The best of the week's TV films

·7-min read
Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson as Cash and Detroit in Sorry To Bother You
Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson as Cash and Detroit in Sorry To Bother You

Film of the week

Sorry To Bother You, May 12, BBC Three, 11.35pm

Roaring out of the traps like streaming hits Severance and Dear White People crossed with Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels – if you know your Houyhnhnms from your Brobdingagians, you’ll get the reference when you see it – this debut feature from rapper-turned-director Boots Riley was a hit at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018 and is as thought-provoking as it is scabrously funny. It’s plenty weird, too.

Best described as a surrealist sci-fi black comedy, it critiques both race and capitalism and comes complete with a soundtrack by lo-fi indie-dance songstress Merrill Garbus, aka Tune-Yards, like Riley a denizen of Oakland, California. And check out the cast list: alongside stars Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson you’ll see Danny Glover and former NFL star-turned-activist actor Terry Crews, and hear the voices of Forrest Whitaker, Rosario Dawson and Lily James.

Yes, that Lily James.

Stanfield is Cassius Green, known to all as Cash, who lives in the garage of the Oakland house rented in turn by his uncle, Sergio (Crews). We don’t know it’s a garage until the automatic door opens as Cash is in bed with his artist girlfriend Detroit (Thompson). It’s just one of several neat visual gags.

Four months behind on his rent, Cash goes for a job with the same telemarketing company his friend Sal (Jermaine Fowler) already works for. It is called Regal View and, to his surprise, he is hired. On his first day he’s told by old hand Langston (Glover) to try using what he calls his “white voice” when calling potential customers. Cash tries it (stand-up David Cross provides the lip-synched vocals)and finds his “white voice” so effective that while Sal and colleague Squeeze (Steven Yeun) are unionising the Regal View workforce in an effort to actually get paid, Cash is promoted to the rarefied Power Caller floor of the building. There he finds himself selling cheap labour on a massive scale for clients such as Worry Free, an exploitative and dystopian multi-national run by coke-snorting CEO Steve Lift (Armie Hammer, in one of the last films he made before becoming embroiled in sexual abuse allegations). Meanwhile Detroit has joined the Left Eye Faction, a sort of Black Bloc activist grouping who daub a black line under their left eye and spray slogans on walls.

It’s when Cash is invited to meet Lift and attend a party at his house that things really take a turn for the weird, leading to a jaw-dropping denouement.

And the best of the rest …

Saturday May 7

The Personal History Of David Copperfield, Channel 4, 9.15pm

Writer-director Armando Iannucci realises great expectations with his madcap take on Charles Dickens’ indomitable literary hero. The Personal History of David Copperfield breathlessly abridges the mid-19th century serial and novel to focus on the quixotic and colourful characters. A galaxy of stars in the British acting firmament sparkle in small yet perfectly formed roles including a delightfully bonkers Tilda Swinton as Betsey Trotwood and Peter Capaldi as lovable rapscallion Mr Micawber. The setting may be pungently Victorian but the tone is unmistakably modern from the hero’s knowing narration to nudge-nudge wink-wink flashes of directorial brio that bookmark each chapter. Dev Patel plays the likeable comic foil in the midst of madness, who is slowly educated in the whims of his fellow man.

Sunday May 8

The Hurt Locker, BBC Two, 10pm

Those of a nervous disposition should opt out of a tour of duty with Kathryn Bigelow’s thrilling, Oscar-winning war drama. The Hurt Locker is a master class in sustained tension as a three-strong bomb disposal squad attached to the US Army risks life and severed limb to defuse roadside IEDs (improvised explosive devices). Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) is the new boy of Bravo Company, taking charge of sergeant JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) on the streets of Baghdad, but his gung-ho, fatalistic approach to his job creates friction with his subordinates. Mackie and Geraghty are compelling as the voices of experience and exuberance, and there are pivotal roles for Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes as men caught in the crossfire.

Monday May 9

Anastasia, Film 4, 11am

This Oscar-winning 1956 drama was inspired by the story of Anna Anderson, a woman who claimed to be Anastasia Romanov, daughter of the ill-fated Russian Tsar. After rumours spread that the then-teenage princess was the only member of the family to survive their massacre in 1917, an opportunistic Russian businessman in 1920s Paris sees a chance to make some money by passing off a mysterious amnesiac (Ingrid Bergman) as the royal. But is there a chance he has somehow stumbled upon the genuine article? Anastasia marked the Hollywood comeback of Ingrid Bergman after her scandalous affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini and it is obvious why she won an Oscar for the role. The impressive supporting cast includes Yul Brynner and Helen Hayes.

Tuesday May 10

The Man Who Knew Infinity, BBC Two, 11.15pm

Srinivasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel) is a 25-year-old shipping clerk in 1914 Madras, who dreams about formulae, which he scribbles in chalk on temple floors. With the blessing of his employer Sir Francis Spring (Stephen Fry), Ramanujan bids a tearful farewell to his new wife (Devika Bhise) and travels to Trinity College, Cambridge, to nurture his gift under revered academic GH Hardy (Jeremy Irons). Adapted from Robert Kanigel’s 1991 biography, The Man Who Knew Infinity is a handsome dramatisation of the real-life Indian mathematician who came to England to share his passion for numbers. Patel and Irons are a pleasing double act - youthful exuberance colliding with stuffy stiff-upper-lipped restraint.

Wednesday May 11

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Film 4, 1.50pm

Newly qualified lawyer Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) attempts to bring order to the Western town of Shinbone, but gunslinger Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) isn’t about to be won over by his fancy, book-learned ways. Rancher Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) tells Stoddard more brutal methods are needed if he wants to bring the criminal to justice and win the respect of the locals. Director John Ford and Wayne made some of the greatest Westerns of all time, and this relatively late entry in their filmography is one of the best. As well as being gripping, it has a real elegiac feel. It also gave us one of the genre’s most quoted lines: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”.

Thursday May 12

Bringing Up Baby, BBC Four, 9pm

Palaeontologist Dr David Huxley’s (Cary Grant) ordered life is thrown into confusion when he meets madcap heiress Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn) and her pet leopard, Baby. Before he knows what’s happening, David finds himself escorting the dangerous duo to the country home of Susan’s wealthy aunt, which is a bit inconvenient, as he’s supposed to be getting married to his severe assistant - and impressing a museum donor. Despite flopping at the box office on release (what were the audiences of 1938 thinking?) Bringing Up Baby is now rightly regarded as one of the finest screwball comedies ever made. Grant and Hepburn are simply superb, legendary director Howard Hawks handles the comedy beautifully, and the supporting cast is crammed with terrific character actors.

Friday May 13

Before I Go To Sleep, BBC One, 11.35pm

Following a car accident, 47-year-old Christine Lucas (Nicole Kidman) is diagnosed with anterograde amnesia. Each morning, she wakes in a strange bed next to a man she does not know and creeps into the adjacent bathroom where a series of photographs on the wall begin to fill in the blanks, letting her know that the man is her husband Ben (Colin Firth). Then Christine receives a mysterious telephone call from someone called Dr Nash (Mark Strong), who instructs her to look in the wardrobe, where she finds a video diary that casts doubt on the facts that underpin her fragile existence. Based on SJ Watson’s bestselling novel, Before I Go to Sleep is an ingenious thriller, which drip-feeds us fragmented flashbacks, clouding our judgement of characters as they orbit Christine, purportedly out of love.