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Alfre Woodard as Bernadine Williams in Clemency
Alfre Woodard as Bernadine Williams in Clemency


CLEMENCY (Cert 15, 112 mins, Bohemia Media, Drama/Romance, available from August 24 on Amazon Prime Video/BT TV Store/iTunes/Sky Store/TalkTalk TV Store and other download and streaming services)

Starring: Alfre Woodard, Aldis Hodge, Wendell Pierce, Richard Schiff, Alex Castillo.

WARDEN Bernadine Williams (Woodard) is haunted by the bungled execution of prisoner Victor Jimenez (Alex Castillo). She seeks solace in a local bar rather than the arms of her husband Jonathan (Wendell Pierce).

"I don't see how it's going to work living with an empty shell of a wife," he pleads. "I need a pulse, Bernadine. I need to know you're still here."

His wife coolly prepares for the execution of inmate Anthony Woods (Aldis Hodge), who has served 15 years for the murder of a police officer but has always asserted that his accomplice pulled the trigger.

Lawyer Marty Lumetta (Richard Schiff) hopes the governor might weigh up the evidence and grant Woods clemency.

"I am going to fight for him right up to the moment you stick that needle in his arm," Marty snarls at Bernadine, "Just so you know."

Clemency is a quietly devastating drama, which delivers its knockout blows in prolonged silences on both sides of the sliding bars. Writer-director Chinonye Chukwu wanders the same echoing corridors as Dead Man Walking, The Green Mile and Just Mercy, exploring different facets of the American criminal justice system.

Her second feature is emboldened by a fearless central performance from Woodard as the sleep-deprived warden, who is as much a prisoner of her hulking facility as the hundreds of men in her care.

Over the course of two riveting hours, Woodard chips away at her character's armour, which she wears to protect against visible twinges of doubt, until trickles of salt water break through and smear her unmovable, cold facade.

Rating: 4stars


:: THE HIGH NOTE (Cert 12, 113 mins, Universal Pictures (UK) Ltd, Drama/Musical/Romance/Comedy, available now on Amazon Prime Video/BT TV Store/iTunes/Sky Store/TalkTalk TV Store and other download and streaming services, available from August 31 on DVD £19.99)

Starring: Dakota Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Zoe Chao, June Diane Raphael, Eddie Izzard, Ice Cube.

FOR the past three years, Maggie Sherwoode (Dakota Johnson) has worked long, thankless hours as a personal assistant to egotistical music superstar Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross). She may have 11 Grammy Awards on the mantelpiece but Grace hasn't released any new music for years.

Her long-time manager Jack Robertson (Ice Cube) insists they should both rest on fading laurels by agreeing a swansong 10-year residency at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Maggie, who is a die-hard Grace Davis fan and yearns to be a music producer, silently disagrees.

During the day, Maggie is at Grace's beck and call. At night, she produces an album for insecure yet fiercely talented singer-songwriter David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison Jr).

Sparks of attraction fly and Maggie feebly tries to maintain a divide between business and pleasure: "Brian Epstein did not sleep with The Beatles".

The High Note is a light, frothy tale of trouble and strife in the Los Angeles music industry, composed by fierce female talent behind and in front of the camera. Director Nisha Ganatra, who was on song with the workplace comedy Late Night, continues to explore gender and racial inequality and ageism.

Screenwriter Flora Greeson has an ear for amusing dialogue, allowing Johnson and Ross to harmonise sweetly as demanding diva and dogsbody in quickfire verbal exchanges.

Comic relief alternates predominantly between Zoe Chao as Maggie's flatmate and June Diane Raphael as Grace's housekeeper, who knows her station and gladly keeps to it, rudely reminding Maggie: "I manage the house not the woman that lives inside of it. That's your job."

Rating: 3stars

FANNY LYE DELIVER'D (Cert 18, 114 mins, Vertigo Releasing, Thriller/Horror/Drama/Romance, available now on Amazon Prime Video/BT TV Store/iTunes/Sky Store/TalkTalk TV Store and other download and streaming services, available from August 24 on DVD £15.99)

Starring: Maxine Peake, Charles Dance, Freddie Fox, Tanya Reynolds, Zak Adams, Peter McDonald, Perry Fitzpatrick, Ken Collard.

JOHN Lye (Charles Dance), a former captain in the English Civil War, presides over his remote Shropshire farm with an iron fist. He fervently upholds Puritan strictures and bows down only to God, admonishing young son Arthur (Zak Adams) for submitting to his subservient wife, Fanny (Maxine Peake).

"Never let a woman best you boy," growls the domineering master.

The hushed order of the Lye homestead is thrown into disarray by the arrival of two naked and bloodied strangers. Thomas Ashbury (Freddie Fox) and Rebecca Henshaw (Tanya Reynolds) claim to be the victims of a highway robbery.

The following morning, a preening popinjay (Peter McDonald) arrives on horseback, searching for "a pair of licentious heretics" who participated in a sinful display at a local tavern.

Fanny Lye Deliver'd is an engrossing chamber piece about a common woman, forcibly blinkered to her power and potential. Writer-director Thomas Clay's picture captures some of the menace of his controversial debut, The Great Ecstasy Of Robert Carmichael.

Brutality serves the narrative here, sparked by a scene of 'shroom-fuelled hedonism.

Peake and Dance immerse themselves in their roles while Fox preaches "perfect libertinism" in captivating sermons that momentarily avert our gaze from his distractingly whitened teeth.

Meticulous attention to period detail – the farm was hand-built with authentic materials from the ground up and costumes were hand-dyed and hand-stitched – draws on years of research and the expertise of historical consultants.

However, Clay's writing occasionally abandons authenticity for a pithy putdown ("I'd lose the attitude if I were you!") before he descends into hellish retribution for a shocking final act.

Rating: 3stars

ALL NIGHTER (Cert 15, 86 mins, Signature Entertainment, Comedy/Drama/Romance, available from August 24 on Amazon Prime Video/BT TV Store/iTunes/Sky Store/TalkTalk TV Store and other download and streaming services)

Starring: JK Simmons, Emile Hirsch, Kristen Schaal, Jon Daly, Taran Killam, Analeigh Tipton.

Six months after a disastrous first meeting with Mr Gallo (JK Simmons), the workaholic father of his then-girlfriend Ginnie (Analeigh Tipton), musician Martin (Emile Hirsch) is rudely woken by loud knocking at the front door.

It is Mr Gallo, who is in Los Angeles on a 24-hour layover before a business flight to Geneva.

The stern patriarch isn't impressed by Martin's beer bottle-laden home or the toxic presence of weed-smoking new roommate Jimothy (Jon Daly).

All Mr Gallo cares about is spending time with his daughter but she isn't responding to his texts or calls. Unfortunately, Martin broke up with Ginnie a few months ago and she moved in with bickering friends Roberta (Kristen Schaal) and Gary (Taran Killam).

As the only person who knows where Roberta and Gary live, Martin reluctantly agrees to accompany Mr Gallo on a frantic search to locate his missing daughter. Over the course of one night, the two men learn to tolerate and even like each other.

All Nighter is a mismatched buddy comedy that struggles to mine laughs from the awkward pairing of Simmons' glowering parent and Hirsch's dithering ex-boyfriend, who plays banjo in a bluegrass collective named Hysterical Kindness.

It would be exceedingly kind to call any of the characters in Seth W Owen's script fully formed since many exist to simply hamper the search for Ginnie. Simmons works tirelessly to make flat one-liners sing and he succeeds in slowly revealing the pain bubbling beneath the icy exterior of his sharply tailored and intimidating protector.

Rating: 2stars