New to download, stream or buy on DVD/Blu-ray: Saint Frances, The Crown, LEGO Star Wars and more
FILM OF THE WEEK
SAINT FRANCES (Cert 15, 100 mins, Vertigo Releasing, Comedy/Drama/Romance, available from November 13 on Amazon Prime Video/BT TV Store/iTunes/Sky Store/TalkTalk TV Store and other download and streaming services)
Starring: Kelly O'Sullivan, Ramona Edith-Williams, Charin Alvarez, Lily Mojekwu, Max Lipchitz.
RESTAURANT waitress Bridget (Kelly O'Sullivan) sleeps with nice guy Jace (Max Lipchitz) and falls pregnant. With Jace's unwavering support, Bridget opts for a termination shortly before she attends an interview for the position of nanny in an affluent suburb of Chicago.
Annie (Lily Mojekwu) and Maya (Charin Alvarez) are looking for someone to care for their bright, rambunctious daughter Frances (Ramona Edith-Williams).
Bridget lands the job as a last-minute replacement for the preferred candidate and awkwardly integrates into the family.
She witnesses tension between Frances's mothers and forges a deep bond of trust with her obstinate charge, who asserts that it is better for an adult to read her a book because "hearing it helps my brain development".
Saint Frances is a tender comedy drama, which coolly navigates hot button topics – abortion, postpartum depression, breastfeeding in public – with understated elegance and candour.
The script, co-written by director Alex Thompson and lead actress O'Sullivan, revels in the minutiae of everyday life and, refreshingly, does not blow out of proportion the central character's stumbles on her way to hard-fought self-enlightenment.
The menstrual blood-soaked aftermath of a one-night stand, which might be played for gross-out giggles or discomfort in clumsier hands, is a catalyst for genuine tenderness here.
Confident writing complements the uniformly excellent performances.
Pacing is deliberately slow to allow contemplative words to breathe and the cast to fully inhabit richly drawn roles, including a star-making turn from wunderkind Edith-Williams, who strikes a perfect balance between cuteness and precocity.
STAGE MOTHER (Cert 15, 93 mins, Altitude Film Distribution, Comedy/Drama/Musical/Romance, available from November 16 on Amazon Prime Video/BT TV Store/iTunes/Sky Store/TalkTalk TV Store and other download and streaming services, also available from November 16 on DVD £12.99)
Starring: Jacki Weaver, Adrian Grenier, Lucy Liu, Anthony Skordi, Hugh Thompson, Jackie Beat.
MAYBELLINE Metcalf (Jacki Weaver) is a conservative choir mistress in the Texan town of Red Vine (population 1,501), who has been estranged from her gay son Ricky for 10 years.
She learns that her boy has died from a drug overdose and leaves her disapproving husband Jeb (Hugh Thompson) behind to ensure Ricky is "put to rest properly" in San Francisco.
After a flamboyant memorial service, Maybelline discovers she is the reluctant heir to her son's business, Pandora's Box, a floundering club hosted by Dusty Muffin (Jackie Beat), which was once the pride and joy of Ricky and his boyfriend Nathan (Adrian Grenier).
Aided by Ricky's sassy best friend Sienna (Lucy Liu), Maybelline employs her skills as a musical director to encourage resident drag queens to sing live rather than lip-sync.
Stage Mother is a fish-out-of-water comedy, which works its crowd-pleasing charms in broad strokes, bookmarked by well-choreographed musical numbers.
Screenwriter Brad Hennig gleefully dips into the wig boxes of La Cage Aux Folles, The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert, and Kinky Boots to use the art of drag performance as a lesson plan for tolerance, empathy and dogged determination.
Two-time Oscar nominee Weaver adds another feisty yet lovable matriarch to her repertoire.
She essays a quietly spoken woman of God, who draws parallels between members of her local church choir and the volatile egos clamouring for adulation at the drag bar.
"Different songs, same divas, some of the same wigs too," she quips, establishing a brisk tempo for one-liners that co-stars are happy to mimic.
HOPE GAP (Cert 12, 100 mins, Curzon Artificial Eye, Drama/Romance, available now on Amazon Prime Video/BT TV Store/Curzon Home Cinema/iTunes/Sky Store/TalkTalk TV Store and other download and streaming services, available from November 16 on DVD £19.99)
Starring: Annette Bening, Bill Nighy, Josh O'Connor, Sally Rogers.
SECONDARY school history teacher Edward (Bill Nighy) and wife Grace (Annette Bening) casually orbit one other in the East Sussex coastal town of Seaford.
He indulges a fascination with Napoleon's 1812 invasion of Moscow flanked by toy soldiers on his desk, while she pores over verses for her poetry anthology about the human condition.
Their common bond is a son, Jamie (Josh O'Connor), who lives in London and rarely visits.
One week shy of their 29th wedding anniversary, Edward secretly telephones Jamie to come home for the weekend.
It is part of a cowardly plan to tell Grace that he intends to leave her for another woman (Sally Rogers) and then rely on Jamie to pick up slivers of the shattered marriage.
Adapted by writer-director William Nicholson from his 1999 stage play The Retreat From Moscow, Hope Gap is a dialogue-heavy portrait of a marriage in crisis, which fails to bridge a divide between us and the anguished characters.
Meaty dialogue includes a zinging speech for Bening, which likens the breakdown of a marriage to bloodless murder.
While carefully crafted words land with precision, the raw emotions behind them are little more than glancing blows.
Nighy is well suited to the role of a stuttering academic opposite Bening, who valiantly goes into battle with an English accent and ends up losing the war for our sympathy by repeatedly drawing attention to her mannered delivery.
Towards the end of the film, Grace muses aloud: "That's the thing about unhappiness. After a while it stops being interesting."
Hope Gap is evidently aware of its flaws.
:: BOX SETS
THE CROWN – SEASON 4 (10 episodes, streaming from November 15 exclusively on Netflix, Drama/Romance)
THE royal family is thrust into the media spotlight, blissfully unaware of an annus horribilis on the horizon, in the fourth series of the Emmy Award-winning Netflix period drama created by Peter Morgan.
As Queen Elizabeth II (Olivia Colman) and the Duke of Edinburgh (Tobias Menzies) bid farewell to the 1970s, tensions flare with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson).
Unpopular and divisive policies are reflected in newspaper headlines and the threat of the Falklands War sparks conflict within the Commonwealth.
Closer to home, the Queen hopes a fledgling romance between the Prince of Wales (Josh O'Connor) and a young Lady Diana Spencer (Emma Corrin) might provide the nation with a real-life fairytale.
Ten episodes peppered with emotional turmoil and self-doubt also star Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret, Emerald Fennell as Camilla Parker Bowles and Charles Dance as Lord Mountbatten.
THE GOOD LORD BIRD (7 episodes, streaming from November 18 exclusively on NOW TV, Drama/Western/Romance)
BASED on James McBride's celebrated 2013 novel, The Good Lord Bird is a gun-smoking seven-part drama set in 19th-century America which begin screening this week on Sky Atlantic and streams exclusively on NOW TV.
The pilot episode is directed by Albert Hughes (Menace II Society) and introduces us to slave Henry "Onion" Shackleford (Joshua Caleb Johnson), who crosses paths with abolitionist John Brown (Ethan Hawke) and his motley crew of soldiers.
Their actions capture headlines during the Bleeding Kansas crisis in the late 1950s.
Brown's righteous crusade leads to an ill-fated raid on Harpers Ferry in West Virginia, which was intended to light a fuse on a slave revolt.
Instead, the assault becomes a crucial link in the chain of events leading to the American Civil War.
LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special (Cert U, 44 mins, streaming from November 17 exclusively on Disney+, Animation/Sci-Fi/Action/Comedy)
PAYING tongue-in-cheek tribute to the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special, this seasonal computer-animated odyssey in a galaxy far, far away brings together characters from nine Star Wars films for an intergalactic quest laden with festive cheer.
Rey is determined to better understand the Force.
Accompanied by trusty droid BB-8, she heads to a mysterious Jedi Temple where timelines become blurred.
She ricochets between famous moments from the franchise, encountering Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Yoda, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Obi-Wan Kenobi and other familiar faces from both sides of the conflict.