From documentary film Athlete A to period drama The Luminaries

First published on: 1st July 2020

As the rainy days draw in, I bring you my latest picks to stay entertained. Athlete A is this year’s must-watch documentary and period drama The Luminaries provides perfect escapism. By Sarah Bradbury.

The Last Dance, Netflix documentary series

I confess I had little knowledge of basketball or the NBA before diving into The Last Dance – and was therefore skeptical a 10 part-series on the topic could hold my attention. But there was something totally hypnotic about watching the world’s best ever player endlessly shoot basket after basket, game after game. Plus, after ten sweat-soaked hours absorbed in commentary, analysis and footage, I now believe I have a pretty good grasp of how the game works. It was quite an education.

While we spend most of the episodes being wowed with Michael Jordan’s prowess and the trajectory of his career within the Chicago Bulls during the ‘90s – to achieve little short of world domination as one of the most famous sportsmen of all time – along the way we also meet those who played alongside him, and learn the experience was not all fun and games.

Arguably though, the moments of casting a critical eye over Jordan’s behaviour are only limited in contrast to those when we are reminded of his effusive charisma and Godlike skills, leaving you to wonder if we are always getting the full story – perhaps explained by Jordan’s own production company being among the co-producers. His personal life is certainly kept almost entirely out of the picture. That aside, it undoubtedly remains an engaging, bingeable piece of entertainment, as charming and watchable as the larger-than-life figure it takes as its subject.

Athlete A, Netflix documentary film

This is not an easy watch, but a vital one. The documentary film zeroes in on the recently-revealed sexual abuse scandal at USA Gymnastics. Centering on testimony provided by victims, and an investigation by the Indianapolis Star, it charts how abuse of young gymnasts by the team doctor, Larry Nassar, was not only allowed to continue over decades but also covered up by the organisation.

While harrowing and rage-inducing to learn of the unforgivable actions of those who failed to protect the young girls in their care, the film also reveals the bravery and courage of those who spoke up and the pivotal role the journalists at Indianapolis Star played in uncovering the story. It cleverly juxtaposes scenes of smiling faces, glamour and competition hype with victims painfully recounting their experiences to uncover the grim, hidden side of winning medals at any cost. 

The Luminaries, BBC iPlayer series

Eleanor Catton has adapted her own Booker prize-winning 2013 novel for this six-part BBC series set in New Zealand’s South Island in 1866 amid the Gold Rush. A sucker for period drama, while I haven’t yet read the book, I felt confident I’d be well into it – and wasn’t disappointed. But be warned: this is no Jane Austen. 

Following a convoluted murder-mystery-esque tale with our heroine Anna Wetherell at its centre, played exquisistely by Eve Hewson (Bono’s daughter no less!), and Emery Staines (Himesh Patel), our hero, it unexpectedly takes us to some dark and twisted places via betrayal, prostitution and opium addiction, and throws up a panoply of social issues of the time, from toxic sexism to brazen racism.

Some of the more fantastical elements of fate and magic, plus the difficulty in placing Eva Green’s wayward accent (I think it’s supposed to be…American?), were somewhat distracting at moments – but the lush 19th-century gold-laced costumes and sets, epic landscapes and tightly-woven plot, provided more than enough to make this the perfect escape to another world for a time.

Curon, Netflix series

This Italian-language horror series follows two teenage twins who return with their mother to the isolated northern Italian village she grew up in that has with a sunken bell in a dark lake at its centre. As the setting suggests, it’s creepy as hell, and even genuinely terrifying at points.

Doing my utmost not to plot spoil, all I can say is it has a brilliantly original premise that keeps you hooked. The supernatural thriller genre aspects are also balanced by the exploration of coming-of-age we visit via the twins navigating life far from their home city of Milan – lakeside piss-ups, drunken kisses and all. The series perhaps loses some its potency as it draws on but I can still highly recommend it for a rainy summer’s eve. You might want to leave the lights on though…

The Story of Fire Saga, Netflix film

This is a useless review – but I could only manage five minutes of the brand new Eurovision movie starring Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams because it was honestly so God awful I could bear no more. Horrendous mocking Swedish accents and even worse costumes, if it was supposed to be funny at any point, it was very much lost on me. Let me know if you watch it and think I’ve missed out…

Catch up with our other recommendations here:

What have you been binge-watching lately?