In November and December, the BBC is set to showcase three new Arena films and an impressive selection from the Arena archive. This Christmas, viewers can anticipate the release of “Caroline Aherne: Comedy Queen,” a film honouring the unique life and talent of Caroline Aherne. This production will feature unseen photographs and contributions from a cast of Aherne’s lifelong friends and colleagues, including Steve Coogan, John Thomson, Craig Cash, Sue Johnston, and producer Andy Harries.
Another highlight is “Mad About The Boy: the Noel Coward Story,” delving into the life of Noel Coward, a celebrated figure in acting, playwriting, and songwriting. The film, narrated by Alan Cumming with Rupert Everett voicing Noel Coward, incorporates Coward’s own words, music, and remarkable home movies. Noteworthy personalities such as Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, Harold Pinter, Frank Sinatra, Lauren Bacall, Michael Caine, and Lucille Ball make appearances.
On November 29, BBC Two will broadcast “Being Kae Tempest,” offering rare and intimate insights into Kae Tempest’s life during a period of profound personal and artistic transformation.
To complement the release of these new films, the BBC is enriching the Arena archive accessible to audiences. BBC iPlayer and BBC Four will present over 50 films from this BAFTA-winning arts series, many of which have been unseen for decades.
Mark Bell, Commissioning Editor for Arena at BBC Arts says: “The Arena archive is a treasure house of the best in creative documentary over nearly five decades and continues to be extraordinary. This year so far has been exceptional, with films that range from The Stones and Brian Jones to The Mysterious Mr Lagerfeld and with more on Kae Tempest, Caroline Aherne and Noel Coward coming up. I am delighted to have the opportunity to celebrate these classics alongside some wonderful new films.”
The BBC’s Arena archive, hailed by Broadcast magazine as one of the top 50 most influential programmes of all time, covers a wide range of subjects. From exploring James Joyce’s “Ulysses” with contributions from Colm Tóibín, Anne Enright, and others, to examining the dietary habits of the king of rock’n’roll in “The Burger and the King,” Arena has approached art, music, film, and culture with fresh and challenging perspectives.
BBC Four will bring back classics like the 1976 feature on Peter Shaffer, the 1980 coverage of Dire Straits, and the 1986 premiere of Louise Brooks, among others. The collection includes recent classics like the Oscar-nominated and BAFTA-winning “I Am Not Your Negro” and “Amy Winehouse: The Day She Came to Dingle,” showcasing Winehouse’s performance shortly after the release of the “Back to Black” album.
The Arena archive’s richness is evident in BAFTA-winning documentaries like “Many Lives of Richard Attenborough,” which explores Attenborough’s life and career, and the docudrama “Wisconsin Death Trip,” directed by James Marsh and recognized by BAFTA and RTS. Viewers will have the chance to revisit iconic documentaries like Martin Scorsese’s “No Direction Home: Bob Dylan” and, in the 60th anniversary year of Doctor Who, “Delia Derbyshire: The Myths and the Legendary Tapes.”
The revived Arenas include long-time favourites like “Ken Dodd’s Happiness,” “Screen Goddesses,” and “The Everly Brothers: Songs Of Innocence And Experience,” alongside hidden gems like “Billy, How Did You Do It?” unseen since 1992, and “Have you Seen the Mona Lisa?” from 1981.