Alison Rowat's TV review: The Undeclared War; Citizen Ashe; The Great British Sewing Bee; Ukraine: Life Under Attack

Simon Pegg as Danny in The Undeclared War. PA Photo/ Channel 4/Tom Barnes
Simon Pegg as Danny in The Undeclared War. PA Photo/ Channel 4/Tom Barnes

SINCE we have a mo, let’s have a quick good news/bad news session. Good news: Boris Johnson has been ousted from office. Bad news: an even bigger eejit has replaced him.

It was a case of be careful what you wish for in the cyber attack thriller The Undeclared War (Channel 4, Thursday). Unless you wished to see a roomful of nerds pretending to touch type very fast, in which case pull up an ergonomic chair, you are at your aunty’s.

Or rather you are in GCHQ, where intern Saara (Hannah Khalique-Brown) had arrived for her first day. Quite the shift it turned out to be. The internet had come under attack, Russians probably, and 55% of the system was down, just like that. No Zoom, no Teams (hurrah!), but no online shopping either (boo!).

Department chief Danny (Simon Pegg) did a lot of striding round looking tense. Luckily, Saara worked out how to stop the attack. But what were the chances worse was on its way? New Prime Minister Andrew Makinde (Adrian Lester) wanted answers now, or rather NOW!

People staring at computer screens can be lethally boring, but writer-director Peter Kosminsky (Wolf Hall) got round that by having his characters enter a virtual world, like players in a video game. So when real Saara searched files on a screen, virtual Saara was in a room with shelves full of cardboard boxes. In the virtual world Saara also got to wear a snazzy leather tool belt that hooked round one thigh, making her look like a cross between Lara Croft and Bob the Builder.

Kosminsky kept things zipping along, spraying questions around like bullets and just about staying on the line between credible and daft. There are five episodes to go (on All 4 now if you cannot wait), and if it turns out that the world is saved by switching some massive computer on and off again I will be most disappointed.

With so much Wimbledon around, viewers might have struggled to fit in Citizen Ashe (BBC4, Tuesday). But you can never have enough Storyville documentaries, and this look at the life of Arthur Ashe proved to be just the ticket.

It wasn’t just the ace interviewees (among them John McEnroe), the superb footage, or hearing the man himself setting out his thoughts that made this a must-watch. As the film told the story of a black kid from the segregated south who entered the blindingly white world of tennis and became one of the greats of the game, this viewer for one was filled with even more admiration for Ashe. Gentleman, husband and father, scholar, sportsman, civil rights activist. In a modern game lacking in characters (the other Boris aside), Ashe was the real deal.

The documentary Ukraine: Life Under Attack (Channel 4, Monday) aired the same day the Russians fired missiles at a crowded shopping centre in Kremenchuk. Those who died had done nothing more than want normality for a few hours, a break from basement-living. The citizens of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, know all about that, having endured a 10-week bombardment earlier this year.

Mani Benchelah and Patrick Tombola’s film, narrated by Cate Blanchett, picked up at the point where most news crews had moved on. Above ground, cameras followed firefighters and paramedics trying to go about their business. Underground, life carried on as best it could. What was remarkable in the circumstances was the civility and the way people, children especially, adapted. Yet for all the best efforts of parents and well-wishers sending gifts from abroad there was no mistaking, or forgetting, the trauma on those young faces.

After nine weeks of cutting and stitching and primping and faffing, The Great British Sewing Bee (BBC1, Wednesday) reached its finale. Even for a show renowned for its niceness, the camaraderie this year has been off the charts. There were four sewers, or “Bees”, in the final rather than three because judges Esme and Patrick could not bear to drop one.

At last there was a winner: Annie, the junior buyer from Surrey whose granny taught her to sew as a child.

It was the made to measure jumpsuit, complete with a whacking great bow on the backside, that clinched first place for Annie.

The other big winner from this series has been Esme, scattering more snippets about her past like so many sequins.

This year the finalists reproduced the “amorphous dress”, as designed by Esme as part of the Swanky Modes collective. One of the original batch is in the V&A.

Cher bought an amorphous dress, which tells you all you need to know about its body-covering properties.

It was nothing that a nice cardie on top would not have fixed, but chances are Cher did not go for that option. She’ll never learn.