Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a sumptuously beautiful psychological study of love and transformation within a blossoming romance between an 18th-century French aristocrat (Adèle Haenel) and an artist (Noémie Merlant) commissioned to paint her wedding portrait. Marianne arrives at an isolated seaside manor on the eve of Héloïse’s wedding, ostensibly to be her companion. She’s preparing to paint her, which she will do without her knowledge. Héloïse has just come home from the convent and will marry soon, and she’s free for a moment. The women wordlessly walk the wind-whipped beaches to get to know one another, but Marianne’s intense gaze to memorise her face transforms their nervous connection to a slow burn and then desire. There is so much to experience, enigmatic anxiety, an itinerant professional female, forbidden love and art as central spiritual and sensual experience and history; it is achingly loaded with meaning and stunningly visual.
Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus star in Downhill a dramedy about an American family’s soul-searching ski vacation in the Alps. Dreyfus does all the heavy lifting showing new depths of dramatic ability, but she can’t save this remake of the scorching 2014 Swedish dramedy Force Majeure. It’s poxed view of love and commitment is provocative, witty and enjoyable. Here we have an American family on a skiing vacation in the Alps, hoping to spend quality time and repair their sense of malaise. The hopeful dynamic comes crashing down when Ferrell’s character does something unspeakable. The family’s in an outdoor restaurant when a controlled avalanche, a wall of snow comes straight at them. She bundles their sons to safety under the table. He grabs his phone and runs away. Later he denies he ran but she and the boys know better. All is rotten and there’s still a week to go. Not as sturdy or complex as the original, plus it adds an aggravating and infantilizing helicopter parent element, but tonal whiplash and Ferrell’s lead foot vaporize the original magic. Still Dreyfus earns her keep. Directed by Jim Rash and, Nat Faxon.
Netflix’s The Stranger is a chilling eight-part soap opera/murder mystery about love gone wrong that spies on a rural British community and the compromised people who live there. Richard Armitage, a husband and father, is approached by a young stranger who tells him his wife faked her pregnancy and miscarriage to stop him from leaving her and things only he would know. He takes a deep internet dive investigating his wife, and it is all true. A headless alpaca is found in the High Street, a naked boy is unconscious in the woods, poisoned, and a bride-to-be’s nude pix suddenly surface online, posted by her fiancé. The stranger approaches a bakery owner played by Ab Fab’s Jennifer Saunders to tell her that her daughter is doing a little sugar daddy business on the side. Armitage’s wife disappears, people die. An active community is this, in keeping with the literary murder mystery tradition of idyllic villages marred by crimes and hard cases hiding behind elegant facades. Good fun.
A major debut on BritBox this week. One of the all-time great spy series, MI-5 returns in all its nail-biting head, spinning glory starting with episode One. Action and nerve define the stories of the UK’s elite clandestine security service, the missions, the people who live lives of 110% discipline, taking on dangerous work, keeping silent and seeing things that a citizen wouldn’t in a month of Sundays, or ever.
And of course, the lying, to their families who must know nothing, to their marks, foreign agents and other levels of law enforcement. These are the people who keep the country safe from harm, in whatever shape it takes. Its timely, eternal stories are astoundingly visionary. Stars Kit Harrington, Peter Firth, Keeley Hawes, Sam Reid, Matthew MacFayden and a host of British television, stage and film actors, i.e. the best. Ten seasons, so settle in!
And BritBox celebrates its second anniversary in Canada Valentine’s Day with a wealth of romance films and series based on beloved English literary classics from Shakespeare, to Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte.
Explore LGBTQ, historical, comic, dramatic, social and cultural themes with major stars in their seminal roles.
Against the Law: When Peter Wildeblood fell in love with Edward McNally in 1952, homosexuality was a crime in Britain. Their love affair would have devastating consequences for each of them, leading to a watershed moment for British equality.
Boy Meets Girl: A romantic comedy about the unexpected relationship between Judy and Leo, a 40-something transgender woman and a down on his luck, a 26-year-old man. Differences mean nothing if love means everything.
Brideshead Revisited: Evelyn Waugh’s drama about a generation of wealthy, careless, independent men and women clinging to a way of life eroded by one war and soon to be swept away by another. Starring Anthony Andrews and Jeremy Irons.
Christopher and His Kind: Matt Smith and Toby Jones star in this stirring drama chronicling the formative years of novelist Christopher Isherwood and the forging of his identity amidst the chaos of 1930s Berlin.
Cranford: The incomparable Judi Dench stars in this story of Cranford, a small-town hub of intrigue where everyone talks – and everyone is talked about. The town is on the cusp of change, and the lives of its residents push ever forward.
The Darling Buds of May: The wet English summer has dampened the Larkins’ spirits. Features Catherine Zeta-Jones in her breakthrough role.
Doctor Zhivago: The sweep and scale of the Russian Revolution act as the backdrop for the intense and ultimately heartbreaking love story of Doctor Yury Zhivago, the physician and poet who wrestles with the anguish of being torn between the love of two women, Tonya and Lara.
Feb 20 marks the debut of Sundance Now’s Australian soap series Playing for Keeps. Dive into designer duds, fame, fortune, high-priced frolic, feminism, corporate greed and murder! It’s about WAGs and what it takes to be one – that’s a wife or girlfriend of superstar national football players who must fit into the intense, macho, competitive and yet oddly fragile social circle that demands the women be well-mannered trophies. It’s a half-hour eight parter from the point of view of a decidedly non-glamourous wife of a new hire who steps into this astoundingly wealthy world she’d never seen before. Insulted by her fellow wives’ efforts to make her over, she stands her ground and we love her for it. All’s well until a player drowns on a river training course. That’s when the team circles its wagons and takes control of the situation and how our demure but very smart miss copes.
Cineplex Cinemas’ an Exhibition on Screen programme features the documentary Lucian Freud: A Self Portrait in select theatres on Sunday only. London’s Royal Academy of Arts, in collaboration with Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts staged an exhibit of fifty self-portraits by the famed artist now captured with interviews, in this engrossing study of a man’s journey through life. Freud painted his first self-portrait in 1939 and his last 64 years later.
Freud was born in Berlin in 1922, the grandson of Sigmund Freud but moved to England to study and lived the rest of his life in London. His self-portraits may seem obsessive at first glance but in the 70’s he devoted 4000 hours creating a series of portraits of his mother which like his own documented life and ageing, revealing visual clues of spiritual, psychological and physical changes. Bonus factoid: Freud is rumoured to have fathered as many as forty children. www.exhibitiononscreen.com