J.K. Rowling, Judi Dench, & Maggie Smith are amongst the lineup for new BBC arts-focussed shows


Wizards, Dames and Paintbrushes: Arts coming up on the BBC

J.K. Rowling, Joe Orton, Joan Plowright, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Eileen Atkins are among the icons of stage and screen to feature in a range of arts programming coming up on BBC One, BBC Two and BBC Four which takes a closer look at the lives of artists and their inspiration.

  • Joan Plowright, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Eileen Atkins to reflect on their lives and careers on BBC Two in Nothing Like A Dame, directed by Roger Michell
  • BBC Two to celebrate the magical world of Harry Potter on its 20th anniversary with rarely seen documents from J.K. Rowling’s archives, revealing her magical inspirations
  • Never-before-seen footage and over 1,600 personal letters from one of the most important women of the British Empire, Gertrude Bell, to tell her story in her own words
  • The Big Painting Challenge to return to BBC One in 2018, presented by Rev Richard Coles and Mariella Frostrup
  • BBC One’s Fake Or Fortune? to return for seventh series presented by journalist Fiona Bruce and art dealer Philip Mould
  • Mexican artist Alinka Echeverría to present a three-part series about the art of Mexico
  • In-depth films exploring the lives of artists including Leonora Carrington, Stanley Spencer and Joe Orton

Old friends Joan Plowright, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Eileen Atkins spend a weekend together at the retreat once shared by Joan Plowright and Laurence Olivier, reflecting on their time living through some of the most extraordinary dramatic landmarks of the 20th and 21st centuries for Nothing Like A Dame (w/t), a film to be shown on BBC Two. It will be directed by Roger Michell (Notting Hill).

Ten new amateur artists pick up their paintbrushes and palettes on BBC One with the return of The Big Painting Challenge in 2018, presented by Mariella Frostrup and Rev Richard Coles. The artists compete in six weeks of challenges with the aim of becoming the winner of the BBC’s next Big Painting Challenge.

In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the British Library exhibition Harry Potter A History of Magic unveils rare books, manuscripts, and magical objects from their collection, capturing the traditions of folklore and magic at the heart of the Harry Potter stories. Exploring the subjects studied at Hogwarts, the exhibition includes original drafts and drawings lent by J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter illustrator Jim Kay from their personal archives, going on display for the first time.

Harry Potter: A History of Magic is to be shown on BBC Two and will follow the exhibition in the run up to its opening at the British Library, as the ancient texts, artefacts and artwork are put on display. Harry Potter: A History Of Magic includes an interview with J.K. Rowling talking about some of the personal items she has donated to the exhibition whilst readings from famous fans playfully recreate some of the best loved spells, potions and magical moments from the series, exploring the origins of the world of Hogwarts, from basilisks through to broomsticks.

BBC Four also tells the dramatic story of one of the most powerful women of the British Empire: mountaineer, explorer and linguist Gertrude Bell. With unique access to more than 1,600 letters, it charts her extraordinary journey into both the uncharted Arabian desert and the inner sanctum of British male colonial power at the turn of the 19th century. Letters From Baghdad is a unique look at both a remarkable woman and the complex history of Iraq, with recorded reminiscence of those who knew her and with her own words voiced by Tilda Swinton.

Mexican artist Alinka Echeverria also presents a new three-part series about the mystery and history of Mexican art, alongside three short films looking in-depth at the creative process behind three traditional Mexican art forms.

Also coming up on BBC Two, Joe Orton Laid Bare utilises the playwright’s own words from his outrageous personal memoirs, stage and TV plays to examine his life and work, and to celebrate his unique and ambitious voice 50 years on from his death with contributions from Kenneth Cranham, Sir Michael Codron, Christopher Hampton, Dame Patricia Routledge and Joe Orton’s sister Leonie.

BBC One confirms that BBC One’s Fake Or Fortune? will return for a seventh series, presented by art dealer Philip Mould and journalist Fiona Bruce, as they search for lost masterpieces.

Mark Bell, Head of Commissioning, BBC Arts, says: “We hope our arts programming will cast a spell over audiences with an in-depth look at the real-life inspirations for J K Rowling’s magical world. We can also offer BBC two viewers the privilege of spending time with four great Dames as they reflect on their incredible lives and careers on stage and screen, and alongside a fantastic season of programmes exploring Mexican art and life we will also examine the lives of British icons including Gertrude Bell and Joe Orton using their own writings. And The Big Painting Challenge will hopefully again inspire people to pick up a paintbrush and have a go.”

Patrick Holland, Controller BBC Two, says: "Films like Francis Bacon: A Brush With Violence, the widely acclaimed David Bowie: The Last Five Years and Nick Willing’s intimate film about his mother Paula Rego demonstrate that Saturday night on BBC Two has become a real cultural destination for viewers. With titles ranging from Nothing Like a Dame, featuring some of our best loved performers, to the celebration of the phenomenon that is Harry Potter, I am delighted with this new slate of films that will engage and delight the audience on Two."

The Big Painting Challenge (6x60)

Mariella Frostrup and Reverend Richard Coles polish up on their Pollocks and review their Rembrandts in preparation to present a new series of BBC One’s The Big Painting Challenge from BBC Studios, Pacific Quay Productions.

Ten amateur artists, with a passion for painting, are given intensive tuition in locations from the Cotswolds to Glasgow. Each of the six episodes comes from a new location and follows a different genre to teach and test our budding Picassos in equal measure.

Once the instruction is complete the artists are tasked to create a painting that is shown to members of the public who are able to give their favourite the all-important pass through to the next episode. The rest have to face our formidable judges who make the ultimate pronouncement on which of them is sent home.

At the end of this six-week artistic boot camp the judges choose the artist to crown winner of The Big Painting Challenge.

The Big Painting Challenge was commissioned for BBC One by Charlotte Moore, Director, Content and Mark Bell, Head of Arts Commissioning and is a BBC Studios, Pacific Quay production. Executive Producer for BBC Studios is Rachel Watson and Commissioning Editor is Clare Paterson.

Nothing Like A Dame (1x90)

Sixty years ago, seismic changes ripped through the cultural establishment and together with music and fashion, British theatre underwent an explosion of creativity and talent. Right at the heart of the action were four young actresses: Joan Plowright, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Eileen Atkins. Over a weekend, these four old friends and icons of film, TV and stage share over seven decades’ worth of insights and revelations, looking back at their days as bright young things and pondering their status as the Dames they’ve become today.

Nothing Like A Dame has a unique focus that can only come from great actors who are old friends and have lived through some of the most extraordinary dramatic landmarks of the 20th and 21st centuries. All have received Dame-hoods in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the acting profession and have become international acting icons.

Funny, poignant and intimate, Nothing Like A Dame is a unique opportunity to share the insights and revelations of the amazing friendship of four extraordinary women as they gather at the weekend retreat that Joan Plowright once shared with Laurence Olivier.

Nothing Like A Dame is a Field Day/BBC Arena co-production and is produced by Sally Angel and Karen Steyn, and the Director is Roger Michell. Debbie Manners is Executive Producer for Field Day and Anthony Wall for Arena. It was commissioned for BBC Two by Patrick Holland, Controller, BBC Two and Mark Bell, Head of Commissioning BBC Arts.

Harry Potter: A History Of Magic (1x60)

It’s 20 years since J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone first cast its spell on readers across the globe, thanks to the charm, warmth and imagination of its wizarding world. But Rowling’s fantastical creation wasn’t entirely make-believe…

To mark the 20th anniversary of her book, the BBC presents an enchanting new documentary, uncovering the real life traditions of magic at the heart of Harry Potter.

A thrilling journey through legends, belief and folklore, this film goes behind the scenes with the British Library as they search to tell that story through objects in their collection, in an ambitious new exhibition: Harry Potter: A History Of Magic. J.K. Rowling, who is lending unseen manuscripts, drawings and drafts from her private archives (which will sit alongside treasures from the British Library, as well as original drafts and drawings from Jim Kay) talks about some of the personal items she has lent to the exhibition and gives new insight into her writing, looking at some of the objects from the exhibition that have fired her imagination.

Readings from famous fans playfully recreates some of the best loved spells, potions and magical moments from the books, and, as we follow the process of the exhibition, we discover modern magic’s counterparts (from real life wandmakers to Quidditch enthusiasts). In doing so we discover an unexpected relationship between magic, belief and science: from the Anglo-Saxon spells that cure MRSA; to the so-called witches who pioneered contemporary medicine; to the ancient stargazers who first mapped the wonders of the night sky.

It was commissioned for BBC Two by Patrick Holland, Controller, BBC Two and Mark Bell, Head of Commissioning BBC Arts, and the Executive Producer is Janet Lee. The Producer/Director is Jude Ho for BBC Studios.

Joe Orton Laid Bare (w/t) (1x60)

A film that explores the wit, work and world of Joe Orton through his own words, and the testimony of those who knew him and worked with him. Fifty years since his murder at the hands of his lover, Kenneth Halliwell, the film charts Joe’s meteoric rise which began after his imprisonment for defacing library books in 1962. Joe Orton Laid Bare celebrates the rapid development of his unique comic voice and his significant role in the culture of 60’s swinging London. Joe’s writing takes centre-stage in this account, with excerpts from his stage and TV plays and outrageous diaries. In addition, the circumstances of Joe’s murder are re-examined and new insights provided into that tragic event. Interviewees include Kenneth Cranham, Sir Michael Codron, Christopher Hampton, Dame Patricia Routledge and Joe Orton’s sister Leonie.

It was commissioned for BBC Two by Patrick Holland, Controller, BBC Two and Mark Bell, Head of Commissioning BBC Arts. The Executive Producer for IWC Media is Franny Moyle, and the Producer/Director is Richard Curson Smith. The Assistant Producer is Lucy Hershon.

Arena: The Spencers (w/t) (1x60)

“Children of geniuses tend to have a rather hard time of it. If you’re a genius you have to be a bit tough”, says Unity Spencer daughter of Stanley Spencer, one of the most important 20th century British artists.

Stanley’s visionary art, his obsession with his work and the drama of his private life described as ‘the most bizarre domestic soap opera in the history of British art’, wreaked havoc on his family.

The break-up with his first wife, fellow-artist Hilda Carline, was traumatic for his daughters Unity and Shirin. So too, was the fiasco of their father’s second marriage to self-confessed lesbian, Patricia Preece.

The daughter’s separation, post-divorce, took root in their lives and only now, in old age, have they come together again. Last summer, Unity packed up her Clapham home of 40 years, boxed up her old life, her father’s drawings, sketchbooks and letters and moved to Wales to be close to Shirin. With Unity’s son John, Stanley’s grandson, they plan to live altogether.

The film explores the sisters’ relationship - fractured, fraught but ultimately loving - as they try to understand and reclaim their father and investigate their family’s archaeology. Unity, now 87, and Shirin, 91, begin a late rapprochement and attempt to become a family again as they build a new life together. Through them, the film provides an insight into Stanley’s life, motivations and his art - offering a completely fresh take on one of Britain’s and the 20th century’s greatest artists.

With access to Stanley’s and Hilda’s correspondence, the programme reflects on an extraordinary cache written over 30 years that John Spencer is painstakingly transcribing. These, together with a further nine years of letters which Stanley wrote to Hilda after her death, run to millions of words.

It was commissioned for BBC Four by Cassian Harrison, Editor, BBC Four and Mark Bell, Head of Commissioning, BBC Arts. The film is being made by BBC Arena and 1212 Productions and is produced and executive produced by Anthony Wall at the BBC and Philip Armstrong-Dampier of 1212. It is directed by Francis Hanly.

Letters From Baghdad (1x90)

Letters from Baghdad tells the extraordinary and dramatic story of Gertrude Bell - in her day, the most powerful woman in the British Empire. She shaped the modern Middle East after World War I in ways that still reverberate today. More influential than her friend and colleague Lawrence of Arabia, Bell helped draw the borders of Iraq and established the Iraq Museum.

Using never-seen-before footage of the region, the film chronicles Bell’s extraordinary journey into both the uncharted Arabian desert and the inner sanctum of British male colonial power. With unique access to documents from the Iraq National Library and Archive and Gertrude Bell’s own 1600 letters, the story is told entirely in the words of the players of the day, excerpted verbatim from intimate letters, private diaries and secret communiqués. It is a unique look at both a remarkable woman and the tangled history of Iraq.

Gertrude Bell will be voiced by actress Tilda Swinton.

Acquired for the BBC, Letters From Baghdad is a Between the Rivers Productions presentation; a film by Sabine Krayenbühl and Zeva Oelbaum. It was commissioned for BBC Four by Cassian Harrison, Editor, BBC Four and BBC Commissioning Editor Emma Cahusac.

The Art That Made Mexico: Paradise, Power, Prayers (3x60)

From its menacing volcanoes to floods and droughts, Mexico has always experienced upheaval. It has a tumultuous human history too. From invasion to conquest, from revolution to war, Mexico’s has seen more than its share of turmoil and change. But these events are not wholly destructive. They have fired this country’s creativity, resulting in one of the most distinctive artistic traditions in the world. In this three part series, Mexican artist Alinka Echeverria explores the forces and ideas that have shaped Mexico - and its art.

Nature and land, which have been the source of life and a cause of conflict and death since the earliest times. The struggle for power, which has defined much of Mexico’s history over millennia. And faith - in Mesoamerican gods and Christian iconography – which has been ever-present throughout its existence.

Each programme explores how these forces were not simply reflected by artists but shaped by them. Together they represent the story of Mexican art, and the story of Mexico.

It was commissioned for BBC Four by Cassian Harrison, Editor, BBC Four and BBC Commissioning Editor Emma Cahusac. The Executive Producer for Red Sky Productions is Ross Harper. The Series Producer is Graeme Hart.

Handmade In Mexico (3x30)
Accompanying the Mexico series, BBC Four will also take an intricate look at the creation process of three Mexican art forms in three half hour films.

Alebrijes are a form of wood sculpture particular to Mexico. They are brightly coloured, fantastical creatures, carved from copal wood and decorated in extremely detailed paintwork. Different animals and their characteristics are associated with different birth dates, and the patterns are full of symbols and meaning. Consequently, the sculpture contains often complex and personal narratives.

A Huipil is a loose-fitting tunic, generally made from two or three rectangular pieces of fabric which are then joined together with stitching, ribbons or fabric strips, with an opening for the head and, if the sides are sewn, openings for the arms. Tehuana dresses are crafted by Zapotec women who live in a matriarchal culture. They elaborately embroider very elegant dresses made of velvet or silk, which they wear at religious ceremonies and fiestas. These dresses were famously worn by Frida Kahlo. The huipiles originate from crafts developed to meet very utilitarian needs, but became more decorative as time went on and now they are regarded as objects of status.

The Tree of Life is a clay sculpture originally intended to teach Bible stories to indigenous people. Overall, the tree sculpture looks something like a candelabra, and traditionally consist of biblical images and narratives, such as Adam & Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden. Tree of Life sculpture is emblematic of Puebla State, where it began. Some modern designs – always brightly painted – sometimes include secular or fantastical imagery.

It was commissioned for BBC Four by Cassian Harrison, Editor, BBC Four and BBC Commissioning Editor Emma Cahusac. The Executive Producer for Red Sky Productions is Ross Harper. The Series Producer is Graeme Hart.

Leonora Carrington - The Lost Surrealist (1x60)

British surrealist artist Leonora Carrington worked alongside Max Ernst, Andre Breton and Pablo Picasso in Paris at the height of the surrealist movement - yet ended up in Mexico City. There she was praised as a great artist, but she remained virtually unknown in the UK.

This is the story of her extraordinary life from British aristocratic debutante presented to the King and Queen, to Mexican exile via the surrealist explosion in Paris in the 1930s and an ultimately devastating love affair with one of the leading lights of the surrealist movement, Max Ernst.

Her paintings depict a strange and fantastical world and tell the story of her life as do the excerpts of her writing that also feature.

Leonora Carrington - The Lost Surrealist celebrates a woman whose artistic contribution has been historically overlooked, but which recently has begun selling for millions. Struggling against misogynistic pressures at home, the artist eventually found a spiritual kinship in Mexico.

It was commissioned for BBC Four by Cassian Harrison, Editor, BBC Four and BBC Commissioning Editor Emma Cahusac. The Producer is Rachel Hooper for Erica Starling Productions and the Executive Producer is Angus McQueen. The Director is Teresa Griffiths.

September 13, 2017 10:23am by BBC One  

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