Mel is back in his gritty comfort zone

Timothy Barber
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Cert: 15

FOR those old enough to remember, Edge of Darkness was originally a critically acclaimed BBC thriller broadcast in the mid-80s. Its director, Martin Campbell, went on to Hollywood success – including making the best Bond film of recent times, Casino Royale – and he’s now brought his old TV hit to the big screen

After a few years away from the screen directing and dealing with his private troubles, it’s a bit of a shock to see how old Mel Gibson looks at 54. His star power isn’t in doubt though. Gibson plays Thomas Craven, a homicide detective whose grown-up daughter gets gunned down on his doorstep. Was the bullet meant for him? Craven’s colleagues certainly think so, but his own suspicions lead him down that well-trodden path of shady companies, corrupt government officials, and mysterious hit men – in this case played with a bit of fun by Ray Winstone.

There’s isn’t much here we haven’t seen before – even the wide-eyed, grieving dad-on-the-edge is a role Gibson’s wheeled out before in Lethal Weapon and Ransom. But he does it very well, and Campbell shows he’s still a safe pair of hands for creating an absorbing, efficient thriller. It won’t win awards, but this is solid Friday night fare – and it’s good to have Mel back.

Cert: 15

IT’S a tough watch, but this adaptation of a novel that was a hit with American teenagers is a powerful and inspiring tale. Set in 1980s Harlem, it stars Gabourey Sidibe as Claireece “Precious” Jones, an obese, 16-year-old black girl born into a life of utter misery.

She has been raped and impregnated by her often-absent father for the second time, her horrifically damaged mother (a terrifying performance from comedienne Mo’nique) torments her verbally and physically, and she’s bullied at school. On top of all that, she can neither read nor write. And that’s just the set-up – like I said, it’s a tough watch.

Mariah Carey pops up looking extraordinarily dowdy and very convincing as a world-weary social worker who seems resigned to her inability to change the lives of people like Precious. However, a ray of light appears in the form of an experimental school that offers her the chance to become literate, to express herself and to escape her mother’s abuse.

There are moments in this film that freeze the blood, and even the hopeful direction Precious’s life begins to take does not mean they are over. But it’s a terrifically told story, and in the title role, Sidibe has just the right amount of quiet dignity as the girl determined to get ahead despite what life throws at her.

The Royal Academy

OSTENSIBLY, the purpose of the Royal Academy’s exhibition is to readdress the popular notion of Vincent Van Gogh as a crazed, genius nut-job who couldn’t even kill himself right but could produce thrilling paintings of sunflowers, fields and starry nights. By showing his works alongside his letters – of which there are several hundred surviving, to friends and particularly to his brother and mentor Theo, and 35 displayed here – we see another side of Van Gogh: a lonely, troubled man, but one who knew what he was doing and where he was going with his art, if not his life.

Well that’s as maybe. The letters are revealing and absorbing and do suggest a more fulsome character than the lunatic who Kirk Douglas depicted in the biopic Lust for Life, and a host of beautiful drawings here reveal more of his art. But so do the paintings themselves, and they make this show magnificent whether you pay close attention to the letters or not. A large portion of Van Gogh’s most important works are here, some never seen in this country before, others not for several decades.

So we have his wonderful portrait of his postman; swirling, swaying Cypress trees; luminous blue irises in a field of corn; wheat fields with clouds bubbling into the sky. They are paintings boiling over with energy and life, full of dazzling, luminescent colour. It’s 40 years since a major show of Van Gogh’s works in this country, and it was worth the wait.