Monday 16 September 2019

Television in 2019: John Boland looks ahead to what we’ll be watching this year

Catastrophe returns for a fourth season
Period drama: Surane Jones as lesbian landowner Anne Lister in Gentleman Jack
Holy show: Jude Law is back in the cassock for The Young Pope
Family drama: Riz Ahmed's Englistan comes to BBC2

John Boland

It was another outstanding year for television drama, and 2019 looks set to be just as interesting, if similarly unpredictable.

There'll be the return of some established favourites, not least Line of Duty (BBC1), which may get round to revealing whether chief cop Ted Hastings (the excellent Adrian Dunbar) is as incorruptible as he has always seemed. Peaky Blinders (BBC1) will be back for another season, too, as will Stranger Things (Netflix) and Orange is the New Black (Netflix).

Oh, and Poldark (BBC1) will be returning for lovers of the Cornish coastline and Aidan Turner's physique.

These, though, will be later in the year and in the meantime there are lots of shows that should command your attention.

Les Misérables

BBC1, tomorrow

Do we really need another version of Les Mis, even if scripted by Andrew Davies? Possibly not, but in this non-musical version, an impressive cast boasts such names as Dominic West, Lily Collins, David Oyelowo and the ubiquitous Olivia Colman.


Channel 4, January 8

Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney's acclaimed sitcom returns for a fourth acerbic season. Expect the usual barbed one-liners as the duo continue to battle with marital problems, child rearing and their own demons.


RTÉ1, January 13

This five-parter is the long-promised follow-up to the rather soapy 2016 RTÉ1 drama Rebellion and concerns the lead-up to and aftermath of the 1920 Bloody Sunday massacre in Croke Park by British forces. Made by Zodiac Media and with Brian Gleeson headlining a large cast, it promises to conjure up "a world of shadows and echoes, double agents and unreliable narrators". We'll see.

The War of the Worlds

BBC1, January

Unlike Steven Spielberg's 2005 version, which had Tom Cruise single-handedly battling the aliens in contemporary America, this three-part adaptation reverts to the era and English setting of HG Wells' 1898 dystopian fantasy novel. Rafe Spall, Eleanor Tomlinson, Robert Carlyle and Rupert Graves head the cast.

Gentleman Jack


Period drama: Surane Jones as lesbian landowner Anne Lister in Gentleman Jack

This eight-part period drama comes courtesy of Sally Wainwright, the creator of such memorable series as Happy Valley and Last Tango in Halifax. That should be enough recommendation for watching this take on 19th-century Yorkshire woman Anne Lister, a landowner, adventurer and outspoken lesbian. Suranne Jones, who was so good in the rather batty Doctor Foster, stars.



This four-part true-life drama tells the story of Anne Williams, whose teenage son died in the 1989 Hillsborough football disaster, and of her long fight for justice, both for her son and for all the other victims. Maxine Peake plays Anne, who died in 2013.

The Virtues

Channel 4

Written by Shane Meadows (most known for This is England), this four-parter stars Stephen Graham as a middle-aged man who returns to Ireland to confront the demons that have haunted him from the childhood he endured in a cruel care system.

Adult Material

Channel 4

A four-part drama centred on the UK porn industry, this stars the estimable Sheridan Smith as a mother of three and seasoned star of adult movies, who develops a friendship with a younger performer new to the same. Created by Lucy Kirkwood, who wrote Skins, this promises to be a gritty look at a seedy business.

The Singapore Grip


Based on the 1978 satirical novel by JG Farrell, this six-part adaptation concerns the World War II invasion by Japan of southeast Asia, its occupation of Singapore and the effect this has on a British colonial family who control a leading trading company there. The adaptation is by Christopher Hampton.



Family drama: Riz Ahmed's Englistan comes to BBC2

A nine-episode drama by Riz Ahmed that takes three generations of a Pakistani family in England and deals with such issues as home, identity and race relations.

Catherine the Great

Sky Atlantic

A four-parter in which the effortlessly regal Helen Mirren plays the Russian empress, who's described in the publicity as "strong-minded, independent and sexually liberated", none of which should be a stretch for Ms Mirren.

The New Pope

Sky Atlantic

Holy show: Jude Law is back in the cassock for The Young Pope

Jude Law gave a bravura performance as the right-wing pontiff in Paolo Sorrentino's 2017 series The Young Pope. The same director and star are back in this follow-up, which also features Sharon Stone and John Malkovich. Expect stunning visuals and outrageous drama.


Channel 4

The first three seasons were even more compelling and quirkier than the original Coen brothers movie. Much of that was due to showrunner and scriptwriter Noah Hawley, who's at the helm again for a fourth outing. This time around we're in Kansas in the 1950s where Italian and African-American syndicates are battling for turf. Comedian Chris Rock stars.

Big Little Lies

Sky Atlantic

This began and ended last year with all its storylines resolved, didn't it? Apparently not, because Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon are seemingly back on board for a new tale about the same suburban moms.


Sky One

Sean Bean and Adrian Lester star in this dystopian fantasy in which the inhabitants of a totalitarian regime compete for freedom. It sounds like Mad Max meets The Cannonball Run.

Gangs of London

Sky Atlantic

This is set in an English capital that's torn apart by criminal gangs, but its selling point is that it's directed by Gareth Evans, whose 2011 movie The Raid, set in an Indonesian skyscraper, proved such a white-knuckle ride.

Game of Thrones

Sky Atlantic

This is soon to return for its eighth and final season. But then you already knew that, didn't you?


Ones to watch

The Crown

That brilliant series The Crown (Netlflix) seems unimaginable without Claire Foy, who gave the performance of a lifetime as the young Elizabeth in the first two seasons of this sumptuous production. Now she's being replaced by Olivia Colman, who I'm sure will be terrific, too, but she won't be Claire Foy. Still, this series has been one of Netflix's outstanding achievements and the new season, when it arrives later in the year, will be unmissable.


We're assured that the eighth season of Homeland (RTÉ2/Channel 4 late in year) will be the absolute last. Presumably it will take up the storyline from last season's finale, in which Carrie (Claire Danes) emerged from incarceration in a Russian prison hardly knowing who she was and definitely off her meds. In truth, the viewer will have had enough of herself and old ally Saul, but it's been nice knowing them, and I hope they bow out in style.

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