Free films on TV 1/5/21 to 7/5/21


Citizen Kane (1941) is regularly voted the greatest of all films in polls of critics and academics. Its sits at the pinnacle of the canon of film art, but that shouldn’t put anyone off from watching or rewatching it. It is a bold and intelligent piece of social commentary, a dark satire on American values, but it is also an appealing human story.

Certainly it provides plenty of scope for discussion and analysis. There are important foreground issues: money, power, class. There are psychological nuances in the character of Charles Foster Kane: ambition, sex, identity, loyalty, honesty. And of course there are numerous points of technical and aesthetic interest. No-one can ignore the extraordinary look of the film, the European expressionist lighting and framing and the deep focus, deployed by cinematographer Gregg Tolland at the behest of its precocious director Orson Welles (only 24 when he signed his Hollywood contract).

The story, brought to Welles by his writer, Hermann J. Mankiewicz, tells of a poor country boy who unexpectedly inherits a fortune, is removed from his lowly background, buys into the newspaper business, becomes richer and more influential than anyone can imagine, attempts to buy himself into political power and social status, then fails and dies alone. The screenplay is complex, flashing backwards and forwards, but the question the film asks about its central character is simple: why? What drove him? Welles and Mankewiecz open their story with Kane’s mysterious final utterance – “Rosebud” – and then send a newsreel journalist into the plutocrat’s past to discover who, or what, Rosebud might have been. The film is an investigation.

Although it is in part a caricature biography of the monstrous press baron William Randolph Hearst, the film is also a kind of a premature autobiography. Kane is partly Welles, a performer, a lover of the limelight. He invents himself, surrounds himself with props, stooges, women, extravagant scenery and costumes, and sets about making people want him and need him: little people, an audience he can move, inspire and manipulate. He does it through invention: the power of illusion, or lies if you prefer. His few friends, his unfortunate wives, anyone threatening to be a co-star or a collaborator, he undermines, scorns and bullies. And what does he want? He wants to prove himself. He wants to be admired. He’d like to be loved, you feel, but for himself, not for his act. The problem is, he doesn’t know where the act stops and the self begins.

Poor Charles Foster Kane. Poor Orson Welles, who peaked early. Narcissism is a lonely business.

Citizen Kane is on BBC2 this afternoon (1/5) at 14:30. Also on BBC4 on Thursday at 20:00.

World Cinema

For some reason there seems to be nothing of interest on the World Cinema front this week.

Stephen has reminded me that The Killing is back on BBC4 tonight (1/5) at 21:00, starting with Series 1, Episode 1. We don’t normally list TV series, but if you didn’t see it back in 2011 you really should start now. It was the start of the Scandi sensation, a tense police procedural that didn’t treat victims and their families as mere plot devices. Plus it introduced brilliant Sarah Lund and her thick woolly jumper, a Nordic legend in its own right.

Stephen’s Picks

This afternoon (1/5) at 13:30, Film4 has Local Hero (1983). David Puttnam was CFS president until a couple of years ago. At the start of the 1980s he ran the British production company Goldcrest and raised enough cash to make Bill Forsyth’s first big feature, about a Texan oilman who wants to buy a Scottish village and build an oil refinery on top of it. Warner Bros agreed to distribute it, so Puttnam was able to hire Burt Lancaster and Peter Riegert, both Hollywood names. It’s a delightful culture-clash comedy, with an appealing Mark Knopfler score.

On Thursday (6/5) at 22:00, after the repeat of Citizen Kane, BBC4 has The Eyes of Orson Welles (2018). Mark Cousins, the great British film expert, brings us a documentary built around the visual aspects of the director’s work, using his sketches and paintings.

On Friday (7/5) at 22:50, BBC1 has When Harry Met Sally… (1989). Director Rob Reiner and writer Nora Ephron created a near-perfect New York romcom for Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. Sparkling dialogue, winning performances.

Other modern films of interest

Tonight 18:30, 5Star has The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011). A colourful, soft-hearted comedy drama with a cast of veteran British thesps enjoying the romance of  India. At 22:00, BBC2 has David Bowie: Finding Fame (2019), a documentary focusing on the talented Mr Jones’s early struggles up to and including the rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust.

On Sunday (2/5) at 18:00, Sky Arts has I Am Johnny Cash (2015). A career-spanning biography of the Country great, with valuable archive footage padded out with the endorsements of celebrity fans.

On Monday (3/5) at 22:55, Horror has The Disappearance of Alice Creed (2009). A low-budget Manx-shot crime drama, with Gemma Arterton as a rich man’s daughter held for ransom by nasty Eddie Marsan and Martin “Line of Duty” Compston. Arterton insisted on being handcuffed to the bed even when the cameras weren’t rolling, to help her performance (it says here).

On Thursday (6/5) at 23:30, BBC2 has Up in the Air (2009). Rather unusual Jason Reitman comedy about a business executive who travels constantly across America by plane, quite contentedly, landing only to do his job, which is to fire people. George Clooney makes him more appealing than that sounds.

On Friday (7/5) at 21:00, E4 has The Inbetweeners 2 (2014). The second big-screen outing for the TV lads. This time, for reasons known only to the film’s producers, they go to Australia. At 23:20, BBC2 has End of Watch (2012). Two young cops in LA, played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña, fall foul of a Mexican drug gang. Well researched and scripted and shot and edited in documentary style.


Tonight (1/5) at 18:30, Horror has Mysterious Island (1961). A hot-air balloon carrying escapees from an American Civil War POW camp lands on an island full of oversized animals and insects, conjured up by animation genius Ray Harryhausen. From Jules Verne’s novel, with music by Bernard Herrmann. At 18:50, Talking Pictures has The Chain (1984), a comedy about seven households whose house-buying arrangements mean them all moving on the same day (also on Tuesday at 21:00). With Denis Lawson, Nigel Hawthorne, Anna Massey, Billie Whitelaw, Judy Parfitt, Bernard Hill, Leo McKern, Warren Mitchell and many more British stalwarts of the day.

On Sunday (2/5) at 17:55, ITV4 has Where Eagles Dare (1968). The classic World War II action flick, with a commando unit led by Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood sent to free an American general from a Nazi castle. From Alastair MacLean’s novel (also on Monday at 14:10).

On Monday (3/5) at 10:45, Sony Action has The Quick and the Dead (1987), a TV Western with Tom Conti (an unlikely frontiersman) and Kate Capshaw as a homesteading couple menaced by bandits.

On Wednesday (5/5) at 21:00, ITV4 has Total Recall (1990). Classic sci-fi with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone. From a Philip K. Dick story, directed by Paul Verhoeven with his usual taste for mayhem.

On Thursday (6/5) at 15:40, Film4 has The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945), a cheerful comedy in which singing priest Bing Crosby and feisty nun Ingrid Bergman put aside their rivalry and join forces to save a church school.

On Friday (7/5) at 02:35, Horror has The ‘Burbs (1989), a black comedy with Tom Hanks as a suburban husband who becomes convinced that a neighbouring family are members of a satanic death cult. At 20:00, ITV4 has For Your Eyes Only (1981). For his fifth outing as James Bond, Roger Moore was encouraged to rein in his sense of humour and the result was a film with more adventure and less self-parody.

John Morrish, Stephen Ilott, Finn Candy-Waters