BBC Two Announces Raft Of Arts Commissions; Orders MR James Drama, Sci-Fi Documentary & More

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BBC Two has announced a raft of arts commissions including a documentary on the life and work of enigmatic horror writer MR James presented by Mark Gatiss; an accompanying drama adaptation of one of James’s short stories which was written by Gatiss; a documentary exploring whether or not 16th century Britain had its own Renaissance; a co-production with BBC America exploring science fiction and more.

“I’m delighted to be bringing such an exciting range of intelligent new arts programmes for BBC Two. Melvyn Bragg returns to bring viewers his extraordinary insights into the lives of two radical writers and I’m pleased to bring James Fox’s authority and passion to the channel as he explores Britain’s Renaissance” said Janice Hadlow, Controller of BBC Two. “It’s a pleasure to bring Mark Gatiss back to BBC Two with a new look at one of Britain’s genre defining writers and we’ll be setting a channel first as we take an in-depth look at the cult of science fiction.”

While Mark Bell, the BBC’s Arts Commissioning Editor, added: “Melvyn Bragg is one of the great writers of our time. He has a particular knack for digging out influential figures we should all have heard of, but often haven’t, then bringing them to life with his inimitable insight. The BBC’s arts programmes celebrate authorship across an eclectic range of subjects; it is what makes us tick. As the biggest producer and investor in original arts and music programmes in the UK, I’m pleased we’re able to bring such a rich and varied range of new arts programmes to BBC Two.”

Full Details of BBC Two’s Arts Commissions Follows Below:

MR James

As noted above, BBC Two has commissioned two programmes related to noted horror writer MR James, both of which will be part of BBC Two’s Christmas schedule (alongside the channel’s adaptation of the Diane Setterfield novel The Thirteenth Tale). One is an adaptation of James’ story The Tractate Middoth, while the other is a documentary exploring James’ life.

The Tractate Middoth

Written and directed by Mark Gatiss, this adaptation of the MR James story of the same name is described as a “chilling story” involving a disputed will, a race against time, and something very unpleasant lurking in the library. The drama is being produced in house by the BBC with Michael Poole serving as the executive producer.

Ghost Story

This documentary hosted by Mark Gatiss explores the life of MR James and seeks to answer the question of how this Victorian bachelor, conservative by nature and a devout Anglican, created tales that continue to chill readers a century later. Ghost Story will follow Mark on an atmospheric journey from James’s childhood home in Suffolk to Eton and on to King’s College, Cambridge, the two institutions where James spent most of his life, visiting ancient churches, moonlit quadrangles and echoing libraries along the way. By following in James’s footsteps, Mark will hope to uncover the secrets of his inspiration.

A Very British Renaissance

Hosted by celebrated art historian Dr James Fox, A Very British Renaissance explores the British Renaissance, an epoch that saw Britain shed its medieval shackles and embrace a world of cutting edge art, literature, architecture and science. This three-part documentary series looks at culture not merely through the prism of the court but through a succession of extraordinary figures seen in a new way – from familiar giants such as Holbein and Van Dyck to astronomers such as Nicholas Kretzer, brilliant miniaturists like Nicholas Hilliard, architects such as Robert Smythson, the poet and intriguer Sir Thomas Wyatt, the obsessive code maker Sir Thomas Tresham, and a host of dynamic artists, thinkers and patrons absent from the standard histories.

My God, It’s Full Of Stars: A Journey To The Edge Of Science Fiction

This four-parter is a co-production with BBC America and aims to be the definitive television history of science fiction. The series will tell the story of one of the liveliest and most stimulating genres in popular culture and it will be told through the genre’s impact on cinema, television and literature. Each episode will explore one of the enduring themes of science fiction: time travel, the exploration of space, robots, artificial intelligence and aliens. It will be made with the help of the genre’s greatest pioneers: the filmmakers, writers, actors, and graphic artists whose obsession and imagination has taken them into the unknown.

Melvyn Bragg’s Radical Lives

In this documentary Melvyn Bragg explores the  lives and work of two extraordinary men. Both of whom tried to uproot the systems in which they found themselves and both of whom have left an enduring radical legacy. Those two men are Thomas Paine and John Ball. John Ball was a cleric at the heart of the class rebellion against the medieval feudal system, more commonly known as The Peasant’s Revolt. He was the intellectual inspiration of the rebels which ultimately led to his imprisonment and execution. While Paine’s writings in Rights Of Man and The Age of Reason were a key intellectual influence on the American Revolution which brought independence from Britain, and he charged British radical thinking throughout the 18th century.