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Shaping up: The great movies coming to your TV

JOHN GORE. the founder of StokeScreen Film Club, with his latest pick of the movies coming to TV (from Saturday, Dec 12)

I would be reluctant to distract you from decking your hall with gaudy baubles, chasing down the parcels that the computer insists have been delivered or, for the old school, negotiating the scrum of high street shops while staying socially distanced. You will be in need of R&R with on-screen entertainment (and a frequently refilled glass). I will do my best to find you something to lift the spirits and stir the grey matter.

Let’s begin with a couple of StokeScreen favourites which you have probably seen but can share with friends and family. Hopefully, they won’t precipitate the First Row of Christmas (my true love said to me....).

Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water 2017 (Channel 4 21.30 Sat 12 Dec) pictured above, finds Sally Hawkins playing a woman who is mute. Working as a cleaner in a science establishment she discovers secret research on an alien aquatic creature whom she befriends and liberates. This is an eloquent parable of humanity and acceptance set against a meticulously designed and realised ominous 1950s institution. Del Toro’s brand of magical realism injects a real depth of feeling to a fantastical story.

The other winner is Their Finest 2016 (BBC2 00.30 Wed 16 Dec) in which doughty Gemma Arterton, wife from the Valleys, is enlisted into a wartime film unit, writing dialogue ‘of an uplifting nature’ for propagandist films. A tale of self-realisation and empowerment, it also delights in acutely accurate pastiche of the films of that era.

I know that we have been over this turf before but there is a sympathetic seam of quirky and sharply observed comedies in the week running into Festive Mayhem proper.

What We Did on our Holidays 2014 (BBC1 00.15 Thu 18 Dec) brings Outnumbered to the big screen with David Tennant, Rosamund Pike and Billy Connolly (on majestically rascally form) taking over as beleaguered parents, and wayward, disruptive grandfather. This received a very warm reception from some readers when it was last shown on TV.

Add to this, Alan Bennett’s autobiographical The Lady in the Van 2015 (BBC4 21.00 Mon 14 Dec) in which Dame Maggie Smith thoroughly enjoys the role of the rather unsavoury and long term guest who parks her van/home on Alan’s drive and wreaks havoc in his daily life. Alex Jennings, a contemporary of mine at Warwick, plays Alan Bennett.

A perennial favourite, Local Hero 1983 (Film4 01.10 Sun 13 Dec) evokes the spirit of Ealing comedies. Peter Riegert, eager to impress, arrives in a picturesque Scottish fishing village to survey it for potential development as a port to service oil rigs in the North Sea. Enter Burt Lancaster as his big boss from Texas, an avid astronomer, awestruck by the clarity of the heavens from which the magic is woven. A cast of favourite Scottish character actors including Dennis Lawson and Peter Capaldi are gifted with a great script and direction by Bill Forsyth. The film also boasts a memorable soundtrack by Mark Knopfler.

Finding your Feet 2017 (Film4 21.00 Thu 17 Dec) is a light and fluffy comedy with an ensemble cast of beloved Brits including Celia Imrie, Imelda Staunton, Timothy Spall and Joanna Lumley. It's about finding love in later life through a dance class and although there is but one original thought in it, there's plenty of charm and good humour. The finale bears very close resemblance to a scene that I imagined and described to director Richard Loncraine shortly before the film came out, of a slow chase involving a narrow boat and an equally pedestrian vehicle. It must be pure coincidence!

If you are looking for something with a bit more grit, Gurinder Chada’s Viceroy’s House 2017 (BBC2 00.30 Tue 15 Dec), recounting the last days of the Raj from a uniquely Anglo-Indian perspective. Earl Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville) receives a remarkably sympathetic representation amid the carnage of Partition.

Two pairs of British dramas: the remake of the Thomas Hardy novel, Far from the Madding Crowd 2015 (BBC4 22.00 Thu 17 Dec) presents Bathsheba as a far more self-assured and capable young woman than Julie Christie's 1967 version. Carey Mulligan leads the cast here and also in An Education 2009 (BBC2 00.30 Fri 18 Dec), journalist Lynn Barber’s autobiography, which is about a young woman’s coming of age and awareness in the London of the early 1960s. Both of these quintessentially English movies were made by Scandinavian directors, Lone Scherfig and Tomas Vinterberg.

The second pair is of Oscar Wilde stories. Oliver Parker’s classic version of The Importance of Being Earnest 2002 (BBC2 14.45 Fri 18 Dec) boasts a stellar cast led by Rupert Everett, Colin Firth and Judi Dench. This is followed by The Happy Prince 2018 (BBC2 21.00 Fri 18 Dec), a biography of Oscar leading up to his stretch in Reading gaol and following his release, reflecting on happier times as he adjusts to his reduced circumstances. Directed by and starring Rupert Everett with Colin Firth, again, and another galaxy of familiar British thesps, it has a bitter sweet quality.

For those of us with time on our hands, there is a chance to see Francis Copolla’s epic masterpiece, The Godfather 1972 (BBC2 22.20 Sun 13 Dec), part one of the account of the Corleone crime dynasty with Marlon Brando in incomparable mumbling form. It came to define cinema in the seventies. It was also my idea of a date movie, being the first time that Harriet and I went out together. Astonishingly, there was a second date. Just to show that it had not been a mistake and that she knew what she was letting herself in for, a couple of weeks later, I took her to see A Clockwork Orange! And so, dear reader, I married her.

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s cycle of films are getting heavy rotation on Film4, if only in the wee small hours. I have been delighted to receive very warm feedback about his movies, so I know that this is not just my perverse taste. Shoplifters 2019 (Channel 4 01.05 Wed 16 Dec) is an affecting tale of a modern day Oliver Twist which is as good a place to start as any.

It’s coming on Christmas, so there will be, inevitably, a screening of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (Film4 15.15. Fri 18 Dec) with James Stewart as the Depression-era everyman, George Bailey. I loathe this mawkish manipulation with a passion but recognise that many people - most people - adore it and regard it as an essential part of the Christmas festivities. If you want me, I shall be in the shed. Gawd bless us, one and all!

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 website: www.StokeScreen.uk