Duke Box #55: Our Guide to the Best Films on TV

It’s fair to say that there’s A Lot to take your pick from this week. A Bank Holiday weekend always brings with it a wealth of films on TV and this week is no exception. As hard as it was to narrow down, Pick of the Week goes to Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, a searing, timely account of a remarkable real-life-story. However, fans of Stage on Screen – and Jessie Buckley and Josh O’Connor – might want to keep an eye out for the premiere of the National Theatre’s brand new, specially filmed stage-on-small-screen production of Romeo & Juliet

As we move closer towards a possible reopening and other work responsibilities start coming into play, these blogs might start to take a different shape. Definitely still up for sharing thoughts, opinions and positively inelegant segues, but it just have a bit of a spruce up. 

For last week's blog: Duke Box 54

Please note that this list isn't exhaustive – these are just some titles that I've selected as ones to try out or revisit, hopefully at the best times. Some films may also change if channels decide to alter their listings. You can find comments on films mentioned in the 'Another chance to see' section in our previous Duke Box blogs or just head to IMDB for a quick summary!) 

Saturday 3

Bugsy Malone (1976) – ITV3, 9.30am
Chocolat (2000) – 5Star, 12.20pm
Dracula (1931) – The Horror Channel, 1pm
Death on the Nile (1978) – BBC2, 1.50pm
Frankenstein (1931) – The Horror Channel, 2.30pm
Lifeboat (1944) – Talking Pictures TV, 3.40pm
The Mummy (1932) – The Horror Channel, 3.55pm
Evil Under the Sun (1982) – BBC2, 4.05pm
Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) – ITV2, 5.20pm
The Wolf Man (1941) – The Horror Channel, 5.25pm
Mrs Doubtfire (1993) – Film4, 6.40pm
Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) – The Horror Channel, 6.50pm
House of Strangers (1949) – Talking Pictures TV, 8.40pm
BlacKkKlansman (2018) – C4, 9pm (repeated again later in the week)
The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart (2020) – Sky Arts, 9pm (repeated again later in the week)
Return of the Living Dead (1985) – Film4, 11.20pm
Eye in the Sky (2015) – C4, 11.40pm
Bo66y (2016) – BBC1, 11.50pm
Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982) – Talking Pictures TV, 12.55am
Train to Busan (2016) – Film4, 1.10am
A Late Quartet (2012) – BBC2, 1.35am

Another chance to see: 84 Charing Cross Road (Sony Classic, 10.15am), Nanny McPhee (ITV2, 1.10pm), Move Over, Darling (Sony Classic, 2.30pm), Despicable Me (ITV2, 3.15pm), On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (ITV4, 4pm), Carry On Cleo (ITV3, 5pm), Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (BBC ALBA, 6pm), Georgy Girl (Sony Classic, 6.55pm), Wonder Woman (ITV2, 8pm), The Graduate (Sony Classic, 9pm), Road to Perdition (Sony Movies, 9pm), 10 Rillington Place (Sony Classic, 11.15pm), Storyville: Collective (BBC4, 11.50pm), Drive (Sony Action, 1am)

Well now, what a day. There really is a little something for everyone here, but we’ll start with arguably the pick of the bunch, a terrestrial premiere of Spike Lee’s fantastic, Oscar-winning BlacKkKlansman. Remarkably based on a true story, the film sees John David Washington star as Ron Stallworth, a black police officer who set about infiltrating a local branch of the Ku Klux Klan with the help of a Jewish colleague. It’s Lee at his best: fiery, hard-hitting, even playful, definitely powerful – with a commanding handle on social commentary and scenes that you won’t forget in a hurry. There’s deft tension on display elsewhere through the day and night too, from Alfred Hitchcock’s daring, claustrophobic wartime thriller Lifeboat, to Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s hard-boiled House of Strangers, starring Edward G. Robinson and Susan Hayward, and Gavin Hood’s underrated and really quite powerful war thriller Eye in the Sky, starring Helen Mirren and the last on-screen appearance of the wonderful Alan Rickman. Agatha Christie fans can enjoy a double-bill of Peter Ustinov as Poirot on BBC2 in the afternoon, with Death on the Nile (starring Bette Davis, Maggie Smith, Angela Lansbury and more) and Evil Under the Sun (starring James Mason, Diana Rigg, Roddy McDowall and Maggie Smith again). There’s also a fantastic run of Universal Monster classics on The Horror Channel, giving viewers the chance to park their backsides to watch Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolf Man and Creature from the Black Lagoon. And if watching all of those leaves you feeling like the undead, well, you might as well stay seated for Film 4’s zombie double-bill of 80s gory and tongue-in cheek horror-comedy The Return of the Living Dead and the magnificent Korean action-horror Train to Busan, which sees a group of passengers struggling to survive when a zombie virus breaks out across the county…and onboard. It’s a real favourite of mine from recent years, particularly because it can switch from almost unbearable tension to tender, emotional moments in the blink of an undead eye – I highly recommend. All of this though, of course, is a far cry from Chocolat, a warm hug of a film which sees Juliette Binoche charm as a single mother who opens a chocolaterie during Lent in a conservative village in 1950s France. There’s also more family-friendly viewing on offer in a morning screening of Bugsy Malone, Alan Parker’s rambunctious mobster musical featuring an all-child cast (including Jodie Foster), Oscar-winner Alfonso Cuarón’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third and arguably best film of the franchise, and Robin Williams showcase Mrs Doubtfire, which underneath the gags has quite a lot of poignant things to say about separated parents (plus Sally Field and Pierce Brosnan make great comedy foils for Williams). There are a couple of docs in the shape of Bo66y, which looks at the life and impact of Bobby Moore, and The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart, an intimate portrait of the disco icons. Fellow music legend Cher appears in one of her first film roles in Robert Altman’s Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, while music also lies at the heart of A Late Quartet, a drama that can lean into melodrama but is worth watching for the ensemble of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Mark Ivanir and Christopher Walken.


Sunday 4

Easter Parade (1948) – BBC2, 1pm
The Guns of Navarone (1961) – ITV4, 1.55pm
Dances with Wolves (1990) – Paramount, 2.40pm
The Vikings (1958) – BBC2, 3.05pm
Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire (2005) – ITV2, 3.15pm
The Simpsons Movie (2007) – C4, 3.40pm
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) – C5, 4.10pm
Grease (1976) – ITV, 5.55pm (repeated later in the week)
Open Range (2003) – Paramount, 6.15pm
Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix (2007) – ITV2, 6.20pm
Casino Royale (2006) – ITV4, 8pm
Stage on Screen: National Theatre – Romeo & Juliet (2021) – Sky Arts, 9pm (repeated again later in the week)
The Talented Mr Ripley (1999) – 5Star, 11.20pm

Another Chance to See: Carry On Screaming (ITV3, 10.55am), Dead Reckoning (Sony Classic, 11.55am), Kramer vs Kramer (5Select, 2.05pm), The Barefoot Contessa (Sony Classic, 4.05pm), The Incredible Shrinking Man (The Horror Channel, 5.50pm), The African Queen (Sony Classic, 6.0pm), 3:10 to Yuma (Sony Action, 7.05pm), The Caine Mutiny (Sony Classic, 9pm), 21 Jump Street (ITV, 10.20pm), King Rat (Sony Classic, 11.30pm), Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (Film4, 1.40am), Black Power: A British Story of Resistance (BBC2, 1am)

Is it any surprise to see Technicolor MGM extravaganza Easter Parade appearing this Sunday? No, but it’s certainly not disappointing, as musical cinema greats Fred Astaire and Judy Garland combine in the story of a nightclub performer who takes a chance on a naïve chorus girl. You can keep the musicals going throughout the day too, with the high school hijinks of Grease and magical travels of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – both of which sharing a fondness for fantasy cars. The latter is co-adapted for the screen by Roald Dahl from his pal Ian Fleming’s book, and if you don’t think I’m not going to use that as a brief segue to flag an evening screening of Bond film Casino Royale, with Daniel Craig as Fleming’s 007, then you’ve not read enough Duke Boxes. If it’s action and adventure you’re after, check out the exciting spectacle of The Guns of Navarone, with Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn and more as a unit on a rescue mission, or the old-fashioned, swashbuckling action of The Vikings, starring Kirk Douglas, Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis. In a similar vein, I’m a little gutted that there’s no Bank Holiday screening of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, but there is a double-bill of Kevin Costner, both on screen and behind the camera, over on Paramount, with the stunning Oscar-winning epic Dances With Wolves followed by his classy gunslinger-vs-corrupt-lawman Western Open Range, co-starring Michael Gambon, Robert Duvall and Annette Bening. Gambon also appears as Professor Dumbledore in Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire (film #4) and …the Order of the Phoenix (film #5), while Jude Law (younger Dumbledore in the Fantastic Beasts series) stars as a wealthy playboy who becomes a point of fixation for Matt Damon’s ambitious young con artist in Anthony Minghella’s stylish and stunning adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s crime-thriller The Talented Mr Ripley. Elsewhere in the day, there’s a big-screen outing for an infamous American family in The Simpsons Movie and a small-screen feature from the National Theatre, with their specially-filmed-for-television production of Romeo & Juliet. Jessie Buckley and Josh O’Connor play the star-crossed lovers, with a superb ensemble that includes Tamsin Grieg, Fisayo Akinade, Lucian Msamati, Adrian Lester, Deborah Findlay and more. 


Monday 5

Wuthering Heights (1939) – 5Select, 10am
Sense & Sensibility (1995) – C5, 2.15pm
The Enemy Below (1957) – Sony Action, 6.55pm
Stage on Screen: National Theatre – Romeo & Juliet (2021) – Sky Arts, 9.30pm

Another chance to see: The Spiderwick Chronicles (Film4, 11am), The Karate Kid (Sony Movies, 11.15am), Miss Potter (5Select, 12.10pm), Jane Eyre (Sony Classic, 1.45pm), Oliver! (Sony Classic, 6.05pm), Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone (ITV2, 6.05pm), Signs (Sony Movies, 9pm), The Way We Were (Sony Classic, 9pm), The Day of the Jackal (Sony Action, 9pm) Highlander (BBC2, 10.30pm), The Thomas Crown Affair (5Star, 11.10pm), Cop Land (ITV4, 11.40pm)

Two of literature’s most iconic tales get the big-screen treatment today – perfect for any Emily Brontë and Jane Austen fans looking to lose themselves in the bleak moors or Regency settings of those novels. There’s classic brooding romance and turmoil in William Wyler’s adaptation of Wuthering Heights, with Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier playing Brontë’s notorious pairing of Cathy and Heathcliff, while Emma Thompson took home the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay and starred on screen as Elinor Dashwood in Ang Lee’s beautifully filmed Sense & Sensibility, with Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, Hugh Laurie, former Dukes actress Harriet Walter and more starring. It’s probably my favourite film adaptation of Austen and I can highly recommend seeking out Emma Thompson’s published screenplay and diary from the set – it’s a riot. (And of course there’s more great romance in the repeat screening of Romeo & Juliet too). In a complete pivot, WWII sea-drama finds Robert Mitchum as a destroyer captain involved in a deadly game of cat and mouse with his German U-Boat counterpart. The film is directed by fellow noir regular Dick Powell – and outside of this film both men played Philip Marlowe in versions of Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely.


Tuesday 6

Puss in Boots (2011) – Film4, 2.50pm
An American Werewolf in London (1981) – Sony Classic, 9pm (repeated later in the week)

Another chance to see: The Spongebob Squarepants Movie (Film4, 11am), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (ITV2, 5.50pm), King Rat (Sony Classic, 6.15pm), The Equaliser (Film4, 9pm), The Road (Sony Movies, 10.45pm), Ship of Fools (Sony Classic, 10.50pm)

Shrek spin-off Puss in Boots doesn’t break new ground in its storytelling, but it has enough panache, wit and fun to keep the kids entertained, while Antonio Banderas’ voicework is both wonderfully charming and tongue-in-cheek. There’s a different kind of beast on show in the horror-comedy classic An American Werewolf in London, about two American tourists who get chomped on in the Yorkshire Moors, leaving one facing the prospect of a nasty transformation. The effects, courtesy of genius Rick Baker, are still so incredibly effective, while the film also boasts a great running soundtrack gag and Jenny Agutter among the cast.


Wednesday 7

BlacKkKlansman (2018) – 4/7, 10pm
Poor Cow (1967) – Talking Pictures TV, 11.05pm
How I Live Now (2013) – Film4, 1.55am

Another chance to see: 3:10 to Yuma (Sony Action, 1pm), The Way We Were (Sony Classic, 2.35pm), Baby Boom (Film4, 4.45pm), Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban (ITV2, 6.15pm), Casino Royale (ITV4, 9pm), Finding Jack Charlton (BBC2, 11.30pm)

Kitchen-sink drama and a YA post-apocalyptic indie might sound quite different, but both Ken Loach’s Poor Cow and Kevin Macdonald’s How I Live Now both share a sense of social commentary and showcase some exceptional talent in early performances. Loach’s debut feature sees Carol White and Terrence Stamp star in a story about a young woman who makes a series of bad choices in her life. (Filmmaker Steven Soderbergh actually uses footage of Poor Cow in his neo-noir film The Limey, starring Stamp as a gangster, to show that character as a young man.) Meanwhile, Saoirse Ronan, George McKay and Tom Holland star in How I Live Now, a film which fuses romance with the constant threat of a war-ravaged world and nuclear fallout. It’s a bit uneven but an interesting take on this sub-genre of YA post-apocalyptic fiction.


Thursday 8

Grease (1976) – 4/7, 6.50pm
The Elephant Man (1980) – BBC4, 9pm
Commando (1985) – Film4, 9pm
Avengers Assemble (2012) – BBC1, 10.45pm
Get Carter (1971) – ITV4, 11.15pm
The Raid 2 (2014) – Film4, 1am

Another chance to see: Dr Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who (Film4, 11am), Tremors (The Horror Channel, 1pm), Oliver! (Sony Classic, 3.55pm), Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire (ITV2, 5.55pm), Unbreakable (Sony Movies, 9pm), The Graduate (Sony Classic, 9pm)

David Lynch’s The Elephant Man is a quieter offering in today’s listings (and indeed the filmmaker’s own career), offering a beautiful, brutal and compassionate account of John (nee Joseph) Merrick. John Hurt is outstanding as the lead role opposite an equally wonderful Anthony Hopkins, with Anne Bancroft and John Gielgud just two of the names in support. The rest of the evening has a bit of a different vibe going on, with spectacular comic-book action in Marvel’s super-fun, superhero adventure Avengers Assemble and brilliantly ludicrous action in Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle Commando, an ‘80s gem full of big muscles, one-liners and OTT stunts. Elsewhere, there are two films set in the murky heart of gangland: Get Carter sees Michael Caine’s vengeful gangster looking to find out the truth behind his brother’s death, while Gangs of London creator Garth Evans’ stunning, brutal sequel The Raid 2 sees the first film’s hero cop sent undercover to bring down a syndicate.


Friday 9

Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) – Talking Pictures TV, 10.20am
A Canterbury Tale (1944) – Talking Pictures TV, 12.30pm
Suffragette (2015) – Film4, 6.50pm
Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965) – Talking Pictures TV, 9pm
An American Werewolf in London (1981) – Sony Classic, 11.30pm
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016) – C4, 12.35am

Another chance to see: Flight of the Navigator (Film4, 11am), Dead Reckoning (Sony Classic, 11.55am), The Barefoot Contessa (Sony Classic, 4.05pm), Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix (ITV2, 6.20pm), The African Queen (Sony Classic, 6.50pm), The Caine Mutiny (Sony Classic, 9pm), The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart (Sky Arts, 11pm), War of the Worlds (BBC1, 11.35pm)

There are big name offerings early in the day on Talking Pictures TV, with Ealing comedy favourite Kind Hearts and Coronets seeing Alec Guinness taking on multiple roles with aplomb, while Powell & Pressburger’s A Canterbury Tale tells the story of a bizarre small-town crime. Sarah Gavron’s Suffragette  assembles an impressive array of talent, including Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne-Marie Duff, Meryl Streep, Ben Wishaw and Brendan Gleeson, in its stirring account of the fight for women to vote, and there’s another great cast list in old-school anthology horror Dr Terror’s House of Horrors too, as Peter Cushing’s mysterious storytelling traveller is joined on screen by Donald Sutherland and Christopher Lee. Finally, to round off a really eclectic week, there’s mockumentary Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping – it won’t be for everyone, but this fun swipe at the corporate pop industry showcases Andy Samberg’s silly, sweet and smart humour wonderfully. Plus, it genuinely has a fantastic soundtrack (very Christopher Guest) and a great Seal cameo, which is all you could want late on a Friday night.