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Mary, Queen of Scots (1971)

The historical drama focusing on British kings and queens was a popular genre in the 1960s, beginning with Becket (1964), and including A Man for All Seasons (1966) and The Lion in Winter (1968). One of the figures most associated with these films was Hal B Wallis, the producer of Becket, Anne of the Thousand Days (1969) and Mary, Queen of Scots. Like other films in this genre, Mary, Queen of Scots focuses on the inter-relationship between two famous figures in British history, in this case Mary of Scotland and Elizabeth I of England.

Mary (Vanessa Redgrave) became Queen of Scotland in 1542, at just six days old. She was betrothed to the French King Francis II at a young age and when he dies she is left a widow at just 17. She returns from France to her home country of Scotland, but finds it very different from the world she is used to. Scotland is a smaller, poorer country which is unhappily split between Protestantism and Catholicism.

Expecting the red carpet treatment on arrival o…
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Unbroken (2014)

Unbroken is based on the life story of Louis Zamperini. Zamperini was an American athlete who competed in the 1936 Olympics, became a bomb aimer in the USAAF in WWII, survived being shot down over the Pacific, and spent 47 days adrift in a dinghy on the open sea before eventually being captured by the Japanese.

The film moves back and forwards in time, opening with a bombing raid in the Pacific, where the plane of Zamperini (Jack O'Connell) is attacked by Japanese fighters, before having to make an emergency landing. The film then shows Zamperini's childhood in flashback where, as the son of Italian immigrants, he is bullied by the other local boys and becomes a trouble-making tearaway. Eventually, with the encouragement of his brother, he reluctantly takes up running after discovering he has a talent for it, with his being taunted as a “dumb dago” spurring him on to succeed on the running track. Zamperini goes on to compete in the 5,000 metres at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

In …

Early Hitchcock Classic: The 39 Steps (1935)

For me, The 39 Steps is the quintessential Hitchcock film. Other films may have weightier themes or a more complex subtext, but The 39 Steps boils the Hitchcock thriller down to its essential elements – a shocking murder, an innocent man on the run, a beautiful blonde and a MacGuffin so irrelevant that few people can remember what it was all about.

The film is based on John Buchan's 1915 novel The Thirty-Nine Steps, but the translation to film is so loose I think “inspired by” would probably be the more accurate description. In fact, the film strays so far from the novel that the writers had to create a new explanation for the title, having forgotten to include the actual steps that feature in the book.


The hero of Buchan's novel is Richard Hannay. On a visit to London from South Africa, he finds himself mixed up in a spy plot when one of his neighbours, a freelance American agent called Scudder, is murdered by enemy spies. He had stumbled onto a sinister plot and has crucial…

The Liquidator (1965)

“The name's Oakes. Boysie Oakes.”

It doesn't really work, does it? But in the mid 1960s everyone was trying to cash in on the James Bond craze. Rival spy series included Matt Helm, Harry Palmer, Bulldog Drummond and Derek Flint. MGM's hopes for a Bond rival were pinned on Rod Taylor as Boysie Oakes in The Liquidator.

Taylor's character is an ex-army sergeant who is inducted into the British secret service by spy master Colonel Mostyn (Trevor Howard). Mostyn has been tasked by his boss (Wilfrid Hyde-White) to recruit an agent to carry out unofficial assassinations off the books. Mostyn recalls an incident in wartime Paris, shown in a black and white flashback sequence, when he was rescued by Oakes from two would-be assassins. Unbeknown to him, Oakes's heroics were mostly accidental. Oakes goes along with the plan, smitten as he is with the money he's paid, the E-Type Jaguar he's given, the swanky '60s bachelor pad apartment and the endless parade of bea…

Roger Moore's 10 Most Memorable Characters

As a follow-up to the post on The Spy Who Loved Me, and in tribute to the late Sir Roger Moore, here are 10 of Roger Moore's most memorable film and TV roles.


10. Beauregarde Maverick in Maverick  (1960-61)

Westerns and Roger Moore go together like … well they don't really. But that didn't stop the producers of the TV series Maverick from hiring him as their new leading man. James Garner had played Bret Maverick for 5 years before he left the series over a contractual dispute. Moore moseyed into town as Bret's cousin Beauregarde Maverick, with a back story to explain his oh-so-English accent. Moore starred in 15 episodes but, unsurprisingly, no one else ever thought to hire him to play a cowboy.


9. Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe in Ivanhoe  (1958)

The historical costume adventure series was a mainstay of British commercial TV in the 1950s. The most successful was The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Richard Greene, but Roger Moore got in on the act with this 1958 series. Mo…

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

In the mid-1970s the James Bond series was in trouble. Harry Saltzman, one half of the original Bond producing partnership, was embroiled in financial difficulties with his outside business interests, and left the series following 1974's The Man with the Golden Gun. That film had been the least successful in the history of the Bond series, rushed into release the year after the more successful Live and Let Die. The first two Roger Moore films had latched onto popular trends in contemporary cinema, Blaxploitation in the case of Live and Let Die, and the kung fu craze in The Man with the Golden Gun, but the Bond series was looking increasingly like a 1960s hangover on its last legs.

The next Bond film then, the 10th in the "official" Eon Productions series, was something of a make or break effort for Bond. Albert R. Broccoli was now the sole remaining producer of the series, and he gambled that audiences were ready again for a dose of grand escapism. The next film would b…

Did Doctor Who Just Jump the Shark?

You may have seen the news last week that the new Doctor Who is going to be played by a woman. 35 year old Jodie Whittaker, of Broadchurch, Venus and Attack the Block, has been chosen to replace Peter Capaldi in the BBC sci-fi series, taking over in this year's Christmas special.

This raises some important questions for the future of one of the world's longest running TV series. Can the Doctor be played by a woman? Should the Doctor be played by a woman? And will this lead to a glorious new pangender future for the series, or will it sound its death knell?

In the original series of Doctor Who, running from 1963 to 1989, seven actors played the character in successive regenerations, and each was male - William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy. An eighth Doctor, Paul McGann, appeared in an ill-fated 1996 TV movie designed to revive the series and aimed uneasily at audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. Some pe…