Free to air
I HAVE warm memories of Richard E. Grant as a dissolute unemployed actor in Withnail & I, that wry study of British low-life bohemia in the 1960s. In Wah-Wah (Tuesday, 12.35am, ABC1), Grant gives us a semi-autobiographical account — much of it based on his childhood memoir, The Wah-Wah Diaries — of his coming of age during the last days of a dissolute British colonial aristocracy in Swaziland. In the film, which he wrote and directed, Grant has become Ralph Compton (played as an adolescent by Nicholas Hoult) and the life of the colonial expatriate elite — consisting largely of casual adultery, more than casual boozing and a rigid adherence to social rituals and pecking orders — is seen through his eyes. This richly enjoyable film is a valedictory tribute to Britain’s colonial past and an account of the turbulent relationship between the young Ralph and his father Harry (a fine portrayal of paternal tenderness and self-pitying vulnerability by Gabriel Byrne). The highlight for me is a hilariously bungled performance of Camelot staged to mark Swaziland’s independence in 1969 and attended by Princess Margaret, who walked out during the show.
The Other Boleyn Girl (Thursday, 8.30pm, 7Two) is a historical soap opera directed in fruity style by Justin Chadwick, in which Natalie Portman plays Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, and the other Boleyn girl’’ turns out to be her sister Mary (Scarlett Johansson), who was Henry’s mistress before he married Anne. How much of the film is faithful to Philippa Gregory’s novel, and how much of the novel is faithful to the facts, is hard to say. My guess would be about half. It’s true Anne had a younger sister Mary, who was Henry’s mistress before he married Anne. Mary bore him a son. But when Henry tired of Mary, the scheming family pressed for Anne to take over as royal mistress, entrenching their influence. According to Peter Morgan’s screenplay, Anne withheld her favours until Henry agreed to marry her. While the film bears all the hallmarks of phoniness common to such projects, it has been made with passion and integrity. The women are excellent, and Eric Bana’s Henry is given some good ranting scenes. Lovers of costumed melodrama will find the story irresistible.
There’s a moment in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Wednesday, 7.30pm, Seven) when Johnny Depp brings off some improbable feat of daring and boasts to those around him: Did you see that, because I will not be doing it again?’’ What could he mean? Was this to be the final film in Disney’s blockbusting franchise? Of course not. On Stranger Tides, the first of the Pirates films to be released in 3-D, delivers on all the essentials: swashbuckling action, tongue-in-cheek humour and pleasingly scary supernatural effects.
(M) ★★★✩✩ Thursday, 8.30pm, 7Two
(M) ★★★ ✩ Tuesday, 12.35am, ABC1
(M) ★★★ ✩ Wednesday, 7.30pm, Seven