And yet there is another side to this infuriating director, which knows how to shoot actors simply and elegantly. Like his work on Alan Bennett's An Englishman Abroad and A Question of Attribution, Cold Comfort Farm sparkles because it is so effortless, so unfussy. Schlesinger has been blessed with a light, witty script (by Malcolm Bradbury, adapted from Stella Gibbon's novel) and a cast who are generous enough to pump real blood into roles that teeter on the edge of caricature. It helps that the tone has a certain distance from the story - a film whose heroine insists at the outset that she wants to learn about living "to put it in books", is unlikely to resist commentating on the relationship between art and life, and Schlesinger manages this cool detachment very well.
But the warmth of the performances prevents the film from feeling cynical. As Flora, the newly orphaned socialite in 1930s London, Kate Beckinsale combines a brusque restlessness with a rich love of life, so that her orderly impulses are informed by genuine heart. When she arrives in Sussex to stay with the Starkadders at Cold Comfort Farm, she doesn't set about transforming their lives in order to enforce her own social superiority - she does so because she genuinely wants them to blossom. It takes a deft actress to walk this line between condescension and caring, but Beckinsale is a luminously confident performer whose brightness lights up the screen, as it does the Starkadders' homestead.
The film could still be said to be lacking in cinematic virtues - it's true that the camera notices images of beauty, be it a field darkened by a passing fleet of clouds, or a table dressed with quivering coloured jellies, infrequently and accidentally. But if there's little justification for Cold Comfort Farm to be seen at the cinema, the performances aren't weakened by a larger screen. I especially warmed to Eileen Atkins, who keeps widening one mad eye as the gloomy Judith Starkadder, and Rufus Sewell as her spunky son Seth, strutting around vainly assembling his thoughts on womankind for anyone who'll listen, then being reduced to a babbling fool whenever conversation turns to the "Talkies".
Eddie is the only previously unseen film to be released this week, though it's hardly what you would call new. Whoopi Goldberg plays the title character, a basketball fan who is picked from the crowd at Madison Square Garden and chosen to be that evening's honorary coach for the Nicks. Her big mouth gets her ejected from the court, but she proves a hit with the crowd, and the team's new owner, Wild Bill (Frank Langella), takes a chance and hires her to turn the Nicks' fortunes around. If you've seen The Bad News Bears, Major League, Wildcats or any other film that has gone scouting for laughs on the sports field and in the locker-room, then you won't be surprised by Eddie. Yes, there are gags about groupies. Yes, Whoopi gets to see her boys naked in the showers. Yes, the players are lovable oafs, each with an idiosyncrasy by which they can be easily identified. And no, none of it raises more than a charitable smile.
As the film begins wrapping up its loose ends, it briefly becomes something more pleasing - the story of a bunch of friends struggling to communicate. The bookish assistant musters the wherewithal to offer advice; the infidel learns how to love his wife just as she is about to divorce him; and the hotshot who has spent the film referring to himself in the third person finally thaws out. There are some sweet moments from Goldberg too, who is still perfecting that expression of befuddled exasperation (with her haywire dreads she resembles a volcano in mid-eruption) despite having yet to find a role that harnesses the charge of her stand-up routines.
The final scene, where Nicks fans stage a protest at the proposed sale of their team, tries to be inspirational in a Dead Poets Society kind of way. The swelling music suggests that we're supposed to ache for these uncomplicated New Yorkers who just want to eat their hot dogs and do a Mexican wave every now and then. I don't know about you, but my goosebumps don't come that cheap.
Return of the Jedi marks the end of the Star Wars trilogy, and the point at which all the inspiration and ambition of the series disappeared into a black hole. To say that it is the weakest of the three films would be a gross understatement; call it the nadir of the science-fiction genre and you'd be slightly closer to the mark. It's the one where Han Solo comes out of the deep-freeze, Jabba the Hutt is slain, Yoda has a death- bed scene straight out of Steel Magnolias, and Luke and Leia discover that they came this close to participating in a sordid Oedipal love affair.
And then there are the Ewoks, a tribe of furry mascots who have often been described as teddy bears but, on closer inspection, resemble something hairy and unhygienic that you might find down the back of the settee. To brand them the worst thing about Return of the Jedi would be to ignore the film's numerous other misdemeanours. But when a pivotal set-piece can feature the mighty Empire being defeated by a pack of muppets with home-made hang-gliders, sling-shots and staffs, then you know that something has gone very wrong indeed.
All films on release from tomorrowReuse content