Esther McCarthy reviews Trumbo and Strangerland on today's show
Trumbo (15A) ****
Dalton Trumbo was one of the so-called Hollywood Ten, a group of film industry people who were cited for contempt of Congress and made to suffer in their careers.
The screenwriter behind such great movies as Roman Holiday, Spartacus and The Brave One won two Oscars for his work. He didn't receive them because by the early 1950s, powerful figures were holding him accountable for his socialist political views. He was a member of the Communist Party who always leaned to the left.
In an America entering the Cold War period, this saw him snubbed by many of the political elite who believed he was a Russian sympathiser, and denied the right to work.
But they didn’t reckon on the extraordinary work rate and sheer talent of the scriptwriter, who, it is depicted in the film, was simply too successful to snub.
He and a number of other blacklisted writers continued to work on both classy dramas and trashy B-movies and it wasn’t long before their covert activities were a talking point among the chattering classes of Hollywood.
This puts him on the radar of showbiz columnist, the decidedly right-wing Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) who has a personal interest in naming and shaming him.
It falls short of giving any real sense of the dilemma these writers faced. But its a fascinating story, decently told, with a great central performance. And crucially, the script rattles along.
Strangerland (15A) ***
Nicole Kidman is the best she’s been in ages in this Irish co-production which sees her filming in her native Australia.
She plays Catherine Parker, the mother of adolescent Tommy and provocative teenager Lily, who has relocated along with husband Matthew (Joseph Fiennes) to the remote desert town of Nathgari.
When both children mysteriously disappear just as a massive dust storm is about to hit the town, their parents are distraught.
Locals from a search party and panic sets in as they realise the childrens’ likelihood of surviving in the desert heat diminishes with each passing day.
The case comes under the watchful eye of local detective David Rae (the always-good Hugo Weaving) who begins to suspect that personal family secrets will be unearthed during the course of the investigation.
The story builds well but struggles to maintain its momentum in the second half and runs out of gas well before it reaches resolution. But Fiennes and Kidman do a fine job as a couple on the brink, and the effects the disappearances have on their already fragile marriage.