‘Against the Law’

Based on true events when homosexuality was illegal in the UK, journalist Peter Wildeblood finds himself under arrest and imprisoned for an affair with a RAF serviceman.

1950s London was a minefield of discretion and secrecy – surruptious, furtive meetings with long term relationships rare. When Wildeblood (Daniel Mays – The Bank Job, TV’s Des) meets serviceman Eddie McNally (Richard Gadd – TV’s Code 404, Clique), they’re fully aware they need to be careful. But not careful enough as Wildeblood is arrested (his love letters to McNally are intercepted) along with English peer, Lord Wolfenden and his cousin Michael Pitt-Rivers. An example is made of the three men for leading lesser-educated, working-class men astray! Wildeblood is sentenced to 18 months hard labour.

Wildeblood’s experiences where in prison gay men were treated by the authorities as the bottom of the ladder led to his book, Against the Law being published shortly after his release. The result of the trial led to an inquiry – the Wolfenden Report – which in 1957 recommended the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK. Wildeblood’s testimony to the Wolfenden committee was influential on its recommendations.

Interweaving interviews with victims of the legalised prison abuse from the time (aversion therapy, electric shock treatment etc) with the unfolding drama results in a quietly told but powerfully visceral telling directed by Fergus O’Brien (TV’s The Armstrongs, The Tourist).

Rating: 69%

‘La vie en rose’

Although bolstered by a superb Marion Cotillard, La vie en rose is a somewhat standard biopic of the tragic iconic French chanteuse, Edith Piaf.

Discovered at the age of 19 singing on the streets of Paris by impresario Louis Leplée (Gérard Depardieu – Cyrano de Bergerac, Danton), Piaf (Marion Cotillard – Two Days One Night, Inception) quickly became a huge success. Raised as a child by her grandmother in a brothel, bedevilled by ill health, questionable associates (she was believed to be connnected in some way to the murder of Leplée by local gangsters) and tragedy (world champion boxer and lover Marcel Cerdan – Jean-Pierre Martins, The Gilded Cage, Saint George – was killed in a plane crash), Piaf cut a sad figure.

The ebb and flow nature of the narrative in terms of time as directed by Olivier Dahan (Grace of Monaco, Simone: Woman of the Century) creates a somewhat fractured telling as melodrama and Piaf the tragic icon dominates Piaf the woman. But the music is glorious.

Nominated for 3 Oscars in 2008 including best costume design, won 2 for best actress and make-up.

Rating: 64%

‘Conviction: the Murder of Stephen Lawrence’

A three part dramatisation, it took 18 years for the family of the murdered London teenager to finally achieve some kind of justice.

When DCI Clive Driscoll (Steve Coogan) inadvertently comes across a mass of seemingly abandoned case files, his curiosity results in the reopening of Stephen Lawrence murder case of 13 years earlier. A racially motivated attack had resulted in the black 18 year old being killed whilst waiting for a bus in south London.

Carefully revisiting evidence and attempting to reinterview witnesses and family members, Driscoll discovers police ineptitude and corruption as Stephen’s high-profile mother, Doreen Lawrence (Sharlene Whyte) continues to campaign for justice and wider anti-racism. With new technology available to assess evidence, Driscoll overcomes racism, internal stonewalling and the retirement of many of the investigating team to piece together new evidence in an attempt to charge some, if not all, of the five assailants.

It’s a respectful, moving and shocking three part dramatisation quietly and procedurally told as an embarrassed Driscoll works closely with an initially suspicious Doreen and ex-husband, Neville (Hugh Quarshie) now living in Jamaica. Two previous attempts had resulted in dashed hopes as evidence failed to convict. It still takes five years to bring charges against individuals who were the chief suspects 18 years earlier.

Rating: 66%


Engaging, straight forward telling of the rise of Nike in the making of basketball shoes through the securing of Michael Jordan as the name tied to the brand.

In the 1980s, the basketball division of Nike is struggling, accounting for only 17% of sales – a distant third to Converse and the German Adidas company. Basketball talent scout Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon – The Martian, The Last Duel) is appointed to find a new spokesperson. His argument is to put everything on one player rather than spreading money thinly over three or four players. CEO Phil Knight (Ben Affleck – Argo, The Town) is reluctant but Vaccaro and Marketing VP Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman – Horrible Bosses, Juno) convince him they need to secure Michael Jordan.

Perseverance and determination win out as Vaccaro’s infectious energy ensures Nike gets their man – but not without an equally determined Deloris Jordan (a magnificent Viola Davis who defines ‘supporting actress’ in her role as the athlete’s mother) ensuring that respect and financial recompense are forthcoming.

As director, Ben Affleck (Argo, Gone Baby Gone) has ensured that a story so worth telling is told well and packed with strong performances throughout.

Rating: 74%


Fifty years ago, the worst prison riot in American history – a five day standoff that gripped the nation – resulted in the deaths of 29 prisoners and 10 hostages.

Interviews with former inmates, family members of guards, newsmen, lawyers and official observers along with archive footage provide an insight into the unfolding chaos that took place over those five days. With the sense of frustration and anger from prisoners – 70% Black and Latino – in one of the toughest prisons in the system with its 100% white guards and administration, Attica was a tinderbox. On 9 September 1971, tensions boiled over as more than 1,000 prisoners seized 39 guards as hostages.

It’s a harrowing piece of filmmaking which highlights, by today’s standards, mostly perfectly reasonable demands. But authorities were not having a bar of it, particularly after the death of one of the guards. In spite of extended ongoing negotiations, the Home Guard was being mobilised and behind-the-scenes discussions reached not only the Governor’s office but went all the way to the White House and Richard Nixon. The retelling of the storming of the prison – and horrific, inhumane reprisals against inmates – highlights how little has changed in this tense and chilling (albeit occasionally repititive) documentary from Traci Curry and Stanley Nelson (Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, Freedom Riders).

Nominated for 2022 best documentary Oscar.

Rating: 68%

‘13 Hours’

Bombastic yet appealling telling of a true story as, with the fall of Ghadafi, Libya freefalls into civil war – and American political and military personnel in Benghazi are targeted by various militia groups.

Jack Silva (John Krasinski – A Quiet Place, Aloha) is the final member of the ex-military contractors at an ‘unmarked’ CIA compound to arrive in Libya – just as tensions and anti-American sentiment reach boiling point. Ther’s no love lost between head of mission, Bob (David Costabile – Lincoln, TV’s Billions) and the team, adding to the tensions in the compound. When US Ambassador Chris Stevens (Matt Letscher – Her, TV’s The Flash) visits, all hell breaks loose as they are attacked by hordes of heavily armed locals. The security team of six need to somehow hold out until help is despatched.

Director Michael Bay (Ambulance, Transformers) typically pumps up the action and takes poetic licence with the unfolding drama but by his standards, 13 Hours is remarkably restrained. The humour and depth of friendship of the security team members help the balance of a harrowing film that could have so easily simply degenerated into gun battle after gun battle (which, in part, it inevitably is).

Nominated for 1 Oscar in 2017 – best sound mixing.

Rating: 65%

‘The Walk-In’

As far right and neo-fascist activity in the UK increases due to political unrest amidst the Brexit referendum, the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox shocks the nation. The action of an individual, the fascist group National Action seizes the moment to promote further racial unrest.

With violence and strife an everyday occurence, activist Matthew Collins (Stephen Graham) of Hope not Hate, himself a former member of the British National Party, looks to ways of infiltrating the group. Seen as a grass and turncoat, Collins and his family are targets by former colleagues and are constantly forced to move home. But Collins is determined to expose the membership, made the more difficult when the British government outlaw National Action as a terrorist organisation. Unexpectedly, Hope not Hate is contacted by a new member of NA – Robbie Mullen (Andrew Ellis). Revealing plans to murder a second Labour MP, time is short as HNH fight to protect their source as the police demand his identity.

Based on true events, this five part miniseries is a hard watch, highlighting the ease in which the far-right prey on and convince bigotry and hate. Opinions and language can be difficult to stomach. Yet The Walk-In is patchy, with its (too) slow unravelling building towards the courtroom tension. Crowd scenes are unconvincing and at times the dialogue slips into agit prop tropes. But the saving grace is a cast where Graham is excellent (as always) as is Leanne Best as his supportive but pushed-to-the-edge wife, Alison, whilst Ellis captures the vulnerability and fear of Mullen.

Rating: 62%

‘Dog Day Afternoon’

Everything goes wrong for three wannabe bank robbers in what was to be a simple, straightforward heist in a quiet Brooklyn high street.

Based on a true story, three armed men led by Sonny (Al Pacino – The Godfather, The Irishman) storm the bank – only for the youngest to panic and take off, leaving Sonny and Sal (John Cazale – The Godfather, The Deer Hunter) one man short. Ill conceived and poorly planned, with most of the cash having been collected by security earlier in the day, frustrations, fear and panic bubble to the surface as police surround the building. Directed by Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men, Network), the summer heat of the city streets is palpable as detective Moretti (Charles Durning – The Sting, The Hudsucker Proxy) attempts to keep the peace, release the hostages and talk Sonny down.

With Pacino at his best and a cast that perfectly balances the unfolding tension of the drama with a mix of the absurd, the ridiculous and the comic, Dog Day Afternoon is a feature that readily travels beyond the tropes of its genre.

Nominated for 6 Oscars in 1976 including best film, director, actor, supporting actor (Chris Sarandon), editing – won 1 for best original screenplay (Frank Pierson – Cat Ballou, A Star is Born (1976)).

Rating: 69%

‘Quo Vadis, Aida’

Harrowing and brutal, the UN camp in Srebrenica with its thousands of terrified townsfolk is threatened by the invading Bosnian Serb army under the barbarous General Ratko Mladic (Boris Isakovic – Last Christmas, Circles).

As interpreter, Aida Selmanagic (Jasna Djuricic – White White World, Circles) is the go-between for the Dutch UN troops and locals. As she translates information between the peacekeepers and the Serbs, among the rising chaos and panic Aida desperately looks to keep her husband and two sons safe as the Serbian troops evacuate the camp. The Dutch can only look on, powerless to intervene.

The worst episode of mass murder within Europe since World War II, some 8,000 Muslim males were murdered in Srebrenica and 20,000 women and girls forcibly evacuated out of the area by Mladic. Director Jasmila Zbanic (Grbavica, Na putu), through the fictional Selmanagic family, personalises the telling of the tragedy, resulting in an immediacy that is shocking and deeply felt.

Nominated for best foreign language Oscar in 2021.

Rating: 79%

‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’

It may be 30 years old but as a biopic of Tina Turner, one of the greatest singers of all time who redefined herself having escaped an abusive marriage, What’s Love Got To Do With It still packs an emotive punch.

Abandoned by her mother as a child, Anna Mae Bullock shone in the local church choir. Moving to St Louis as a teenager, Anna Mae (Angela Bassett – Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, London Has Fallen) soon attracts the attention of band leader, Ike Turner (Laurence Fishburne – The Matrix, The Mule). Dominating everything around him, Ike controls Tina as a singer, a wife, a mother, a woman. As his drug habit spirals out of control and with it an uncontrollable rage, professional jealousy results in increasing violence towards her.

Unflinching in its depiction of domestic violence and abuse, director Brian Gibson’s film may take liberties with actual events, but it remains a potent exploration of Tina Turner the woman and years of stoicism in the name of her children and refusal to abandon them as her mother had years earlier.

Nominated for 2 Oscars in 1994 – best actress and best actor.

Rating: 70%