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Forget the parties, have a Brief Encounter instead

JOHN GORE, founder of StokeScreen Film Club, with his latest pick of the films coming to a TV near you (from Saturday, Nov 21).

I know, let’s all have a big party on Dec 2 and get in ahead of the next lockdown/Christmas. What do you say?

Slim Pickings this week, or Slim Pickens, supporting cast for many a mediocre western, if you prefer. I think the barrel of cinematic plenty is down to the woodwork ahead of the Christmas bonanza. When the Radio Times, that bastion of entertainment information, rates Brief Encounter as Film of the Week, you know that times is ‘ard, guv.

Yet, here it is, Brief Encounter (BBC4 20.30 Thu 26 Nov), for decades, top of the critics' chart for Greatest British Movie Ever, until it was supplanted by a younger generation by The Third Man, which, in turn, has been replaced by Nic Roeg’s Don’t Look Now. Anyway, Brief Encounter (pictured above) is the tale of a wartime affair (sort of) conducted in the cafeteria of Carnforth railway station. Directed by David Lean, this was his first collaboration with Noel Coward, from whose play, Still Life, it was adapted. It is a droll character piece as well as being a very topical romance. You may have seen it (many, many times) before, but it may be worth looking at it again; it has often occurred to me that Celia Johnson’s character could have been written as a bloke. Imagine the shock and outrage that would have engendered.

You may also like to compare and contrast this with The Apartment (BBC2 15.10 Sun 22 Nov), while we are among the giants of cinema. Made 15 years later and in very different circumstances, here is Jack Lemmon trying to get ahead in the firm by allowing his flat to be used for adulterous trysts with the sad and put upon good time gal, Shirley MacLaine. Written and directed by Billy Wilder, who sits on God’s right hand in cinematic heaven, it is a potent cocktail of comedy, pathos and satire. Even in 1960, they only made films like this very rarely. It stands the test of time remarkably well.

Fast forward half a century or so and the world of work has become far more demanding and complex. Enter Jessica Chastain as Madeleine Sloane, Washington lobbyist in Miss Sloane (Film4 23.10 Mon 23 Nov). If you negotiated The West Wing, you may be aware of the language and manoeuvring of lobbyists. This is a character portrait by way of an ethics hearing. It allows Chastain to shimmer in the spotlight and get her nominated for a Golden Globe in 2017.

Two more pieces of interesting but not entirely wonderful Americana come in the shape of The Night Listener (Sony Movies 23.20 Mon 23 Nov), an adaptation of a novel by Armistead Maupin (not part of the Tales of the City sequence) with Robin Williams in a more sober role as a late night radio show host who gets enthralled by a young listener diagnosed with AIDS who calls in frequently. It is warm and compassionate but not entirely engrossing.

The Free State of Jones (BBC2 22.10 Sun 22 Nov) is a ‘based on a true story’ piece of history about a disillusioned Confederate soldier who deserts during the Civil War and establishes his own racially integrated independent state. Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Twelve Years a Slave) and Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) front a suitably tattered and torn cast. The historical facts will speak for themselves, but there is a clear 21st century varnish on this.

I think I have already referenced Galaxy Quest (C5 23.00 Mon 23 Nov) which affectionately parodies Star Trek so successfully that it is the Star Trek producers’ favourite critique of their canon. Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, Tim Allen and a substantial cast acquit themselves marvellously.

Her (Film4 01.20 Sun 22 Nov) finds Joachim Phoenix, long-time bachelor, starting a relationship with the operating system of his computer (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). This has been on the list for StokeScreen for a while. It is a thought provoking look at the relationship between humans and artificial intelligence which is not dystopian, while also finding fresh life in the rom-com formula.

Americana alla Italiana comes in the form of A Fistful of Dollars (C5 23.00 Tue 24 Nov) and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (C5 21.00 Fri 27 Nov) first and last in the trilogy of The Man with No Name which catapulted Clint Eastwood to ‘A’ list stardom courtesy of director Sergio Leone.

Back in the UK, ’71 (Film4 23.10 Thu 24 Nov) is a tense 24 hours for squaddie, Jack O’Connell, separated from his unit and lost on the streets of Belfast at the height of the Troubles. While taking a familiar storyline, the film manages to shine a light on a time and place all too easily ignored in British history. It took a French director to bring this story to the screen.

Fish Tank (BBC4 23.00 Wed 25 Nov) is a chilling tale of a teenage girl, Katie Jarvis (latterly of East Enders fame) and the problems that develop when her mum brings home a new boyfriend (Michael Fassbender). Director Andrea Arnold is the queen of Brit Grit but she has a great sympathy and understanding for teenage women.

Lynn and Lucy (BBC2 22.50 Sat 21 Nov) is this week’s new British Independent. It recounts the challenges to a lifelong friendship of two women who have never strayed far from where they were born but hit problems that require a fuller assessment of who they are and where they are taking their lives. You may gather, from the vagueness of the description that I have not yet seen it but it is the work of promising young British artists and we should commend the BBC for presenting these films which, otherwise, would probably not see the light of day outside major cities.

If Ridley Scott still counts as British (and independent) then we can also reference The Martian (Channel4 20.45 Sat 21 Nov) which finds Matt Damon settling on Mars and trying to turn the Red Planet green and Gladiator (5Star 21.00 Sat 21 Nov) an Oscar winner with Russell Crowe as the Spartacus for our times. How I have longed for the opportunity to declaim, in my finest Russell Crowe voice, ‘I am Gluteus Maximus’!

We seem a bit light on the forin muck again, this week. I have previously referenced the curious, very darkly comic Men and Chicken (Film4 01.05 Sun 22 Nov). Well, it’s back! Mads Mickelsen (Hannibal) is one of a pair of brothers who uncover the uncomfortable truth of their upbringing when they make contact with their long lost family. Another Scandinavian offering is here in the shape of A Pigeon Sat on

a Branch Reflecting on Existence (Film4 01.50 Thu 24 Nov), is an introduction to the curious world of Roy Andersson, who takes the mundane and absurd and draws from it philosophical insights or maybe, just more absurdity. Both films are those that I would file under ‘an acquired taste’.

As ever, it is always good to hear back from you, so please put your thoughts down and send them to us at Favebook: StokeScreen at CNWSC or go to

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