The Observer’s ultimate guide to autumn culture

A musical Twelfth Night, Michelle Obama’s memoirs and the last ever gig by Ennio Morricone: our critics preview the new season

• Jay Rayner on the best of autumn food
• Morwenna Ferrier on five key seasonal fashion trends
• Andrew Rawnsley on what to expect from politics

Television by Sarah Hughes

Bodyguard (BBC One, 9pm) has autumn’s new TV off to a roaring start. Jed Mercurio’s new series about an autocratic home secretary (Keeley Hawes) and the man charged with protecting her (Richard Madden), is a twisty political thriller and arguably the most nail-biting new series of the year.

It’s not the only politically tinged drama on the BBC this autumn. Hugo Blick’s much-awaited Black Earth Rising starring John Goodman and Michaela Coel arrives on BBC Two next month followed by Korean director Park Chan-wook’s certain-to-be-visceral take on John le Carré’s classic The Little Drummer Girl (BBC One). Meanwhile, Mike Bartlett’s Press offers a different kind of tension as two rival newspapers do battle in the age of internet news (BBC One, September).

Over on ITV, September sees Regency-era intrigue with a star-laden Vanity Fairand twisty thrills inStrangers, starring John Simm. A topical tale of a transgender child follows in October with Tony Marchant’s sensitive Butterfly starring Anna Friel. Channel 4 aims boldly for infinity and beyond as Sean Penn leads the cast of mission-to-Mars drama The First in October, David Simon’s The Deuce returns to Sky Atlantic on 26 September and lovers of the supernatural can either swoon to Sky One’s sweeping take on Deborah Harkness’s romantic fantasy A Discovery of Witches (September) or shudder to Netflix’s dark reimagining The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina in time for Halloween.

ITV’s star-laden Vanity Fair.
ITV’s star-laden Vanity Fair. Photograph: ITV

Autumn’s most eagerly awaited new comedy is Desiree Akhavan’s tale of life and love in London, The Bisexual (Channel 4, October). Elsewhere, the gang from Kurupt FM make the jump to BBC Two for the final series of mockumentary sitcom People Just Do Nothing (late 2018), the ever-inventive The Good Place returns to Netflix (September) and Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith get spooky with a live Halloween edition of Inside No 9.

The centenary of the first world war armistice brings with it a host of programming including Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old in conjunction with the Imperial War Museum (BBC One, November) while fans of The Crown should check out Princess Margaret, a new two-part documentary on BBC Two.

Finally, autumn wouldn’t be autumn without reality juggernauts Great British Bake Off (Channel 4, starting on Tuesday) and Strictly Come Dancing (BBC One, September), while national treasure David Attenborough returns with Dynasty, a five-part series about power, family and territory that promises to be just as tense as anything fiction can provide (BBC One).

Film by Simran Hans

Sylvester Stallone and Michael B Jordan in Creed II.
Sylvester Stallone and Michael B Jordan in Creed II. Photograph: no credit

After a five-year hiatus, I’m giddily awaiting the return of British director Steve McQueen. Widows (Nov) is inspired by a TV series that was on ITV in the early 1980s. Co-written with Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, it’s a mobster movie with Viola Davis leading a pack of women out for revenge (“No one thinks we have the balls to pull this off,” she says, ballsily). I’m happy to see McQueen making a contemporary film after 12 Years a Slave’s period setting and am on the lookout for his signature geometric framing and installation-like sequences. Luca Guadagnino’s reinterpretation of Dario Argento’s 1977 cult giallo-inflected supernatural horror Suspiria (premiering at Venice film festival, Sept) reunites Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton, both of whom starred in his breezily enjoyable A Bigger Splash. Following the sun-soaked romance of Call Me By Your Name, the Italian film-maker’s light touch seems a weird fit for such dark material, so I’m intrigued to see what he brings to the project.

The fourth iteration of A Star Is Born (Oct) since the Dorothy Parker-penned original in 1937 sees Lady Gaga as a country singer on the rise and, after being tossed around development hell, is directed by the actor Bradley Cooper. It looks like delicious Oscar bait. Black Panther’s Ryan Coogler and Michael B Jordan are today’s Scorsese and De Niro; Rocky descendant Creed II (Nov) is their fourth collaboration (though this time Coogler exec produces while Steven Caple Jr steps in to direct) and if the slick adrenaline rush of the first film is anything to go by, worth getting excited about. Elsewhere, Chloé Zhao’s The Rider (Sept) sits outside of the Hollywood horse race, but it’s a remarkable film about a young bronc rider (real life rodeo-er Brady Jandreau) struggling to retain his identity after an accident relegates him from champion to trainer. Watching Jandreau with the horses feels both like cinéma vérité, and a breathtaking ballet of non-verbal communication.

Books by Alex Preston

Will Ashon, author of Wu-Tang Clan history Chamber Music.
Will Ashon, author of Wu-Tang Clan history Chamber Music. Photograph: Karen Robinson/The Observer

Sebastian Faulks is among a host of big hitters with novels published this autumn. His superb Paris Echo (6 September) weaves winningly between the present and the second world war, between Tangiers and Paris. Sarah Moss’s Ghost Wall (20 September) is stunningly good, a tightly written, powerful book about archaeology and Englishness. Sarah Perry follows up The Essex Serpent with her gothic Melmoth (4 October) – it’s creepy and compelling. Finally, Propolis is a new indie publisher making exquisite books. The Ballad of Syd and Morgan by Haydn Middleton (26 October) brilliantly imagines a meeting between Syd Barrett and EM Forster.

In nonfiction, there’s In My Mind’s Eye (6 September), a “thought diary” by the always-fascinating Jan Morris. Former record exec Will Ashon has come up with something really special in Chamber Music, the riotous history of the rap group Wu-Tang Clan (1 November). Julian Baggini’s How the World Thinks (4 October) is there to fill the Sapiens-size hole in your life, while Becoming, the autobiography of Michelle Obama (13 November), is sure to be as warm and wonderful as the woman herself. For something quite different, try The Ravenmaster by Christopher Skaife (4 October), a gloriously eccentric and terribly British memoir of life with the famous birds of the Tower of London.

Pop by Kitty Empire

Héloïse Letissier of Christine and the Queens.
Héloïse Letissier of Christine and the Queens. Photograph: Suffo Moncloa

Not many of the arts have originators still producing captivating new work. Chair of the pantheon Paul McCartney releases his 17th solo studio album on 7 September and plays a handful of shows in the run-up to Christmas. Egypt Station filches its name from a painting of McCartney’s from 1988. Helpmeets include producers Greg Kurstin and Ryan Tedder.

One of McCartney’s favourite new artists, Héloïse Letissier makes her bid for the big leagues next month. Chris, the second Christine and the Queens album, due 21 September, finds Letissier embracing her inner tomboy. “Sweaty” and “cinematic” are the buzzwords; UK dates follow in November.

The first unsigned artist to top the BBC’s Sound of poll earlier this year, Londoner Ray BLK is finally ready to unveil her own debut. Signalled by Run Run, BLK’s hard-hitting recent track about youth violence, the long-awaited Empress is out in September; Ray BLK makes her return to the stage on 3 October before touring with Rudimental.

Singer Matt Healy recently revealed that he checked himself into rehab in Barbados before beginning work on the 1975’s third album, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships. The Cheshire outfit’s eagerly awaited opus is still without an official release date, but widely hoped to be landing in November. Apparently, there’s another one already waiting in the wings.

Another band who fetishise 80s guitar sounds, Philadelphians the War on Drugs, bring their lush, Grammy-winning A Deeper Understanding album to London’s O2 Arena in December, their biggest date yet. Finally, wielding the baton over one last time is 89-year-old composer Ennio Morricone, who plays his last-ever UK gig on 26 November.

Podcasts by Miranda Sawyer

Esther Perel of Where Should We Begin?
Esther Perel of Where Should We Begin? Photograph: no credit

Two returning podcasts to be excited about are Where Should We Begin? with Esther Perel (Audible) and Radiotopia’s Ear Hustle. Series three of Perel’s relationship therapy podcast is framed around the evolution of marriage and follows six couples at different stages; each episode is a real, unscripted consultation between psychotherapist Perel and a couple with problems. Her acute insight and verve, plus the undeniable fascination of other people’s problems, make this unmissable.

Ear Hustle, which brings intimate inmate stories about life inside US prisons, is always a revealing, surprising listen; series three starts in September.

If you think you’re spending too much time on screens, then The Three Day Effect (Audible) might get you back outdoors. Florence Williams uses science and sociology to help understand nature’s restorative effect. From the makers of Night Vale, two intriguing fiction podcasts: Adventures in New America, a “sci-fi, Afrofuturistic, political satire, buddy comedy”, and Dreamboy, which promises to tell its story in a blockbuster, Spielberg style. The always excellent 99% Invisible releases a six part mini-series, Articles of Interest?, about what we wear, covering diverse topics from why womenswear doesn’t have pockets to the environmental impact of textiles.

And the BBC will give us Intrigue: The Ratline. Told by barrister Philippe Sands, whose grandfather’s family were murdered in a Nazi extermination camp, this podcast is a “sort of mystery story” about Otto Wächter, a Nazi we’ve barely heard of, because he was never brought to justice. The Ratline was a Nazi escape line out of Europe and this promises to be a gripping tale.

Theatre by Susannah Clapp

Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo in Antony and Cleopatra.
Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo in Antony and Cleopatra. Photograph: PR Company Handout

Bristol Old Vic boldly brings to the stage Touching the Void, mountaineer Joe Simpson’s memoir of being trapped in a crevasse in the Peruvian Andes. Tom Morris directs David Greig’s adaptation; designer Ti Green is tasked with making the mountains; Josh Williams plays Joe (18 Sept-6 Oct, then touring).

At the National, Sophie Okonedo and Ralph Fiennes are likely to generate Shakespearean sizzle in Antony and Cleopatra (18 Sept-19 Jan). Simon Godwin’s production, which includes the marvellous rising star Fisayo Akinade, is designed by the mighty Hildegard Bechtler. Another magnetic pairing is set to ignite The Height of the Storm. In the latest drama from the intriguing Florian (The Father) Zeller, the peerless Eileen Atkins and Jonathan Pryce play a couple who are beginning to ask questions about their 50-year-old marriage. Jonathan Kent directs Christopher Hampton’s translation, which can be seen at Richmond, Bath, Cambridge and in London at Wyndham’s (from 1 Sept in Richmond).

Musical transformations are in the air. Marianne Elliott’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company, whose songs include The Ladies Who Lunch, for the first time casts a woman as the lead character; Sondheim is happy with the change. Rosalie Craig stars as Bobbie alongside Patti Lupone and Mel Giedroyc at the Gielgud in London (10 Oct-22 Dec).

Meanwhile, Kwame Kwei-Armah opens his first season as artistic director of the vital Young Vic with a musical version of Twelfth Night (2 Oct-17 Nov). The lyrics and score –jazz, soul and R&B – are by Shaina Taub. The designer is Robert Jones. Kwame Kwei-Armah directs with Oskar Eustis from New York’s Public Theater.

Art by Kate Kellaway

Fernand Léger’s Two Women Holding Flowers, 1954.
Fernand Léger’s Two Women Holding Flowers, 1954. Photograph: Mark Heathcote/© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2018

1 Lorenzo Lotto
Portraits, National Gallery, London (5 Nov-10 Feb)
The National Gallery is publicising this show with a superb portrait of Andrea Odoni, painted in 1527. The face could be modern – the complicated expression detains the viewer. Lotto was one of the great Italian Renaissance portraitists with a gift for psychological penetration and this, the first exhibition of its kind in the UK, looks unmissable.

2 New photography centre at V&A
(Opens 12 October)
The V&A has one of the largest photography collections in the world and this thrilling, new, state-of-the art space (twice the size of the existing gallery) will launch with a gloriously compendious exhibition, spanning the history of photography, from daguerreotype to digital.

3 Gainsborough’s Family Album, National Portrait Gallery, London (22 Nov-3 Feb)
Gainsborough and the Theatre
Holburne Museum, Bath
(5 Oct-20 Jan)
The NPG show will give us what promises to be a rare, intimate insight into Gainsborough as 18th-century family man while the Holburne Museum will show portraits of diverse thespians by “the most faithful disciple of Nature that ever painted” as a companion piece.

4 Fernand Léger: New Times, New Pleasures
Tate Liverpool (23‑Nov‑12 March)
This is the first exhibition of Fernand Léger (1881–1955) in 30 years. Léger was a questing, versatile, metropolitan artist and this illuminating show will include paintings, textiles, experiments with typography and a chance to see his intriguing experimental 1924 film, Ballet mécanique.

5 Yayoi Kusama
Victoria Miro, London (3 Oct–21 Dec)
The uncompromisingly psychedelic Japanese artist, beloved by Instagrammers, is going strong and startling at 89 (a Dogwoof documentary celebrating the “queen of polka dots” will be released alongside the retrospective).

Architecture by Rowan Moore

Secular Retreat by Peter Zumthor.
Secular Retreat by Peter Zumthor, due to open in Devon. Photograph: Jason Orton/Living Architecture

Dundee is the place to be in September, where the craggy inverted pyramids of Kengo Kuma’s Victoria & Albert Museum will be opened to the public. After that, it will be Devon, where long-awaited Secular Retreat, by the revered Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, will open at a date still to be specified. Here, there is more rough-hewn masonry, although for a smaller audience – it is part of Alain de Botton’s Living Architecture series, which can be rented for weekends and holidays. December will see the opening of the first phase of the Elizabeth Line (formerly known as Crossrail) and with it a series of new stations by Foster and Partners, Wilkinson Eyre and other notable architects.

The Royal Academy’s exhibition on the Shard architect, Renzo Piano, opens on 15 September. So does the London Design festival, whose blend of creativity and commerce will include a “maze-like” plywood construction by the architects Waugh Thistleton at the London V&A. On 10 October, the RIBA will announce the winner of this year’s Stirling prize; whichever project wins will have to win over those critics who have called the shortlist a “beige tide”. The choice runs from Foster’s palatial headquarters for Bloomberg to a community centre and nursery by MUMA, in the North-West Cambridge Development.

Comedy by Ralph Jones

Jordan Brookes, one of the comedians appearing at Soho theatre.
Jordan Brookes, one of the comedians appearing at Soho theatre. Photograph: No credit

1 Dylan Moran: Dr Cosmos
There are few weary, caustic takes on life more appealing than Dylan Moran’s. In his Dr Cosmos tour (3 Sept-8 Dec; starting at Norwich Playhouse), he proves himself more than capable of living up to his sizable reputation.

2 Comedy at Soho theatre, London
This is the place each autumn to catch the hottest fringe shows as they tumble down from Edinburgh. Two examples are Bleed, the latest solo show by self-styled “riskiest comic in the business” Jordan Brookes (25 Oct-10 Nov), and the searingly personal Sunrise by Jessie Cave (12 Nov-1 Dec). Also on offer is a monthly appearance of Dan Renton Skinner’s creation Angelos Epithemiou, best known for his stint on Shooting Stars and still a big draw on the circuit (1 Sept, 3 Oct, 5 Nov).

3 League of Gentlemen Live Again!
A most welcome artistic reunion, the League of Gentlemen are on tour until 29 September – a rare chance to see them weave their devilish magic on stage.

4 Bridget Christie: What Now?
The new show (various venues, 7 Sept-4 Dec) is a comparatively general rumination on Christie’s fixations. She can’t help but discuss topics such as Trump but uses her family life to contextualise them, in skilful outbursts of comic rage.

5 Kidding (Sky Atlantic)
Over on TV, and returning from the wilderness somewhat, Jim Carrey is Mr Jeff Pickles, a beloved children’s TV presenter trying to cope after his world is lifted up and unceremoniously dumped on the ground. A must-see.


Susannah Clapp, Kitty Empire, Simran Hans, Sarah Hughes, Ralph Jones, Kate Kellaway, Rowan Moore, Alex Preston, Miranda Sawyer

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