The week on TV: The Great British Bake Off; the death of Queen Elizabeth II; Frozen Planet II; The Serpent Queen | Television

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The Great British Bake Off Channel 4 | All 4
Report on the death of Queen Elizabeth II Various
Frozen Planet II BBC One | iPlayer
The Serpent Queen Starzplay

When times are troubled, let them eat red velvet cake. With the launch of the 13th series of The Great British Bake Offthe multi-coloured tent had a big job to do: to momentarily distract the British public from the turmoil and sadness of the world – queens die, wars continue, the cost of living rises – and provide a parallel reality where the worst thing that could happen to a person is your cake being “claggy”.

Channel 4 Pastry shop are all present and brazenly incorrect: naughty boy presenters Noel Fielding and Matt Lucas (the counterintuitive casting is the point) and the judges – rose-spectacled Prue Leith (a responsible schemer turned rebellious energy) and Paul Hollywood, the resident silver fox, whose image is just begging to be used in an internet scam to swindle widows out of their life savings.

Trembling at their kitchen islands, the contestants are the required mix of ages, nationalities and professions: nuclear scientist, buff nanny, a woman who once worked on a project for Boris Johnson but is wisely focusing on her lime, coconut and tamarind aromas. The effect is unusually friendly Question time public, sprinkled with self-rising flour. Otherwise, it’s Pastry shop business as usual: a home-themed showstoppers finale; Hollywood prowling like a homing missile; “nightmares!” on cold ovens, breadcrumb structures and clotted buttercream.

All these series in, if Pastry shop “represents” Britain, it’s like a cross between a central English village fete and a really bizarre acid trip. More than ever, it seems absurd – all the fuss over a sponge when there’s so much going on there – but isn’t that the point? Such programs serve as TV hideouts – pastel-hued respites, sugar-dusted breaths from the real world.

Will I be transported to the Tower to wonder if Pastry shop would have aired if it was still on BBC One? Does that count as betrayal on TV? Next the death of Queen Elizabeth II, it was absolutely correct that the major chains provided continuous updates and reverential rates prepared in advance. The BBC made the momentous announcement particularly well: Huw Edwards in black tie hitting exactly the right tone: serious but not pompous; dark but professional.

However, as the days passed, the coverage began to be suffocating, the comments numbing, bordering on silly at times. Not because of the queen, but rather volume and repetition. Yes, this is history in the making, but there are only so many deferential documentaries you can watch. anybody. Ditto the endless scenes of crowds lining the roads and laying flowers in front of the royal residences. Plus, while disrupted schedules are inevitable and you can see why Netflix The crown filming temporarily interrupted, it seems strange to “respectfully” postpone the start of Come dance strictly. I must have missed the moment the show went anarcho-punk.

That said, the main channels could hardly stick to a few documentaries and say, “It’s your fate, grieving Britons, the funeral will pay off.” And there were memorable and moving moments: the moving address to the nation by the new king; the shocking sight of Prince Andrew; Princess Anne looks broken, human; Liz Truss bowing stiffly as if her kneecaps were rusty; that melancholy vigil near the draped coffin; the spectacular coffin procession from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall, followed by the Royal Family on foot. It’s already a twisted, quintessentially British kaleidoscope of tradition, protocol, pageantry, emotion and positioning – and there’s still the funeral and coronation to come.

“Protocol, pageantry, emotion”: the royal family accompanying the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II at the Palace of Westminster last Wednesday. Photograph: WPA/Getty Images

Consider how Sir David Attenborough is just a few weeks younger than the Queen as you savor the chilling magnificence of BBC One. Frozen Planet II. Four years in the making, it uses state-of-the-art technology and arrives 11 years after the first series.

You listen to Attenborough, the voice still authoritative, as he promises a glimpse of vast frozen wilderness, such as the Arctic and Antarctic, from “its highest peaks to its snowy deserts to the depths of the ice “. You watch over the animals, the living and breathing proofs of nature’s grand design in all its beauty, savagery, comedy and vulnerability.

The “aw” factor is immense: polar bear cubs play; young emperor penguins crawling on their bellies. Then there’s the movie element of snuff, like grizzly bears ripping through musk ox calves. Obviously, nature needs to be depicted in its brutal entirety, but I’m a big wimp: on such occasions, the fast-forward button is my friend.

An emperor penguin chick leaps into the Southern Ocean for the first time on Frozen Planet II.
An emperor penguin chick dives into Frozen Planet II. Photography: BBC Studios

Scarier still than Siberian tigers prowling the boreal forests, or orcas knocking down Weddell seals on ice shelves, is the effect of climate change, again highlighted by Attenborough, who engages here to “witness new wonders while there is still time to save them”. . By 2035, the Arctic could be ice-free during the summer. To watch this astonishing, heartbreaking and starkly beautiful documentary is to appreciate all there is to lose.

It might be considered unfortunate that a new drama is appearing right now titled (ouch) The Serpent Queen. Based on the biography of Leonie Frieda Catherine de Medici: Queen of France during the Renaissanceand created by Justin Haythe, it is a study of one of the most controversial figures of the 16th century, primarily reviled (now mistakenly thought) for the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572.

Samantha Morton embodies Catherine the eldest: jaded, sulphurous, recounting her life (“Trust no one”) to an amazed servant (Sennia Nanua). Liv Hill (Three girls) plays young Catherine; orphan, driven out and then exchanged in marriage with the youngest son of the King of France.

Liv Hill in The Serpent Queen.
Liv Hill as the young Catherine de’ Medici in The Serpent Queen.

Worth checking out, if you can stretch to the Starzplay sub, if only for the extraordinary sight of Charles Dance as Catherine’s devious uncle, Pope Clement, telling her about the impending wedding. as her nether regions are pushed by doctors. “Forgive me,” he moaned, “abscess when I came out.”

It looks beautifully gothic – the drama, not the Dance “out” – and there are solid performances, terse anachronisms (PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me snarling on the soundtrack), direct-to-camera asides and concise expositions of old world misogyny. If the episodes I saw didn’t live up to the wit and sparkle of its fellow channel Greatwell, that’s a high bar to cross.

Star ratings (out of five)
The Great British Bake Off ★★★
Coverage of the Queen’s death ★★★
Frozen Planet II ★★★★
The Serpent Queen ★★★

What else am I watching

Our friends from the North
BBC 4
BBC Four really rolls out the classics. Here’s another chance to see Peter Flannery’s ambitious 1996 drama about four friends from Newcastle, which boosted the careers of Daniel Craig, Gina McKee, Christopher Eccleston and Mark Strong.

Storyville: Gorbachev. heaven
BBC 4
Vitaliy Manskiy’s acclaimed documentary about the architect of Glasnost, who died last month. It features intense and revealing interviews with the 91-year-old former Russian leader at his home near Moscow as he reflects on the past.

Mikhail Gorbachev in Gorbachev, Heaven.
Gorbachev, Sky. BBC/SIA Vertov

Mike
Disney+
This bio-series about heavyweight champion boxer Mike Tyson examines his rise, fall and rape conviction. Directed by the team behind the 2017 film Me Tonya, it stars Trevante Rhodes and Harvey Keitel. Tyson doesn’t approve.

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