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The Wife to Touching the Void: the seven best films to watch on TV this week

·4-min read

Glenn Close is mesmerising as a betrayed and undermined spouse, while Joe Simpson recounts his tale of extreme survival in the Peruvian Andes


Pick of the week
The Wife

When Glenn Close was nominated a seventh time for an Oscar for this 2017 drama, many thought this would be the one for the win. Sadly it wasn’t to be, but Björn Runge’s fine film revolves round her subtle performance. She plays Joan Castleman, married for years to womanising, narcissistic novelist Joe (a marvellously insufferable Jonathan Pryce) who has just been awarded the 1992 Nobel prize in literature. As they visit Stockholm for the ceremony, secrets from the past about his and her creative lives seep to the surface. Close is simply mesmerising here, her face revealing flickers of discomfort, sadness, anger – until the dutiful spouse character she invented sticks in her throat once too often.
Sunday 5 December, 11.10pm, BBC Two

***

First Love

The output of indecently prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike (100 films and counting) will always be hit-and-miss. This 2019 effort is most definitely a hit, a frenetic yakuza comedy thriller with a surprisingly tender meet-cute at its heart. Tokyo boxer Leo (Masataka Kubota) is caught up in a criminal double-cross when he saves enslaved, drug-addicted sex worker Monica (Sakurako Konishi) from a corrupt cop. The long night that ensues includes hallucinations in Y-fronts, a fight in a DIY store and even a spot of animation, as the couple flee competing gangs.
Saturday 4 December, 11.15pm, Film4

***

Topsy-Turvy

Katrin Cartlidge and Allan Corduner in Topsy-Turvy.
Katrin Cartlidge and Allan Corduner in Topsy-Turvy. Photograph: AA Film Archive/Alamy

This 1999 film was a bit of a sidestep by social-realist comedy master Mike Leigh, its subject being the Victorian light opera duo WS Gilbert (Jim Broadbent) and Arthur Sullivan (Allan Corduner) and their creation of The Mikado. Still, it’s a visual treat, with costume, makeup and set design bringing the theatrical world of 1884 to vivid, scrappy life. Naturally, being Leigh, the troubles of the time aren’t neglected but they’re more of a side-issue to the real dilemma Gilbert and Sullivan face: how to follow up their last hit when the creative well has run dry.
Monday 6 December, 11.25pm, Film4

***

The Manchurian Candidate

John Frankenheimer’s 1962 film is one of the great American conspiracy thrillers, with real reds under the bed sweatily bent on disrupting the US democratic process. Frank Sinatra’s Marco and Laurence Harvey’s Shaw are GIs captured by the Chinese during the Korean war. After their release, Shaw’s heroism is exploited by his mother (Angela Lansbury) on behalf of her senator husband’s political ambitions. But Shaw has been brainwashed by the communists as a sleeper assassin, and Marco races against time to uncover his mission and stop him.
Thursday 9 December, 9pm, BBC Four

***

Touching the Void

This 2003 documentary, adapted by Kevin Macdonald from Joe Simpson’s book, tells a scarcely believable tale of human endurance and sheer bloody-mindedness. Simpson and climbing companion Simon Yates were descending a peak in Peru in 1985 when Simpson fell down a crevasse; Yates, unable to locate him and assuming he was dead, returned to camp. How the severely injured Simpson survived and made his way out to safety is related expertly through dramatic reconstructions and interviews.
Available to rent on Amazon Prime Video

***

Encounter

Riz Ahmed and Lucian-River Chauhan in Encounter.
Riz Ahmed and Lucian-River Chauhan in Encounter. Photograph: Richard Foreman/Amazon Studios

What starts out as a potential cross between Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Phase IV evolves into a touching tale of family breakup and a soldier’s trauma in Michael Pearce’s drama. Riz Ahmed’s former Marine, Malik, turns up at ex-wife’s house and spirits away his two young sons to save them from parasitical “non-terrestrial micro-organisms” taking over humanity. But, as becomes clear during their road trip across arid lands, the roots of his paranoia are more prosaic. Ahmed’s skill at playing intense, off-kilter characters is to the fore, while Octavia Spencer gives steady support as his parole officer.
Friday 10 December, Amazon Prime Video

***

Mr Jones

Gareth Jones was a foreign office adviser and journalist who exposed the deaths of millions in the Soviet famine of the early 1930s, but was belittled by the press and ignored by governments more concerned with international relations. Agnieszka Holland’s historical thriller brings his story to light, albeit with some fictional embellishments, using Jones’s supposed influence on George Orwell to frame it in Animal Farm references. James Norton portrays him as an engaging if naive character who slips into Ukraine to witness the deadly lie of communist progress.
Friday 10 December, Amazon Prime Video

• This article was amended on 3 December 2021 as the 2003 film Touching the Void is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video but is not showing on Sky Arts on 9 December.

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