Already the subject of two documentaries (Capitalism: A Love Story by Michael Moore and the Academy Award-winning Inside Job) and a BBC series (Aftershock), the 2008 financial crisis has been given the HBO docudrama treatment in Too Big To Fail (HBO Signature; Friday at 8.15pm). Based on the book of the same name by The New York Times financial columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin, the film dramatises the weeks surrounding the collapse of Lehman Brothers through the eyes of the bankers and lawmakers scrambling to avert the next great depression.
The film's opening sequence sets the scene with actual news footage, marking the beginning of deregulation during the Reagan administration, which carried through in the Clinton years, producing stock market growth built on a housing market made of figurative quicksand. Enter the big names in investment banking and monetary policy making (played by equally big names in Hollywood); by the time we meet them, the cold sweat has already started to form on their multimillion-dollar foreheads.
Dick Fuld (James Woods; Casino, Shark) is in the hot seat as chairman and chief executive of Lehman Brothers. He doesn't want to see the bank go under, but he's obsessed with keeping its current stock valuation. As foreign banks circle in for a buyout deal, Fuld tries to appeal to then treasury secretary Henry Paulson (William Hurt; Into the Wild, Damages); but having bailed out Bear Stearns, Paulson is determined to not do the same for Lehman Brothers. Here we have the tight-paced tale of how Paulson and his team scrambled to find a solution (before resort- ing to a shaky bailout plan), stop an econo- mic free fall and contain public panic.
With its focus on dealings behind boardroom doors, Too Big To Fail isn't the most immediately relatable film - the majority of scenes involve tense meetings and phone calls between middle-aged white men in stiff suits. But credit must go to the writers and capable cast - which includes Paul Giamatti (Sideways, John Adams) as Ben Bernanke, Billy Crudup (Watchmen) as Timothy Geithner, Topher Grace (Spider- Man 3), Tony Shalhoub (Monk) and Cynthia Nixon (Sex and the City) - for sneaking in some of the emotions (frustration, anger, helplessness, to name a few) felt by the crash's hardest-hit victims - the taxpayers forced to prop up a sick financial system.
As part of its second world war special programming this month, Discovery Channel offers up Sei Sen! The Rise and Fall of the Japanese Empire (Wednesday at 9pm), a two-part series that tells the story of Japan's holy war, begun by those within the country who dreamed their nation could lead the whole of Asia out from the shadow of European and American domination. Japan's quest to build a vast empire was a hugely ambitious one that delivered immense suffering to the peoples it conquered - and, ultimately, led to the death and destruction of its own people. The series chronicles Japan's rise to power and how it started expanding its sphere of influence in 1895, with the installation of a puppet government in Korea. The attack of Japan's Imperial Navy on the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor was a stunning victory for Japan, but also the moment that sealed its fate.
Finally, following the success of his award-winning documentaries on gangs, Afghanistan, the Middle East and the Amazon, in Ross Kemp: Extreme World (above; BBC Knowledge, tonight at 11.05pm), the intrepid presenter picks up the scent of illegal drugs and human trafficking in impoverished cities and states around the world. Over five episodes, Ross and his award-winning team travel to the United States, Mexico, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti and, finally, London, to track down, meet and challenge criminals who spread violence and death through drug dealing, terrorism, murder and rape. It's grim stuff, but somebody has to do it - and Kemp is always the first to put his hand up.