What’s on TV tonight: Union with David Olusoga, Rip Off Britain and more

Historian David Olusoga presents an invigorating new history of the Union
Historian David Olusoga presents an invigorating new history of the Union - BBC

Monday 2 October

Union with David Olusoga
BBC Two, 9pm
David Olusoga has forged a path as a keen observer of modern British society through its tumultuous history. In this thoughtful four-part documentary series, the historian turns his attention to the four nations of the United Kingdom, and how they came to form a single state despite dramatic cultural and political differences.

The first episode smartly plots the events leading up to the 1707 Act of Union, unpicking its foundational myth: the gunpowder plot of 1605, which became a bogeyman story about the threat of Catholicism – and helped to bolster James I’s campaign to join the kingdoms of England (and Wales) and Scotland. There is an affecting exploration of the history of Northern Ireland, born from the Plantation of Ulster, when Protestant settlers displaced native Irish Catholics. Elevating things beyond a mildly interesting doc is the inclusion of interviews with the Britons of today – whom, Olusoga provocatively suggests, could be “destined to become its last” amid continued calls for separatism. Dermot says the legacy of the plantation was the destruction of Irish culture, while Lauren laments that, centuries later, some still believe she doesn’t belong in Ireland. All episodes are on iPlayer. JT

Rip Off Britain
BBC One, 9.15am
The Telegraph’s Strictly columnist Angela Rippon fronts a new series of scam-busting consumer investigations. Alongside Gloria Hunniford and Jennie Bond, she fights for a woman billed £5,000 on a two-bed flat, and asks why rural communities continue to face such scandalously poor wifi connections.

BBC One, 9pm
At the time of going to press, the content of this special, hour-long edition of Panorama was yet to be confirmed by the BBC – which suggests it might contain explosive content. Speculation has naturally fallen on perhaps yet more allegations against comedian Russell Brand or one of his peers. But we’ll have to wait until closer to transmission to find out.

The Long Shadow
ITV1, 9pm
Emily Jackson’s (Katherine Kelly) fate is revealed following the ominous final scenes of the first episode when she gets into an unknown car; leaving husband Sydney (Daniel Mays) devastated to discover he is a suspect in her murder. This harrowing dramatisation of the five-year investigation into serial killer Peter Sutcliffe continues to offer a moving study of the lives of the victims and their families.

Endurance: Race to the Pole with Ben Fogle 
Channel 5, 9pm
Ben Fogle embarks on his latest adventure, re-staging the expeditions of Roald Amundsen, Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton to the South Pole. He joins explorer Dwayne Fields as they attempt to replicate every aspect of the Edwardian expeditions – complete with boiled wool jumpers, knitted scarfs and Inuit-designed sleds.

BBC Two, 10pm; not NI
After discovering that her father (Sanjeev Bhaskar) was not, in fact, killed by an errant pedalo, Emily (Natalie Dew) recovers from her initial fury to help him stage a fake memorial. The cringey seaside comedy, landing on the BBC after a run on Gold, has a stacked cast including Sophie Thompson and David Walliams. All episodes are on iPlayer.

My Name is Happy 
Channel 4, 11.05pm
Days after reaching the finals of Turkey’s Got Talent, singer Mutlu Kaya was shot in the head by a man whose marriage proposal she rejected. Nick Read and Ayşe Toprak’s film follows her courageous recovery, which is tragically interrupted by escalating attacks against the women caring for her.

California (1946) ★★★★
5Action, 2pm  
John Farrow’s rollicking Western is set amid the beginning of the California Gold Rush. Soldier Jonathan Trumbo (Ray Milland) swaps the Army with the West Coast with dollar signs in his eyes; along the way, he enlists the help of saloon girl Lily (Barbara Stanwyck) and Irishman Michael (Barry Fitzgerald), each with their own dreams of imminent riches. If only capricious landowner Coffin (George Coulouris) wasn’t waiting for them.

Philadelphia (1993) ★★★★
Great! Movies, 6.35pm  
Remember when Tom Hanks played daft comedy roles in Big and Splash? Well, Jonathan Demme’s film, which won him his first Oscar for Best Actor, marks his crossover into serious drama. Hanks plays Andrew Beckett, a man with Aids who takes the law firm for whom he works to court after they fire him when they learn of his condition. The soundtrack, featuring Bruce Springsteen’s Streets of Philadelphia, remains one of the finest of all time.

Selma (2014) ★★★★★
BBC Two, 11.15pm  
David Oyelowo gives an inspired and electrifying performance as Martin Luther King in this furious, gutsy account of the 1965 Civil Rights marches in Selma, Alabama. It was a 2015 Oscar nominee for Best Picture; the fact that they overlooked the magisterial Oyelowo (in favour of Eddie Redmayne in the saccharine The Theory of Everything), and director Ava DuVernay’s layered grasp of the history, was a blot on the awards that year.

Tuesday 3 October

Jon Culshaw plays former Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Partygate
Jon Culshaw plays former Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Partygate - Channel 4

Channel 4, 9.30pm
Joseph Bullman and Aysha Rafaele, the team behind potent fact-based dramas including the Bafta-winning The Left Behind and Killed By My Debt, here take on their highest-profile morality tale to date, revisiting the scandal that eventually brought down Boris Johnson’s premiership. The involvement of Jon Culshaw (essaying the former PM), plus Fresh Meat’s Kimberley Nixon and Charlotte Ritchie, might suggest this is played for laughs, but what comedy there may be is of the very darkest stripe.

The idiocy, presumption and arrogance of the various leaving parties, Christmas benders and “Wine Time Fridays” are potently juxtaposed with accounts from those whose sacrifices during the various lockdowns involved missing the passing and funerals of loved ones. Others do not defend their own lockdown parties, only questioning the disproportionate official response in comparison. A few aspects are dramatised and not all the fictionalised drunken chats between advisors quite land but, by using the chronology and detail diligently exposed in the Sue Gray report as a template, the enraging, bewildering nature and extent of the disgrace endures. GT

Fake or Fortune?
BBC One, 8pm
Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould take a look at a painting mooted to be by Sir Joshua Reynolds and snapped up online for £2,700 – scientific, creative and even legal expertise are brought to bear in order to determine its provenance.

The Great British Bake Off
Channel 4, 8pm
Biscuit week arrives with more classics on the menu: a marshmallow-y signature is followed by a custard-based classic, before the bakers must make their favourite meal out of biscuits. New co-host Alison Hammond has settled in a treat, too.

Rise of the Nazis: the Manhunt
BBC Two, 9pm
The final instalment of this riveting series focuses on the late 1960s, with West Germany’s future very publicly undermined by the exposure of Chancellor Kurt Kiesinger’s past in the Nazi Party. Josef Mengele, meanwhile, is one of several senior figures still at large.

Jailed: Inside Maghaberry Prison
BBC Two, 10pm
Stephen Nolan spends time among the inmates of the eponymous Northern Irish high-security prison in this depressing, but vital, six-part series. The governor, focused more on rehabilitation than punishment, is impressive, but the extent of self-harm and addiction among prisoners presents a formidable obstacle. The series has been airing weekly on BBC Two Northern Ireland and is available on iPlayer.

White Nanny, Black Child
Channel 5, 10pm
Andy Mundy-Castle’s affecting documentary is a striking left-turn for Channel 5, telling the stories of nine of the 70,000 West African children fostered by white British families between 1955 and 1995 while their parents established lives in the UK. Now adults, they spend time at a retreat where they discuss racism and abandonment.

If the Streets Were on Fire: Storyville
BBC Four, 10pm
An antidote to the tragic stories of knife crime in the capital, Alice Russell’s clear-eyed slice of optimism focuses on BikeStormz, the brainchild of community activist Mac Ferrari-Guy. Offering an alternative means of self-expression free from the threat of violence, their wheelies and tricks are both exhilarating to perform and thrilling to watch – likewise, perhaps unexpectedly, Ferrari-Guy’s negotiations with suspicious police.

Cries and Whispers (1972) ★★★★★
Sky Cinema Greats, 6.10pm  
Perhaps Swedish director Ingmar Bergman’s greatest film. Taking place in a sprawling mansion at the end of the 19th century, three sisters (Harriet Andersson, Liv Ullmann and Ingrid Thulin) and their empathetic maid (Kari Sylwan) must reckon with one of their number slowly dying. It was nominated for five Oscars, and won the award for Best Cinematography. For more Bergman, Fanny and Alexander follows at 8pm.

The Real Charlie Chaplin (2021) ★★★★
Film4, 10.50pm  
This playful, inquisitive documentary from Peter Middleton and James Spinney doesn’t flinch from the darker aspects of Chaplin’s life, from a childhood spent living in poverty to domestic scandals and political exile. There’s an evocative interview (from 1983) with Charlie’s close friend Effie Wisdom, plus an excellent chapter on the odd parallels between Chaplin and Hitler.

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) ★★★★
BBC Two, 11.15pm  
Derek Cianfrance’s brilliant crime drama takes place on the treacherous backroads of upstate New York, telling four linked stories over 15 years. Ryan Gosling is on fine form as Luke, a taciturn petrol head (generally the similarities to Drive are minimal). His attempts to provide for his loved ones puts him into the path of hardened cop Avery (Bradley Cooper), whose life will be changed utterly by their interactions.

Wednesday 4 October

Derek Riddell and Lexie Noble in Payback
Derek Riddell and Lexie Noble in Payback - ITV

ITV1, 9pm
Brooding and breathy, this six-part Scottish crime drama follows middle-class mother Lexie Noble (Morven Christie), whose contented existence in the Edinburgh suburbs is thrown into chaos when her husband’s role in a money-laundering scheme is revealed. Christie is a pro at these wobbly dramatic roles (The Bay; The A Word), and the story is built around her character’s psychological turmoil (the camera is squarely focused on her face) as she’s caught between the police and the city’s criminal underworld. Peter Mullan is equally comfortable as semi-demonic crime honcho Cal Morris, who drags Lexie into working for him when a Maltese bank transfer goes awry.

Leading the police investigation is DC Jibran Khan (Prasanna Puwanarajah, recently seen as Martin Bashir in The Crown), determined to use Lexie to bring down Cal’s empire. He strikes up an enjoyable partnership with old school copper DCI Adam Guthrie (Derek Riddell), who prefers flashy drug-busts to poring over bank statements. There’s a simmering tension to this first episode which offers promise, but we’re somewhat bereft of action following the opening revelations. JT

Time to enjoy a rose-tinted look at the career of British football’s biggest celebrity. This four-part documentary traces David Beckham’s career from Manchester United to LA Galaxy, his marriage to Spice Girl Victoria and his lucrative post-football career.

Swimming in Sewage: Britain’s Water Scandal 
Channel 5, 7pm
Michaela Strachan explores the nauseating effects of water companies pumping raw sewage into rivers, meeting swimmers whose favourite spots have been polluted and scientists concerned about the ecological impact. Lurking at the edge of Lake Windermere, Strachan asks: “Can you imagine if I squatted here and took a dump in this lake?”

Portrait Artist of the Decade 
Sky Arts, 8pm
Celebrating a decade of Portrait Artist of the Year, and preceding the start of the 10th season, the previous winners go head-to-head for the chance to be named Portrait Artist of the Decade. Their subject is the actress Judi Dench, who proves a sparkling and evocative sitter.

Celebrity Race Across the World
BBC One, 9pm
McFly drummer Harry Judd and his sweet mother, Emma, form the heart of this frantic reality format, featuring a crop of celebrities as they compete to be the first to reach the Arctic from North Africa. In this third episode, they travel by ferry from Corsica to Italy, before shooting up through the Alps to Zermatt in Switzerland. Racing driver Billy Monger plots an alternative route through France, while All Saints singer Melanie Blatt’s attempts to hitchhike fail miserably.

DNA Family Secrets
BBC Two, 9pm
Helping people connect with their genetic relatives, Stacey Dooley meets Kerry, who wants to know whether the man who raised her is really her father. Meanwhile, Liverpudlian Anthony mounts a touching search for the American GI he believes was his father.

Moulin Rouge: Yes We Can-Can!
BBC Two, 10pm; NI, 11.45pm
This fly-on-the-wall series about the famed Paris institution is worthwhile for the magnetically sinister artistic director Janet Pharaoh alone. Tonight, she auditions a crop of new male dancers with all the impish disdain of Disney villainess Cruella de Vil.

Haunted Mansion (2023) ★★
Translating a 1969 Disneyland ride into a modern-day film is no mean feat (an earlier attempt was made in 2003 with Eddie Murphy), but Haunted Mansion tries its best by putting Jamie Lee Curtis inside a crystal ball to play Madame Leota, the spirit of a psychic medium. LaKeith Stanfield co-stars as a physicist-cum-tour guide who is recruited by Owen Wilson’s priest to zap up the “ghost particles” in a New Orleans mansion.

A Time to Kill (1996) ★★★★
Film4, 9pm  
Adapted from John Grisham’s first novel, this is the harrowing tale of a black man (Samuel L Jackson), who, having murdered the men responsible for his young daughter’s horrific rape, seeks a fair trial amid the racism of the South. Matthew McConaughey plays the principled lawyer who defends him and, as a result, has his life violently disrupted by the Ku Klux Klan (including Kiefer Sutherland). Joel Schumacher directs.

Alien (1979) ★★★★
BBC One, 10.40pm  
Ridley Scott’s terrifying horror classic not only placed Sigourney Weaver on the Hollywood A-list, but also redefined a genre that was in desperate need of a modern makeover. After a team of astronauts (led by Tom Skerritt and John Hurt) disturb a nest of alien eggs, they unwittingly take on board a peckish predator who wreaks havoc on both the ship and its crew members’ innards. “That son of a b----h is huge! I mean... It’s like a man!”

Thursday 5 October

Rachel Shenton and Nicholas Ralph in All Creatures Great and Small
Rachel Shenton and Nicholas Ralph in All Creatures Great and Small - Channel 5

All Creatures Great and Small
Channel 5, 8pm
Amid the strangeness of the Phoney War, the village of Darrowby endures a snowy Easter and everyone seems a little becalmed: James (Nicholas Ralph) and Helen (Rachel Shenton) are juggling their hopes of starting a family with the possibility of James being called up to serve in the RAF; Siegfried (Samuel West) is fretting about his brother (Callum Woodhouse), currently away at war; and Mrs Hall (Anna Madeley) is still in limbo, unable to move on from her appalling absent husband.

As so often, it takes outside forces to break the inertia. First, James is targeted by an angry young urchin protecting his ailing dog and makes a rushed, misjudged decision; then Siegfried’s lack of curiosity causes him to overlook the real predicament of a farmer who continues to badger him for assistance. The two storylines dovetail rewardingly by the end, while Yorkshire’s politest power struggle rumbles on as Siegfried continues to resist Helen’s hapless attempts to take a more active role in the business. The performances are a delight and the scenery seductive, but, ultimately, it is the big heart and generosity of spirit that makes this series such an enduring pleasure. GT

Everything Now
Sophie Wilde (Tom Jones) leads this eight-part teenage drama as a young Londoner returning to school after a long recovery period from an eating disorder, desperate to make up for lost time. Notes of Sex Education and Heartstopper seem purposeful, but this has a pleasingly earnest charm of its own.

A third and perhaps final chapter for Omar Sy’s gentleman thief Assane Diop as, unable to bear being apart from his wife and son, he returns to Paris to suggest that they start a new life elsewhere. Sy’s easy charisma and stunning location work go a long way to smoothing over the occasional implausibility.

The latest Korean import marries impressive technique with a compelling narrative, following the travails of several strangers trapped in a motel after an earthquake – their reasons for assembling are sordid and gruesome, but the disaster turns the power dynamics upside down. Remarkably, it is all shot in one take.

BBC One, 9pm
Forget SAS: Who Dares Wins – this is the real thing, as director Paul Wells documents the progress (or otherwise) of 45 young people at Catterick’s British Army Infantry Training Centre. From how they roll up their socks to whether they can negotiate an obstacle course, every move is micromanaged and scrutinised – something that proves hard to take for some of the more strident, less mature recruits. All five episodes are on iPlayer.

Picasso: the Beauty and the Beast
BBC Two, 9pm
The famed Spanish painter’s story reaches its end as he expands his efforts into film and ceramics, while the end of one affair segues into another – but artist Françoise Gilot is no pushover. Another thoughtful grapple with the many contradictions of the man and his work.

A Dog Called Laura
ITV1, 9pm
Martin Clunes’s nature documentaries tend to be soppily self-indulgent affairs, but this one at least has an angle beyond the usual: inspired by a podcast, he sets out to learn how guide dogs are trained and offers a home to one facing retirement. Preceding it at 8pm over on Channel 5 is Dog Hospital, in which dog trainer Graeme Hall observes treatment for canines with life-threatening injuries.

3:10 to Yuma (1957, b/w) ★★★★
Film4, 3.15pm  
This black-and-white film, based on the short story by Elmore Leonard, is more claustrophobic than the 2007 remake with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. It stars Glenn Ford, who plays against type as an outlaw who is held captive by a drought-impoverished rancher (Van Heflin) until the train to the prison in Yuma pulls into town. The title track (covered later on by the wonderful Sandy Denny) is sung by Frankie Laine.

Fantastic Mr Fox (2009) ★★★★
Film4, 5.05pm  
George Clooney voices the hero in this fantastic stop-motion animation of Roald Dahl’s children’s book. Wes Anderson finds the charm and humour in Dahl’s story about a family of foxes facing off against three angry farmers and adds lots of his own. Forget Pixar and modern cartoon films, this is an Anderson film with an overwhelming sense of 1970s nostalgia. It’s an imaginative and poetically inflected comedy caper with a deeper layer.

The Intern (2015) ★★★
Comedy Central, 9pm  
Look away if you’re hoping for a Robert De Niro film as accomplished as The Irishman. However, Nancy Meyers’s workplace comedy, which stars De Niro as a no-nonsense widower who signs up for a Senior Citizen intern programme and finds himself working for Anne Hathaway’s edgy start-up, deals with relatable issues such as grief, ageing, stress, infidelity and parenting. The conclusion is tender, too.

Friday 6 October

Charlotte Ritchie in the final series of Ghosts
Charlotte Ritchie in the final series of Ghosts - Robbie Gray/BBC

BBC One, 8.30pm
Dying is easy, comedy is hard, goes the old saying. But this delightfully silly sitcom manages to mine comedy gold from both, as young couple Alison and Mike (Charlotte Ritchie and Kiell Smith-Bynoe) return to haunted Button Hall to wrangle with its spirits for a fifth and final time. Written by the Horrible Histories crew, who star as the ghouls, Ghosts’ mix of slapstick and more subtle, history-lite jokes provides laughs for all ages.

Following the drama of the fourth series’ finale, when the hall’s guest house burned down after a lightning strike, the new series opens with a low-stakes plot. The mortal couple are meant to be thinking up new ways to earn money, until Alison becomes sidetracked by an April Fools Day escapade. The spirits play a trick on her, so she vows to wreak revenge on them: generally, they’re easy to dupe, but there’s poignancy, too, when Alison lures lovesick poet Thomas Thorne (an affecting Mathew Baynton) to the romantic tryst he has longed for. Later, a bombshell revelation seems likely to alter the characters’ trajectories. Ghosts is that rarity – a clever, British, family-friendly sitcom. The whole series is available on iPlayer from today. VP

Desperately Seeking Soulmate
Amazon Prime Video
This three-part exposé delves into Twin Flames Universe, an American match-making service run by charismatic Michigan couple Jeff and Shaleia Divine. The service promises to find members’ soulmates but also seemingly encourages them to engage in darker behaviours, such as relentlessly pursuing their exes and questioning their gender identity, all at a hefty price tag.

Tom Hiddleston returns for a second run of the high-concept Marvel spin-off. When Loki suffers a curious case of time-slipping between past and present, he realises that negotiating different eras is the only way to save the soul of the Time Variance Authority from a new nemesis. It’s a trippy drama with a satisfying bromance between Loki and sidekick Mobius (Owen Wilson).

Susan Calman’s Grand Day Out
Channel 5, 8pm
Jane McDonald may have bagged Channel 5’s international travelogues, but Susan Calman remains content – correction: utterly gleeful – with the UK gig. Her frequent shrieks of joy are infectious as she explores north east England; look out for a funny spoof of her posing as Northumberland’s favourite TV cop, Vera.

Have I Got News for You
BBC One, 9pm
Now in its 33rd year and its 66th series, the gleeful satirical show returns, guided by skilful guest host Victoria Coren Mitchell. Ian Hislop remains poker-in-chief, with Paul Merton lobbing in well-timed quips.

Gardeners’ World
BBC Two, 9pm; not NI
A week-ending trip to Monty Don’s garden is escapist balm even for non-gardeners. Tonight he reminds us that it’s apple harvest time and suggests ideas for coping with a windfall. There’s positive energy around segments on planting greenery that can survive extreme weather, with Adam Frost and Nick Bailey meeting designers overcoming climate challenges.

Elton John Night
BBC Four, from 9pm
Presumably in honour of lyricist Bernie Taupin’s new memoir, BBC Four dedicates a night to the Rocket Man. It kicks off with Elton John at the BBC, which includes hits I’m Still Standing and Circle of Life. Then, Elton John Uncensored is his 2019 chat with Graham Norton that’s full of wild tales. And rounding off with a 1970 concert.

Fair Play (2023) ★★★★
Phoebe Dynevor stars in this sizzling debut feature from writer-director Chloe Domont, centred on a relationship pushed to the brink by a promotion at work. Taking place in the cutthroat world of corporate finance in New York, what starts off as a grabby erotic thriller becomes something far more psychologically pungent when Dynevor’s Emily lands a role coveted by her lover, Luke (Alden Ehrenreich). It’s Wall Street meets Fatal Attraction.

Cocaine Bear (2023) ★
Sky Cinema Premiere, 8pm  
Director Elizabeth Banks is capable of darkly sardonic humour (see Pitch Perfect 2 and her recent Charlie’s Angels reboot), but it’s not evident here. The title – which propelled the film to much hype at the box office – gives the plot away: an assortment of rednecks try to retrieve Class A drugs from a rampaging bear who’s already snorted most of them. It’s bloody, the CGI is questionable, but you may well be gripped out of pure ludicrousness.

Official Secrets (2019) ★★★
BBC Two, 11.05pm  
Keira Knightley stars in Gavin Hood’s strong political thriller relating the true story of Katharine Gun, a linguist working for GCHQ who, before the 2003 invasion of Iraq by Britain and the US, leaked a memo from the National Security Agency exposing a surveillance operation targeting the UN security council. Ralph Fiennes, Matt Smith, Matthew Goode, Indira Varma and Rhys Ifans are among its sprawling cast.

Deadpool 2 (2018) ★★★
Channel 4, 11.05pm  
Ryan Reynolds et al double down on the huge success of their sardonic 2016 hit. As ever, the red-suited anti-hero Deadpool is morally flexible, near-unkillable and entirely self-aware, but this time he’s more offensive, his injuries more grotesque and his quips more numerous. The plot, about a mutant boy in need of protection, is paper-thin, but the anarchic tone and Reynolds’s charisma remain the real reasons to watch.

Television previewers

Stephen Kelly (SK), Veronica Lee (VL), Keith Watson (KW), Gerard O’Donovan (GO), Poppie Platt (PP), Gabriel Tate (GT) and Jack Taylor (JT)

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