12 Years a Slave (15) Steve McQueen DVD/Blu-ray (134mins)
It’s 1841 and Solomon Northup, an accomplished musician, is duped into touring the US with two “circus” men promising good money. On tour they intoxicate him and sell him on to Southern slave traders. So begins 12 years of brutality, during which Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is subjected to thrashings, lynchings and hatred. Like Steve McQueen’s previous two challenging features, Hunger and Shame, there are snatches of beauty among the horror. However, it’s the dehumanising effect of slavery that McQueen portrays so effectively and he has a fine cast to help. Ejiofor deserved his Oscar nomination but Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano and Paul Giamatti are no less convincing. A punishing watch: as it should be.
The Trip to Italy (15) Michael Winterbottom DVD/Blu-ray (174mins)
“We’re not going to do any more impersonations, are we, because we talked about that,” demands Steve Coogan. Thank heavens, they don’t keep their promise in this tangy second series about two “friends” (Coogan and Rob Brydon) on a food reviewing assignment for The Observer, this time in the lush Italian countryside. Their food comments are beside the point as the comics bicker, bond and spar at impersonations. The best ones? It’s a tie between Neil Kinnock and Wogan.
Hobson’s Choice: 60th Anniversary Edition (U) David Lean DVD/Blu-ray (102mins)
“Maggie’s too useful for marrying,” proclaims Charles Laughton’s sozzled, sexist bootmaker in David Lean’s excellent adaptation of Harold Brighouse’s sharp satire, set in 1880s Salford. Every role is perfectly filled, with Brenda de Banzie almost impish as the street-smart Maggie, John Mills suitably naive as genius shoemaker Will and Laughton showing off his talents for physical comedy as the boorish Henry Horatio Hobson. An acting masterclass.
An Inspector Calls: 60th Anniversary Edition (PG) Guy Hamilton DVD/Blu-ray (76mins)
Guy Hamilton, a regular James Bond director, delivers an exquisitely straightforward adaptation of JB Priestley’s searing indictment of the English ruling classes before the First World War and the sinking of the Titanic. Alastair Sim is penetrative as the “inspector” who nimbly demonstrates that every member of the prosperous Birling family is responsible for the apparent suicide of a young working-class woman.
Honour (15) Shan Khan DVD/Blu-ray (104mins)
As a London family watch a TV quiz show, the son (a copper) strangles his pregnant teenage sister while the mother yells “kill her”. They botch this “honour” killing and Mona (Aiysha Hart) escapes, but the grimly determined mum hires a bounty hunter and former National Front member (Paddy Considine) to murder her daughter. Shan Khan’s untidy thriller lacks nuance and subtlety, but Hart and Considine give committed performances.