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It’s time to say it: binge-watching, like binge-eating, can be ill-advised. In the past three months there has been a huge appetite for long-form series to be consumed on streaming services. That was fine at the beginning but now we might be more inclined to watch short-form and one-off productions that are just as powerful for being short.

Here are two great one-off movies and one limited series of unusual force and depth, and offering as much solace and distraction as any 13-episode indulgence.

Three brilliant British classics to stream and savour

Helen Mirren and Al Pacino in HBO's Phil Spector, written and directed by playwright David Mamet.Phil Caruso/HBO / Crave

Phil Spector (Crave/HBO) was made in 2013 and was one of those signals that premium cable TV was attracting the best writing and acting talent. Written and directed by playwright David Mamet, it opens with this on-screen alert: “This is a work of fiction. It’s not ‘based on a true story.’ It is a drama inspired by actual persons in a trial, but it is neither an attempt to depict the actual persons, nor comment upon the trial or its outcome.”

That is Mamet’s way of getting around the fact that the drama is his take on the first murder trial of music producer Phil Spector (played by Al Pacino). The year is 2003, and Lana Clarkson (Meghan Marx) is found dead at Spector’s L.A. mansion. Spector’s lawyer Bruce Cutler (Jeffrey Tambor, brilliant here) wants to argue that it was suicide. But he realizes that probably won’t work, as several women can testify that Spector forced them at gun-point to remain in his house when they wanted to leave.

Cutler hires Linda Kenney Baden (Helen Mirren) as co-defence counsel because she has a rep for being ruthless and brilliant. Essentially the movie is about Baden’s fraught relationship with Spector as she tries to understand this strange, legendary man. Pacino is excellent, savouring Mamet’s script and disappearing into this figure who has a God-complex and is, at the same time, a god in the music industry.

Keira Knightley plays Katharine Gun, a translator for British intelligence agency Government Communications HQ, in Official Secrets.Courtesy of Entertainment One

Official Secrets (Amazon Prime Video) was made for theatrical release but works much better on TV. A British espionage thriller it has Keira Knightley in her most unglamorous role, playing the real Katharine Gun. In 2003, Gun was a translator for the Government Communications HQ, a British intelligence agency. She read an e-mail from someone at the National Security Agency in the United States requesting help wiretapping the embassies of several countries, in hopes of information that might be used to strong-arm the countries to support the invasion of Iraq at the United Nations.

Gun printed the e-mail and kept it, mightily disturbed by its implications. Then she gave it to a friend, who then passed in on to The Observer newspaper. Gun confessed to her boss that she was the source and was charged under the Official Secrets Act. What’s enthralling is the low-key, step-by-step narrative. Gun was young but not naive. Then, when she’s charged, the insistence on secrecy becomes bizarre – technically she can’t even tell her lawyer what she was accused of, and what it means. Her husband, a Turkish Kurd who had immigrated to Britain, is suddenly placed on a list for deportation. It’s a fascinating film about the absurdity of government secrecy, an absurdity that continues up to Gun’s trial, and surprise ending.

Anna Madeley and Benedict Cumberbatch in Patrick Melrose, adapted from Edward St. Aubyn’s novels.Showtime / Crave

Patrick Melrose (Crave) is an astoundingly intense five-part miniseries that has Benedict Cumberbatch front and centre for almost the entire length of the acid drama that it is. This adaptation of Edward St. Aubyn’s novels was the proverbial passion project for the actor, who adored the books, wanted to play the title character and has compared him with Hamlet in terms of the character’s challenges and complexity.

Melrose the man isn’t, on the surface, actually that complex. He’s a mess, a truly fine mess of scathing anger, guilt, self-doubt and addiction. He’s also extremely rich, and he’s from the sealed world of the English aristocracy; a very, very privileged white male with rage issues, and, well, it’s quite possible that viewers who are not stuck on Cumberbatch might find the character gratingly cruel, too privileged to truly care about. But as the series unfolds the reasons for Melrose being a mess become agonizingly, heartbreakingly clear.

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