What's it all about? Find out with 60s classic, Alfie!
JOHN GORE, founder of StokeScreen Film Club, with his pick of the films coming to TV (from Saturday, August 28).
His name is Michael Caine. He has been with us since the 1960s and is one of the faces and, yes, fashion icons of the era. I was first aware of him in The Ipcress File where, as Len Deighton’s hero agent, Harry Palmer, he brought a bit of East End rough diamond to the gentlemanly art of spying. At the opening of the film, Palmer is seen in one of those new fangled supermarkets, pushing a dinky trolley round and gathering gourmet goods to cook. Yes, a man without an Oxford accent who cooks! Revolution! Welcome the New Age.
The second in the cycle of Harry Palmer Cold War films, Funeral in Berlin 1966 (GMC 18.45 Sun 29 Aug) in which ‘Arry is sent to aid a Soviet general defecting to the West, only to discover that the mission is not that straightforward. Caine at his most iconic is probably to be found in Alfie! 1966 (GMC 21.00 Fri 3 Sep) pictured above with co-star Jane Asher. In the title role he gets to articulate the changing attitudes towards sex, marriage and pregnancy outside marriage. And sex of course. Did I mention that? Alfie! Has a great soundtrack provided by Sonny Rollins, by the way, beyond the Bacharach and David title song that we all know.
We got to see the adventurer in Caine in Zulu and The Man Who Would be King, and then the graduation to elder, rather dissolute statesman in the likes in Educating Rita and some shocking drivel. Of Jaws 3, he reportedly said, ‘No, I have not seen it but I have seen the house it bought!’ There are also some deeply embarrassing leading man roles where he enchants leading ladies younger than his nieces! It was with a return to the cloak and dagger stuff in the Graham Greene adaptation, The Quiet American that we got to see him give a more mature performance once more.
On the Basis of Sex 2018 (BBC2 22.00 Mon 30 Aug) is one of those films that I have been wanting to see since it came out. It barely bothered the screens in this area. It is the story of the early years of Ruth Bader Ginsberg as student and campaigning lawyer for equal rights from the 1950s to the 1970s, before she was appointed to the Supreme Court. Brit Felicity Jones gets to play the American icon full of passion and drive. She is always worth watching and does her subject proud.
On the subject of riveting performances, there is a chance to see Jane Horrocks in Little Voice 1998 (5Star 16.40 Sat 28 Aug) as the singer with a startling capacity to sound like Judy Garland, Shirley Bassey, Billie Holiday and the torch song greats. In this, she is supported by, ooh! Michael Caine in splendidly seedy and dissolute form, giving, if memory serves me, a wonderfully desperate version of Roy Orbison’s It’s Over.
Another fine performance comes from Julianne Moore in Gloria Bell 2018 (BBC2 23.15 Wed 1 Sept). This is an English language remake of the Chilean movie by Sebastian Lelio. Transposed from Santiago to LA and made glossier, it is a study of looking for love in later life for a vivacious 50 something. I still prefer the original but Julianne Moore is such a compelling actor that she imbues her character with a depth which the script, perhaps, skims a little.
On Saturday, a pair of ‘teen’ movies from the 90s stand out and resonate far beyond that target group. Clueless 1995 (Channel 5 15.05 Sat 28 Aug) is a deft updating of Jane Austen’s Emma with Alicia Silverstone as the ham-fisted high school match maker in the midst of mall culture. Amy Heckerling directs and draws wit and sparkle from her young cast. Then, later, Election 1999 (BBC2 23.45 Sat 28 Aug) has Reese Witherspoon as the ambitious student standing for election as her school president. Played beautifully, her character, Cher Horowitz, has political instinct and quickness of wit that are clearly highly developed as she strives ‘by any means necessary’ to win the race. It is rich in irony and observation of our uncertain time.
Force Majeure 2014 (Film4 01.35 Fri 3 Sept) is a brilliant work of irony and tragedy. A family holidaying in the Alps is stuck in their hotel as an avalanche hits. The isolation and chance encounters with other guests exert pressure on the fault lines of their marriage and sets them re-evaluating their lives. This was one of my films of the year in 2014. It manages that difficult balance between the uncomfortable and the mesmeric, underpinned with a wicked sense of humour.
There was good feedback on Peanut Butter Falcon 2019 (BBC2 00.05 Sat 4 Sept) when it screened last week, about the boy with Down’s Syndrome who aspires to be a wrestler, so if you missed it then, here is a chance for you to set the recorder to catch it this time and play it when right minded folk are properly awake. This is also available on iPlayer, I am reliably informed.
I grew up reading Rosemary Sutcliffe’s historical novels and wondering why they had not found their way on to the screen and then in 2011, The Eagle of the Ninth was produced as The Eagle (Film4 18.45 Wed 1 Sept) with Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot). Directed by Kevin MacDonald (The Last King of Scotland, Touching the Void) I think I expected rather more of it, perhaps the shellac of youthful exuberance has glazed it in such a way that it was not quite as I remember it. This is still good family viewing, a tale of sword and sandals in Roman Britain. A young officer seeks the lost emblem of his father’s mysteriously disappeared legion to return it and the honour that it bestows upon the regiment.
Papadopoulos and Sons 2012 (BBC1 00.25 Mon 30 Aug) crops up from time to time. This is succinctly described as a Riches to Rags story where a London Greek entrepreneur is bankrupted by a financial crash and has to return to the family chip shop. Stephen Dillane (Game of Thrones, The Crown) plays the title character in a film which gives a touching insight into a lesser acknowledged community.
Finally, this week, we have a trio of Hitchcock films: The 39 Steps 1935 (BBC2 14.20 Mon 30 Aug) is an adaptation of John Buchan’s spy thriller, starring Richard Donat, and is probably Hitchcock’s best British movie. This is followed immediately by To Catch a Thief 1955 (BBC2 15.40 Mon 30 Aug) in which jewel thief Cary Grant is eyeing up Grace Kelly for more than her mere baubles on the Riviera. Then, there is Suspicion 1941 (BBC2 14.30 Tue 31 Aug) in which Joan Fontaine is living in fear that her husband, that ne’er-do-well, Cary Grant again, is trying to bump her off. Neither of the latter two is among Hitch's best but he is never less than the consummate story teller.
A reminder: StokeScreen will be stoking the boiler on our projector for our resumption of the 2020 programme on Thursday, 23 Sept at 19.30. I, for one, shall be overjoyed to see you all.
Another reminder: Sunday is Community Fun Day at Stoke Green Park, from 12.00 to 16.30. StokeScreen will be there, greeting the faithful and evangelising. We would love to have your company, too.
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