TV blog: Euro 2020 Live

11 June 2021

The Summer of Sport kicks off with Euro 2020, and a BBC feature-length drama starring Sharon Horgan and James McAvoy examines an unhappy couple's lockdown life.



Euro 2020, BBC and ITV, a lot, for the next month

Your attitude to the next few months of life may very well depend upon your feelings about sport. If you like it, you’re in for a bit of a treat. We’ve got the European Championships, Wimbledon, the new cricket competition The Hundred, and then the small matter of the Olympics to keep us all entertained until mid-August. If, on the other hand, you’re not keen, now might be a good time to learn a new language, buy some books, or divorce your husband. Or wife. We’ll have no gender stereotyping here, thanks very much.

Me? I’m planning on spending most of the next couple of months wearing a hole into the sofa with my bum, eating biscuits and pizza, drinking tea and cider and wine (not mixed together) and marvelling at the athletic prowess of people who spend less time than I sitting on the sofa eating biscuits etc. In short, I’ll be doing pretty much what I’ve done for the last 15 months, but a bit more cheerfully.

First up, we have the festival of football that is Euro 2020. It’s a year late, and the presenters won’t be anywhere near the action thanks to Covid, but who gives a stuff. It’s wall-to-wall footie, there are three home nations involved, and there are 51 matches in just 31 days.

It’s all so exciting, I could burst. And, as with the Olympics (should they go ahead) the chance to observe something as fundamentally trivial and meaningless as sport represents a triumph of hope over experience, and indication that something better lies around the corner. It is a sign of what humanity can accomplish when we work together.

That, of course, will only last until two minutes into Italy v Turkey, the first match, on Friday 11th June, when some brute of a defender upends some tiny striker, everyone gets involved in a scuffle, there’s all sorts of play acting, and the referee has to send someone off. Yay humanity! Yay working together.

Anyway, the TV coverage is pretty much as you’d expect. The matches are split between BBC and ITV, and both are simulcasting the games on their websites, so you’ll be able to watch it as your other half drags you round Tesco’s looking for Toilet Duck. The BBC’s coverage is fronted by (who else) Gary Lineker, with Gabby Logan, Eilidh Barbour and Mark Chapman also filling in. There is the usual role call of pundits – your Shearers, Jenases, Ferdinands – plus former winners Cesc Fabregas, Thierry Henry and Jurgen Klinsmann, as well as Alex Scott, Ashley Williams and James McFadden.

ITV’s coverage will be presented by Mark Pougatch and Seema Jaswal. The pundits include the always-watchable Ian Wright, the mostly-angry Roy Keane, the excellent and incisive Gary Neville, plus a host of others including Eni Aluko, Emma Hayes, and Scott Brown. Both channels will be showing nightly highlights programmes, just in case you hadn’t seen enough football (!) and the BBC will also be indulging in ‘banter’ with the charismatic Peter Crouch, who is hosting ten episodes of a show called Crouchy’s Year Late Euros: Live.

As regards the matches, after Italy host Turkey in the curtain raiser, Saturday 12th June sees Wales take on Switzerland in Azerbaijan (of course) at 2pm, in the first of the day’s three games. At the same time on Sunday, England take on Croatia at Wembley, where we will get an answer to the biggest question of all: Is Gareth still rocking the waistcoat. Then, on Monday, also at 2pm, Scotland take on the Czech Republic at Hampden Park. Tuesday at 8pm should see a belter of a game, as France take on Germany. But the week’s really big game happens on Friday 18th, when the small matter of England v Scotland is at 8pm. I’ll be watching with my Scottish father-in-law, and it’s very possible one of us won’t make it out alive.

Finally, as you’re no doubt aware, as a previewer, I get to watch stuff before it is actually screened on the TV. It just so happens, as a trusted industry professional, I’ve been given access to the tournament’s final. If you don’t want to know the result, look away now. It’s quite a surprise, this. The winners and new reigning European Champions are North Macedonia, after a 6-5 win over Finland.

Together, Thursday 17th June, 9pm, BBC Two

There is a school of thought that we could do without all these programmes about the pandemic. If it’s not a documentary about how we all coped (or didn’t cope) with lockdown, it’s a look at the miraculous search for a vaccine, or a comedy set entirely over Zoom, or a current affairs film about the care home scandal. We get it, it’s been a big deal. We know. We were there. We might still be there. Enough with all the rehashing.

Except that sometimes the programmes are very, very good indeed. And this beautifully-observed feature-length one-off drama is a case in point.

Written by Dennis Kelly (Pulling, Utopia, Matilda the Musical) and directed by Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Crown) it stars Sharon Horgan and James McAvoy as a married couple going into lockdown together. Lockdown, as many of us can testify, was not easy on relationships. It turns out that hugely stressful environments, plus being with each other 24 hours-a-day, plus having to home school the children, plus worrying about mental health, physical health and death, does not make for a humungous amount of jollity. Fortunately, McAvoy and Horgan’s characters (we never discover their names, in the credits they are simply ‘He’ and ‘She’) have saved themselves the bother of falling out, by already hating each other.

As we discover over an opening scene with them unpacking a large supermarket shop (including 54 rolls of toilet paper, damn them) they are very different people, with very different outlooks, and they really cannot stand each other. He is a self-made businessman, a Tory, and she is a leftie who works for a refugee charity. Honestly, how did they think that would ever work? Caught in the middle is a largely silent little boy, their son, Arthur.

She is worried about her mother. The carers looking after her have to travel across town using public transport. Luckily, they manage to secure her a spot in a care home. “She’ll be safe there,” they both reason. The audience, of course, knows different.

The drama unfolds at various different points during the last 15 months. March becomes April, then October, then Christmas, then March again, the passing of time punctuated by the changing seasons, longer hair, and ever grimmer statistics.

Throughout proceedings, the characters talk to the camera. It is initially jarring, but after a couple of minutes, you sort of forget. Addressing the audience is, after all, a tried-and-tested mechanism, used by everyone from Shakespeare to Alan Bennett. In many ways, this is like a sort of longer, two-handed Talking Heads.

Kelly’s script is characteristically sharp, boasting his trademark humour throughout. (Viewers of a sensitive disposition might like to know that there is a fairly liberal sprinkling of profanity). But it is in the drama’s more serious, emotional moments that the real gold is to be found.

The seriousness deals with the emotional development of the characters, and how their relationship unfolds. It is, at various times, deeply tender, shockingly vicious, profoundly touching, and utterly maddening. But this isn’t just a film about two people trying to get by under the same roof. It is a howl of rage – a hugely emotive, sad and angry film about everything from a lack of PPE to the care homes scandal to the iniquities of life to self-centred morons who can’t be bothered to wear masks. It’s full of fury, and humour, and pathos, and it’s well worth 90-minutes of your time.

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The best… and the rest:

Saturday 12th June

Trooping the Colour, 10:15am, BBC One: Live coverage of lots of marching and whatnot to celebrate the Queen’s official birthday. Top pomping and ceremonying, as we Brits do best!

The Wall 1/8, 7:55pm, BBC One: Lord Daniel of Dyer returns with his cheerful cockney-schtick in this gameshow that passes another chunk of time as we hurtle through this business called life.

Phil Collins at the BBC, 9pm, BBC Two: Best of the bald balladeer’s musical appearances on the BBC over the years, including stints on Top of the Pops, Parkinson, and The Two Ronnies.

Grace Kelly: Lost Tapes of a Princess, 9pm, Channel 4: Documentary following the life of the movie star turned princess, including previously unseen home movie footage, and an appearance by her son, Prince Albert.

Monday 14th June

Summer on the Farm, 8pm, Channel 5: Is it me, or is Channel 5 obsessed with royals, hoarders and farms? Anyway, this new series, presented by Helen Skelton and Jules Hudson, comes live from Cannon Hall Farm in South Yorkshire every night this week, a sort of Springwatch with added tractors.

Great British Gardens with Carol Klein, 9pm, Channel 5: The gardener and broadcaster visits some of the UK’s most stunning gardens, and meets the people responsible for their upkeep. Tonight, she visits Arundel Castle in West Sussex.

Peter Taylor: Ireland After Partition, 9pm, BBC Two: To mark the centenary of the partition of Ireland, the veteran documentary maker looks back at films he’s made over the last 50 years to reflect upon the issue of a united Ireland.

Wednesday 16th June

Horizon Special: The Vaccine, 9pm, BBC Two: Feature-length documentary telling the extraordinary story of the quest to develop vaccines, following different groups of scientists working around the globe.

Friday 18th June

A Pandemic Poem: Where Did the World Go? 9pm, BBC Two: A commemoration of the pandemic, in verse form, from the Poet Laureate Simon Armitage. What rhymes with Covid?

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