NEAR the gates of the Botanic Gardens in Sydney is a bronze plaque commemorating some of the least remembered heroes of World War I — not people, but horses. Many thousands of horses were shipped to the battlefields from Australia, and none returned — either killed in the slaughter or too badly wounded or traumatised to be brought home. In War Horse (Monday, 6pm, M Premiere), Steven Spielberg follows the fortunes of a horse called Joey, raised on a farm in Devon and sold to a British officer for service in France. Albert (Jeremy Irvine), the young farm lad who has reared and loved the horse, eventually goes to France himself. Lovers of horse films will rank it with Seabiscuit, Phar Lap and National Velvet.
There have been three great on-screen impersonations in recent films, all box-office successes — Daniel Day-Lewis in Spielberg’s Lincoln, Meryl Streep’s Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, and Michelle Williams’s Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn (Sunday, 6.45pm, M Masterpiece). Based on two books by Colin Clark, Simon Curtis’s film depicts the making of the 1957 film The Prince and Showgirl, in which Monroe starred with Laurence Olivier (played by Kenneth Branagh), and describes a week she spent in Clark’s company visiting the sights of London. With its wryly observed account of what was (presumably) an unconsummated love affair, the film plumbs no great psychological depths but is brought off with subtlety, humour and charm. Speaking of great screen impersonations, I should add Faye Dunaway’s sensational Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest (Saturday, 8.30pm, M Masterpiece), based on the memoirs of Christina Crawford, one of Joan’s two adopted children, who apparently endured a horrendous upbringing in a household where Mommie dearest’’ was the obligatory form of address when speaking to Joan. It’s a horrific portrait of a sociopath and narcissist whose most famous injunction (‘‘Never give me wire coathangers’’) has become part of camp folklore.
I watched Now, Voyager (Saturday, 8.30pm, Fox Classics) again the other night on DVD and relished every minute of its soapy charm. The idea of the timid, parentally oppressed heroine who blossoms into radiant womanhood under the influence of love is a favourite Hollywood theme (see The Heiress), and Bette Davis is superb as Charlotte Vale, daughter of an uppercrust Boston family who defies her domineering mother (Gladys Cooper) to make a life of her own. Those were the days when smoking was not only permissible but an essential erotic ingredient in movie love affairs, and there’s a famous scene when Paul Henreid lights two cigarettes at once and gives one to Davis. The gesture was considered such a sexy touch, it was repeated twice — once in the final scene.
(M) ★★★★✩ Sunday, 6.45pm, M Masterpiece
(M) ★★★ ✩ Saturday, 8.30pm, M Masterpiece
(PG) ★★★★✩ Saturday, 8.30pm, Fox Classics
Jeremy Irvine in the moving