the country life.
The Heart Of Country
Friday 4th March at 10pm on BBC Four (CH 107)
Dolly Parton, Willy Nelson, Steve Earle… there was a who's who of country stars dishing the dirt, spreading the gossip, and singing the praises of Nashville in this epic documentary.
Remember when country music was a by-word for bad taste? Then, out of the blue, Johnny Cash became the coolest man on Earth, and the whole Deep South retro thing started to take hold everywhere – these days you can't go two minutes in London without bumping into a barbecue joint run by guys who all look like the Dukes of Hazzard. Indeed, nowadays you're uncool if you DON'T like country, so it's likely this feature-length documentary will do rather well. And so it should, because it is brilliant.
As well as first-hand insights from veterans of Nashville like Dolly Parton, it provides a feast of footage from across the generations. Musos will be in sheer bliss at the sight of Bob Dylan dueting with Johnny Cash, not to mention vintage glimpses of Elvis and Willie Nelson in their heyday. Speaking of the latter, it is mighty amusing seeing this famously gnarled, wizened and witchy legend marketed as some kind of smooth heartthrob type. An idea as odd as a burger being marketed as sirloin steak.
What's the verdict?
Featuring so many stars, a viewer will feel like they are Wile E Coyote after being hit with brick, this was a rich and riveting exploration of a city, its history and the legends who changed pop culture over the decades. Music to our ears, in other words
Half Ton World
Saturday 5th March at 9pm on National Geographic (CH 266)
Manuel Uribe, once one of the heaviest people on Earth, educates fellow gorgers on the hazards of fast food in this sprawling look at a world that's getting bigger – literally.
The obesity crisis. The very words have become overused to the point of coma-inducing cliché. They've been robbed of their power to move or impress us: hearing some politician or lab-coated expert going on about rising obesity levels, and the hazards of associated diseases, is enough to make anyone yawn into their plate of cake. But when a now-dead man warns us about the serious dangers of overeating, then it's time to perk up and take notice.
We speak of Manuel Uribe, now sadly deceased after a long and painful struggle with his weight. Once Mexico's largest man, he devoted the latter years of his life to educating people about the condition, and footage from his public appearances made the most moving part of this documentary. We also hang out with Attila Sarfi, an American trucker who speaks of food as being his drug – just one meal of his would average 2,500 calories. The programme also whisks us over to India, which has the highest concentration of diabetics in the world, and where a teenager was having surgery to remove much of his stomach.
What's the verdict?
This manages to do the impossible, and make the obesity crisis seem like an actually shocking and dangerous and super-sized issue all over again. It's enough to put anyone off their dinner.
Doctors of the Dark Side
Saturday 5th March at 10pm on PBS America (CH 276)
The title’s no exaggeration – this unflinching documentary looks at the medics who put their skills in the service of torture at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, in what’s been called the biggest scandal of medical ethics in modern history.
When it comes to the ongoing political fallout from the so-called War on Terror, the issue of detainee interrogations and torture continue to be the most toxic aspect of all. Blame for the goings-on at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib has been flung at two main groups: the politicians who approved the harsh measures, and the CIA. But, as this big and important documentary reveals, there’s another group of professionals who have to be held accountable. A group all the more culpable because, in enabling torture, they directly contravened their most deeply-held professional standards.
We’re talking doctors and psychologists. The part they’ve played has been understated in the media. In fact, this documentary is bound to come as a bit of a shock, even to the harshest cynics about Western policies in the War on Terror. The film chronicles the story of four detainees and the medics who not only directly helped in the “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques”, but also tried to cover up the torture afterwards. Brace yourself for some very uneasy truths.
What’s the verdict?
Just when we thought we knew all the ugly details about places like Guantanamo, along comes a film like this to reveal the true extent of professional complicity in practices we rightly regard as monstrous. Essential if uncomfortable viewing.
Sunday 6th March at 10pm on BBC Two (102)
Doctor Foster star Jodie Comer returns with a new drama that promises to be even more emotionally wrenching, playing a woman who has escaped from captivity after 13 years. Or has she?
Cases like that of Josef Fritzl – of people being held in makeshift prisons for years on end – have been scarily common over the past decades. This perverse phenomenon has inspired dark and acclaimed works of art, including the recent book and film, Room. Well, now the Beeb is tackling the theme with its own drama, Thirteen, which promises to put plenty of twists on proceedings. It begins with a woman returning to the real world after apparently having been kept in a cellar for 13 years.
Her reappearance causes a press sensation, and the police are tasked with confirming her identity while her family are just happy to have her home. But is all as it seems? Her sister isn’t so sure, and starts to think she may actually be an imposter. Things get even more sinister when the coppers go to the cellar in question and discover things that go against her story. In other words, it’s a bit like Room meets Gone Girl, and every bit as twist-turny as that implies.
What’s the verdict?
Something tells us this drama will become the talk of the country, what with its emotive, sensitive subject matter and Hitchcockian revelations. Will you be able to stay one step ahead of the characters embroiled in this twisted web of deceit?
Recommended for you