The History Boys, Shaun of the Dead, The Guard: films on TV today

Teacher Richard Griffiths gets pupils thinking, slacker Simon Pegg shows a straight bat to a zombie, Brendan Gleeson doesn't mind bending the rules: the RadioTimes team’s pick of free-to-air films on TV today

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BARRY NORMAN: FILM OF THE DAY
The History Boys ★★★★
9.00-10.50pm BBC4 

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Alan Bennett’s play loses something in its translation to film, notably in the slight, regrettable dilution of the central character played by the wonderfully rotund Richard Griffiths. But it’s still a pleasure for those who like to keep their minds engaged while watching a movie. Adapted by Bennett and directed by Nicholas Hytner, it’s set in 1983 in a Sheffield grammar school where eight bright boys are studying for Oxbridge entrance exams. The snobbish headmaster Clive Merrison, desperate that the boys should pass, introduces a cynical young tutor to instruct them in glib, meretricious street smarts to impress the examiners, and that’s where conflict arises. Along with problems of sexual orientation, the questions here are: what is history about, does it matter and what is education for? Griffiths, the gay, flamboyantly theatrical general studies teacher, has no doubts: learning is for life, not just for passing exams. This is intelligent, funny, poignant stuff, full of ideas and very well played, especially by Griffiths.


Shaun of the Dead ★★★★
9.00-11.05pm ITV2 

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost take to the field for the north London Slackers’ big showdown against the Zombie Hoard in this clever pastiche of the undead horror genre. It takes a while for the pair to find the hero within themselves, but the glib asides and insider jokes (both verbal and visual) come thick and fast from the outset. It’s the first, and probably still the best, of Pegg and director Edgar Wright’s entertaining homage trilogy that continued with Hot Fuzz and The World’s End.


The Guard ★★★★
9.00-10.55pm Film Four 

Brendan Gleeson is a powerful force both on stage and screen, and when his presence is let loose on a funny script like this one, the result is both entertaining and memorable. The drug-shipment story leaves Gleeson’s unorthodox Galway policeman plenty of room to cut a swathe through the rulebook  from the very first scene, and his co-stars – Rory Keenan’s by-the-book partner and FBI agent Don Cheadle –  are left helpless in the wake of his passage.  


Little Fockers ★★★
11.05pm-12.40am BBC1 

Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro and Barbra Streisand are among the returning stars in this third encounter with Hollywood’s most embarrassing family – and the dysfunction has now spread to three generations. Fans of the the first two movies will be perfectly satisfied by the action, as Greg and Pam (Stiller and Teri Polo) juggle work, raising their twins and countering the interference from their families – not to mention the advances of sizzling saleswoman Jessica Alba.


The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian ★★★
7.45-10.00pm BBC3 

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The Pevensie children join the battle to overthrow the evil Telmarines in this action-packed second instalment in the series. The thrills are kept under control by returning director Andrew Adamson,  and the presence of Sergio Castellitto as the usurper Miraz brings a welcome note of political tension for those who may think it all a little too safe. Ben Barnes may lack a little steel as Caspian, but Eddie Izzard’s Reepicheep adds a welcome comic note to the movie.