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Director: Jonathan Demme

Starring: Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover

If film lives in a boldly naturalistic plane, prose inhabits an altogether more oblique and shadowy realm. And so Jonathan Demme's adaptation of Toni Morrison's multi-layered Pulitzer Prize-winner was always going to make for an uneasy marriage; hopping shakily between upfront dramatics and mysticism. Oprah Winfrey stars as an escaped slave struggling to cope with a visitation from a bewitched voodoo child (Thandie Newton) who may (or may not) be the ghost of her dead daughter. Still, there's much to admire in Beloved's three hours of muddle - its fabulist take on black oppression, its gumbo of pungent human drama with overheated horror-flick shenanigans. Heartfelt acting and a vibrant visual sense paper over all manner of cracks.

West End: Odeon Camden Town, Odeon Kensington, Odeon Swiss Cottage, Ritzy Cinema, UCI Whiteleys, Virgin Trocadero, Warner Village. And local cinemas


Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Starring: Ulrich Thomsen, Helge Moritzen

See The Independent Recommends, right.

West End: Chelsea Cinema, Clapham Picture House, Curzon Soho, Screen on Baker Street


Director: Idrissa Ouedraogo

Starring: David Mohloki, Vusi Kuneni

The first English-language offering from acclaimed Burkina Faso director Idrissa Ouedraogo, Kini and Adams looks to spotlight a career in transition. This African odd-couple comedy turns its back on Ouedraogo's traditionally stark, folk-tale milieu, and ropes in two professional actors in David Mohloki and Vusi Kuneni's squabbling adventurers. But the director's soulful style is stymied by a script that is, at times, clankingly schematic and crudely drawn. The natural magic slowly seeps away.

Repertory: National Film Theatre


Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll,

Godfrey Tearle, Peggy Ashcroft, Lucie Mannheim

Filmed back in 1935, The 39 Steps stands proud as the most polished pic of Hitchcock's early, British period (although The Lady Vanishes comes awfully close). Thereafter, he would light out for Hollywood and his films would become both more glossy and more morally oblique. The 39 Steps, by contrast, offers classic Boys' Own adventure, riffing off John Buchan's source

novel to produce a gadabout spy yarn that hurls Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll's handcuffed-together runaways into a Scotland that's bursting with oddball eccentrics. The film is as light and bracing as oxygen: all witty twists, throwaway lines and crisp observations as it builds towards a climactic crescendo at the London Palladium. Legend has it that Hitchcock insisted on handcuffing Donat to Carroll before filming began, just so they could get used to being together, and then ran off with the key. Tsk, those auteur directors. Never too highbrow for the odd playground prank.

West End: Barbican Screen

Xan Brooks