BBC looks to the past

Pubcaster dives into history for fall sked

LONDON — With charter renewal uppermost in BBC’s minds, history programming will take center stage as part of BBC1’s £220 million ($358 million) fall sked, unveiled Tuesday.

Drama goes back in time on the U.K. pubcaster’s main channel with “Charles II,” a dynamic romp through history starring Rufus Sewell, Diana Rigg and Rupert Graves. Story is set in the corridors and bedrooms of power at a time when the relationship between monarch and state was at crisis point.

Documentaries “The Boy Who Would Be King” and “Oliver Cromwell — Warts And All” will complement the drama. “Looking for Victoria,” meanwhile, sees Prunella Scales playing the English monarch in a new factual series.

BBC1 also is serving up two big-budget docs: “Pompeii — The Last Day,” about the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79, uses historical and forensic evidence to re-enact the last day, while “Colosseum” travels back to the age of Ancient Rome’s gladiators via special effects and dramatic reconstructions.

In a bid to breathe new life into Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales,” BBC1 is lining up thesps Julie Walters, James Nesbitt and Jonny Lee Miller to star in six modern takes on the medieval tales to reflect Britain today. Themes include the cult of celebrity, the obsession with youth and bigotry against asylum seekers.

Offshore saurians

Other highlights include “Sea Monsters: A ‘Walking With Dinosaurs’ Special,” a prehistoric underwater special; “Hunting Chris Ryan,” which takes former SAS trooper and bestselling author Ryan and abandons him in extreme environments as he is hunted by Special Forces soldiers; “Fungus the Bogeyman,” a TV adaptation of Raymond Brigg’s popular children’s book, which is marking its 25th anniversary; and “Born to Win,” a six-part series in the vein of “Pop Idol” that looks for the young sporting stars of tomorrow.

BBC controller Lorraine Heggessey denied she was filling the channel with public service programs simply to bolster the pubcaster’s bid for charter renewal in 2006. The pubcaster is preparing to defend its future funding in the fall.

“You can’t have a strategy that’s right for only one year on BBC1,” she said. “What you’re talking about is a strategy for the channel that will last well into the 21st century. I wouldn’t feel that I was doing my job properly if all I was doing was putting in more soaps and light factual programs.”

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