TV has now long been whipping cinema’s arse with its thematic innovation, original writing and memorable performances, and as the year draws to a close with the release of Channel 4’s Black Mirror: White Christmas, which aired on the 16th December, we feel it’s about to time to pay homage to the channel’s excellent array of drama. Amidst all the Inbertweenery, How-I-Met-Your-Mothering, Hollyoaky crap, there are some truly relevant stories being put out there. So here’s our pick of the best stuff it’s offered us over the years…
First Broadcast: 4th December 2011
Directors: Otto Bathurst, Euros Lyn, Brian Welsh, Owen Harris, Carl Tibbetts and Bryn Higgins
What would the world look like if everyone’s lives became completely taken over by technology? If everyone spent all of their time starring at the ‘black mirror’ that is their phone, computer and TV screen? If technological advancement continued progressing at the rate it is now? It would probably look pretty much the same, eh. The deeply dark Dystopian satire that is Black Mirror exaggerates a modern world that is increasingly more and more de-humanized. The strength of the storytelling peaked in Carl Tibbets White Christmas this year, but all of the seven episodes so far have been groundbreaking. Ever get that uncanny feeling that social media, reality TV and celebrity obsession is rotting your brain and soul? Be prepared for some home truths with this one.
First Broadcast: 15th July 2013
Directors: Charles Martin & Jonathan Pearson
Stand-out performances in this heart-breaking, interlinked four-part drama have got to be: Lennie James as Richard, the heroine addict desperate to re-establish a relationship with his daughter; Olivia Colman as struggling single mum Carol, trying to reconcile her maternal instinct with her two sons’ violent behavior; and the illegal immigrant Ying portrayed by Katie Leung, alone and struggling on the streets of Brixton. What does drug addiction, single parenting and immigration all have in common? They are relevant issues to our society, and by beautifully and accurately dramatizing them, Run not only raises awareness but it raises interest in a young audience.
First Broadcast: 5th March 2009
Directors: Julian Jarrold, James Marsh and Anand Tucker
An absolute classic three-parter that was arguably part of British TV’s overtaking movement of cinema in quality, Red Riding is an immersive detective drama produced by Channel 4 based on the Yorkshire Ripper murders of the 70s/80s. The story alludes to the conspiratorial nature of the police force, which, given the view of policing practice currently in the eyes of the public, is a powerful subject on repeat viewing. The photography is simply cinematic.
ANY HUMAN HEART
First Broadcast: 21st December 2010
Director: Michael Samuels
Based on William Boyd’s novel (who also wrote the screenplay), this three part drama takes us on a tour of the meatiest part of the 20th century through one man’s rich life. We begin with Jim Broadbent as Logan Mountstuart, an ill man approaching the end of his life, rifling through the many papers and photographs he has accumulated over the years. Here is innovation in itself: bathing in the value of an old man’s past. Taking note of someone neither young nor beautiful, because of all the revolutionary things they have seen and been part of. This is the angle from which we are encouraged to approach Any Human Heart.
First Broadcast: 9th February 2014
Directors: Danny Boyle (pilot), Jon S. Baird and Sally El Hosaini
Babylon is not the most refined, most original production going. However its thematic concerns – namely the role of the media and its key influence in law enforcement today – are important. It very successfully shows up at once the importance and ludicrousy of social media, the immediacy and availability of information (and therefore the cheapness), and how this must be incorporated into modern practices. It also showcases issues of police violence and corruption, which as we know is the hot topic of the moment.
First Broadcast: 25th January 2007
Directors: Many, many, many.
Skins was an important jump in teen TV and helped shape the modern view of the young British population. Commodifying new species of cliques that have formed over the recent decades in teenagers, it was an ambitious project of representation that often gets described as ‘cringy’. But it’s important to think about why this is; in the same way that nowadays we might call someone who is overly self-conscious about looking ‘cool’ a Hipster, it was uncomfortable and crude to see indie culture so easily manufactured on the screen. Skins did validate some of the problems that modern young adults might face, and for this reason still holds its own in TV memory.
First Broadcast: 13th December 2011
Director: Shane Meadows
There are bits of This Is England ’86 and ’88, following on from the 2006 film, that do not translate that well into the TV format, such as the more violent characters of the film filling comedic roles which seemed to go against their original personalities. But in retrospect it’s easy to see why Meadows felt the series needed some comic relief. With shockingly convincing performances from Joseph Gilgun as Woody and Johnny Harris as Mick, Lol’s abusive father, this drama made breakthroughs in mainstream TV in its treatment of rape, suicide and depression. Harrowing to watch (to say the least….especial ’88), it was certainly not a mistake to make the great film into a series. We look forward to the This Is England ’90, the final instalment, in the new year.
First Broadcast: 12th April 2012
Director: Ricky Gervais
There is so much comedy to be found in a retirement home – so many little daily quirks, spontaneous jokes and accidental humorous collisions – and Ricky Gervais has managed to capture the mixture of sadness and bitter-sweetness that exists in the care industry of our country with Derek. What is so refreshing here is to see an ultra-famous comedian using his skill to raise awareness for the elderly, valuing them as experienced human beings and not nuisances. As Derek says of one of the residents who passes away, “She said it was better to be kind than to be clever or good looking, I’m not clever or good looking. But I’m kind.”
First Broadcast: 31st October 2011
Directors: Yann Demange & Jonathan van Tulleken
Top Boy felt authentic; from the quick London language to the breathing rhythm of the streets to the twinkly night sky under which so much drama unfolds. Adolescent performances from the two main youngsters, Ra’Nell (Malcolm Kamulete) and Gem (Giacomo Mancini), perfectly portray the struggle of growing up in a contrived environment and trying to step up to be a man before you should have to. It was great to see a sympathetic and accurate view of drug culture in London, which is so often dismissed without attempt at understanding how young people are roped into it.
3 C4 Copyrighted Brit Talents
Ballsy Northerner. Good-looking. Brings authenticity to everything he does. First shone in Shane Meadows’ This Is England as Pukey. Starred Up (Film4-backed) took his acting talent to another level. Angelina Jolie-directed Unbroken will be an interesting watch this Christmas…
An at once hilarious and hard-hitting actor. His performance in the This Is England series is unmissable. He took over the comedic depressive role from Robert Sheehan (Nathan) as Rudy in The Misfits.
Documentary filmmaker. Made Gypsy Blood and Dogging Tales, which are just about the best British documentaries in existence today. Uses music as poignantly as the camera. Does pretty much everything himself.