Outside the box: Ones to watch with Paul Whitington
Reviewed this week: From There to Here, Gotham, The Casual Vacancy, Game of Thrones.
From There to Here
Phillip Glenister heads the cast of this ambitious drama set around the IRA's bomb attack on Manchester in 1996.
It was a warm June Saturday morning in Manchester, and locals were gathering in pubs in advance of England's Euro '96 group match against Scotland when the middle of the city was ripped apart by a massive semtex bomb.
More than 200 people were injured, but because a phoned warning had given police enough time to clear the immediate area, there were no fatalities. The 3,000-pound IRA van bomb caused an estimated billion pounds worth of damage, and remains the largest peace-time bomb ever detonated on British soil.
That's the dramatic background to this new three-part drama that explores the altered lives of some of the people caught up in the blast. 'Life on Mars' star Phillip Glenister plays Daniel, a middle-aged family man who has come into town to watch the game with his father and brother, with whom he clearly has some fence-mending to do. When the bomb goes off they get separated, and Daniel ends up coming to the aid of a young woman called Joanne (Liz White) who's wandering around in a state of shock.
But when he gives Joanne a lift back to her terraced home, something snaps inside him. Daniel has a comfortable life, a wife and two grown-up children, but the bomb has shaken him up badly, and his near-death experience has left him feeling dangerously restless.
The street where Joanne lives is not far from where he played as a boy, before he was put into care and adopted. And as conflicting emotions come stirring to the surface, Daniel embarks on a double life that could destroy his happiness forever.
The aftermath of the bombing has been impressively reconstructed for this ambitious drama written by Peter Bowker and intended as a sort of love letter to Manchester. A strong cast includes Bernard Hill, Saskia Reeves and Steven Mackintosh, and Glenister is always worth watching.
The formative years of the Caped Crusader are examined in this glossy-looking new drama.
Just when you thought the Batman franchise had been finally flogged to death, up pops this new TV drama that sets out to be the ultimate prequel.
Currently in production and scheduled for release later this year, 'Gotham' begins at the moment when poor old Bruce Wayne's parents are murdered, leaving the 10-year-old alone and very wealthy. His only guidance comes from the family's redoubtable English butler, Alfred Pennyworth (played here by Sean Pertwee), and a dedicated police detective called James Gordon (Benjamin McKenzie, from 'Southland'), who befriends him.
'Gotham' will focus primarily on the character of James Gordon, and his idealistic efforts to confront the city's endemic corruption. As the series begins he's new to the force, a former college football star and war hero who refuses to accept the city's sleaze and corruption as normal.
After the Waynes are shot dead, Gordon takes pity on the boy and tells him: "I promise you I will find the man that did this."
Gordon sets out to do so with the aid of his hot-headed partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), and soon locks horns with the glamorous but sadistic crime boss Fish Mooney, played by Jada Pinkett-Smith.
The series will provide origin stories not just for Gordon and Batman but for the Caped Crusader's principal enemies, including Catwoman, The Penguin, Poison Ivy and The Riddler.
Could be fun, but it remains to be seen whether audiences will be interested in a Batman-free Gotham City.
The Casual Vacancy
JK Rowling's dark post-Potter novel to be turned into a three-part mini-series with an all-star cast.
Everything JK Rowling touches seems to turn to gold. Critics were sceptical in advance of the publication of her first post-Harry Potter novel, 'The Casual Vacancy', a grimy saga set in a small contemporary English town and featuring some surprisingly adult themes.
But reviews were good, the book sold 125,000 copies in the week of its release and has gone on to shift more than six million. Now it's being made into a major three-part mini-series made by the BBC and co-produced by HBO.
Minnie Driver, David Thewlis and Helena Bonham-Carter are among the cast of a series that may make for shocking viewing. Because, although 'The Casual Vacancy' is set in the idyllic-looking country town of Pagford, behind the thatched cottages and hanging flower baskets all is not as it seems.
After the novel's do-gooder hero, Barry Fairbrother, drops dead of a heart attack outside his golf club, his seat on the town council comes up for grabs. Barry was an idealist, who'd planned to twin Pagford with the The Fields, an outlying council estate riven with crime and drug problems.
But after his death a nasty civil war over the issue ensues, and the whole town takes to the internet to trade accusations and insults.
Snobbery, racism, drug and alcohol addiction, rape and mental illness are among the jolly themes the TV series will have to deal with, as well as a schoolteacher who's convinced he molested a child and then forgot about it.
So for the BBC and HBO, getting the tone of 'The Casual Vacancy' right isn't going to be easy. It starts shooting this summer.
Game of Thrones
Sky Atlantic, Monday
Sexual violence in the hugely popular fantasy series has become problematic, say critics.
Fans and commentators are raving about the fourth series of 'Game of Thrones', which opened with a bang at the start of last month and has been full of spectacular twists and turns.
It's big here and huge in America, where weekly screenings on HBO are now averaging 14 million viewers a week and fans dress up as their favourite characters to attend 'Game of Thrones' conventions.
But a recent episode, 'Breaker of Chains', has attracted a storm of criticism for portraying an apparent rape scene between Jaime Lannister and his glamorous and scheming twin-sister Cersei. One should point out that in the drama, and the George RR Martin fantasy novels that inspired it, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Cersei (Lena Headey) are a pretty messed up pair, so inextricably linked that they've been conducting an incestuous relationship since childhood. But while the sexual encounter in question was depicted as consensual in Martin's book 'A Storm of Swords', on 'Game of Thrones' Cersei clearly said no and continued to struggle throughout the incident.
The way the scene was shot, and the fact that Headey and Coster-Waldeau are very handsome people, led to accusations that the show was glamorising and normalising the idea of rape. And things got worse when the episode's director claimed the sex had become "consensual by the end", and added that this was "one of my favourite scenes I've ever done".
The broader charge against 'Game of Thrones' is that rape is used so often in plot lines that it's become meaningless, a routine and unshocking event. The week after the 'Breaker of Chains' episode, a group of imprisoned women were sexually brutalised by their captors, and there've been numerous other rapes and assaults in the past.
But George RR Martin says his books, and the show, on which he's an adviser, only reflect the realities of history and warfare. And as for the show's legion of fanatical fans? It seems they just don't care.