5 Best Movies to Watch by Alex Jennings

Staff & contributors

, 2016

Here’s a based-on-a-true-story courtroom drama that transcends the limits of its genre by virtue of an incisive and unexpectedly prescient script. Twenty years before 2016 sent us hurtling through the looking glass and into a post-truth era, the idea that you could deny the facts as you pleased teetered terrifyingly on the brink of legitimacy when author David Irving (a suitably odious Timothy Spall) brought a UK libel suit against Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz), an academic whom he claimed had defamed him for calling him exactly what he was: a Holocaust denier.

The case was complicated by the fact that, at the time, the UK placed the burden of proof on the defendant — in other words, Lipstadt’s hotshot legal team needed to prove that the Holocaust happened and that Irving had wilfully misrepresented evidence demonstrating this. Denial captures that terrifying farcicality and the defense’s cleverly counterintuitive strategy: not allowing Lipstadt or Holocaust survivors to speak. If that sounds unsatisfying — this is the rare courtroom drama with no grandstanding speech from the protagonist — that’s the point, something the film’s title cleverly alludes to. Perhaps unexpectedly, Denial’s relevance has ballooned since its release, a fact that might hobble its hopeful ending but that only makes the rest all the more powerful.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Abigail Cruttenden, Alex Jennings, Amanda Lawrence, Andrea Deck, Andrew Scott, Caren Pistorius, Daniel Cerqueira, Edward Franklin, Elliot Levey, Harriet Walter, Helen Bradbury, Hilton McRae, Ian Bartholomew, Jack Lowden, Jackie Clune, Jeremy Paxman, John Sessions, Lachele Carl, Laura Evelyn, Mark Gatiss, Max Befort, Mick Jackson, Nicholas Tennant, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Paul Bailey, Paul Hunter, Pip Carter, Rachel Weisz, Sally Messham, Sara Powell, Sean Power, Timothy Spall, Todd Boyce, Tom Clarke Hill, Tom Wilkinson, Will Attenborough, Ziggy Heath

Director: Mick Jackson

Rating: PG-13

, 2013

When it comes to British period dramas, aristocrats are rarely portrayed as Black until relatively recently, with colorblind casting tending to focus more on acting talent rather than how race would affect and shape a character. That being said, while rarely acknowledged, Black descendants of British aristocracy actually did exist, and one of whom has been depicted in Belle. With the excellent Gugu Mbatha-Raw making her film breakthrough here, Belle reckons with the difficult questions of race and sex in 18th century Britain, contemplating the real woman’s options in a world determined entirely by blood and inheritance, a discussion brushed aside in other period dramas, but one that should be examined. While director Amma Asante does take plenty of liberties in the actual facts, she also excellently balances both the fictional romance and the historical realities Dido Elizabeth Belle had faced, making both parts as compelling and as essential as each other.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alan McKenna, Alex Jennings, Andrew Woodall, Daniel Wilde, Emily Watson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, James Northcote, James Norton, Matthew Goode, Miranda Richardson, Natasha Williams, Penelope Wilton, Sam Reid, Sarah Gadon, Tom Felton, Tom Wilkinson

Director: Amma Asante

Rating: PG

It isn't even just because it's a sequel, but every bit of Your Christmas or Mine 2 seems like it was sourced from other films with more personality, resulting in a stew of holiday tropes driven entirely by contrivances and conflicts that should be more easily resolved. And yet there's something that keeps the film far more tolerable than insufferable, as both Asa Butterfield and Cora Kirk compensate for the artificiality of the drama with authentic emotion. There are funny moments throughout and a decent supporting cast (who are given precious little to do), but all this adds up to a film that still feels like it was meant to be played in the background.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alex Jennings, Angela Griffin, Anna Behne, Asa Butterfield, Christopher Sherwood, Cora Kirk, Daniel Mays, David Bradley, Jane Krakowski, Karl Markovics, Natalie Gumede, Ram John Holder, Rhea Norwood, Simon Hatzl

Director: Jim O'Hanlon

Rating: PG-13