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Price as Witchfinder General is a genuine horror


KEVIN CRYAN, standing in for John Gore, gives us his pick of the films coming to TV (from Saturday, August 14).

You know that the pickings are rather meagre when you realise that what you yourself are most looking forward to is yet another chance to see Night Mail 1936 (Talking Pictures TV 00.00 Sun 15 Aug) a wonderfully evocative account of a postal train's overnight journey from London to Glasgow, with music by Benjamin Britten and commentary by the poet W.H. Auden. It's a 25-minute sensory feast – the sound design is by the Brazilian Alberto Cavalcanti – that's not easily forgotten. At nearly 100 years old it still retains its power to dazzle, with nary a colour frame in sight.

Horror films, with a handful of honourable exceptions, leave me cold. One such exception is Witchfinder General 1968 (Talking Pictures TV 00.30 Sat 14 Aug). Not for the faint-hearted, it's a fictional account of the career of Matthew Hopkins, a self-styled English witchhunter, who flourished mainly in East Anglia during the English Civil War (he claimed to hold the office of Witchfinder General, although that title was never bestowed by Parliament). In the film, Hopkins (downplayed to great effect by the usually grandstanding Vincent Price, pictured above) is a lawyer who falsely claimed to have been appointed as a "Witch Finder Generall" by Parliament to root out sorcery and witchcraft. Its plot follows Roundhead soldier Richard Marshall (Ian Ogilvy) who pursues Hopkins and his assistant John Stearne (Robert Russell ) after they prey on his fiancée Sara (Hilary Dwyer) and execute her uncle John Lowes (Rupert Davies).

The many scenes of torture and violence, considered unusually sadistic at the time and quite shocking even now, are never gratuitous and can be justified in that they show just how degraded religious mania can become. Incidentally, this is the film which made director Michael Reeves, who died of an overdose at the age of 25, a cult figure.

Clueless 1995 (Great Movies 19.05 Sat 14 Aug), is a surprisingly effective updating of Jane Austen's 1816 novel Emma to the present day, starring Alicia Silverstone and Paul Rudd. Cher (Silverstone) and her best friend Dionne (Stacey Dash) are going on 16 and know everything about being gorgeous, popular, and always in vogue. But everything changes when Tai (Brittany Murphy) a “clueless” new student so obviously in need of their tutoring, enters their lives and is taken under their wings. Director Amy Heckerling and a game and intelligent cast serve up this satire with real relish.

I rather wish that I could any muster half as much enthusiasm for Father of the Bride 1991 (Channel 5 13.30 Sat 14 Aug), a remake of the 1950 Spencer Tracy/Elizabeth Taylor romantic comedy of same name. The film depicts wedding preparations from the point of view of an overly-protective father (Steve Martin) becoming aware that his daughter has grown. It's a film that has had what we film buffs like to call a mixed reaction from critics. Translated, this means that we hated it when others had opinions some of which we did not share. For instance Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide, hedging its bets a little, suggests that one of its flaws is that “there are too many sidesteps into silliness....for it to hit the bull's-eye as the original did”.

The Radio Times says that the “resulting warm vanilla farce proved so popular that director Charles Shyer, and co-writer Nancy Myres reunited for the sequel.”

For this viewer the “resulting warm vanilla farce” is a damp squib. This is down to the fact that I find Steve Martin's shtick a bit of a wearing (and wearying) substitute for acting. I must concede here that there are millions who consider him in a very different light and who think that his performance here is a vintage one.

Director Ang Lee and writer Emma Thompson brought to the screen a very sober (in the best sense of that word) reading of Jane Austin's first published novel Sense and Sensibility 1995 (Film 4 15.35 Sun 15). With a cast of first-rank British actors that includes Thompson herself, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, Harriet Walter and Imelda Staunton, Lee and Thomson bring to the screen a rendition of Austin's world which, although it strays - sometimes a long way - from its source, is satisfying nonetheless. The Radio Times's David Parkinson summed it up when he commented that Lee 's direction avoids “the chocolate-box visuals that cheapen so many British costume dramas" and "brings a refreshing period realism to the tale of two sisters that allows Emma Thompson's respectful Oscar-winning script to flourish."

No better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than with this showing on the biggest screen you can lay your mitts on.

Here's a premise: A socialite named Holly who can't be tied down, falls for the golden-haired novelist who moves into her building. They run around New York being young and carefree, then they make out in the rain. She has a cat named Cat and she looks amazing and really thin...the end.

I'd be very surprised if there was one person in a thousand of a certain age who didn't realise that that is a crude synopsis of Breakfast at Tiffany's 1961 (Great Movies Classic 18.35 Sun 15 Aug) a Hollywood confection that charms even those of us who are more than a little queasy about the liberties that screenwriter George Axelrod and director Blake Edwards took to bring Truman Capote's novella to the screen. What if the unnamed narrator of the story is turned into the dashingly handsome hunk (George Peppard) and that good-time girl Holly is not the “geisha” that Capote describes? What if the slightly amoral demi-monde Capote wrote of is sweetened a little? Well, actually a lot. It's as it is to make us feel good, and for the most part it does just that. And we have the bonus of being able to come away humming “Moon River”. As someone must have said, what's not to like?

The Old Man & the Gun 2018 (Film 4 21.00 18 Aug), directed and written by David Lowery and loosely based on a 2003 New Yorker article by David Grann, recounts the exploits of a septuagenarian career criminal (played by Robert Redford) who around the turn of this century hit the headlines by pulling off a series of daring bank heists. This not a film that digs very deep into the nature of the man who inspired it, but then it's not a biographical movie so much, as Redford's (it's his penultimate film) farewell to screen acting, and as such showcases much of what has kept us watching him for the last 60 years or so. Redford fans will not be disappointed.