If...you want to catch up with a surreal modern classic...
JOHN GORE, founder of StokeScreen Film Club, with his latest pick of the films coming to TV (from Sunday, August 22).
A few newer and unviewed features appear this week, and some neglected nuggets resurface...
Lindsay Anderson was a pioneer of British cinema, arriving at feature film from the Free Cinema documentary movement of the 1950s. He emerged as director of the classic This Sporting Life in 1963 but then went on to make a trio of satirical observations on British life and society, starting with If... 1968 (GMC 21.00 Sun 22 Aug), pictured above, and followed at intervals by Oh, Lucky Man! 1973, and Britannia Hospital 1982. If... introduces us to Mick, a cocky rebel at an unremarkable English public school from which he launches a range of subversive activities, culminating in a pitched battle with the school cadet force. Malcolm McDowell became the face of middle class revolution for a decade. The cast also includes David Wood who went on to be a stalwart of children’s theatre in this country, dragging it away from rather patronising fare to more engaging and spectacular shows. He was always a pleasure to work with.
I have been hoping to screen The Guardians 2017 (BBC2 00.00 Sun 22 Aug) for some time. This is a fresh and insightful account of life in France just behind the Western Front in the Great War. The women are left to tend the farm, cope with the privations and tragedies that ensue and to get along with one another. Nathalie Baye (The Return of Martin Guerre) leads the cast and it is directed by Xavier Beauvois, who came to notice with an extraordinary documentary, Of Gods and Men, set in a Trappist monastery. Here is a director who understands the power and drama of silence.
In a piece of impressive programming, The Old Man and the Gun 2018 (Film4 21.00 Mon 23 Aug) with Robert Redford, of which my colleague Kevin Cryan wrote last week, about the escape of a septuagenarian prisoner who goes on to engineer a string of bank robberies, is followed by Thunder Road 2018 (Film4 22.50 Mon 23 Aug) in which a police officer goes into emotional meltdown following his divorce and the loss of his mother. I have seen neither of these but they intrigue me. I have seen Sweet Country 2017 (Film4 00.40 Tue 24 Aug), set in the Outback of Australia, it is a tale of an Aboriginal stockman in 1929, forced to go on the run after killing a white man in self defence. It is a gripping and unsettling story which, given the landscape, looks spectacular. This is by the maker of the Mystery Road TV series and shares the feel of that. And so to bed. This is a fine sequence of viewing for the eager insomniac.
Later in the week, there is an engaging double bill on Film4 which will present themselves as horror movies but have a wider appeal than that. Dog Soldiers 2002 (Film4 23.10 Fri 27 Aug) is the tale of a platoon of squaddies who find themselves subject to eerie and unnatural ambush by something canine or vulpine. Sean Pertwee and Kevin McKidd get all butch in fatigues to face off the threat. This is followed by the female alternative, The Descent 2005 (Film4 01.20 Sat 28 Aug) in which a group of intrepid gals go into a pothole and encounter something wicked coming in the opposite direction. MyAnna Buring and cohort present a feisty resistance in the face of danger.
Speaking of feist, Kate Winslett is The Dressmaker 2015 (Film4 01.10 Fri 27 Aug) who returns to the small town in Australia that shunned her years before and, armed with her trusty sewing machine, she wreaks elegant but relentless revenge. She is terrific but acting honours go, as is often the case, to Judy Davis as her scathing mother.
When it comes to performances of the week then Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies 2015 (Film4 18.15 Fri 27 Aug) presents the unforgettable sight of the Oscar-winning juggernaut that is Tom Hanks being completely upstaged by the low key stoicism of Mark Rylance in a gripping cold war drama.
They have also dusted down a quirky tale of a spy/voyeur, Hallam Foe 2006 (Film4 01.15 Wed 25 Aug), in which Jamie Bell (Billy Elliott but grown up) plays the young man dogged by the death of his mother, embarking on tentative romance in Edinburgh. This is a genuine oddity, directed by David McKenzie, who made the prison drama, Starred Up and the immensely satisfying cop and robbers thriller, Hell or High Water with Jeff Bridges.
The final Film4 oddity of the week is My Friend Dahmer 2017 (Film4 01.35 Sun 22 Aug), or serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer: the High School Years. This boy has problems but there are those trying to reach him in his troubled world: sadly to no avail, but it is a fascinating character portrait.
I never got on with Martin Scorsese’s Silence 2016 (BBC4 22.05 Thu 26 Aug). It is long and arduous and I found it difficult to identify with the Jesuit priests searching for their teacher in Japan. It is a clash of civilizations, both of which think themselves superior. Andrew Garfield (Spiderman) and Adam Driver (Kylo Ren in Star Wars) may not have been the best choices for the roles of the young priests. Liam Neeson, however, has a gravitas and equivocation to impress as the evangelist turned doubter or apostate.
Things we have covered before which are back again this week include:
Wind River 2017 (Channel4 23.10 Sun 22 Aug) is an investigation of a murder on Indian territory near the Canadian border. Fish-out-of-water FBI agent Elizabeth Olsen is sent from Florida to lead the search. This is part of a sub-genre of police dramas that bring state police and First Nation agents together. There is a particularly caustic, ironic humour that issues from the native law men.
Life of Crime 2013 (BBC1 23.35 Sun 22 Aug) is the adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel about the kidnapping of a businessman’s wife (Jennifer Aniston) whose husband would prefer to trade her in for a newer model rather than pay the ransom. Her vengeance is fierce and at times, funny.
The late Anthony Minghella’s take on the Patricia Highsmith novel about an amoral chameleon, The Talented Mr Ripley 1999 (5Star 23.15 Sun 22 Aug) bears repeated viewing. Matt Damon is a very persuasive Ripley and the landscape and food are wonderful. Wish you were here.
Personal Shopper 2016 (BBC2 Wed 25 Aug) is a curiosity. A young woman tries to contact her dead brother only to receive messages from a mysterious third party. This could be ludicrous stuff but Kristen Stewart (The Clouds of Sils Maria) sheds her Twilight persona to deliver a subtle and persuasive performance.
There is plenty more out there, but that’s enough for now.
If you are in Coventry next weekend, I recommend an event taking place at the Assembly Festival Gardens as part of the Made in the Midlands programme: Coventry director Debbie Isitt is in conversation with Adrian Goldberg. It's on Fri 27 Aug, at 17.40. Tickets are £10. I saw Adrian interview Ken Loach in the Cathedral earlier this month and he did a splendid job of asking the Great Man far more personal questions than I have ever dared to ask him, about growing up in Nuneaton and his memories and connections to the area. I hope we will take the same approach to Debbie as it adds a deeper human perspective to the artist.
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