Recommended Films on TV


One of the (few) joys of the lockdown is that we are all able to watch films that would be too long to show in the bottom-punishing environment of the Bacon Theatre. The Square (2017)  is one of those. It comes in at 2 hours 31 mins and will be too slow and too bizarre for some, but it is very funny and satirical about the world of modern art that it also, on some level,  inhabits.

Directed by Ruben Östlund, with an international cast including Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss and Dominic West, it is in Swedish and Danish with subtitles and, of course, English. Christian (Bang) is the  director of a contemporary art museum in a former royal palace in Stockholm who fancies himself as a right-thinking altruist, driving an electric car and supporting liberal causes. He is working on a new show called “The Square”, intended to awaken the public to their responsibilities, when someone steals his mobile phone and he is driven to desperate measures to retrieve it. Meanwhile, various private and public struggles with family, artists, publicists and donors threaten to overwhelm him. A skewering of hypocrisy, but more than that: an inquiry into the value of art to society and society to art. The Square is a Freeview premiere and can be seen on Film4 on Wednesday (10/6) at 21.00.

Otherwise in World Cinema there is the beautiful, disturbing Embrace of the Serpent (2015), which we showed in 2017/18. That’s on Sunday (7/6) at 01.05 on Film4. It’s a good week for Film4. It also has Bernardo Bertolucci’s final film, a low-budget, intimate feature called Me and You. A shy teenager stays at home in the basement when his parents go ski-ing and is perturbed when his troubled sister turns up. The film has none of the shock value or epic scale of his earlier films and was made when the maestro was in a wheelchair, but it is worthwhile nonetheless. That is shown on Tuesday (9/6) at 02.05. Completeness requires us also to mention Kill Zone 2 (2015), a Chinese crime drama based around organ-snatching in Thailand. That’s on Saturday (6/6) at 00.50. Set your boxes for the last three selections or stay up all night; there is no iPlayer on Film4.

Leaving the world to one side, English-language highlights include a Stanley Kubrick documentary, Filmworker (2017), on Film4 on Thursday (11/6) at 01.50, and a showing of his 1956 feature The Killing on Film4 on Friday (12/6) at 00.40. Then there are a couple of modern comedies. Taika Waititi’s enduring vampire sit-com, What We Do in the Shadows (2014), is on BBC2 on Sunday (7/6) at 00.20 and will also be available on iPlayer. Altogether different is Sausage Party (2016), a brilliant animated feature that manages to be hilarious and deeply prurient at the same time. Not for the easily shocked. That’s on 5Star on Tuesday (9/6) at 23.00. Joy from 2015 is also worth a mention. The title character, played by Jennifer Lawrence, is in a dead-end job until she rises to become head of a powerful business empire thanks to the “Miracle Mop”. Along the way she is impeded by her dysfunctional family, notably her father, played by Robert De Niro. That’s on Channel Four on Sunday (7/6) at 23.15.

As for oldies but goldies, there are a couple of Powell-Pressburger films: The Small Back Room (1949) is on Talking Pictures on Saturday (6/6) at 16.30, while 49th Parallel (1941) is on Film4 on Monday at 16.35. The 1953 Alan Ladd Western Shane is on Film4 on Wednesday (10/6) at 15.25. Finally, for those whose tastes run to The Who and mods’n’rockers mayhem, there is another showing of Quadrophenia on Film4 on Monday (8/6) at 1.35.

Fake news alert

Last week, by a combination of over-enthusiasm and incompetence, I suggested that all the BBC’s films are available on iPlayer. This is nonsense, as was explained to me by a nice BBC press officer on the Sunday after I sent the newsletter. Only films where the BBC has negotiated the appropriate rights go on to iPlayer. So, Citizen Kane and Carmen Jones did, because the BBC has rights to the RKO catalogue. Billy Elliot did not, because the BBC does not. Nonetheless, the majority of the middle-of-the-night foreign films seem to be available. I shall endeavour to find out the true position each week.

The Cheltenham International Film Festival (online)

Now this is very exciting. Some of us have been working with Leslie Sheldon on his Cheltenham International Film Festival project for a couple of years. This year, because of the unmentionable virus, a decision was taken to put the festival online. In a very short time, that is exactly what has happened. The festival mimics an “actual” festival, in that films have set starting times; but they are available for streaming for variable periods after that. There are some 36 foreign-language and independent films in the festival, many of them UK premieres, and the prices are good. This has got to be more interesting than the BFIPlayer, Curzon or MUBI.

Tip: if you want to book, you can go via the Guildhall or the Roses’ websites to get a discount. Booking is open now, and the films start on Monday (8/6) and run until Sunday (14/6). If you have any trouble with that, here’s a direct link to the festival’s programme:


John Morrish and Stephen Ilott