Thinking of getting outdoorsy for February? Think again says Julia Raeside; there’s way too much good stuff on the telly.
If January is traditionally the month for abstinence and self-control then no one told the TV channels because the schedules are bursting at the seams with Wolf Halls and Cucumbers, not to mention exciting new Sky Atlantic mystery Fortitude, which started last night. To make up for all of this sofa time, we should, by rights, spend February running up and down hills and plunging into icy baths as penance. Sadly, there is still far too much brilliance on the telly. At this rate you’ll be able to leave the front room by around May, so order your grocery shopping with this in mind.
Photo credit: BBC/RSJ Films
Firstly this month, you should make an appointment to view Banished (BBC Two), the new drama from Jimmy McGovern which stars Russell Tovey and Myanna Buring as two of the thousands of British convicts transported to the first Australian penal colony in the 18th century. It’s sweltering, conditions are basic and every day is an obstacle course to survival. McGovern’s carefully drawn characters drive the story along with huge energy and the ensemble cast really convey the struggle of life in a hostile place. Seven hours of incredible television.
Photo credit: BBC/Bronte Film and Television Ltd
You’ll somehow also have to schedule in time to watch The Casual Vacancy (BBC One), an adaptation of JK Rowling’s first post-Potter novel about the civic goings on in an English town. Beneath the surface of polite middle-class small-talk lurks the real human impulses that cause all the trouble. The impressive cast includes Michael Gambon (also acting up a storm in the aforementioned Fortitude), Julie Mackenzie, Keeley Hawes, Monica Dolan and Rufus Jones.
Photo credit: Channel 4
And if that isn’t enough heavyweight drama to pile onto your plate, why not leave room for Indian Summers (Channel 4), a stunning, huge-scale period drama set in a humid and rather beautiful-looking India (here played by Malaysia), which sees national treasure Julie Walters lead the cast in a very slow-burn and elegant tale of the final days of the British Raj. The political manoeuvring, the affairs, the runaways with secrets: this has it all. And who can blame them for scheduling something that looks so unbelievably sultry in the coldest part of the British winter? Canny all round, I’d say. It’s a ten-parter too so you can see now that this month is going to require serious planning if you don’t want to fall behind on your viewing.
Photo credit: BBC
If all that sounds too hot for you, lower the temperature with The Game (BBC Two) a superbly chilly new Cold War thriller set in 1972 and starring Victoria Hamilton and Tom Hughes, not to mention British character acting stalwarts Brian Cox and Paul Ritter. The production design is the most 70s thing I’ve ever seen, completely capturing that beige and concrete colour palette and the looming sense of dread at the mere mention of Russia. In this twisted tale, the KGB and MI5 are locked in a battle of wills over Operation Glass, but what is it and who is running it? No one is who they appear to be and most of them have to do awful things in order to survive. But don’t hate the players, love The Game. Yes, I typed it and you read it.
Photo credit: Channel 5
And finally for those of you needing a palette cleanser after all of that rich drama, Channel 5 presents 10,000BC, an ambitious social experiment in which they drop a group of 20 people in the middle of the wilderness and challenge them to survive two months out there as though they were Stone Age man and woman. So, definitely no iPhones. As you’d imagine, the kind of person who applies for this kind of show thinks they know best when it comes to survival skills. It takes some genuinely shocking and surprising turns on the way and will make you glad you stayed at home. I’m basically turning you into a bunch of immobile, square-eyed shut-ins. Welcome to my world.
Julia loves TV and writes about it for the Guardian and other people. She also enjoys talking on the radio which she mostly does for the BBC.