JAMES Marsh, who made that great documentary, Man on Wire, found another compelling subject in Project Nim (Monday, 8.30pm, World Movies), about a young chimp who was placed in the care of a surrogate human mother soon after his birth and reared as a human child. It was part of a scientific experiment devised in 1973 by Herbert Terrace, a psychologist at New York’s Columbia University. Nim was wrapped in nappies, toilet trained, fitted with children’s clothes, fed with a bottle and given toys to play with. At the age of five he recognised about 120 words and could formulate simple sentences in sign language. It is just possible that his suffering extended the frontiers of human knowledge and our understanding of the workings of language. I like to think so. Marsh’s film — frightening, sad and sometimes dreadfully funny — is a reminder that such knowledge may come at a heavy price.
Directed by Joe Carnahan, The Grey (Tuesday, 10.50pm, M Premiere) is the story of a group of men stranded in an icy wasteland in Alaska after a plane crash. It’s a survival drama, a psychological thriller and an old-fashioned monster movie, played out against a background of uncompromising starkness and grandeur. For much of their ordeal the men are threatened by wolves, computer-generated predators designed to look as scary as possible with slavering jaws and eyes that glow in the dark. I think the wolves are meant as a symbolic presence, supernatural manifestations of the darker forces of nature the men must overcome. This gives the film a mythic quality — we are always a step back from hard-edged reality — which makes the men’s suffering more bearable. From a story by Ian Mackenzie Jeffers. Liam Neeson is striking as the group’s leader.
In What to Expect When You’re Expecting (Friday, 4.50pm, M Premiere), Cameron Diaz plays Jules, host of a national weight-loss fitness program and partner of Evan (Matthew Morrison) in a celebrity dance show. They are one of five couples waiting with varying degrees of eagerness and domestic dysfunction for the birth of their first babies. Kirk Jones’s heavy-going comedy manages to combine the banal, the sentimental and slapstick, and pretty much everything is what we would expect.
At just under three hours it was inordinately long by 1940s Hollywood standards, but every minute offers some touching and powerful insight. The Best Years of Our Lives (Saturday, 8.30pm, Fox Classics) gives us three US servicemen readjusting to civilian life after returning from World War II. One of them is played by Harold Russell, a veteran who lost both hands in a training accident and won a special Oscar. The film collected six others, including best picture. It is my classic of the week.
(M) ★★★★✩ Monday, 8.30pm, World Movies
(M) ★★★ ✩ Tuesday, 10.50pm, M Premiere
(PG) ★★★★★ Saturday, 8.30pm, Fox Classics
Liam Neeson in