OPENING in cinemas next week is a French film called The Intouchables, about a quadriplegic and his street-smart carer, which has broken box-office records in Europe. Viewers should be aware that it bears no relation to The Untouchables (Friday, 8.30pm, Showtime Action), the 1987 Brian De Palma gangster film, which in turn bears little relation to the 1950s television series. The Untouchables made a star of Kevin Costner as G-man Eliot Ness, and has a wonderfully witty and powerful script by David Mamet. Its many striking set-pieces include a Canadian border ambush shot like a Sergio Leone western and a 10-minute sequence at a railway station that pays homage to Battleship Potemkin (1925), with a shot of a baby carriage bouncing down steps while Ness and Al Capone (Robert De Niro) shoot it out. One of the great gangster films of all time, it’s enriched by a fine Ennio Morricone score.
The Help (Friday, 8.30pm, Starpics), from a 2009 novel by Kathryn Stockett, is about the interlocking lines of affluent Mississippi housewives and their black maids in the early 60s. The white women in the film are gushing suburban newlyweds and bridge club belles who treat their servants as slaves. Black domestic workers were paid a pittance in those days. They had no time off, no legal or industrial protection. It would have been against the law in Mississippi for Stockett to publish her book in the early 60s, and any cinema there that showed Tate Taylor’s film then probably would have been put to the torch. There are luminous performances from Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer as two of the maids, while the housewives play out their domestic and social rituals with a degree of jauntiness verging on the creepy. The film is big, bright and glossy, shot in the fluorescent colours of 60s affluence. I enjoyed it but kept wishing it were harsher, gutsier and more confronting.
Mark Herman is the British writer-director who made the excellent Brassed Off in 1996. His subsequent film, Little Voice (Wednesday, 10.20pm, Movie Greats), is based on Jim Cartwright’s play about a pathologically shy girl (Jane Horrocks) who memorises the best known songs in her late father’s record collection and learns to mimic the voices of Judy Garland and Shirley Bassey. Eventually she’s persuaded by an unscrupulous theatrical agent (Michael Caine) to perform on stage, and audiences are ecstatic. You can’t help relishing these scenes, though they tend to coarsen what sets out to be a delicate story of emotional transformation. In Peter Hyam’s Capricorn One (Thursday, 8.30pm, TCM), the first American mission to Mars is faked by NASA for TV audiences while the real astronauts are spirited away to a secret desert hideout. All wildly unbelievable, but it works in a weird way. Conspiracy theorists will love it. Stars Elliott Gould and James Brolin.
(M) ★★★★✩ Friday, 8.30pm, Showtime Action
(M) ★★★ ✩ Friday, 8.30pm, Starpics
(M) ★★★✩✩ Thursday, 8.30pm, TCM
Viola Davis in