As 2017 kicks off with two stunning but radically different novel-inspired blockbusters in the shape of Silence and A Monster Calls (with Liam Neeson looming large in both), we launch a regular round-up of unmissable literary adaptations and biopics coming soon to UK cinemas. Here are our picks for January.

StudioCanal

Silence
Martin Scorsese’s epic adaptation of Shusaku Endo’s 1966 novel, some 30 years in the making, is a taut exploration of faith and sacrifice. Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garrpe (Adam Driver) are 17th-century Portuguese missionaries who travel to Japan to track down their mentor Father Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who is reported to have gone native and married into Buddhism. Feudal Japan has outlawed foreign religion on pain of torture, and Scorsese does not flinch from the violence as a small community of Christians is persecuted and betrayed. At 161 minutes, this is a challenging but rewarding watch that will last long in the memory – not least for the sinister charm and cold rationality of Issey Ogata’s Inquisitor Inoue.
UK release 1 January
silencefilm.co.uk
Martin Scorsese introduces Shusaku Endo’s novel

 

Entertainment One

A Monster Calls
J.A. Bayona (The Impossible) brings alive Patrick Ness’ bestselling YA novel about 12-year-old Conor (Lewis MacDougall), who enlists the help of a wise, ancient and fearsome yew tree voiced by Liam Neeson to avenge his bullying classmates and come to terms with Mum Felicity Jones’ terminal illness. Spectacular digital effects from the creative team behind Pan’s Labyrinth crank up Conor’s internal fears, and Neeson boomingly captures the monster’s full repertoire of anger, watchfulness and gleeful retribution. Sigourney Weaver also appears as bossy but well-meaning Grandma, in whose care Conor’s future will rest. A touching and suitably scary story of love, grief and courage.
UK release 1 January
amonstercalls.co.uk

 

Jackie
A reimagining of events in the life of Jackie Kennedy in the immediate wake of the assassination of JFK. Noah Oppenheim based his screenplay on a variety of sources, including hours of recorded interviews with the former First Lady by historian Arthur Schlesinger, newspaper and magazine articles, biographies and memoirs from journalists and close aides, and oral histories by her closest confidantes including social secretary Nancy Tuckerman (played here by Greta Gerwig). Natalie Portman is engrossing as Jackie, portraying a complex mix of deep shock, controlled anger, grit, vulnerability and a knowing sense of seduction and mythmaking. The narrative moves between the violent events in Dallas, the funeral, flashbacks to earlier times in the White House, and an interview at the family home in Hyannis Port with an unnamed journalist (based on Life magazine’s Theodore H. White, and played by Billy Crudup). Pablo Larraín’s debut English-language feature uses handheld cameras and a grainy 16mm film stock to capture the era and the rawness of emotion at close quarters.

Entertainment One
UK release 20 January
@JackieFilmUK

 

Entertainment Film

Lion
Based on Saroo Brierley’s 2014 memoir A Long Way Home, Garth Davis’s feature debut tells the story of a five-year-old boy who is separated from his slum-dwelling family in India when he climbs aboard a non-stop train that takes him to the other side of the country. Adopted from a Calcutta orphanage soon after by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham), at the age of 25 Saroo embarks on a quest to find his birth mother. The first half of the film stars unflappable new discovery Sunny Pawar as young Saroo, overcoming the horrors of life alone on the streets, then we fast forward to the grown-up Saroo (Dev Patel) and the obsession that threatens to alienate his new mum and dad and girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara). The undeniable fact that Google Earth enabled the eventual reunion makes for a clunky framework for the second act, but the film as a whole stands up as an affecting study of race, homelessness, privilege and identity. The call in the end credits to help charities to protect the lives and hopes of India’s 11 million street children is hard to resist.
UK release 20 January
lionmovie.co.uk
#lionheart

 

Curzon Artificial Eye

Christine
Rebecca Hall stars in this shattering biographical drama about 1970s news reporter Christine Chubbuck who, in the midst of depression, committed suicide live on air. Director Antonio Campos’s immersive camerawork amplifies every nuance of Hall’s assured performance as a passionate but impenetrable perfectionist plagued by self-doubt but determined to succeed in a male-dominated industry. Christine is considered frosty and aloof by both colleagues and viewers. When station manager Michael (Tracy Letts) demands a more sensationalist approach to newsgathering she attempts to toe the line – then delivers her shocking final act. Debut screenwriter Craig Shilowich based his script on journalistic records of Christine’s case, and also drew upon his own lengthy episode of depression soon after he enrolled as a film major at NYU – a personal engagement with his subject that humanises the story behind the gory headlines.
UK release 27 January
curzonartificialeye.com/christine

 

Entertainment One

Denial
Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson and Timothy Spall headline David Hare’s absorbing courtroom drama, based on American academic Deborah Lipstadt’s 2005 memoir History on Trial. Wiesz plays Lipstadt, whose legal battle with Holocaust denier David Irving (Spall) is dragged through the English courts. Because in English law the burden of proof lies with the accused, her legal team headed by Richard Rampton (Wilkinson) has to establish the historical truth of the Holocaust in order to disprove Irving’s libel claims. Spall is revoltingly slippery as Irving, Wilkinson a picture of British reserve and eccentricity, and Weisz passionate and wilful even through a faltering Queens accent and the necessity to bite her tongue in court until the case is closed. Superior, smart and unsentimental, though the well-known outcome diminishes the stakes.
UK release 27 January
More info

 

Lionsgate

Hacksaw Ridge
A directorial return for Mel Gibson, a decade on from his bold and widely misunderstood Mayan-language thriller Apocalypto, is difficult to ignore, and this time his focus is on surer ground. Hacksaw Ridge is the true story of World War II hero Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), who saved the lives of 75 men in the Battle of Okinawa without firing a shot at the enemy. The complicated hero believed in the war, but as a Seven-Day Adventist he refused to carry a weapon as he served in the medical corps. For his actions beyond the call of duty, he went on to become the first conscientious objector to be awarded the US Medal of Honor. His spiritual purity and heroism shine through as violent combat rages all around. First-look reviews have ranged from adulatory to vitriolic, but the chaos and inhumanity of the battle scenes are unforgettably unforgiving. The screenplay by Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight is not attributed as an adaptation, but was reportedly based on an old documentary the producers bought the rights to, as well as independent research. There have been several biographies, the first, Booton Hernden’s The Unlikeliest Hero, now re-issued as Redemption at Hacksaw Ridge: The Gripping Story That Inspired the Movie.
UK release 27 January
More info

 

Signature Entertainment

The White King
Husband and wife writer-directors Jörg Tittel (Ricky Rouse Has a Gun) and Alex Helfrecht adapt György Dragomán’s dystopian fantasy novel, comprising a series of interlinked stories influenced by growing up in a Hungarian enclave of Romania during the Ceausescu regime. Djata (Lorenzo Allchurch) is a 12-year-old boy whose father Peter (Ross Partridge) is whisked off to a work camp while he and his mother Hannah (Agyness Deyn) are branded as traitors. Djata’s political awakening and resolve to be reunited with his father are set against Hannah’s pragmatic battles against corruption, prejudice and the abuses of tyranny. With echoes of Orwell, Huxley and Kafka this is a poignant reminder about the excesses of poisonous propaganda, told with sensitivity and élan. Jonathan Pryce, Fiona Shaw and Greta Scacchi also star.
UK release 27 January

thewhiteking.film

 

Mark Reynolds is a freelance editor and writer, and a founding editor of Bookanista.
@bookanista

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