ETERNAL BEAUTY

Cert 15 Stars 3

Thwarted romance, family dysfunction and mental illness are thrown together in this odd drama which is an inventive and original blend of mystery thriller, kitchen sink drama and suburban horror.

Sally Hawkins is one of Britain’s most accomplished actresses whose range has seen her play Mrs Brown in the delightful Paddington films, a gangster’s moll in Brit thriller, Layer Cake, and Oscar nominated as a mute cleaner who falls in love with a man-fish creature in The Shape of Water.

As a jilted bride called Jane living on a bleak South Wales council estate, Hawkins is a sympathetic and confused soul suffering from depression and struggling with her family played by Billie Piper and Penelope Wilton, while David Thewlis appears a failed musician.

Writer and director Craig Roberts underlines his quirky sense of humour with a strong visual style, and handles the transitions between tones with assurance while offering us a bleak and melancholy portrait of Britain, full of grey skies, grief and infidelity.

It’s a curious and unsettling exploration of loneliness which questions whether being mad is a more satisfying way of coping with the world than sanity.

MISS VIRGINIA

Cert 12 Stars 3

Uzo Aduba anchors this real life feel good drama with a formidable and heartfelt sincerity as Virginia Walden, a struggling single mother whose tireless campaign to change the US educational system takes her all the way to Congress, where Matthew Modine thoroughly enjoys himself as a rascally politician who helps her navigate Washington DC’s corridors of power.

There’s no doubting the film’s sincerity in its focus on inspirational can-do community spirit, but Virginia’s battles never seem insurmountable and it’s left to the gospel influenced soundtrack to do the emotional heavy lifting in what feels like a superior made-for-TV movie.

THE 40 YEAR OLD VERSION

Cert 15 Stars 4

This accomplished debut comedy drama sees playwright Radha Blank direct and star as a fictionalised version of herself who responds to her impending fortieth birthday by reinventing herself as a rapper.

Unafraid to put her personal insecurities front and centre, Blank employs a traditional narrative structure to explore the female African American experience while gleefully mocking the self-important inhabitants of New York’s theatreland and exposing their prejudice and exploitative behaviour.

Filmed on location the grainy black and white photography and handheld camerawork creates intimacy and gives Blank’s lightly plotted tale a coarse edge to match her excellent sense of humour.

THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7

Cert 15 Stars 5

One of the most shameful trials in US history is brought to vivid life by a top drawer cast, cracking production values and a dynamite script in this tremendously entertaining, timely and intense courtroom drama, set in 1969 against a background of civil unrest and Vietnam War protest.

The Chicago Seven were a combative group of combative egos charged with conspiring to incite the riots which had erupted outside the Democratic Party convention the previous summer.

Among the accused are Brit actors playing to their strengths, with Borat star Sacha Baron Cohen providing a lot of sharp-edged humour, while Eddie Redmayne gives an anguished performance which suggests being self-serving, spineless and condescending comes easily to the posh actor.

President Nixon’s newly appointed administration is intent on making an example of the defendants and are seeking the maximum sentence of 10 years in jail apiece, and proceedings are marked by dirty tricks including jury tampering, police officers lying under oath, and a judge unfit for purpose.

The use of TV footage from the time to lend authenticity to flashbacks, plus with the racism, sexual assault, bloody violence and willingness of the executive to exploit the law to pursue a political agenda, it’s impossible not to see comparisons with events on either side of the pond today.

There’s no greater writer of dialogue working today in Hollywood than director Aaron Sorkin, whose career began with writing Jack Nicholson’s A Few Good Men, before going on to create TV drama, The West Wing and win an Oscar for The Social Network.

Another superb showcase for his talent, he expertly narrows down a lengthy complex trial into an easily understandable narrative, while the exchanges, especially between Frank Langella’s judge and Mark Rylance’s defence lawyer are jaw dropping.

Relevant, distressing and gripping throughout, it also sees Michael Keaton in a small but vital role, for which he should be Oscar nominated. If there’s any justice that is.

ENOLA HOLMES

Cert PG Stars 4

A wonderfully fresh take on Baker Street’s famous detective, this is a captivating and hugely entertaining period mystery-adventure which offers adventure, action, romance, some light detecting, a huge amount of charm, and is anchored by a dazzling turn by one of Britain’s best young actresses.

Millie Bobby Brown’s talent and charisma is familiar to the multitude of fans of Netflix series Stranger Things, but even they will be surprised by her outrageously spirited, confident and appealing screen presence here, as she owns the film with irrepressible brio as the wonderfully bright, funny and ass-kicking wayward sixteen year old younger sister of revered detective, Sherlock Holmes.

Addressing the camera with a conspiratorial manner which would make Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge blush for it’s complicity, she’s trying to solve the mystery of her missing mother, played in flashback by a winning Helena Bonham Carter.

Needing a pair of stuffed shirts to play her pompous and over-privileged posh older brothers, Sherlock and Mycroft, the producers plumbed for Henry Cavil and Sam Claflin, Brit actors who aren’t asked to step out of their comfort zone. An absolute treat.

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: A LIFE ON OUR PLANET

Cert PG Stars 5

This hugely important and inspiring documentary warning of impending catastrophe is all the more terrifying for being delivered by the most trusted and respected broadcaster Britain has ever produced.

Standing among the radioactive ruins of Chernobyl, Sunday evening TV favourite and all-round national treasure David Attenborough addresses us in his familiar humble and dignified manner, while his location underlines his argument climate change is a man-made mistake and we need to clean it up. And fast.

Now 93 years old but with no less passion than when he presented his first TV programme, and driven from the knowledge he can’t carry on forever, there’s an unmistakable urgency in his tone.

Giving us a whistle stop tour of his globetrotting career, he persuasively argues his very longevity as an expert on the natural world gives him a unique perspective and makes him the perfect person to deliver this most dire of warnings.

A companion piece to his recent TV show, Extinction: The Facts, he points out with our planet having witnessed five major extinction events in its lifetime – the last being the dinosaurs – we are pushing the Earth towards a sixth, with ourselves the victim.

Having presented us with a terrifying litany of destruction he proceeds to offer a terrifying view of our kids’ potential future, and it’s shocking seeing this most optimistic and beloved of TV personalities in a moment of despair.

And yet he moves on to convince us we possess the means to reverse the damage done and create a clean world for future generations, turning this into an uplifting call to arms and a celebration of the wonder of life.

As ever he’s accompanied by a supporting cast of tigers, gorillas, polar bears and more, while the photography from mountains to oceans and savannahs is as breathtaking as we’d expect.

All climate change deniers should be strapped to a chair with their eyes clamped open and forced to watch. On repeat.

SECRET SOCIETY OF SECOND BORN ROYALS

Cert PG Stars 3

Get the new academic year off to a royal start by sending the kids to school for superheroes with this modern day sci-fi fantasy action caper which in typical Disney style of enjoyable breezy polished fun.

Disney Channel star Peyton Elizabeth Lee, bright lively presence as Sam, a princess second in line to the throne of a fictional European kingdom who’s astonished to find she has superpowers and belongs to a secret society dedicated to keeping the world safe.

Pop songs and street protests mix with gadgets, guns, family secrets and sibling rivalry when Greg Bryk’s baddie causes chaos at a coronation

CAPITAL IN THE 21ST CENTURY

Cert 12A Stars 4

Guaranteed to make your blood boil with anger, this easily digestible documentary provides an historic oversight to capitalism and offers an explanation for the often unfathomable actions of the UK government.

Rather than capitalism delivering social progress since the fall of the Berlin Wall, economic data suggests we’re been deliberately taken back to a model of 18th century capitalism, with vast differentials in wealth, health, education and so on.

The slightest fig leaf of optimism is unconvincingly applied at the end, otherwise this is a deserved knife in the heart of the myth we’re all in this together.

23 WALKS

Cert 12A Stars 3

Late life romance, lots of fresh air and plenty of gentle exercise are the basis for this unassuming and heartfelt low budget British drama.

Scouse born actress Alison Steadman and Dave Johns, the Geordie comic who detoured into straight acting in Ken Loach’s 2016 hard-hitting social drama I, Daniel Blake, are engaging company on a languid stroll which offers time for reflection on the concerns of ageing in Britain.

They play dog-walkers who they meet by chance in an idyllic London park and during 23 walks edge towards an understanding, but potential happiness is threatened by a lack of honesty.

MISS JUNETEENTH

Cert 15 Stars 4

A fraught mother and daughter relationship is at the heart of this wonderful bittersweet drama of empowerment and resilience, anchored by Nicole Beharie who delivers a performance of remarkable range.

As Turquoise Jones, Beharie’s a single mother and former teen beauty queen who enters her 15-year-old daughter in the local pageant, the winner of which is crowned Miss Juneteenth, and receives a full scholarship to university.

Alexis Chikaeze plays the reluctant Kai with all too believable disinterest, and has little interest in following in her mother’s footsteps down the catwalk of the African American beauty pageant, which recognises the day the slaves of Texas found out they were free, fully two years after Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation.

Written with clear-eyed observation and empathy by Channing Godfrey Peoples on an accomplished feature directorial debut, she crams in a great deal of social comment and friction with precision and economy.

Turquoise’s own mother offers another area of all realistic inter-generational conflict, however there’s a welcome note of optimism at the end to add an emotional flourish to the terrific soundtrack.