Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)
Where’s it on? Digital platforms including BFI Player
Perhaps the biggest release so far this strange year, Judas and the Black Messiah is the latest in a cycle of hefty studio movies tackling vital chapters of the 1960s civil rights movement. Brit Daniel Kaluuya plays Fred Hampton, the radical and charismatic young Black Panther leader who threatened to become the ‘Black messiah’ that J. Edgar Hoover (here played as a glassy-eyed lizard villain by Martin Sheen) so feared as a threat to the white status quo. Hampton’s ‘Judas’ is William O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield), the thief turned FBI informant who infiltrated Hampton’s inner circle. Earlier this year the documentary MLK/FBI revealed the extraordinary lengths to which Hoover’s FBI went to surveil Martin Luther King. Now director Shaka King brings all of that same heated late-60s period of paranoia and racial fear to us as muscular drama. Anchored by an ensemble of electrifying performances, it’s history retold as a gripping, angering thriller.
Where’s it on? Blu-ray
Released on Blu-ray this week, this magisterial epic of 16th-century Japan was Akira Kurosawa’s great homecoming movie after a decade either working abroad or in the doldrums following the critical drubbing faced by his 1970 film Dodes’ka–den. Backed by George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, it was a return to the jidaigeki (period film) mode of Seven Samurai (1954) and Throne of Blood (1957), albeit now in lavish colour and mounted on a scale that – in the era of CGI – looks ever more awe-inspiring. It’s something of a companion piece to his subsequent Ran (1985): not directly inspired by Shakespeare as that would be, but Shakespearian in its movement between courtly intrigue and clashes on the battlefield, and especially in its focus on a double/impostor figure. In the Sengoku, or ‘Warring States’, period, a thief resembling the leader of the Takeda clan becomes a vital decoy after the latter is taken out by a sniper.
Where’s it on? Channel 4, Saturday, 10pm
Mike Leigh isn’t a director you think of working on anything like that Kurosawa-style scale, but with Peterloo – his third foray into period filmmaking after Topsy-Turvy (1999) and Mr. Turner (2014) – he mounted a comparably vast canvas to dramatise the events leading up to the Peterloo massacre of 1819. Two hundred years after the British government mobilised armed forces to quash a pro-democracy rally in St Peter’s Field in Manchester, Leigh’s film did vital work in bringing this infamous but not widely taught episode of our national history back into the spotlight. Peterloo keeps an ensemble of characters in play across class lines as it attempts to colour in both the everyday detail and the political headwinds that shaped the time. It belongs in a small but impressive canon of films tackling England’s radical history, including Winstanley (1975) and Comrades (1986).
Mädchen in Uniform (1931)
Where’s it on? Blu-ray
An early classic of lesbian cinema, astonishing even now for its forthright depiction of Sapphic desire, Leontine Sagan’s luminous 1931 film Mädchen in Uniform was one of the last flowerings of the great German cinema of the Weimar era, before Hitler’s rise to power. It’s set in an all-girl’s boarding school, where new student Manuela von Meinhardis (Hertha Thiele) comes under the iron rule of the disciplinarian headteacher while developing a crush on her kindly governess Fräulein von Bernburg (Dorothea Wieck). With an all-female cast and a deeply humanistic rather than prurient or sensational treatment of homosexuality, Mädchen in Uniform feels startlingly modern and daring for its time, and indeed was shown heavily censored in many cases for decades afterwards.
Great Day in the Morning (1956)
Where’s it on? Talking Pictures TV, Saturday, 7.10am
Better known for his atmospheric horror films and film noirs, Jacques Tourneur also made a handful of excellent westerns, none of which is as widely seen as they should be. Airing on Talking Pictures TV this weekend, the wonderfully titled Great Day in the Morning was the last of them – filmed in Colorado in Technicolor and a widescreen process called Superscope. It’s set in the immediate prelude to the American civil war, with tensions already inescapable and lines of allegiance being drawn. Robert Stack plays the grasping east coaster who arrives in 19th-century Denver with gold on his mind, only to get caught up in both the competing affections of two local women and rival claims for a local mine by Confederate and Union sympathisers. Tourneur’s film sketches in a remarkable amount of political ambiguity for a 90-minute oater.