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Steve Martin's Roxanne wins by a nose


JOHN GORE, founder of StokeScreen Film Club, with his latest pick of the films coming to TV (from Saturday, February 13).

First of all, I would like to say how flattered I am by the positive comments I have received from you appreciating the weekly opinionated musings on the forthcoming film fare on your screens. I love you all dearly which, as it is Valentine’s weekend, saves me a fortune in cards at the expense of abandoning anonymity. XX

I don’t normally draw attention to those heroes of film that have recently shuffled off this mortal coil but I will make an exception this week by way of a heads up, should any enterprising programmer decide to raid the archives for a season of films.

Jean Claude Carriere was one of the greatest screenwriters ever. His credits include The Return of Martin Guerre (or Somersby), Belle de Jour (and most of Bunuel’s best work), The Tin Drum, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and Cyrano de Bergerac.

Cyrano is one of the classic romantic heroes: the poetic chevalier with a whopping conk who stands in for a fumbling, tongue-tied youth and courts the beautiful Roxanne by proxy. Cue intro to selection of romantic films for the week: Roxanne 1987 (Sony Classics 23.30 Mon 15 Feb) is Steve Martin’s adaptation of the same play transposed to Middle America in the 1980s. Martin (pictured above) also plays the lead and sparkles as the town fire chief who with wit and panache, woos the lovely Roxanne (Daryl Hannah). This is probably Martin’s finest hour and forty seven minutes, featuring, as it does a virtuoso display of insults targeted at himself.

Also on the list is Sliding Doors 1997 (BBC1 23.20 Sat 13 Feb) which the Radio Times describes as a romantic fantasy (tautology, surely?!) of time travel with Gwyneth Paltrow and a flustered John Hannah. It has very little new to say, (which of us has?) but says it in a beguiling way.

Beautiful Thing 1995 (Film4 23.20 Wed 17 Feb) was a relatively ground breaking movie from Film Four, bringing gay teenage romance into the mainstream. Set in the council flats of ‘Sarf Lundun’, it boasts some charmingly unaffected performances and an inspired use of songs by the Mamas and Papas on the soundtrack.

Love, Simon 2018 (Film4 21.00 Sun 14 Feb) I have not yet seen but it is a coming out story some 20 years later in America where, seemingly, people are still so much more easily shocked.

If your taste is for something with a European flavour, then Blue is the Warmest Colour 2013 (Film4 23.20 Tue 16 Feb) graphically recounts the torrid affair of Emma and Adele (Léa Séydoux and Adele Exachopolos) over the course of three hours.

If you prefer a classic romance, Michael Powell’s evergreen (but in black and white) A Matter of Life and Death 1946 (BBC2 00.55 Sun 14 Feb) finds David Niven as the doomed bomber pilot offered a second chance at life.

Not strictly a romance but certainly the outstanding film of the week is A Fantastic Woman 2017 (Film4 01.35 Mon 15 Feb) about a transgender club singer in Santiago, trying to get over the loss of her boyfriend. It is directed by Sebastian Lelio, one of the best directors we have at present. This has been on my short list for StokeScreen for some time.

If your preference is for a musical then you will probably enjoy Gentlemen Prefer Blondes 1953 (Film4 14.45 Fri 19 Feb). Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell are showgirls who go to Paris pursued by a private eye. They get to wear outrageous frocks and sing Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend. It is all mixed to perfection with a mischievous twinkle by the incomparable Howard Hawks (Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday, The Big Sleep and many of the films in my all time Top 100).

Less immediately glam (but probably no less camp) is Chicago 2002 (Channel5 22.55 Sat 13 Feb). Renée Zellweger is Roxie Hart, and Catherine Zeta Jones is Velma Kelly, competing for the attention of the press on Death Row while a slippery lawyer (more tautology), Richard Gere, on terrific form, tries to help them to help himself. Kander and Ebb (Cabaret) wrote the musical, with a little help from the great choreographer and director, Bob Fosse. It looks pretty good, too.

Three stories of Germany in WW2 make their cases for resistance and retaliation. Alone in Berlin 2016 (Film4 23.20 Thu 18 Feb) is a low-key tale of the parents (Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson) of a young soldier killed in action, who take to clandestine leafleting of the streets around their home in Berlin. This high risk strategy aims to draw attention to the Nazis’ abuses. Daniel Bruhl (Goodbye Lenin) is the police inspector charged with tracking down these traitors.

Valkyrie 2008 (Film4 21.00 Thu 18 Feb) is an account of the attempt on the life of the Fuhrer by Klaus on Staffenberg (Tom Cruise). Bryan Singer assembled a strong cast of supporting Brits, including Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Wilkinson, Terence Stamp and Eddie Izzard. The element of suspense is rather less than it might be because we know the outcome, but the build-up is quite tense.

The Book Thief 2014 (Film4 18.25 Fri 19 Feb) in which young Liesel (Sophie Nélisse) finds solace from the horrors of war, ‘borrowing’ books from the local army commander, to read to a Jewish refugee hiding in her basement. Emily Watson and Geoffrey Rush play the discreet but supportive and courageous parents.

Another unknown quantity is The Little Stranger 2018 (Channel4 21.00 Sat 13 Feb), a ghost story. A doctor (Domhnall Gleeson) is called to attend to young Roderick (Will Poulter) when strange things begin to happen. There should surely be no surprise here as the rest of the cast includes Ruth Wilson, Charlotte Rampling and a cluster of earnest, but frankly, scary looking folk.

Stan and Ollie 2019 (BBC1 20.25 Fri 19 Feb) are brought vividly to life by the inspired casting of John C Reilly (Chicago, Guardians of the Galaxy) and Steve Coogan, touring the fag-end of the British music halls in the 1950s, trying to rediscover their spark. Coogan is another actor best known for his comedy roles, but clearly equally capable of playing it straight.

Classic of the week that I would recommend is Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai 1948 (Sony Classics 10.35 Thu 18 Feb). Welles plays a less than worldly sailor on shore leave, obsessed by Rita Hayworth (natch) who draws him into a web if intrigue and murder, of course. This is classic film noir of corruption and perversion which culminates in one of the great set pieces of cinema: a shoot-out in the Hall of Mirrors.

Speaking of corruption and perversity, The Riot Club 2014 (Film4 00.55 Tue 16 Feb) recounts one night, among many, in which the club meets to carouse and indulge to excess. Filthy Rich and Spoilt Rotten, these Oxford undergrads are led by Sam Clafin and Max Irons. Danish director Lone Scherfig (An Education, Their Finest) casts her outsider’s eye over the British establishment again. These boys may be thoroughly despicable but they are electable, right?!

To conclude, we have a couple of Scandinavian comedies. Britt Marie Was Here 2019 (BBC4 22.00 Sun 14 Feb) tells of a 63-year-old woman who walks out on a 40-year marriage and takes up residence in the small town of Borg where the one claim on self respect is the young football team. They need a coach, Britt Marie needs a purpose, and someone to boss about. It is a match made in heaven, in spite of BM knowing nothing about football.

We Are the Best 2013 (Channel4 01.05 Sat 20 Feb) follows the formation and flourishing of an all girl punk band in suburban Stockholm. All but one knows nothing about music but that is not going to diminish their enthusiasm or help them to develop any such impediment as tact. This is a fresh face of the teen movie and has been sitting on the ‘possible’ list for StokeScreen for a while.

If you have Sky, you might like to look out for Searching for Sugarman 2011 (21.00 Tue 16 Feb), a charming tale of a singer from the 1960s, Rodriguez, rescued from oblivion by a couple of South Africans. Forgotten by the rest of the world, Rodriguez held a revered place as a voice of freedom in the time of apartheid. He had spent 40 years as a janitor and has an awe-inspiring selfless nature. This is charming and good for the soul.