What TV’s on at the BFI in August 2014? Bilko and a Moira Armstrong season

It’s time for our regular look at the TV that the BFI is showing, this time in August 2014. Given that summer holidays are approaching fast, it’s no surprise that there’s less on this month, but there is a season of director Moira Armstrong’s work, as well as an evening dedicated to the awesome The Phil Silvers Show – aka Bilko

Sun 3 Aug 14:30 NFT3
Testament of Youth
BBC 1979. Dir Moira Armstrong. With Cheryl Campbell, Peter Woodward, Michael Troughton, Rosalie Crutchley. 5 x 55min (with interval)
This five-part serialisation of Vera Brittain’s autobiography – depicting her life between 1913 and 1918 – was hugely successful at the time, and the power of the memoir is such that the BBC have just started filming a brand new adaptation. The strength of the series was to focus on the personal experiences of Brittain from naïve, middle-class girl to a disillusioned nurse who loses the men closest to her. The changes we witness in her humanised and made relevant the consequences of WWI for a generation of viewers that had not lived through it.

Adapted for television by Elaine Morgan, the series made a star of Cheryl Campbell and remains in many people’s memory one of the finest adaptations of a novel to the small screen that there has been. Director Moira Armstrong’s great contribution was to bring a dramatic intensity and fluidity to the series that really brought home the true emotional and psychological costs of the Great War.
Tickets £16, concs £12 (Members pay £1.50 less)

Tue 12 Aug 18:30 NFT1
The Girls of Slender Means
BBC 1975. Dir Moira Armstrong. With Miriam Margolyes, Patricia Hodge, Jack Shepherd, Mary Tamm. 3 x 50min
The Girls of Slender Means was a very rare thing – a television series driven by strong female characters – and it has since acquired something of a cult following. Adapted for television by that great master of the art Ken Taylor from the novel by Muriel Spark, the series follows the young residents of a girl’s hostel who do their best to survive in a city ravaged by war. They practice elocution and jostle one another over suitors, but behind the girls’ giddy literary and amorous peregrinations they hide some tragically painful secrets and wounds.

Fri 8 Aug 20:10 NFT3
Abide With Me
BBC 1976. Dir Moira Armstrong. With Cathleen Nesbitt, Zena Walker, Ann Francis, Geoffrey Bayldon. 70min
Abide With Me is adapted by Julian Mitchell from ‘A Child of the Forest’ by Winiford Foley, and its charm lies in its complete simplicity. A 15-year-old girl is sent to be housemaid to a 90-year-old, imperious and unbending mistress during the 1920s, and the film charts the deep mutual feelings of respect and fondness that grow between these two women from opposite ends of the social divide. Abide With Me is directed and performed with pitch-perfect sensitivity that avoids any trace of sentimentality and captures the period beautifully
+ Play for Today: Minor Complications
BBC 1980. Dir Moira Armstrong. With Paola Dionisotti, David Hargreaves, Charles Kay, Benjamin Whitrow. 75min
Paola Dionisotti brilliantly conveys the pain and frustration of Kay – a woman who goes in for a standard operation to be sterilised but, through medical negligence, ends up with hugely debilitating complications that affect the rest of her life. Peter Ransley’s script, based on actual case notes, very effectively demonstrates how the NHS and the legal system worked together to make successful claims almost an impossibility. Only Kay’s dogged determination sees her through to a kind of justice.

Tue 19 Aug 18:10 NFT1
The Play on One: The Dunroamin’ Rising
BBC 1988. Dir Moira Armstrong. With Russell Hunter, Elizabeth Sellars, Thorley Walters, Hugh Lloyd. 70min
When left-wing firebrand Ian Sinclaire (Russell Hunter) moves into a church-affiliated old persons’ home he sets about challenging the system, and gives back a sense of purpose to the residents. Hunter gives a memorable performance as a man haunted by memories, and Colin Macdonald’s moving and humorous script ensures that we too are charmed by this character as he rejuvenates all those around him.
+ Career interview with director Moira Armstrong 
Moira Armstrong began directing in 1964 and has been at the forefront of British television drama ever since. In this career interview (illustrated with clips of her many great series and plays) Armstrong will discuss her remarkable career, and offer her views on the struggle faced by female directors in the TV industry of today.

Thu 28 Aug 18:10 NFT1
TRT 90min
It was originally called You’ll Never Get Rich but later had its title changed to The Phil Silvers Show, but to its fans across the globe it’s known simply as Bilko; the memorable name of one of the greatest comedy characters ever to grace the small screen. The series was woefully under-appreciated in its home country but was feted in the UK, and has regularly made thtop ten of Best Sitcom lists (it’s even recognised as the greatest ever sitcom from either side of the Atlantic in the prestigious Radio Times Guide to TV Comedy).

For the first time, the complete series is to be made available on DVD, and to mark the occasion we’re delighted to host this special event looking back at a show that influenced whole generations of comedy practitioners. We will screen some archive Bilko-related clips from the UK, and follow that with an illustrated panel discussion – featuring some famous Bilko fans – analysing the show’s enduring legacy.
Please check the BFI website nearer the time, when we will announce our special guests

Fri 29 Aug 18:00 NFT3
Screenplay: The Countess Alice
BBC 1992. Dir Moira Armstrong. With Dame Wendy Hiller, Zoë Wanamaker, Duncan Bell, Patricia Quinn. 87min
This fine film, scripted by Allan Cubitt, was Dame Wendy Hiller’s last dramatic role. In 1935 Lady Alice Monroe (Hiller) caused a minor scandal when she married a Prussian count. When her daughter (Wanamaker) visits the crumbling ancestral home, startling discoveries are made that call into question Alice’s entire past. Armstrong once again elicits fine, compelling performances from her distinguished cast in this atmospheric film with an agonising human story at its heart.
+ All for Love (series 2, ep 4): Letting the Birds Go Free
ITV 1983. Dir Moira Armstrong. With Lionel Jeffries, Carolyn Pickles, Tom Wilkinson. 52min
Letting the Birds Go Free, which screened in the All For Love romantic relationships strand from Granada TV, is dramatised by Stephen Wakelam from a story by Philip Oakes. An army deserter is traumatised by a tour of Northern Ireland during the Troubles. He’s caught stealing eggs and put to work on a remote farm, where a close relationship starts to form with the farmer’s daughter. An affecting film about the importance of letting those closest to you have the freedom to leave (or just ‘go free’).

Champions’ priority booking: June 30 11.30am
Members’ priority booking opens: July 1 11.30am
Public booking opens: July 8

Prices (excluding gift aid)
£8.95 (members)
£6.65 (member concs)
£10.45 (non-members)
£8.15 (non-members concs)
Under 16s £6.00

Prices (including gift aid and voluntary contribution)
£10 (members)
£7.50 (member concs)
£11.50 (non-members)
£9 (non-members concs)

All shows are £6 on Tuesdays. Conc prices are available to senior citizens, students, unwaged and disability visitors. Proof of eligibility may be required.
As always, visit the BFI web site for more details.