Culture Vulture: our guide to the week’s entertainment (17-23 December 2022)

Highlights this week include Tea With Mussolini, Henry VIII’s Enforcer: The Rise and Fall of Thomas Cromwell and A Swingin’ Christmas With Len Phillips Swing Orchestra.

Saturday 17 December 2022

Cat Balou (1965) 11am Film 4

Cat Balou derives humour from outrageous drunkenness and sly sexual innuendo. It isn’t very ‘Woke’ or ‘Politically Correct’. It’s young Native American hero is subjected to some racial taunting which might jar with some (but it’s clear he’s a hero of the film). I love this film and not just because I think Jane Fonda is so hot! Jane Fonda was 27 at the time of her role and it made her a household name. Apart from Fonda there’s a lot else to love in this feel-good movie – The ongoing chorus of “The Ballad of Cat Ballou” with Stubby Kaye and Nat “King” Cole, the two performances from Lee Marvin as the villainous killer, Jack Strawn and as his alcoholic brother Kid Shelleen (hired by Cat) and an ensemble cast. The satire of common Western themes is both funny and somewhat subversive.

Made in Dagenham 9.30pm BBC4

A dramatization of the 1968 strike at the Ford Dagenham car plant, where female workers walked out in protest against sexual discrimination.

Sunday 18 December 2022

Mark Kermode’s Christmas Cinema Secrets (2018) 11.50pm BBC4

See our review here.

Monday 19 December 2022

Tea With Mussolini (1999) 1.30pm BBC2

Tea with Mussolini is a 1999 comedy-drama film directed by Franco Zeffirelli. Set in Florence, Italy during the Second World War, the film follows the life of an eclectic group of British and American women who form an unlikely bond over tea and conversation. They are nicknamed the “Scorpioni” by the locals. The women are part of an underground network that helps to protect Jews from Nazi persecution.

This group of women are determined to maintain their European culture through art and literature, despite the chaos around them. They include a sophisticated Englishwoman (Maggie Smith), a wealthy but insecure American widow (Judi Dench), and a feisty Italian schoolteacher (Lily Tomlin) and Elsa played by Cher. Through their friendship, these women offer support to each other during difficult times.

Though the film features Luca – a semi-biographical character based on Zeffirelli who comes under the care of Mary (Joan Plowright) when his mother dies. He is the least convincing character, Luca almost a by-stander to events and overshadowed by the ladies.

The title Tea with Mussolini refers to one particular afternoon when they meet and share afternoon tea with Il Duce himself, Benito Mussolini. While it allows them to see firsthand how powerful he is, it also gives them an opportunity to voice their opinions on the current state of affairs in Italy without fear of repercussion. It’s a powerful scene that demonstrates how different these women were from many other people in post-war Europe – they weren’t afraid to stand up for what they believed in.

The film explores themes such as class differences, patriotism, war, and female friendship – particularly between Anglo-Saxons and Italians – in a unique way not often seen in other films from this era. The characters’ shared love for fine art and literature is both inspiring and touching at times; it shows that human connection can really make a difference even during difficult times like war or occupation.

The cinematography of Tea with Mussolini beautifully captures the many facets of Florence, from its stunning architecture to its vibrant culture. Zeffirelli’s frequent use of long shots adds to this atmosphere; viewers get the sense that time has almost frozen for these characters amidst all the chaos around them. This effect is further enhanced by Ennio Morricone’s wonderful score which perfectly encapsulates all the emotions experienced throughout the movie: courage, loss, longing and hope.

Tea with Mussolini remains one of Franco Zeffirelli’s most beloved films thanks to its unique storyline and powerful performances from its stellar cast – particularly Cher. With its timeless theme about female friendship amidst adversity Tea with Mussolini is definitely worth watching if you haven’t had the chance yet!

Lights Out: Greenham Convictions 11pm BBC Radio 4

It’s 40 years this month since 30,000 women ’embraced the base’ at RAF Greenham Common, Berkshire in protest at the proposed siting of cruise missiles there. For some of them, the Women’s Peace Camp became home and the RAF base the scene of countless actions, as political convictions led inevitably to arrests, court appearances and imprisonment.

Lyn Barlow served something between 15 and 20 sentences – she lost count – and Sue Say at least eight. Mild-mannered former teacher Mary Millington has journals documenting her numerous prison terms. Greenham Convictions traces why these women put not just their bodies but “their entire beings” on the line for a cause – and at what price.

Henry VIII’s Enforcer: The Rise and Fall of Thomas Cromwell 9pm BBC4

Thomas Cromwell is revealed as a revolutionary who laid the foundations of modern Britain. It’s followed at 10.30pm by episodes of Wolf Hall which is a fictionalised biography of Cromwell in six parts. Wolf Hall is adapted from two of Hilary Mantel’s novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. Two episodes on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

A Swingin’ Christmas With Len Phillips Swing Orchestra 9pm Sky Arts

The 17-piece Len Phillips Swing Orchestra puts on a dazzling live performance of much-loved Christmas classics including Let It Snow, Silent Night, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas and Jingle Bells. If you’re not in the Christmas spirit yet this might be a good place to start.

Tuesday 20 December 2022

Miriam’s Dickensian Christmas 9pm Channel 4

Miriam Margolyes is a self-confessed Christmas Scrooge (before his redemption!), seeing it as a holiday that’s become over-commercialised, too expensive and a whole heap of stress.

But now, Miriam is turning to her love of Charles Dickens and the festive traditions he introduced through ‘A Christmas Carol’, to see if she can rekindle her love for Christmas.

As Miriam’s guests arrive and are served a Dickensian Gin Twist, made by plunging a red-hot poker into a tankard, will she feel she’s balanced the fun and theatrics of Charles Dickens with his charitable, generous spirit?

Lynyrd Skynyrd: If I Leave Here Tomorrow 11.55pm Sky Arts

Rare and unique interviews help tell a story about the music and backstory of this legendary American band. With the songs from the first six Skynyrd albums driving the narration.

Wednesday 21 December 2022

Norman Wisdom: His Story (2010) 9pm BBC4

The life story of Sir Norman Wisdom, who went from street urchin to become one of the UK’s most bankable and loved film stars of the 1950-60s. The documentary pays tribute to his life, featuring family, friends and colleagues.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) 10.30pm BBC2

In the bleak days of the Cold War (part one as it now seems), espionage veteran George Smiley is forced from semi-retirement to uncover a Soviet Agent within MI6.

Thursday 22 December 2022

Goodness Gracious Me Christmas Special 9.30pm BBC2

The Asian comedy sketch show features the Coopers sitting down to their Christmas dinner and the staging of the very cosmopolitan Hounslow nativity play.

Friday 23 December 2022

Bonnie and Clyde 5.30pm PBS America

Bonnie and Clyde is a captivating drama series that tells the story of one of the most iconic criminal couples in American history. The show follows the daring escapades of Bonnie and Clyde as they roam the mid-1930s American landscape, leaving chaos and destruction in their wake. From their first meeting at an empty church to their final fateful showdown with law enforcement, viewers will be enthralled by this modern-day Romeo and Juliet story.

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were two small-time criminals from Dallas County, Texas who became notorious for robbing banks throughout the southwest United States during the Great Depression. Whilst Bonnie was a petite young woman with a penchant for stylish clothes, Clyde was a tall and muscled criminal mastermind. Together they formed an unbreakable bond which led them into countless adventures of crime, danger and romance. The couple quickly gained nationwide notoriety for their bold bank robberies and daring evasion of local law enforcement officers.

Undoubetedly as this programme shows their exploits were romanticized. Bonnie and Clyde and their Barrow Gang were believed responsible for at least 13 murders and numerous robberies and kidnappings. Yet though they were just small-time criminals compared to more well-known gangsters who were the centerpieces of J. Edgar Hoover’s most wanted list, they held the attention of many Americans at the time and since.

The TV show follows their outlaw journey from its earliest beginnings to its tragic end on May 23rd 1934 when both Bonnie and Clyde died in a hail of bullets after being ambushed by law enforcement officers near Sailes, Louisiana. Along the way viewers will witness how and why these two mythical figures become so beloved yet feared by so many people across America. Bonnie and Clyde is sure to hook you on this thrilling tale of love & crime.

Selections by Pat Harrington


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