Film of the Week

First Man, Saturday, Channel 4, 9pm

Following their successful 2016 musical collaboration La La Land, which netted 14 Academy Award nominations and six Oscars, director Damien Chazelle and actor Ryan Gosling teamed up again in 2018 for something completely different: an entirely dance-free biopic about legendary astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon.

Beginning in 1961 and running through to the iconic 1969 Apollo 11 mission which Armstrong commanded, First Man is a tense and intense piece of film-making which (as these things always do) underlines the achievement of the men and women of NASA and the bravery of the men who put their lives on the line for the sake of space exploration.

We first meet Armstrong working as a test pilot on the rocket-powered X-15 planes, from where he eventually graduates to Project Gemini and makes his first spaceflight aboard Gemini 8 in 1966. From there it’s only three short years before he’s taking one small step for man and … well you know the rest. Gosling, resplendent in a short back and sides, plays Armstrong as a quiet and thoughtful man, and as much as Chazelle’s film is about the dangers faced and derring-do shown by Armstrong it’s also about his personal side. British actress Claire Foy plays Armstrong’s wife Janet, and there’s a strong focus on his family life and his friendships with fellow astronauts Ed White (Jason Clarke) and Elliot See (Patrick Fugit), both of whom died tragically in training. Elsewhere, Corey Stoll and Lukas Haas play Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins, Armstrong’s crewmates on the historic Apollo 11 mission.

As shown by the success of films such as 2016’s Hidden Figures (about the struggle of three black, female mathematicians who worked at NASA in the 1960s) and 2019 Netflix documentary Apollo 11 (which used previously unseen 70mm film of Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins to glorious effect) interest in the Golden Age of space exploration is increasing rather than diminishing. First Man is a more than decent addition to the canon and, as ever, Gosling holds the attention like few other actors of his generation can.


The Greatest Showman, Film 4, 9pm

Arguably 2018’s biggest sleeper hit, this musical stars Hugh Jackman as the legendary PT Barnum, a tailor's son who falls under the spell of the privileged Charity Hallett (Michelle Williams). They live modestly until PT blags a $10,000 bank loan for a museum of living curiosities. The exhibits include bearded-lady Lettie Lutz (Keala Settle), dwarf Charles Stratton (Sam Humphrey) and high-flying trapeze siblings WD and Anne Wheeler (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Zendaya). Sardonic newspaper critic James Gordon Bennett (Paul Sparks) denounces the enterprise as “a primitive circus of humbug”, but the public disagrees – as does investor Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron). The Greatest Showman is a joy-infused blast of pure pleasure that calibrates every swoon of romance and doff of a top hat with masterful precision.


Goodbye Christopher Robin, Film 4, 6.50pm

Simon Curtis’s handsome drama exposes the anguish and resentment that festered beneath the Hundred Acre Wood. AA Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) returns to London from the trenches, where he witnessed hundreds of his countrymen cut down in their prime. Angered by the senseless loss of life, Milne abandons the capital for a quaint house in Ashdown Forest, where a walk with his young son Christopher Robin (Will Tilston) fires his imagination. Milne develops the Winnie-the-Pooh stories, which magically bring to life his son's menagerie of stuffed toys, but while the books become a success, Christopher Robin struggles to deal with his newfound fame.


Snowpiercer, Film 4, 11.50pm


Chris Evans (left) in Snowpiercer

Before he directed Parasite, the first foreign language film to win the Best Picture Oscar, Bong Joon-ho made his English-language debut with the dark fantasy thriller Snowpiercer, based on a French graphic novel from the 1980s. Boasting an impressive cast including Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell and Parasite's Song Kang-ho (a regular Joon-ho collaborator) it's set in the future where a failed experiment to end global warming has turned the Earth into an uninhabitable frozen wasteland. What's left of humanity is confined to a high-speed train, where passengers are divided by class. But a revolution is afoot. The film only had a limited cinema release in the US, but was enough of a critical hit to lead to a spin-off TV series.


The Man With The Iron Heart, BBC Four, 10pm

French director Cedric Jimenez and co-writers Audrey Diwan and David Farr traverse similar historical ground to Sean Ellis' acclaimed 2016 film Anthropoid, dramatising the 1942 plot to assassinate high-ranking Nazi official Reinhard Heydrich, who was one of the architects of the Final Solution. Heydrich (Jason Clarke) is court martialled for his disreputable behaviour and dismissed from the German Navy. He subsequently becomes romantically involved with Lina von Osten (Rosamund Pike) and she encourages him to become an active member of the Nazi Party. Reinhard clambers up the ranks and spearheads the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) intelligence agency at the behest of Heinrich Himmler (Stephen Graham). He eventually moves to Prague where members of the Czechoslovak resistance conceive a plan to execute Heydrich.


Philomena, BBC One, 11.35pm

Jane Lee (Anna Maxwell Martin) discovers her mother Philomena (Judi Dench) fell pregnant as a teenager in 1952 Ireland and was forced to give up the baby to the sisters at Roscrea Abbey. Jane pitches the story to former Labour advisor-turned-BBC journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), who initially scoffs at the suggestion he should pen an article about the matriarch and her heart-breaking ordeal. After a reality check from his wife Kate (Simone Lahbib), Martin agrees to help Philomena track down her boy. The tender and unexpectedly touching relationship that forms between these two characters from different generations and backgrounds provides Stephen Frears's uplifting film with its emotional thrust, as the search for answers moves between continents.

And one to stream …

Songs My Brothers Taught Me, MUBI


Jashaun St John (left) as Jashaun and John Reddy (far right) as Johnny in Songs My Brothers Taught Me

With her new film Nomadland expected to sweep the Oscars this month, and with records already tumbling thanks to her Best Director wins at the BAFTAs, the Golden Globes and the Directors Guild Of America Awards – she’s the first Asian woman to take all three accolades – Beijing-born film-maker Chloe Zhao has the world at her feet. It’s a perfect time, then, to check out her stellar 2015 debut, set among (and mostly starring) members of the Lakota Sioux community living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. A hit at the Sundance Film Festival it also screened in the prestigious Director’s Fortnight strand at the Cannes Film Festival, where it was nominated for the Camera d’Or award.

The film centres on the relationship between high school senior Johnny Winters (John Reddy) and his 11-year-old sister Jashaun Winters (Jashaun St John), who live a precarious existence in a dilapidated clapperboard house with their mother, Lisa (Irene Bedard). When their absent father, rodeo rider Carl Winters, is killed in a fire, the family assembles for a memorial service which is also attended by Carl’s 23 other children and some of the nine women who bore them. The phrase “brother from another mother” is one Johnny hears from the mouths of his sprawling collection of half-siblings as he ekes out a living selling illegal alcohol and pursuing his dream of becoming a boxer. An older brother, Cody (Justin Reddy, John Reddy’s real-life brother), is in prison. “God’s just another man you can desert your children for,” he tells Lisa when she visits and tells him she has turned to Christianity to help her kick the booze, a scourge of the community. Jashaun, meanwhile, hangs out with Travis (Travis Lone Hill), just out of prison himself and trying make ends meet by selling clothes he customises. Travis likes green and the number seven. Against that background, Johnny plans his escape to Los Angeles with girlfriend Aurelia (Taysha Fuller), a rare academic success story who has landed a place at university studying law. But what are dreams worth on “the rez”, as it’s known?

Shot in a style that veers between the naturalistic and elliptical, the wordy and the wordless, Zhao’s film is a powerful study of a community living on the margins featuring mesmerising performances from all its young leads. She, and it, deserve an audience.