Circuses, Churchill and Clapton: busy times at the David Lean

Now this may be apocryphal, but when the Rolling Stones’ Ronnie Wood heard that Showtime was to make a documentary about his old friend Eric Clapton entitled A Life In 12 Bars, he’s supposed to have said, “That can’t be right. Eric’s been in loads more bars than that. I should know, I was with him.”

That alcohol- and drugs-dimmed past of the 1960s and 1970s are fondly recalled in the lengthy documentary, one of the highlight offerings in the David Lean Cinema’s programme for February, tickets for which are on sale now.

Directed by Clapton’s long-term friend, Lili Fini Zanuck, there has been criticism of the film that it is both too long, too reverential and too focused on those early years, skirting over more recent work too hastily. “The first 90 minutes or so here are gold, however, even if fans might wish for more detail on the dizzying number of fabled bands Clapton formed and/or played with over a 10-year span,” according to Variety’s reviewer.

The lure of those halcyon times – “If you can remember the Sixties, you probably weren’t there,” as Ronnie Wood also probably never said – is clearly a strong one.

“Clapton is God” graffiti began appearing — to the guitarist’s considerable annoyance — very early in his career, which now spans more than five decades. Zanuck uses a wealth of archival footage and (mostly) latter-day voiceover commentary. The Showtime feature is slated for limited theatrical release in 2018, and is due to screening on US cable networks on February 10, so the good people at the David Lean Campaign appear to have landed something of a coup with this screening on February 6.

  • Unless otherwise stated, tickets for all screenings are £8.50. Concessions (Freedom Pass-holders, full-time students, claimants and disabled) £7. Rush tickets may also be available for under-25s.
  • Bookings can be made by clicking here

David Lean Cinema programme for February 2018

All films are at 2.30 and 7.30pm unless stated

LGBT History Month Screening
2017 UK/USA 121min. Directors: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Stars: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Alan Cumming
In 1973’s male-dominated tennis scene, top female players are goaded into challenge matches by publicity-hungry ex-champion Bobby Riggs (Carell) – and US Open winner Billie Jean King (Stone) feels compelled to accept. As King prepares for their televised Battle of the Sexes, her private life is transformed by her relationship with hairdresser Marilyn Barnett (Riseborough). Three stars on top form, the directors of Little Miss Sunshine and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) deliver an ace.

Tue Feb 6 ERIC CLAPTON: LIFE IN 12 BARS (15) (7.30pm)
2017 UK 135min. Director: Lili Fini Zanuck
Features: Eric Clapton
Director Zanuck takes viewers on a journey through the life of renowned 18-time Grammy award-winner, Eric Clapton. The film documents Clapton’s five-decade career, his triumphs, his lows, and all that occurred behind the scenes: tragedy, restlessness, Clapton’s idiosyncrasies and isolated pursuits. Through an archive of performances, home videos and audio interviews from those who knew him best, a deeper sense of what inspired the legendary musician and his unforgettable work emerges. George Harrison and Steve Winwood feature.

Thu Feb 8 LOST IN PARIS (12A)
2016 Fra/Bel 83min (partially subtitled). Directors: Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon
Stars: Fiona Gordon, Dominique Abel, Emmanuelle Riva
A sweet romance in the style of Jacques Tati, with slapstick and gentle humour. Canadian Fiona arrives in Paris to help her Aunt Martha, who is threatened with being put into a retirement home. But Fiona gets lost and loses her luggage – so, the man who finds it is soon searching for her, while she’s searching for her missing aunt (French movie legend Rivas, a delight in one of her last roles). Married directors/stars Gordon and Abel are “the two funniest clowns in cinema today”, delivering “more laughs than a nitrous oxide leak near a hyena compound” (Variety).

Tue Feb 13 THE PRINCE OF NOTHINGWOOD (15) (7.30pm)
2017 Fra/Ger 85min (subtitled). Director: Sonia Kronlund
Features: Qurban Ali, Sonia Kronlund, Salim Shaheen
The director and often star of 110 films over 30 years, Salim Shaheen is the biggest fish in the tiny pond of Afghan film: as he puts it, “Nothingwood”. Exuberant and tireless, with a lifelong love of Indian cinema (and sweet tea), we follow him to screenings and a mountain shoot in Bamyan.

This is a world where army units provide location security – and are then roped in as extras – actresses are chaperoned by their fathers, and divine providence trumps health and safety. This fascinating and hilarious doc celebrates the defiance of a shoestring film industry and their audience against the shadow of the Civil War and the on=going Taliban threat.

2017 USA 105min. Director: Michael Gracey
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Rebecca Ferguson
PT Barnum is hardly an original subject for dramatisation; he’s been played by Burl Ives and Burt Lancaster, and Michael Crawford starred in the London stage version of the musical show named after the famed circus impressario soon after Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em. Hugh Jackman beware… This original musical tells the rags to riches story of Barnum, who gathers together a group of talented misfits to create a spectacle while fighting society’s prejudices. Marrying his childhood sweetheart (Williams), everything seems to be going well until he falls for the charms of opera singer Jenny Lind (Ferguson). First-time director Gracey fills the screen with dazzling choreography and colour, the songs are belted out by an array of talent.

2017 UK/USA 115min. Director: Martin McDonagh
Stars: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell
Mildred Hayes is sick of waiting for the police to catch her daughter’s murderer, so she takes matters into her own hands by using three billboards to taunt the much-loved Chief of Police for a response. The trouble is, he hasn’t got any leads, and has a more pressing problem of his own, while Mildred isn’t a typically sympathetic bereaved mom… Strong language and dark humour feature in this highly acclaimed comedy from the director of In Bruges, with McDormand set for awards…

Thu Feb 22 DOWNSIZING (15) (11am and 7.30pm)
2017 USA 135min. Director: Alexander Payne
Stars: Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Kristen Wiig
In a world where organic matter can be reduced to a tiny size, Paul Safranek (Damon) is an average guy who can’t afford to make his wife happy by buying the house she wants. Meeting old friends who have made the jump to downsize to a smaller, more prosperous life, the couple agree to make the irreversible transition – but things don’t go completely Paul’s way when he’s 4in tall! An ingenious comedy from the director of Sideways, After Schmidt and The Descendants.

Tue Feb 27 LAST FLAG FLYING (15) (7.30pm)
2017 USA 125min. Director: Richard Linklater
Stars: Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, Steve Carell
Thirty years after serving together in Vietnam, three veterans reunite after the death of one of their sons in Iraq. While Last Flag Flying is most obviously a middle-aged male road trip movie, it has great depth – exploring regret, repentance, political deception and the bonds of friendship with a mixture of sadness and humour. This sad yet hilarious tale is driven by commanding performances from its three stars.

2017 UK 125min. Director: Joe Wright
Stars: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane
Robert Hardy, repeatedly, Richard Burton, Timothy West, Michael Gambon, John Lithgow and Simon Ward… all have been cast as Churchill on stage, TV or in movies. But past Oscar nominee Oldman, the skinny kid from New Cross, may rank as the unlikeliest actor to be given the part of the portly, cigar-chumping Old Harrovian scion of the Duke of Marlborough’s family. The critics, though, seem to be in agreement that Oldman gives a defining performance.

The film ventures into well-trodden territory – Burton was performing a version, The Gathering Storm, when Oldman was still in short trousers, and Albert Finney’s portrayal of the dark days of 1940 remains a bench mark for actors. But in the context of Brexit, this movie offers an interesting persepctive.

As The Guardian put it: “This is not so much a period war movie as a high-octane political thriller: May 1940 as House Of Cards, with the wartime Prime Minister up against a cabal of politicians who want to do him down. It’s interesting for a film to remind us that appeasement as an issue did not vanish the moment that Winston Churchill took over as Prime Minister… Here, his immediate enemies do not seem to be Hitler and Mussolini as much as Chamberlain and Halifax, agitating for a deal with the Nazis and scheming to undermine Churchill’s cabinet and parliamentary position.”

And to think who it was who sketched out a peace-time future for a united Europe, too. * The 2.30pm screening will be subtitled for those with hearing loss.

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