Brian Donaldson finds a slew of iconic women on the box.
Honestly, you wade through acres of telly for one strong female to pop by and all of sudden you can’t bleedin’ move for them. This fortnight alone, we have a president, a high-ranking police chief, a notorious killer, the first celebrity chef and the most formidable woman in British comedy. Some posh slappers rather let the side down a bit, but c’est la vie. A couple of weeks ago we had the robust frame and rigid persona of Fitz shuddering back onto our screens in Cracker and now another cop idol returns for one last crimebusting malarkey. Helen Mirren may have been both Queen Elizabeths in recent times, but with Prime Suspect (STV, Sun 22 Oct, 9pm - 4 stars) she gets to lord it over everyone in her swan song as DS Jane Tennison. Drowning her own pains in a lake of vodka each morning, she heads up the case of a missing 14-year-old schoolgirl. The press DVD deliberately withheld the last 20 minutes, which hints at something pretty memorable.
Geena Davis might make for an unlikely American president but after years of dominance from Jed Bartlet and co, US TV execs needed a fresh approach to political drama. And so we get Commander in Chief (More4, Tue 24 Oct, 9pm - 4 stars) which has no one that holds a candle to CJ, Toby, Josh or Donna, but other than its setting, it has as much in common with the West Wing as Analyze This has with The Sopranos (which is still very much on E4, by the way). Commander in Chief is instantly addictive stuff with Geena’s Independent leader under threat from a daughter with a secret diary, a husband who wants to be Chief of Staff and Donald Sutherland playing a Republican Speaker who assumed he would take office when the leader of the Free World croaked. When Don grabs Geena’s ear to purr ‘I’m right behind you’, the once-comforting phrase is imbued with Machiavellian menace.
There won’t be more menacing images on TV this year than revamped Brady and Hindley mugshots. Unfortunately for Longford (Channel 4, Thu 26 Oct, 9pm - 3 stars), we already had that spine-chill with the ITV production in April and ultimately, Maxine Peake makes a more compelling Myra than Samantha Morton. The Channel 4 version focuses on the efforts of Lord Longford to look beyond the stare of evil and into the soul of a woman he was convinced had been brainwashed by her Nietzsche-obsessed lover. The impact is deadened with its recent retelling and by the busy times that the prosthetics people had in making kindly old Jim Broadbent morph into a batty old peer.
There’s also a lot going on in the make-up room for Fear of Fanny (BBC4, Mon 23 Oct, 9pm - 4 stars), the majority of it being slapped onto Julia Davis for her portrayal of the UK’s first bona fide celebrity chef, Fanny Craddock. It’s a sad tale of a strong woman whose domestic life is in tatters and ends up eating slop in a nursing home. But still caked in her garish facepaint. Of which there is plenty in Goldplated (Channel 4, Wed 25 Oct, 10pm - 2 stars), a kind of Businessmen’s Wives affair in which trollops both young and middle-aged gulp bubbly, bitch behind backs and occasionally get a chance to draw their claws. The lives of the rich and not famous can, it seems, be rather overblown and very dull. Oh, and The Catherine Tate Show (BBC2, Thu 26 Oct, 9pm - 2 stars) returns. Wait for it: is anyone bovvered?