Monday 26 August 2019

The ultimate weekend TV guide – here’s what to watch tonight, Saturday and Sunday

Alias Grace, Netflix
Alias Grace, Netflix

Pat Stacey

Pat Stacey has trawled the weekend TV schedules so you don't have to...


The Handmaid’s Tale, shown on Hulu in the United States and Channel 4 in this part of the world, was the most critically acclaimed, if not necessarily the most watched, series of 2017.

The mini-series Alias Grace (Netflix, now streaming), also based on a Margaret Atwood novel, is probably unlikely to have the same kind of impact, yet shares some of the same themes.

Inspired by a real 1800s case, it stars Sarah Gadon as Grace Marks, a young Irish immigrant to Canada who’s imprisoned for colluding with a stable hand in the murder of his employer and his housekeeper.

Was she manipulated by a madman, or was she the real mastermind behind the crime? Both book and mini-series weave a speculative tale around the known facts that leaves the story open for several possible outcomes. 

Edward Holcroft plays the (fictional) psychiatrist trying to prove Grace’s innocence as she languishes in prison, 15 years after the event.

Was Spartacus, who led the slave revolt against the Roman Republic in 73BC, really the heroic figure immortalised by Kirk Douglas in the famous movie, or has Hollywood legend eclipsed a more complex truth?

In episode two of the engrossing Eight Days that Made Rome (Channel 5, 9pm), Bettany Hughes explores the background to Spartacus’s journey from slave to gladiator to leader, and looks at the wider impact of the uprising.

Rock guitarist Brian May with Queen bandmates John Deacon, Freddie Mercury and Roger Taylor in the 1980s
Rock guitarist Brian May with Queen bandmates John Deacon, Freddie Mercury and Roger Taylor in the 1980s

You’d imagine at this stage that every existing piece of film and videotape of Queen has been shown to death on TV. But Queen: Rock the World (BBC4, 9pm) unearths some previously unseen footage.

Bob Harris tells the story behind the band’s landmark 1977 album News of the World, released just as punk was upending the old order and featuring a more back-to-basics sound. Trivia note: the wonderful gatefold art, featuring a giant robot, was a reworking by artist Frank Kelly Freas of his 1953 cover for Astounding Science Fiction magazine. Roger Taylor happened to own a copy.

There’s a couple of other fine music documentaries tonight. The History of the Clash (Sky Arts, 9pm) does exactly what it says on the tin, while the final episode of Rock and Roll (Sky Atlantic, 10pm) focuses on the music’s transcendent power. As well as talking heads Sting, Gene Simmons and Bob Geldof, there’s fantastic footage of Sister Rosetta Tharpe performing in, of all places, a railway station in Manchester.

For some people, the main attraction of The Late Late Show (RTÉ1, 9.35pm) will no doubt be the pre-recorded interview with Conor McGregor; the rest of us, however, will be more interested in what Ibrahim Halawa, giving his first major TV interview, has to say.

Ibrahim Halawa at Dublin airport. Credit: Gerry Mooney
Ibrahim Halawa at Dublin airport. Credit: Gerry Mooney



It’s November 4 today. It’s November 4 in Gunpowder (BBC1, 9pm) too, which can mean only one thing: the day of reckoning has arrived for Robert Cateby (Kit Harington) and his fellow would-be assassins.

No prizes for guessing how it turns out, but the journey to this point has been a gripping, if sometimes stomach-churningly violent, one. It’s also proved that quality drama aimed at a grown-up audience has a place in the Saturday night schedule.

And there promises to be more of it in Spanish series I Know Who You Are (BBC4, 9pm), which makes a swift reappearance on the heels of the well-liked first season back in July.

In tonight’s opening double-bill of episodes, an injured and unconscious Alicia narrowly avoids a grisly end. Juan Elias is convinced Santi Mur is the culprit, and prepares to prove his theory to Inspector Giralt.

There are more dark deeds afoot in Murder Beyond the Orient Express (Sky 1, 8pm). As the second movie adaptation of Agatha Christie’s classic murder mystery Murder on the Orient Express pulls into cinemas, with director Kenneth Branagh playing Hercule Poirot and quizzing an all-star cast of suspects that includes Judi Dench and Johnny Depp, Alex Zane looks at the enduring appeal of probably Christie’s best known title.

I’ve regularly bemoaned the lack of quality guests on The Jonathan Ross Show (UTV/ITV, 10.05pm), which seems to be second in the queue behind The Graham Norton Show when it comes to bagging the A-listers. That’s not the case tonight.

Jonathan welcomes two genuinely iconic women: Jodie Foster, who’ll no doubt be talking about the cinema re-release, in a gleaming new 4K print from the BFI, of The Silence of the Lambs, and Debbie Harry, who’ll be shooting the breeze and then performing with Blondie.

Taking up the other places on the sofa are David Walliams and the hilarious Roisin Conaty from Man Down and GameFace.


Dolphins in Blue Planet
Dolphins in Blue Planet


If Blue Planet II (BBC1, 8pm) is to be the final television work of David Attenborough, who toyed with the idea of retiring after his 90th birthday last year, then it’s one hell of a way to bid farewell.

This is a look at the most bizarre denizens of the deep, including bone-eating worms, fish that walk rather than swim, and creatures that live on the ocean bed in volcanic hotspots where the temperature is high enough to melt lead. Simply stunning.

More very promising drama tonight. Unspeakable (Channel 4, 9pm) is a one-off about a woman who receives an anonymous text message alleging her new live-in boyfriend is abusing her 11-year-old daughter. Unable to share her fears with anyone, she succumbs to paranoia over the course of a weekend.

Sex, drugs and criminality are at the heart of new German-language thriller Babylon Berlin (Sky Atlantic, 9pm), which kicks off with a double-bill.

Volker Bruch stars as Gereon Rath, a detective and war veteran operating in 1920s Berlin, who keeps his PTSD at bay with morphine. A huge hit in Germany, it’s tipped to become a global sensation.

Finally, The Grease Story (Channel 5, 9pm) is the definitive history of the cheesy musical, telling how the original stage version (which starred Richard Gere) was toned down and cleaned up for the screen.

John Travolta and Olivia Newton John in Grease (1978)
John Travolta and Olivia Newton John in Grease (1978)


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