12 Years A Slave, Monday, Film 4, 9pm

In the wake of the Juneteenth celebrations to mark the end of slavery, and with the Black Lives Matter protests still bubbling away in the US and Beyoncé’s newly-released Black Parade single bursting with references to black activism and reparation, there couldn’t be a better time to revisit this film by Turner Prize winning artist-turned-film director Steve McQueen. As searing an indictment of slavery as it’s possible to imagine, nobody was surprised when it won the Briton the Academy Award for Best Picture at the 2013 Oscars, the first time a film by a black director had won the coveted award.

Based on the 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup, a free man in New York until he was tricked into going to Washington DC where he was drugged, kidnapped and sold into slavery in Louisiana, it has a screenplay by John Ridley (also the creator of the critically-acclaimed American Crime anthology series) and was co-produced by Brad Pitt, who has an important cameo as an itinerant Canadian opposed to slavery.

British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor is brilliant as Northup, playing him as a proud, solid, dignified character who manages to appear calm and impassive amid the chaos of plantation life while letting his eyes reflect the pain he feels at the ignominy and injustice of his situation. His first “master”, a Mr Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), is about as benevolent as slave owners probably came in the Antebellum South though Northup makes an enemy of his overseer John Tibeats (Paul Dano at his creepy best) and has to be sold to another man, Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). Epps is notoriously mercurial, given to drinking and violent fits of temper, and is sexually obsessed with Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o), one of Northup’s fellow slaves. In one of the film’s pivotal scenes, Northup is forced to whip Patsey while Epps and his spiteful wife Mary (Sarah Paulson) look on. Long, violent, troubling and epic in every sense, 12 Years A Slave isn’t an easy watch though it is an oddly beautiful one thanks to sterling work by lens man Sean Bobbitt, McQueen’s regular cinematographer, who turns the lush swampland and blood-red sunsets into things of unsettling menace.

The Personal History Of David Copperfield, Curzon Home Cinema

Now streaming

Given Armando Iannucci’s track record to date as producer, writer and director – this is the man responsible or partly responsible for In The Loop, The Thick Of It, Veep, The Day Today and Alan Partridge, to name just five – his decision to mount a big budget adaptation of a Charles Dickens novel looks rather curious, even if it does follow another (sort of) costume drama, The Death Of Stalin. Curious or not he’s gone and done it, and in doing so created a film which brings a freshness to the story while also sticking closely to the original novel.

That novel is David Copperfield, of course, written in 1850 and the source of such Dickensian favourites as Uriah Heep, Peggotty and Mr Micawber. Great characters like that are an actor’s dream so it’s no surprise that Iannucci has enlisted a pretty stellar cast as helpmates to Dev Patel, who plays David. Tilda Swinton is the imperious Betsey Trotwood, David’s aunt, Hugh Laurie is Mr Dick, her eccentric cousin and Ben Whishaw plays the unctuous Heep, factotum at the boarding school to which David is sent. And who else could play the mercurial Mr Micawber but Iannucci's old mucker Peter Capaldi? There’s also room for Game Of Thrones star Gwendoline Christie as Jane Murdstone, Aneurin Barnard as David’s troubled schoolfriend James Steerforth, Nikki Amuka-Bird as Mrs Steerforth, and Paul Whitehouse and Daisy May Cooper as Mr and Mrs Peggotty.

The script is co-written with Simon Blackwell, Iannucci’s regular partner-in-crime, though in turning from savage political satire to an adaptation of one of the big beasts of English letters, he and Iannucci have necessarily had to rein in the gags and the swearing. Instead they pile on artful, stagey effects such you rarely see in straight-up costume dramas. For instance the scenes involving flashbacks are projected onto the walls of whichever room David is in at the time, and there’s a speeded-up theatre scene which is straight out the Keystone Cops. Great stuff.