Free to air
week’s best films
EASILY the most beguiling family entertainment showing during the Christmas season, Miss Potter (Wednesday, 5pm, ABC1) was directed by Chris Noonan, his first film after his smashing success with Babe, 11 years earlier. It’s another story about innocence and ambition. Beatrix Potter yearns to be a successful author much as Babe, the piglet, yearned to be a sheepdog. And the two share certain qualities — pluck, courtesy, respect for others. Renee Zellweger’s transformation from Roxie Hart, the homicidal showbiz gal in Rob Marshall’s Chicago, to the shy and gentle Beatrix is astonishing. Stifled by her restrictive upper-class family background, and still (shamefully) unmarried in her 30s, Beatrix finds romance at last with her publisher (Ewan McGregor), who helps turn her illustrated children’s stories into worldwide bestsellers. Moving, sad, beautifully acted, the film is enlivened with animated inserts depicting Potter’s beloved characters — Flopsy, Mopsy, Mrs Tiggy-Winkle and the rest. Altogether delightful.
North Face (Thursday, midnight, SBS One) is an absorbing account of an attempt by German and Austrian climbers to scale the north face of the Eiger, in Switzerland, in 1936. Most of it was filmed on the Eiger itself, that treacherous wall of ice and rock in the Berne Oberland, and for excitement it rivals James March’s documentary Man on Wire, or Kevin Macdonald’s great mountain-climbing drama Touching the Void. Essentially the climb was a propaganda exercise, promoted by the editor of the Berliner Zeitung, to glorify Hitler and the Third Reich. For those who don’t know the outcome it would unfair to reveal what happens. I suspect the romantic subplot has been exaggerated, perhaps even the acts of heroism. But it’s history now. All that matters while we watch North Face are the logistics of that climb — the courage, the ingenuity, the sheer patience of the mountaineers.
Home Alone (Tuesday, 8.30pm, Ten) became the highest-grossing comedy of all time after its release in 1990, but family audiences should avoid it: it is a surprisingly violent, paranoid fantasy for kids, with a sentimental slapstick plot more notable for scenes of torture and sadism. Macaulay Culkin made a brief name for himself as the eight-year-old defending his home against intruders. Yes, comedy, though it’s more like a home-invasion thriller with those sadistic touches.
You’ll remember that young Kevin (Culkin) is left at home while his parents go on holiday (just how this happens is a long story), and has to deal with a couple of comically inept burglars. This must be the first comedy — yes, comedy — to focus on child abuse. But revenge is sweet. The intruders’ heads are attacked with a blowtorch.