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TV PREVIEW: John Pilger’s NHS documentary sadly buried in the post-election graveyard

The Dirty War on the NHS (copyright ITV).
The Dirty War on the NHS (copyright ITV).

This week, Paul confronts a heartbreaking true story and a risible piece of fiction…

NEXT WEEK’S TV

RESPONSIBLE CHILD

Monday, BBC Two, 9pm

Responsible Child (copyright BBC).

Based on a true story, this riveting standalone drama follows a twelve-year-old boy, Ray, as he stands accused of the brutal murder of his stepfather. Ray (a haunting performance from newcomer Billy Barratt) is a bright, shy, sensitive child from an abusive family background. The details of his alleged crime are gradually revealed via fraught flashbacks. Meanwhile, his dedicated defence team mount their case. Criminal law in England and Wales decrees that children as young as ten are fit to stand trial in an adult court. Responsible Child probes deeply into the stark ramifications of that law. Etched in nauseating shades of anguished verisimilitude, it’s a compassionate political piece in the Ken Loach vein. It will linger.

STICKS AND STONES

Monday to Wednesday, STV, 9pm

Sticks and Stones (copyright ITV)

When a successful businessman botches a crucial sales pitch through no fault of his own, his colleagues start to bully him. Bullying in the workplace is a serious issue, but the well-intentioned message behind this three-part drama from Doctor Foster creator Mike Bartlett is fatally undermined by sledgehammer writing. It’s utterly ridiculous. The victim’s tormentors are one-dimensional pantomime villains, their cruel behaviour is absurdly blatant. In real life they’d be more insidious, that’s how bullying among adults tends to work. Bartlett presumably knows this, but subtlety has never been his strong point. Sticks and Stones is a missed opportunity, a drama with its heart in the right place but with a big fat foot in its mouth.

THE GALAXY BRITAIN BUILT: THE BRITISH FORCE BEHIND STAR WARS

Monday, BBC Four, 9:30pm

Now this is rather lovely. Star Wars, as we know, was a game-changing Hollywood blockbuster, but it would never have existed or thrived without the efforts of talented British artisans. To illustrate that point, affable broadcaster David Whiteley, a lifelong Star Wars fan, meets some of those now elderly producers and design pioneers. It’s a thorough excavation of a project that was regarded as an utter oddity, an expensive folly, at the time, but which turned out to be something quite special. One is left with the abiding impression that George Lucas was a bit of a weirdo who hit upon some good ideas, none of which would’ve been realised without major professional assistance. Either way, it worked.

THE DIRTY WAR ON THE NHS

Tuesday, STV, 11:05pm

The Dirty War on the NHS (copyright ITV)

The great investigative journalist John Pilger must’ve spat a fountain of feathers when informed that his report on Johnson’s plans for the NHS was to be buried in a graveyard slot after the election. This is officially due to broadcasting rules of impartiality during a G.E. campaign. Yeah, right. Full disclosure: I haven’t seen it, no TV critic has, but this is how Pilger describes it: “The NHS today is under threat of being sold off and converted to a free market model inspired by America’s disastrous health insurance system, which results in the death every year of an estimated 45,000 people. Now President Trump says the NHS is ‘on the table’ in any future trade deal with America.”

FILM of THE WEEK

JAWS: THE REVENGE

Wednesday, ITV4, 8:10pm

Jaws: The Revenge (copyright Universal Pictures)

Usually, I hope, I encourage you to watch films of genuine merit. On this occasion I urge you to watch one of the most hysterically awful films ever made. Trust me, it doesn’t disappoint. An unconvincing shark (a descendant of the first one?) actually follows Chief Brody’s widow to the Bahamas. Michael Caine barely phones it in as a roguish local pilot. A masterpiece of trash.

LAST WEEK’S TV

ELIZABETH IS MISSING

Sunday December 8, BBC One

Elizabeth Is Missing (copyright BBC)

The last time we saw the seemingly retired actor and former Labour MP Glenda Jackson on TV was either via Morecambe and Wise repeats or on Newsnight. So it was a rare pleasure to be reminded of what a great actor she is in Elizabeth is Missing, a beautifully-written, gut-punching drama in which she played an octogenarian with Alzheimer’s. This was the sort of role for which grandstanding, BAFTA-hungry actors were born to inhabit with the utmost faux-humility, but Jackson is better than that. Her performance as Maude was utterly convincing, tender and true. Totally lacking in vanity, it was actually magnificent. Maude’s life is all our lives. We love, we laugh, we cry, we frail away and die. Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease, we must never, ever ignore or misunderstand it. These people aren’t invisible. Take care of each other, will you?

THE ROYAL VARIETY PERFORMANCE

Tuesday December 10, STV

From the sublime to the utterly irrelevant and downright offensive. Call me a right old bore with sincerely-held values if you will, but what in the name of molten crikey was Romesh Ranganathan – a vaguely alternative comedian – thinking when he agreed to co-host this Windsor-sponsored drivel? The noxious spectre of Prince Andrew hovered over the whole event. Such fun!

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