An epic melodrama whereby a newly married woman returns to the London home where, 10 years earlier, her aunt had been murdered.

On the death of her beloved aunt, a distraught Paula Alquist (Ingrid Bergman – Casablanca, Stromboli) leaves for Italy vowing never to return. But in training to be an opera singer she falls in love with her coach, the charming Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer – Algeirs, Conquest). Keen to take advantage of the empty property, Anton persuades his wife to return to London. But as paintings disappear and footsteps disturb the peace of the night, Paula begins to question her sanity in the claustrophobia of the oppressive house full of memories.

Adapted from the stage play by Patrick Hamilton and directed by George Cukor (Adam’s Rib, My Fair Lady), Gaslight is an intense, occasionally overwrought, psychological manipulation of a story as Anton attempts to control, deceive and ultimately benefit from the madness of his wife.

Nominated for 7 Oscars in 1945 including best film, actor, supporting actress (Angela Lansbury in her screen debut), won 2 for best actress, set direction (black & white).

Rating: 63%


Modest in scale for director David Lean on-location features, a lonely, middle-aged woman finds potential romance whilst vacationing in 1950s Venice.

A long saved-for overseas trip sees an uptight Jane Hudson (Katherine Hepburn – On Golden Pond, The Philadelphia Story) overwhelmed by the beauty of the city of romance. Meeting antiques-dealer Renato de Rossi (Rossano Brazzi – South Pacific, The Italian Job) and the passionate affair that follows adds to a sense of impetuous freedom. Until, that is, she discovers he is a married man.

Summertime is Hepburn’s film all the way as she conveys a mix of vulnerability and sadness beneath a thrilled Jane’s outer excitement. A solid Brazzi is the perfect foil in Lean’s romantic drama that, whilst dated in its technicolour film stock, remains an engaging narrative whilst capturing the beauty of the city.

Nominated for 2 Oscars in 1956 – best director & actress

Rating: 64%

‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’

A Tennessee Williams’ potboiler as emotions run high in the 1950s Mississippi cotton plantation as Big Daddy Pollitt awaits his test results.

Former sports star and favoured son Brick (Paul Newman – Hud, The Hustler) and wife Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor – Cleopatra, Suddenly Last Summer) are not getting on too well, not helped by his love of the bottle. As tensions rise in the heat, older brother Gooper (Jack Carson – A Star Is Born, Mildred Pierce) uses this to his advantage as far as positioning himself in his father’s favour – more than helped by his deeply unpleasant wife, Mae (Madeleine Sherwood – Sweet Bird of Youth, The Changeling) and their six young children.

In the course of one night, the Pollitt family are rent apart by the ambitions of various members of the family with Big Dady (Burl Ives – The Big Country, Our Man in Havana) a towering force responding to each and every one of them. The tension crackles in director Richard Brooks’ (Elmer Gantry, In Cold Blood) adaptation of a humid and suffocating southern birthday celebration.

Nominated for 6 Oscars in 1959 – best film, director, actor, actress, adapted screenplay, cinematography.

Rating: 79%


Worthy, wordy sweeping historical drama as King Henry II ascends to the English throne with closest friend and confidant, Thomas à Becket, at his side.

Full of energy, drive and something of a womaniser, Henry (Peter O’Toole – Lawrence of Arabia, My Favourite Year) has little time for the objections of the Church to his confrontational style of reign. Seizing the opportunity to install Becket (Richard Burton – Equus, The Robe) as the Archbishop of Canterbury on the assumption his partner-in-crime would be compliant to his wishes and demands, Henry quickly discovers Becket has discovered a greater calling.

As a Saxon in the Norman court, Becket and his new found beliefs causes a rift between the two men and ultimately between State and Church resulting in a powerfully cinematic sparring between the two major stars. But, adapted from the stage play by Jean Anouilh and directed by Peter Glenville (The Comedians, Summer and Smoke), Becket lacks (seeing it 60 years after it was made) a sense of grandeur or gravitas, resulting in an engrossing if somewhat dull telling of a version of history.

Nominated for 12 Oscars in 1965 including best film, director, actor x2, supporting actor (John Gielgud), cinematography. won 1 (adapted screenplay- Edward Anhalt).

Rating: 62%

‘Guys and Dolls’

As a stage musical, Guys and Dolls is something of a legend. As a film dirceted by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve, The Barefoot Contessa), it’s not clear as to why.

Challenged to take the Salvation Army-style missionary (Jean Simmons – Hamlet, Elmer Gantry) with him to Havana, the gamble-on-anything Sky Masterton (Marlon Brando – The Godfather, On the Waterfront) accepts the challenge – only to fall in love with her. Back in New York, assuming to be the winner of the bet, Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra – Ocean’s Eleven, From Here to Eternity) organises a crap game with high stakes.

It’s a sprightly enough version but the studio-bound filming highlights the feature’s stilted restrictions which ultimately becomes repetitive and tedious as besuited hustlers scuttle furtively around the alleys of the city avoiding police detection and bursting into song.

Nominated for 4 Oscars in 1956 for cinematography, art direction, costume and original score.

Rating: 48%


Spectacular, bloody battle scenes abound as Japanese auteur Akira Kurosawa (Rashomon, Dersu Uzala) transposes King Lear to medieval Japan and the world of the Samurai.

Ageing warlord Lord Ichimonji (Tatsuya Nakadai – Kagemusha, Harakiri) divides his kingdom between three sons. But in voicing his scepticism of the plan, the youngest – Saburo (Daisuke Ryû – Kagemusha, Agitator) – is banished. As foreseen by Saburo, his two older brothers conspire to reduce even further the power and reach of their father as well as each other. War and confrontation is an inevitable consequence.

With power a corrupting influence, so the brothers and their courtiers plot and manipulate and Kurosawa’s expressionist vision results in a sweeping visual epic. It’s a glorious feast of storytelling, part battle scene after battle scene, part heavily-stylised Kabuki. It’s a magisterial telling of ‘ran’ (Japanese for chaos) and Shakespeare’s great tragedy of a play.

Nominated for 4 Oscars in 1986 including best director and cinematographer, won 1 for best costume design (Emi Wada).

Rating: 80%

‘Auntie Mame’

Yes! Live! Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!

So speaks Auntie Mame (Rosalind Russell – Gypsy, His Girl Friday), the larger than life wealthy socialite who suddenly finds herself the guardian of her 12 year-old nephew, Patrick. Taking to the task like a duck to water, Mame revels in her responsibilities – even if she has to take a series of minor jobs when she loses all her money in the 1929 Wall Street Crash before, by marrying Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside (Forrest Tucker – Sands of Iwo Jima, TV’s F Troop), she makes it all back.

An elaborate and garish adaptation of a Broadway play, Auntie Mame avoids all sense of realism (World War II is not mentioned!) as Mame herself wafts through life determined to ensure the now adult Patrick (a stuffy Roger Smith – Man of a Thousand Faces, TV’s Sunset Strip), is, like herself, a free spirited adult. Episodic and lacking depth, played for its humour, as directed by Morton DaCosta (The Music Man, The Island of Love) Auntie Mame comes across as superficial and, ultimately, dull (along with the questionable portrayal of Ito, the Japanese servant).

Nominated for 6 Oscars in 1959 including best film, actress, supporting actress (Peggy Cass) and cinematography.

Rating: 47%

‘Angels in America’

Whilst an overblown miniseries adaptation of Tony Kushner’s visceral two-part stage play, Angels in America, directed by Mike Nichols, remains an angry, powerful commentary on the political, religious and personal responses to the HIV/AIDS crisis in 1980s US.

Disparate stories connected, some fictional, some factional. Infamous New York lawyer Roy Cohn (Al Pacino) refuses to acknowledge he has AIDS (it’s liver cancer, motherf*cker as Cohn threatens to discredit his doctor of more than 20 years). Republican Mormon lawyer Joe Pitt (Patrick Wilson) simply refuses to acknowledge he is gay – something his wife Harper (Mary-Louise Parker), trapped in a sexless marriage, is only too aware. Her escape is copious amounts of valium. And then there’s Prior (Justin Kirk) who’s just told his lover of four years, Louis (Ben Shenkman), that he’s HIV+. Ben panics and abandons Prior, leaving him to deal with the ravages of the disease and the slow emotional and physical breakdown.

Such narratives are interwoven into fantastical visions as Prior’s nurse (Emma Thompson) invites him as an angel to be a prophet in death: Harper simply ‘travels’ in her mind’s eye whilst Joe’s deeply religious mother (Meryl Streep) arrives to sort out her son – who is having a clandestine relationship with Louis.

Angels in America is no easy watch – a confronting melodrama of life and, more prevalent, death. Wholly committed performances from an extraordinary depth of a cast add to the impact. As a live experience stage play (Royal National Theatre, London production in the ’90s), Angels in America personally blew me away. The medium of television dilutes the impact of some of the more fantastical scenes involving the Angel of Death, but this miniseries remains a riveting six hours.

Winner of 11 Emmys in 2004.

Rating: 73%

‘Witness For the Prosecution’

A title that perfectly sums up Billy Wilder’s courtroom drama as Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power – Nightmare Alley, A Yank in the RAF) is charged with murder – with his wife the unexpected star witness for the prosecution.

A war veteran with a German wife (Marlene Dietrich), Vole struggles financially as he befriends wealthy widow, Emily French (Norma Varden – Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, The Sound of Music). Her sudden death throws him under suspicion. Convinced of Vole’s innocence, renowned barrister Sir Wilfred Robarts (a splendidly blustering Charles Laughton – Spartacus, Mutiny on the Bounty) takes on the case.

Adapted from the stage play by Agatha Christie, Wilder’s screenplay has more oomph and comedy resulting in a riveting drama as twist after twist are introduced.

Nominated for 6 Oscars in 1958 including best film, director, actor (Laughton), supporting actress (Elsa Lanchester).

Rating: 77%

‘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%