Love-all in London
MY royalist friends were disappointed that during the endless diamond jubilee celebrations, followed by the Queen’s Birthday holiday weekend, there wasn’t one film on cable about matters royal and imperial. No Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth I, or Helen Mirren as Elizabeth II, or even Emily Blunt as the young Queen Victoria. They could have put on Royal Wedding, the Fred Astaire musical set in London during the present Queen’s nuptials, a neglected treasure and not to be confused with Bells are Ringing (Wednesday, 8.30pm, TCM), Vincente Minnelli’s adaptation of the Broadway show about a telephone operator (Judy Holliday) who falls for a caller.
Sadly, it was Holliday’s last film, but she gets a couple of good tunes.
Better timing with the tennis. With the tournament coming up later this month, I recommend Wimbledon (Monday, 8.30pm, Showtime Drama), a thoroughly well-bred, impeccably good-natured British romantic comedy, set in an idealised tourist London and played out on centre court. And there’s a bonus for British tennis fans. The battling local hero — a kind of Andy Murray character called Peter Colt — actually competes in a Wimbledon final, and I won’t spoil anyone’s pleasure by revealing whether he wins.
Peter, played by a lean and moody Paul Bettany, is ranked 119 in the world and has never won a title. But just when he’s ready to announce his retirement he hits a winning streak, inspired by a burgeoning romance with lovely American star Lizzie Bradbury (Kirsten Dunst), who is competing for the women’s title. Lizzie spends her days under the protective gaze of her father and coach (Sam Neill), who doesn’t approve of Peter.
Director Richard Loncraine shows himself well aware of the erotic possibilities of the game. All that sighing and grunting is suggestive enough. In an ideal tennis romance, perhaps Peter and Lizzie would be teamed in a mixed-doubles final. The rallies, of course, are unbelievable.
Sideways (Saturday, 2pm, Showtime Drama) is Alexander Payne’s tragicomic exploration of guilt and friendship amid the vineyards of southern California, a film of such warm and seductive appeal that it seems to have been put together in a haze of alcoholic euphoria. A pair of losers — Miles (Paul Giamatti), abandoned husband, amateur wine buff and unsuccessful novelist, and Jack (Thomas Haden Church), former soap before Jack gets married. It’s a film of gentle wit and subtlety, with touches of Withnail & I and The Trip, and it has a couple of delightful comic set-pieces to round things off.
This column has never subscribed to the theory that remakes of good films are always worse than the originals, but here are two remakes that undermine my confidence. I had high hopes for the Coen brothers’ The Ladykillers (Sunday, 8.30pm, Movie Greats), but those who remember the 1955 Ealing comedy with Alec Guinness are bound to find this a disappointment. It’s the same story: a gang of criminals, disguised as musicians, rent rooms in an old lady’s home to plan a robbery, only to discover that the innocent-seeming landlady is smarter than she looks. The Coens bring to it their usual elegant and sardonic style, having set the action in Mississippi and padded it with long stretches of gospel music, but it’s not one of their best. And if you treasure John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate as the greatest political conspiracy thriller Hollywood has produced, avoid Jonathan Demme’s lacklustre version with Liev Schreiber (Saturday, 8.30pm, Showtime Action).
The great remake this week is Show Boat (Friday, 10.20pm, TCM), MGM’s lustrous musical with Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson and Ava Gardner, which is even better than the 1936 black-and-white film directed by James Whale. You won’t hear Paul Robeson singing Ol’ Man River (though William Warfield makes a good fist of it) and you won’t hear Gardner’s voice in some of those great Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein songs.
As Julie, the much-wronged mulatto who helps save her friend’s marriage to a riverboat gambler, Gardner did her own singing but was dubbed later by Annette Warren after preview audiences reacted coolly to her vocalising. Still, you can’t help lovin’ that film.
Saturday, 2pm, Showtime Drama
Monday, 8.30pm, Showtime Drama
Sunday, 8.30pm, Movie Greats
Kirsten Dunst and Paul Bettany in Richard Loncraine’s Wimbledon