From Passing to Ad Astra: the seven best films to watch on TV this week
Pick of the week
Rebecca Hall’s first film as director is an assured treatment of a 1929 novel by Harlem Renaissance writer Nella Larsen. It’s the tale of two light-skinned Black women in New York and the different ways in which they “pass” for white – interestingly, shot in black-and-white, so all skin tones are shades of grey. Tessa Thompson plays Harlem doctor’s wife Irene, settled in her bourgeois life of charity work and cliquey soirees. Former schoolfriend Clare (Ruth Negga, channelling Tennessee Williams) has concealed her racial identity to the extent of having a white, racist husband. When they meet by chance, Clare brings excitement but also disruption to the emotionally repressed Irene’s routine.
Wednesday 10 November, Netflix
Mr Reliable, Tom Hanks, sprinkles his twinkly-eyed everyman stardust on Miguel Sapochnik’s engaging post-apocalypse drama. His eponymous engineer, alone and ailing in St Louis after a solar flare-inspired disaster has left the planet irradiated and dust-blown, builds a robot, Jeff, to look after his pet dog when he’s gone. But when a superstorm approaches, the trio have to hit the road: destination San Francisco. Jeff (voiced by Caleb Landry Jones) has a distinct Short Circuit air to it, which may endear or annoy as it learns about human and canine foibles alike.
Out now, Apple TV+
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
This sumptuous, sensuous drama from the great French film-maker Céline Sciamma follows Noémie Merlant’s late 18th-century artist Marianne to an island off the coast of Brittany. There, she is commissioned to create a portrait of a young lady, Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), for her intended husband – but in secret, as Héloïse refuses to marry or even sit for the painting. The ruse soon collapses and the two women begin a febrile love affair in an all-female environment free of the male gaze – with the act of seeing and being seen shifting from restrictive to liberating.
Saturday 6 November, 9pm, BBC Four
I Was a Male War Bride
What a joy it is to see Cary Grant playing off a strong female lead. To the likes of Katharine Hepburn and Irene Dunne can be added Ann Sheridan in Howard Hawks’s 1949 comedy, set in postwar Berlin. Her US Army officer has a working relationship of “sexual antagonism”, as she dubs it, with Cary Grant’s French captain, which predictably leads to love. Grant’s often subversive take on masculinity in his roles is to the fore here – to the extent of him donning female clothing – in a hugely entertaining caper.
Sunday 7 November, 3.55pm, Talking Pictures TV
Echoes of Apocalypse Now abound in James Gray’s beautiful-looking, portentous sci-fi drama. Astronaut Roy (Brad Pitt) finds his professional insouciance crumbling when he is sent to Neptune to locate the source of energy bursts that threaten the Earth – and which may come from his long-lost father (Tommy Lee Jones, in the Kurtz role). Shot in a stately fashion underpinned by Roy’s pensive voiceover, it is a slow-burning story, punctuated by impressively realised scenes of peril.
Wednesday 10 November, Amazon Prime Video
My Father and Me
Documentary film-maker Nick Broomfield’s father, Maurice, was one of Britain’s leading postwar industrial photographers, creating beautifully lit, romanticised images of factory workers (on display from today in an exhibition at the V&A in London). Nick is a more political, off-the-cuff observer of life and, as such, was initially a disappointment to his parent. Here, the son reassesses his relationship with a man who was a conscientious objector, married a Jewish Czech wartime refugee and owned a Gypsy caravan. It’s a family history that also serves as a bracingly honest self-portrait.
Wednesday 10 November, 10pm, BBC Four
Lioness: The Nicola Adams Story
Although women’s boxing is now an accepted part of the sporting world (at least on the amateur side), the story of Olympic champion Nicola Adams shows how hard-won that success has been. Helena Coan’s bruising documentary highlights Jane Crouch’s attempts in the 90s to normalise female participation, a baton that passed to a gutsy girl from Leeds with ADHD and a violent father (he denies the allegation), who overcame pig-headed resistance to equality from gyms, the media and the boxing authorities. How she still came up smiling is a wonder to witness.
Friday 12 November, Amazon Prime Video