New show The Spanish Princess: not quite accurate, but certainly exciting

With so many entertainment options, it's easy to miss brilliant TV shows, movies and documentaries. Here are the ones to hit play on, or skip.



The Spanish Princess

It's well known that Catherine of Aragon was the first wife of Henry VIII. But was Henry Catherine's first husband? Go to the top of the class if you remember that Catherine actually left her beloved Spain to marry Henry's older brother, Arthur. But it's best not to get all your history from The Spanish Princess.

No sooner have we met young Catherine (Charlotte Hope, who played Ramsay Bolton's beastly girlfriend Myranda in Game of Thrones) in the year 1501 than we're told that her mum, Queen Isabella (Alicia Borrachero), had just overthrown "a thousand years of Muslim rule".


That would have been a neat trick, considering that Muslims had been there less than 800 years.


However accurate the rest of it is, it's certainly exciting. Escorting Catherine down to the docks, Isabella finds herself confronted by a small army of Muslim rebels, so she rides into battle in a crowned helmet, laying about her with a great big sword before returning to her daughter triumphantly spattered in blood.

It's all a bit Game of Thrones-y, and the resemblances keep piling up once Catherine lands in England.

Arthur (Angus Imrie) proves a damp squib who's scared of girls, and it turns out the letters from him that had got Catherine so steamed up were in fact a catfishing exercise by the dastardly Henry (Ruairi O'Connor) – who, with his tousled red hair and devilish good looks, styles himself as "Prince Harry".

Where Game of Thrones' Margaery Tyrell came from far away to marry first the monstrous Joffrey and then his gentle, gormless brother, Tommen, it looks as though Catherine is going to do things the other way around.

But, as in Game of Thrones, it's the older women who are the best value. Harriet Walter is an absolute treat as Henry's pompous grandmother, Margaret Beaufort, a woman appalled to learn that Catherine takes daily baths rather than weekly ones. Henry's mother, Queen Elizabeth (Alexandra Moen), reveals a Cersei-like ruthless streak while Henry VII (Elliot Cowan) frets about the threat posed by France and Scotland.

The major figures are attended by good-looking minor ones, most of whom seem rather keen to drop trouser and lift petticoat.

Like The White Princess and The White Queen (which are also on Stan), it's well cast, handsomely produced and based on novels by Philippa Gregory (The Other Boleyn Girl). Good popcorn-munching fun.

Time Traveling Bong

Ilana Glazer is in fine, filthy form in this all-too-brief, oh-so-wrong comedy series she created with her Broad City producer-director Lucia Aniello and castmate Paul W. Downs.

Dirtbag cousins Sharee and Jeff (Glazer and Downs) come into possession of a high-tech bong that transports the user to random places in the past and future.

In terms of sheer madness it's hard to get a struck match between Sharee's embrace of caveman sex culture and her attempt to save 1960s Michael Jackson from his monstrous father.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

Director Joe Berlinger made his name with documentaries revealing miscarriages of American justice. This drama, based on the memoir of Elizabeth Kendall, the unwitting girlfriend of serial killer Ted Bundy, reveals the kind of bizarre circus American justice can become.

Zac Efron is suitably creepy as the manipulative Bundy, and the estimable Lily Collins hugely sympathetic as Kendall. But it's Bundy's televised trial in Florida – with John Malkovich as the idiosyncratic presiding judge – that will leave the most lasting impression.

Loading Docs 2018
Docplay, loadingdocs.net

The latest crop of three-minute documentaries from New Zealand offers intriguing and often frustratingly brief glimpses of interesting people and scenes across the Tasman.

From a deaf MP working to help other people with disabilities take part in politics to a scientist turning invasive algae into biodegradable plastic, a nomadic barber starting conversations about mental health, and a program that helps troubled Maori youth engage with their cultural heritage, there's a lot going on. Both Docplay and loadingdocs.net have earlier seasons as well.

Amazon Prime Video

If the first season of Phoebe Waller-Bridge's sticky, tar-black comedy was a bit of a masterpiece, the second elevates its creator, writer and star to greatness.

Exquisitely crafted in every line and shot, it's unflinchingly mordant in its heightened depiction of everyday awfulness, but it retains at its core a vulnerable, longing sweetness you mightn't think capable of coexisting. It is, perhaps, a bit like chocolate and sea salt, or one of those other trendy combinations that sound repulsive but are evidently sublime.

Similarly impressive is the sight of the eponymous character (Waller-Bridge) trying in earnest to become a better person in circumstances largely unconducive. With her emotionally unavailable father (Bill Paterson) and slightly monstrous godmother (Olivia Colman) planning to marry, Fleabag finds herself unexpectedly falling for the "cool, sweary priest" who will conduct the ceremony.

Waller-Bridge delivers a virtuoso double performance as Fleabag rapidly, seamlessly transitions back and forth between interacting with her fellow characters and with the audience down the barrel of the camera. The meta situation that arises from this makes it doubly priceless. Sheer magic.

Remastered: Devil at the Crossroads

The latest instalment of Netflix's fine music documentary series has the likes of Keith Richards and Taj Mahal queueing up to pay tribute to Robert Johnson, the Mississippi bluesman whose slim but extraordinary body of work has been an inspiration to blues and rock musicians for more than 80 years.

What's more interesting is the way that historians and academics here are able to illuminate some of Johnson's oblique, haunting lyrics in the context of contemporary belief in hoodoo and terror of lynching.

*Stan is owned by Nine, the publisher of this website.

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