Emma Banville is a human rights lawyer who takes the batteries out of smoke alarms so she can light up cigarillos, squats rather than sits on office chairs, drives an aged Volvo and “never reads the papers or watches TV”. Yes, she’s pretty insufferable.
But Emma is played by Helen McCrory, so there’s an unsentimentality and steeliness that are welcome in a female lead, even if she’s damaged by her childhood (something to do with her mum and a Greenham Common-type peace protest).
As Emma reinvestigates the case of a man jailed 14 years ago for the murder of a schoolgirl, her steps are dogged by the security services and other mysterious types.
It’s a shame that Patrick Harbinson’s (Homeland, Law & Order) new thriller feels preachy, telling us things about Syria anyone with a heart, a brain and indeed a newspaper and a television would know.
The Art of Japanese Life
We may admire Japanese technical ingenuity and enjoy a nice bit of sushi, but many of us are still in the dark about Japanese culture and ritual – centuries of deliberate isolation and vicious armed conflict haven’t helped. So it’s up to art historian Dr James Fox, who’s previously explored colour and artistic revolutions on BBC4, to turn his sharp, incisive intelligence on to the mysteries of Japanese art.
First off, he explores the importance of the landscape to the country’s belief systems and its artists. Nature has infused Japan’s religions, and extends into its love of bonsai, puzzling Zen gardens and stunning prints of Mount Fuji. It’s a visual feast, including some gasp-inducing works of beauty, although Fox seems rather in awe of his subject matter: it’s all very hushed.
Amazing Animal Births
On a high, cold hillside in the Yorkshire Dales a ewe is going into labour, and not looking thrilled to bits that a camera crew is gathered round to capture her big moment.
Presenter Lucy Cook and shepherdess Amanda Owen (who is eight months pregnant herself) look on anxiously as the sheep does everything but give birth. Eventually the lamb’s head appears and Lucy helps haul him into the world. “My hands are shaking. That was really emotional,” she says, and you can see that in the flesh the moment when new life sparks up is quite something. It’s touching on screen, too, though for me the sight of a funny little newborn rhinoceros nuzzling his mum was the real highlight here.
There’s quality through the cast here. Look past Ian McShane, Ricky Whittle and a spectacular Gillian Anderson to enjoy Pablo Schreiber as fighting leprechaun Sweeney (his past is explored this week) and Emily Browning as undead nihilist Laura, who has a new plan to regain life.
This feel-good family ensemble piece from director Ron Howard manages to avoid being oversentimental, and the result is an affectionate, leisurely comedy about the joys (and otherwise) of bringing up children. Steve Martin grabs the comic honours as the elder son of a family headed by crotchety Jason Robards, although there are fine performances, too, from a star-studded supporting cast that includes Dianne Wiest, Rick Moranis, Mary Steenburgen, Martha Plimpton and Keanu Reeves. Howard handles the large number of different story strands adeptly and he makes the most of Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel’s sharp script and some neat set pieces, notably Martin’s cowboy turn at his son’s birthday party.