Check out an inspiring tale of a chess prodigy
A year ago this week, JOHN GORE, founder of StokeScreen Film Club, launched his weekly rundown of the best films coming to TV for elementarywhatson.com Happy anniversary, John! This, his latest pick, starts from Saturday, April 10.
One year on and there are finally green shoots of a reopening of public places – and cinemas. I congratulate those of you who have stuck with me throughout. Award yourselves a medium sherry or Babycham by way of celebration.
This weekend, I managed to watch Chiwetel Ejiofor’s directing debut, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, which screened a couple of weeks ago. It is a tale of ingenuity and talent overcoming the enormous odds of poverty and prejudice in Malawi. It is surprisingly stark for a film whose target audience appears to be young teens. It fits into the category of a number of recent films about young Africans succeeding against the odds and is available on BBC iPlayer until 20 April.
There is another one of these films on show this week. The Queen of Katwe 2016 (BBC1 14.35 Sun 11 April) tells of a chess prodigy in Uganda who has to overcome the obstacles of being a prodigiously talented girl in a traditional patriarchal society. Madina Nalwanga drew a lot of attention for her performance as Phiona, ably assisted by David Oyelowo (Selma) and Lupita Nyongo’o (12 Years a Slave). The film is directed by Mira Nair, whose Monsoon Wedding was shown at StokeScreen last season. What underpins the surface sentimentality of these films is very clear depiction of the challenges faced by young people in contemporary Africa.
First in a more conventional mould of family films is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang 1968 (Channel5 12.10 Sat 10 April), the musical adaptation of a novel by Ian Fleming written when he wasn’t making the world safe for Martini drinkers with James Bond. Dick Van Dyke follows up his triumph in Mary Poppins as eccentric inventor, Caractacus Potts.
We also have the concluding double bill of the Harry Potter franchise, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows parts 1 & 2 2010 (ITV2 15.45 Sun 11 April). J K Rowling’s genius in pitching diverse genres - schooldays, horror, a dash of Merlin and a pinch of whodunit - together in one cauldron, translates well to the big screen.
I also have a soft spot for Puss in Boots 2011 (Film4 12.45 Sun 11 April) in which Antonio Banderas voices the swaggering, swashbuckling moggy and Salma Hayek his cunning adversary and collaborator, Kitty Soft Paw. It comes from the same stable as the Shrek movies and shares the same knowing humour that will have adults laughing as much as the kids, but in different places.
Depicting kids rather than playing to them, is Master and Commander: the Far Side of the World 2003 (Film4 21.00 Mon 12 April), Peter Weir’s adaptation of the novel by Patrick O’Brian of a British sea captain pursuing a French warship off South America. Russell Crowe is our heroic Hornblower and Paul Bettany, the ship’s surgeon, but the real revelation is that the junior officers are all young teenagers, a more accurate representation of the reality of the time than that to which we are used. What Weir does so brilliantly is depict closed or isolated communities, the Amish in Witness, an exclusive girls’ school in Picnic at Hanging Rock or here, a ship of the line in hostile and dangerous seas. He also ramps up the tension with some spectacular naval engagements.
Tension of a different sort is to be found in My Cousin Rachel 2017 (Channel4 22.55 Sun 11 April). Rachel Weisz plays Daphne du Maurier’s eponymous heroine, a suspect in the murder of the young wife of her relative, Philip (Sam Clafin). Shot in du Maurier’s beloved Cornwall and Italy by Notting Hill director Roger Michell, it succeeds in being eye-catching and unsettling at the same time.
Another of du Maurier’s tales crops up as one of three Hichcock films this week. Rebecca 1939 (Talking Pictures TV 14.55 Sun 11 April) is a psychological thriller featuring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine being rather upstaged by Judith Anderson’s memorable Mrs Danvers. The film recounts the jealousy and intrigue at Manderlay, a stately yet remote Gothic pile set in a wild and treacherous landscape.
Hitchcock’s Jamaica Inn 1939 (Sony Classics 09.20 Sun 11 April) is also set in Cornwall, where Maureen O’Hara discovers that she has fallen in with a community of wreckers who lure unsuspecting ships on to the rocks to pillage their cargoes. It feels a bit of a pot boiler by Hitch’s standards.
What does not feel run-of-the-mill in any way is Notorious 1946 (Talking Pictures TV 21.05 Wed 14 April), Hitchcock at his most perverse, and a master class in visual storytelling. Cary Grant is an agent sent to infiltrate a group of Nazis hiding in Brazil. The agent falls for party girl Ingrid Bergman, but then is obliged to introduce her to Claude Rains’ charming but poisonous villain, and watch him woo and marry her. In my opinion this is Hitch’s first American masterpiece and heralds two decades of consistently arresting work.
I have not yet seen Animals 2019 (Film4 21.00 Thu 15 April) but this Irish/Australian co-production is flagged up in favourable comparison to Withnail and I. Wholesale irreverence, drink, drugs and a wedding set a platform for girls behaving badly, led by Holliday Grainger (My Cousin Rachel, The Borgias), to leave a lasting impression.
Rather less controversial but no less Irish, I think, is Sing Street 2015 (Film4 01.40 Sat 17 April), a rather charming teen musical about getting the band together to win the heart of a fair maid in 1980s Dublin, back when New Romantics were still quite new.
For the insomniacs among us, I would recommend not just Sing Street but Tale of Tales 2015 (Film4 00.55 Sun 11 April), a beautifully realised collection of scary fairy tales by Giambattista Basile, directed by Matteo Garrone (Gomorrah, Il Divo), one of the most consistently interesting Italian directors. Toby Jones, Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, Shirley Henderson and John C Reilly populate a suitably characterful cast.
In an equally fantastic world but more contemporary, Terry Gilliam sets The Fisher King 1991 (Sony Classics 00.35 Tue 13 April) in New York with a depressed radio presenter (Jeff Bridges) finding redemption and hope by helping a spectacularly deranged and homeless Robin Williams in his quest to discover the Holy Grail. Gilliam’s movies have a logic that is all their own in the thick of vivid and eye popping visuals.
Transsiberian 2008 (Sony 01.00 Mon 12 April) is the antidote to Murder on the Orient Express, being a train journey from China to Moscow in which an American couple, Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer start off as tourists but find themselves pursued by a sinister fellow traveller in the shape of Ben Kingsley. It's Hitchcock territory but with a quirky humour and smart sense of the absurd that manages to sidestep many of the clichés.
And simply because you can never have too much of it, His Girl Friday 1939 (Talking Pictures TV 00.30 Tue 13 April) brings together the sparring wits of Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in Howard Hawks’ magical realisation of the Broadway hit comedy, The Front Page.
These may not help you to sleep but they will stop you feeling as though you have been wasting your time.
Many happy returns.
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