Clear your diaries for a bumper week of staying in
JOHN GORE, founder of StokeScreen Film Club, with his pick of the films coming to TV (from Dec 5).
Lockdown ends, and NOW they bring out the good stuff! Very strategic, I should say! This is a bumper week, so clear your schedule and drink coffee late at night.
First of all, my mate Neil Brand has a new series on BBC4 called The Sound of TV at 21.00 on Fridays (and on BBC iPlayer). This follows the series he made on film music and musicals. He is a very genial and perceptive chap. When he came to give a talk on music in the movies he drew my attention to the way music works so convincingly in one particular film, The Railway Children 1970 (BBC2 14.45 Sat 5 Dec), pictured above, an adaptation of the E Nesbitt novel which has become a beloved film of childhood idyll in a time of distress, in this case, the First World War. It introduced Jenny Agutter and Sally Thomsett to the world as well as Johnny Douglas’ impeccable score.
While we are on the subject, other family viewing for the week includes the delightful Japanese animé, Mary and the Witch’s Flower 2017 (Film4 13.05 Sun 6 Dec) that tells of a magic flower that grants special powers. Adapted from Mary Stewart’s The Little Broomstick, it realises its magic in the sumptuous visual style of Studio Ghibli. Japanese animé is a huge area of cinema which has crossed the cultural divide and is very popular with young audiences. Try this film for a start.
Getting suitably seasonal, Debbie Isitt’s Nativity 2: Danger in the Manger! 2012 (BBC1 15.15 Sun 6 Dec) finds the kids and this time, David Tennant, spending less time on home turf in Coventry and more in North Wales in the quest for a winning Song for Christmas. Meanwhile, Aardman Animation’s Arthur Christmas 2011(ITV2 16.40 Sun 6 Dec) follows Santa’s inept son Arthur righting the wrongs of his previous delivery (at no point did he leave the parcels in the wheelie bin or with a neighbour, however).
There is a strong thread of British movies to entice the more inquisitive. This week’s contribution to the unpredictable and varied Premiere season on BBC2 is Dirty God 2019 (BBC2 22.00 Sat 5 Dec) about a young mother reclaiming her life after a brutal acid attack.
In addition we have Keeping Rosy 2014 (BBC1 00.15 Sun 6 Dec) starring Maxine Peake as an executive in a media agency who is undermined in the boardroom, quits her job and watches her world fall apart. I have seen neither of these but both have good reason to be given your attention: One is that the Premiere season has done a grand job of getting films to audiences in times of restricted cinema availability; the other is that Maxine Peake is always worth watching.
I can be less enthusiastic about The Mercy 2017 (BBC 2 21.00 Fri 11 Dec), an account of a Great British Heroic Failure of the kind that we know and love so well. Sailor Donald Crowhurst staked his life on winning a round-the-world yacht race, in spite of his lack of resources and experience. This becomes a study in delusion and hubris demanding our sympathy. The sterling efforts of Colin Firth and an underused Rachel Weisz give him a more heroic stature than he might deserve. It’s the wife I feel sorry for... but we see too little of her side of the story.
Lean on Pete 2017 (Film4 23.15 Mon 7 Dec) is a curiosity. Directed by Yorkshireman Andrew Haigh, it is set on the prairies of North America where a boy finds that his summer job, working at the stable of a racehorse trainer, takes over his life. This leads to him abducting the horse of the title which has failed to make the grade and faces an ‘uncertain’ future. Haigh brings a Kes-like quality to the boy and his horse amid the plains, the epic emptiness of which echoes the boy's loneliness and sense of separation.
Haigh’s previous movie. the shattering marital drama 45 Years 2015 (Film4 01.40 Mon 7 Dec) is graced by outstanding performances from Tom Courtney and Charlotte Rampling. The celebrations are undermined by shattering revelations. Never have looks been more eloquent.
Starred Up 2003 (Film4 23.05 Fri 11 Dec) is a stark prison drama about a son going off the rails and finding himself in the same prison as his father. Jack O’Connell (’71) gives an uncomfortably plausible account of a young man trying to establish his status in gaol while his father tries to save him from the consequences.
The director of Starred Up also made one of the highlight films of the week, Hell and High Water 2016 (Film4 21.00 Fri 11 Dec). This is a thriller, a kind of modern day western, in which two desperate bank robbers, Chris Pine (Star Trek) and Ben Foster (Leave No Trace,) are pursued by wily old sheriff Jeff Bridges. It is as cool a thriller as you would wish to see. It has been sitting on the list of titles for future StokeScreen performances.
The BBC4 film classic of the week is Brooklyn 2015 (BBC4 20.00 Thu 10 Dec). Anthem for a generation, this recounts the experience of emigration in the 1950s where Ellis (Saoirse Ronan) moves from rural Ireland to New York in search of work and a better life. The story has universal resonance but is given greater depth when Ellis returns home after a couple of years and is reminded of what she has left behind. This was the first time Ronan was nominated for an Oscar. She woz robbed!
Migration of a different kind is in evidence in Nic Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth 1976 (Talking Pictures TV 22.00 Fri 11 Dec) in which David Bowie plays the other-worldly visitor to Earth, escaping a dying planet, offering great benefit to humanity and yet finding little reward for himself. Melancholic and memorable, the Thin White Duke is iconic throughout and the story is shot through the lens one of the greatest British directors and cinematographers.
Documentary of the week is from another British icon: Louis Theroux: My Scientology Movie 2015 (BBC2 23.40 Sat 5 Dec). It is clearly made at some risk to Theroux and his crew but unearths a whole can of worms regarding the workings of this hyper-secretive faith/cult and is recounted in Louis’ inimitable style.
Westerns of the week that all self-respecting cineastes should have seen are The Magnificent Seven, of which you have a choice of two versions: the one directed by John Sturges from 1960 (ITV4 18.25 Sun 6 Dec) with Yul Brynner, Charles Bronson and the Man from Uncle, Robert Vaughn and the famous Elmer Bernstein score. The remake from 2016 (C5 22.00 Mon 7 Dec) was directed by Anton Fuqua with Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt (him again) and Ethan Hawke. Compare and contrast. Both remakes of the Kurosawa original, The Seven Samurai (still the best version,) they tell the story of harassed farmers who hire a group of gunfighters to fend off ravaging outlaws.
Also there is Shane 1953 (Film4 16.15 Tue 8 Dec), near the top of the critics’ list of the greatest westerns. Alan Ladd is the eponymous hero, an ageing gunfighter looking to settle down, only to get swept up in a seething range war among his new neighbours. I am sure it could all have been sorted with a Christmas party or a sing-song in the street!
A further remake from the formative days of the Union is The Beguiled 2017 (BBC2 23.30 Thu 10 Dec). Originally the story was filmed by Don Siegel with Clint Eastwood as the wounded Unionist soldier seeking refuge in an exclusive school for young ladies in the South. This version, remade by Sofia Coppola has Colin Farrell throwing himself on the mercies of the maidens. The role of the women in the school, Nicole Kidman as the strict headmistress, and Elle Fanning and Kirsten Dunst, is refocused and deftly shifts the narrative from the male to the female perspective.
The female focus in Dreamgirls 2006 (5Star 22.00 Wed 9 Dec) is on a 1960s' girl group who really are not the Supremes – no, really! Beyoncé, Anika Noni Rose and Jennifer Hudson make up the trio as they sing their way through trials and tribulations both personal and political. Hudson earned an Oscar for her performance and the film spawned a spinoff stage version, back in the days when theatre was a possibility.
Meanwhile, back in Blighty, race relations in 1961 surface in Flame in the Streets 1961 (Talking Pictures TV 22.00 Sun 6 Dec), responding to the Notting Hill riots a couple of years earlier. John Mills, Sylvia Syms and Kenilworth’s own Earl Cameron lead the cast.
Tucked away in the dead of night are a couple of cracking thrillers. Kill List 2011 (Film4 01.20 Sun 6 Dec) is an early thriller by Ben Wheatley (Sightseers) about a hitman who, having botched one job, is sent out to do three others by way of compensation. Nothing runs according to plan.
Scribe 2016 (Film4 02.10 Mon 7 Dec) is one of those quirky but scary French thrillers that I was very proud to have shown when it first came out. It came from a small distributor without great resources, so I knew it would not make money, but it was just too good and unusual to miss. Francois Cluzet (Intouchable), who is as good a reason as any to see a film, plays an out of work bloke who accepts a job listening to phone conversations and transcribing them. But as time goes by, he begins to hear more ominous stuff and finds himself implicated in the nefarious goings on.
Meanwhile, elsewhere there is: High tension with the bomb disposal corps in Iraq in The Hurt Locker 2008 (BBC2 00.00 Sat 12 Dec) with Jeremy Renner (Wind River, Arrival), the first film to win Best Director Oscar for a woman, Kathryn Bigelow.
Food and friendship across the ages with Julie and Julia 2009 (Sony Movies 18.40 Tue 8 Dec) with Amy Adams and Meryl Streep, and a wistful yarn of baseball and wish fulfilment in Field of Dreams 1989 (Sony Movies 18.50 Sun 6 Dec) where Kevin Costner discovers that ‘if you build it, they will come’.
I think you should find something among this little lot to whet your appetite and warm your cockles. Let me know about your favourite Christmas films. I have been hunting, for several years, for a copy of Kenneth Branagh’s In the Bleak Midwinter on DVD/BluRay. The French WW1 Christmas in the trenches tale, Joyeux Noel, is also worth looking out for, if a bit cosy.
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