12 Years a Slave, Channel 4, 9pm

Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) lives with his family in 1841 Washington City. Following a meeting with two seemingly respectable gentlemen, Solomon is sold into slavery. His first master, Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), is kind - up to a point - but fate delivers the lead character to sadistic Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). This master spites his unfeeling wife (Sarah Paulson) by taking a shine to one of the slave girls, Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o), and Solomon is caught in the crossfire. Based on Northup's autobiography of the same name, 12 Years a Slave made a big splash at the Oscars, and deservedly so. Steve McQueen's bravura third feature is a sensitive yet unflinching portrait of suffering that delivers its message of brutality and endurance with the full force of a sledgehammer to the solar plexus.


The Searchers, BBC Two, 4.05pm

Embittered American Civil War veteran Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) is horrified when a Native American tribe kills his brother and sister-in-law and kidnaps their daughter Debbie (Natalie Wood). He becomes obsessed with tracking down his missing niece and is joined in his quest by the family's adopted son Martin (Jeffrey Hunter). But the longer Debbie stays with the tribe, the more she will adjust to their way of life, leaving Martin worried about what exactly Ethan is planning to do if they find her... John Wayne and director John Ford made many classic Westerns together, but this brooding, visually stunning movie is arguably the finest of their collaborations. Despite some rather jarring moments of comic relief, The Searchers is a haunting and intelligent film, which confronts racism and prejudice in the Old West.


The Festival, Film 4, 9pm

When graduation day arrives, university student Nick (Joe Thomas) has big plans for him and his girlfriend Caitlin (Hannah Tointon). He sees them moving into a flat together. She, on the other hand, suggests that they should break up. In despair at this unexpected turn of events, Nick goes into meltdown – so best mate Shane (Hammed Animashaun) suggests the perfect antidote: three days away at an epic music festival. Cue a mad weekend of drinking, dancing under the influence, slippery mud and getting trapped in portaloos, not to mention bumping into Caitlin, again and again. A few gags squarely hit their target and Jemaine Clement from Flight Of The Conchords is a deadpan delight as an uncool stepfather with an idiosyncratic appreciation for house music. Director is Iain Morris, creator of deliciously crass TV hit The Inbetweeners.


Star Trek, Film 4, 9pm

A prequel to the hit TV series, this sci-fi adventure sees the birth of James T Kirk, his tearaway youth and eventual enlistment into Starfleet in an attempt to make sense of his life. However, as he crosses paths with a few familiar faces - Leonard 'Bones' McCoy and Uhura to name two - it's his uneasy alliance with half-Vulcan Spock that forms the backbone of the drama. As the Enterprise crew tackle the villainous Nero, an aged face from the future helps them on their quest. Arguably the best of the film saga, it opens with a heart-breaking prologue (perfect for pulling in non-Trek fans), and rarely lets up for the duration. Chris Pine is a great Kirk, but Zachary Quinto is uncanny as a young Spock.


In Bruges, Film4, 11pm

Professional killers Ray (Colin Farrell, never better) and Ken (the excellent Brendan Gleeson) are ordered to lie low in Belgium when an assignment goes wrong in this splendid, dark comedy drama from writer-director Martin McDonagh, who would go on to make the Oscar-winning Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (see Thursday). Instructed to pose as tourists, the pair are drawn into an increasingly surreal series of misadventures involving a dwarf actor and a drug dealer while they await orders from their boss (a hilarious Ralph Fiennes). One of the best films of the Noughties, In Bruges has a terrific premise, razor-sharp dialogue and performances from three actors at the very peak of their powers.


Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Film 4, Thursday, 9pm

This third feature from Anglo-Irish director and playwright Martin McDonagh (his first, In Bruges, screens on October 7) is the one which has brought him the most acclaim: an Oscar each in 2018 for actors Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell, and a brace of Golden Globes and BAFTAs for the film itself and for McDonagh’s vivid, spunky, foul-mouthed screenplay.

McDormand plays Mildred Hayes, a prickly and pugnacious resident of the small town of Ebbing. Exasperated by the failure of the local police force to capture the man who raped, murdered and set fire to her teenage daughter Angela nearly a year earlier, she decides to take matters into her own hands and put the case back into the public eye. She does it by hiring three billboards on the outskirts of town – she can seem them from her house – and posting up a message on each aimed at the local police chief Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson).

It certainly gains her attention, though some of it comes from Willoughby’s racist deputy Jason Dixon, who thinks it’s fine to torture black suspects as long as he refers to them as persons of colour. Willoughby, who also happens to be dying of cancer, is on Mildred’s side, though adamant the case is cold and unlikely to be solved.

It might be hard to believe given the subject matter but the film is a black comedy – or at least it’s blackly comic for much of its two hours plus running time. Sure, McDormand’s Mildred is fierce, stern-faced and unbending almost to the point of being unlikeable, but Rockwell’s artful mugging as the powder-keg cop and a supporting cast which includes Caleb Landry Jones, rising star Lucas Hedges and Game Of Thrones star Peter Dinklage (at his sardonic, twinkle-eyed best) adds an undercurrent of something approaching whimsy. Even the film’s shocking moments –there are several: McDonagh loves to spin the pieces – are played out with a smirk and (often) a mouthful of invective.

As for the film’s ending, it’s absolutely brilliant – exactly the sort of finale you wish more directors had the bottle to deploy. It’s not hard to see why both McDormand and Rockwell took home their gongs.


A Hard Day's Night, BBC Four, 7.30pm

It could have been a cheap cash-in, but instead Richard Lester's 1964 comedy adventure, purporting to show a typical day in the life of The Beatles, is a sharp, quotable delight from start to finish. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr play versions of themselves in this madcap musical comedy, braving yet another day of personal appearances and the high-decibel screams of the thousands of fans who follow them around London. Wilfrid Brambell plays Paul's meddling and cantankerous grandfather who lands himself (and the band) in all sorts of trouble, including a brief spell in custody at the police station, while Victor Spinetti is the highly stressed TV director staring unemployment in the face when his star act goes missing just minutes before a live broadcast.

And one to stream …

Enola Holmes, Netflix

What do you get if you cross Sherlock Holmes with Fleabag and Stranger Things? The answer is Enola Holmes, which features Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown as Holmes’s 16-year-old sister in a fourth-wall-breaking Netflix film helmed by Fleabag and Killing Eve director Harry Bradbeer. Sure, it never quite adds up to the sum of those parts, but it’s great fun in a check-in-your-cynicism-at-the-door sort of way. And doesn’t the CGI London look great?

Based on Nancy Springer’s series of young adult novels (there are six, so expect sequels) the What if? premise involves Sherlock and Mycroft having a rebellious and resourceful younger sister called Enola whose education has been left to their brilliant but eccentric mother Eudoria. When Eudoria disappears, Enola sets out to find her, teaming up with runaway aristocrat Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge) along the way and evading (for a while) the attempts by Mycroft to place her in a school for young girls run by the stiff-as-a-brush Miss Harrison (Killing Eve’s Fiona Shaw).

Eudoria is played here by Helena Bonham Carter (who else would you get to do posh and eccentric?), while the roles of Sherlock, Mycroft and Lestrade go to Henry Cavill, Sam Claflin and the wonderful Adeel Akhtar respectively. There’s no room in this tale for Dr Watson (a blessing) and no Moriarty either (at least not yet) but the cast also includes Frances de la Tour as Tewkesbury’s grandmother The Dowager, Burn Gorman as paid assassin Linthorn and Susan Wokoma as Edith, owner of a teashop selling seditious literature downstairs and training proto-Suffragettes in the finer points of hand-to-hand combat upstairs.

Phoebe Waller Bridge would have really made the script sing. Instead the job fell to Jack Thorne, who’s probably the next best choice: Skins, Shameless, This Is England and Harry Potter And The Cursed Child are among his screen- and playwrighting credits so there’s little he doesn’t know about portraying teens in extremis. Against a backstory which includes the push for universal suffrage and the battle to pass the Reform Act of 1884, the feminist card is played well and often, and Brown’s eyebrow raised, straight-to-camera shtick is a winner every time.