8 September

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Hidden Figures

USA - 2016 - 127 mins - PG

Without three young gifted female mathematicians, America might not’ve put a man into space in 1961. That they were also black in a country where racial segregation still had a sour normalcy gives this fact-based thriller added piquancy. Played with wry gusto by Taraji P Henson (The Karate Kid), Octavia Spencer (Fruitvale Station) and singer Janelle Monáe, they’re plucked from numeric drudgery by a NASA systems boss (Kevin Costner) who’s almost defeated by an onerous timetable. Added to which the women face the routine prejudice of their work colleagues, but director/co-writer Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent) deftly avoids clichéd melodrama.

22 September

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Letters From Baghdad

UK/USA/France - 2016 - 93 mins - PG

Bluestocking writer, archaeologist and adventurer Gertrude Bell was a linchpin in the creation of the modern-day Middle East during and after WW1. Her contemporary, TE Lawrence, may have patronised her but she knew more about the Arabs and Arabia than almost any living Englishman or woman. This compelling documentary, narrated by Tilda Swinton, digs deep into the unique archive of letters and photographs she produced as her influence grew within the British Foreign Office and Mesopotamian political service. It’s a narrative that lifts the lid on the contrary but clear-eyed urgings of this most powerful woman in the British Empire at the time. 

6 October

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Their Finest

UK/Sweden - 2016 - 117 mins - 12A

A heart-warming tale featuring the sort of morale-boosting film-within-a-film that the Ministry of Information might themselves have produced to stiffen resolve on the home front during the war. Gently satirical and witty, it also explores long-outdated missteps in the battle of the sexes, as well as the idle vanities and compromises that film-making in such trying circumstances as the Blitz must inevitably have involved. Their Finest deftly lays film fantasy over brutal wartime realities, and features a top-notch cast led by Gemma Arterton and Sam Claflin, along with Helen McCrory, Eddie Marsan, Richard E. Grant and a scene-stealing Bill Nighy.

20 October

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The Eagle Huntress

UK/USA/Mongolia - 2016 - 87 mins - U

In remotest Mongolia, the Kazakh nomads have long hunted foxes using trained eagles and unsurprisingly it’s an exclusively male sport. But rosy-cheeked Aisholpan, the 13-year-old daughter of a revered eagle hunter, calmly decided to change that. Anglo-US documentarian Otto Bell follows her often jaw-dropping progress up to the annual Golden Eagle Festival where she’s not only the first ever female contestant, but also the youngest. Disapproval if not chauvinism from tribal traditionalists is offset by Aisholpan’s cheery resolve, the fascinating business of training these huge, powerful birds and breathtaking footage of the Altai mountains. (S)

 

 

3 November

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Twentieth Century Women

USA - 2017 - 116 mins - U

50-something divorcée Dorothea (Annette Bening) and her truculent son run a scruffy boarding house in 1970s Santa Barbara through which two young women (Greta Gerwig, for once not irritating) and Dakota Fanning (for once not cute) and a laid-back handyman (ever-underrated Billy Crudup) weave in and out. The plot may be slight, but the nuance the actors bring to their characters nourishes our intellectual and emotional sensibilities, with Bening’s world-hardened but still optimistic mother radiating life and wry humour in a performance to equal her Oscar-nominated turns in American Beauty and The Grifters. Life-affirming stuff. 

17 November

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Mindhorn

UK - 2016 - 89 mins - 15

Has-been thespian, Richard Thorncroft (The Mighty Boosh’s Julian Barratt), who fronted a ‘60s crime series set on the Isle of Man is recruited by his laconic agent (Harriet Walter) to return there and help the police nail a deluded killer who’ll only negotiate with the TV cop he thinks is real. Thorncroft then discovers his old flame Patricia (Essie Davis) is now a successful TV reporter married to his gloating ex-stunt double, Clive (Simon Farnaby, of Detectorists and Horrible Histories). Theatre director Sean Foley’s film debut teems with comic period flashbacks and overblown conceits, plus sharply-drawn and hilarious cameos from Simon Callow, Kenneth Branagh and Steve Coogan. 

1 December

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I Am Not Your Negro

USA/Fra/Bel/Swi - 2016 - 95 mins - 12A

“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time. So the first problem is how to control that rage so it won’t destroy you.” So said US novelist James Baldwin, as tautly and bitterly as you like, in 1961. It’s an anger that also gives this documentary life of Baldwin – ten years in the making and movingly narrated by Samuel L Jackson – such potency today. The film’s starting point is Baldwin’s unfinished memoir on civil rights martyrs Malcolm X, Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King, before segueing into his developing ideas through archive interviews, advertisements, film clips and newsreels.

15 December

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The Red Turtle

Fra/Jap - 2016 - 80 mins - PG

Bereft of any dialogue this magical, affecting story of a man shipwrecked on a desert island relies entirely on Dutch animator Michael Dubok de Wit’s fertile imagination and graphic skill. Initially distraught, our hero gradually manages to survive but eventually fashions a raft to escape, only to be thwarted by a giant turtle who clearly wants him to stay. But when the creature reveals its extraordinary secret, the man’s life is changed for ever, auguring a new and fulfilling life. Co-produced with the legendary Ghibli Studios, (who brought us the acclaimed Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle) de Wit’s beautiful use of line, colour and narrative skill are pure joy.

Autumn-Winter 2017

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