The History Boys, Working Girl and Beowulf – best films on TV tonight

Cure the middle-of-the-week slump with our top picks for film on TV Wednesday 28th May


The History Boys – 9pm, BBC4


Alan Bennett’s hit stage play, about a group of Sheffield grammar school boys being drilled for their Oxbridge entrance exams, makes an efficient transition to the big screen. Utilising the original stage cast, director Nicholas Hytner wisely opts to change as little as possible, resisting the urge to open up the material cinematically. This brilliantly serves Bennett’s screenplay, which is a masterpiece of wit and intellect worn feather-lightly; a perfectly balanced blend undercut with the darker subject of general studies teacher Hector (Richard Griffiths) and his sexual attraction to the boys. Which leads to this thoroughly enjoyable film’s only flaw: there’s something slightly implausible about these pupils who combine a kind of romanticised notion of male adolescence extracted from Goodbye Mr Chips with an incredible nonchalance towards the subject of homosexuality and their teacher’s repeated attempts to cop a feel. Still, it’s not a documentary, and this niggle is more than made up for by the performances, which are uniformly first-rate.

Working Girl – 9pm, More4

Women, beware women! This appealing executive-suite comedy sees Melanie Griffith climbing the corporate ladder to success by stepping on bitchy boss Sigourney Weaver’s fingers after the latter steals one of her ideas. Griffith is the exploited and bossed-about secretary to Weaver, taking over from her in her absence and getting broker Harrison Ford as the main prize. This is a secretary’s wish-fulfiller that’s an easy-going treat for all in director Mike Nichols’s assured hands. Carly Simon’s Oscar-winning song, Let the River Run, makes the soundtrack one to treasure, too.

Beowulf – 9pm, 5*

Myth and technology combine in this spectacular animated fantasy that reworks the English language’s oldest surviving poem using 21st-century computer power. As in The Polar Express, director Robert Zemeckis employs state-of-the-art “performance capture” techniques to turn his cast – including Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins and Brendan Gleeson – into digital avatars. The earthily entertaining script by award-winning comic-book writer Neil Gaiman (Stardust) and Pulp Fiction co-writer Roger Avary adds a bold new dimension to the story of Beowulf’s battle against the monstrous Grendel (Crispin Hellion Glover) in 6th-century Denmark. Zemeckis creates a dark fantasy full of haunting images, not least Angelina Jolie’s sultry turn as Grendel’s demonic mother. Ironically, the attempt to take animation to a new level of photorealism occasionally produces a strange distancing effect; some viewers may feel more intrigued by the process than immersed in the action, particularly when they can choose from conventional 35mm, IMAX 3D, Real D and Dolby 3D Digital Cinema formats.


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