Following his release from Robben Island, South African President Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) inherits a country deeply scarred by apartheid. Nowhere is this more pronounced than on the rugby field: only white South Africans cheer the Springboks. With only a year until his nation hosts the Rugby World Cup, Mandela attempts to heal the emotional rift and inspire captain Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon) and his men to victory. Invictus elegantly sidesteps the pitfalls of the sports genre, adhering closely to the facts and thereby eschewing sentimentality. Clint Eastwood’s film celebrates the titanic efforts of Mandela and Pienaar on and off the pitch, relying on magnificent performances from the leads to embody these charismatic figures.
East Is East, Film4, 11.15pm
The trials and tribulations of family life – petty squabbles, sibling rivalries, sexual confusion and teenage rebellion – are present in all their glory in Damien O’Donnell’s fond 1999 adaptation of Ayub Khan-Din’s award-winning stage play about the experiences of a Pakistani chip shop owner and his family in 1970s Salford. Om Puri is George, a Muslim shopkeeper who wants the best for his wife and seven children, and thinks the key to family unity is ruling the household like a dictator. When eldest son Nazir (Ian Aspinall) leaves home, refusing to abide by an arranged marriage, George feels his authority slipping and quickly organises weddings for his next two sons, Abdul (Raji James) and Tariq (Jimi Mistry). Coronation Street fans, look out for a brief appearance from Jimmi Harkishin (Dev) in a film released the same year as he began his tenure in Weatherfield, and there are also early run-outs for Gavin & Stacey’s Ruth Jones and future Bend It Like Beckham star Archie Panjabi.
A Matter Of Life And Death, BBC Two, 2.30pm
Returning from a combat mission over Germany dashing bomber pilot Peter Carter (David Niven) strikes up a flirtatious conversation with June (Kim Hunter), a bomber command radio operator. It looks like their budding romance will be cut short, however, as his plane has been hit and he’s about to bail out without a parachute. So when he wakes up on a beach, it seems like a miracle has occurred. Well, yes and no: it turns out his survival is down to a clerical error in heaven, and if he wants to stay on Earth with June, he must argue their case in a celestial court. Written, produced and directed by the visionary creative time of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger in 1946, A Matter Of Life And Death is one of the greatest romances of all time – and with the lush, brightly coloured Earth and austere black-and-white heaven, it’s also one of the most visually striking.
American Hustle, Film 4, 12.40am
Directed by David O Russell, and following on from his Oscar-winning pair The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle reunites Russell with the stars of those film – Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro – for a snappy crime caper based on the so-called Abscam sting operation launched by the FBI in the late 1970s. Using a fake sheik as a frontman and with input from a con man and his accomplice lover, it ensnared a tasty collection of US politicians and other assorted ne’er-do-wells. An interesting aside: French New Wave director Louis Malle adapted the story as a vehicle for Dan Akroyd and John Belushi as early as 1981, for a film to be called Moon Over Miami, but Belushi’s death from a heroin overdose a year later ended the project. Robert De Niro, a friend of Belushi’s, had visited the actor on the day of his death.
The real conman was called Mel Weinberg. Malle had renamed him Shelley Slutski but in Russell’s version he’s Irving Rosenfeld (Bale), owner of a string of dry cleaning stores in the Bronx but a man with a neat side-line in grifts and scams. Fake art is a particular speciality. Into Irving’s life walks Sydney Prosser (Adams), a girl from New Mexico who has moved to New York and landed a job at Cosmopolitan. She and Irving bond over a shared love of Duke Ellington and she becomes a willing participant in his extra-curricular activities. Irving juggles his affair with Sydney with his home life – he’s married to Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) and has adopted her son, Danny – but things become even more complicated when Irving and Sydney (who is pretending to be an English aristocrat called Lady Edith Greensly) are arrested by the FBI in a sting operation fronted by agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper). It’s DiMmaso who persuades them to help him take down corrupt politicians, beginning with New Jersey major Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), who is looking to rebuild Atlantic City as a gambling attraction. That connection ultimately leads the trio to a meeting with Mob enforcer Victor Tellegio (De Niro, in an uncredited cameo), right hand man to the legendary and infamous Meyer Lansky.
With his famously intense and immersive performances, Christian Bale tends to dominate scenes but Russell has assembled such a strong ensemble cast that it’s hard to say whose film this is. Adams, as ever, is immensely watchable, as are Lawrence and Renner in the supporting roles. Unsurprisingly, the film racked up 10 Oscar nominations at the 2014 Academy Awards – surprisingly, it didn’t win any.
Bridge Of Spies, More4, 9pm
James Donovan, a lawyer in 1950s New York, is hired to represent Rudolf Abel, a Soviet spy in a showcase trial designed to demonstrate the fairness of the US justice system. In the face of public condemnation, he argues against the death penalty, a stance that years later leads to his involvement in an exchange of prisoners in East Germany. Steven Spielberg rarely puts a foot wrong with this superb fact-based Cold War drama which features a terrific performance from Tom Hanks as Donovan. However, it’s a Bafta and Oscar-winning Mark Rylance who steals the show with a stunning turn as Abel. Great support comes from Alan Alda and Amy Ryan.
Suffragette, Film 4, 6.50pm
In 1912 London, Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) works long hours in a laundry with her husband Sonny (Ben Whishaw). Women earn less than men and are denied the vote, which rankles some of the workforce including the outspoken Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff). She encourages Maud to join the suffragette movement and speak up against this injustice at a parliamentary panel. Alas, MPs refuse to honour a voting-rights bill amendment, so Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep) stirs her troops into direct action. Maud becomes heavily involved in the uprising and risks her relationship with Sonny and young son George (Adam Michael Dodd). Historical fact and impassioned dramatic licence sometimes make awkward bedfellows in this period drama, but Mulligan bares her soul with a gut-wrenching performance.
Zodiac, BBC One, 10.45pm
In the sweltering summer of 1969, a serial killer named Zodiac terrorised the Bay Area of San Francisco. David Fincher’s exhaustively researched thriller follows the efforts of four men to bring his reign of terror to an end – homicide detectives Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and Bill Armstrong (Anthony Edwards), charismatic San Francisco Chronicle crime reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr) and the paper’s shy cartoonist, Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal). The men become obsessed with unmasking Zodiac, to the extent that they follow the trail of clues for decades. Director Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club) once again demonstrates his visual flair with some brilliantly orchestrated set pieces. Gyllenhaal takes top billing but this is Downey Jr’s film as the glory-chasing newsman who almost loses his sanity in the pursuit of a headline. Riveting stuff and probably the most over-looked and under-appreciated film in Fincher’s back catalogue.
AND ONE TO STREAM …
Koko-Di Koko-Da, BFI Player (from September 7)
Directed by newcomer Johannes Nyholm, who has a background in animation, this arthouse horror blends Groundhog Day with Don’t Look Now and The Blair Witch Project and has curio running through it from bizarre start to unsettling finish. It opens with a Swedish family – mother Elin (Ylva Gallon), father Tobias (Leif Edlund) and seven-year-old daughter Maja (Katarina Jakobson) – enjoying a holiday on a sandy Danish island on the eve of Maja’s eighth birthday, though after an allergic reaction to the mussels in a seafood pizza Elin ends up in hospital. Cut to three years later and Elin and Tobias are setting off on another holiday, alone this time and with a tent in the boot of their car.
What follows is a nightmarish sequences of events in which Elin gets out of the tent to pee and is attacked and killed by a bizarre trio consisting of a man in a white suit and boater, an immensely tall woman done up like Pippi Longstocking and a bearded backwoods giant carrying a dead dog. Tobias ends up looking down the barrel of pistol, though there the scene freezes – only to repeat the next night when the same thing happens, though with details changing every time as Tobias gradually becomes aware that time is repeating and danger lurks outside the tent. Intercut with the action are two long scenes in which a shadow play seems to enact elements of the story.
Refreshingly odd and with some moments of dark and surreal comedy, it’s either a confusing muddle or a hallucinogenic meditation on grief and remorse, depending on your tolerance for that sort of thing.