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Spine-tinglers to watch from behind the sofa

JOHN GORE, founder of StokeScreen Film Club, with his latest pick of the films coming to TV (from Saturday, April 24).

Here I sit, on Shakespeare’s birthday, writing about film once more and hoping to direct you towards something rich and strange (that is not a politician). Nary a Shakespearean saga on screen to be seen. We do, however, have a bundle of rarer movies surfacing from the bottom of the sack and some scarier stuff which, though it may not be your usual preference, is worth the look, even if it is from behind the sofa.

The 1978 Oscar winner, Julia 1977 (Talking Pictures TV 18.50 Sat 24 April) finds Jane Fonda (pictured above with co-star Vanessa Redgrave) in sublime form as playwright Lillian Hellman being sent on a perilous, clandestine mission to Nazi Germany in the years before the outbreak of war, to deliver funds to those who resist Hitler. Her lover, the novelist, Dashiel Hammett (Jason Robards) remains blissfully ignorant of what she is doing. Directed by Fred Zinnemann (High Noon), this is a gripping and nuanced story which has not been shown for a long time. I am looking forward to catching up with it (especially as I spent several weeks trying to track down a print to screen for a film talk!)

Subject of some discussion last week was Philomena by Stephen Frears. His most successful film, Dangerous Liaisons 1988 (BBC2 23.55 Sun 25 April), adapted from the play by Choderlos de Laclos for stage, and later the screen by Christopher Hampton, it is set in pre-revolutionary France. It is a study of sex as power among royal courtiers. John Malkovich plays Valmont the notorious philanderer, Glenn Close, the Marquise, and Michelle Pfeiffer as the apparently innocent Mme de Tourvel. Beneath the posh frocks and coats lies a mass of seething fear and loathing, directed with relish by Frears.

This play has been filmed on a number of occasions. At the same time that Dangerous Liaisons was gathering awards, Milos Forman’s Valmont with Colin Firth and Annette Bening, was gathering dust, awaiting a more propitious time for release. It is also rather good - as is the stunningly beautiful Untold Scandal, a Korean adaptation which fits perfectly into the context of the 18th century Korean court. Cruel Intentions, Roger Kumble’s 1999 adaptation set in a Manhattan prep school, with Ryan Philippe, Reese Withespoon and Sarah Michelle Gellar, also works in a very slick way.

Another adaptation of a French classic is Gemma Bovary 2014 (Film4 01.25 Thu 29 April), a genuine Anglo-French co-production. The film brings disaffected provincial housewife (Gemma Arterton) into the present day. She and her husband, Jason Flemyng, have moved into a rundown cottage in rural Normandy where she becomes distracted by the local male scenery. The chemist (the ever engaging Fabrice Luchini) observes events as though Flaubert’s tale is being retold before his eyes, with suitable irony. The cast succeeds in switching back and forth between English and French effortlessly.

There was a lot of critical chatter about Ray and Liz 2018 (Film4 23.20 Mon 26 April) when it was released. Set around Birmingham, it is photographer Richard Billingham’s dramatised account of returning home to confront and then reconcile with his parents. It’s not pretty but it speaks to more than just the members of that family and it gained Billingham a BAFTA nomination.

After that, you might be grateful for a little light relief and there is a fair smattering of that available.

Time Bandits 1981 (Film4 13.10 Sun 25 April) is one of Terry Gilliam’s finest fantasies which finds a young lad included in a band of time-travelling dwarves, encountering eminent figures from the past. Michael Palin clearly delighted in the absurdity of what he was writing.

 Later that day, Galaxy Quest 1999 (ITV4 18.50 Sun 25 April) gleefully parodies Star Trek. Our beloved TV heroes are mistaken for the real deal by extraterrestrials in trouble and enlisted to rescue them from oppressive invaders. Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver and Tim Allen relish their roles and the whole thing is a delight however often you see it.

It Should Happen to You 1954 (Sony Classics 17.20 Mon 26 April) came as a pleasant surprise. Judy Holliday’s character hires a billboard in New York to make herself famous, much to the horror of would-be lover, a very young Jack Lemmon. This is a study of celebrity from 1954 and way ahead of its time.

Enough Said 2013 (Channel4 00.55 Thu 29 April) was James Gandalfini’s (The Sopranos) last film. It is a teasing tale of love in later life with Julia Louis-Dreyfuss (Veep) and Catherine Keener (Get Out) and a pocketful of irony.

One Fine Day 1996 (Sony Movies 18.50 Fri 30 April) is a romcom for our times: light, socially conscious and digitally connected. It concerns exes, George Clooney and Michelle Pfeiffer, and what happens to their kids when dad has to look after them while still being at work.

 Last week Babe 1995, (ITV 13.45 Sun 25 April) was overtaken by matters of greater solemnity but you can catch up with it this weekend followed the same afternoon by the classic Great Escape movie, Chicken Run (ITV2 17.30 Sun 25 April). This is Aardman’s inspired animation with a great voice cast including Celia Imre, Imelda Staunton and Jane Horrocks, but featuring Julia Sawahla (Absolutely Fabulous). Who would guess that such an innocent sounding voice could have one of the filthiest laughs I have ever heard?!!

Finally, I have a clutch of scarier offerings with which to tingle your spine and wrap you in suspense. When it came out, Blair Witch Project (BBC1 23.35 Fri 30 April) was groundbreaking. This is the original ‘found footage’ horror movie. Celebrating the ease of use and availability of video equipment, it reveals the evidence of strange goings on in the woods as captured by a trio of students. We are left to piece together the truth. I was honoured to host a student press conference for this film, giving it one of the first screenings in the UK. Afterwards, the directors, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, and I were whisked away in a limo to have dinner at a suitably Gothic Coombe Abbey. The guys would probably have been happier with a burger and an early night, but I had a great time!

I find The Descent 2005 (Film4 23.25 Sun 25 April) even more engrossing. It relates the tale of a group of young women potholers. All runs fairly smoothly until ‘something wicked this way comes’. These women are not your clichéd horror movie victims. They fight back. It is a simple pretext but expertly executed by Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers) and featuring MyAnna Buring (Official Secrets, Ripper Street).

127 Hours 2011 (Film4 01.30 Fri 30 April) is less fantastic but still finds its protagonist literally caught between a rock and a hard place. Mountaineer Aron (James Franco) comes a cropper climbing in the wilderness and is stuck there for, well, five days, having to make some life and death decisions. Danny Boyle ramps up the tension so that you feel the anguish with Aron. Six Oscar nominations followed.

And then there is Scribe 2016 (Film4 01.30 Fri 30 April), which, I know, I have banged on about before but which remains splendidly edgy. Out of work Francois Cluzet (Intouchable) is employed to transcribe phone conversations for an agency but then finds himself pitched into political subterfuge and actual physical danger. It could keep you up all night – but then, it starts at 01.30 am....

Sweet Dreams.

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