Black comedy comes freeze-dried in this Coen Brothers thriller that sees hangdog car salesman Jerry (William H Macy) enlist a couple of thugs (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife in hopes of a ransom payday from his father-in-law. As everything starts to go wrong, on the trail is heavily pregnant police chief Marge (Frances McDormand). Macy had been jobbing for years but this film really put him on the map, although it was McDormand who deservedly took home an Oscar for her role. The Coens also put themselves back in the big-time after The Hudsucker Proxy was a box office flop, combining salt-of-the-earth goodness with quirky humour and a pretty hefty dose of gore with nimble dexterity. The TV series it went on to inspire is also available to watch on Amazon Prime.
Fanny Lye Deliver’d, 11:05pm, Film4, Tuesday, November 28
This immersive snapshot of one woman's road to self-awakening in 17th century puritan Britain is, like all of Thomas Clay's films, an atmospheric little number. A decade in the making, the set was built using traditional methods and there seems to be a permanent pall of woodsmoke or mist shrouding the home where Fanny (Maxine Peake) lives with her much older, unpleasant ex-soldier husband John (Charles Dance) and her young son Arthur (Zac Adams). Despite the mud and greenery of England there's a feel of a Western to this film, which sees Fanny's life irrevocably changed by the arrival of a young couple Thomas (Freddie Fox) and Rebecca (Tanya Young), complete with new ways of thinking and a healthy scepticism of the patriarchy. Immersive from the off, Fanny is a thoughtful and likeable heroine, intriguing in her slow embrace of new ideas, particularly as she starts to articulate them from her own perspective - there is violence but it's the brooding sense of dread that's more affecting and effective throughout. Although I tip my hat to Clay for composing the score for this using traditional instruments from the period, it is a bit full-on, the atmosphere he creates visually doesn't need this sort of on-the-nose underpinning.
Double Indemnity, 8:15pm, BBC Four, Thursday, November 30
Featuring dialogue that skims along with the pace of a bullet train and master craftsman Billy Wilder at the engine, this sizzler of a thriller has lost little of its grip down the decades. Fred MacMurray plays against his usual nice-guy type as salesman Walter Neff, whose path crosses that of Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) generating the unmistakeable crackle of desire. The only fly in the ointment is Phyllis' husband and so the pair plot what they hope will be the perfect crime. Told in a flashback that suggests their scheming may not have been as watertight as they imagined, this film is so taut you could bounce a coin off it. Fun fact: Wilder was so fed up when he didn't snag any Oscars that he deliberately tripped up Going My Way director Leo McCarey as he went to pick up his Best Director gong.
Hell Drivers, 6.30pm, Talking Pictures TV, Friday, December 1
Andrew Robertson writes: Tom Yately (Stanley Baker) is an ex-con caught up trying to scrape by. As a trucker in the 1950s his attempts to keep to the straight and narrow are sometimes not the shortest path. There's romance, racism, recklessness. Hell Drivers tells its story with efficient abandon. The cargo may be ballast but it's well balanced. A cast of not-yet-famous faces bring to life a tale of machismo and machinery. Machinations too, in a scheme involving 'getting' and 'quick' but not everyone will be rich. Near everyone involved would go on to higher heights. Unlike many shared early works this holds up well. It may at times look clumsy to modern viewers but this is robust film-making. Six decades and change have not slowed its pace, nor dulled its anger. Sorry We Missed You covers similar ground. Hell Drivers clatters along by putting its foot down. Catch it if you can.
Reservoir Dogs, 9.35pm, Dave, Friday, December 1
The Sundance breakout hit that propelled Quentin Tarantino to stardom has a lean and mean appeal that’s pretty hard to beat. His crime thriller takes place in the wake of a heist gone bad. As the crooks - all named after colours - hole up, they become convinced one is a rat. Everything is carefully executed - from violence to script - and with a cast that includes Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth and Steve Buscemi, it's hard to fault. We should be particularly grateful that character-acting ace Buscemi got the part of Mr Pink as Tarantino, who for all his directing prowess is not the greatest thespian, originally planned to take on the role himself. You might never be able to listen to Stuck In The Middle With You in quite the same way, mind you.
Benedetta, 12.55am, Channel 4, Friday, December 1
Jennie Kermode writes: In recent years, Paul Verhoeven’s impressive outsider work has finally begun to garner mainstream acclaim, and this vividly crafted historical drama has already enjoyed considerable success on the festival circuit. Whilst much of the curiosity around it centres on it being a lesbian nun film, there’s a lot more to it than that, as it dramatises the story of a woman who may have been a con artist and may have been a saint – or both – but certainly understood power, and proved to be better at wielding it than almost anyone around her, defending a city from the plague and even taking on the might of the Inquisition. Verhoeven blurs reality with the fantasy world of his heroine’s imagination and the vivid erotic imagery of Medieval conventional writing.
It Follows, 9pm, Legend Xtra, Friday, December 1
Jennie Kermode writes: Premiered at Cannes in 2014, in the days when that festival was a lot more circumspect about genre films, It Follows is a different kind of horror film, one which brings folkloric weight to a story which encompasses terrors breathtakingly close to those of the real world. Its heroine, Jay (the always impressive Maika Monroe), finds out about the danger only when it's too late to retain any hope of a normal life. After having sex with her boyfriend for the first time, she is told by him that he has passed along a curse: she will now be hunted by a mysterious creature which only she and other afflicted people can see, which can take any form yet can only move at walking speed. The only way to buy time is to pass the curse to someone else: it will remain a threat, but will target that person first. The film is refreshingly natural and honest. Although she must constantly be on her guard - and viewers likewise - Jay doesn't stop living her life, and despite knowing the threat, others still find her desirable. In its sidelong way, the film explores the realities of life with a sexually transmitted disease with an unusually acute understanding, yet also delivers on thrills and scares. It's a bleak coming of age tale, its teenage protagonists fully alert to their mortality for the first time, yet it finds a kind of beauty in their continued appetite for life. It will be coming to Blu-ray next month in a special edition with lots of extras.
There's quite a lot of grit in our film selection this week, so we're wrapping up with Lasse Persson's animated charmer Bikini as a sweet counter-point.