Free films on TV 20/3/21 to 26/3/21


On July 1, 1988, the Californian musician Brian Wilson released a single called ‘Love & Mercy’. Put together by his abusive psychiatrist, Eugene Landy, it nonetheless represented a symbolic escape from the clutches of the family business, the singing group called The Beach Boys. Some 17 days later, the team he left behind released ‘Kokomo’. It was a global smash hit. Brian’s song sank without trace. The record-buying public preferred harmony, optimism, sexy visuals and a good tune to the authentic sound of pain, and who could blame them?

Nonetheless, that cry for help has become Brian’s theme tune, and it provides the title of our Film of The Week, a unique biopic diving deep into genius and pain. Daringly, he is impersonated by two contrasting actors, Paul Dano and John Cusack, who play him as, respectively, a musical prodigy on the edge of insanity and the recipient of some particularly crude therapy. Brian’s pop-star world has been recreated in loving detail, with whole sequences of home and studio footage reproduced frame-for-frame. Most impressive of all is the soundtrack, with Brian’s melodies and harmonies swirling and surging in a vivid representation of what it means to be possessed by musical inspiration. Even through the medium of television, the exquisite vocal and instrumental arrangements will melt your heart. Paul Dano’s account of ‘God Only Knows’ is lovely.

Is there a happy ending? In the film, certainly. Brian is rescued by Melinda (Elizabeth Banks), a beautiful, determined Cadillac saleswoman who defeats the troll-like shrink and folds the lonely visionary into her warm embrace. In life, Melinda married him, gave him children, and – like Dr Landy – set him to work. To keep this new family business turning over, he remains in thrall to pay-as-you-go American psychiatry. You only have to attend one of his relentless tours to see how troubled he is. “I’m not a genius,” he once said. “I’m just a hard working guy.” At 78 years old, he deserves a break.

Love & Mercy airs on Saturday (20/3) at 23:20 on BBC2. 

World Cinema

On Saturday (20/3) at 21:00, BBC4 has Land of Mine (2015). At the end of WWII, Danish soldiers make young German POWs clear their beautiful beaches of lethal ordinance. A CFS success in 2018/19. 

On Sunday (21/3) at 01:15, BBC2 has The Commune (2015), Thomas Vinterburg’s comedy-drama about the limitations of liberalism in a Swedish shared house in the 1970s. At 22:00, BBC2 has The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2019), Chiwetel Ejiofor’s directorial debut, about a Malawian child with an engineering dream. Inspiring. 

On Monday (22/3) at 01:00, Channel 4 has Dogman (2018), in which the gentle owner of a pet parlour in contemporary Italy is terrorised by a local thug. From Matteo Garrone, director of Gomorra, the modern Mafia classic. At 01:50, Film4 has Suntan (2016). A middle-aged doctor on a Greek island becomes obsessed with a holidaying nymphet. Lessons are learnt. At 21:00, BBC4 has Undercover OAP: The Mole Agent (2020), a Storyville documentary about an 83-year-old widower who goes incognito to investigate conditions in a nursing home. (Also on Tuesday at 23:30.)

Stephen’s picks

Aside from Love & Mercy, upon which we are in unison, Stephen has picked A Time to Kill (1996), on BBC1 on Sunday (21/3) at 23:30. Matthew McConaughey and Sandra Bullock defend a black man accused of taking revenge on a pair of rednecks who raped his ten-year-old daughter. Directed by Joel Schumacher from a John Grisham novel. 

Other modern films of interest

On Saturday (20/3) at 21:45, BBC2 has My Father and Me (2019). The auteur documentarist Nick Broomfield pays an emotional homage to his industrial photographer Dad.

On Sunday (21/3) at 00:40, Film4 has The Love Witch (2016), an erotic necromancy spoof set in 1960s LA. Mesmerising. At 18:30, Sony Movies has Moulin Rouge! (2001), Baz Luhrmann’s Parisian phantasmagoria, with Kidman and McGregor. At 22: 00, BBC4 has Sylvia (2003), with Daniel Craig and Gwyneth Paltrow acting out the deadly romance between the poets Hughes and Plath. At 23:45, Film4 has Once Upon a Time in the Midlands (2002). Low-life antics, directed by Shane Meadows. With Robert Carlyle, Shirley Henderson, Kathy Burke, Ricky Tomlinson and the gang.

On Wednesday (24/3) at 01:30, Film4 has The Look of Love (2013). Steve Coogan and Matt Lucas in the story of Paul Raymond, the strip-club king. At 23:05, Film4 has Warrior (2011). Rustbelt brothers Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte and Joel Edgerton, scrapping in and out of the ring.

 On Thursday (25/3) at 01:50, Film4 has To Kill a King (2003). After the execution of Charles I, Oliver Cromwell and General Fairfax struggle to cope with the consequences.

On Friday (26/3) at 01:35, Channel 4 has Locke (2014). One troubled man in a car and a lot of disturbing phone calls. Gripping.  


On Saturday (20/3) at 15:25, Channel 5 has Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954). Splendiferous MGM musical, directed by Stanley Donen. At 18:50, Paramount has Jason and the Argonauts (1963), with Ray Harryhausen’s glorious effects, including the fabled Skeleton Army. At 20:00, Talking Pictures has Call Northside 777 (1948), newspaper noir with Jimmy Stewart as a crime reporter reopening a cold murder. (Also on Monday at 15:40.)

On Sunday (21/3) at 13:30, Paramount has The Last Wagon (1956) (also on Friday at 12:05), with Richard Widmark as Comanche Todd, an untrustworthy scout entrusted with rescuing survivors of an Apache attack.

 On Monday (22/3) at 02:15, Talking Pictures has The True Glory (1945), a stirring compilation of WWII footage assembled at the behest of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Spliced together by Garson Kanin and Carol Reed, with an insistent score by William Alwyn. At 18:30, the same channel has The Green Man (1956). Alastair Sim is an assassin. George Cole is the vacuum-cleaner salesman who gets in his way. Ealing really knew how to make murder fun.

On Thursday (25/3) at 10:00, Talking Pictures has Sky West and Crooked (1965). John Mills directs daughter Hayley in a script by wife Mary Hayley Bell. A lonely and disturbed teenage girl buries dead animals for comfort. Strange. 

On Friday (26/3) at 14:55, Sony Action has A Walk in the Sun (1945). During the Italian campaign, Dana Andrews leads his men up country to blow up a bridge. Saddled with one of those ambiguous American Christian names, Andrews was the son of a preacher and one of 13 children. 

John Morrish, Stephen Ilott, Finn Candy-Waters