From James Bond to Citizen Kane, the week's best TV films

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·8-min read
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Daniel Craig as James Bond in Casino Royale
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Casino Royale

Film of the week

Thursday

Casino Royale, ITV4, 9pm

In 2006, in an attempt to add pep to a film series grown tired and stale, James Bond franchise owners Eon Productions handed the keys to the Aston Martin to a relative unknown, Daniel Craig. He could act (not a pre-requisite, admittedly), had the all-important twinkle in his startlingly blue eyes and, as audiences would discover, looked great in a pair of tight La Perla swimming trunks.

Behind the scenes, Eon also gave a share of the writing duties to Hollywood newcomer Paul Haggis, writer-director of kinetic crime drama Crash, and for their source material went back to the very beginning of it all: Casino Royale. Published in 1953 and the first of the 11 James Bond novels, it’s short, tightly composed and, beyond a card game and an extended torture scene which reveals Fleming’s own penchant for S&M, nothing very much happens. In other words it’s a perfect place for what is essentially an origins story.

Craig’s tenure as Bond ended with last year’s No Time To Die and is broadly considered a great success, thanks in large part to the excellent start he made here. Sure, the tech is hilariously clunky – the film was released two months before Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPhone and he clearly didn’t give MI6 a heads up – and, pointedly, there is no scene in which Q unveils the whizz-bang gadgetry which had become such a fixture of the Dalton/Brosnan years. But everything else is bang on the money. It was an era when dark was in vogue (the first of Christopher Nolan’s noir-ish Batman reboots had come out a year earlier), and Casino Royale jumped nimbly onto the bandwagon.

Talking of jumping, you can probably skip the first big action sequence unless you’re a fan of parkour, or free-running. Our first sight of Bond is in Madagascar, where he sets off in pursuit of a terrorist and becomes involved in long chase which shows off the (admittedly awesome) skills of parkour legend Sebastian Foucan. Much better is the second act. It forms the core of the film and pretty much follows the plot of the novel as Bond heads for Montenegro to take on criminal financier Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) in a high-stakes poker game. The venue? Casino Royale, of course. Escorting Bond (and the millions in British government money he’s using for a stake) is head-turning Treasury wonk Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), who appears to take an instant dislike to the cocky spy, only recently elevated to double-oh status and already trying the patience of service boss M (Judi Dench). Of course her hauteur doesn’t last long …

And the best of the rest …

Saturday May 14

Far From The Madding Crowd, BBC Two, 8pm

The year is 1870 and Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) lives with her aunt on the adjacent property to handsome sheep farmer Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), whose heartfelt advances she rebuffs. Soon after, Bathsheba inherits her uncle’s vast estate and defies expectation to turn around the ailing farm, hiring Gabriel as the estate’s shepherd. Meanwhile, emotionally repressed and wealthy farmer William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) makes his feelings for Bathsheba known, but her head is turned by dashing and reckless Sergeant Troy (Tom Sturridge). Anchored by Mulligan’s nuanced performance, Far from the Madding Crowd is a visually striking portrait of rural desires, even if it can’t quite live up to John Schlesinger’s 1967 version.

This Is Spinal Tap, BBC Two, 10.40pm

The laughs go all the way to 11 in director Rob Reiner’s brilliant 1984 spoof ‘rockumentary’. Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer play the members of a British band whose ‘appeal is becoming more selective’ as they head out on a disastrous tour of America. As if undersized props, cancelled concerts and deserted record signings weren’t demoralising enough, there are also tensions between the group and their manager, especially when the lead singer’s girlfriend takes up a seat on the tour bus. Not only is it a comedy classic, it boasts some of the best ever English accents by American actors.

Sunday May 15

On The Town, BBC Two, 1.30pm

Three sailors have 24 hours of shore leave in New York and are determined to make the most of it. One of them decides to seek out the model featured in an advertising campaign, another takes a shine to an anthropologist, while a third finds himself fighting off the attentions of a female cabbie. The plot is slim to non-existent, but this exuberant 1949 musical is so brimming with energy, you really won’t care. Leading men Gene Kelly, Jules Munshin and Frank Sinatra are all terrific as the sailors, the music is provided by Leonard Bernstein and the witty script and lyrics come courtesy of future Singin’ In The Rain screenwriters Adolph Green and Betty Comden. The New York locations just add to the appeal.

Ordinary Love, BBC Two, 10pm

Lesley Manville and Liam Neeson deliver compelling performances as a married couple in turmoil in Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn’s intimate 2019 drama, based on a script by Northern Irish playwright Owen McCafferty. Ordinary Love elegantly captures the minutiae of daily life for a wife and husband, who fondly accept each other’s foibles and find comfort in the easy silences that punctuate their domestic routine. Lasting affection resonates in moments of the mundane - her saucy addition to a soup recipe, a seemingly benign conversation about his fruit and vegetable intake. The opening 15 minutes of McCafferty’s gently paced script encourage us to cosy up to the lead characters in their suburban bubble before giant ripples from a cancer diagnosis test the strength of marital bonds.

Monday May 16

The Misfits, GREAT! movies classic, 4.20pm

John Huston’s 1961 drama, based on a script by Arthur Miller, marks the final screen appearances of two Hollywood legends - Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe. Thirty-year-old Roslyn Tabor (Monroe) divorces her husband Raymond (Kevin McCarthy). She drowns her sorrows with her friend Isabelle (Thelma Ritter) in a local bar, where the two women are approached by cowboy Gaylord Langland (Gable) and his friend Guido (Eli Wallach). They invite Roslyn and Isabelle to Guido’s half-completed ranch in the country. The women accept the invitation and Roslyn eventually moves into the ranch with Gaylord to complete the work on the building. An encounter with Gaylord’s friend, rodeo rider Perce Howland (Montgomery Clift), creates friction between the fledgling lovebirds and tests the strength of their relationship.

Tuesday May 17

Drag Me To Hell, BBC Three, 11.40pm

When bank worker Christine (Alison Lohman) refuses a loan extension to the enigmatic Mrs Ganush (Lorna Raver), the old woman retaliates by attacking her, cursing her with the Lamia, a demon that will claim the young woman’s soul three days hence. With emotional support from her professor boyfriend Clay (Justin Long), the poor young woman solicits spiritual guidance from psychic Rham Jas (Dileep Rao) and his seer to break the curse. Made in the Noughties, when horror films were increasingly becoming an exercise in sadism, Drag Me to Hell was a welcome throwback to more playful times. In particular, it recalls director Sam Raimi’s own seminal Evil Dead series with its queasy conflation of gore and dark humour.

Wednesday May 18

Disappearance At Clifton Hill, Film 4, 9pm

When she was a little girl, Abby (Tuppence Middleton) witnessed a young boy being bundled into the boot of a car by two adults on Clifton Hill, close to Niagara Falls. She is haunted by the incident even though her older sister, Laure (Hannah Gross), maintains it never happened and the abduction was merely the product of Abby’s fertile imagination. Abby is forced to return to Niagara Falls to oversee the sale of the family’s hotel, which belonged to her late mother. Charlie Lake (Eric Johnson), whose family owns swathes of property, is keen to buy the land. As she finalises the deal, Abby decides to uncover the truth about the kidnapping aided by a local conspiracy theorist called Walter (David Cronenberg) in this intriguing thriller.

Thursday May 19

Citizen Kane, BBC Four, 9pm

Told through a series of flashbacks, this ground-breaking drama focuses on how newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) amassed his fortune and power - only to discover life at the top was very lonely. A reporter pieces together the millionaire’s story, uncovering an epic tale of ambition and conflict along the way. But will he solve the mystery of Kane’s final, dying utterance: "Rosebud"? It’s considered by many to be the greatest film ever made, and is Orson Welles’ finest hour as writer, director and star. This is no mean feat, considering he was just 25 when he crafted the film - and he went on to be involved in many other classics. Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore and Everett Sloane co-star.

Friday May 20

The Fast And The Furious, ITV, 10.45pm

An enjoyable ride which sees Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) race all-comers on the streets of LA for a first prize of $10,000. Dom feels invincible until undercover FBI agent Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker), who is probing a series of truck hijackings, challenges his supremacy. Director Rob Cohen has transplanted surfer movie Point Break into a street-racing film. It reaches top gear in the first 20 minutes and never hits the brakes. Cohen fills the screen with a blur of gleaming metal and burning rubber as Walker and Diesel play their roles with minimal effort. Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster also appear. Released in 2001, this was the first film in a hugely successful franchise – eight sequels and a spin-off have followed it so far, with Fast X due next year.

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