From The Trail Of The Chicago 7 to Riviera and David Copperfield: The best on demand TV this week 

NETFLIX

The Trial Of The Chicago 7

There’s one reason why people are talking about The Trial Of The Chicago 7. The film is written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, the man behind The West Wing on TV and movies such as The Social Network.

It’s a courtroom drama about a chapter of American history that will be little known to UK audiences. So why show it now?

Largely, one suspects, because we are in the run-up to the US presidential election and there are clear parallels between the violence that erupted on the streets of Chicago a few months before the 1968 election and the violent scenes seen in some American cities in 2020. 

There are clear parallels between the violence that erupted on the streets of Chicago a few months before the 1968 election and the violent scenes seen in some American cities in 2020

The question is, then as it is now, who started the violence? The protesters or the police?

There’s no doubt, as we see the trial of anti-Vietnam War protesters get under way, that the scene-setting is complex, but Sorkin slowly sucks you in, helped by some superb performances, not least from Frank Langella as the hostile judge. 

Look out too for Eddie Redmayne as a protest leader; a comically combed-over Mark Rylance as the lead defence attorney; and Sacha Baron Cohen, who is too old to play Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman, but comfortably gets away with it. From Friday

Matthew Bond

 

The Haunting Of Bly Manor 

Inspired by the Henry James classic The Turn Of The Screw, this is director Mike Flanagan’s follow-up to his phenomenally successful The Haunting Of Hill House, which Stephen King declared ‘close to a work of genius’ and Quentin Tarantino said was his favourite Netflix series. 

No pressure then. An au pair (Victoria Pedretti) is hired to take care of two suspiciously delightful children at an old house in the English countryside. 

An au pair (Victoria Pedretti, above with Benjamin Evan Ainsworth as Miles) is hired to take care of two suspiciously delightful children at an old house in the English countryside

An au pair (Victoria Pedretti, above with Benjamin Evan Ainsworth as Miles) is hired to take care of two suspiciously delightful children at an old house in the English countryside

As a general rule of thumb, when your young charges keep creepy faceless dolls, talk to people you can’t see and spend lots of time staring at the gloomy lake in the grounds, it’s time to update the CV. Available now

 

Star Trek: Discovery 

It’s more than 18 months since the last series of the sci-fi spin-off hit our screens, so you could be forgiven for thinking Netflix had given it the boot. But not a bit of it; it seems its makers have simply been working extra hard to deliver something very special indeed. 

The third series is expected to tie up quite closely with the original Star Trek, as it’s set just ten years before Captain Kirk climbed aboard the Starship Enterprise. Ethan Peck will play a bigger part as Spock, while Jonathan Frakes, who has directed several episodes, promises the run will be lighter in tone than its predecessors. From Friday

 

La Revolution 

Netflix released a teaser promo back in July on Bastille Day for this, one of the first series from its French production operation. It’s an eight-part historical fantasy drama, starring Marilou Aussilloux, set in France in 1787 – the days when, for the aristocracy, ‘herd immunity’ meant insulation from the common herd. 

Eight-part historical fantasy drama, starring Marilou Aussilloux (above), set in France in 1787 – the days when, for the aristocracy, ‘herd immunity’ meant insulation from the common herd

Eight-part historical fantasy drama, starring Marilou Aussilloux (above), set in France in 1787 – the days when, for the aristocracy, ‘herd immunity’ meant insulation from the common herd

But what if the causes of the French revolution in 1789 were not exactly what we all thought? While investigating a series of murders, Joseph Guillotin, the future inventor of the guillotine, discovers a new virus – named Blue Blood – that drives pampered, privileged nobles to murder commoners. 

Aux armes, citoyens! From Friday

 

Social Distance 

Set during the early days of the pandemic, this eight-part anthology series was filmed remotely by actors working in their own homes (think Staged but without the laughs). 

It chronicles how people adapted to their new circumstances and cope with the limitations of social contact. The cast, including Mike Colter, isn’t packed with big names but their tour-de-force performances should make them unforgettable. 

The team behind the series has serious TV pedigree – Orange Is The New Black creator Jenji Kohan is among the executive producers, while showrunner Hilary Weisman Graham was one of the prison drama’s writers. From Thursday

 

SKY, BRITBOX, ACORN TV, DISNEY+ & STARZPLAY

 

Riviera

Seeing as living on the Riviera has mostly brought misery to art curator Georgina (Julia Stiles) – starting when her billionaire husband died in a yacht explosion – it should come as no surprise to find that as the third series of Sky’s hugely popular drama begins, she’s decided to move on. 

The peace and quiet of Georgina's new job as an art restitution lecturer doesn’t last long after she catches the eye of Gabriel Hirsch (Rupert Graves, above with Julia Stiles)

The peace and quiet of Georgina’s new job as an art restitution lecturer doesn’t last long after she catches the eye of Gabriel Hirsch (Rupert Graves, above with Julia Stiles)

But the peace and quiet of her new job as an art restitution lecturer doesn’t last long after she catches the eye of Gabriel Hirsch (Rupert Graves), who makes her an offer she can’t refuse: hunting for a stolen Picasso they think is being hidden in the home of an infamous Venice thief. Sky On Demand, from Thursday

 

The Spanish Princess 

The Spanish Princess is Catherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII and the first ‘divorced’ of the well-known rhyme about the King’s six wives. Catherine was actually a highly competent ruler, taking care of business at home while Henry was away fighting the French. 

She was much loved by the English people and the second season of the historical drama (note – it’s a drama not a documentary, so expect more than a bit of artistic licence) has her delivering a rousing Henry V- at-Agincourt-type speech to English troops before they rout the Scots. 

But she failed to provide Henry with a living male heir so… However, we begin the series with the red-headed Catherine (Charlotte Hope) as Queen, and mother to a newborn son. Everyone is happy – for now. StarzPlay, from Sunday

 

Rumpole Of The Bailey 

Written by former barrister John Mortimer and inspired by his father, this appealing courtroom comedy-drama ran for seven series from 1978 to 1992. It starred Leo McKern as the crafty, fruity-voiced Old Bailey defence barrister Horace Rumpole, who never pleads guilty and has to contend with snooty, pushier colleagues from his chambers, incompetent or hang ’em judges and an imperious wife Hilda (‘She Who Must Be Obeyed’). 

Leo McKern is the crafty, fruity-voiced Old Bailey defence barrister Horace Rumpole, who never pleads guilty and has to contend with snooty, pushier colleagues from his chambers

Leo McKern is the crafty, fruity-voiced Old Bailey defence barrister Horace Rumpole, who never pleads guilty and has to contend with snooty, pushier colleagues from his chambers

The show also gave a boost to the acting careers of Peter Bowles, as head of chambers and Social Democrat Party MP Sir Guthrie Featherstone, and Patricia Hodge as Rumpole’s pupil, Phyllida Erskine-Brown. Acorn TV, from Monday

 

Back To Life 

After 18 years in prison, Miri (Daisy Haggard) returns to the family home she last saw as a teenager. Her bedroom is still decorated with posters of Bowie, Prince and George Michael – all now dead. 

The boy she once loved is a grown-up man, married with two kids. We don’t know at first exactly what Miri’s crime was but people in her small home town hate and fear her, and her mum (Geraldine James) hides the knives so it probably wasn’t a parking offence. 

‘I want a second chance. I just thought my life would be different at this age,’ Miri says. This affecting comedy drama is propelled by the performance of Haggard, who co-wrote it with Laura Solon. 

It has been nominated for an International Emmy and renewed for a second series. BritBox, from Thursday

 

Clouds 

Zach Sobiech became an internet sensation in 2012 when his song Clouds, about his battle with bone cancer, went viral and received more than three million views. The American eventually succumbed to the disease in 2015, 17 days after his 18th birthday. 

Fin Argus plays Sobiech in this moving film about his life, with Sabrina Carpenter (Above) as bandmate Sammy and Neve Campbell as his mother Laura

Fin Argus plays Sobiech in this moving film about his life, with Sabrina Carpenter (Above) as bandmate Sammy and Neve Campbell as his mother Laura

Fin Argus plays Sobiech in this moving film about his life, with Sabrina Carpenter as bandmate Sammy and Neve Campbell as his mother Laura, whose memoir inspired the screenplay. Disney+, from Friday

 

Why is there such a buzz about..? 

My Octopus Teacher (Netflix)

Warning: watching this will make you fall in love with an octopus. Seriously. It will make you weep for an octopus, cheer for an octopus and move you to encourage everyone else you know to watch and fall in love with an octopus.

Film-maker and naturalist Craig Foster becomes obsessed with this incredible creature while freediving (with, it seems, the ability to hold his breath for hours) in the undersea kelp forests off Cape Town.

His first encounter with her is when he comes across a strange pile of random shells. When she suddenly darts from the jungle, it becomes clear she has fashioned them around herself as a protective ‘house’. (This footage actually first featured in the BBC’s Blue Planet II, with David Attenborough marvelling at this never-before-seen behaviour.)

Craig Foster and his friend collaborated on filming daily visits to the octopus

Craig Foster and his friend collaborated on filming daily visits to the octopus

Foster and his friend, Blue Planet II’s cameraman Roger Horrocks, collaborated on filming daily visits to the octopus in her natural habitat, capturing multiple, incredibly rare sights. 

We watch her quickly learn to change hunting strategies to adapt to new prey. We watch as she evades her predator, the ever-present pyjama shark, with an eerily human display of cunning. 

But what sets this documentary apart from the other trips to the deep is the emotional bond that Foster seems to form with this gelatinous, other-worldly blob.

The sight of this tiny, vulnerable creature appearing to cuddle up to him is one to melt the hardest of hearts. All in all, My Octopus Teacher makes for a compelling, curiously effective emotional journey.

Jo Elvin 

 

AMAZON, BBC iPLAYER, ALL 4 & ITV HUB

 

The Personal History Of David Copperfield

You feel that Dickens would have been thrilled by this exuberantly rompish, extravagantly theatrical retelling of his most autobiographical novel. It plays fast and loose with his text but is faithful to the spirit of it and is absolutely brimming with energy and invention. 

We follow the title character from tragedy to triumph as he becomes ‘the hero of my own life’. Dev Patel heads a marvellous cast that also includes a scene-stealing Peter Capaldi (Mr Micawber), Daisy May Cooper (Peggotty), Hugh Laurie (Mr Dick) and Tilda Swinton (Betsey Trotwood). 

Rosalind Eleazar, making her feature film debut as Agnes, who is in love with David, is terrific. Cramming this doorstopper into a celebratory two-hour movie is no mean feat. 

Dev Patel (above) heads a marvellous cast that also includes a scene-stealing Peter Capaldi (Mr Micawber), Daisy May Cooper (Peggotty) and Hugh Laurie (Mr Dick)

Dev Patel (above) heads a marvellous cast that also includes a scene-stealing Peter Capaldi (Mr Micawber), Daisy May Cooper (Peggotty) and Hugh Laurie (Mr Dick)

Hats off to Armando Iannucci, who directed and co-wrote it with his Veep and The Thick Of It collaborator Simon Blackwell. Amazon Prime, from Friday

 

The Twelve 

The latest stop on Walter Presents’ televisual world tour is Belgium. This courtroom drama won Best Screenplay at the Cannes TV Festival last year and it’s easy to see why – this is tension-filled telly at its best. 

Respected headteacher Frie Palmers stands trial for two murders, including that of her own child. It’s a disturbing case and the pressure begins to mount on the jury members tasked with figuring out whether or not she’s guilty.

Lynn Van Royen, previously seen in Tabula Rasa and Hotel Beau Séjour, heads the cast. All 4, from Friday

 

Des 

‘The banality of evil’, though coined as a phrase during the Nuremberg Trials, perfectly describes the serial killer Dennis ‘Des’ Nilsen and his bone-chilling portrayal by David Tennant. 

His performance, like the murderer himself, is quiet and unassuming to the point of invisibility – it almost seems impossible that this mild-mannered office worker was capable of killing 15 men. 

David Tennant's (above) performance, like the murderer himself, is quiet and unassuming to the point of invisibility

David Tennant’s (above) performance, like the murderer himself, is quiet and unassuming to the point of invisibility

The 1980s period setting is wonderfully observed – no unnecessary, politically correct updates here – where smoking acts like punctuation. Daniel Mays as lead police officer Peter Jay is, as ever, reliably brilliant but the show belongs to Tennant and his dead-eyed depiction. ITV Hub, available now

 

The Bridge 

This third series finds the uncompromising Swede Saga Norén (Sofia Helin) with a new sidekick, having reported her previous working partner Martin Rhode and got him imprisoned for killing the murderer of his son (Kim Bodnia, who played him, actually quit the show, unhappy with his character’s direction). 

This third series finds the uncompromising Swede Saga Norén (Sofia Helin, above) with a new sidekick, having reported her previous working partner Martin Rhode and got him imprisoned

This third series finds the uncompromising Swede Saga Norén (Sofia Helin, above) with a new sidekick, having reported her previous working partner Martin Rhode and got him imprisoned

Enter pill-popping Danish ’tec Henrik (Thure Lindhardt), whose wife and two daughters have been missing for six years, so no problems there… The pair tackle a series of seemingly politically motivated murders in which bodies are placed in tableaux copying famous paintings. BBC iPlayer, s1-3 available now

 

Love Life 

Each episode of this ten-part romcom tells the story of a failed relationship in the life of Darby Carter (Anna Kendrick), a twentysomething woman living in New York. If that sounds depressing, it’s exactly the opposite. 

Partly because narrator Lesley Manville tells us at the end of the first episode: ‘Darby doesn’t know it yet, but her person is out there.’ And partly because the whole thing is held aloft by the charm and skill of Kendrick, who has you rooting for her character from the outset. 

A second season has been announced and will tell a different story. BBC iPlayer, available now

 

Taskmaster 

When Alex Horne came up with a novelty idea for his 2010 Edinburgh show, he can’t have imagined it would turn into a hugely successful TV programme, whose tenth series debuts on Channel 4 this week (starring Johnny Vegas). 

When Alex Horne came up with a novelty idea, he can’t have imagined it would turn into a TV programme, whose tenth series debuts on Channel 4 this week (starring Johnny Vegas)

When Alex Horne came up with a novelty idea, he can’t have imagined it would turn into a TV programme, whose tenth series debuts on Channel 4 this week (starring Johnny Vegas)

But the format – in which Taskmaster Greg Davies, with help from sidekick Horne, sets challenges for a clutch of comedians – has been a runaway success. The first nine series aired on Dave, and now they’re all available to stream to tie in with the latest run. All 4, from Thursday

FILMS

The house is not what it seems. Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried (above) star

The house is not what it seems. Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried (above) star

You Should Have Left 

From horror specialists Blumhouse and directed by David Koepp, this finds an American couple – whose relationship is in trouble – trying to repair things with a holiday in a beautiful, architect-designed house in deepest, darkest Wales. 

But it soon becomes apparent that the house is not what it seems. Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried star. Most platforms, from Monday

 

Body Of Water 

Stephanie has an eating disorder but she’s not the gaunt teenager most expect. In fact, she’s well into her 30s and has a teenage daughter. Coming out of residential care for the fourth time, it’s a struggle balancing the demands of her headstrong daughter, her volatile mother and eating problems that refuse to go away. 

A tough watch but important too. Sian Brooke and Amanda Burton star. BFI Player, Curzon Home Cinema & Sky Store, from Friday

Some of the subjugated women are his wives/daughters (Raffey Cassidy, above)

Some of the subjugated women are his wives/daughters (Raffey Cassidy, above)

 

The Other Lamb 

Beautifully shot and gorgeous to look at, Malgorzata Szumowksa’s slow-moving but powerful film is set in a remote, all-female cult where the only man is its leader, known as the Shepherd. 

Some of the subjugated women are his wives, other his daughters. Which doesn’t sound like a healthy mix at all. Raffey Cassidy stars. Mubi, from Friday

Matthew Bond 

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