World Cinema

Sunday (3/4)           00:35    BBC2   Amundsen (2019). We in Britain hear a lot about Scott’s failed expedition to the South Pole [especially in Cheltenham] but very little about Amundsen’s successful one. What does that say about us? This is Espen Sandberg’s film (in Norwegian, with English subs) about the latter, but also much more. Amundsen (Pål Svere Hagen) turns out to be a complex and controversial character in his own right. Told in flashback after Amundsen’s plane crashes in an attempt to reach the North Pole by air, the film covers his early preoccupation with exploration of both poles. He does eventually reach the North Pole on Umberto Nobile’s airship, but when Nobile later crashes, Amundsen is obliged to try and rescue him. The story of that attempt is also told in The Red Tent (1971), with Sean Connery as Amundsen. (JR)

Monday (4/4)         01:55    Film4   A Fantastic Woman (2017). A Chilean feature directed by Sebastian Lelio. The central character is Marina, a trans woman and aspiring singer who is in a settled relationship with an older man. When he dies suddenly, Marina is exposed to the cruelty and prejudice of a society which refuses to acknowledge her position and demeans her at every opportunity. The directorial style mixes narrative realism with dreamlike, almost surreal sequences representing Marina’s inner life. The look of the film, with its bright colours and strong images, is a contrast with the mean spirit and nasty behaviour of most of the characters. Daniele Vega, a trans actress, is mesmerising throughout as Marina, who faces all the discrimination she encounters with dignity, determination and resilience. (PW)

                                23.50    Film4   Sweet Country (2017). Gripping ‘Meatpie Western’ set in the Northern Territory of Australia between the world wars. A kindly preacher, played by Sam Neill, sends his aboriginal farmhand, Sam (Hamilton Morris), and his wife (Natassia Gorey Fuller) and niece to help an ex-soldier neighbour, with disastrous results. Farmhand and wife escape together across the desert and a white tracker (Bryan Brown) sets off after them. Told with controlled rage by aboriginal film maker Warwick Thornton and lauded around the world. Looks beautiful too. ‘Australia now has its High Noon,’ said Time Out, not stupidly. (JM)

Wednesday (6/4)   22:00    BBC4    The Truffle Hunters (2020). Acclaimed American-made documentary about a group of old men and at least one extraordinary dog searching for white truffles in the dank and misty woods of Piedmont, Italy. We see the ancient practice being torn apart by the rapacious demands of the international gourmet market. Beautifully shot, framed and, I would say, scripted. As a documentary, this one strays rather too much away from messy reality in the direction of nostalgic artifice, calculated to tickle the palates of Californian arthouse circuit bon vivants, who dream of unspoilt rural societies and enjoy blaming other people (greedy Paris-domiciled oligarchs, in this case) for wrecking them. (JM)

Stephen Ilott’s Picks

Saturday (2/4)         12:40   Great Movies         Roxanne (1987)  (also Wednesday 03:35/Thursday 16:40). Steve Martin’s take on Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, transposed to the American north-west in the 20th century. Roxanne is played by Darryl Hannah. Soft-hearted and funny, with Martin not too annoying. ‘Charming ’80s romantic comedy has innuendo, swearing,’ says Betsy Bozdech of Common Sense Media, cutting to the chase. (JM)

                                    17:20   Talking Pictures     North West Frontier (1959)  (also Friday 17:25). J. Lee-Thompson’s adventure classic set in British India. The hero is Kenneth More, at that time the dominant Everyman in British cinema. Think Tom Hanks. Like Hanks, he is possibly a shade too cheerful as he leads his charges (an Indian princeling, his governess Lauren Bacall, Herbert Lom and Wlifrid Hyde White) on a train across rebel-held country at the turn of the 20th century. (JM)

Sunday (3/4)            23:10    BBC2                       All the President’s Men (1976). The last and best in Alan J Pakula’s ‘paranoia’ trilogy, the others being Klute and The Parallax View. Two cub reporters on the Washington Post, Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) and Bob Woodward (Robert Redford), or ‘Woodstein’ as they come to be known by the editor, develop the story of the Watergate break-in and the conspiracy and cover-up involved in it, which reaches all the way to Richard Nixon’s White House. Great performances all round, including Jason Robards as Ben Bradlee, and some superbly edgy scenes, in particular those where the two reporters visit White House staff at home to get confirmation of the story, and encounter some very worried people. (JR)

Tuesday (5/4)           23:15    BBC2                       99 Homes (2014). Ramin Bahrain (Chop Shop, The White Tiger) directs Andrew Garfield as Dennis, an unemployed single parent, who encounters Rick (Michael Shannon) when he evicts from his home. Rick manages evictions and offers Dennis a job, which leads to him helping with said task, with the ensuing internal conflicts that naturally involves. Made in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash and reflecting the twilight world referenced in films such as The Big Short. (JR)    

Wednesday (6/4)     01:10   Film4                       Miss Sloane (2016). Dialogue-heavy and well-intentioned thriller about a well-heeled and hard-edged Washington lobbyist, with a taste for male escorts, who switches sides to help some activists fighting a bill that relaxes gun controls. A vehicle for Jessica Chastain, directed by John Madden, better known for fluffy British romcoms such as Shakespeare in Love and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The script was written by debutant Jonathan Perera, who was working as a language teacher in the Far East when he sold it. He does not seem to have sold another. Described as ‘Sorkin lite’ by one critic, its would-be exposé of DC’s venality did not please everybody. Here’s Sophie Nguyen in Bitch Media: ‘This movie’s total incomprehension of politics is hard to stomach post-election, when so many crave clarity, if not through hard-nosed insight into lawmaking, then at least through a parable we can believe in. All we learn from Miss Sloane is what we already knew: D.C. is debased, but Hollywood is obtuse, and this country needs a better class of political fantasy.’ (JM)

                                                                        21:00   BBC2                       Stan & Ollie (2018). Affectionate biopic of the prolific double-act of Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (John C Reilly), who had such success with their comedies in the 1930s. The pair recreate the legendary dance scene from Way Out West, among other joyous moments. Charting their professional and personal ups and downs as their joint career hit the buffers, it is an insightful, charming and frequently moving story that had people in tears when it was shown in British cinemas. Shot at locations that included the Bottle & Glass pub in Dudley (moved brick-by-brick from its original location in Brierley Hill to be part of the Black Country Living Museum) and the Bristol Hippodrome. (MH).

Other modern films of interest

Saturday (2/4)           23:15   Film4         Get Out (2017). A landmark in the horror genre, directed by Jordan Peele, which puts black characters front and centre. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) goes with his girlfriend Rose (Alison Williams) to visit her white, liberal parents for the first time. Dad Dean (Bradley Whitford) is a neurosurgeon and Mum Missy (Catherine Keener) is a psychiatrist. The scenes where they and Chris start to get to know each other are brilliantly done, with the parents going all out to prove how right-on they really are.  As you might expect, it’s not as simple as that. The film was massively successful at the box office and Peele won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Made British journeyman Kaluuya into a major star. (JR)

Sunday (3/4)              23:20   Film4         Legend (2015). Tom Hardy provides an ingenious turn as both of the fearsome gangster Kray twins, Ronnie and Reggie, in this good-looking but routine crime drama. The film follows the pair’s progress through the London underground in the 1960s, and focuses on the brothers’ fragile relationship and the romance between Reggie and Frances, played by Emily Browning. Connoisseurs of fraternal sociopathy might prefer The Krays (1990), which benefited from the casting of real brothers (Martin and Gary Kemp of Spandau Ballet) and a script by Philip Ridley. Hilary Mantel, no less, thought it was ‘peculiar but very interesting’ during her stint as film critic of The Spectator. (MH/JM)

Tuesday (5/4)            22:00    BBC4         Filth: The Mary Whitehouse Story (2008). Mary Whitehouse is a forgotten figure now, but for a while in the 1970s she was a cultural collosus. A schoolteacher and Christian, she became concerned about what was then termed ‘permissiveness’ on television and launched a populist campaign against it, terrifying the BBC. This farce canters through her backstory before turning to her battle with the liberal grandee Hugh Carleton Greene, Director-General at the time. Unfortunately, Amanda Coe’s script opts for Carry On laughs, and distorts both the facts and the debate. Julie Walters is pretty good as Whitehouse. Hugh Bonneville turns Carleton Green into a comedy office lecher. In many ways the wars that began then are still raging, although the censorship machinery she helped introduce is now operating in a rather different direction. Here’s a thoughtful, not unsympathetic piece by Kim Newman, a film critic who was on the libertarian end of the spectrum. Personally, I never minded sex on the television (although you could put your back out if you fell off) but I don’t like misogyny and torture porn, which are bigger than ever. [One day I will tell you about my encounter with Lord Longford, an uneasy ally of Mary’s.] (JM)

Wednesday (6/4)      21:00    Sky Arts    Six By Sondheim (2013). Documentary about the songwriter Stephen Sondheim, who died this year, by writer and stage director James Lapine. Nominally built around six songs, three of them newly staged, the film includes lots of footage of the artist at various points in his long career. The archive material works best. (JM)


Saturday (2/4)            13.50   BBC2                        Calamity Jane (1953)  (also Thursday BBC4 22:40). Energetic musical directed by David Butler, starring Doris Day as the tomboyish Jane and Howard Keel as Second Lieutenant Gilmartin, with whom Jane is secretly in love. If you don’t know the words to ‘Deadwood Stage’ this probably isn’t for you. [I don’t, and I loved it: JM.] There is also something about a singer called Adelaid Adams being impersonated by a woman called Katie (Allyn McLerie) and Wild Bill Hickok escorting Jane to a ball. Whether any of this happened in real life is debatable. Captain Jack Crawford said in 1904 that the real Calamity ‘never saw a lynching and never was in an Indian fight’.  So there you have it. (JR) [You might like to seek out the French-made animated feature Calamity (2020), which adheres more closely to the facts. You can get it from the streaming behemoths, or from Apple, where, weirdly, it is cheaper to buy – £3.99 – than to rent.]

Sunday (3/4)               12:25   Talking Pictures     Nickelodeon (1976). Peter Bogdanovich’s feature about the early days of the film industry features Burt Reynolds and Ryan O’Neill (plus daughter Tatum). Not much liked at the time. For those who enjoy a comprehensive kicking, I recommend this piece by Ruth Batchelor from the archives of the Los Angeles Free Press. Taster: ‘The script and direction are so abominable that D.W. Griffith couldn’t have saved the picture.’ (JM)

                                      14:40   BBC2                       Move Over, Darling (1963)  (also Thursday BBC4 21:00). Another Doris Day vehicle. This is a romcom in which she is paired with James Garner. He thinks she has died in a plane crash and remarries. It turns out she was marooned on an island for five years and is eager to restart where she left off. A remake of a 1940 Cary Grant / Irene Dunne screwball effort (My Favorite Wife), which struggles with the same clumsy premise. Here’s blogger David Nusair: ‘Move Over, Darling is certainly no worse than its predecessor; Garner effortlessly steps into Cary Grant’s shoes and emerges with a performance that’s much wackier than one might’ve expected from the actor (cameo appearances from Don Knotts and John Astin are likewise quite amusing).’ (JM)

                                       15:00   Sky Arts                  A Run for Your Money (1949)  (also Thursday 21:00). Unfancied Ealing comedy about two Welsh miners who go to London to collect a sweepstake prize and fall in with various big-city chancers, their simple optimism contrasting with the unhappiness of the supposed sophisticates. With Hugh Griffith as a harpist from back home, Moira Lister, Joyce Grenfell, and Alec Guinness as a gardening correspondent. (JM)

Monday (4/4)              14:50    Film4                      Dead Reckoning (1947). Noir directed by John Cromwell and starring Humphrey Bogart as former paratrooper Rip, who discovers his wartime friend Johnny has gone missing to avoid accepting the Medal of Honor, which would have involved being photographed. Rip follows the trail and finds that Johnny may have been in love with Coral (Lizbeth Scott), the wife of a rich older man who has died in suspicious circumstances. Rip is both drawn to Coral and wary of her, and you can imagine where this goes. Scott is beguiling in the femme fatale role and Bogart is on familiar, gruff territory.  He made another 22 films after this, including some classics: The Caine Mutiny, Beat the Devil and The African Queen. (JR)

                                Thursday (7/4)             06:00    Talking Pictures    Funny Face (1957). Between Roman Holiday and My Fair Lady, Audrey Hepburn brought her childlike innocence and natural elegance to the role of an intellectual book shop employee who is coerced into modelling for a fashion magazine. It’s against her bluestocking morals, but a free trip to Paris, the home of midnight café philosophy, proves too much to resist. Fred Astaire provides her live interest and eight time Oscar winner Edith Head provides the costumes. Funny Face may not have aged particularly well and wouldn’t score highly in the PC stakes, but still retains a great deal of charm. (MH). [Also, wonderful high-fashion costumes, brilliant use of colour, and some hilariously anti-intellectual Hollywood satire on existentialism and beatnik culture. JM.]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *