What's on TV: Friday, September 9

What's on TV: Friday, September 9

Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003)
9Go!, 6.30pm

The number of films that combine human actors and animated figures just grows and grows. One can trace these live action/animated films as far back to 1900's The Enchanted Drawing and to such cuties as Gertie the Dinosaur (1914). More recent landmarks are 1964's Mary Poppins and Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). Naturally, it is one thing to cut between separate scenes of animated figures and real actors; it is clearly another combining the two approaches in the one shot. That delivers the biggest thrill. And Joe Dante's Looney Tunes: Back in Action does just that, with Brendan Fraser's Damian Drake jnr teaming up with Donald Duck and Bugs Bunny to stop an evil madman (Steve Martin) turning humans into monkeys. This is a middling pleasure, funny and irritating, but with enough clever moments to give hope that one day this ever-evolving genre will deliver more than just forgettable children's entertainment. Scott Murray

Empire of the Czars: Romanov Russia
SBS, 7.30pm
In less than 300 years the Romanovs, the ruling family of the Russian Empire, went from the divine to downfall, a process that reaches a gripping pitch in the final episode of this historical documentary series from the English historian and author Lucy Worsley. Focusing on the final four czars, who between 1826 and 1917 were torn between repression, reform and Rasputin as they tried to steer a vast and increasingly chaotic realm, the narrative makes great use of Worsley's knack for dramatic storytelling. Her difficulty in pronouncing "r" sounds gives the authoritative narrative an idiosyncratic touch, and you don't have to be a beard aficionado to appreciate the intertwining of modern locations and archival documents. Examining the abdication letter signed by the ineffectual Nicholas II in March 1917, Worsley points out how he signed it lightly in pencil, as if he hoped to take it back. The Communists would see to it that he didn't. Craig Mathieson

Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth.

Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth.

Facing ... Saddam
National Geographic, 8.30pm
A chilling instalment of the Facing ... series in which Iraqis and Americans recall their encounters with Saddam Hussein. Among them is Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the civil rights campaigner who was nearly tortured to death by Saddam's men in 1978 but who would eventually oversee the dictator's execution. Equally compelling is the story of Zainab Salbi, who was a young girl when Saddam made her family part of his social circle, forcing them to maintain a charade of conviviality while living in isolation and intolerable terror. Other insights come from journalist Adel Darwish, who met Saddam in 1972 and found him obsessed with The Godfather and modelling himself on characters from the movie, and reporter Peter Arnett, who interviewed him during the 2003 Iraq War. The program makers wisely eschew sensationalism, but it remains to be seen whether the series will be quite so compelling when it moves on to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Brad Newsome

Elizabeth (1998)
SBS, 8.35pm
Moments of supreme power in movies usually rivet. There are several in Elizabeth, brilliantly written by Michael Hirst and directed by Shekhar Kapur. One is where Queen Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett) forcefully introduces, rightly or wrongly, the Act of Uniformity: "If there is no uniformity of religious belief here, then there can only be fragmentation … This is common sense, which is a most English virtue." Later, after discovering a Catholic plot to kill her, she remarks to one conspirator: "All your many kindnesses are remembered", before having his head chopped off and impaled on a spike. Elizabeth had a gift for empathy and expediency. Many of us like that in monarchs, which is why the British monarchy has ruled for millennia (and 40 others still do). We also love a ruler as charismatic, intelligent and independently minded as Blanchett's Liz. It is a performance of hypnotic power and intrigue – not unlike that, really, of Geoffrey Rush's ever-loyal Walsingham. Scott Murray