Lockdown Streamtown: things you might have missed this autumn on Netflix and Amazon Prime

(Originally published on Overtime Online, 9th November 2020.)

As the UK enters its first full week of Lockdown II (or Lockdown 2: Election Boogaloo), some of us will be scrolling through our streaming services of an evening wondering how we could have exhausted all the meaty, jaunty or otherwise worthwhile titles over the past few months. Autoplay is no innocent party in this offence.

So, here are a handful of streaming gems worth watching that you may have missed this autumn.


The Personal History of David Copperfield (2020)

A charming and whimsical adaptation of Dickens’ sempiternal tale of abuse, hardship, triumph and generosity of spirit. Dev Patel is an inspired choice for fully-grown incarnation of the story’s eponymous hero, David Copperfield. 

His David is bright-eyed and energetic, bold and intelligent, sweet and talented; all the admirable human qualities that continuously seem to land David/Davy/Daisy in hot water. But he proves time and again to be quite capable of assimilation, adaptation – survival.

Because David’s life and work both revolve around the vivid characters he encounters throughout his eras of fortune and misfortune, director Armando Iannucci treats us to a most satisfying display of eccentricity and poetry. 

The essence of the people David grows to know is woven into the spaces around them; there is a musicality in the way that people and their environments blend together, and flow into each other, that creates an effortless sense of movement in the film’s trajectory.

This is a showcase of British film industry brilliance, from the titanic casting to the wry wit in scripting, and the story remains as fresh today as it ever has been. Its lessons on the precariousness of our place in society – how close we all are to adversity at any given time – will be relevant as long as our divisions stay the same.

Available now to stream on Amazon Prime Video


The Forty-Year-Old Version (2020)

Winner of a 30 under 30 award for dramatic writing and a dedicated – fairly underappreciated – teacher, Radha Blank (name shared with the film’s writer-director) still has it all ahead of her, but seems to have lost her footing on a path to greatness.

In the film’s first act, Radha is fighting for a small piece of prestige for her laboured efforts in the dramatic arts. She tries – unsuccessfully – to ingratiate herself on a pretentious Afrocentric theatre owner, who thinks she won’t write truth in her plays. She then settles on having her play backed manipulative middle-class producer who fetishises Poverty Porn – who employs Black writers to showboat his own pseudo-politics while brutalising their work.

Simultaneously, Radha is struggling through her own crisis of identity as she has discovered, almost by accident, that she is a fierce rapper with a unique perspective on life. She invents a moniker (RadhaMUSprime) and seeks out a producer to work with, nervously anticipating discrimination in the rap scene due to her age, and her gender. 

When she meets D, a young DJ who is complex and thoughtful, he embodies the openness and innovative qualities of the rap community; he makes it clear that there is a place for Radha’s voice and politics in Hip Hop, because it is – at its core – honest, modern poetry.

D helps Radha understand that her natural talents are worth more than success in a cultural sphere that doesn’t respect her individuality. Their creative flow together plainly becomes the most important thing in either one’s life. 

Ultimately, the movie is just as powerful, just as funny but only half as messy as its principal character who, unsurprisingly, is as real and ebullient as her real-life counterpart, writer Radha Blank.

Available now to stream on Netflix


Truth Seekers (2020)

Would Elton John make a good exorcist? Can I please see Malcolm McDowell’s eyeballs in even more detail? Is Prawn Cocktail really a socially acceptable flavour of crisps? Should these all be questions that keep you up at night, and you find yourself in want of answers, tune into Truth Seekers.

If there is anything the 21st century has proven, it is that Frost/Pegg will go down in history as a more formidable pairing than Frost/Nixon. 

This silly, sweet, tongue-in-cheek series dishes out equal shares of scares and giggles in a structure that has been well-tested throughout the Cornetto Canon. The homeliness and simplicity of Truth Seekers is a brilliant antidote to the chaos of the unknown in our outside world which we grapple with daily. 

The series takes the very real and valid fears about every part of our lives being increasingly saturated with advanced telecommunications – from cables to clouds – and uses fanciful supernatural scenarios to prove that our tech could simultaneously be one of the greatest threats we face, but also the most effective path to our salvation.

Unfortunately, this series will only eat up about 4 hours of lockdown time. But this issue can be resolved by watching the entire thing three times in a day. Therefore, you can avoid Monday entirely and skip straight to Tuesday. No, you do not get to collect £200 as you pass through.

Available now to stream on Amazon Prime Video


Challenger: The Final Flight (2020)

This four-parter is an elegant documentary series about a true American horror story – a flight that ended the lives of seven people, which was the result of a catastrophic failure to make correct decisions at apparently insignificant levels. 

The harrowing story of the Challenger Space Shuttle’s failed 1986 mission (STS-51-L) is explored in detail through impeccable historical archive footage of the event and its surrounding context combined with interview material capturing a cross-section of the parties who were most critically involved in the Challenger disaster. 

The series’ primary focus is on the very human element of the tragedy: the losses of six accomplished NASA astronauts onboard, and their first civilian space passenger – New Hampshire teacher, Christa McAuliffe. 

Episode three, ‘A Major Malfunction’, is directed like a doomsday thriller; you are made to watch the days and weeks preceding the mission unfold in their innocent mundanity while anticipating the approach of the final blow, wishing you could reach out and stop what has is already been set in motion.

Recollections from the families of the Challenger crew in their respective interviews do much to bring the story even closer to home, honouring the memory of those lost in the disaster by reminding us that they were all ordinary people; family people, whose fates were determined by a system of bureaucracy which failed to place the value of human life over inhuman interests.

Available now to stream on Netflix

Looking for something to stream this February?

If you’re searching for some worthwhile films and series to fill your quiet weekend at home, try these titles – all available for UK viewers to stream now on their respective platforms.


Lupin

Since VOD-born series have pushed forward changes in the release tactics of television shows, the way we anticipate tuning into those programmes has also become drastically different. In this sense, it is a gratifying feeling to find yourself frustrated about staggered releases. Lupin is so addictive, so shrewd and mirthful, that you will be left longing for more of the magic the show brings – at the heart of which is an exuberant protagonist, Assane Diop (Omar Sy), who has a taste for danger, a bone to pick with a tyrant of the establishment, and a fixation on the literary works of Maurice Leblanc.

Modelling himself on Leblanc’s gentleman thief – and subject of many popular works of fiction – Arsène Lupin, Diop uses his charm and cunning to undertake missions that seem nigh on impossible to achieve. The payoff in each episode is, naturally, enough to wrap up the questions around the hows and whys of his adventures, but these instalments are clues which fit inside a larger high-stakes mystery. If you can manage the wait between now and the release of the series’ latter parts, give it a watch with subs and French audio. You won’t regret it.

First five episodes available to stream now on Netflix

Disclosure

Essential viewing for film buffs, this documentary sees trans* representation in mainstream cinema through the eyes of the people whose voices matter in the coverage of trans* histories. The success of Disclosure’s format is due to its smart and straightforward structure; the documentary is comprised of a series of interviews with influential Hollywood figures, who analyse the presence of trans* people in the products of popular culture that their generations were attuned to.

What Disclosure makes clear is that popular media is capable of shaping people’s minds and imaginations, and to use this power responsibly Hollywood must make fair and accurate trans* visibility – in consultation with trans* people – a critical part of its present-day cultural vision. It is only fair that everyone should be able to get to see themselves illustrated on-screen, presented as the nuanced, bright and complex people that they should be – to let them feel loved, and to inspire young people to hope for an outstanding future.

Available to stream now on Netflix

One Night in Miami

Brought to the screen by Regina King, this adaptation of Kemp Powers’ stage play of the same name is a bittersweet celebration of great young minds and Black talent, blighted by an undercurrent of dread anticipating the loss of two of the gifted people in that hotel room in Miami. Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) (who was about to join the Nation of Islam and take up his chosen name, Muhammad Ali) – same place, same night. 1964.

King’s direction keeps the scenes tightly focused on the exchanges between four vibrant, contrasting characters – each of whom has their own perspective on the progress of Black civil rights in America, and all of whom are fighting for a common good, albeit in separate ways. What the film captures so brilliantly is the disquiet that is so often at the heart of political movements, the lack of cohesion weighing heavily on members who strive always to remain strongly principled in ways that meet their own unyielding expectations.

Available to stream now on Amazon Prime Video

Can’t Get You Out of My Head

As much as this sounds like hyperbole, Adam Curtis really is one of the most watchable documentarians in television today. He commands your whole attention without ever appearing on screen. This six-part series sketches out a history of power relations in the UK, USA, Russia and China by encompassing the views, movements and grievances of groups and individuals in the aforementioned nations.

Conducted through a mixture of archival mashups and narration, Can’t Get You Out of My Head journeys in and out of the human subconscious, tapping into fears but reaching out to the rational aspects of our natural though processes – if they exist. The docuseries is like an immersive, psychedelic experience, and gives you the chance to truly meditate on images and stories we see daily but frequently fail to connect together.

All six episodes available to stream now on BBC iPlayer

Possessor

A bizarre, seething body-horror with a moody score and elegantly dressed minimalist sets, Brandon Cronenberg’s most recent feature film is well-executed and creatively paced. Suspense ebbs and flows throughout, with moments of staggering brutality puncturing a gradual, sustained movement towards true mindlessness – a state of non-being, accompanied by nihilistic cruelty.

This film was capable of getting under my skin, inside my head – a troubling watch, but absolutely captivating. Cronenberg has found a way to take a fear of surveillance to new heights, enhancing the violating nature of complete invasions of privacy by introducing an element of human error. Possessor also demonstrates how easy it is to forget how to be a person when we cease to recognise the value of every life there is.

Available to rent now on BFI Player