Film of the Week

Our real film of the week is The Mother (2003), starring Anne Reid and Daniel Craig. Here’s the write-up.

I’m also intrigued, however, by The Special Relationship (2010), the third in the loose trilogy the British screenwriter Peter Morgan wrote about Tony Blair. This BBC/HBO film follows The Deal (2003) and The Queen (2006), and this time examines the relationship between Blair and Clinton, triumphing in Northern Ireland, then tested both by the Kosovo crisis and Clinton’s shameful sexual relationship with the 22-year-old intern Monica Lewinsky. This seems to me a particularly critical period in our transatlantic history.

I haven’t seen it: just the trailer and the electronic press kit. They show Blair full of Tiggerish, innocent (or faux-innocent) hero-worship, then lurching into Messianic mode as his sycophants – step forward Alastair Campbell – convince him that he is controlling or at least influencing the American’s policy: a dangerous illusion for Prime Ministers since Suez.

The sordid ‘affair’ with Lewinsky, the Clinton team’s relentless disparagement of her, and the President’s shameless perjury, somehow gave rise to the modern received wisdom that a politician’s character (‘private life’, to use the code) is irrelevant to his or her fitness for office. Obvious nonsense, for which we both British and US electorates are currently paying the price. Ms Lewinsky, meanwhile, is a fearless woman who refused to die of shame, which seems to have been the role sketched out for her.

Weirdly, though, the expensive, well-researched, efficiently directed (Richard Loncraine) and brilliantly cast film (Michael Sheen as Blair, of course, plus Dennis Quaid as Clinton, the remarkable Helen McCrory as Cherie and Hope Davis as Hillary) has disappeared without trace. The BBC showed it a couple of times when it first came out, but now it is not to be found on any sort of streaming or download service, legal or illegal. Clearly, some important people were upset by it. Which makes it a must for me.

DVD copies are available: DVD, incidentally, is the last technology that allows you, the purchaser of a work of televisual or cinematic art, to make your own decisions about what you want to do with it: copy it, sell it, edit it, adapt it, etc. it also ensures that inconvenient works of art are not removed from the public forum. Blu-ray discs can be, and have been, remotely disabled. Not many people know that.

World Cinema

Sunday (10/10)     00:25    BBC2            Frantz (2016). In Germany in 1919, a girl meets a young Frenchman at the grave of her fiancé, killed in the war that has just ended. They form a relationship, to widespread outrage. Sumptuous and affecting meditation on war and reconciliation by François Ozon, based in part on a story by Ernst Lubitsch. A hit at Cheltenham Film Society in 2018/19. 

HS2 can’t come soon enough.

                                 01:40   Film4            Train to Busan (2016). South Korean apocalyptic horror, directed by Yeon Sang-ho, which shows how difficult it can be to fight your way through a pack of zombies to get refreshments on a train, something we have all experienced.

Tuesday (12/10)    01:55    Channel 4   This is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection (2019). Unappealing title for a documentary-style feature set in Lesotho, Southern Africa, about an 80-year-old widow fighting the flooding of her village for a reservoir. Stark and painterly images and a near-wordless central performance from Mary Twala, one of the few professionals in the cast. She died before the film was released.

Stephen Ilott’s Picks

Saturday (9/10)       14:05   Talking Pictures   The Mark of Zorro (1940)  (also Thursday 10:50). Pre-Banderas version, starring Tyrone Power as the rancher’s son and masked justice seeker. Lynda Darnell is the loved one and Basil Rathbone the duelling partner. Other interpretations are available.  

                                   15:15   Channel 5             Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). Steven Spielberg gets all serious about extra terrestrials, after the lighter, more touching and more commercially successful ET (1982). Strange things happen in the desert due to aliens, who seem to like that environment. Richard Dreyfus builds a mashed-potato model of a mountain without really knowing why, before an unplanned excursion. Nice special effects and a cameo appearance by Francois Truffaut as a scientist.

Sunday (10/10)       15:10   ITV                         The Man with the Golden Gun (1974). Curiously referencing the title of The Man with the Golden Arm, a 1955 Frank Sinatra film about a heroin addict, this Bond outing features Roger Moore, Britt Ekland and Christopher Lee (as Scaramanga) in a battle over a piece of energy tech. Guess who wins. The contemporary critics weren’t completely won over.                                                                            

Monday (11/10)      21:00   Talking Pictures   Kiss of Death (1947). Henry Hathaway’s noir with Victor Mature as a con who takes the rap for a failed jewellery store robbery but later runs into trouble with his accomplices and his lawyer when he turns informant. Richard Widmark, in his first film, plays a psychopathic killer. 

Friday (15/10)         02:00     Channel 4             Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015). Funny, clever and unsentimental comedy about a girl with leukaemia and a couple of teenage filmmakers.

Other modern films of interest

Monday (11/10)         01:45   Film4                              Enduring Love (2004). Daniel Craig in a screen version of Ian McEwan’s dark novel about being stalked. The opening incident featuring a hot air balloon is stunning, and opens the door to a series of painful events. A great cast includes Rhys Ifans, Samantha Morton, Helen McCrory and Bill Nighy.

  22:00    BBC4                     The Special Relationship (2010). See above.  

                                      23:05   Great Movies Action   Bronson (2008). Tom Hardy is the lead in Nicolas Winding Refn’s biopic of the notorious criminal, which intersperses prison scenes with theatre scenes before a live audience.  It is difficult to imagine anyone other than Hardy taking on this role, and his performance was favourably reviewed.          

Tuesday  (12/10)        20:00   Sky Arts                         Sunflowers (2021). Documentary by David Bickerstaff, forming part of the Exhibition on Screen series, which examines five paintings of sunflowers that Van Gogh made during his time in Arles, as well as looking at the significance of sunflowers themselves. Needless to say, it looks gorgeous.

                                      21:00   BBC4                              The Mother (2003). See Film of the Week.

                                      22:45   BBC4                              Nothing like A Dame (2018). Another film by the late Roger Michell, this time a documentary in which Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Eileen Atkins and Joan Plowright meet to share memories about their film and stage careers. They’re very good value. Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian gave it five stars.                                      

Wednesday (13/10)   22:45   Film4                              Blindspotting (2018). Rather good film about a black removal man and his white friend and colleague in crumbling Oakland, California. Circumstances place deep strain on their relationship. ‘A film to open America’s eyes,’ said Variety. Good luck with that.

                                      23:15   BBC2                               The Conjuring (2013)  (also Thursday BBC4 21:00). James Wan’s account of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren coming to the assistance of a family experiencing disturbing events in their Rhode Island home in the 1970s. Did well at the box office, but critics were divided, some admiring it technically, others having a problem with its basic premise and lack of originality.    

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