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Not all doom and gloom: UK cultural highlights for autumn

“From books to ballet, from big to small screen, from art to theatre, there is much to enjoy despite the pandemic.”

Guardian Sat 17 Oct 2020 – article by Caroline Davies

Image: ‘One way or another’ … A painting of Debbie Harry is among those on display at Tate Modern’s Andy Warhol exhibition, which ends on 15 November. Photograph: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock

Curl up with a book

Autumn and the lead up to Christmas are a busy time for publishers, even busier this year because of postponements. For escapism away from pandemic reality, there is a huge choice. Fiction includes the last two unpublished novels from the Booker longlist: Gabriel Krauze’s Who They Was (4th Estate), which is set amid London’s gang culture; and the US author Diane Cook’s The New Wilderness (Oneworld), in which a mother and daughter embark on a dangerous experiment in living. Meanwhile, Don DeLillo’s The Silence, which was completed just weeks before coronavirus hit, is set in the near future about five people gathered together in a Manhattan apartment during a different kind of catastrophic event.

For those from whom lockdown offered an opportunity to hone culinary skills, there is inspiration in the form of Ottolenghi Flavour (Ebury Press), by Yotam Ottolenghi, Nadiya Bakes (Michael Joseph), by Nadiya Hussain, and Cook, Eat, Repeat, by Nigella Lawson (Chatto).

And not forgetting the celebrity memoirs, with Ant and Dec’s Once Upon a Tyne: Our Story Celebrating 30 Years Together on Telly (Sphere) on some people’s Christmas list.

Big screen

With planned releases of the next James Bond thriller, No Time to Die, and Steven Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story both pushed back, times are uncertain in the cinema world. Mank is David Fincher’s first movie as director since Gone Girl in 2014, with Netflix announcing it is headed to cinemas in November and will be available on its streaming platform from 4 December. The black-and-white biopic follows the life of the screenwriter Herman J Mankiewicz and his battle with Orson Welles over the screenplay credit of Citizen Kane. It stars Gary Oldman as Mankiewicz. Also due for release in coming weeks is Death on the Nile, with Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot and Wonder Woman 1984, starring Gal Gadot and set in the middle of the cold war.

Small screen

Dark nights before the small screen beckon, and despite the pandemic shaking up the TV industry, there is something for everyone to look forward to.

The return of The Crown (season 4), on Netflix from 15 November, is the last to feature Olivia Colman as Queen before she hands the baton over to Imelda Staunton, and focuses on the 1980s, with Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher.

Small Axe, on BBC One from 15 November, is from the Oscar-winning writer and director Steve McQueen, and stars the Star Wars actor John Boyega as well as Line of Duty’s Rochenda Sandall. Set within the West Indian community, the five episodes begin with Enoch Powell’s notorious “Rivers of Blood” speech of 1968.

Sky’s The Undoing, which broadcasts from 26 October, casts Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant in a tense drama about a woman whose husband goes missing. ITV’s offers include The Sister, broadcast date to be confirmed, a murder mystery from the Luther creator Neil Cross that stars Russell Tovey.

Of course, Christmas Day would not be complete, it seems, without the Call the Midwife festive special on BBC One.

Art exhibitions

Andy Warhol at Tate Modern has been one of the must-see exhibitions of 2020. It has been extended until 15 November and features Warhol’s famed images of Marilyn Monroe and Campbell’s Soup Cans, as well as some largely unseen paintings from the 1970s. The Royal Academy’s annual summer exhibition, which for the first time since 1769 is staged in winter, runs until 3 January.

Wrap up well to enjoy the last few days of Anish Kapoor at Houghton Hall in Norfolk. The exhibition of 21 sculptures, many in the gardens, and a selection of drawings spanning 40 years closes on 1 November.

Titian: Love, Desire, Death at the National Gallery in London, reunites the six paintings from a series inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses for the first time in more than four centuries and runs until 17 January. Also at the National Gallery, the recently opened Artemisia exhibition continues until 24 January. In 17th-century Italy, Artemisia Gentileschi became one of the most celebrated female painters of her time.


Slowly but surely theatres are attempting to reopen. The National Theatre celebrates the return of live performance, Covid measures in place, with Death of England: Delroy. Penned by Clint Dyer and Roy Williams, it runs until 28 November and explores a black working-class man searching for truth and confronting his relationship with Great Britain.

The West End operator Nimax Theatres has socially distanced performances of several plays, including Six, a musical with a different take on Henry VIII’s wives, and The Play That Goes Wrong.

The Nottingham Playhouse, New Vic theatre in Staffordshire, King’s theatre in Portsmouth and many more regional venues are opening their doors. Panto season will also soon be here in some shape or form. Oh yes it will.


It’s not Christmas without The Nutcracker set to Tchaikovsky’s glorious score, and the Royal Albert Hall ensures 2020 is no exception. Socially distanced performances from Birmingham’s Royal Ballet will bring Clara’s toys to life and transport you through a fantastical winter wonderland to the kingdom of the Sugar Plum fairy.

Sadler’s Well promises a special programme of live dance and digital content, including performances for socially distanced audiences – with seating for separate households only. Live events include English National Ballet performing a specially commissioned programme of five world premieres from Arielle Smith, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Russell Maliphant, Yuri Possokhov and Stina Quagebeur. In addition there is the rescheduled world premiere performances of Alexander Whitley Company’s Overflow, a mini festival of new work from Breakin’ Convention, and the return of Arthur Pita’s family favourite The Little Match Girl for two weeks at Christmas.