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Cinephiles can look forward to TV blessed by bona fide auteurs. Wong Kar Wai’s first work since 2013’s The Grandmaster is the highly anticipated Blossoms Shanghai, set in the city of his birth. This adaptation of the award-winning novel Blossoms by Jin Yucheng started life as a film but is now a series featuring Chinese star Hu Ge (The Wild Goose Lake, 2019). The novel is set in two timelines: during the Cultural Revolution and in the early 1990s.

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Blossoms Shanghai

Olivier Assayas is also looking back to the 1990s, in a different way: he is adapting his 1996 film Irma Vep, about an action star (Maggie Cheung) in a remake of the Louis Feuillade serial Les Vampires. Alicia Vikander will take the Cheung role in the series, a collaboration between HBO and A24.

Vikander is also to star in a forthcoming series that gender-flips Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder, from Boardwalk Empire creator Terence Winter.

Meanwhile, Pablo Larraín directs Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story for Apple TV+, with Julianne Moore and Clive Owen as leads.

Also in production are Michael Mann’s Tokyo Vice, Paul Verhoeven’s Guy de Maupassant adaptation Bel Ami, Boots Riley’s I’m a Virgo, about a 13 foot-tall man, and Xavier Dolan’s rape drama The Night Logan Woke Up. Sofia Coppola is tackling Edith Wharton in The Custom of the Country and Benny Safdie is breaking ground on an intriguing meta-TV project: The Curse will star Emma Stone as the host of a home renovation show beset by a hex. Whether we’ll see these in 2021 is uncertain, but there are some guarantees.

Will Sharpe (Flowers, 2016-18) directs Olivia Colman in Landscapers, a black comedy about murderous spouses for HBO/Sky Atlantic. Barry Jenkins’s Colson Whitehead adaptation The Underground Railroad, which we expected last year, will hit Amazon, and Julie Delpy’s late-motherhood drama On the Verge, filmed during the pandemic, will appear on Netflix in the autumn.

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Martin Scorsese and Fran Lebowitz in Pretend It's a City (2021)

Netflix is increasingly a haven for auteurs. Martin Scorsese’s relationship with the platform has already led to one epic film, The Irishman, that many watched like a miniseries, over consecutive evenings, as well as an actual series, Pretend It’s a City, with Fran Lebowitz. This year he brings us a Netflix comedy special about the Canadian TV sketch comedy show Second City Television. Is a Netflix comedy special TV? Or a format we don’t have a name for yet?

Showrunners and studio execs have long been fond of revising and rebooting old favourites. So alongside shows such as Jesse Armstrong’s brilliant black comedy Succession, returning in 2021 for a welcome third series, HBO is reviving Sex and the City, albeit without Kim Cattrall’s Samantha. Can its risqué Manhattanites compete with the boggling idea of a gritty, adult Gossip Girl reboot – also on its way from HBO? And do we really need both?

British TV will want to replicate the stellar and diverse year it had in 2020. The BBC is offering big-hitters such as Andrew Haigh’s whaling drama The North Water; Time, a new prison series from Jimmy McGovern; Emily Mortimer’s adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love, starring Lily James and Dominic West; and Ridley Road, set against the resurgence of fascism in 1960s London. Four Lives, with Stephen Merchant as the real-life Grindr serial killer Stephen Port, is delayed due to legal difficulties.

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Jodie Turner-Smith as Anne Boleyn

The most intriguing UK TV news of 2021 so far is that Jodie Turner-Smith will play Anne Boleyn for Channel 5. Look out too for BBC Three’s musical comedy Superhoe from Nicôle Lecky and Channel 4’s Lady Parts, about a Muslim all-girl punk band.

Just to show that TV has as much ambition as cinema, Apple TV+ promises Isaac Asimov adaptation Foundation, and an alien-invasion blockbuster that, pandemic be damned, has been filmed on four continents: Sam Neill stars in Invasion, directed and exec-produced by Jakob Verbruggen (The Fall and Black Mirror’s ‘Men Against Fire’).

Sky views Ancient Rome through the eyes of women in Domina and gives us more sci-fi in Intergalactic, starring Savannah Steyn as an unjustly imprisoned space pilot. With such big-budget projects in play, the news that Beau Willimon, who rebooted House of Cards, just upped the global political stakes by optioning the board-game Risk makes perfect sense.

If it’s blockbusters you want, this may be the year we finally see J.A. Bayona’s billion-dollar-baby for Amazon Prime: Bayona revealed that filming in New Zealand for his Lord of the Rings TV series wrapped just before Christmas and some cast names have been dropped, including Lenny Henry, Morfydd Clark and Robert Aramayo.

It’s not so hard to stay in now, is it?

Further reading

The most anticipated films of 2021

By Thomas Flew

The most anticipated films of 2021

The best television series of 2020

By James Bell

The best television series of 2020