Channel hop

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 June, 2012, 12:00am


This week, there's a lot of programming from the BBC and ITV Granada celebrating Queen Elizabeth's diamond jubilee. But we find it hard to get excited about a royal octogenarian, so instead we'll start with two more-compelling figures. Queenie, we'll get to you later.

Tomorrow, HBO will premiere its latest original movie, Hemingway & Gellhorn (7.15pm). You'll probably recognise that first name. Ernest Hemingway was one of the greatest novelists of the 20th century. But Gellhorn is not so familiar. Perhaps Nicole Kidman can change that.

Kidman plays Martha Gellhorn, a trailblazing war correspondent; a forerunner to Christiane Amanpour, if you like. When Gellhorn died, in 1998, writer Bill Buford described her as a glamorous and passionate reporter. More importantly, though, 'She was motivated by a deep-hearted, deep-seated concern for justice; she was a friend of the dispossessed, the oppressed, the neglected.'

No wonder Hemingway (played by Clive Owen; Closer; pictured with Kidman) the archetypal alpha male and a war reporter himself, had the hots for her. The two had a raging love affair followed by a tumultuous marriage. Hemingway & Gellhorn follows the couple through the Spanish civil war, Hollywood and their dealings with the first family of the United States.

'As witnesses to history,' HBO's press release hyperbolically but rather usefully offers, 'they covered all the great conflicts of their time, but the war they couldn't survive was the war between themselves.'

With this Philip Kaufman-directed effort, HBO continues its trend of disrupting the conventional model of film distribution. As with the political drama Game Change, the cable network has taken a big-budget, high-quality production direct to the small screen, forgoing the potential windfall - and attendant risks - associated with the physical box office. And with a movie about two writers, that might be a good thing. HBO offers hope for filmmakers who might otherwise have difficulty finding studio support for productions that don't have 'blockbuster' written all over them. Long may it continue.

So, back to Liz, who is marking 60 years on the throne. And, of course, that means now's a great time for a Major Television Event. As is to be expected, the British-content channels BBC and ITV Granada are all over it.

On Tuesday, ITV will broadcast live the all-day diamond jubilee celebrations (from 3.30pm in Hong Kong). British TV personality Phillip Schofield and newsreader Julie Etchingham will be at Buckingham Palace to somehow make the thanksgiving service at St Paul's Cathedral and the royal procession from Westminster Hall seem less like being drowned in paint thinner and more like, we don't know, the geriatric Olympics?

On the eve of the event, the channel will screen Elizabeth: Queen, Wife, Mother (tomorrow, 8pm), a personal look at the monarch, featuring interviews with Prince William and Prince Harry in Buckingham Palace and Clarence House.

Over at the BBC, the network will be airing 24 programmes over the next two weeks to mark the jubilee. Tonight, at 8.30pm, both BBC Entertainment and Knowledge will broadcast the 41/2-hour Thames Pageant, a procession of more than 1,000 boats on the River Thames that takes the words 'pomp' and 'circumstance' back to their roots. There'll be music barges, a floating belfry, spouting geysers, a gun salute and Pippa Middleton's much-discussed bottom - along with Pippa Middleton - aboard an 1890s paddle steamer. Other highlights include the documentary Crowning a Queen (BBC Knowledge; tomorrow at 8pm); The Queen's Diamond Jubilee: Concert (BBC Entertainment and Knowledge; Tuesday, 2.30am and 10.50pm) - is Her Maj a fan of Jessie J? - and The House of Windsor (BBC Knowledge; Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8pm), a three-part historical mini series about Elizabeth's family. That should satisfy even the most avid royal watcher.

If the idea that the royals still matter isn't enough fantasy for you, Terra Nova (below; Tuesday, TVB Pearl at 10.35pm) should see you right. The show is a retro-futuristic action-drama series set in the time of dinosaurs and executive-produced by Steven Spielberg and friends.

The year is 2149 and the world is dying because of Shenzhen's factories (we might have made that last bit up). Most people, plants and animals are extinct. Not even an iPhone can save the planet. But then scientists unexpectedly discover a fracture in time that makes it possible to construct a portal into primeval history. Suddenly, it's possible to travel back to a prehistoric age, where the humanoids can rebuild civilisation for the better - which essentially means life as we know it but without cheese in a can.

Terra Nova is one of the most expensive TV series ever made - the pilot cost US$14 million - even though the cast is stuffed with a bunch of no-names. In the US, it has been celebrated for its special effects, but that's about all. There was early excitement for the show's promise but a few episodes in, it started getting panned for its cheesy script and boring characters.

Fox canned Terra Nova at the end of its 13-episode first season. It is not, however, completely dead. Die-hard fans are lobbying for its revival, as we speak.

If only one them could jump through that portal and give the script the HBO treatment.