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Timely movies to mark Black History Month

JOHN GORE, founder of StokeScreen Film Club, with his pick of the films coming to TV (from October 18).

October is Black History Month and among an intriguing selection of documentaries and dramas, there

are a number of films that explore aspects of life from a black perspective or featuring prominent black artists.

Detroit (BBC 2, 22.00, Sun, 18 Oct) is uncomfortably timely, even though it is referring to civil unrest in that city in 1967. The action revolves around the activities of a group of corrupt police officers and the impact that has on black individuals and the community in general. John Boyega (Star Wars) plays a security guard who tries to keep the peace between police and residents while events descend into a riot. The film succeeds in putting a human face on explosive news coverage and gives a sense of how the actions of a corrupt few lead to larger catastrophe.

StokeScreen favourite, Hidden Figures (Film 4, 21.00, Thu, 22 Oct) about the trio of black women mathematicians (pictured above) who played key roles for NASA in the early days of the space race, is scheduled again, as is Belle (Film 4, 21.00, Wed 21), Amma Assante’s Jane Austenesque tale of the mixed race daughter of an English plantation owner who is brought into 18th century English society under the guardianship of the Lord Chief Justice. Girls Trip (Film 4, 22.50, Fri, 23 Oct) delivers a rather less reverential take on the black female experience as Regina Hall and Queen Latifah lead the cast of this Bridesmaids’ style celebration of sisterhood and temporary abandon.

As for the boys, Denzel Washington is in imperious form as the old-school radical lawyer Roman J Israel (Channel 4, 23.50, Sat, 17 Oct) and again as the inflexible patriarch of the adaptation of August Wilson’s stage play Fences (Film 4, 21.00, Mon, 19 Oct), alongside Viola Davis (Hidden Figures). We are in Henry Miller territory here, loss and regret which the father does not want to see repeated for his son (Jovan Adepo) and struggling against the changes afoot in the 1950s.

Morgan Freeman features as forensic psychologist Alex Cross in two contemporary police thrillers, Along Came a Spider (Film 4, 01.35, Mon, 19 Oct) and Kiss the Girls (Film 4, 23.20, Sun, 18 Oct). Even comedy channel Dave makes a contribution (of sorts) by screening Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown (Dave, 21.00, Fri 23, Oct), an homage to the ‘Blaxploitation’ movies of the 1970s starring Pam Grier and Mr Freeman, once again.

The late and much lamented Chadwick Boseman gives his career defining performance as James Brown in Get On Up (Channel 4, 22.30, Fri, 23 Oct), the biopic of the Godfather of Soul. This has been complemented by a series of programmes on BBC4, Soul America, which recounts the social and political developments in Black America from the 1960s to the 1980s. It is still available on BBC iPlayer.

Music documentary of a parallel period, the story of Blue Note Records (BBC 4, 22.20, Fri, 23 Oct) recounts how a German immigrant, Alfred Lion, came to New York and established one of the iconic jazz record labels, presenting the finest work of a host of jazz stars from the 1940s and establishing a style and standard of recording that was quite unprecedented. Artists include Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Thelonious Monk.

The other documentary to look out for is I am Not Your Negro (BBC 4, 23.05, Tue, 20 Oct) which charts the life and work of the writer, James Baldwin. A man of great eloquence and insight whose views are still relevant today.

Not to be confused with all of this in any way is The Woman in Black (Horror, 22.50, Wed, 21 Oct), written by Coventry’s own Susan Hill and starring Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe, it is less horror and more a chilling ghost story of the old school. There is also an outing for Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (BBC 2, 21.15, Sat, 17 Oct) with Jack Nicholson gurning and emoting his way into caricature alongside Shelley Duvall. I came to this film late – about six years ago. Having read much about it and seen it rate highly on critics’ lists, I must confess, it left me unmoved and my spine singularly untingled.

Anther major disappointment of the week includes the execrable panto that is Julian Fellowes’ take on Romeo and Juliet (BBC 2, 13.00, Sat, 17 Oct). If you were looking for a convenient time to worm the cat, this would be it.

Before Julian Fellowes sanitised the image of the British aristocracy in Downton Abbey, a far more thoughtful and questioning portrait was made by James Ivory in The Remains of the Day (Sony Movies 18.20, Fri, 23 Oct). Adapted from the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro by Ivory’s regular screenwriter, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, it is the view of our social betters from below stairs. Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson give outstanding performances as butler and housekeeper while the crises of loyalty simmer among the toffs in the days before the outbreak of World War Two.

While we are on the subject of award winning performances, The Theory of Everything (Sony Movies 15.00, Sun, 18 Oct) finds Eddie Redmayne giving an extraordinary impression of Stephen Hawking, admirably assisted by the equally impressive Felicity Jones as his missus, Mary.

Oh yes, and Tom Hardy is back in the StokeScreen favourite Locke (Channel 4, 02.50, Thu, 22 Oct) - as breathtaking a solo performance as you are likely to witness.

Western of the Week would probably be She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (BBC 2, 14.35, Sun,18 Oct) or again on BBC 4, 20.00, Thu, 22 Oct – so you will know how significant a piece of cinema history this is! John Ford’s classic cavalry western with John Wayne (who else?) in the saddle, rescuing a damsel in distress from marauding native Americans in the wake of Little Big Horn. There is also Tin Star (Film 4, 12.50, Thu, 22 Oct), an Anthony Mann Western from 1957 in which the jaded bounty hunter, Henry Fonda, mentors rookie sheriff Anthony Perkins. I have not seen it but the credentials are good and late 50s/early 60s westerns frequently carry an interesting subtext.

Subtext is not something would apply to Carry On – Don’t Lose Your Head (ITV 3, 13.15, Sun 17 Oct) where we find Sid James’ Scarlet Pimpernel eluding Kenneth Williams Citizen Camembert during the Reign of Terror.

Less of a known quantity is Alive and Kicking (Talking Pictures TV, 09.50, Tue, 20 Oct) in which Sybil Thorndyke, Kathleen Harrison and Estelle Winwood go on the run from their retirement home to seek refuge on a remote Irish island.

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