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Silliness, drama,'s all on the TV menu

JOHN GORE, founder of StokeScreen Film Club, with his pick of the TV films of the week (from Nov 1).

November. I think I managed to lose a day in October last week, so anxious was I to put the month behind us.

So perhaps we need to start with something silly. The Pirates: an Adventure with Scientists (ITV2 15.10 Sun I Nov) pictured above, would fit that description adequately. Hatched from the fertile and frivolous imagination of Aardman Animation and involving neither Wallace nor Gromit, this is the account of an inept pirate captain and his incompetent crew aspiring to be voted Pirate Captain of the year. Meanwhile, they find themselves engaged in bringing back Charles Darwin from his latest scientific expedition. As is often the case with Aardman, it will have younger members of the family in fits of giggles but will also have plenty of knowing silliness to entertain the older members of the household.

The Children Act (BBC2 21.45 Mon 2 Nov) is an adaptation of the novel by Ian McEwan about a judge having to rule on a case involving the son of a Jehovah’s Witness who requires a blood transfusion to save his life. This is proscribed by his parent’s faith. All this against the backdrop of a disintegrating marriage, proving that life is never simple. Emma Thompson drives the drama as Judge Fiona Maye, ably assisted by Stanley Tucci (Spotlight, The Hunger Games) as her departing husband. Based on an actual case, this is compelling and illuminating stuff.

BBC2 is running a season of new British movies by emerging film makers at prime time on a Saturday night. Congratulate them. These are the kinds of films, like Apostasy last week, which would be ignored by the multiplexes and have limited exposure in independent screens. Make Up (BBC2 21.45 Sat 31 Oct) is one such: A tale of a young woman on a deserted campsite on the one of the more remote parts of the Cornish coast. This is a coming of age story where much of the drama is internal, fuelling doubt and fear. I have not seen the film but it is one that would have caught my eye at a festival. It is the work of first time feature director Claire Oakley and was due to have theatrical release in July this year, deep in the heart of Lockdown.

There is a teenage tale from a very different perspective in Our Little Sister (BBC2 01.00 Sun 1 Nov), in which three Japanese sisters discover the existence of a younger half sister. This is the account of how they find out who she is and how she fits into her new family. Sweet, gentle and acutely perceptive, it is made by one of my very favourite directors, Hirokazu Kore-eda and will sweep you up in its emotional thrall.

In marked contrast, the other notable Japanese presentation this week is Brother (Film4 01.40 Tue 3 Nov). This is the work of Takeshi Kitano, master of highly choreographed violence which transcends its horrific content by sheer grace and invention. This guy taught Tarantino a lot. In this tale, a yakuza (gangster) relocates to Los Angeles to link up with his brother and his modest ‘outfit’ to show them how it’s done. Quite apart from the brutal elegance of the story, it revels in a rather wonderful jazz score. This is a movie that will take you places you have not been before.

Remade from the Japanese (normally grounds for sighs and eye-rolling) the American retelling of the chilling The Ring (BBC1 0035 Sun 1 Nov) stars Naomi Watts as the journalist investigating an apparently murderous videotape or psychic phenomenon. Directed by Gore Verbinsky before he generated the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, it is far better than might be expected.

My Pure Land (Channel 4 02.10 Wed 4 Nov) is interesting. It is a British financed film shot in Pakistan about three women who are determined to hold on to their land in the face of the armed men who would take it from them. I think that this was festival viewing three years ago but I don’t recall it venturing on to the big screen nationally.

The Homesman (BBC1 23.30 Fri 6 Nov) is, on the face of it, a western that has been taken for a walk in an unfamiliar neighbourhood. Apart from being director, Tommy Lee Jones is the title character saved from hanging to escort a trio of disillusioned frontierswomen back East. It may look like a western but is heading in the opposite direction and the Homesman’s charges are far from helpless females. Here is defiant frontier spirit viewed from the perspective of our own times.

Child 44 (Film4 01.00 Thu 5 Nov) is another curiosity. We are in recognisable EuroNoir territory as Tom Hardy plays a disgraced Russian military police officer who is appointed to investigate a series of child murders in a very chilly and grey environment. Not a lot of larfs here but Noomy Rapace and Gary Oldman for company may lift the spirits.

Catch up with the classics: The French Connection (Sony 22.50 Wed 4 Nov) can still set the pulse racing with one of the all-time classic car chases and Blue Velvet (Film4 22.45 Sun 1 Nov), David Lynch’s icon of weirdness and sinister goings-on behind the picket fences of suburbia still has the capacity to shock and unsettle. Roy Orbison has never sounded the same since!

Stepping further back in time, Orson Welles’ classic film noir The Lady from Shanghai (Sony Movies 09.35 Mon 2 Nov) culminates in the incomparable shoot-out in the Hall of Mirrors in an unapologetic outburst of Expressionism. Stanley Kubrick’s breakthrough movie, the fiercely anti-war The Paths of Glory (BBC2 01.00 Sat 7 Nov) brought him together with Kirk Douglas with whom he went on to make Spartacus. Douglas plays the poilu (French infantryman) accused of cowardice for not leading his men on a suicidal and pointless mission. Kubrick was fiercely anti-war as is demonstrated by Dr Strangelove and Full Metal Jacket. The Paths of Glory was made at the height of the Cold War, in 1957.

Talking Pictures TV is offering All in Good Fun (TPTV 02.15 Sat 7 Nov) which is a portfolio of classic silent comic clips introduced by Bob Monkhouse, circa 1955. Chaplin, Mack Sennett and the Keystone Cops are here in the company of a galaxy of now long-forgotten British stars of the silent era. Monkhouse disliked his game-show persona as much as any of us but remained a walking encyclopaedia of stage and screen comedy.

Blithe Spirit (Film4 10.50 Fri 6 Nov) is Noel Coward’s classic comedy in which Rex Harrison and Constance Cummings are haunted by the ghost of his former wife. Enter medium Madame Arcati (Margaret Rutherford) in sublime form to solve the problem or manufacture further confusion. David Lean provides the play with the film adaptation it deserves and as one critic puts it, ‘Never has a film about death been so funny’. Its further advantage is that you do not have to be insomniac to watch it at the scheduled time, which is more than can be said for most of the rest of this week’s choices. Sorry, but you will just have to master the recording device, or seek these titles on catch-up TV Apps.

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


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