‘Freddie Mercury: the Final Act’

The perfect accompaniment to the Oscar-winning Bohemian Rhapsody and numerous Queen documentaries, Freddie Mercury: the Final Act features the flamboyant front man’s last few years and months before his death from HIV/AIDS in November 1991. But director James Rogan’s reach is much further as, with AIDS still dangerously misunderstood, the remaining members of Queen organised one of the biggest rock concerts seen in Britain.

As a tribute to the showman, Freddie Mercury: the Final Act is a deeply moving and intimate insight. Band members, family (sister Kashmira Bulsara), journalists and friends (including soap star Anita Dobson) share their memories of those last years from sell out concerts of 100,000 or more in 1986 to barely being able to walk to film a promo video for their final hit together, These Are The Days of Our Lives, in early 1991. But the documentary is as much a celebration as it is a tribute as Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor pulled together an extraordinary line-up for the Wembley concert. Footage of rehearsals and likely (and unlikely) partnerships are aired as the likes of Liza Minnelli, Elton John, David Bowie, Annie Lennox, Roger Daltrey, Lisa Stansfield and George Michael belted out a selection of Queen’s repertoire.

Rating: 69%


Set in 1962, a novice nun, in questioning her vocation and the taking of vows, leaves the convent to test her faith. Discovery of a family secret that dates back to wartime and the German occupation shocks Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) to the very core.

Travelling to Warsaw to stay with her only living relative, Aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza – Cold War,  Róza), Anna is informed her birth name is Ida. A former state prosecutor, an aimless and sexually promiscuous Wanda has fallen from grace. The two undertake a road trip to explore their pasts, both known and unknown.

Stunningly shot in a wintery, monotone palette (cinematographer Ryszard Lenczewski – My Summer of Love, Last Resort and Lukasz Zal – Cold War, I’m Thinking of Ending It All), a bleak tale of loss and uncertainty gently unfolds as the two women come to terms with a past known and unknown. Written and directed by Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War, My Summer of Love), Ida is intimate in its austerity yet utterly compelling.

Nominated for 2 Oscars in 2015 including best cinematography – won 1 for best foreign language film.

Rating: 82%

‘Slow Horses’ (Season 1)

A slow burn of a spy thriller (following on from a high octane opening few minutes), the Slow Horses team find themselves the fall guys for an operation that has gone badly wrong.

Left a top secret file on the train? Failed miserably in a training exercise? Then it’s off to Slough House, the MI5 dumping ground for losers, headed by the do nothing mantra of a gone-to-seed super spy, Jackson Lamb (a magnificent Gary Oldman). It’s a career ending hell hole. But for River Cartwright (Jack Lowden) – the training exercise failure – such a posting cannot be. He’s the grandson of legendary operative, David Cartwright (Jonathan Pryce). So when a young British-Asian male (Antonio Aakeel) is abducted in Leeds by right-wing thugs and threatened with beheading, Cartwright sees it as an opportunity to beat the devil and claw his way out of hell.

But nothing is as it seems and, over a riveting six episodes, politicians, spy masters, journalists and more become embroiled in a messy operation as Diane Taverner (Kristin Scott Thomas), the calculating acting head of the intelligence service with an agenda of her own, tries to navigate her team through the uncertainty. But that support in no way includes the slovenly and sarcastic Lamb and his Slow Horses. It’s the Lamb/Taverner animosity towards each other and the tension created than underpins this superior drama: the hostage crisis seems almost secondary.

Adapted from the Slough House series of novels by Mick Herron, there’s certainly more to come!

Rating: 82%

‘This Sporting Life’

A 1960s black and white British kitchen-sink drama set in Wakefield, Yorkshire, This Sporting Life is the grim tale of the cocky, arrogant hope-to-be professional rugby league player, Frank Machin (Richard Harris – Camelot, Gladiator) as he looks for purpose in his life.

Ruggedly handsome, Machin attracts plenty of attention but it’s his landlady, the widowed Mrs Hammond (a superbly dour Rachel Roberts – Picnic at Hanging Rock, Foul Play) he has eyes for. She’s not so sure – and anxious to avoid any hint of gossip.

Robustly told by director Lindsay Anderson (If…, O Lucky Man!), it’s a raw and violent adaptation of David Storey’s novel as Machin flashes his money as success on the field follows. But the star player is kept firmly in his place by the likes of the club owner, Weaver (Alan Badel – The Day of the Jackal, Arabesque).

Nominated for 2 Oscars in 1964 – best actor and actress.

Rating: 67%

‘Strangers by the Lake’

An odd yet compelling sexually graphic tale, Strangers by the Lake explores isolation, loneliness and sense of other as Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps – Sorry Angel, A Kid) looks for love at a gay lakeside beach.

A sense of repetition is invoked as Franck arrives on a daily basis to the parking lot of the beach, encountering regulars and casuals. Swimming, sun baking and/or sex in the bushes is the order of the day as love and companionship is sought. When Franck spots the handsome and beefy Michel (Christophe Paou – Le chef, Synonyms), he becomes a target. But it’s all a little more complicated.

A psychological thriller mixed with intense calm as the sound of gently lapping waves results in a strangely claustrophobic unfolding, in spite of the film taking place exclusively at the lake and its open vistas. A meditation on the anonymity of casual sex and the disregard for personal safety when already living on the margins, director Alain Guiraudie’s (Nobody’s Hero, Staying Vertical) film is as intriguing as it is challenging.

Rating: 64%

‘The Green Lantern’

Commonly believed to be one of the worst comic book hero adaptations, the self-deprecating humour of Ryan Reynolds (Dead Pool, Buried) fails to elevate The Green Lantern above below average.

Maverick earthbound pilot Hal Jordan (Reynolds) finds himself chosen by the green lantern to become the latest member of the intergalactic organisation to protect the universe. His powers become all-important as former colleague and Senator’s son Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard – An Education, Jackie) becomes infected with much darker aspirations.

Generic in plot and visuals, it’s all somewhat synthetic, a plodder of a feature that the likeable Reynolds cannot come anywhere near saving.

Rating: 35%

‘Last Night in Soho’

Arriving in London from the quiet of a remote Cornwall home, Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie – Leave No Trace, Jojo Rabbit) finds herself struggling in the fast, judgemental life of a fashion student. Frequent visions of her dead mother do not help.

Directed by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), nothing is straightforward as Eloise’s grasp on reality is threatened by the presence of the spirit of Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy – Emma, Split), a feisty, wannabe singer from the 1960s. As emotions heighten and the story flips into a dark, eerie supernatural horror flitting between the 1960s and the present day, so the pace increases and the narrative slides into a hyperactive, delirious frenzy.

The presence of ’60s stars Terence Stamp, Diana Rigg (in her last film) and Rita Tushingham is a nice touch but sadly Last Night in Soho degenerates, after a promising start, into a messy let down of predictability.

Rating: 48%

‘Monsieur Lazhar’

Adapted from the stage play by Evelyne de la Chenelière, the French-Canadian feature Monsieur Lazhar is a gentle narrative set in a Montreal public school, a heart-warming feelgood that evolves from trauma.

With the unexpected suicide (in the classroom, out of hours) of a popular form teacher just a few weeks into term, principal Mme Vaillancourt (Danielle Proulx – C.R.A.Z.Y., L’enfant d’eau) struggles to find a replacement. Algerian political refugee Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag – Ce que le jour doit à la nuit, Dernier étage gauche gauche), a former primary school teacher in Algiers, saves the day. But as time passes, Lazhar’s more formal approach becomes less about the curriculum and more about a wider education, leading to questions about his approach.

Director Philippe Falardeau (The Good Lie, My Salinger Year), with a convincing classroom of child actors (including the empathic Alice – Sophie Nélisse, The Book Thief, 47 Metres Down: Uncaged), creates a quietly cathartic moment of time and place for both the students and their teacher.

Nominated for best foreign language Oscar in 2012.

Rating: 74%

‘The Seventh Seal’

Early feature from Ingmar Bergman (Face to Face, Fanny & Alexander) is eloquent yet unexpectedly funny (at times) considering its a medieval tale about religion and the existence of God.

A knight returning to Sweden from the Crusades (a young Max von Sydow – Pelle the Conqueror, Extremely Close & Incredibly Loud) finds himself playing chess with the Grim Reaper as he questions his own personal beliefs and the world around him. Accompanied by jocular squire, Jöns (Gunnar Björnstrand – Autumn Sonata, Wild Strawberries), Antonius Block travels a bleak, grim road in returning home.

Haunting (black & white) imagery with a meditative view of the knight’s quest results in a film of message and thought. It may lack immediacy but its visuals will stay in the mind.

Rating: 69%

‘Mare of Easttown’

A wholly engrossing seven part miniseries, Mare of Easttown sees a small town detective investigate the death of a local teenager whilst coping with the dramas of family life.

Grieving for the recent suicide of her son, Mare Sheehan (a fearless Kate Winslet) heads the case when the body of teenage single-mum, Erin McMenamin (Cailee Spaeny) turns up in the creek. In the small Pennsylvanian blue collar town, everyone and everything is seemingly related as families, friends, colleagues are linked in some way to the victim.

Mare’s best friend Lori (Julianne Nicholson) provides support both professionally and personally as the detective emotionally struggles with the loss of her drug-addict son, the break up of the marriage to Frank (David Denman) and a distance from both daughter and mother who live in the same home. When Frank moves into the house at the back and is linked to Erin in spite of a previous denial, Mare’s world spins dangerously close to out-of-control.

Establishing an eventual close working relationship with newcomer Detective Zabel (Evan Peters) creates a degree of stability, helped by potential love interest from visiting professor (Guy Pearce). But this is Mare’s story all the way as, taking no prisoners, she delves, pushes, forces truths to the surface – even if it means alienating friends and family members.

Involving from the off, Mare of Easttown never lets go over its seven episodes with its cracking script (Brad Inglesby) and an ensemble cast that more than delivers (three acting Emmys a pointer!).

Rating: 82%