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Season 2 is in the works! Woo-hoo!

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Emily Watson on her new TV drama, Chernobyl 

Never one to shy away from tough roles, the actor tells Janet Christie why she’s revisiting the horror of the world’s worst nuclear accidentEmily Watson is laughing over the possibility of appearing in a romcom or musical.

“I’d LOVE to! LOVE to,” she says. “I couldn’t do a musical because I can’t sing, but a romcom, yeah. Most surely.”

It’s come up by way of light relief as we’ve just spent half an hour talking about the serious roles and issues that Watson has brought to life in her 30 year career, playing complex characters in extreme and sometimes hard-to-stomach situations. And while the 52-year-old actor is a thoughtful and get-to-grips with reality grown-up, in conversation there’s a lighter, cut-loose side too. She laughs a lot when she’s not giving serious consideration to weightier issues, and happily uses words like ‘distracted’ and ‘muddled’ about herself as she juggles interviews about her latest project, Chernobyl, with children on school holiday.

The first co-production by Sky and HBO, Chernobyl is the story of the 1986 nuclear disaster in northern Soviet Ukraine, and compelling viewing. Continue reading

Rock Island Line: The Song That Made Britain Rock, BBC Four review – the early dawn of Britpop

Billy Bragg travels back through the primeval swamps of skiffle and beyond. TV review by James Woodall

If you were a fan of “Rock Island Line” when it became a pop hit, you’d have to be at least in your mid-70s now. In 1956, Paul McCartney heard Lonnie Donegan perform it live in Liverpool, and Paul’s rising 77. How many below that age know it is moot, though that doesn’t necessarily disqualify it from the hour-long documentary treatment. For blues lovers, it’s a benchmark. “Rock Island Line” dates from the late 1920s and was first recorded in 1934.

Billy Bragg dependably and articulately fronted up this BBC Four history of the song, a protest paean to, or (as it might once have been called) a Negro spiritual about, a railroad network begun in the mid-19th century. Trains eventually steamed to many points west, south and north of Chicago – Rock Island sits west of Chicago, on the east bank of the Mississippi.

Lonnie Donegan album sleeve

Those first recorded voices of the song belonged to black prisoners in Arkansas, way to the south. Key here was that another erstwhile convict, Huddie William Ledbetter – aka Lead Belly, who was violent but musically hugely influential on the 1950s and 1960s: Dylan references him on his first album – was present at the recording, clocked the performance and made the song his own. He died in 1949. Continue reading