The Card Counter (2021)

Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide

Enter Paul Schrader into your Chrome search bar and it calls him an American screenwriter, which is short shrift for what’s also been one of the most fascinating directorial careers of the past 45 years. To hear Oscar Isaac’s gravelly, deliberate voiceover in his latest, a tale of gambling and redemption, it could almost be the tones of Travis Bickle – the first and still most famous of Schrader’s lonely, methodical men (though one stewarded by Scorsese as director). Like the taxi driver, the walker or the American gigolo, Isaac’s card counter is a haunted man of rigid self-discipline. When a former soldier seeks his help on a campaign of vengeance, the gambler sees a chance of atonement for horrific crimes in his own past. With gliding, out-of-body camerawork by Alexander Dynan, this is casino-land as a purgatorial realm. A soul is being weighed.

The Seventh Seal (1957)

Where’s it on? Ultra HD Blu-ray

The Seventh Seal (1957)

Speaking of souls being weighed, here’s perhaps the ultimate film about a person reckoning with their own end. When Death comes in person to claim Max von Sydow’s medieval knight Antonius Block in Ingmar Bergman’s much-parodied classic, Block tries to forestall the inevitable by challenging him to a game of chess. After Death accepts, Bergman’s film follows the sporadic bout as the knight travels through a pestilent landscape ravaged by the Black Death. Superstition and fear prevail, as the people assume the plague is God’s punishment. A perennial on best film lists, The Seventh Seal has been released this week as the BFI’s first Ultra HD Blu-ray.

Spencer (2021)

Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide

Impending doom is also the air and atmosphere in this slice of creative biography from Chilean director Pablo Larraín. Of a piece with his 2016 film Jackie, which turned Natalie Portman into Jackie Onassis, Spencer zeroes in on a lonely Christmas in the life of Princess Diana sometime in the early 90s, a few years before her death. In a remarkable feat of reanimation, Kristen Stewart essays the isolated princess at a time of total estrangement from her neglecting husband and the rest of the royal family. She’s a bird with clipped wings in a gilded cage, flying chaotically against the bars. One of Larraín’s unexpected reference points for this sometimes barmy but never less than gripping horror show seems to have been Kubrick’s The Shining (1980). The Sandringham estate is recast as an Overlook Hotel, complete with ghosts and endless corridors to lose your mind in.

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

Where’s it on? Film 4, Sunday, 2.25pm

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

Horror is also at large in the English countryside in this classic adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous Sherlock Holmes story. This is the Hammer Films version, made in the first flush of their brand-defining turn into gothic literary sources. So it’s house-stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee that we get as, respectively, Holmes and Sir Henry Baskerville. The latter is the Devonshire aristocrat who invites the detective to investigate reports of a terrifying hound stalking the moors. Terence Fisher directs – he was hot off those inaugural Hammer horrors – and as with his version of Dracula (1958) it’s the garish Technicolor that you remember in the mind’s eye. Particularly the reds – not just the blood and upholstery, but the fox-hunting uniforms of the rakish Hellfire Club whose devilry sets the plot in motion. 

The Story of Lover’s Rock (2011)

Where’s it on? BFI Player

The Story of Lovers Rock (2011)

Nine years before Steve McQueen dedicated an episode of his Small Axe anthology series to the sensuous, swaying sound of lover’s rock, trailblazing Black British filmmaker Menelik Shabazz offered his own documentary tribute to the music. A London-centred take on Jamaican reggae that shared more in common with the slow, soulful, romantic sound of 1960s rocksteady than the more politicised roots reggae of the 70s, lover’s rock was music to get up close with. Shabazz, who died this year, remembers the scene – and what the music meant to the British-Jamaican community at a time of racial tension and polarisation – via talking-heads interviews, acted-out sequences and archive on-stage footage. It’s been added to BFI Player this week, along with Shabazz’s 2015 documentary Looking for Love.