Films of the week

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The Independent Culture

Sun 10pm BBC2

A travelling shot across the battlefields of Flanders in the first half-minute establishes the background of the First World War, but Gillies MacKinnon's film never returns to the front. Instead, his adaptation of Pat Barker's novel takes us to the Scottish hospital at Craiglockhart, where liberal doctor William Rivers (Jonathan Pryce) is treating patients with "neurasthenia", who can then be returned from this haven to the real madness of war. Apart from Rivers, other historical characters who make an appearance are the poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. But the film centres on an fictional working-class officer (Jonny Lee Miller, above) who offers the greatest challenge to Rivers's peace of mind. (1997)


Mon 3.55am C4

Thanks to producer Irving Thalberg, this famous portmanteau movie gathered together, in the lobby of its art deco hotel, many of the famous names of Hollywood's Golden Age. Greta Garbo is a Russian ballerina; Lionel Barrymore a bookkeeper with a fatal illness, determined to spend his last days in luxury; Joan Crawford is the stenographer who finds she is in love with him; John Barrymore (above, with Garbo) the baron fallen on hard times; and Wallace Beery is the hard-hearted industrialist. Expect no understatement here. Much of the film now seems laughable, but it remains a monument to the ambitions of MGM in the days when sound movies were still the latest thing. (1932)


Tues 1.50pm C4

Made only three years after the publication of Kingsley Amis's novel, the Boulting Brothers' film discovers more farce than satire in the tale of provincial university life. As callow young history lecturer Jim, Ian Carmichael (above) pretends to be staggering along as best he can, practising his repertoire of expressive grimaces and trying not to spend too much time with his dotty head of department, Professor Welch (Hugh Griffith), or Welch's predatory daughter. In the end, of course, the ordinary chap wins out over the pretentious idiots and escapes from the Groves of Academe to the saner pastures of industry, taking the best available girl with him. Very 1950s, with some funny moments. (1957)


Thurs 11.30am BBC2

Returning to England from the Continent, a young woman (Margaret Lockwood) meets an old lady (May Whitty) on the train. Then, not only does the lady vanish, but the train suddenly seems full of sinister characters determined to insist that she was never there. How can Iris prove that Miss Froy was not an illusion? Perhaps with the help of a charming music scholar (Michael Redgrave, above with Lockwood), as long as she can first convince him that she is not making it all up. The best of Hitchcock's pre-war comedy-thrillers, it's ingenious, fast-moving and fun. This was the film that persuaded David O Selznick to invite the director to Hollywood, to make Rebecca. It was 30 years before he came back. (1938)


Thurs 3.20am C4

Anita Loos co-wrote this adaptation of Clare Boothe's Broadway hit play and George Cukor directed, confirming his reputation as a great "womens' director". It all adds up to a particular slant on a particular class of American female: witty, bitchy, gossipy, flirtatious, vindictive, addicted to beauty parlours, coffee lounges and clothes shops, and unable to decide if their mothers and their best friends are really allies or rivals in the great game of love. Rosalind Russell and Joan Crawford (above), Paulette Goddard, Joan Fontaine and Norma Shearer head the all-female cast, the plot revolving (often very slowly) around the question of whether Shearer should be told that her husband is having an affair. (1939)


Sat 8.55pm BBC2

Pu Yi, the last emperor of China, ended his days as an ordinary citizen under Communism. In Bernardo Bertolucci's sumptuous history, the scenes of Pu Yi's early life, filmed in the Forbidden City, make superb use of the location - though to some, the film's visual splendour made it seem cold. In fact, Bertolucci's message (symbolised by the apparently immortal grasshopper hidden beneath the throne) is that the human spirit can survive intact behind the formal robes. Pu Yi (Richard Vuu as the child, above; then finely played by John Lone from the age of 18) is shown as a victim of an extraordinary fate, who only discovers freedom in the end as a humble gardener. (1987)

Satellite films

Jour de Fete (Mon 6pm FilmFour) Jacques Tati's first film proved that silent comedy was alive and doing better than ever. (1947)

La Haine (Tues 10.10pm FilmFour) Mathieu Kassovitz's harsh report on race and seething anger in a suburban Parisian housing estate. (1995)

M/ The Testament of Dr Mabuse (Wed 12m't/1.45am FilmFour) Fritz Lang's two masterpieces of German Expressionist cinema. The first stars Peter Lorre as a child murderer; the second is a sequel to Lang's silent Dr Mabuse, in which the dead doctor's evil spirit takes over his successor. The Nazis banned it, seeing it perhaps as an allegory of their own rise to power. (1931/ 1933)

One From the Heart (Sat 8pm FilmFour) Francis Coppola's garish love story makes a virtue of artificiality and surface glitz. (1982)