Stay-at-Home Seven: August 1 to 8

Films to watch on TV and streaming services this week

by Amber Wilkinson

Terence Davies' Benediction
Terence Davies' Benediction Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival

Benediction, Netflix, from Wednesday

Terence Davies - who makes a lot fewer films than you might imagine, with just nine full-length features across his 50 years in filmmaking - has always had a poetic approach to his filmmaking. Here it finds the perfect match in the story of poet Siegfried Sassoon - played in the flush of rebellious youth by Jack Lowden and in the bitterness of old age by Peter Capaldi. The film not only considers the life of Sassoon and his famous contemporaries but also lets some of the many who lost their lives on the battlefields of the First World War look out of us via archive footage, which is woven through the film as though plucked from Sassoon's memory. Early scenes in which the poet is sent to Craiglockart shell-shock hospital as a response to his attempt to turn conscientious objector, thrum with emotion as he finds a kindred spirit in Dr Rivers (Ben Daniels, in a standout supporting performance), who intimates that he, like Sassoon, is gay and as the poet falls for Wilfred Owen (Matthew Tennyson). With Owen and Sassoon's brother dead in the war, his restless spirit moves on through the posh circles of London, among other, more or less, openly gay men including popular composer Ivor Novello (played by Jeremy Irvine, whose cheek bones rival Morten Harket's) and preening socialite Stephen Tenant (Calam Lynch). There's a pervasive sense of melancholy about Sassoon's inability to reconcile his own feelings and faith - something Davies, who has said he was "terribly devout" in terms of Catholocism as a youngster, doubtless relates to as he has said: “I have hated being gay, and I’ve been celibate for most of my life." That Capaldi's scenes are rather airless by comparison to the younger incarnation are, perhaps inevitable, if not entirely deliberate, but the film sticks its elegiac landing with aplomb.

Shaun Of The Dead, 9pm, ITV4, Tuesday, August 2

Given the sheer volume of zombie films out there, it's hard to make your walking dead stand out from the crowd. But Edgar Wright showed no fear with this comedy horror debut, which finds its strength in the normality of its characters - something that became a calling card in Wright's early films. Shaun (Simon Pegg) is just your average Joe, bumbling along with his mates and girlfriend and, for a considerable while, blissfully unaware of the zombie danger that is unfolding - with Wright gleefully taking a leaf out of George A Romero's book to show, through satire, how close human activities and reactions can come to the braindead at the best of times. Once he realises he's in trouble, he retires, in most British fashion, to the pub, with his mates, leading to an innovative series of showdowns, that serve up not just gore and laughs but a surprising amount of emotion.

The King, 1.35am, Film4, Wednesday, August 3

Early in director James Marsh's career - before he really hit the big time with documentary Man On Wire - he made this simmering drama about Elvis (Gael Garcia Bernal), the product of a liaison with a street worker, who goes in search of his father (William Hurt), who is now a born-again preacher. Bernal keeps his character's motives conflicted and ambiguous, so we are never quite sure if he represents a threat or is merely looking for acceptance. The situation is further complicated by the fact Elvis's sister (Pell James, who you can also catch in Zodiac) - though she doesn't know that she is - has taken a shine to him. Marsh avoids melodrama in favour of much more quiet and disturbing menace.

The Railway Children, BBC iPlayer until August 16

E Nesbit's classic about three children who are left behind when their dad is wrongfully arrested is back on iPlayer at the moment in the wake of the death of Bernard Cribbins. He plays station master Mr Perks, a delightful supporting turn that reminds you just how versatile the star was. Nostalgic, even when it was made, the film has only gathered more old fashioned charm with the passing of the years as Bobbie (Jenny Agutter), Phyllis (Sally Thomsett) and Peter (Gary F Warren) bring youthful spirit to their adventures. Lionel Jeffries perfectly captures the adventurous nature of the children, while also showing the growing sense of impending adulthood being felt by Bobbie. Read what Agutter told us about the film.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture, All4 on Demand

The past seven days has seen us lose several much loved actors, including trailblazer Nichelle Nichols, who has died at 89 and who broke barriers and inspired multiple generations when she took on the role of Lieutenant Nyota Uhura in Star Trek. Ten years after the show ended she and the rest of the original cast reprised their roles in Robert Wise's film adaptation. While this tale of the old team getting back together again to save the world may require a little more patience than many of its subsequent sequels, the director delivers in terms of craft and with storytelling that is driven as much by character as by effects.

Zodiac, 12.40am, BBC1, Sunday, August 7

Jennie Kermode writes: Just what is it about the Zodiac killer? He had very few confirmed kills - more San Franciscans die in traffic accidents every week. There was nothing particularly glamorous or unusual about the way he killed. Yet decades after he faded from view, hundreds of people remain obsessed by the search for his identity. It's this obsession that David Fincher understood when he crafted his masterpiece. In one of the very first scenes, Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) - the cartoonist on whose book the film is based - asks his son why he has swallowed toothpaste when it's bad for him, and the kid says "Because it's minty." It's simplicity that people can't accept. This awareness doesn't mean, however, that Fincher is immune to the bug, and he goes to great lengths to recreate details precisely, even airlifting trees to get the settings right. The film is stunningly realised with long tracking shots that will take your breath away. With all this plus Mark Ruffalo playing Inspector Dave Toschi by way of Columbo, it's easy to get drawn in.

Midnight Special, 12.45am BBC1, Monday, August 8

Michael Shannon has been doing a lot of TV and podcast work lately, including Nine Perfect Strangers and George And Tammy, but back in 2016, it was all movies, all the time for the star, who managed to feature in 10 films - so many it makes you wonder when he slept. His output that year ranged from indies like Frank & Lola through to franchise film Batman V Superman: The Dawn Of Justice. One of the best was this sci-fi thriller, which saw him reteam with Take Shelter director Jeff Nichols. Shannon plays Roy, a dad who goes on the run with his son (Jaeden Lieberher), who isn't quite like other kids. Nichols plays his cards close to his chest, gradually revealing his film's unexpected secrets as he takes us on a road trip with surprising stop-offs and a destination you won't see coming. Read what Shannon told us about the film and our chat with him and other members of the cast.

We're turning to animation for our short selection this week. The Astronomer's Sun, directed by Simon Cartwright and Jess Cope, about a man, his mechanical bear... and his past.

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