Frida Kahlo

BBC Arts has announced a range of extraordinary interviews and profile films with outstanding creative cultural figures of our time, offering audiences the chance to delve deeply into their lives and work. From some great names in literature to film and from theatre to the visual arts and classical music, a host of new programmes will air across BBC television including new imagine… interviews with Tom Stoppard, Bernardine Evaristo and Marian Keyes.

Highlights include:

  • imagine…profiles on the author Bernardine Evaristo (2 September), playwright Tom Stoppard (9 September) and Marian Keyes (TX November tbc) with Alan Yentob
  • Lady Boss: the new film about writer Jackie Collins will air on the BBC this October. A career autobiography of her sister, the actress Joan Collins, will air next year
  • A three-part series exploring the life of one of the most famous female artists of the 20th century – Frida Kahlo – and her relationship with Diego Rivera
  • Arena documentaries on artists Brian Catling, Selina Thompson and Steina and Woody Vasulka
  • Sir Quentin Blake tells the story of his own seventy year long career
  • Documentaries on two luminaries of the classical music world: Daniel Barenboim and Michael Tippett

Mark Bell, one of the BBC’s commissioning editors for BBC Arts said: The BBC is uniquely creative in offering this range of films about, with and by artists and cultural figures; the dialogue between director and subject is at the heart of the BBC’s ambition for arts programming.  My colleagues and I are immensely privileged to work with such remarkable talent, both on screen and behind the camera, and hope that these films will offer insights into these extraordinary artists and offer context to their work.”

More detail on the commissions


On 2 September on BBC One Alan Yentob explores the remarkable life and work of trailblazing Anglo-Nigerian author Bernardine Evaristo, whose Booker Prize-winning novel Girl, Woman, Other has become a global phenomenon. With great wit and wisdom Evaristo lays bare her unique approach to creativity across the decades as her latest book, an inspirational non-fiction work called Manifesto: On Never Giving Up, is released.

On 9 September on BBC One imagine…profiles Tom Stoppard: perhaps the world’s leading,  funniest and cleverest playwright. Ever since he hit the ground running in the 1960s with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, there has always been a streak of melancholy beneath the sparkling surface of his work. Now with his latest play Leopoldstadt he comes full circle and faces up to the pain and loss in his past as he tells Alan Yentob his extraordinary story.

Later in the autumn is Marian Keyes, best-selling Irish author and household name, who has secured legions of fans who adore her ability to create ‘chick-lit’ with a vast emotional hinterland. Yet her personal story, of anxiety, depression and alcoholism seems somehow at odds with the quick-witted humour and lightness of touch of her writing. Alan Yentob meets this sharp, witty and incredibly empathetic author, whose life and work gives real insight into the therapeutic power of art, and shows how even the darkest of subjects can be consumed and understood by millions through her  brilliant and evocative writing.

Joan Collins (w/t)

In 2022 BBC Arts will present a new documentary on the life of a Hollywood legend – Joan Collins. This epic film is told from the ringside, as Joan narrates her own rollercoaster life story – with her inimitable wit and panache. One of the last surviving actresses of Hollywood’s ‘Golden Age’ and then a worldwide television phenomenon with her decade-defining role in Dynasty, Collins has been witness to some of history’s key moments and people along the way. Her story is told against a backdrop of archive footage and her own mesmerising personal home movie collection, showcasing the extraordinary life of a woman who has seen it all and survived it all with wit, charm and intelligence.

Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story

Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story will TX on BBC Two this October. Spinning together fact and fiction, this feature documentary tells the untold story of a ground-breaking author and her mission to build a one-woman literary empire. Narrated by a cast of Jackie’s closest friends and family, the film reveals the private struggles of a woman who became an icon of 1980s feminism whilst hiding her personal vulnerability behind a carefully crafted, powerful, public persona. The documentary interweaves interviews with Jackie, her family and friends, depictions of Jackie’s most famous fictional character Lucky Santangelo, and audio-book recordings with an extensive, private and unseen archive that was gathered by Jackie Collins throughout her life.

Frida and Diego (w/t)

Directed by multi-award winning filmmaker Louise Lockwood, Frida and Diego explores the life of one of the most famous female artists of the 20th century, her incredibly provocative and radical artistry, and her tempestuous relationship with Diego Rivera. Across the three episodes the series examines the personal and political lives of these extraordinary Mexican artists and their impact on the global artistic stage.

Quentin Blake: The Drawing Of My Life

In December 2021 BBC Two will celebrate of one of Britain’s best-loved artists, the illustrator and author Sir Quentin Blake, who tells the story of his seventy-year career in his own words – and with his own pictures. This is the first documentary to be dedicated to ​the now 88 year-old Blake, and features contributions from collaborators and admirers –  among them David Walliams, Michael Rosen, Lauren Child, Chris Riddell, Steven Appleby, Dapo Adeola, Josie Long and Emma Chichester Clark.  There are also readings ​from some of the five hundred works Blake has illustrated, performed by Peter Capaldi, Joanna Lumley and Ore Oduba. All of these figures are magically woven into Blake’s unique hand-drawn illustrations, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Mr Magnolia and The Boy in the Dress, while Blake himself creates a brand new thirty foot-long mural especially for the film.  There are fresh insights into his famously fruitful collaboration with Roald Dahl, who once declared that “when people picture the BFG, what they see is Quent’s drawing” (though as Blake reveals, his first attempts at picturing the iconic giant were rejected by the sometimes temperamental author.) Dahl’s widow, Felicity, gives her perspective on the partnership in a rare new interview.

Made with unprecedented access to Blake’s vast archive,  this innovative documentary offers a welcome escape into the artist’s joyful world.

Arena – BBC Four

Performance artist Selina Thompson makes her debut film with a documentary about her one-woman show SALT, and how it was created. The film describes the extraordinary journey Selina undertook retracing the fearful symmetry at the heart of the slave trade –  the transatlantic triangle formed by Europe, Africa and the Americas.  She travels from Antwerp on a cargo ship to Ghana, then on to Jamaica, before finally returning to England. This re-telling of Thompson’s experiences at sea together with her account of  the staging of the original SALT stage show,  evolves into a documentary poem that is both a personal odyssey and an examination of the Black Diaspora with its larger themes of grief, race and identity.

B.Catling or Where Does It All Come From? is an investigation into the extraordinary work of artist Brian Catling. Geoff Cox & Andy Starke’s film is an insight into the late-flourishing career of maverick sculptor, writer, teacher and performer Brian Catling RA, whose unique vision and extraordinary imagination are celebrated through an ever-shifting narrative woven from newly-restored archive material, exclusive interviews and specially-shot footage. We see Catling at work, in the past and now: in public performance, on stage, conjuring uncanny presences in galleries and abandoned rooms, in his studio and his histories are told. Featuring interviews with, amongst others, writer Iain Sinclar, author Alan Moore, folk singer Shirley Collins, screenwriter Tony Grisoni, sculptor Phyllida Barlow RA and former students including Nathaniel Mellors, Conrad Shawcross, Shawanda Corbett and Electra Lyhne-Gold. Author Philip Pullman discusses ghosts and acclaimed actor Ray Winstone recalls a truly terrifying encounter in a Whitechapel back alley.

The Vasulka Effect portrays the work and life of pioneer of video art of Steina Vasulka and her partner Woody Vasulka. The film examines the artistic processes of the pair and their profound affect on the 1960s New York art scene, and beyond, through their experiments in the electronic medium of video. Following their story over a forty year-long journey, the film explores how the video art movement caught the spirit of the times, and with their unique crossdisciplinary environment The Kitchen, helped to launch the career of many artists who have defined the American avant-garde, including Philip Glass, Jonas Mekas, Brian Eno, Talking Heads, Robert Mapplethorpe, Laurie Anderson and Cindy Sherman. The film examines the artistic struggles between the pair and celebrates the revolutionary power of the creative spirit.  

Daniel Barenboim: In His Own Words (w/t)

In this new documentary the world’s most celebrated Maestro casts his mind back to the key turning points that have shaped his glittering career. With unprecedented interview access, during which Barenboim talks about his life and work, and a rich mine of archive material this film will give a unique, deeply personal insight into a life driven by music, immersed in the cultural and political concerns of the day, and coloured by heartbreak.

Michael Tippett: A Child Of His Time (w/t)

Acclaimed filmmaker John Bridcut turns his attention to British composer Michael Tippett. As with Bridcut’s award-winning films about Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Delius and Britten, this will be a psychological and music portrait of a political and musical activist whose life spanned almost the whole of the twentieth century. It will capture the themes of Tippett’s life through specially-filmed performances of his music from leading artists, and will interweave his own story (as set down in broadcast interviews) with the insight from those who worked with and for him.  Among the contributors are conductors Sian Edwards, Edward Gardner and Simon Rattle; composers Thomas Adès, Alexander Goehr and Mark-Anthony Turnage  and soloists Josephine Barstow, David Owen Norris and Craig Ogden. It will also explore how his music speaks to young performers of today, who never knew him at all. 

Production credits

imagine…is a BBC Studios production and is commissioned for BBC Arts and BBC One by Mark Bell. Alan Yentob is the Series Editor, Executive Producer is Tanya Hudson and the producer/directors are Luke McMahon (Bernardine Evaristo), Jill Nicholls (Tom Stoppard) and Katy Homan (Marian Keyes).

‘Lady Boss: A Jackie Collins Story’ is a Passion Pictures production in association with Ventureland and AGC Studios. It was commissioned by CNN Films and Mark Bell for BBC Arts. It is directed by Laura Fairrie and produced by John Battsek and Lizzie Gillett.

Joan Collins (w/t) is a Salon Pictures production. It was commissioned for the BBC by Mark Bell. The director is Clare Beavan and the producers are Karen Steyn, Nick Taussig and Annabel Wigoder.

Quentin Blake: The Drawing of My Life was made by Wingspan Productions for BBC Two. It is produced and directed by Peter Sweasey. The Executive Producer is Archie Baron. The BBC Commissioning Editor is Mark Bell.

SALT is a film by Selina Thompson and a Milk & Honey Production. It was commissioned for BBC Four and BBC Arts by Mark Bell. The director is Alison Ramsay, edit producer is Denise Alder and executive producer is Lucy Pilkington.

B.Catling or Where Does It All Come From is a Rook Films production. It was commissioned for BBC Four and BBC Arts by Mark Bell. The director/producers are Geoff Cox and Andy Starke.

The Vasulka Effect was acquired for BBC Four and BBC Arts by Mark Bell. It is directed by Hrafnhildur Gunnarsdóttir and produced by Margrét Jónasdóttir. The co-producers are Radim Procházka, Simon Klose, Vibeke Vogel. It is made in association with Czech TV, SVT, DR, RUV and BBC Arts.

Frida and Diego is a Rogan Films production. It was commissioned for the BBC by Emma Cahusac. The director is Louise Lockwood. The executive producers are James Rogan, Nancy Bornat and Mark Hedgecoe.

Daniel Barenboim: In His Own Words is a Blakeway at Zinc Media production. The executive producer is Greg Sanderson and it is produced and directed by Guy Evans. It was commissioned for the BBC by Jan Younghusband.

Michael Tippett: A Child of His Time is a Crux Productions Limited film by John Bridcut. It was commissioned for the BBC by Jan Younghusband.