Critics' Choice

By Jonathan Ross Pete Tong Ellen E Jones
Author: Jonathan Ross

Jonathan Ross

Jonathan Ross is a comedian, talk show host, film critic and one of Britain's most successful broadcasters.

Author: Ellen E Jones

Ellen E Jones

Ellen E Jones is The Independent's TV critic and a columnist for The Independent on Sunday and The i Paper. She runs regular review writing workshops and mentoring programmes for young journalists, yet still finds time to squeeze in a solid four hours of TV-viewing a day.

Author: Pete Tong

Pete Tong

Pete Tong, MBE is a British DJ and stalwart for BBC Radio 1. He has been DJing for the last five decades and his music knowledge is second to none.

Jonathan Ross says...

Most of us have a film that made such a strong impression on us when we first watched it that we have remained fans for life. For me it was Beneath the Planet of the Apes, the first sequel of the series from 1970. It was the grim predicted future of mankind that thrilled and terrified me. Not the idea that apes would one day be the dominant species – I was fine with that. Most of them seemed quite reasonable, and even the war-like gorillas looked as if they could be bargained with providing you didn’t make any sudden moves.

The basic premise is simple; humans fumble with the ball and apes pick it up and adapt and thrive to become our masters. The early films in the franchise focused on the future, after our fall from dominance. That’s where the director Tim Burton set his attempted reboot, which didn’t get a great reception, even though I loved it, especially the way we got a feel for what the apes’ cities might be like. And who could possibly resist Helena Bonham-Carter as a cute and sexy chimp? Not me.

So, it’s interesting that the most recent Apes saga has changed its focus, showing us how the apes began to gain greater intelligence, thanks to our hubris as much as anything – and the aggression with which we greet their rise. The ‘monsters’ now are the humans, who refuse to let go of their power.

It was a smart move, and the twist gave the franchise a massive boost. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a smash, and both Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and the latest, War for the Planet of the Apes, have also been hits. In all three, Caesar the ape is brought to thrilling life by the brilliant Andy Serkis, that maestro of motion capture acting. He gives a master class in emotional connection as we root for a monkey in a world full of men – his moods and motives made clear by body language and his expression-filled eyes. He’s so good at this I fear he gets passed over when directors are looking for a human who can convincingly play a human. His performances match the very best acting in modern movies. Hail Caesar! Hail Andy Serkis!

Pete Tong...

Last year was my 20th anniversary of taking BBC Radio 1 to Ibiza. Coincidentally, the Proms reached out to see if I wanted to curate a concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall. The station said, 'Do you want to take the baton? What better way to kick off the celebrations than by playing a tribute to Ibiza?' That was the mission, to celebrate the musical legacy of the island with an orchestra.

It created a whole different dynamic: The Heritage Orchestra, together with conductor Jules Buckley and me doing cover versions of classic dance tunes. After all, a lot of early house and techno was influenced heavily by disco from the 1970s – where budgets were no object and tracks were recorded by the Salsoul Orchestra and the Love Unlimited Orchestra. We come all the way through the key trance records, up to Eric Prydz, including his 2008 track Pjanoo. I wanted to reflect both sides of Ibiza – not just the clubbing but also the daytime and the sunset – hence us doing tracks like Vangelis’ Rachel’s Song from Blade Runner, Porcelain by Moby and Smokebelch by Sabres of Paradise.

The idea caught on. Our album Classic House ended up going to number one in the charts. In March, I announced we were going to do London’s O2. Then we managed to secure Manchester Arena and Birmingham Arena. In a week or two we’d sold out all three. Then someone said we should play the Hollywood Bowl. So, this month, we are. It’s amazing because LA’s the city I moved to back in 2013. When you see the venue empty, it’s even more daunting than seeing it full. It’s got a great sense of history. The Beatles and all sorts of bands have played there. I’ve seen the big guns, from Drake to Andrea Bocelli – culturally it goes right across the board.

I think 30 years on from the rebirth of the dance scene, people are looking for something different. We seem to have inspired 20 other orchestras around the world to do the same thing. The audience is older, but it doesn’t mean they want to retire or stay home the whole time. Clubbers still want to go out and dance. I want to prove that these tunes matter.

Ellen E Jones says...

Cometh the hour, cometh the TV show. There can be a strange serendipity to TV scheduling, one that isn’t entirely explained by on-the-ball commissioners. No show demonstrates this better than The Handmaid’s Tale, the latest and greatest adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s Booker Prize-winning novel about a future in which women are used as breeding slaves, or ‘handmaids’.

It isn’t only the depiction of gender that has allowed dystopian dramas to displace political satire in our culture. Zombie thriller The Walking Dead, gruelling grief study The Leftovers, Netflix’s Brazilian thriller 3% and teen sci-fi The 100 all have different tones and different fans, but share an appeal based on how they allow viewers to imagine how they’d fare post-apocalypse, only from the safety of a sofa.

The best of these shows also go one step further, however. Technophobic horror anthology Black Mirror has featured several storylines that were later, more or less, realised, despite creator Charlie Brooker’s insistence that he has no prophetic powers. Similarly, Atwood has described her original novel as “an antiprediction”, firmly rooted in the documented horrors of the past. “Having been born in 1939 and come to consciousness during World War II, I knew that established orders could vanish overnight,” she wrote in the New York Times earlier this year. “Anything could happen anywhere, given the circumstances.”

It’s these “circumstances” that the TV series sets out to describe, going beyond even Atwood in its delineation of how a modern democracy might segue into a neo-medieval nightmare. It starts with a barista casually slut shaming two woman out for a jog and ends with the total suspension of civil rights. Yet, it’s not the imaginative extremes of Gilead that are most chilling, but the recognisable present day details. These are also what turn depressing dystopian fiction into empowering and uplifting television. If those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, then these dramas offer us one last chance to remember.