TV highlights: Dynasties special and Marie Antionette

The post-Christmas run-up to the New Year can be a strange period. More often than not, it’s when nine-to-fivers lose track of what day it is and many of us each far too much cheese.

It’s also when many of us get to spend more time than perhaps we’re used to, with our nearest and dearest. Thank goodness then, for this special edition of the outstanding Dynasty II natural history series.

Narrated by David Attenborough, whose dulcet tones can bring calm to even the most fractious living room, it follows the ups and downs of various animal troupes and tribes, as they set out to establish their own family dynasties.

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For this edition we are whisked high in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and the home of a group of Barbary macaque monkeys.

Macaque: Monkeys in the Mountains – A Dynasties Special is narrated by Sir David Attenborough. Photo: Victoria Jones/PAMacaque: Monkeys in the Mountains – A Dynasties Special is narrated by Sir David Attenborough. Photo: Victoria Jones/PA
Macaque: Monkeys in the Mountains – A Dynasties Special is narrated by Sir David Attenborough. Photo: Victoria Jones/PA

The alpha male, known affectionately as Mac, has just battled to secure the leadership of the troop. He must now lead and protect them – while at the same time fending off rivals who still want his crown.

Cameras follow Mac as he leads his troop in his first year as alpha, facing both the scorching summer drought and snowy frozen winter as he tries to defend his place in the troupe.

However, a costly misjudgement leads to Mac’s leadership coming under even greater threat. As mating season approaches, his allies start to turn against him and a brutal attack sees him deposed and banished from the group.

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As Attenborough deftly reveals, Mac will have to make decisions, forge alliances, face challenges and battle the elements in a bid to hold on to his crown, while also keeping his sprawling extended family safe.

Yet, by overcoming the many challenges he faces, Mac is able to sire a possible future heir to his throne and start his own dynasty.

As executive producer Mike Gunton says: “Being able to tell these stories is a wildlife film-makers dream – they are going to be a gripping rollercoaster ride.”

- Macaque: Monkeys in the Mountains – A Dynasties Special (Friday, BBC1, 7.30pm)

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Forget all the recent wrangling over whether a fish finger and cheese-filled croissant was actually real food or not, we Brits love the French. Their history, at any rate.

From the producers behind the delightfully camp and opulent series Versailles, comes this historical romp with a feminist twist.

Yes, we’re back in the Hall of Mirrors and scurrying through more rooms in France’s most famous palace, this time telling the story of Marie Antoinette.

It comes 16 years after Sofia Coppola’s take on the French queen starring Kirsten Dunst, and stars Emilia Schule in the leading role.

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The story follows Marie Antoinette who, at barely 14 years old, leaves Austria to marry the Dauphin of France. She grows from a stubborn young princess – carefully navigating the rules of the French court while under immense pressure to continue the Bourbon line – into a true fashion icon.

Her natural charisma attracts all sorts of interests, as she recreates life at Versailles in her own image: free, independent and feminist ahead of time.

Despite rumours undermining her reputation, Marie Antoinette sets out to defeat her enemies at court with a heady mix of courage and dignity.

This drama strikes out in a different direction, and aims to cast Marie Antoinette in a fresh light. “It’s a new take on her life,” says Emilia. “She’s not just the spoiled girl that became a fashion icon. She’s a modern, feminist character.”

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The drama begins in Marie Antoinette’s free-spirited teenage years, when our heroine is devastated to be sent to France and expected to marry the Dauphin, who she quickly learns is both rude and strange.

She also struggles to get to grips with the ridiculous rules of etiquette in the French court, and has a difficult time telling her potential friends from potential foes. She is, as Emilia eloquently puts it: “scared to death”.

- Marie Antoinette (Thursday, BBC2, 9pm)

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