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Bard meets girl in Stoppard's captivating rom-com


JOHN GORE, founder of StokeScreen Film Club, with his latest pick of the films coming to TV (from Sat, Jan 30).

This is unlikely to be the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything.

It is good to see that some of us have been receiving our inoculations, so there is some ground for optimism. Octogenarians have now been tearing phone books in half – which they may have been doing beforehand. I am looking forward to my turn in cinematic terms, so that I shall be able to shoot spider webs from my wrists or land upside down on the ceiling. This is how it always begins.....

Let’s start this week with an indulgence: Shakespeare in Love 1998 (BBC1 23.55 Fri 5 Feb) is a straightforward story of Bard meets girl (pictured above). He regards her as his muse, she gets to brave the forbidden realm of acting on stage (how long before she says, “Yes, but what I really want to do is direct!”).

Having made his name in the theatre with an inspired comic tragedy, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, taking place in the palace at Elsinore, wherever Hamlet wasn’t, Tom Stoppard scripted this piece of erudite fluff. Will is struggling to complete Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter. Inspiration comes when and where you least expect it. Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow lead a spectacular cast including Judi Dench, Colin Firth, Rupert Everett and Imelda Staunton, in a funny and charming romcom. If you know your Shakespeare, it is peppered with quotes and mischievous references that will make you feel thoroughly smug about recognising them.

Incidentally, a few years later, a French equivalent was made called Moliere, about one of their leading classical playwrights. Equally smart, it is a very elegant costume drama with Romain Duris dancing his way through the action. If it doesn’t turn up on TV soon, someone is going to have to screen it at a film club, I suspect.

One of the other highlights of the week is Francis Coppola’s The Conversation 1974 (BBC2 23.55 Sat 30 Jan), in which Gene Hackman is a private investigator who accidentally records what sounds like a conspiracy to murder a prominent politician. It fits firmly in the bracket of Watergate-inspired thrillers and is a film about sound which remains compelling throughout. It is a forewarning of the surveillance society of the digital age. This is purely analogue paranoia.

The following year, another of the seventies’ movie brats, Steven Spielberg, brought us Jaws 1975 (ITV4 21.00 Thu 4 Feb). If you have not seen this since the last century, it may be worth your while reacquainting yourself with it. The subtext is of local government denying a problem, fearing that it might damage their economy. The consequences are disastrous. It is also, still, a cracking thriller, rubber shark or no.

I revisited another 70s classic this week, Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, a masterpiece of social comment and psychological unease. Almost 40 years later came Nightcrawler 2013 (BBC2 23.20 Fri 5 Feb). It makes a fascinating comparison. The alienated taxi driver is replaced by an ambitious video journalist, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, providing sensational news content to a local TV station and occasionally helping the action along for the sake of the story. Less technically innovative, this is still a chilling portrait and a tale for our times.

In a different region but equally contemporary and disquieting, The Bling Ring 2013 (BBC1 00.10 Mon 1 Feb) follows a gang of rich, bright and beautiful young things who stalk LA celebs and then burgle their houses. This was the fifth feature by Sofia Copolla, Francis’ daughter, and is made memorable by a mesmerising Katie Chang and Emma Watson, a million moons away from Hermione in the Harry Potter series.

Beautiful Boy 2018 (BBC2 22.00 Sat 30 Jan) recounts the true story of father and son (and long-suffering mum) who see their son through serious drug addiction. I have mentioned Steve Carell before; while he is ostensibly a comic actor he is also a versatile and powerful performer in some extraordinary roles. He is always worth watching and has enormous range.

In the column marked classics are some interesting and less often seen films. I remember hearing good things about The Train 1964 (BBC2 14.45 Sun 31 Jan) through the film club at school. Alas, I was not old enough to attend and have never had the chance to see it, so, on the recommendation of Murgatroyd junior of the fifth form: this has Burt Lancaster as a French Resistance fighter who struggles to prevent a train load of art treasures being stolen by the dastardly Gestapo Colonel, Paul Scofield. Be sure you complete your maths homework first.

The archetype of the ‘angry young man’ of 1960s British kitchen sink dramas, Jimmy Porter, is immortalised on celluloid by Richard Burton in Look Back in Anger 1959 (BBC2 01.45 Sun 31 Jan), ably supported by Claire Bloom as his unfortunate significant other.

There is also a chance to see one of my favourite subversive sci-fi movies, Paul Verhoven’s Robocop 1987 (ITV4 21.00 Mon 1 Feb) in which Peter Weller creates the role of the Detroit cop, badly injured in the line of duty, who returns as half man half cyborg, literal, ruthless and relentless. It is as sharp a satire on crime and punishment and yes, corporate corruption, as I know. As time has passed, so it appears to have become less and less satirical and more documentary!!

And now for something completely different. The Plank 1967 (Talking Pictures TV 16.05 Fri 5 Feb) is a feast of British slapstick featuring Eric Sykes, Tommy Cooper, Jimmy Edwards, Roy Castle, Graham Stark, Jimmy Tarbuck, Hattie Jacques and a piece of wood (and the award for Best Supporting Actor goes to....!). There is minimal dialogue but no shortage of expression or meaning. This was one of the programme filler shorts that transcended its low budget and humble aspirations to become a master class in physical comedy and comic timing.

And then, going back to where it all began, there is Rock Around the Clock 1956 (Sony Classics 22.45 Tue 2 Feb) in which Bill Haley and the Comets invite you to rock it up and rip it up, with the result that audiences of the day did exactly that to their cinema seats (a crime punishable by transportation back then – and still in my cinema!). Please do not try this at home. Better to stick to cultivating a kiss curl. I have been working on it for years.

The exotic offering of the week is Italian. Sicilian Ghost Story 2017 (Film4 01.20 Mon 1 Feb) is exactly that. A 12-year-old girl sets out to find her classmate who has disappeared, deep in the woods. This is a visually rich piece of magical realism which defies orthodox description.

As ever, it is always good to hear back from you, so please put your thoughts down and send them to us at Stokescreenfilmclub@aol.com Facebook: StokeScreen at CNWSC and www.StokeScreen.uk

Winner!