Comfort and Joy, BBC Scotland, 9.30pm ​

IT’S still a little too early in the year for Bill Forsyth’s Christmas movie, surely? But maybe BBC Scotland feel the film is neither comfortable nor joyous enough for the festive season and have decided to sneak it in before Hallowe’en.

His follow-up to Local Hero, Forsyth’s fourth film is set in the days around Christmas. Bill Paterson plays a Glasgow DJ whose girlfriend (played by Eleanor David) leaves him just before Christmas.

Heartbroken, he takes to driving around the city and on one evening follows a Mr Bunny ice cream van after catching sight of a smiling Clare Grogan inside. Having bought himself a 99 cone he watches on in horror as the van is attacked by thugs who quickly smash all its windows. Soon, he finds himself trying to act as honest broker between feuding ice cream firms.

It’s a plot that drew on the real-life Ice Cream wars that took place in the east end of the city in the 1980s. The reality, however, was a story of drug-dealing, violence and intimidation that ended in tragedy. It’s possibly a sign of his innate decency that Forsyth’s film reframes that story as a much less brutal affair.

Of course, when it was released that was seen as a problem. Some accused the film of trivialising the reality of the events. Others complained that the film simply wasn’t as funny as Forsyth’s previous movies Local Hero and Gregory’s Girl.

Perhaps not. But it would be wrong to say that it doesn’t amuse. After the thugs attack the Mr Bunny ice cream van one of their number breaks his getaway to grab the startled DJ and ask for an autograph. (“I’m sorry, I don’t have a pen on me,” Paterson tells him.)

Still, as the New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael pointed out at the time, “Forsyth is probably trying to get down under his comic tone and do something deeper than he did in his earlier pictures.”

What that means in practice is that Comfort and Joy is a comic film about heartache and loneliness. It’s a blue sigh of a movie that has a drifting, melancholic air to it. Paterson ghosts through the film, a broken man looking for a way to reconnect (while pretending that everything is still fine while on the radio).

It's that rarest of beasts,” the novelist Jonathan Coe once noted, “a truly serious comedy.”

What you also take away, though, is the beauty of it. Has Glasgow every looked better in a film? Cinematographer Chris Menges catches the smudginess of the city’s twilight hours and the grey-blue shining brilliance of concrete and glass and moving traffic.

Frankly, never mind the plot. I would have been happy if the film had been nothing other than scenes of Paterson driving around the city because the driving sequences here are such visual treats. A reminder that cinema is as much about motion as emotion.

Comfort and Joy has none of the broad-based appeal of Local Hero and it’s certainly not as funny as Gregory’s Girl (or as joyful for that matter). But I suspect it might be the film that comes closest to Forsyth’s own melancholic but ultimately humane vision of the world.

It is a movie about being alone at Christmas, about the beauty of Clare Grogan (and Eleanor David for that matter), about the way the light hits the city, and now, more than 35 years later, about how that city looked back in the 1980s; the tower blocks that have since disappeared, the docks that have found a new life, a Glasgow that once was but isn’t now.

In that sense it’s become a documentary movie. This is how we once were. That beautiful light? It’s the past coming back to haunt us. Maybe this is a movie for Hallowe’en after all.


Detroit, BBC2, 10pm

Still depressingly timely, Kathryn Bigelow's slow-burning thriller picks at the fresh wounds of divided race relations in America by reliving one tragic night in a fractured city that resulted in the deaths of three black teenagers. Released to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the shootings at the Algiers Motel, Detroit skilfully weaves together multiple character arcs, building to a protracted sequence of gut-wrenching terror that draws uncomfortable parallels with the present day. Screenwriter Mark Boal employs his journalistic training to distil personal accounts into a rich, textured portrait of civil unrest, intimidation and injustice. Hand-held camerawork stokes tension and sweat-drenched performances from a fine ensemble cast are horribly believable. We have nowhere to hide from the film's crushing emotional blows.


Shaun of the Dead ITV4, 9pm

Yes, you've seen it a hundred times, but ... Billed as a "rom zom com", this hugely entertaining British movie (the first in a loose trilogy that would go on to include Hot Fuzz and The World's End) stars Simon Pegg as Shaun, whose girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) has just dumped him for spending too much time in the boozer. In fact, he's in such a rut that he barely notices that London is being overrun by zombies. However, when the truth does dawn, he sees it as a chance to prove to Liz that he can step up and achieve something. Like all British drama, it ends in the pub. By the way, Hot Fuzz is on ITV4 at the same time on Tuesday night. And, whisper it quietly, it's even better.


Robin and Marian, Film4, 4.25pm

Sean Connery plays an ageing Robin Hood who returns to England after 20 years abroad, disillusioned by the brutality he has seen during the crusades. He gets a lukewarm reception from his old flame Maid Marian (Audrey Hepburn), who is now living in a nearby convent, but when he faces a final challenge from his arch-enemy, the Sheriff of Nottingham (Robert Shaw), it looks like Robin may be able to win her back after all. Richard Lester's realistic, elegiac reworking of the legend may not appeal to everyone, but it's hard not to root for the middle-aged lovers. The impressive thing to remember is that Connery was still playing romantic leads into the 1990s.


Hidden Figures, Film4, 9pm

Katherine Johnson (Taraji P Henson) and fellow mathematicians Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) and Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) work in the segregated West Computing Group in Hampton, Virginia. They are part of Nasa's concerted effort to put a man into space before the Soviets. Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), director of the Space Task Group, desperately needs a mathematician in his team to check computations. Supervisor Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst) selects Katherine, who is the first African-American to work with Al's crack squad. Based on an inspirational true story, Hidden Figures is a crowd-pleasing drama, emboldened by sparkling performances from Henson, Monae and Spencer. Sterling support from Costner and Dunst, and a dramatic role for Big Bang Theory star Jim Parsons, add to the golden lustre.


Get On Up, Channel 4, 11.30pm

The late, great Chadwick Boseman may be best known as Marvel superhero Black Panther, but he first made an impression on filmgoers in this biopic of R'n'B and soul legend James Brown, which charts the singer's rise against a backdrop of civil unrest. Taken to church as a child by his aunt, young James develops his passion for music in the choir, going on to form a rhythm and blues vocal group called The Famous Flames, releasing their first single in 1956. But when they get a manager, he pushes the flamboyant showman to the fore at the expense of the other members of the group. Boseman nails the raspy voice and cool cat swagger required to replicate Brown's fleet-footed shuffles on stage, with the concert sequences, in particular, proving electrifying. Octavia Spencer, Lennie James, Viola Davis and Dan Aykroyd co-star.

And One to stream: 1917, Amazon Prime

The problem with Sam Mendes’ First World War epic all seemingly shot in one take (not actually the case, but it’s convincing) is that at some level it feels like a trick. Still, it’s a good trick. Two young soldiers, played by George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman, are sent to deliver a letter to the front line. Cue a two-hour rollercoaster ride through hell.

As a spectacle it’s faultless, as a drama it can feel a little lacking. Yet MacKay in particular brings a grounding humanity to the film, backed up by fine cameos from the likes of Andrew Scott and Benedict Cumberbatch.