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Much better than the other reviews claim
I feel the other reviewers have been unfair in their reviews of this TV film. It received as many stars in the IMDb ratings as Hancock and Joan but not quite as much as the more viewed Steptoe and Hughie Green films in this quartet of dramatic biographies. These ratings are not reflected in the few reviews so far submitted. The film also received a RTS Television Award for Best Production Design.
The reason to see this film is what all reviewers have agreed on and that is the superb acting involved. David Walliams is far better than could be expected as Frankie Howerd whilst Rafe Spall gives his best performance so far as Dennis Heymer. Mention should also be mentioned of the wonderful acting support from Dilys Laye and Melanie Hill as the two mothers who had such a strong influence on the lives of their sons.
I found this film far less predictable, more dramatic and more satisfying than the other three films (listed in the Trivia section). Yes, the film is really about both Frankie Howerd and Dennis Heymer and perhaps should have been called Howerd and Dennis to complement Hancock and Joan. But this was a wise decision on the part of the filmmakers as it would have been too depressing to dwell on Howerd's depressive character when Dennis's love for Howerd and its many trials is where the drama lies. Although the portrait of a difficult relationship I did find myself laughing aloud sometimes, mainly due to Spall's superb performance.
Criticism has been levelled at the fact that the film dwells on Howerd's troubled personal life and not on his pleasant public persona. That is true just as Michael Sheen's Kenneth Williams: Fantabulosa! dwelt on Williams's dark side but that is not a criticism but a dramatic choice. However it has to be said that gay love and naked gay sex is portrayed unflinchingly and so this film is crucially different to the other three and will not be liked by anyone suffering from homophobia.
Hidden in America (1996)
This is a great movie
Perhaps this family goes through more than most families have to go through. Yet the script never feels contrived and you never feel manipulated.
This is largely due to an exemplary cast. Beau Bridges shines as the dad struggling to provide for his family. Bruce Davison and Alice Krige are the helpless couple who can see the family need help, desperately want to help and cannot. The two children have big parts that they fill admirably. Jeff Bridges accepts a small part, perhaps because he realises how important the film is.
This is a film which shows a part of life that is rarely shown, a family that has a roof over its head but is poor and undernourished. It is very moving and deserves far more than the 6.5 rating that it currently has.
Kidnap Ronnie Biggs (2006)
One of the most enjoyable documentaries around.
This is one of the most entertaining documentaries that I have seen and I have seen a lot. This is mainly about the planning and execution of the kidnapping of Ronnie Biggs when he was in Brazil and still wanted by the British Government for his participation in the Great Train Robbery. But the film also covers his escape from prison in England to life in Australia, his discovery there and escape to Brazil. If you don't know his story you will be amazed at how many times he escaped the authorities and how the kidnapping attempts resemble farcical, disorganised attempts by amateurs.
There is everything in this film. Ronnie Biggs is clearly a likable man. There is a lot of evidence from everyone who met him. His wife gave up her parents for Biggs and remained true to him even when he left her and their children. Her interview is important in showing us the domestic side of Biggs. Biggs managed to escape from country to country simply by charming and befriending everyone he met. Even his kidnappers said what a great guy he was.
The kidnappers are a varied and interesting bunch. One of the leaders is involved because he wants to become a celebrity and he has a habit of contacting the press at the wrong time. The other leader is more professional and wants to stick to what has been arranged but plans are continually being changed, either by his colleague or by circumstance. In fact, nothing ever seems to go as planned and the film is full of surprises.
The kidnapping itself is laugh-out-loud hilarious at times and heart-stopping excitement at others. The big advantage of this film is that it is based on fact and no screenwriter could have thought of the surprises, laughs and twists that real life delivers. Actors are used to recreate the kidnapping and I won't ruin the many surprises by telling what happens. Apart from the drama and comedy I have mentioned, there is also a great mystery that runs throughout the film and that is, who is financing the kidnapping? As I said, this film has everything except for an interview with Biggs and that is probably because he was being detained at the time at Her Majesty's pleasure (however, not because of the kidnappers!). The story would make a great feature film except they would have to change some of the facts as they would be too unbelievable!
A Stranger to Love (1996)
A better-than-average TV movie
I have seen this movie four times now and I always look forward to it. I also always shed a tear at the end. The ending is not the usual happy ending and because of this it feels more like the true story that it is based on.
Beau Bridges gives one of his best performances, managing to convey the memory loss and gradual recovery that is accompanied by the heart-breaking decision he has to make. There is also the bonus of seeing his two real-life sons in the film. Pam Dawber and Tess Harper give good supporting performances.
I am surprised this film has such a low rating. I have seen many TV movies and this is easily one of the best I have come across. It is not as gratuitously sentimental as many have been although it could easily have been. If you have not seen it, do yourself a favour and give it a try. You may be pleasantly surprised.