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(M) Wed­nes­day, 12.15am, Mas­ter­piece

Lin­coln

The Cu­ri­ous Case of Ben­jamin But­ton

Wed­nes­day, 1.40pm, Mas­ter­piece

(M) Mon­day, 10.15pm, Fox Clas­sics

The Manchurian Can­di­date

FEW writ­ers have had a stronger in­flu­ence on Hol­ly­wood films and folk­lore than F. Scott Fitzger­ald. A week ago I was prais­ing The Last Ty­coon; now we have

(Wed­nes­day, 1.40pm, Mas­ter­piece), based on a Fitzger­ald story in­spired by some words of Mark Twain: “Life would be in­fin­itely hap­pier if we could be born at the age of 80 and grad­u­ally ap­proach 18.” This is a propo­si­tion that I find in­creas­ingly per­sua­sive, and it’s ex­actly what hap­pens to Brad Pitt in this charm­ing fan­tasy from di­rec­tor David Fincher. A fairy­tale, a vis­ual tour de force, it was writ­ten by

Ben­jamin But­ton

The Cu­ri­ous Case of

Eric Rolls, who also wrote For­rest Gump, an­other film about a lost soul drift­ing through a sur­real his­tor­i­cal panorama, in which wars are fought, pres­i­dents come and go, and Bea­tles songs give way to Louis Arm­strong (or vice versa). Ben­jamin gets younger as the film goes on; he meets Daisy (Cate Blanchett), who gets older as Ben­jamin gets younger. And you know it’s weird be­cause Tilda Swin­ton is in it, play­ing the lonely wife of a Bri­tish diplo­mat. But that’s an­other story.

Why would this col­umn rec­om­mend a sombre, long­winded his­tor­i­cal drama con­sist­ing largely of de­bate about the niceties of US con­sti­tu­tional law? Be­cause (Wed­nes­day, 12.15am, Mas­ter­piece) is per­haps the strangest and most com­pelling film Steven Spiel­berg has given us, with a tow­er­ing per­for­mance by Daniel DayLewis as the pres­i­dent who fought to abol­ish slav­ery. This is a film about the pol­i­tics of com­pro­mise and ne­go­ti­a­tion, of vote buy­ing and count­ing, of back­room boys in smoke-filled rooms. Bob Carr, who wrote last week’s This Life col­umn, would love it.

In

Lin­coln

Sav­ing Pri­vate Ryan

(Satur­day, 8.30pm, Mas­ter­piece), an­other great Spiel­berg film, the hor­rors of World War II are at cen­tre stage. The first 25 min­utes — a re­con­struc­tion of the Al­lied land­ing at Omaha beach in 1944 — is a bril­liant set-piece, justly cel­e­brated. A US army cap­tain (Tom Hanks) has to track down Pri­vate Ryan (Matt Damon), whose three broth­ers have been killed in ac­tion, and spare his fam­ily fur­ther grief. An­nounc­ing his de­ci­sion to pull Ryan from the bat­tle­field, Gen­eral Ge­orge Mar­shall quotes briefly from Abra­ham Lin­coln.

No short­age of clas­sics this week: the im­per­ish­able (Mon­day, 6.50pm, TCM), and that great­est of po­lit­i­cal con­spir­acy thrillers, (Mon­day, 10.15pm, Fox Clas­sics), in its orig­i­nal ver­sion. In

(Satur­day, 8.30pm, Fox Clas­sics), Bette Davis trans­forms her­self from ugly duck­ling to glam­our puss to es­cape the bonds of her op­pres­sive fam­ily. This is the one in which Paul Hen­reid lights two cig­a­rettes in his mouth si­mul­ta­ne­ously and hands one to Davis — con­sid­ered a lovely ro­man­tic ges­ture when smok­ing in movies was still per­mit­ted.

Casablanca

The Manchurian Can­di­date

Now, Voyager

May 10-11, 2014

Tom Hanks in

Sav­ing Pri­vate Ryan

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