Damon Smith reviews the latest releases. This week: a grief-stricken mother (Frances McDormand) baits local police into tracking down her daughter's killer in THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI... and Gary Oldman bids for an Oscar for his tour-de-force portrayal of Sir Winston Churchill in DARKEST HOUR.


THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (15, 115 mins) Drama/Comedy/Thriller/Romance. Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Lucas Hedges, Caleb Landry Jones, Peter Dinklage, Abbie Cornish, Sandy Martin. Director: Martin McDonagh.

Released: January 12 (UK & Ireland)

Hell hath no fury like a grief-stricken mother scorned in London-born writer-director Martin McDonagh's blackly comic thriller, which pits one vigilante parent against her local police force in a fictional midwestern town.

Impeccably scripted and blessed with a blistering lead performance from Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a near perfect film in the right place at the right time.

McDonagh's explosive morality tale is fuelled by the righteous anger of a spirited woman, who believes her concerns are being ignored by men in power and will not rest until all lines of inquiry have been exhausted in the pursuit of justice.

Her rebel yell sparks sickening violence that may divide audiences, including one scene in a dentist's surgery that leaves jaws truly dropped, but brutality always serves the lean, muscular narrative.

Salty, quick-fire dialogue is peppered with polished one-liners that the ensemble cast savours, like when Woody Harrelson's beleaguered police chief confides that he is terminally ill and McDormand's thorn in his side confirms that she already knew and still put up the billboards.

"Well, they wouldn't be as effective after you croak, right?" she tells him with steely resolve.

It has been seven months since Angela Hayes was abducted, raped and murdered on her way home.

The dead girl's stoic mother, Mildred (McDormand), is infuriated by the lack of progress under police chief Bill Willoughby (Harrelson).

Consequently, she rents three advertising hoardings from Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones) on the outskirts of town and emblazons each billboard with a message aimed directly at the man responsible for apprehending the culprits.

"To me, it seems like the local police department is too busy going round torturing black folks to be bothered doing anything about solving actual crime," Mildred tells a local TV reporter on air, "so I thought these billboards might concentrate their minds."

Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), who is under the thumb of his bigoted mother (Sandy Martin), reacts violently to Mildred's public spat with his station.

Mildred's teenage son Robbie (Lucas Hedges) also suffers abuse at school as a result of his mother's inflammatory actions.

However, Mildred refuses to back down.

"Looks like we got a war on our hands," Willoughby calmly informs his concerned wife Anne (Abbie Cornish).

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri creates a vibrant portrait of small town life torn asunder by personal vendettas and retribution.

McDormand is magnificent, skilfully letting her character's frustrations come to a boil, with harrowing consequences.

The emotional journey of Rockwell's racist cop isn't wholly believable but his fearless portrayal papers over the tiny cracks and there is glorious support from Harrelson.

McDonagh directs with an assured hand, deftly juggling the ticking time bombs of ghoulish comedy and heartrending tragedy.



DARKEST HOUR (PG, 125 mins) Drama/War/Romance. Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn, Stephen Dillane, Lily James, Ronald Pickup, David Schofield, Samuel West, Joe Armstrong. Director: Joe Wright.

Released: January 12 (UK & Ireland)

Photographs of Winston Churchill sticking up two fingers to the advancing Nazi threat during the Second World War became defining images of British defiance, solidarity and resolve.

While the rest of Europe capitulated to the Deutsches Reich, the cigar-puffing statesman stood firm, inspiring citizens in one tub-thumping speech to "defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength".

The 27 tumultuous days, which led to Churchill's impassioned cry for the British to fight on the beaches and in the streets, is elegantly dramatised in Joe Wright's handsomely crafted character study, Darkest Hour.

Based on a script by Anthony McCarten, who was Oscar nominated for The Theory Of Everything, this timely account of political hubris during blood-soaked conflict is distinguished by a tour-de-force performance from Gary Oldman.

Concealed behind layers of flawless make-up and latex, the London-born actor surely has one hand on an Academy Award for his mesmerising embodiment of the rotund statesman, who bore the weight of responsibility for evacuating more than 300,000 Allied soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk.

Oldman delivers Churchill's public addresses with lip-smacking relish but it's in the film's quieter moments, when the politician stares into the hollowed eyes of self-doubt, that his performance delivers knockout blows.

The film opens on May 9 1940 during a particularly boisterous exchange in the House of Commons.

Clement Attlee (David Schofield), leader of the opposition Labour Party, demands Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) stand down as Prime Minister for "leaving our nation ruinously unprepared to face the present Nazi peril".

One notable absentee from the Conservative benches is Churchill (Oldman).

Sir Anthony Eden (Samuel West) whispers to a parliamentary colleague that Winston is "ensuring his fingerprints aren't on the murder weapon" shortly before Chamberlain confirms his intention to resign.

King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) subsequently invites Winston to form a government at a critical juncture in the fight against Hitler.

Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax (Stephen Dillane) spearheads senior figures within the Conservative ranks, who expect Churchill to agree to talks with the Germans.

They are gravely mistaken and the new Prime Minister holds firm to his potentially tragic course, supported by his long-suffering wife Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas), snobbish private aide John Evans (Joe Armstrong) and new secretary Elizabeth Layton (Lily James).

Darkest Hour is punctuated by Wright's trademark directorial brio, including one indelible scene of a German aerial bombing run that melts into the face of a fallen soldier.

Scott Thomas and Mendelsohn offer sterling support, the latter tugging heartstrings in a softly played final scene in which Bertie counsels Churchill: "Go to the people. Let them instruct you."

A timely lesson for the political guard of every hue as we face a very different showdown with European neighbours.


Also released...

INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY (15, 103 mins)

Released: January 12 (UK & Ireland)

In 2010, James Wan, director of the opening instalment of the Saw franchise, helmed the spooky horror Insidious, which introduced audiences to parapsychologist Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye), who has devoted her life to investigating supernatural disturbances and vanquishing unspeakable evil that threaten the lives of innocent families.

The fourth and final film in the series, which unfolds chronologically after the events of Insidious: Chapter 3, brings the terror to Elise's front door as she revisits terrifying events from her childhood.

Elise is ushered back to New Mexico, to the house where she grew up, to explore a reported manifestation of malevolent forces in the building where young Elise (played by Ava Kolker and Hana Hayes at different ages) and her brother Christian (Pierce Pope, Thomas Robie) were terrorised by their abusive father Gerald (Josh Stewart) and bore witness to the grim fate of their mother, Audrey (Tessa Ferrer), who was murdered in the family home.

Flanked by kooky assistants Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), Elise is reunited with her brother Christian (Bruce Davison) and learns that her two grown-up nieces, Imogen (Caitlin Gerard) and Melissa (Spencer Locke), are being targeted by a gnarly demon.

In order to save the people she loves, Elise must dive back into the terrifying netherworld between life and death, and face a relentless otherworldly predator from her tragic past.

ERIC CLAPTON: LIFE IN 12 BARS (15, 131 mins)

Released: January 12 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

For more than 50 years, guitarist and singer-songwriter Eric Clapton CBE has been a primal force in the music industry, as part of the bands Yardbirds, John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers and Cream, and also as a solo artist.

Lili Fini Zanuck's documentary uses archive footage complemented by brutally frank narration from Clapton to explore the artist's rise, his battle with the demons of drink and drugs, and his songwriting influences.

The film devotes considerable time to Clapton's romance with Pattie Boyd, which kindled the creative spark of Layla, and the devastation wrought by the death of his four-year-old song Conor, immortalised in the multi-Grammy Award-winning song Tears In Heaven.

On January 10, special screenings of the film will include a live Q&A with Clapton and Zanuck, beamed via satellite to cinemas around the UK and Ireland from the BFI Southbank in London.

MUKABAAZ (THE BRAWLER) (Certificate and running time TBC)

Released: January 12 (UK, selected cinemas)

Vineet Kumar Singh headlines a heavyweight sports drama about a lowly boxer, who cannot help falling in love with the one woman he cannot have. Shravan Singh (Vineet Kumar Singh) lives in Uttar Pradesh in northern India and he trains diligently to realise his dreams of sporting glory, which are in the hands of powerful boxing federation supremo, Bhagwan Das Mihra (Jimmy Shergill).

Unfortunately, Mihra doesn't rate Singh so the young pretender faces an uphill battle to prove his worth inside and out of the boxing ring.

Complicating matters, Singh is head over heels in love with a high caste mute girl called Sunaina (Zoya Hussain), who just happens to be Mihra's beloved niece. He won't endorse this love match between two people from radically different social standings.

Singh will have to fight with every straining sinew to prove the doubters wrong and secure the hand of the woman he worships. Shree Dhar Dubey and Ravi Kishan co-star.

A WOMAN'S LIFE (12A, 116 mins)

Released: January 12 (UK, selected cinemas)

A noble woman discovers that the course of true love is littered with stinging disappointments in director Stephane Brize's handsome period drama set in 19th century Normandy, which is adapted from the novel penned by Guy de Maupassant.

Following her formal education at a convent, Jeanne Le Perthuis des Vauds (Judith Chemla) returns to the idyllic chateau owned by her father Baron Simon-Jacques (Jean-Pierre Darroussin).

She enjoys lazy summer days with her mother Adelaide (Yolande Moreau) and childhood companion Rosalie (Nina Meurisse), dreaming of a fairy-tale romance to sustain her when her parents are gone.

Jeanne hopes that handsome suitor Viscount Julien de Lamare (Swann Arlaud) might be that white knight and the couple eventually marries. However, the cold reality of wifely duties comes as a terrible shock to Jeanne and the marriage founders.

In her hour of need, she seeks comfort in the company of Countess Gilberte de Fourville (Clotilde Hesme) and local cleric Picot (Olivier Perrier), who offers to facilitate reconciliation with Julien.


Released: January 16 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

Dimitri Platanias sings the famous role of deformed court jester Rigoletto in David McVicar's powerful staging of Giuseppe Verdi's drama of revenge and deceit, recorded live on the stage of the Royal Opera House in London under the baton of conductor Alexander Joel.

Rigoletto (Platanias) serves The Duke of Mantua (Michael Fabiano), a renowned womaniser whose libidinous antics inspire hatred in many of his subjects. The Duke and his servant are a formidable double-act, working together to mock the men whose wives have become notches on the nobleman's bed-post.

Count Ceprano (Simon Shibambu) harbours deep resentment towards both men: the Duke openly flirts with the Countess (Jacquelyn Stucker) - usually in front of her husband - while Rigoletto has publicly derided the Count.

Consumed with rage, Ceprano vows revenge and he enlists the services of Marullo (Dominic Sedgwick), Matteo Borsa (Luis Gomes) and other courtiers to teach the Count and Rigoletto a long overdue lesson.

MY LIFE STORY (15, 96 mins)

Released: January 17 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

Later this year, vocalist, songwriter, TV presenter and radio DJ Graham "Suggs" McPherson will tour a stage show entitled A Life In The Realm Of Madness, in which he talks candidly about his experiences on and off stage with the legendary ska-pop band.

The show is a follow-up to his 2012 autobiographical stage confessional, My Life Story, which skilfully blended anecdotes, comedy and song as the popular performer reflected on reaching the prime age of 50.

Film-maker Julien Temple has translated this acclaimed theatrical performance into cinematic reminiscence, juxtaposing dramatised scenes from McPherson's life with archive material, animation and energetic musical performances to reveal the complicated, flawed man behind the effervescent Madness stage persona.

Screenings on January 17 will include a live Q&A and music, beamed via satellite to cinemas around the UK and Ireland from Koko in London.


Crusading journalists risk their careers to expose political corruption in Steven Spielberg's thriller THE POST... a young boy travels to the Land of the Dead to learn the truth about his parentage in Disney Pixar's computer-animated fantasy COCO... and Liam Neeson threatens to go off the rails on a speeding New York train in the action adventure THE COMMUTER.


1. Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle

2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

3. The Greatest Showman

4. Pitch Perfect 3

5. Molly's Game

6. All The Money In The World

7. Paddington 2

8. Hostiles

9. Ferdinand

10. Daddy's Home 2

(Chart courtesy of Cineworld)