The week in TV: the Queen’s funeral; Crossfire; Bloodlands; Am I Being Unreasonable?
The funeral of Queen Elizabeth II Various channels
Crossfire BBC One | iPlayer
Bloodlands BBC One | iPlayer
Am I Being Unreasonable? BBC One | iPlayer
And so we watched, on televisions, on screens, all over Britain and globally; hours melting into hours for the long goodbye to the Queen. I say “we”, but not everybody watched, even though the funeral plunged much of Britain into ersatz lockdown. Still, after days of rumination on the meaning of that queue, and other interminable filler (I ended up flinching at the sight of Paddington Bear), here, at last, was the main event.
After some perfunctory channel-hopping, I succumbed to the headlock of the BBC. And did it ever deliver: a masterclass in history, ceremony, orchestration, with no skimping on the pomp. The dopamine highs of the architecture; the processions; the stunning aerial shots in Westminster Abbey; the quieter emotions of the vault at Windsor; the meticulous lockstep of pallbearers; the ashen rigidity of royal mourners. You don’t have to be a royalist to appreciate such faultless artistry – and even hating it is somehow incredibly British. Assisted by David Dimbleby and Kirsty Young, presenter Huw Edwards (by now presumably hallucinating orbs and sceptres with exhaustion) knew exactly when to let silence fall.
Cameras appeared to show Prince Andrew as infrequently as possible, though it could never be infrequently enough. A lone piece of paper lay on the abbey floor, disrupting the pristine ambience. Was anyone going to grab it? Major, Blair, Brown, Cameron and May bunched up with spouses on pews, like an identity parade of former PMs; among them, Boris Johnson, hair marginally flattened for the event, forlornly dealing with his new normal of political has-been. Liz Truss read from the Bible and sounded even more grating than usual, suggesting to the world that Britain is led by a malfunctioning power saw.
Yeah, I know: it’s all regal shock and awe, designed to keep we lickspittle serfs “glamoured”. Certainly, the funeral served as a Rorschach test for public feeling about the monarchy, now divested of the star power of its strongest player. Still, what a send-off: Liz Windsor was done proud. And an important moment for the BBC. It’s instructive how people cling to it in the big moments; also, who notices. The morning after the funeral, the new culture secretary, Michelle Donelan, was on Radio 4’s Today discussing “re-examining” certain Tory threats… so sorry, I mean plans, such as privatising Channel 4 and, oh, scrapping the BBC licence fee. Interesting timing.
It’s no mystery why Keeley Hawes gets cast so much: she’s a drop-dead beauty who never relies on her looks; an everywoman with talent to burn. Disappointing, then, that the new three-part BBC One thriller Crossfire, written and created by bestselling novelist Louise Doughty, turns into such a trudge.
The premise is strong: a disintegrating couple (Hawes and Lee Ingleby) take their kids on holiday with other families to a remote resort that resembles Alcatraz with aqua-aerobics. Suddenly, shockingly, gunmen open fire, which, for me, brought to mind the horrific terror attack at the Port El Kantaoui resort in Tunisia in 2015. An emotional dimension is added by ex-cop Hawes having an affair, which Ingleby discovers.
Brannick is a Northern Irish Tom Ripley; Bloodlands is all about whether he keeps getting away with it
Ooh, I thought, during a flashback of Hawes sniping at Ingleby in front of their friends (“Just Jason, putting me in my place as usual”), this is going to turn into a study of the seedy underbelly of relationships, but with bullets whizzing past their ears. Well, no. Instead, what feels like a cast of thousands run around the labyrinthine hotel, hiding behind walls, while Hawes wields a firearm. Repeat. For ever.
In fairness, individual performances are solid, and the nightmarish, chaotic feel to the start of the shooting is handled beautifully. But it comes to something when there’s so little reason to be invested in the subsidiary characters that it barely registers when people are killed.
It’s impossible to write about the second series of the dour, overcomplicated Bloodlands (BBC One) without bumping into a few spoilers, so proceed at your peril. Written and created by Chris Brandon and executive produced by Jed Mercurio, the Northern Ireland-set drama sees James Nesbitt return as compromised detective Tom Brannick, whose terrorism-linked crimes were revealed (to viewers at least) by the end of the first series.
This opening episode launches with an unintentionally amusing flashback to the 1998 murders, with Brannick removing his balaclava to reveal a deepfake “younger” Nesbitt who resembles one of those games where you make a face with magnetised iron filings. There’s also the revelation that, as well as guns, gold bars were involved.
Cut to the present day, where Brannick and his colleague DS Niamh McGovern (Charlene McKenna) investigate the murder of an accountant. Does perma-shifty-eyed Brannick seem to know the victim? Of course. Does he have sexual tension with the accountant’s femme fatale widow, played by Victoria Smurfit? He does. Their gazes steamily lock as Brannick snarls: “I’m the policeman. I ask the questions.”
Bloodlands is not a straightforward whodunnit. Brannick is a Northern Irish Tom Ripley, and it’s all about whether he keeps getting away with it. Sadly, his antics have long since passed Scooby-Doo levels of obvious, and you can’t see how Bloodlands might survive for a third series. It is weirdly addictive though.
Still on BBC One, new six-part comedy-thriller Am I Being Unreasonable? is written by and stars Daisy May Cooper and Selin Hizli. In a glow-up from her trackie-clad This Country days, Cooper plays Nic, a restless but minted mum living in an absurdly idyllic After Life-type town. Nic is unhappy with her husband – and her true love was killed in a blackly comedic train accident. Hizli plays Nic’s new mum pal, but can she be trusted?
I’m a fan of Cooper’s lairy comic energy, and young actor Lenny Rush, who plays her son, is superb. Rush has Spondyloepiphyseal Dysplasia congenita, which is worked into a scene to highlight the condescension of another mum. Sometimes both the comic and thriller elements slacken, but by the second episode there are glimmers of a strange, sharp production. Think a ratcheted-up Motherland, twisted through with secrets and lies.
Star ratings (out of five)
Am I Being Unreasonable? ★★★
What else I’m watching
Broke: Britain’s Debt Emergency: Dispatches
The cost of living crisis is a grim reality for millions of Britons. Dispatches joins Citizens Advice as it deals with individuals sinking into debt as they struggle to survive.
It’s series four of the ever-charming comedy about spooks haunting a mansion. Charlotte Ritchie and Kiell Smith-Bynoe star as the still-breathing couple, while Simon Farnaby and Lolly Adefope are among the ghosts.
Starring Diego Luna, Forest Whitaker, Stellan Skarsgård and Fiona Shaw, this prequel series to Star Wars’ Rogue One is set in a space-age dystopia and features a robot that resembles R2-D2 – though it looks like it’s made out of old car parts. Enjoy.