Recommended films on TV, 9/1/21 to 15/1/21


Who would have thought the world banking crash of 2008 would have inspired a film as dynamic and funny as The Big Short (2015)? Based on a non-fiction book by Michael Lewis, it tells the story of a small group of finance industry outsiders who discovered the existence of a massive housing bubble in the US and set about using it to make fortunes and/or bring down the complacent and corrupt Wall Street banks. With a fine cast headed by Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling and Christian Bale, this is a piece of bravura film-making. At first, director Adam McKay uses frantic montages to set the tone of the times and celebrity cameos to explain some of the mechanics of the story: Margot Robbie in a bubble-bath tells us what “shorting” is, for instance. As things settle down, the contrasting characters and motivations of the central figures become clearer. Unless you work in finance you are likely to lose track of the jargon by the 90-minute mark, but in a film as exciting as this one it doesn’t really matter. The Big Short is on BBC2 on Saturday (9/1) at 23:30. 

World Cinema

On Sunday (10/1) at 01:35, BBC2 has Apprentice (2016). A young man working in a high-security Singapore jail becomes apprentice to its hangman, which brings with it a personal moral quandary. On Wednesday (13/1) at 02:20, Film4 has Pili (2018). A first feature by British director Leanne Welham, it follows a desperately poor Tanzanian woman with HIV, as she struggles to make a living. Originally planned as a documentary, it uses a non-professional cast whose roles are based on their own experiences. 

Stephen Ilott’s picks

On Saturday (9/1) at 13.15 on BBC2, Stephen has chosen Powell and Pressburger’s wonderful Black Narcissus (1947), altogether more vivid and intense than the pallid, uninvolving BBC mini-series. Michael Powell said it was the most erotic film he ever made. Starring Kathleen Byron and Deborah Kerr. On Tuesday (12/1) at 14:30, Film4 has Destry Rides Again (1939), with Deputy Sheriff James Stewart taming saloon singer Marlene Dietrich. On Wednesday (13/1) at 09:15, Sony Action has Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943), in which a young girl comes to suspect that her uncle is a murderer. 

Other modern films of interest

On Saturday (9/1) at 14:55, Channel 5 has Sing (2016), an amusing animated tale from the makers of Despicable Me (2010). A koala puts on an ambitious singing competition to save his theatre. With the voices of Matthew McConaughey and Reece Witherspoon. At 21:30 BBC2 has John le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) with Gary Oldman as master spook George Smiley. He is very good, but no Alec Guinness.

 On Sunday (10/1) at 23:45, the first of three notable Sky Arts documentaries this week: Jerry Lewis: The Man Behind the Clown (2016).

On Tuesday (12/1) at 02:10, Film4 is showing The Scouting Book for Boys (2009), a British debut feature in which a boy helps a friend run away from her home in a coastal caravan park. With Thomas Turgoose, so good in Shane Meadows’ This Is England (2006). 

On Wednesday (13/1) at 22:00, Sky Arts has Sid & Judy (2019), a biographical piece about Judy Garland, based on the recollections of Sid Luft, her manager and third husband. 

On Thursday (14/1) at 22:00, Sky Arts (again) brings us Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound (2019), a look at the technology of cinema sound and the neglected art of the sound designer. 

On Friday (15/1) at 23:30, BBC1 has Young Adult (2011), a lightweight comedy about a hard-living writer of teen fiction, played by Charlize Theron, who returns to her hometown to reclaim her high-school sweetheart.


Almost a clean sweep for Talking Pictures on Saturday (9/1). At 06:00, it has The Ghost of St. Michael’s (1941), an Ealing comedy in which a boys’ boarding school is moved from England to the Isle of Skye during WWII. Featuring Will Hay, John Laurie and Charles Hawtrey. At 14:25, there is Contraband (1940), a Michael Powell wartime thriller about German spies in a British port. It can also be seen on Thursday (14/1) at 10.30. At 18:15 on Saturday, the same channel has Hombre (1967), the Paul Newman Western, also to be seen on Tuesday (12/1) at 18.45. At exactly the same time, Channel 4 has Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). Finally for Saturday, it is back to Talking Pictures at 21:00 for Reds (1981), Warren Beatty’s thrilling epic about the Russian revolution. Unsurprisingly, it did not do well at the American box office. It can also be seen on Wednesday (13/1) at 21:05. 

On Sunday (10/1), two action thrillers from ITV4. At 15:30, there is The Towering Inferno (1974). Then at 21:00, there is Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1992). That’s the one in which terrorists hold an airport hostage and Bruce Willis has to fight them off. Not as good as the original.

On Monday (11/1) at 18:50, it is back to Talking Pictures for San Demetrio, London (1943), about a merchant ship at the mercy of U-boats.

On Wednesday (13/1) at 13:05, Film4 has Two Rode Together (1961), a Western starring James Stewart and directed by John Ford. Ford later said, rather sourly, that he only made it for the money. At 21:00, BBC4 has Mrs Brown (1997), with Judi Dench, strait-laced as Queen Victoria, and Billy Connolly, straight-faced as John Brown, the servant who brought her comfort. A feast of repressed emotion.

On Thursday (14/1) at 12:25, Talking Pictures has The Conquest of Everest (1953), a remarkable documentary assembled from film shot during the expedition. With commentary written by the poet Louis MacNeice. At 16:40, Film4 has The Colditz Story (1955), the fact-based drama starring John Mills.  At 21:00, Sony Action has The Wind and the Lion (1975), an action adventure with an unlikely Sean Connery as an Arab chieftain and Candice Bergen as the American widow he kidnaps. At 22:00, BBC4 has Alexander MacKendrick’s delightful Whisky Galore! (1949). At the same time, Talking Pictures has The Silent Partner (1978), described in its original poster as “A chilling story interwoven with comedy… sex … terror!”.

On Friday (15/1) at 11:05, Sony Action has All My Sons (1948), starring Edward G. Robinson and adapted from Arthur Miller’s classic play. At 13:15, Film4 has Ministry of Fear (1944), a wartime noir directed by Fritz Lang and starring Ray Milland. Nothing to do with the Department of Health. 

All the BBC’s films will be available on iPlayer after broadcast.

We hope you enjoy this week’s films on TV and stay cheerful. 

Stephen Ilott and John Morrish