FREE- TO- AIR FILMS
THE best ones this week are all on the grim side, but it’s school holidays so I’ll mention a couple of nicer ones for children. The Secret Garden ( Monday, midday, Nine) is a lovely adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic tale, directed with a clear, unsentimental eye by Agnieszka Holland ( who made this year’s Copying Beethoven ). Kate Maberly plays lonely Mary, who is orphaned by an earthquake in India and sent to live in a gloomy gothic pile in the north of England, to be looked after by her widowed uncle ( John Lynch) and mean- spirited housekeeper Mrs Medlock ( Maggie Smith). The secret garden proves to be a refuge for Mary and her two unlikely companions, her uncle’s invalid son, whom she helps back to life, and a young fellow who talks to animals. All is delicate, mysterious and thoroughly engaging. I showed it to my granddaughters when they were seven or thereabouts, and they loved it.
Eliza is another child who talks to animals, this time in an animated film, The Wild Thornberrys Movie ( Sunday, 1pm, Ten). It has much humour and sparkle, with Brenda Blethyn, Lynn Redgrave and Rupert Everett supplying some of the voices.
In the dire and nasty category, Nine is showing two films about young men behaving badly in a post- feminist age of male alienation and despair. Fight Club ( Friday, midnight) is a bitterly funny and disturbing fable about a neurotic urban professional type ( Edward Norton) and an edgy young risk- taker ( Brad Pitt) who meet by chance on a plane trip and discover a weird form of psychotherapy in bloody fisticuffs. Solitary bouts lead to the formation of a club where other emotionally stunted and troubled men are drawn to rituals of cathartic pain. David Fincher’s film ( from Chuck Palahniuk’s novel) is anarchic and shocking: one of Hollywood’s boldest experiments and a landmark film of the 1990s.
Less gripping but no less unpleasant is Neil LaBute’s In the Company of Men ( Wednesday, midnight, Nine) a kind of Dangerous Liaisons for our corporatised culture. With no violence, no bloodshed, indeed with little action of any kind, LaBute has constructed a story of refined psychological cruelty worthy of the most callous Restoration intrigue. And, like Fight Club , it asks to be taken seriously.
The setting is a nameless American city where two 30- ish executives, Chad ( Aaron Eckhart) and Howard ( Matt Malloy), harbour resentments against the world. Promotions have passed them by, lovers and girlfriends have proved faithless or ungrateful. It’s time
for revenge. The two contrive to seduce the unsuspecting Christine ( Stacy Edwards), a handicapped girl from the typing pool, and abandon her when her passions are aroused. It is essential to the scheme that the chosen victim should be someone so plain or ungainly ( in Christine’s case, deaf and speechimpaired) that she will more easily succumb to romantic advances and suffer more acutely when rejected.
To his credit, LaBute is decently indignant about the entire corporate culture, not just its female victims. This is a world where blokes, too, can be humiliated. In one scene a male office intern is obliged to remove his underpants for an interview. In the end, we are left merely with a nasty taste.