Hidden Figures film review: This timely story is important, if a tad sentimental

 
James Luxford
A still from Hidden Figures
Hidden Figures
4.0

Dir. Theodore Melfi

One of the films vying for Best Picture at next weekend’s Oscars, Hidden Figures tells the fascinating story of three African-American women (Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae) who overcome prejudice to be vital in NASA’s first missions to space.

The issue of racism within the space programme is handled subtlety; rather than ugly slurs, there are doors shut in faces, separate bathrooms. This kind of unspoken racism is brilliantly embodied by Jim Parsons as a mistrusting engineer, and Kristen Dunst as a supervisor with “nothing against y’all”.

Henson has the most screen time as a brilliant mathematician who changes the course of John Glenn’s historic mission. Full of restrained frustration and dignity, the moments where she does tangle with the establishment are the highlights of the film.

Singer Janelle Monae impresses as the youngest of the friends, fighting to train as an engineer, while Spencer is as classy as ever (if a little underused). One surprise package is Kevin Costner as the Space Task Group director – the actor’s weary gruffness gives Henson an excellent sparring partner.

This glossy historical celebration leans towards the sentimental, but is timely and important nonetheless.

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