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Paul Whitelaw: Powerful viewing with AIDS: The Unheard Tapes and Dispatches in Ukraine

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Paul’s TV choices pull no punches this week, starting with a striking insight into the lives of young gay men in 1980s and 90s Britain, followed by a Dispatches documentary following the battle for Kharkiv.

AIDS: The Unheard Tapes – Monday, BBC Two, 9:30pm

This new three-part series revolves around audio interviews with young gay men recorded throughout the 1980s and 1990s, recordings subsequently archived at the British Library. They’ve never been broadcast in public before. Their voices are meticulously lip-synched by actors. The filmmakers took quite a risk here; with a little less care and attention that borderline gimmicky device could’ve easily undermined their sincere intentions, but it works. I daresay you’ll find yourselves immersed in these candid, moving stories. It all takes place against a bleak bigoted backdrop of virulent homophobia and scaremongering, which eerily foreshadows the horrific transphobia we’re currently witnessing in this supposedly enlightened day and age. AIDS: The Unheard Tapes is powerful television.

Murder in the Alps – Monday and Tuesday, Channel 4, 9pm

Murder in the Alps: Mark Preston, Zaid Al-Hilli, Tom Parry delve back into the stranger than fiction case.

Gruesome catnip for true crime addicts, this series (which starts on Channel 4 on Sunday at 9pm) investigates the unsolved case of a British family who were murdered in an idyllic French beauty spot almost ten years ago. The brother of one of the victims was once a prime suspect, but he’s since been exonerated. His story is told in tandem with that of the various investigators. It’s an incredibly complicated, twist-strewn saga. In Monday’s episode, journalists dig into the victim’s connections with the Iraqi regime. Meanwhile, the police stumble across a Swiss bank account containing almost a million euros, and the FBI help to uncover details of a secret marriage. A truth/stranger than fiction scenario.

Dispatches – Ukraine: Life Under Attack – Monday, Channel 4, 10pm

Narrated by Cate Blanchett, this starkly intimate documentary tells the story of the battle for Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city. For ten weeks, the film crew were trapped alongside the civilians and frontline workers who bore the brunt of Russia’s initial onslaught. We follow fireman Roman and his team as they attempt to combat a relentless blitz. Paramedics Tatjana and Irina are tasked with rescuing civilian casualties. And the people of Kharkiv, all of whom are innocent victims of a heinous invasion, talk candidly about what they’re going through. Channel 4’s Dispatches, which began way back in 1987, is a venerable example of British television journalism at its most vital. We cannot afford to lose it.

Storyville: Citizen Ashe – Tuesday, BBC Four, 10pm

Arthur Ashe pictured on a visit to Soweto in 1973.                                                Gerry Cranham/Offside,Gerry Cranham

The legendary sportsman and social activist Arthur Ashe was the first black tennis player to be selected for the US Davis Cup team. This thoughtful 90-minute documentary gives him his thoroughly deserved due. Ashe’s socio-political activism was initially inspired by the Civil Rights movement, but as time rolled on he expanded his horizons to encompass oppressed people from all around the world. Ashe died of AIDS-related complications in the early 1990s. In the last few years of his life, he founded the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS and the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. A truly remarkable man who achieved so much.

Lenny Henry’s Caribbean Britain – Wednesday, BBC Two, 9:30pm

Sir Lenny Henry outside the Hackney Empire.                                                    Douglas Road Productions, Garry Carbon.

In the concluding episode of Len’s tender cultural odyssey, he examines the ways in which second and third generation British-born Caribbean kids integrated their identity into their art. As a young comedian in the 1970s, he made awkward jokes at his own expense. Kids of colour no longer have to do that, and Len explains why in an episode devoted to the progress we’ve made over the last 40 years. Comedy, music and drama have enriched our multicultural society. And Len himself, although he’s too modest to say this outright, played a huge role in bringing the black experience to the masses. For people of a certain generation (i.e. my generation) he will always be a cherished comedy hero.

Sarah Beeny’s Little House Big Plans – Thursday, Channel 4, 8pm

Sarah Beeny is back with Little House/Big House on Channel 4.

This week, industrious property developer Sarah Beeny meets more folk who are brave/foolhardy enough to buy and ambitiously convert small living spaces. First up are a couple from Poole who got their first taste of the property market when they purchased a poky semi-detached house that was built in the 1930s. Their bold plan: expand the space by creating an open-plan kitchen diner. Unfortunately, by the time Beeny rocks up they’ve already spent their budget. The whole thing is being precariously funded on a week to week paycheque basis. We also spend time with a couple who are in the process of transforming their Victorian terrace into a modern, spacious home complete with indoor garden.

The Undeclared War – Thursday, Channel 4, 9pm

Simon Pegg as Danny, who takes charge of the computer analysts in this underwhelming thriller.

The latest political thriller from writer/director Peter Kosminsky is set in 2024. The UK is still in the grip of COVID while struggling through one of its worst ever economic slumps. The new PM (Adrian Lester) is even more unpopular than Boris Johnson. Meanwhile, a preeminent team of computer analysts led by Simon Pegg deal with an increase in cyber-attacks. Potentially interesting subject matter, but it’s a terribly dry affair primarily devoted to people frowning at screens while chatting about codes and viruses; watch out for an inadvertently funny moment just before the second ad break, when Kosminsky ramps up some dramatic music in lieu of any actual drama occurring. Suffice to say, it’s not his finest work.


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