Pick of the week
Antoine Fuqua’s tense historical thriller is based on the true story of an escaped Louisiana slave, whose photograph showing his scarred back became a key document in the abolitionist movement of the mid-1800s. Will Smith is impressively fierce and focused as Peter, who hears of Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation after being taken from his family to work on a Confederate railroad. He flees into the alligator-infested swamp, pursued by Ben Foster’s scout, using his wits to get him through a war zone to the Union army. With washed-out imagery – save for occasional vivid splashes of fire or blood – there’s nothing picturesque here; just the horrors of slavery and war.
Out now, Apple TV
Touch of Evil
The channel’s film noir season continues with Orson Welles’s brooding, stylish 1958 crime drama. Set on the murky US-Mexico border, it opens with a fatal car bombing – revealed through a virtuoso three-minute crane shot. Mexican prosecutor Mike Vargas (Charlton Heston), honeymooning with his American wife Susan (Janet Leigh), is drawn into the case, and the orbit of corrupt US police captain Hank Quinlan (Welles). Quinlan is the diseased heart of the film, a near-Shakespearean tragic figure brilliantly realised by Welles.
Sunday 11 December, 9pm, Sky Arts
Despite being scripted by Roddy Doyle and set in his typical working-class Dublin milieu, this is definitely not a “ha ha ha” story. It’s a gripping drama about the despair of the hidden homeless, as Sarah Greene’s titular mother of four struggles to find accommodation two weeks after losing their house. While the father, John Paul (Moe Dunford), holds down a kitchen job, she drives from school to hotel to friends’ houses, increasingly desperate but trying to maintain a brave face for the kids. An achingly human tale with wider social resonance.
Sunday 11 December, 10pm, BBC Three
Star Trek: First Contact
This 1996 instalment is arguably the best of the 10 “original” Star Trek films (all of which are on Film4 this week) as it reunites the Next Generation gang with their most implacable foe, the Borg. Picard et al go back in time to 2063 to save Earth from being “assimilated”, thereby allowing the first warp flight and humanity’s initial contact with aliens. Given a bigger budget than the TV show, director (and co-star) Jonathan Frakes brings out the full metallic menace of the Borg, with Alice Krige as their queen a seductive foil to the honourable Patrick Stewart.
Tuesday 13 December, 6.50pm, Film4
Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths
Oscar-winning director Alejandro G Iñárritu certainly doesn’t lack ambition. This wildly expansive comedy-drama takes Fellini’s 8½ as inspiration in its tale of Mexican documentary film-maker Silverio (Daniel Giménez Cacho). Based in the US, he returns home with his family to receive a prestigious journalism award but is assailed by dreams, memories and doubts about his integrity, his identity and his feelings towards his homeland. A beautifully shot, surreal shaggy dog story.
Friday 16 December, Netflix
The Amazing Maurice
Terry Pratchett’s children’s fantasy novel, which riffs off the Pied Piper story, receives a spirited treatment in this animated comedy. It follows a self-centred talking cat, Maurice (Hugh Laurie), a flute-playing boy, Keith (Himesh Patel), and a characterful band of rats as they bring their Pied Piper-themed scam to a new town, only to discover a darker evil lurking there. Emilia Clarke voices the inquisitive, fairytale-obsessed Malicia, who joins the gang in their quest for the truth. It’s a quick-witted film that plays with its Grimm conventions but never ignores them.
Friday 16 December, 11.40am, 8pm, Sky Cinema Premiere
If you’re missing your Hacks fix, Nisha Ganatra’s 2019 comedy should ease your pain. Mindy Kaling (who also wrote it) stars as Molly, a chemical plant worker who becomes the “diversity hire” for a failing US late-night chatshow. It’s hosted by Emma Thompson’s Katherine Newbury, a 56-year-old English presenter whose high-brow tastes feel increasingly out of touch. White, male privilege is put under stress – the writers’ room is very beige – as are class and age biases, in a film where Thompson’s comic poise is used to enjoyable effect.
Friday 16 December, 11.25pm, BBC One