TV blog: Indian Summers and Sport Relief

Benjie Goodhart / 11 March 2016

It’s a cracking week on TV with the return of Indian Summers, Sport Relief, a smorgasbord of sport and some decent documentaries.

Indian Summers, Sunday 13th March, 9pm, Channel 4

Back in the 1980s, when shoulder pads were large and nobody had heard of couscous, there was a sudden fashion for dramas set in British-occupied India. 1982’s epic Gandhi was followed by A Passage to India, The Far Pavilions, and ITV’s magnificent drama The Jewel in the Crown, all in 1984. And then, as quickly as it had arrived, the enthusiasm for these projects vanished. I, for one, missed the sumptuous beauty and exoticism of these tales of Empire, and so approached last year’s Channel 4 drama, Indian Summers, with a sense of intrigue and nostalgia.

But Indian Summers, Channel 4’s tale of politics and passion in 1930s Simla, was not what I had expected at all. Yes, it was exotic, and I defy anyone to find a more beautifully picturesque drama series anywhere. But it was more than that. It was dark. It seethed with menace and rebellion, with brooding intensity and vicious undercurrents. And, perhaps most notably of all, it gave the Indian characters as much screen time as their English counterparts.

The result was a drama with the scale and ambition of the 1980s (when no amount of money seemed to be too much for a drama) married to a distinctly modern take on a familiar genre. All that, and Julie Walters to boot.

Now, series two is upon us, and in no way does it disappoint. If anything, it is an improvement on the high standards of the first series. If I had one criticism, it was that the story took slightly too long to unfold. That is emphatically not the case in season two, which manages to maintain its excellent characterisation whilst skipping along at a fine lick. The formidable cast is joined by more stellar names, including Art Malik, Rachel Griffiths and James Fleet, while the less-known Blake Ritson is stupendously unpleasant as a charming, bullying husband. And speaking of sinister characters, if you think Julie Walters is going to reprise her cheerful roles from Paddington or Harry Potter, think again. She plays a character called Cynthia Coffin, whose surname is probably the warmest thing about her.

If you didn’t see the first series, do not despair. All ten episodes are available on All 4 (though you’d need to get cracking, and basically do without eating or sleeping for a while…) Alternatively, there is a catch-up video in the same place, although condensing ten hours of complex political and emotional drama into three minutes inevitably skips some of the production’s more nuanced moments… The other option, which is absolutely feasible, is to watch season two anyway. You’ll pick it up quickly enough, and it is, frankly, too good to miss.

Related: Read our interview with Julie Walters about Indian Summers

Related: Art Malik on looking and feeling good

Sport Relief 2016, Friday 18th September, 7pm, BBC One

Dust off your lycra, dig out the sweat bands, and spray a little deodorant in those trainers – Sports Relief is back, and it promises to be a night of comedy, sporting endeavour, inspiration and banter. ‘BANTZ’ as I believe the young people call it.

Since the show’s inception 14 years ago, it has raised hundreds of millions of pounds for noble causes. It’s what you might call a “good thing”.

But will it be any good? Well, I remain rather optimistic. We are promised a sketch featuring Idris Elba as the world’s hardest copper, Luther, and guest-starring Rio Ferdinand, Lenny Henry, David Haye, Denise Lewis and Ian Wright. Sir Steven Redgrave and Andrew Flintoff will lead two teams of celebrities in Clash of the Titans, a series of head-to-head challenges. And, thrillingly, Michael Crawford will reprise his role as Frank Spencer – though as Crawford is now 74, the roller-skating off the back of buses might need to take a back seat. That said, something on wheels must be planned – the sketch also features Sir Bradley Wiggins. You can almost smell the friction burns already.

As ever, the show will feature someone famous doing something quite extraordinary – this year, Eddie Izzard is running 27 marathons in 27 days in South Africa. I couldn’t even eat 27 Snickers in that time. (That joke would have worked so much better 26 years ago…) And then there’s the effortlessly wonderful Jo Brand, who is walking 135 miles (a pre-lunch jog for Izzard) in 7 days. What a blessed relief to see someone who’s not got abs of steel and glutes that could crack a walnut performing some superhuman feat. Brand, who is 58, is doing her walk not just to raise money, but to encourage people of a certain age/weight/disposition to take up a spot of exercise and hopefully live a bit longer. All power to her! She’s joined on her walk by Alan Davies, the comic genius that is Lee Mack, and old steel-buns herself, Davina McCall. Jo Brand’s Hell of a Walk for Sport Relief is on Thursday 17th at 9pm.

All-in-all, it sounds like the usual night of chaos, hilarity, and heartbreak (I sometimes feel like I’ve just done Eddie’s 27 marathons at the end of those appeal films). Presenters include  John Bishop, Gary Lineker, David Walliams, Claudia Winkleman, Steel Buns, Greg James, and (be still my beating heart) Alesha Dixon. Watch with tissues in one hand, and a credit card in the other.

The best of the rest

For the last couple of weeks, there has been precious little to get excited about on the BBC (apart from the continuing brilliance of The Night Manager). But this week it’s a different story, with factual TV coming to the fore, along with a liberal dose of sport.

Related: Read Benjie’s review of The Night Manager

First, the sport. Saturday (12 March, 5:20pm) sees live coverage of the FA Cup quarter final tie between Everton and Chelsea – a match between two of the league’s most infuriatingly inconsistent and talented teams. Romelo Lukaku will be looking to remind his former employers how foolish they were in letting him go.

Then, on Sunday, Scotland will attempt to beat France in the Rugby Six Nations (2pm) having lost their last ten matches against les bleus. (That means the blues, for those of you who really paid absolutely no attention whatsoever in French class).

In fact, ITV have the best of the weekend’s matches, on Saturday at 3:25pm, a titanic battle between England and Wales, with the English desperate for revenge after their World Cup humiliation. Before that, the fallen idols of Ireland contest the wooden spoon with perennial underdogs Italy (12:30pm).

Back on the Beeb, Sunday sees coverage of the Gymnastics World Cup (BBC Two, 4:30pm) for those of you who know your pommel horse from your beam. Or even for those of you who don’t – quick tip: falling over is probably bad.

Finally, Channel 4 begins coverage of steeplechase’s blue riband meeting, the Cheltenham Festival, on Tuesday 15th March at 12:35pm, with the main event, the Gold Cup, on Friday afternoon.

At the other end of the scale from the welcome triviality of sport we have a documentary about domestic violence. Behind Closed Doors (BBC One, Monday 14th March, 9pm) takes an unflinching look at the victims of domestic violence and the team from Thames Valley Police trying to help them. Shot over a year, this is intense, uncomfortable and important viewing.

Everyone needs a little bit of Mary Berry in their lives, and it’s not Bake Off time for months yet, so thankfully we have her popping up in a two-part series, Mary Berry’s Easter Feast (Tuesday 15th March, 8pm, BBC Two), in which she talks about her own faith and looks at the celebration of Easter around the world. Happily, and not entirely surprisingly, it involves cakes. So many cakes.

Related: Bake Mary Berry’s fruit scones

Immediately afterwards, on the same channel, Inside Obama’s Whitehouse, the first in a four-part series, looks at the legacy of America’s first black president, as told by his inner circle and his adversaries.

Alternatively, if you fancy something a little lighter, the heart-warming (and occasionally cringe-inducing) First Dates is on Channel 4 at the same time. (Be warned, some of the chat is not what you would expect of a refined individual on a first date!)

Related: Visit our dating section for hints and tips

Those of you of an intellectual-artistic bent might want to pop on your polo neck and beret and spark up a Gitane before The Richard Dimbleby Lecture (Wednesday 16, 10:45pm, BBC Two) as Gregory Doran, artistic director of the RSC, lifts the lid on Shakespeare on this, the quatrocentenary of his birth. Or death. Or some other major life event.

Related: The best events and places to celebrate Shakespeare’s life and works this year

On Wednesday 16th March (I told you there was a lot this week) Mrs Brown herself goes all serious in Brendan O’Carroll: My Family at War, a surprisingly personal and candid account of the Easter Rising of 100 years ago. And finally, on Thursday, Speed with Guy Martin: F1 Special sees the cheerfully bonkers biker take on David Coulthard in his F1 car at Silverstone, in a petrol head’s dream match-up. It’s like discovering who’d win a fight between a lion and a tiger (a tiger, obviously, right?)

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