Literature highlights on BBC Four

Gods And Monsters – Homer’s Odyssey With Simon Armitage

Poet Simon Armitage undertakes his own Greek adventure, sailing in the footsteps of one of his personal heroes, Odysseus, while asking himself “do I even like the guy?”

From the rubble of Troy in western Turkey to the Ionian island of Ithaka, Simon sweeps across the stunningly beautiful Mediterranean, colliding with Cyclopes and Sirens and even visiting Hell itself. Along the way he loses himself in the ancient poem’s mesmerising verse, and meets a few of today’s Greeks – including the commander of a modern Hellenic warship, whom he hopes might just retain a trace of Odysseus’s heroic DNA.

Odysseus dreamed of his beloved wife Penelope and his home in Ithaka, yet it took him 10 years to get there when it should have taken 10 weeks. Simon ponders the obvious question – was Odysseus a playboy with a penchant for half-naked demi-goddesses and six-headed monsters, a very bad sailor or simply a man who liked to travel and meet people?

Gods And Monsters – Homer’s Odyssey With Simon Armitage will be shown as part of the BBC’s Ancient Worlds Season.


Dirk Gently

Anti-hero Dirk Gently operates his eponymous detective agency based on the “fundamental interconnectedness of all things.” He is lazy, untidy, dismissive, an awful boss and his methods verge on the criminal.

When Dirk sets out to solve an apparently simple and harmless disappearance of a cat from an old lady’s house, he unwittingly uncovers a double murder which, in turn, leads to a host of even more extraordinary events.

From the author of Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, Douglas Adams, this one-off pilot of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is adapted by Bafta-award winning Howard Overman (Misfits). It is the first time this celebrated character has appeared on screen.


King James Bible

The King James Bible is a worldwide best seller – the only authorised English translation of the greatest story ever told.

The majesty and beauty of its prose rivals that of Shakespeare. Its influence has shaped not only our own language, culture and society but that of the rest of the world.

And yet 400 years ago this masterpiece was the grand political project of a publicity conscious King; shot through with private motive and conflicting agendas. It was entrusted to a succession of committees in a bureaucratic structure that checked and re-checked each section of the translation. The question is how did any of this produce such extraordinary prose?

From Westminster Abbey to Hampton Court; the dreaming spires of Oxford and Cambridge to the remote beauty of the Outer Hebrides; author Adam Nicolson leaves no stone unturned in his search for answers.


Women In Love

Rosamund Pike, Rachael Stirling, Rory Kinnear and Joseph Mawle star in Women In Love, a compelling new two-part drama by William Ivory (Faith, A Thing Called Love, Common As Muck).

Based on two novels by DH Lawrence, The Rainbow and Women In Love, which Lawrence originally intended to publish as one, William Ivory has melded the books together in line with the author’s original vision as part of BBC Four’s Modern Love Season.

Women In Love charts the lives and loves of two sisters, Ursula (Stirling) and Gudrun Brangwen (Pike), viewed chiefly through their relationships with two friends, Rupert Birkin (Kinnear) and Gerald Crich (Mawle). As the two relationships intensify the couples leave the Midlands and go abroad together, leading to conflict and tragedy.

The cast also includes: Saskia Reeves as Ursula and Gudrun’s mother, Anna, Ben Daniels as her husband Will and Olivia Grant (Lark Rise To Candleford) as Hermione.

BBC Four’s new Modern Love Season exploring love and sexuality in 20th-century literature also includes Amanda Coe’s adaptation of John Braine’s novel Room At The Top.


Room At The Top

Vibrant, visceral, modern and compelling, Amanda Coe’s new two-part adaptation of John Braine’s post-war classic tells the story of Joe Lampton, a young man on the make.

Set in Yorkshire, all seems to be going to plan for Joe. He has a new job in a smart town and his looks and energy have attracted the daughter of a rich local businessman. But then he meets Alice Aisgill, with whom he finds a true passion of both the heart and the senses. Their lives will never be the same again.

Amanda Coe (Margot; Elizabeth David: A Life In Recipes; Doctor Who) has adapted this triangular love story as part of BBC Four’s season exploring love and sexuality in 20th-century literature.


The Beauty Of Old Books

For centuries the book has been the vessel to hold human thought in the storehouse of knowledge. This four-part series explores the beauty and meaning of the book as a physical and artistic object.

Some books have altered the course of history, others have profoundly influenced the way we see ourselves. From philosophy, religion, art, science and politics through to fantastical fictions, books have enabled new ideas to spread across the globe.

Many books are also objects of beauty; masterpieces in their own right. The series sheds new light on the sometimes neglected physical attributes of books: binding, marbling, gilding, embossing, illuminations, first editions, rarity, quality, page, text, image as well as shape and size are all contemplated.

Through interviews with experts, close examination of original book illustrations and artistic impressions, private journals and historic archive, the astonishing, absorbing and arresting beauty of books is revealed.


The Birth Of The British Novel

Author and critic Henry Hitchings argues that the evolution of the novel in 18th-century Britain was an extraordinary cultural revolution akin to those of 15th-century Florence or fin de siècle Paris.

In less than 100 years, the novel emerged as a new art form and reached maturity. In this period, all the major genres, from chick lit (Fanny Burney’s Evelina) to the political thriller (William Godwin’s The Adventures Of Caleb Williams) to the “modern” stream-of-consciousness (Laurence Sterne’s The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy) were perfected and the great masterworks of each remain unsurpassed.

Henry shows that the novel at this time was not, as often believed, light entertainment for ladies of leisure, but a revolutionary, often politically radical art form developed by larger-than-life personalities.

Daniel Defoe (Robinson Crusoe) invented the modern novel in the same entrepreneurial spirit with which he operated a brick factory or tried extracting perfume from civet cats; Jonathan Swift, a behind-the-scenes political manipulator, only wrote Gulliver’s Travels after falling from favour and both Horace Walpole and William Beckford, pioneers of the horror novel, created real-life gothic fantasies at Strawberry Hill and Fonthill Abbey.

Henry Hitchings’ polemic delves deep into 18th-century social as well as political history, and uses paintings by the great artists of the day to illustrate scenes from key novels.


Poe’s Women

The relationships between Edgar Allan Poe and the women in his life were tenuous at best, disastrous at worst. Yet they provided inspiration and stimulus for some of the finest darkly romantic poems and deeply disturbing short stories of the early 19th century.

Crime author Denise Mina explores Poe’s tortuous and peculiar relationships. Why did he have such idealised views of women? How did he turn these perfect visions into such nightmarish creations?

Mina retraces Poe’s stumbling steps through Boston, Virginia, Baltimore and New York and examines the key works linked to these women, building a portrait of a brilliant yet chaotic man, whose obsessive approach to the women in his life was directly linked to his alcohol and drug abuse and dreadful lonely death.


Keith Douglas – A Poet At War

Presenter and poet Owen Sheers documents Keith Douglas’s experiences as a tank commander, as part of his evaluation of the life and work of one of the Second World War’s outstanding poets.

Keith Douglas – A Poet At War traces his work from the epic offensives of the Western Desert campaigns to his death, three years later, in Normandy shortly after the D-Day landings.


Billy Connolly On Norman MacCaig

In a centenary tribute to their late friend, Scottish poet Norman MacCaig, comedian Billy Connolly, fiddler Aly Bain and novelist Andrew Greig are hard on the trail of the trout of MacCaigs’ beloved and remote Loch of the Green Corrie.

As they seek the elusive fish, there’s time to reconsider their old friend’s life and work amid the landscape he loved.


The First Men In The Moon

It’s July 1969 and, as the world waits with baited breath for news of the Apollo 11 astronauts, a young boy meets 90-year-old Julius Bedford (Rory Kinnear) who tells an extraordinary story of two men’s journey to the Moon way back in 1909, in this adaptation of HG Wells’s classic science fiction adventure.

As a young man, Bedford chances to meet Professor Cavor (Mark Gatiss), a somewhat unworldly scientist with an amazing invention – Cavorite.

Anything to which Cavorite is applied becomes opaque to the force of gravity. Knowing a miracle when he sees one, and with a keen eye on profit, Bedford encourages Cavor to think big. And so the two men construct a copper and cast-iron sphere to fly them to the Moon.

What terrors await them in the lunar interior? And will they ever succeed in returning to Earth?

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