The week in TV: The Beatles: Get Back; The Princes and the Press; Escape from the Taliban; The Wheel of Time
Peter Jackson’s new Beatles doc is a visual treat with longueurs; Amol Rajan shames the tabloids for their treatment of William and Harry; and
Jeff Bezos gets his Game of Thrones
The Beatles: Get Back (Disney+)
The Princes and the Press (BBC Two) | iPlayer
Dispatches: Escape from the Taliban (Channel 4) | All 4
The Wheel of Time (Amazon Prime)
The Beatles: Get Back, the three-part documentary series from Disney+ directed by Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings), is upon us. At almost eight hours it’s a completist superfan marathon: a remake-slash-companion piece (and rebuke?) to Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s 1970 documentary Let It Be. Jackson’s view – that the “downer”, pre-Beatles-split vibe of Lindsay-Hogg’s film was overplayed – was sanctioned by surviving Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, while widows Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison co-produce. Get Back involved the repurposing of 60 hours of footage, and more than 150 hours of audio, from rehearsal sessions, including at Twickenham film studios, for the Let It Be album and other projects.
What emerges is a bravura deep dive into music culture history. The visuals are extraordinary: Jackson uses the same restorative technology as in his 2018 first world war documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, though here, with Let It Be already in (rather muddy) colour, he sharpens it all up, including the existing hues. Thus McCartney, Starr, John Lennon and George Harrison are regenerated in their yucky-beard-phase pomp, while others, some sadly deceased (Linda McCartney, Maureen Starkey, producer George Martin, keyboardist Billy Preston et al), sweep into view like extras with, well, extra.
I wonder, not for the first time, whether Yoko Ono’s trolling of the Beatles was her greatest ever performance art piece
It’s a distinct upgrade on Let It Be, which is currently unavailable to buy, but in my recollection is so murky it might have been filmed through Harrison’s pantaloons from his Hare Krishna period. As well as the bond between them, Get Back captures the Fab Four’s high-level musicianship: all that intensity, jamming and song-building joy is included here with renditions of Let It Be, Don’t Let Me Down, Johnny B Goode, Get Back, Blue Suede Shoes, smatterings of Something and Gimme Some Truth and many more.
While it’s supposed to be about “positivity”, the series also delivers on band politics and aggro. McCartney snipes at Harrison. Harrison walks out. Lennon mimics McCartney. Ringo slumps on his drum stool. Everyone bar Lennon despairs of Yoko’s omnipresence in the studio. It’s actually a hoot how she permanently installs herself next to Lennon like a sleek, grinning cat, occasionally caterwauling into a mic like she’s been electrocuted. I wonder, not for the first time, whether her trolling of the Beatles was her greatest ever performance art piece.
If anything, Get Back includes more Beatles beef, but at this length it’s diluted, whereas in Let It Be it dominates. In fact, that length is Get Back’s self-indulgent flaw. As just one example, while the fabled 1969 rooftop performance at Apple HQ in Savile Row looks and sounds amazing, the extra footage comprises primarily filler of the crowd and the police. In this respect, Jackson’s documentary is too much of a reverential fan piece – Lindsay-Hogg at least reached for a point of view. Get Back works best as an evocative time capsule. Yeah, yeah and, indeed, yeah.
In the first of his intriguing two-part BBC Two documentary The Princes and the Press, BBC media editor Amol Rajan ponders the relationship between the royal family and the British media. A link that might be described as symbiotic so long as “symbiotic” can mean one party savagely biting into the other’s neck as if in a nature documentary while simultaneously harassing their entire social circle and hacking into their phone.
British journalism has little to be proud of in this opener, with tales abounding of illegal practices in the pursuit of headlines. With his assorted royal correspondents, Rajan focuses on the Cambridges, William and Catherine, and the Sussexes, Harry and Meghan, observing how both brothers were deeply affected by the death of their mother, Diana. Now Prince William is trying to work with the media, while Prince Harry, as we know, escaped to the US to rid himself of unlovely hacks, unless of course they’re called Oprah and have a well-appointed garden.
A former newspaper journalist himself, Rajan is alert to how even the praise directed at Markle could be subtly denigrating, giving a “xenophobic whiff to her portrayal”. The royals and their households aren’t let off the hook either: “A nest of vipers”, purrs one interviewee with relish.
The harrowing Channel 4 documentary Escape from the Taliban, directed and produced by Sue Turton, opens with footage of explosions in the night sky of Kabul, which are sometimes fireworks, other times gunfire, celebrating the Taliban recently taking back Kabul, and the US and British forces evacuating.
From there we followed the desperate attempts of female rights activist Zoya Faizi to get her family out of Kabul. Elsewhere, we saw Taliban fighters whose definition of observance seems to include checking messages on social media. Other Taliban members wandered around abandoned US military sites, some playfully sitting on helicopter blades. Footage was also shown of senior Taliban figures acknowledging for the first time that they were behind local suicide bomb attacks. This is a short documentary but it packs a powerful humanist punch. Faizi’s small daughter looks up from colouring on the floor to say simply: “When the Taliban comes, we can’t go to nursery.”
Let’s deal only briefly with the eight-part Amazon Prime fantasy epic The Wheel of Time, based on the Robert Jordan books and reputed to cost $10m an episode, because Jeff Bezos wanted his own Game of Thrones (and what Jeff wants, Jeff gets, OK!).
“The world is broken,” intones Rosamund Pike (Moiraine), swishing about in a cape in the opener, and it goes downhill from there: a yarn full of Middle-earth-looking villages, magick with a k and girls with powers to “talk to the wind”.
At some point I lost consciousness and Bezos appeared to me in a vision to cackle, evilly, that taxation was for little people. I awoke to find Moiraine sending light-ropes into the sky to vanquish beasts called Trollocs, and rambling about escaping to the White Tower. Friends, be careful: cosplay is catching and there’s no known antidote.
Just room for an observation that only about 10% of the new I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! cast (David Ginola? Richard Madeley?) are recognisable as “famous” to the general public, and now even Madeley has departed after succumbing to illness (now, now, there’ll be no wild accusations that the upright Mr Madeley was trying to escape from camp). Maybe it’s time to start feeding the celebrities to the bugs?
What else I’m watching
An Audience With … Adele
The singer at the London Palladium, with a celebrity audience, performing new album, 30, and other hits. Adele is in fine voice and humour, and even a doting, bopping celebrity audience is acceptable when it includes Stormzy and Bryan Cranston.
A brand new series of the hugely popular, winningly preposterous US reality show about glamorous LA estate agents at the Oppenheim Group – Christine! Chrishell! Mary! – selling high-end properties to an elite so wealthy that one split-level infinity pool just won’t be enough.
Tonight sees the final episode of this five-part thriller focusing on a murdered student, and the former friend, or friends, who may have killed her. The plot may have hit a few bumps, but the script is pithy, and the performances are dynamite, particularly from Céline Buckens and Tracy Ifeachor.