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Chill out with Le Carre's classic Cold War thriller


JOHN GORE, founder of StokeScreen Film Club, with his latest pick of the films coming to TV (from Saturday, June 5).

So let’s see if Flaming June is any improvement on bloody awful May. So far, so good. Except that it is a bit too hot, really, isn’t it?!

Let’s talk about Greta Gerwig: actor, writer, director and now, mum. If you were paying attention last week, you will have seen her appear in 20th Century Women alongside Annette Bening, playing a quirky, feisty non-conformist 20-something. This she does convincingly. As director, you would know her for Lady Bird, which StokeScreen showed back in the mists of times when things were ‘normal’, or for the most recent version of Little Women, which we plan to show in the New Year.

She cites Woody Allen as her chief influence, which is clear, but has worked closely with her partner and co-parent, Noah Baumbach on a number of films including Frances Ha 2012 (Film4 22.45 Thu 10 June) and Mistress America 2015 (Film4 00.25 Fri 11 June). Shot in achingly stylish black and white, Frances Ha is the tale of a New York bohemian dreamer who auditions for a dance company, even though she is not a dancer. She lives in other people’s lofts while tripping through projects and relationships without regard for tomorrow. Gerwig displays her ability as a physical comedian and reminds me, at times, of a New York Miranda Hart.

Mistress America tells of a college student whose life is greatly enlivened by her step-sister-to-be arriving and whisking her off on a series of mad schemes. Guess who plays the step sister. It is succinctly described as a comedy about dream-chasing, score-settling, makeshift families and cat stealing. I think you may have the picture by now. File under quirky fun.

In contrast, coinciding with the rerun of the classic BBC adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, there are a couple of other early John Le Carré works on show. The first novel to be adapted for the screen was The Spy who Came in from the Cold 1965 (Talking Pictures TV 21.05 Wed 9 June) with Richard Burton (pictured above) as the agent charged with springing Western ‘assets’ from East Germany, over the Berlin Wall. It established Le Carré as well informed in his chosen subject area and unafraid of some of the harsh realities of the work. Less successful and unvarnished is The Fourth Protocol 1987(Talking Pictures TV 22.40 Sat 5 June) in which Michael Caine is our hero thwarting a dastardly plot to destroy an American airbase in England.

The British films I have chosen this week all include elements of performance and more than a little social awareness and comment. 24 Hour Party People 2001 (Channel4 00.40 Sun 6 June) is a biopic about Tony Wilson, founder of Factory Records and dynamo behind the Manchester music scene in the early 1990s. Steve Coogan plays Wilson and takes to the world of mayhem, sex and drugs and rock’n’roll like duck to water. This is a film by Michael Winterbottom, (The Road to Guantanamo, The Trip) a less celebrated British director who has documented aspects of British life over the past 30 years. It is scripted by Frank Cotterill Boyce, who has an equally illustrious CV (Hilary and Jackie, after cutting his teeth on Coronation Street and helping to revive Dr Who).

Funny Cow 2017 (Channel4 00.10 Mon 7 June) is the story of a woman stand-up comedian fighting to make a name for herself on the Northern club circuit in the 1970s. It is not the barrel of laughs you might wish for. Maxine Peake is the forthright performer who has to cope with hecklers and abuse on stage and further abuse at home. The spirit of Ken Loach is in evidence here and with that in mind, you will gain more from this as a slice of social realism and a model of a woman fighting prejudice to present a different point of view. Peake is, as ever, compelling viewing.

From slightly earlier comes Brassed Off 1996 (Film4 23.05 Mon 7 June). Tagging on the coat tails of The Full Monty, it is the story of a traditional Yorkshire Brass Band competing to go to the national finals against the background of post-miners’ strike deprivation and unemployment. It is jolly enough stuff with Ewan McGreggor (freshly post Trainspotting) and Tara Fitzgerald as the star-crossed lovers with well developed embouchures and the impeccable Pete Postlethwaite as the leader of the band.

On the subject of social and political backdrops, I was fascinated by seeing the Korean movie A Taxi Driver 2017 (Film4 01.15 Tue 8 June) when it last aired. Here is a guy doing his job and having a bad day taking a German journalist around, finding himself in the midst of violent protests against the military government in power in 1980. I don’t recall much of this from the news at the time but director, Hun Jang succeeds in interweaving a high octane thriller with newsreel and reconstruction of terrifying scenes of street violence and repression.

Days of Bagnold Summer 2019 (Film4 21.00 Thu 10 June) is one of those hidden gems that got little exposure on its theatrical release but stays with you long after you have watched it. On the face of it, this is the account of a summer a heavy metal loving teenager spends with his librarian mother where frustrations and disappointments come to the fore and are allowed to work themselves out. Earl Cave (son of Nick) is suitably monosyllabic and moody. Monica Dolan (W1A, Talking Heads) gives a beautifully nuanced performance. There is support from Rob Bryden and Coventry’s own Alice Lowe, music from Belle and Sebastian, and all are directed by Simon Bird, best known as Will from The Inbetweeners.

I do not recall having seen Phantom Thread 2017 (BBC2 23.20 Fri 11 June) on terrestrial TV before now. It is, we must assume, Daniel Day Lewis’ swansong to screen acting and an Oscar candidate. Set in the world of haute couture in London, 1954, Cyril Woodcock is bewitched by his model, Alma (Vicky Krieps). Their relationship develops, and gradually Woodcock finds that his orderly world spins out of control. Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood), one of the Premier League of Hollywood directors, it is stunning to look at but feels a little lacking in soul. Maybe that is the point. Anderson has made a number of extraordinary films: Boogie Nights, Magnolia, The Master with a broad scope and some inventive music videos. Phantom Thread is, in comparison, a chamber piece.

Music movie this week is Tina: What’s Love Got To Do With It, 1993 (5Star 21.00 Fri 11 June) a biopic of Tina Turner with Angela Bassett taking on the unenviable task of emulating Ms Turner, and Lawrence Fishburne as husband and villain of the piece, Ike. Brian Gibson is most famous as a director of music videos and Ms Turner was script adviser on the film, so don’t expect deep complexities, but it is a good yarn of perseverance in the face of adversity.

Next week, I leave you in the very capable hands of my good friend Kevin Cryan while I remind myself what the edge of these islands looks like.

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