I should be pointing frantically to an intriguing mix of Robert de Niro films this coming week: a staring role and, secondly, his directorial debut. But something else is crawling into my sight lines. And it is this.
Someone has tweaked the old twanger and thrown in a night-by-night string of British gems strewn across the schedules. They are hidden among not only the de Niro jewels but also the usual dross that passes for entertainment on the tv these days (and former days for that matter too.)
So here goes.
SUNDAY: Stay up late tonight (well, 1 am Monday morning) for Lindsay Anderson’s fantasy that changed the lives of a lot of 1960’s middle class revolutionaries. IF (Film4, 1 am) is a comic script about a boarding school where the students run riot and take over the dump. It is a savage depiction of boarding school life (my posh friends tell me) and has Malcolm McDowell as a shaggy headed teenager out to change the system (and probably get out of a lot of homework and studying). It won the Palme d’Or back in the heady days of ’66. Watch out for Arthur Lowe (Mannering from Dad’s Army) as a housemaster as McDowell and pals load up with weapons and, in a great surreal episode, give vent their anger (before going to university, I would think, and becoming RBS bankers). A politician at the time called the movie “an insult to the nation” so, there you go, it must be worth seeing.
MONDAY: Tonight plays host to a Powell/Pressburger dark melodrama. Black Narcissus (More4, 23.25) takes places in the Himalayas located just off the M25 at Pinewood Studios. Getting past that hokeyness, this is a taut take on uptight nuns in India beset by claustrophobia, frustration and the sense of continual conflict. Deborah Kerr stars in this 1947 drama. She’s as cut-glass fragile as ever. She’s ably supported by Flora Robson. It is beautiful to look at, cameraman Jack Cardiff said the lighting and colour was inspired by Dutch painter Vermeer and, separately, a Technoicolor exec said Black Narcuissus was the best example of the colour process he had ever seen.
TUESDAY: Stiffen that lip, bristle that ‘tache, polish those boots because today’s British movie is They Who Dare (Film4, 11.00). Dirk Bogarde and Denholm Elliot head for Greece with not even a tube of sun cream to save the world from the Nazis. I have a soft spot for these type of films made in the fifties, simply because so much of the audience had gone through the nightmare of the Second World War. Director Lewis Milestone is a Russian emigre who turned his hand to the British film industry and pumped out a range of successful movies such as Mutiny on the Bounty and the original Ocean’s 11 with someone called Frances Albert Sinatra. Our very own Bogie (err, Dirk Bogarde) plays the tough commando who has to drop into Greece and destroy airfields. Wave the Jack, dry away a tear for a time when heroes were heroes and pass the powdered milk and retsina.
WEDNESDAY: Another take of the war, but one only Ealing Studios could come up with. Passport to Pimlico (Film4, 11.00) is a joy to watch. Amid the rubble of post-war London, residents of this part of the city discover an old treaty that claims their neighbourhood is indeed not part of Britain but an independent state. Stanley Holloway and Margaret Rutherford lead the war-weary but cheery cast who try to make a quick quid out of border controls, import taxes and all sorts of other fiscal shenanigans which draws a fine line in parodying international relations and the Berlin blockade. This 1949 film is remarkably located amid the ruins of bombed-out London giving, if anything, a startling look at a city still reeling from five years of warfare. It is written by Ealing script magician TEB Clarke who created many magic Ealing comedies that have a permanent place in British film.
THURSDAY: From Ealing wackiness to a heavy number: Bloody Sunday (ITV3 12.15am) This Paul Greengrass movie looks at the still unanswered questions over the Derry shootings back in 1972. It is written and directed by Paul Greengrass who cut his teeth at the late lamented World In Action series for Granada TV. Greengrass, who has gone on to make some exceptional movies (United 93, The Bourne films), looks at protests in the streets of this Northern Irish city that led to 14 deaths after police fired on demonstrators. It took 30 years to make the movie after the event. But if anyone can handle heavyweight drama, it is Greengrass. James Nesbitt, who is from Northern Ireland, stars. Closing credit music is by U2, by the way.
FRIDAY: OK, time to lighten up and, while you’re at it, light one up with Withnail and I (Ch4, 12.30). It may be 27 years old but it still carries well for its age. Bruce Robinson directs this tale of two broke actors (resting, of course) played by Paul McGann and permanently enraged Richard E.Grant. They decide to take a break from their chronic unemployment with a holiday to the sodden Lake District to visit Richard Griffiths’ flamboyant Uncle Monty. It’s all very funny, quick-witted, droll and other adjectives that never convey something simple – funniness and that undefinable something that makes you laugh. The film is based on an unpublished novel by director Robinson. And, as a footnote to British film history, it was produced by Handmade Films which was owned by one George Harrison, ex of the Beatles.