Naked - a raw, unvarnished masterpiece
JOHN GORE, founder of StokeScreen Film Club, with his pick of the films coming to TV (from Saturday, July 10).
Let’s begin with the Film of the Week. Mike Leigh’s Naked 1993 (Film4 23.20 Mon 12 July), pictured above, is a FilmFour production but seldom gets an outing on TV. It is, in my mind, the strongest work he has produced - chilling, illuminating and darkly comic in equal measure.
If you know Mike for Abigail’s Party or latterly, for his portraits of JMW Turner, Gilbert and Sullivan (Topsy Turvey) or his award-winners like Secrets and Lies, you will know that he does not shy away from difficult subjects, even in the more genteel of settings.
Naked is driven by a virtuoso performance. David Thewlis as Johnnie, a clearly unhinged, misanthropic Mancunian misfit. He turns up at his ex-girlfriend’s flat in London, spouting bile and menace like some malevolent Old Testament prophet. He is supported by a robust cast of women headed by the wonderful and much missed Katrin Cartlidge, Clare Skinner, Gina McKee and Lesley Sharp. This is not easy viewing but is a firework display of acting. The venomous diatribes Thewlis spouts were improvised by him on set. It feels raw and unvarnished.
I would also highly recommend Beast 2017 (Film4 23.25 Tue 13 July). This is a tale of romance that turns dark and troubled, set on Jersey. Jessie Buckley and Johnny Flynn, two rising stars in British cinema, the vulnerable young woman and mysterious, possibly dangerous, labourer. There are hints of Du Maurier in the story line, it looks superb and is taut and tense. It has been a candidate for StokeScreen but I know that it will divide audiences. You may find it unsettling but it is well worth the effort.
There is a theme of biopics running through this week. Darkest Hour 2017 (BBC1 1935 Sat 10 July) finds Gary Oldman giving an award-winning performance as Winston Churchill in the wake of the Dunkirk evacuation - considering an uncertain future, balancing the strategic and political against the compassionate and pragmatic. Kristin Scott Thomas fulfils the less showy role of his wife Clemmie, with restraint and fortitude.
Trumbo 2015 (BBC2 01.05 Sun 11 July) allows Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) to enjoy inhabiting the role of Hollywood blacklisted screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo. The film focuses on his return to work in Hollywood when Stanley Kubrick and Kirk Douglas chose him to script Spartacus. Helen Mirren also enjoys herself as the notoriously waspish gossip columnist, Hedda Hopper. A story of redemption and revenge served well chilled.
The Duchess 2008 (BBC2 21.00 Sun 11 July) recounts events from the life of Georgina Spencer, 18th century predecessor of Princess Diana with resonant comparisons with her 20th century relative. Kiera Knightley delivers a suitably neurotic yet determined performance, indicating a change in direction in her career, leading to more complex and interesting roles. Director Saul Dibb is mostly known for his TV dramas (which is what this is, with a bigger budget) but also an intense and moving adaptation of the WW1 stage play, Journey’s End.
Then, there is Oscar Wilde. BBC4 is devoting an evening to one of the most iconic figures of Gay history in this Pride month. Stephen Fry plays the master of wit and repartee, in Wilde 1997 (BBC4 22.55 Thu 15 July), in which a reflective Oscar reflects on life, love, success and scandal at the end of his life. This is preceded by a screening of his best known play, The Importance of Being Earnest 2002 (BBC4 20.00 Thu 15 July or BBC2 13.50 Sun 11 July), in which Rupert Everett and Colin Firth are the young blades in search of suitable marriages under eyes of Judi Dench, relishing her role as the dowager Lady Bracknell.
Coincidentally, perhaps, there is a showing of The Fan 1949 (Talking Pictures TV 19.15 Sun 11 July), a Hollywood version of Lady Windermere’s Fan, adapted by Dorothy Parker, no mean wit in her own right. Critics are not very encouraging about this but it does star Jeanne Crain, George Sanders and a pre Robin Hood, Richard Greene.
The Laurel and Hardy centenary celebration continues with County Hospital 1932 (Talking Pictures TV 17.40 Sat 10 July).
Men, Women and Children 2014 (Channel4 00.20 Thu 15 July) is an interesting and provocative discussion on the way in which the internet has changed relationships and self image for a group of teenagers and their parents. It is directed by Jason Reitman, who has made several smart social comedies including Juno (teenage pregnancy), Thank You for Smoking (advertising and social responsibility) and Up in the Air (work and travel as substitute for a personal life). He has assembled a cast of established names: Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner, Emma Thompson and young emerging actors led by Timothée Chalomet (Call Me By Your Name). This will give you plenty to talk about.
There are a couple of curiosities returning to the screen. The Swimmer 1968 (GMC 19.05 Mon 12 July) finds Burt Lancaster in fine physical shape, swimming the pools of suburban LA in search of redemption and forgiveness for his business and extramarital misdeeds.
Then, there is Ryan O’Neal as the unnamed The Driver 1978 (TPTV 21.35 Sat 11 July) in an existential thriller about a getaway driver rapidly running out of road. It is a moody piece, directed by Walter Hill, with whom you would associate the action sequences, but this digs deeper into motivation. Hill went on to make some equally individual films such as Southern Comfort (bringing the War back home) and The Long Riders (a thoroughly unromantic account of the James Younger gang).
Pi 1997 (Film4 02.20 Sun 11 July) is quite esoteric in anyone’s book but compelling viewing. This is the story of a maths genius who is determined to prove that the secrets of the universe can be revealed in the study of numbers. His discoveries attract the attention of Wall Street and an orthodox Jewish Hasidic sect, but then his mind may just be playing tricks on him. Shot in black and white and with more than a hint of satire, this was the first film by maverick director Darren Aronovsky, who is better known for Mother! and Requiem for a Dream, also quite hallucinatory in nature. Not for everyone, but if you fancy being stretched a bit, it is worth entering this rather strange world.
On rather more familiar ground, A Simple Favour 2018 (BBC1 22.35 Fri 16 July) is born of a friendship between two professional mums at the school gates - the vlogger and the PR consultant. The innocent crafts vlogger soon finds herself drawn into an insurance scam and dirty dealings. This is a dark comedy by the director of Bridesmaids, Paul Feig, which is more rueful grin than laugh-out-loud.
The Hate U Give 2018 (Film4 21.00 Wed 14 July) is a very timely tale of a young black American, Starr, who witnesses her best friend shot by the police. She determines to stand up and do what’s right, in spite of the consequences. Starr also faces the challenges of trying to fit in to a predominantly white neighbourhood. It sounds like a teen movie but has taken on deeper significance in the three years since
Documentary of the week is Eric Clapton: a Life in Twelve Bars 2017 (BBC4 21.00 Fri 16 July) which recounts the life, career, tragedies and mistakes of a massive musical talent. This offers some opportunity to seek redemption for the excesses of the 70s.
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.