The great escape

Now that even newsreaders are starting to look a trifle depressed, perhaps it’s not a bad idea to retreat into a world of cosy old movies. Thankfully, says Stephen Griffin, Talking Pictures TV has stepped into the breach...

Thursday, 9th April 2020 — By Stephen Griffin

TV pictures

LET’S face it, fellow self-isolators, there’s only so much “breaking” news you can take. With daily updates from the PM’s office, we’re currently drowning in Covid-19 bulletins.

Enough is enough: join me as I retreat into a monochrome cocoon of trilbys, Armstrong Siddeleys and Bakelite telephones – the stuff of Talking Pictures TV.

Other channels – London Live, Sony Movies Classic and even the BBC – have leapt aboard the bandwagon but Freeview channel 81 is, for many, the go-to location for escapist fare.

How better to pass a few hours of enforced isolation than wallowing in a spot of Margaret Lockwood or James Mason. Personally I could watch Will Hay until my Googie Withers.

So what can we look forward to on Talking Pictures TV over the next week?

Tomorrow (Friday) at 10pm you can see the stylishly preposterous Amicus horror, The Skull. Based on the Robert Bloch story The Skull of the Marquis de Sade, Peter Cushing plays an occult curio collector who purchases – and is later haunted by – the titular object. It’s a short story that had an even shorter screenplay. So much so director Freddie Francis had to pad out its running time with some creative prowling shots through the eyes of the skull. Interestingly, the film’s final 20 minutes are dialogue-free, giving plenty of opportunities to appreciate Elisabeth (daughter of Edwin) Lutyens’ avant garde score. Christopher Lee guest stars…

… As he does in The Magic Christian, which gets an airing at 9pm the next day (Saturday). Lee’s turn as the Ship’s Vampire is one cameo of many in Joe McGrath’s sprawling black comedy. In a part intended for John Lennon, Ringo Starr is a homeless orphan adopted by the world’s richest man played by Peter Sellers in this loose adaptation of Terry Southern’s comic novel. The impressive roster of guest stars include Raquel Welch, John Cleese, Richard Attenborough and Roman Polanski. Oh and if you’ve ever wanted to see Yul Brynner as a cross-dressing chanteuse this is probably your best bet.

By contrast, 1959’s Alive and Kicking, on Sunday at 11.45am, offers Sybil Thorndike, Kathleen Harrison and Estelle (“Hold me, touch me”) Winwood playing three old biddies who decide to escape their retirement home for a little adventure. They end up running a sweater business (!) on a remote Irish island (although the film was shot in Scotland). Co-starring Stanley Holloway, it marked Richard Harris’s film debut.

At 11pm on Sunday there’s Take a Girl Like You, the late Jonathan Miller’s first (and last) feature film. Written by George Melly from Kingsley Amis’s book, the film has virginal (is there any other sort?) Hayley Mills pursued by a priapic (is there any other sort?) Oliver Reed. Rex Harrison’s son Noel, who plays Ollie’s mate, had recently recorded the Oscar-winning theme for The Thomas Crown Affair, Windmills of Your Mind. Because he was making this film he missed belting it out at the Academy Awards ceremony so José Feliciano took his place. Oh, watch out for Penelope Keith cast against type as a posh Tory lady.

It’s really more of a Christmas than an Easter movie, but at 6pm on Monday there’s The Amazing Mr Blunden, Lionel Jeffries’ splendid children’s ghost story. Written by Jeffries and Antonia (The Mousehole Cat) Barber, it stars Laurence Naismith as a kindly old gentleman who rescues Peter Sellers’ last wife Lynne Frederick and her siblings from a squalid Camden Town flat and decants them to a great house in the country. Cast as a monstrous harridan, the film gave Diana Dors a chance to flex her acting muscles. The exterior of the house is Heatherden Hall, the Buckinghamshire mansion around which Pinewood Studios grew. You may recognise it from its appearance in everything from From Russia with Love to Carry On Up the Khyber.

At 10pm on Tuesday, Rita Tushingham plays The Girl With Green Eyes – but as it’s made in black and white we’ll have to take debut director Desmond Davis’s word for it. Edna O’Brien’s script for this Woodfall film charts naive, convent school-educated Rita’s relationship with a sophisticated older man (Peter Finch). Davis later reunited Tushingham and Lynn Redgrave in the George Melly-scripted slapstick comedy romp Smashing Time but he’s probably best known for 1981’s Clash of the Titans.

Finally, next Saturday at 8.45pm Richard Burton stars as a British agent pretending to defect to East Germany in the multi-Bafta winning The Spy who Came in From the Cold. Based on John Le Carré’s book of the same name, it offers Rupert Davies’s take on George Smiley. The screenplay was co-written by Paul Dehn, who also wrote the script for a very different spy film, Goldfinger. His partner was composer James Bernard, who wrote the music for most of Hammer Films’ horror classics. Which is (sort of) where we came in.
See, with a little judicious channel hopping it’s perfectly possible to give Marr a miss and pass on Peston – if you play your cards right you can successfully substitute Tony Hancock for Matt Hancock and Dame May Whitty for Chris Whitty. Happy viewing!

• You can watch Talking Pictures TV on Virgin 445, Freesat 306, Freeview or Youview 81 or on the Sky digital satellite platform, channel 328.

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