Films on Freeview from 12 November 2022

A lot of these films will have already been shown by the time this epic has crawled across the ether, but you will be able to find them with a bit of digging. The BBC, Channel 4 and Talking Pictures all have catch-up channels. ‘This is the Modern World’, as the Jam put it.

World Cinema

Saturday (12 /11)         21:00    BBC4                      Wild Men (2021)

What man has not wanted, once or twice, to run off into the wild and live face to face with nature, red in tooth and claw? Not King Charles III, obviously: he had too much of that sort of thing when he was a little boy. In this Norwegian comedy, Martin, a man struggling with life’s middle passage, heads off into the fjords and forests, dressed in animal skins and armed with a bow and arrow. There he encounters a brown-skinned fugitive from the law, and the two of them team up, pursued by Martin’s wife, assorted gangsters, and the authorities. Stand by for a feast of knockabout comedy and rueful nordic observations on (groan) the crisis of masculinity. Well liked by male critics, less so by the other half. The wife is played by Sofie Gråbøl, who starred in The Killing and That Time of Year, the brilliant Danish Christmas film that I intend to show again next month. Come into the woods with me, Sofie. I can whittle. (JM)

Sunday (13/11)            23:50     Talking Pictures   The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980)

A South African – Botswanan comedy, which became the most commercially successful South African film up to that time and gained wider release. The farcical action revolves round a Coca Cola bottle dropped from a plane, a biologist and some guerrillas. Largely seen as a harmless culture-clash comedy at the time, it has since been viewed more harshly, even as propaganda for the apartheid regime. Probably wouldn’t be made now, but you never know. In Afrikaans with English sub-titles. (JM/JR)

Tuesday (15/11)           01:45    Film4                      Why Don’t You Just Die! (2018) 

Described as a ‘splatterpunk action comedy, gleefully dark’, by the Hollywood Reporter, this a Russian production, directed by Kirill Sokolov, essentially about the clash between cop Andrei (Vitaliy Khaev) and Metvey (Aleksander Kuznetsov), a young man who is dating his daughter, Olya (Evgeniya Kregzhde). She apparently wants her father killed. It is quite gory. There are similarities with Western filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino, as well as more Eastern ones, though not Tarkovsky. Peter Bradshaw gave it four stars in the Guardian. (JR) I think it is horrible. (JM)

Wednesday (16/11)    02:25    Channel 4              The Shepherdess and the Seven Songs (2020)

A fourth feature by Pushpendra Singh, adapted from a story by Rajasthani author Vijaydan Detha. It is based around seven songs, an appealing structural idea. Laila, a beautiful young women from a nomadic tribe, is lined up to a shepherd named Tanvir. The early scenes appear to be set in the distant past, but soon we realise we are in the present day. Unfortunately, as Laila travels around the country, her beauty and spark make her a magnet for men, and trouble ensues. ‘Folklore, feminism and film noir come together,’ said Variety. In Hindi. (JM)

Friday (18/11)              02:45    Channel 4              Moffie (2019) 

A South African feature about a young man who is sent off to fight in the apartheid-era border struggle with Angola. He is not keen, and to add to his problems, he becomes entangled with a fellow recruit. ‘Moffie’ is South African slang for a homosexual man and is considered very offensive, whereas here it sounds like the name of a beloved soft toy. The film is based on an autobiographical novel. Like a lot of ‘issue films’, this one did not convince everyone as drama, especially given director Oliver Hermanus’s decision to go for a cool, distanced aesthetic. Mixed-race (‘coloured’ was the local term) and ‘delicate’ (ditto), he was accused by some of concentrating on the difficulties of one of the oppressors and ignoring the oppressed. Odie Henderson, writing on the Roger Ebert website, took that line, adding that ‘I was more interested in asking the director about his choices than watching them play out, reminding me of Gene Siskel’s question about whether a documentary about the film would be more interesting than the film itself.’ I’d read the whole review. It’s pretty much an object lesson in how not to do it. (JM)

Stephen Ilott’s Selections

Saturday (12/11)         15:00   Sky Arts                   Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

More than once Hitchcock described this as his favourite of his films. He did not say it was his best, though it is certainly one of those. There is a pervading sense of unease, prompted by the character of Charles Oakley, known as ‘Uncle Charlie’ (Joseph Cotten), first seen lying on a bed in a boarding house alongside a pile of cash. His landlady tells him that two men earlier called to see him but she sent them away. Set against this is the suburban household of Charlie’s older sister Emma (Patricia Collinge) in California. It is presented as idyllic, but it is unsatisfactory to Charlie’s teenage niece (Theresa Palmer), who shares his name. She complains about the family’s dull lifestyle. When Uncle Charlie telegraphs to say he is coming to visit, she is delighted. There follows a process of unravelling as uncle and niece are reacquainted. Meanwhile, the newspapers report the murders of various rich widows. Hitchcock brilliantly imbues his film with a chilling discomfort, and the script by playwright Thornton Wilder, in partnership with Sally Benson and Hitchcock’s wife Alma Reville, evokes the insecurity of suburban life invaded by a malign force. It was nominated for an Oscar for best story and deemed ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant’ by the Library of Congress. Rightly so. (JR)

Tuesday (15/11)          00:05    Talking Pictures     Room at the Top (1958) 

Directed by Jack Clayton, this was one of the first films in the social-realist style, also often called ‘kitchen sink drama’, which emerged in the late 1950s. Social realism in British culture was initially a literary style and film makers were really riding on the coat-tails of novelists and playwrights, as the majority of their films used plays or novels as source material. The genre is characterised by its concern the domestic and working lives of people in industrial towns. The main protagonists, usually men, are dissatisfied with the status quo of the social structure (except when it applies to the status of women) and rebel against the Establishment in their own particular ways. The works explored themes which were seen as controversial, even taboo, at the time: adultery, sex outside marriage, abortion, single parenthood. And, shock horror, the characters in the films spoke in regional accents.

Room at the Top, from the 1957 novel by John Braine, Is set in the late 1940s, and so the aftermath of World War II is a significant presence. It is the story of Joe Lampton, a young man determined to climb up the social scale, who leaves his small hometown for a larger town, where he has a pretty mundane job in local government. He is pleased to find that his lodgings are in the better part of town, known as T’Top. He joins the local amateur dramatic society to widen his set of acquaintances and two of the women he meets there affect his life profoundly. In order to advance his social standing he begins a relationship with Susan, the daughter of a local industrialist, but also becomes intensely involved with an older woman, Alice, played superbly by Simone Signoret, the unhappy wife of a local solicitor. The intricacies of these relationships and the conflicts between love, lust and ambition are played out within the constraints of a provincial town, where everybody knows everybody else’s business. It is difficult to like the character of Joe, who is fundamentally weak, despite the bravado and ambition, but the film shows the snobbishness and cruelty of post war society, where men like Joe are adrift from their working class roots, yet not quite acceptable in a middle class milieu.

Much of the film was shot on location, in Halifax and Bradford, which gives the film authenticity. My personal view is that Lawrence Harvey was miscast as Joe – altogether too suave and urbane looking. Apparently the first choice for the part was Stewart Granger, but I don’t think that would have worked either. Since you ask, my choice would have been Tom Bell. Despite the underlying misogyny of the text, one of the strongest roles in the film is that of Alice Aisgill and for once, the US Academy, Bafta and Cannes all got it right by giving the Best Actress Award to Simone Signoret.

Jack Clayton went on to have a long, if somewhat patchy career in film and TV as producer and director. Room at the Top was his first full length feature film and the other features he directed were all based on novels, including The Innocents, from Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. (PW)


                                       13:25    5 Action                 The Hill (1965)

Impressive black-and-white thriller by Sidney Lumet, about a North African military prison during World War II, where misbehaving soldiers face brutal punishment. Starring Harry Andrews, Ian Bannen and a young Sean Connery in a strong role far removed from the banalities of the Bond nonsense. Lumet, who had a long career, used wide-angle lenses even for the close-ups, giving the facees of the miltary torturers and their charges a distorted, nightmarish quality. (JM)

Wednesday (16/11)   14:25    5 Action                  The Red Badge of Courage (1951) 

John Huston’s Civil War drama was based on an 1892 best-seller by a 22-year-old author called Stephen Crane, who never actually went to war. It tells of a timid young soldier who deserts in his first battle, is brought back, and then becomes something of a hero. The soldier is played by Audie Murphy, who was decorated in World War II. Picture, by Lillian Ross, is a remarkable book about the making of the film. She worked on the New Yorker for seven decades, while also being entangled with its married editor, and her writing was an important influence on later serious long-form journalism (RIP). Based on deep immersion in Huston’s world of art and commerce, it documents the internal struggles that led to the film being somewhat butchered in the edit by MGM’s studio bosses: they wanted a more uplifting ending. It tells us a great deal about how movies were made in the days when they were a licence to print money. I offered to lend it to a would-be screenwriter friend and he wasn’t interested, preferring textbooks on writing films by people who have never made one. (JM)


                                       22:00   BBC3                       Easy A  (2010) 

High school comedy directed by Will Gluck (Friends With Benefits) that is a cut above the norm, with a great cast including Lisa Kudrow and Thomas Haden Church (Sideways) as Mr and Mrs Griffith, school guidance counsellor and teacher respectively. Emma Stone (picured at the top of the page) is Olive Penderghast, who on impulse lies about losing her virginity to another pupil and, in the days before really punitive social media, is taken to the cleaners by the puritanical Marianne (Amanda Bynes) who overhears her assertion. Olive embraces martyr status by wearing a red ‘A’ on her clothing, echoing Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, though Hester probably never looked like that. Unintended consequences follow, because she is sought out by boys asking her to pretend she had sex with them, to improve their reputations. Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson play Olive’s parents and Penn Badgley plays Todd, her childhood crush and the school mascot (sic). Roger Ebert said ‘Easy A offers an intriguing middle ground to the absolute of sexual abstinence: don’t sleep with anybody but say you did’. (JR)

                                       22:15   BBC4                       House of Cards (1990) 

This is the original British TV series, adapted by Andrew Davies (who at one time seemed to do everything) from a novel by Michael Dobbs, a former Conservative Central Office chief of staff, and caused a sensation with its portrait of politicians plotting against one another, up to and including murder. Francis Urquhart (Ian Richardson) is a feline far-right politician who plans to seize the party after the reign of softie Margaret Thatcher. His reply in a television interview (‘You might very well think that; I couldn’t possibly comment’) became a popular catchphrase. Nowadays they just say ‘I’ve already answered that’, when they haven’t, or simply refuse to appear. Later remade in the US, with Kevin Spacey as the Machiavel at the centre. (JM)

Other modern films of interest

Saturday (12/11)         17:15   BBC2          War Horse (2011)

Spielberg’s sentimental and predictable epic about a boy who goes looking for his horse during the First World War, based on the all-conquering stage play. You’ve probably seen it. I have and I wasn’t very keen. Spielberg doesn’t really get Britain, does he? The Americans liked it. Job done. (JM)

Friday (18/11)                22:15   Sky Arts     Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015)

I used to quite like Nirvana but then I watched a bit of a terrible Sky documentary about the making of Nevermind  and became convinced that they were really rather mediocre. If Cobain had not destroyed himself with the efficiency with which they almost invariably trashed their expensive instruments and equipment (a gesture of privilege, excess and contempt I have always loathed, as a person who couldn’t afford it), I doubt people would be bothered with them. Showbiz suicides set a horrible example to vulnerable and impressionable young people. It’s not cool. But maybe this film, by Brett Morgan, will change my mind. Acclaimed by the usual gang, but Australian critic Helen Razer called it the Worst Documentary of the Year. ‘Cobain was very fond of biographical bullshit and often offered journalists competing accounts of his life. The most depressing, tragic and, of course, marketable version is presented here and what we have is not good record but Sundance-friendly miserablism intended to make persons of my age feel better about taking their antidepressant medication.’ The whole review is splendidly abrasive, in the best Strine fashion. Go for it, Sheila. (JM)

Saturday (19/11)         00:25   BBC2          My Feral Heart (2016)

A British feature in which Luke, a young man with Down’s Syndrome (Steven Brandon), is caring for his mother. She dies, and the authorities put him in a home. Later he finds a semi-feral woman in the woods and takes care of her. Wendy Ide in the Observer, in an otherwise very favourable review, suggested that that plot element was ill-judged and suggested we take it as symbolic rather than literal. Meanwhile, the Guardian’s Leslie Felperin started by praising director Jane Gull but then dumped on the film heavily: ‘But by the end, the script melts into a hot, melodramatic mess leaving whole strands of plot that make no sense whatsoever. Something clearly went very wrong somewhere along the way, perhaps with the financing or in another department.’ The Peanut Butter Falcon is the best film I know about Down’s Syndrome and it is not a mess. I showed it last Christmas and intend to again. (JM)


Sunday (13/11)           12:10   Talking Pictures     It’s a Lovely Day Tomorrow (1975)

Talking Pictures is very excited about unearthing this film. It’s a dramatised recreation of a grim event in 1943, when people seeking shelter from the Blitz panicked and rushed the entrance of Bethnal Green tube station. Some 173 unlucky Londoners were asphyxiated. This feature, based on survivor accounts, was written by East End dramatist Bernard Kops and features Linda Robson, Gwyneth Strong and Christopher Malcolm (JM).

                                      23:30    BBC1                       A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

I don’t like this film. I think the comedy is laboured and cruel. Jamie Lee-Curtis, wheeled in for the American market, is abused, as is Michael Palin, who plays a man with a stammer. Part of this distaste may be because of my involvement in the hype that accompanied it, John Cleese’s debut as writer/star. (He’d previously starred in Michael Frayn’s superior Clockwise). Cleese hired Charles Crichton, the veteran Ealing man, because he wanted his name on the credits. A Clifton College boy (I was at Bristol Grammar), Cleese was the first big star who expected me to do a flattering profile without letting me into his house. We spent several hours in a hotel room, during which he revealed himself to be somewhat tortured. Divorced from Connie Booth, he was intensely into therapy and was simultaneously plugging a self-help book, written with a psychiatrist pal. I concluded that none of this navel-gazing (which I was also prone to) had improved his humour (in any sense). I rushed back to the office and keyed the interview into our pioneering but primitive Atex computer system for a whole day: we had the first ‘direct-entry’ facility in London, after Rupert Murdoch. Over the next couple of days I wrote two features, one for Time Out and the other, at absurd length, for 20/20, the first British men’s magazine without boobs. We were throwing this monthly together, ill-advisedly and with no real planning, as a sort of leaving present for Time Out‘s coke-addled former editor, who had just left us in the lurch. No-one on the staff of our vastly profitable weekly wanted to work on it, and for a while they flatly refused. I persuaded them, because I was a professional and that was my job. I was rewarded with a case of repetitive strain injury that lasted the rest of my career, and, not long afterwards, the sack. Oh, the Eighties! (JM)

Monday (14/11)         01.30    Film4                      My Name is Joe (1998)

Ken Loach classic about a relationship between an unemployed Scotsman (Peter Mullan) and a community social worker (Louise Goodall). Anthony Lane, the Briton who got the plum job at the New Yorker, said ‘Loach in fine form, at the peak of his craft. Proletarian realism does not get better than this.’ I find that a rather astute comment, which identifies my own feelings about Loach. He is a wonderful filmmaker, in many ways, but his films are about proletarians. Marx defined proletarians not as industrial workers or anything like that but as people without agency: people whose working lives and identities are defined by other people. They are told what to do. In that sense most of us are proletarians now, right up to the executives who ruin people’s lives with a few keystrokes because their anonymous investors demand it. But Marx didn’t want them to stay proletarian. He said the proletariat was the only class that exists to abolish itself. Loach and his political buddies seem to have overlooked that bit. His heroes are frequently without hope, and they tend to stay that way. That makes for neither great drama nor political inspiration. IMHO. (JM)

Tuesday (15/11)         12:10    Talking Pictures    Charade (1963)

Audrey Hepburn stars opposite Cary Grant in this underappreciated 60s classic of espionage and love, which sees Hepburn’s Regina pulled into a world of deception after the death of her husband makes her the target of three men. With his directorial flourishes, a glamorous cast and a mystery plot, director Stanley Donen (known more for his musicals, including Singing in the Rain and Funny Face), conjures up the spirit of Alfred Hitchcock. This is a must-see film that has appreciated with age. (MH)

Thursday (17/11)        05:35   Talking Pictures    County Hospital (1932) 

Nineteen minutes of Laurel & Hardy from the Hal Roach era. Stan visits Ollie, who is laid up in hospital, and mayhem ensues: all shot in one room. Simple and effective. (JM)

18:10 Talking Pictures Doctor in the House (1954)  

A doctor writes: ‘Those were the days.  Parking my car in the consultants’ car park, after 17 years of junior doctor drudgery, I asked the workmen what they were doing with the sign.  “It’s not a consultant-only car park any more,” they replied. The dining room, the protected-time ward rounds, Sister’s special tea-set, the motif-sporting ties (that allegedly spread infection) and the hushed awe at the sound of consultants’ footsteps have gone the same way. I’ve shown medical students Sir Lancelot Spratt (James Robertson Justice) arriving, but I might as well have shown them The Clangers, such is the difference between hospital life now and then. Instead, we have parking fines, identity badges, daily changes in staff, a fight for the overstretched nursing staff, waiting lists, and waiting lists for waiting lists. On the good side, life expectancy has risen from 69 to 82, and we try to be a little more sensitive in our communication. There are still medical tell-tats, but it must have been joyous to watch this film for the jokes, rather than for the issues so laboured in today’s medical dramas. And it is always nice to see an empty bed. (PM)

Leave a Reply

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