Free films on TV 12/6/21 to 18/6/21


The Big Sick (2017) is an unusual rom-com in several ways, not least because its leading lady spends the whole of is second act in a coma. 

Zoe Kazan plays Emily, a psychotherapy student in Chicago, who falls in love with Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani), an Uber driver and part-time stand-up comedian. He doesn’t tell his Pakistani parents about her, because she is white and they are busy arranging a marriage for him. Emily decides, not unreasonably, that their relationship has no future and storms off, but then succumbs to a raging infection that forces the doctors to drug her into deep unconsciousness: while she is there, Kumail, oppressed by family and cultural identity, becomes conscious of his own needs as an individual. But the course of events is not yet ready to run smooth: this is cinema.

The film was written by Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, and is a much-modified version of their own courtship: her character is called Emily Gardner. The coma was real. The independent film’s charming origin story and medical curiosity-value captivated a sizeable section of the American public. Made for $5m, it went on to take $56m worldwide, making it one of the most successful indies of that year. It was also a critical success, acclaimed for its freshness, charm, cross-cultural setting and its flirtation with death, not unusual in romantic comedy but handled here with the confidence that comes from experience. 

The central couple are appealing and funny, and the ups and downs of their relationship are not too predictable. Better, the secondary characters are all vivid and well-played. Holly Hunter, a heavyweight actress, provides excellent light relief as Emily’s South Carolina mother, whose hostility to her daughter’s subcontinental beau naturally gives way to understanding. Kurt Braunohler is also tremendous in the tragicomic role of Kumail’s flatmate, a much less successful comic.

The New Yorker’s Richard Brody rather meanly said that the film “suffers from an excess of pleasantness”, but then it’s a rom-com, designed to amuse, reassure and encourage mating behaviour. Give it a chance. It can be seen on BBC2 on Sunday (13/6) at 23:00. 

World Cinema

On Sunday (13/6) at 01:10, Film4 returns to Raw (2016), a French horror in which a vegetarian student vet in France succumbs to a burning desire to eat flesh, not all of it acquired at la Boucherie. Sexy, but gory. At 18:35, Great! Movies (which, it turns out, is the witless rebranding of Sony’s old UK catalogue, now under new ownership) has Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Ang Lee’s spectacular, energetic, painterly martial-arts epic. 

On Monday (14/6) at 23:40, Film4 has Woman at War (2018), the Icelandic environmental adventure that we showed last October at the Playhouse, if you can remember that far back. It’s good and was rightly well received. 

On Wednesday (16/6) at 02:00, Channel 4 has Bombay (1995). An acclaimed romantic drama about a mixed Hindu-Muslim family, set against the inter-communal violence of 1992-3. Director Mani Ratnam survived two bomb attacks, thought to be from religious extremists enraged by the film’s central relationship. 

Stephen’s picks

On Sunday (13/6) at 13:50, BBC2 has Summer Holiday (1963). Cliff Richard, Una Stubbs, and a lot of other cheerful young Brits take an AEC Regent III RT double-decker (not a Routemaster, contrary to rumour) around a colourful, unfamiliar Europe, singing as they go. Sparkily directed by Peter Yates, who went on to make Bullitt (1968) with Steve McQueen. At 22:00, Talking Pictures has Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964). Southern Gothic murder mystery with Bette Davis as a reclusive old woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown. (Also on Wednesday at 21:05.)

On Wednesday (16/6) at 22:50, Film4 has Hunt For the Wilderpeople (2016). Taika Waititi’s breakthrough comedy-drama, about a reclusive foster father (trusty Sam Neill) and his problem charge, who go missing in the New Zealand wilds. He is supposed to be making a Star Wars film for 2025. That’s what happens to promising directors. 

On Thursday (17/6) at 21:00, Film4 has Bad Times at the El Royale (2018). Six strangers arrive at an old hotel on the California-Nevada border and their lives become intertwined. Twisty neo-noir, with bogus priest Jeff Bridges, dapper John Hamm and hippie Dakota Johnson. “Deranged and ingenious” (The Times). “A protracted crime thriller with a very cumbersome screenplay” (The Independent). Take your pick. 

On Friday (18/6) at 01:30, Sky Arts has Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel (2011). A documentary about the legendary maker of low-budget independent films, many of them gloriously trashy. Packed with the stars whose careers he launched, including Jack Nicholson, who shed a tear for his old mentor. 

Other modern films of interest

On Saturday (12/6) at 21:00, 5Star has 28 Days Later… (2002). A virus spreads across Great Britain, causing societal collapse, the emptying of the cities and widespread freelance aggression, held at bay by uniformed ruffians. Oddly prescient disaster movie from Danny Boyle. At 23:40, BBC2 has Kinky Boots (2005). Somewhat formulaic British comedy about a failed Northampton shoe factory that turns to making high-heeled footwear for drag queens. With Chiwetel Ejiofor and Joel Edgerton. Later became a smash-hit Broadway musical with songs by Cyndi Lauper and words by Harvey Fierstein. 

On Tuesday (15/6) at 01:45, Film4 has Night Moves (2013). Interesting thriller about three radical environmentalists (Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard) who plan to blow up a dam. At 01:55, Sky Arts has Muscle Shoals (2013). Documentary about the legendary FAME and Muscle Shoals recording studios in Alabama. With reminiscences from many soul and rock greats, including Aretha Franklin, in her final film appearance, and Steve Winwood, who lives at Turkdean Manor, just off the A40. 

Wednesday (16/6) seems to be documentary night. At 00:00, Sky Arts has Instant Dreams (2017). Inventive, hallucinatory Dutch documentary about enthusiasts trying to revive the Polaroid camera and its film, described by one scientist here as “the chemically most complex manmade thing ever”. PS: Polaroid cameras came back. You can get them in Currys. At 00:30, BBC4 has Queen of Africa: The Miriam Makeba Story (2011), about the South African singer and activist, who was married at different times to trumpeter Hugh Masekela and Black Panther Stokely Carmichael. At 02:00, Sky Arts has What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael (2018), a biography of the brilliant, outspoken New Yorker film critic, with lots of interviews, and readings by Sarah Jessica Parker. As she said, “In the arts, the critic is the only independent source of information. The rest is advertising.” 

On Thursday (17/6) at 23:30, Sky Arts has I Am Patrick Swayze (2019). Respectful documentary about the Dirty Dancing star, who died in 2009, told by colleagues, friends and family. NB: he did make other films. Ghost, Point Break and… that’s about all I can come up with. At 20:00, BBC4 has Florence Foster Jenkins (2016). Stephen Frears’s exuberant and touching biographical drama about the real heiress who longed to sing and did it exceptionally badly. With Meryl Streep, having the time of her life, and Hugh Grant, brilliantly ambiguous as her British life partner (they may not have married). See also the excellent Marguerite (2015), with Catherine Frot as a French version of the same deluded woman.


On Saturday (12/6) at 18:35, Talking Pictures has Fourteen Hours (1951). That’s how long would-be suicide Paul Douglas spends on a window-ledge 15 storeys above New York. Director Henry Hathaway shot two endings, one in which the man dies, the other in which he survives. No spoilers here. (Also on Thursday at 14:40.) At 22:35, ITV has Notting Hill (1999). Richard Curtis’s upmarket fairy-story, with Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts both adorable if you like that sort of thing, and sometimes I do. 

 On Sunday (13/6) at 21:00, Channel 5 has The Full Monty (1997). The issue-driven comedy about stripping steelworkers. It caused a sensation in the first summer of Blair’s Britain and earned a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars, after being released with a special soundtrack for American viewers who weren’t au fait with South Yorkshire dialect. (Also on Wednesday at 23:00.)

On Monday (14/6) at 21:00, 5 Star has What’s Love Got to Do with It (1993). The torrid story of Tina Turner and her nasty husband Ike, played by Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne, both very good. Angela Bassett’s singing was dubbed by … Tina Turner. 

On Tuesday (15/6) at 16:35, Great! Movies has Legends of the Fall (1994). Torrid family romance-drama set in the wilds of 1900s Montana, with Anthony Hopkins as the father of three sons, played by Brad Pitt, Aidan Quinn and Henry Thomas. One dies in WWI and the other two both fall for his bereaved fiancée (Julia Ormond). Directed by Ed Zwick, who, in a previous life, co-created thirtysomething, the groundbreaking 1980s series about troubled yuppies. 

On Wednesday (16/6) at 12:55, Film4 has Rawhide (1951). Tyrone Power stars as the hero Tom Owens in this so-so Western. Nothing to do with the long-running TV series starring a handsome chap named Clint Eastwood. I wonder what happened to him?

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John Morrish, Stephen Ilott, Finn Candy-Waters

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