‘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%

‘Mrs Harris Goes to Paris’

It’s the frocks that shine in this cute but shallow remake of an earlier tv movie as Christan Dior beckons a cockney cleaning lady.

A regular cleaner for Lady Dant (Anna Chancellor – Crush, TV’s The Split) gains few benefits (and late wage payments) except exposure to Dior haute couture. On learning the current beauty hanging in the wardrobe cost a staggering £500, Mrs Harris (Lesley Manville – Phantom Thread, Maleficent) is determined to purchase her own in time for the 1957 annual local town hall social. Scrimping and saving follows, supported by best friend, Violet (Ellen Thomas – The Love Punch, TV’s Eastenders). Ada gets to Paris eventually where, in spite of the snobbish Madame Colbert (Isabelle Huppert – Elle, The Piano Teacher), she gets her way – and changes the lives of those she comes into contact with as well as the future of the House of Dior itself.

Charm incarnate as directed by Anthony Fabian (Skin, Louder Than Words), Mrs Harris Goes to Paris is the saccharine-sweet embodiment of a fairy-tale as the good-natured Ada (a delightful Lesley Manville) tires of being invisible.

Nominated for 2023 Best Costume Oscar (Jenny Beaven).

Rating: 61%

‘Gosford Park’

An English country manor with the interwoven comings and goings of the upstairs gentry and downstairs staff. Sound familiar? An earlier (2001) script by a decade from Julian Fellowes predates the behemoth that was to become Downton Abbey.

Only there’s few of the niceties of the later series evident in Robert Altman’s (Nashville, M*A*S*H) delight of a feature. It’s a strained shooting weekend upstairs that’s reflected downstairs as the emnity between imperious housekeeper Mrs Wilson (Helen Mirren – The Queen, Hitchcock) and cook Mrs Croft (Eileen Atkins – Cold Mountain, TV’s Doc Martin) adds to the atmosphere. It’s all somewhat tense at Gosford Park. And to make matters worse, half way through the film, someone bumps off the wealthy, irascible host, William McCordle (Michael Gambon – Harry Potter, Judy).

Guests and staff come under suspicion. What had started as a series of related and unrelated storylines lay the foundation for a whodunnit as the earlier desperate financial manouverings of at least three of the family members come under scrutiny. But things are never that simple or that obvious.

It being an Altman film, the cast reads like a who’s who virtuoso ensemble piece with a sublime script from Fellowes that expertly provides drama, pathos, comedy and social commentary in its 137 minute running time.

Nominated for 7 Oscars in 2002 including best film, director, supporting actress (Helen Mirren), supporting actress (Maggie Smith), art direction – won 1 for original script.

Rating: 80%


Strange, disturbing and ultimately unsatisfying, Men follows a recently bereaved woman on a solo vacation in the quiet of an English country village.

Having witnessed the suicide of stockbroker husband James (Paapa Essiedu – TV’s I May Destroy You, Gangs of London), writer Harper (Jessie Buckley – Beast, Wild Rose) is persuaded to take a few days out of London at a comfortable, rambling house in the English countryside of the Cotswolds. Only things are not what they seem, resulting in a truly terrifying experience as Harper attempts to come to terms with her remorse and guilt over James’ death. Unnerved by encounters with various men in the village, she fails to be reassured by the gung-ho owner of the vacation home, Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear – Skyfall, TV’s Ridley Road).

Writer/director Alex Garland (Ex Machina, Annihilation) throws caution to the wind with his lack of explanation as to why what’s happening is happening (and it’s definitely odd), ensuring ultimately it fails as either a drama or a horror film. But both Buckley and, in particular, Kinnear are convincing.

Rating: 50%


‘Empire of Light’

Gentle, nuanced but surprisingly inert and overly nostalgic from director Sam Mendes (1917, Skyfall).

1980s Britain and, having suffered a nervous breakdown, lonely cinema duty manager Hilary (Olivia Colman – Hot Fuzz, The Father) slowly pieces her life back together. Abused by her manager (Colin Firth – The King’s Speech, Supernova), she develops a close friendship with new employee, Stephen (Micheal Ward – The Old Guard, Rudeboy) who is looking to escape the provincial racism of the seaside town.

Colman is subtly magnificent as a woman struggling with mental health but the narrative is less than convincing as the two outsiders bond in an environment that works against them. With the art deco opulence of the cinema harking back to the glory days of cinema, Empire of Light is at times ravishingly beautiful. But time drags in this particular two hour feature.

Nominated for the 2023 best cinematography Oscar (Roger Deakins – 1917, Skyfall)

Rating: 54%

‘A Most Wanted Man’

Based on John le Carré’s novel and set in Hamburg post 9/11, A Most Wanted Man is a superior anti-terrorism spy thriller as different agencies take an interest in an illegal Chechen Muslim migrant.

With new anti-terrorist agencies competing against traditional policing methods, head of unit Günther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman – Capote, Moneyball) needs to keep one step ahead, made the more urgent by the presence of a distrustful CIA agent, Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright – Wonder Woman, Moneyball). When Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin – Black Sea, Our Kind of Traitor), believed to be involved in some way in the laundering of money supporting terrorism, appears in Hamburg, all interested parties are placed on high alert.

The last serious film role before his untimely death, Hoffman gives a superbly subtle lead performance as he manipulates and cajoles behind the scenes, desperate to ensure Karpov’s safety in order to follow the money. With human rights lawyer Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams – Sherlock Holmes, Disobedience) in tow, an intricate jigsaw of a narrative unspools from director Anton Corbijn (Control, The American) – albeit a strangely cold, unemotional unspooling.

Rating: 68%

‘The Guns of Navarone’

A derring-do blockbuster from 1961 with its all-star cast, the adaptation of Alistair MacLean’s best selling novel is a war time adventure as the Allies look to destroy a seemingly impregnable German fortress on the (fictional) Greek island of Navarone.

With the guns threatening Allied naval ships in the Aegean Sea, a plan to send in a crack team is developed, headed by Major Roy Franklin (Anthony Quayle – Lawrence of Arabia, Anne of a Thousand Days). But an early casualty on the island sees German-speaking Captain Keith Mallory (Gregory Peck – Spellbound, Roman Holiday) take command. Aided by Greek resistance members, the saboteurs need to overcome an extensive security network of German troops.

Inevitably for its time, emphasis was placed on the thrills and melodrama of the adventure rather than on character (or even credibility), but the frisson between Mallory and Greek general Andrea Stavros (Anthony Quinn – Zorba the Greek, Lust For Life) adds a level of personal tension to the narrative as the team fight to avoid capture and complete their mission.

As directed by J. Lee Thompson (Taras Bulba, Northwest Frontier), The Guns of Navarone became the second highest grossing film of 1961.

Nominated for 7 Oscars in 1962 including best film, director, adapted screenplay – won 1 for visual effects.

Rating: 61%

‘See How They Run’

Derivative and old-fashioned it may be, but there’s something immensely entertaining in this 1950s whodunnit set in London’s West End and the production of Agatha Christie’s The Mouse Trap.

As chances of a Hollywood film are discussed, so a murder following the 100th performance of the play puts such plans in jeopardy. But whodunnit? With a minimal number of suspects – cast members and production team – that’s up to cynical old-hand Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell – Moon, Seven Psychopaths) and naive new recruit, WPC Stalker (Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn, Atonement) to solve.

With more than a nod towards Wes Anderson (including a starry cast), See How They Run is a fun, camp romp as the likes of gay playwright David Cocker-Norris (David Oyelowo – Selma, The Midnight Sky) and Richard Attenborough (Harris Dickinson – Where the Crawdads Sing, Beach Rats) all come under suspicion.

Rating: 63%

‘The Outfit’

As measured as the bespoke suits made by the cutter, The Outfit is a claustrophobic cat and mouse game set almost exclusively in the backrooms of a Chicago gentleman’s outfits fitting rooms.

Having left 1950s London and his memories of family, Savile Row-trained Leonard (Mark Rylance – Bridge of Spies, The Other Boleyn Girl) set up shop in Chicago. With Mable (Zoey Deutch – Why Him? Set It Up) out front, Leonard quietly and methodically cuts the cloth – whilst his premises are used as a drop for mobsters. Turns out Leonard’s first customer in Chicago was crime boss, Roy Boyle (Simon Russell Beale (The Deep Blue Sea, Operation Finale). But there’s a rat in the organisation. As gang members come and go over the course of one night, Leonard needs all his wordly wits to keep him and Mabel alive.

Oscar-winning writer Graham Moore (The Imitation Game) makes his directorial debut with this wordy, slow-paced little gem of a character study. Never underestimate a man who says little, hears everything as narrative threads are woven until they fray as, like his meticulously made garments, Leonard places emphasis on the detail.

Rating: 68%

‘A Kind of Loving’

A 1960s British kitchen sink drama that launched the career of director John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy, Darling), A Kind of Loving is a brooding grit of everyday life in the north of England.

Shot in Manchester in atmospheric black and white, this is Lowry country of urban industrial landscapes as Vic (Alan Bates – The Fixer, Women in Love) looks to better himself, working as an office-based draughtsman. Catching the eye of secretary Ingrid (June Ritchie – The Mouse on the Moon, This Is My Street), courtship leads to pregnancy and a quick wedding, much to the disgust of Ingrid’s mother (Thora Hird – TV’s Talking Heads, Last of the Summer Wine). With the couple forced to live in the comfortable surrounds of Mrs Rothwell’s home, the marriage is strained and when Ingrid loses the baby, Vic wants out.

Miserable but compassionate, Vic looks to save his marriage in spite of the best efforts of his mother-in-law in a grim but engaging slice-of-life narrative as Vic finds himself having to choose between Saturday night sing-a-longs with friends and family at the pub or chocolates and television quiz shows.

Rating: 62%