The Guardian

The end of an era

The BBC scored the ultimate own goal and took aim at David Attenborough’s last voyage, while a megawatt cast powered a preachy climate drama. Plus, the poles-apart struggles of NazaninZaghari Ratcliffe and Paula Yates

Barbara Ellen

Wild Isles

Match of the Day/Match of the Day 2 BBC One Extrapolations Apple TV+ Nazanin Channel 4

Paula Channel 4


The effect was of a football-themed silent disco staged 20 minutes after a nuclear blast. Even the tumbleweed looked offside

I thought I’d better check after a turbulent period when even David Attenborough’s new BBC One series, Wild Isles, received an ungentle corporation mauling.

The sixth and final episode of Wild Isles, not yet available for review but said to have more of a campaigning environmentalist slant, will not be broadcast on BBC One, like the others, but will only appear on iPlayer. According to the BBC, this was always the plan, but it’s reported there were fears of a backlash from rightwing politicians and media.

Meanwhile, Gary Lineker’s tweet (yes, referencing “Germany in the 30s” but actually decrying the current British government’s attitude towards refugees) resulted in his suspension from presenting Match of the Day public humbling. Though not of Lineker. He ended up being reinstated two days later by BBC chief Tim Davie, who had little choice after the show of in-house solidarity with Lineker, led by pundits Alan Shearer and Ian Wright, resulted in those freaky unmanned editions of MOTD/MOTD2. Did you take a peek? The effect was of a football-themed silent disco staged 20 minutes after a nuclear blast. Even the tumbleweed looked offside.

What a mess (hello culture wars, our old friend). It’s one thing to attempt to muzzle the presenter of a football highlights show, quite another to fail to do so, with backroom murk and a historically elastic social media rulebook making a mockery of the Beeb’s impartiality arguments. Now that Lineker – that crisp-flogging, liberal golden god – has returned to MOTD (alas, too late for this column’s deadline), complex issues need to be dealt with.

Back to Wild Isles. Part-funded by the World Wide Fund for Nature and the RSPB, it’s said to be Attenborough’s very last series on location. Now 96, he is unlikely (a sobering, terrible thought) ever again to be filmed lolling in a hardy cagoule against jagged rocks or crouching in chinos among springy foliage.

Poignant, then, that this series looks at the British Isles (“home”). In a rough week for the BBC, this was the corporation at its absorbing best, with an opener featuring eagles, geese, puffins, ancient oaks, sleepy seals, patrolling orca, whizzing kingfishers and the odd environmental musing. “Though rich in places, Britain as a whole is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world,” intoned Attenborough, eyeing the camera beadily. When that final episode goes up on iPlayer, maybe the best tribute would be for us all to watch it (stubbornly, pointedly) in our millions.

Also with an environmental theme comes Extrapolations, Apple TV+’s new eight-part anthology drama of loosely interlocking episodes, created by Scott Z Burns, screenwriter for Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 film Contagion. Set at various points during a near(ish), climatewrecked future between 2037 and 2070, it boasts a megawatt cast:

Meryl Streep, Marion Cotillard, Ed Norton, Forest Whitaker, Kit Harington, Tobey Maguire, Tahar Rahim, Sienna Miller. And more. It’s impressive: the star-power version of a windfarm.

Despite all this, Extrapolations is patchy, and the satire feels a long time coming. Miller plays a zoologist given to stilted, excessively preachy eco-dialogue, but then so are most of the characters. Streep voices the thoughts of a humpback whale (this is as excruciating as it sounds). Harington’s character is clearly a cipher for evil billionaires destroying the planet – and we’re all here for that – but does he have to stalk around so stiffly, like he’s fallen out of a 3D printer?

The ecocide backdrop is nicely drawn (choking smog, portable oxygen, a malady called “summer heart”), as are the futuristic touches: driverless helicopters, memory-bank outages. Among the better storylines there’s a brilliantly deranged dinner party starring Whitaker and Cotillard that plays out like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? via The Twilight Zone. While solid and glossy, as an environmental warning siren, Extrapolations feels like a missed opportunity, almost undone by incessant speechifying.

The case of British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, sentenced to five years in prison in Tehran in 2016 on charges of spying, which she always denied, horrified the nation. In the Channel 4 documentary Nazanin, Darius Bazargan looks into what happened (and why) and tracks the tireless campaign by Richard Ratcliffe to get his wife freed.

There are some tough scenes: footage of Nazanin during her airport arrest, her mouth slack with shock. Richard, exhausted but jokingly cajoling their small daughter, Gabriella (“Do you want to go to see Boris Johnson dressed in your pyjamas?”). Nazanin’s short permitted calls home repeatedly interrupted by an automated message: “This call is made from prison.” Richard joining Nazanin on hunger strike, sitting with a hot-water bottle outside the Foreign Office. He becomes such a fixture, a parcel is even delivered to him there, addressed to “the tent opposite Foreign and Commonwealth Office”.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was released after six years, in 2022, the day after an old British debt to Iran (more than £390m, regarding

chieftain tanks) was settled. For all that it is politically chilling, the documentary bites hardest as the story of a family interrupted: a mother torn away from her husband and child. It’s all captured here as they are finally reunited on British soil;, Nazanin kneeling next to Gabriella and sobbing.

Also on Channel 4, as part of its 40th-anniversary scheduling, there’s a two-part docuseries on peroxided, quick-witted, turbo-flirtatious presenter-journalist Paula Yates (The Tube; The Big Breakfast). Arguably rivalling Princess Diana for UK fame (Diana once wryly thanked Yates for keeping her off the front pages), the presenter died in 2000, aged 41, of an accidental heroin overdose, while grieving for her lover (and father of her fourth daughter), INXS frontman Michael Hutchence, who died (also possibly unintentionally) in 1997.

One-time lover Terence Trent D’Arby appears (a 1980s News of the World headline exclaims: “Bob’s Paula Caught With Black Star”). Elsewhere, there are omissions (obviously no sign of former husband Bob Geldof), but close friends and supporters paint a strong, celebratory portrait focused on media hounding. While Yates was accused of tipping off the paparazzi, now you wonder if her phone was tapped. Throughout, the programme is given extra heft by a lengthy audio interview conducted at the height of her desperation with a former OK! magazine editor. “I’m not that old” you hear Yates saying. “And yet this is it.”

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