Apollo 13 (PG). The sole redeeming feature of this disastrous disaster movie was a gut-quaking Dolby-soundtrack launch sequence, which was loud enough to shake the popcorn from your hands. On the small screen, the picture is robbed even of that fleeting pleasure. The director Ron Howard manages to take one of the most potentially terrifying episodes in the history of space travel - when a hitch left the Apollo 13 craft suspended above the Earth, and the lives of its crew (Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton) hanging in the balance - and turn it into a tepid TV movie. (If only it really were one: you long for the brief reprieve of a garish commercial.) Where themes of patriotism jeopardised by the struggle for survival might have surfaced, the screenwriters revert to jingoistic impulses; stoicism replaces any whiff of existentialist terror; and instead of friction between the astronauts, we get that vacuum of personality that seems to open up wherever Tom Hanks, the eunuch of modern cinema, lays his hat. In this anaesthetised atmosphere, some of the supporting cast are pleasantly jazzy on the eye and ear: Gary Sinise is compelling as the one who got away - at first aggrieved, then relieved, awkwardly so, at having been left behind. But as a director, Howard is an anti-lifeforce, a vampire; he sucks films dry of tension and opportunity. He and Hanks are perfectly matched - they make everything bland. It's not all their fault. Even on the basic technical level, Apollo 13 fails dismally (look out for an unforgivable error in the early scene where Hanks is gawping at the Moon). Hollywood, we most definitely have a problem.

A cock and bull story


The transformer

4. Mark Shivas The BBC is emerging as a significant player in the film business, led by a man without proven ability as an uncouth heavy. By Kevin Jackson

From drawing-rooms to Wessex wilds

Catherine Pepinster sees Austen make way for Hardy on television

These are the rising stars of 1996

Which names will you hear everywhere in the year ahead? David Benedict canvassed the views of the Independent's critics

A Wessex tale of Auld Reekie

Jude the Obscure ... set in Edinburgh? `Eccentric academic' Kevin Jackson joined the set of the latest costume drama to hear producer Andrew Eaton's excuse

Pain, with no jokes taken out

Jimmy McGovern, the author of 'Cracker', has collaborated with multiple sclerosis sufferer Paul Powell to create a drama that is anything but an 'illness-of-the-month' feature. By James Rampton

The anti-nowhere leads

Cinema: BUTTERFLY KISS Michael Winterbottom (18) DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE John McTiernan (15) SUITE 16 Dominique Deruddere (18)

Rugby Union: Golden Old sinks Otley - Round-up

MICHAEL OLD displayed the coolness under pressure which used to be the hallmark of his father's game as he engineered the main upset of the Pilkington Cup second round yesterday.

REVIEW / Taking the Ha, Ha, Ha out of Roddy Doyle

THE HIGHER Roddy Doyle rises, the deeper his characters sink into the bog. The worst affliction suffered by anyone in the 'Barrytown Trilogy' was the Republic's elimination from the World Cup quarter-finals, and the emotions of stout men flowed as liberally as the stout. In Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, last year's Booker victor in which a 10-year-old kicked around with his pals while his Da kicked his Ma around , Doyle's comic instincts budged up a bit and made room for something gloomier. We should have known what to expect from his first work written directly for the screen. In Family (BBC 1), an Irish Catholic's tremendously sour contribution to this year's UN festivities, there's still a rich diet of soul music, football and repartee round the kitchen table, but unless the series lightens up a bit we'll fetch up in the heart of darkness.

TELEVISION / Doyle family values: Paddy Clarke Boo Hoo Hoo: Roddy Doyle is putting the darker side of family life on screen. Kevin Jackson met him on location

One Saturday afternoon late last autumn, the crowd at Dublin's Dalymount Park football stadium (Bohemians vs Shelbourne: a disappointing goalless draw) was slightly larger than usual, since it included a couple of actors, 50-odd extras, a camera crew, a director, a producer and a writer. Most of the crowd were understandably more interested in the match than in the visitors, but then some nearby lads noticed who the writer in question was, and, to the traditional supporter's melody of 'Guantanamera' started up a rowdy chant: 'One Roddy Doy-ull] There's only one Roddy Doy-ull] . . .'

THEATRE / Mother of all murders: Correction

In yesterday's review of 'Butterfly Kiss', the actress Susan Brown was incorrectly billed as Susan Brownowen.

THEATRE / Mother of all murders: Paul Taylor on Butterfly Kiss at the Almeida in London (CORRECTED)


Media / Talk of the Trade: Duds and delights

THE BBC is super-serving the middle classes. This is the predictable conclusion of both the BBC's own research and that of outside bodies such as the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising. It was probably ever so, but when the corporation is defending its right to a statutory licence fee to pay for good television programmes for everyone, it becomes a touchy subject.
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