I have never bought into a subscription service. I’m often at the point of doing so when a lot of good stuff gets put up for free and I have a principle never to give billionaires my cash if there’s another way.
For the past ten or so years, I’ve found the BBC offerings dire and dull, but we have a second public broadcaster, Channel 4, which is excellent. In my view, it’s better because it’s less “family-orientated” and more adult-themed (though not pornographic (well, it comes close sometimes)); the BBC has lost its courage.
So Channel 4 has a sub-channel dedicated to international TV dramas and series and this is what I’ll watch. The best of this year has been,
5. Beyond Appearances
Both the Belgians and the French do exceptionally good dramas, it’s a wonder why we don’t see as many of them as we do Scandinavian ones on our British tellies. As my no.1 is Belgian, I should pick out a French one from all those I’ve seen this year.
This one begins with an attention grabbing scene of a tall, attractive blonde woman in a long red evening dress split to her thigh, pulling along a wheelie suitcase down a deserted country road. On top of it all, it’s clearly mid-Winter: the surrounding scenery is laden with snow.
It’s a story of an apparent suicide of one of two sisters: one successful and famous, the other supportive yet constantly in the other’s shadow. Which was which? That’s the mystery.
4. The Sect
Rural Russia is like the old wild west in this drama about secret and remote cults. A woman, an ex-cultist, teams up with an expert in rescuing vulnerable persons from cult societies. They are payed by a wealthy couple to retrieve their indoctrinated daughter from a sinister and abusive cult.
Meanwhile, the ex-cultist’s own daughter is abducted by her father, himself still a leader of another cult but with a totally different agenda. The rescued daughter from the first cult then assists in rescuing the other girl.
If all this sounds confusing, it’s not so in the drama’s play-out.
3. The Same Sky
This a German espionage drama set in Berlin in the 60s. An East German agent is sent into West Berlin on a Romeo assignment, to seduce an older woman in order to extract secret information from her. This is his first job after training. He has a thuggish though experienced contact in West Germany who constantly pushes him against his comfort boundaries. If he fails, there could be dire consequences at home; if he succeeds, there could be rewards.
When by chance things go wrong, he has to work on his initiative to succeed and not be sent home. It’s a gripping drama depicting stark differences between the society and politics of East and West Germany.
Pustina is a small village community in the Czech Republic. “Pustina” also means wasteland. It’s a deprived community with a lot of unemployment yet the villages are being offering considerable sums for their homes by a Polish mining company which wishes to expand their open-cast coal mining operations.
The mayor is leading a minority view, campaigning to conserve the village of their ancestors and roots; the majority want to take the offer and improve their lives. It’s all or nothing as far as the politics goes.
Then the mayor’s young daughter goes missing on her way home from school. Suspicions fly. A by-the-book police detective is assigned but the mother, father and elder sister are naturally fearful and dissatisfied; the father, estranged due to mental health, is also a suspect.
It’s a good story but the most impressive thing about this telly drama is the cinematography. Despite being the so-called Wasteland, the camerawork makes it beautiful and interesting; every scene is a work of art. It’s rare in film and even more so in a mere telly production.
1. The Twelve
In this drama centred around members of a Belgian jury hearing a trial of an estranged mother accused of murdering her child, and previously murdering her best friend years before reopened from a cold case.
Each jury member has a current personal problem or a event from the past which potentially prejudices their view.
It’s a strong, realistic and convincing drama with an underplayed though shocking twist at the end. The best TV drama I’ve seen in a long time.