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Elvis Costello: Mystery Dance

Fri Nov 8, 9-10pm, BBC4

‘The most brilliant British songwriter of his generation’? Actually, ‘Mystery Dance’ is by no means as uncritical of its subject as that introduction – which would surely have Costello himself scoffing – would suggest. Mark Kidel’s film offers a whistlestop tour of an eclectic life and career, taking in left-wing politics, drug- and alcohol-fuelled faux pas and serial musical reinventions with everyone from Allen Toussaint to the Brodsky Quartet. Plus, of course, a handful of angrily magnificent songs, the finest of which – ‘Shipbuilding’ – is given due prominence.

The outtakes and rare footage that tend to form the backbone of such profiles include a fine duet with Paul McCartney in full ‘Oh, Darling!’ mode and some enjoyable confrontational concert film, while Costello himself is in garrulous, self-mocking form. Elvis fans will be well pleased – and may even want to hold off until tomorrow, when an extended version featuring more of the man’s live performances, recording minutiae, family background and later years will air on BBC4 at 11.45pm.