‘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%

‘The Craigslist Killer’

Insipid dramatisation of a true story whereby brilliant med student Philip Markoff is a serial abuser using Craigslist to identify his victims.

In the mid-2000s, star medical student at Boston University Philip Markoff (Jake McDorman – TV’s Dopesick, What We Do in the Shadows) seems to have every success at his fingertips, including a forthcoming marriage to wealthy Megan McAllister (Agnes Bruckner – Murder By Numbers, Blood and Chocolate). But there’s a sinister side to Markoff as he physically abuses and robs masseuses in hotel rooms – until, in 2009, he shoots and kills one such client.

Wooden in every way, The Craigslist Killer, directed by Stephen Kay (TV’s Yellowstone, Covert Affairs) is little more than passable at its best, which is rare. Cardboard cut out tropes of all the female characters (Bruckner in particular), no explanations as why (other than a vague reference to ‘family’) and a complete lack of any suspense undermine what could (and should) have been a far, far better telling.

Rating: 25%

‘The Normal Heart’

Angry and outspoken, Ned Weeks (Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight, Foxcatcher) confronts politicians, journalists and members of the gay community as HIV/AIDS decimates New York.

A semi-autobiographical narrative from writer Larry Kramer, The Normal Heart follows the virus from its early days as a ‘gay cancer’ as it spreads through a community defined by its sexual liberation and the body-beautiful hedonism of Fire Island. A desperate appeal by Dr. Emma Brookner (Julia Roberts – Erin Brockovich, Closer) finds an ear with Weeks who finds his aggressive awareness approach alienates as much as convinces. But the deaths continue and behaviour remains unchanged.

An early Ryan Murphy (Hollywood, Pose), it’s confronting and unflinching as Weeks crusades against indifferent politicians in denial of the crisis. An incendiary Ruffalo, quietly and sensitively supported by Roberts, sees his world fall apart.

Rating: 80%


Eighty years on and the Wannsee Conference of 20 January 1942 continues to chill to the core of humanity. Senior Nazi officials, chaired by SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich (Kenneth Branagh), gather in luxurious surrounds on the outskirts of Berlin to discuss arrangements for The Final Solution – and convince the few within the room who are opposed – or at least concerned.

It’s a confronting claustrophobe of a feature, contained almost entirely within two rooms. As Heydrich’s second-in-command, SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann (Stanley Tucci), organises refreshments and the smooth-running of arrangements, casual conversations and discussions abound in shocking alacrity of the elimination of Jews in Germany and occupied territories. Director Frank Pierson introduces few distractions, creating an intensity of meaning and understanding to the words spoken.

Based on a surviving record of the meeting (instructions were obviously not followed to the letter), Conspiracy is powerful and terrifying as Heydrich cajoles and bullies sceptics and supporters alike – Aryan supremacists, fascists, petty tyrants, schoolyard bullies – into genocide as a cold and calculating Eichmann simply ‘hovers’.

Rating: 72%

(Heydrich was assassinated in Prague a few months later – see Killing Heydrich: he was replaced by Eichmann, who was tracked down to Argentina in 1960 – Operation Finale)


v1.bTsxMTE1OTQwNztqOzE3MDg2OzIwNDg7MTAwMzsxNTAwA made-for-TV movie that, whilst conventional, is a tasty entertainment based on the childhood of celebrity British chef, Nigel Slater.

Growing up in the West Midlands in the 1960s, a young Slater is weaned on tinned foods (“Vegetables? We’ll have none of them – you don’t know where they’ve been” states his mother during a shopping trip). It’s his future stepmother, Mrs Potts (a rather splendid OTT Helena Bonham Carter – The King’s Speech, Sweeney Todd), who introduces Slater to culinary delights – but she uses her skills in the kitchen to compete with the young Nigel for the affections of the rather gruff and miserable Mr Slater.

A quiet feature, Toast is a nostalgic trip down memory lane with Oscar Kennedy in fine fettle as the younger Nigel.

Rating: 62%