Australian director Warwick Thornton has been busy since winning the Camera d'or at Cannes with his debut feature, Samson and Delilah (2009). In addition to serving as cinematographer on Beck Cole's Here I Am (2011) and Wayne Blair's The Sapphires (2012), he has also directed the documentaries Art + Soul (2010) and We Don't Need a Map (2017), curated a collection of Aboriginal ghost stories in the Jackanory-like curio, The Darkside (2013), and examined Aboriginal spirituality in Words With Gods (2014), a portmanteau that also included contributions from Hector Babenco, Mira Nair, Hideo Nakata, Amos Gitai, Álex de la Iglesia, Emir Kusturica, Bahman Ghobadi and Guillermo Arriaga.

He returns to fiction with Sweet Country, a study of racial tensions in the Northern Territory of the 1920s that has been scripted by David Tranter and Steven McGregor. Flitting between flashes back and forward to present the unfolding saga from the perspectives of the principal characters, this is a period piece with a clear contemporary resonance. But its insights into human nature and racial injustice extend far beyond the Outback deserts captured so evocatively by Thornton's camera.

A decade after spending three years on the Western Front, Harry March (Ewen Leslie) arrives in the bush to make a new life for himself. He asks religious neighbour Fred Smith (Sam Neill) if he can borrow Aboriginal stockman Sam Kelly (Hamilton Morris) to do some odd jobs on his property. Sam brings his wife Lizzie (Natassia Gorey-Furber) and niece Lucy (Shanika Cole) with him. But the hard-drinking March takes a shine to the young girl and, when he fails to get her alone, rapes her aunt in his darkened shack after methodically closing the shutters to turn the screen black. He warns her that he will skin her if she says a word to her husband and she remains taciturn on the ride home.

As Fred is about to go into town, Sam asks if he will return Lucy to her mother, as he didn't like the way that March was looking at her. Meanwhile, March makes the acquaintance of his other neighbour, Mick Kennedy (Thomas M. Wright), who runs his smallholding with elderly Aboriginal, Archie (Gibson John), and the youthful Philomac (who is played by twins Tremayne and Trevon Doolan). Mick tells March that he had to fire Sam after they had a scrap over his lack of deference and agrees to lend him Archie and Philomac to complete his chores.

No sooner have they returned to March's hut, however, than he accuses Philomac of trying to rob him and chains him to a rock in the paddock. The boy manages to escape in the night and is hiding in Fred's outdoor dunny when March rides in demanding the return of his prisoner. As Fred had given Sam and Lizzie permission to sleep in the house, they cower beside the bed, as March fixes his bayonet to his service rifle and orders them to surrender Philomac. Having no idea what he is talking about, but determined to defend himself, Sam loads Fred's shotgun and blasts March in the neck when he kicks down the door.

Archie is appalled that Sam has killed a whitefella and urges him to head into the bush to avoid capture because no one will ever believe his side of the story. As Sam and Lizzie scurry away, Philomac steals March's pocket watch and sneers at him for mistreating him. He returns home and informs Mick that he didn't see what happened at Fred's place, but does make sure that Mick knows that March had shackled him for no good reason.

Fred returns to witness March's burial by fellow veteran and local copper, Sergeant Fletcher (Bryan Brown). Despite never having met March, Fletcher gives him a hero's send-off and vows to capture his killer. However, Fred insists on riding with the posse, as he wants to ensure that Sam is taken alive and given the chance to defend himself in a court of law. He objects when Fletcher refuses to let Archie sleep near the fire and brings a smile to the face of Constable Minty (Tom Willoughby) when Fletcher asks if he or Mick can sing and Fred pipes up with `Jesus Loves Me'.

Back on Mick's land, Philomac's uncle chides him for stealing March's watch. He accuses him of being no better than the whitefellas and warns him that being a `myall' will prevent him from understanding his own culture and being able to call on dreamtimes or chant to bring rain. The boy seems unconcerned, but he crops up in conversation around the campfire when Fletcher asks Mick if he is his son. When he nods, the sergeant recommends that he keeps him under control, as he will take him into care the first time he over-steps the mark.

The next morning, as Lizzie throws up and Sam spots a ceremony party from a rocky vantage point, Fletcher fails to notice that Archie has dropped back from the party and rides right up to the Aborigines in their loincloths. Minty brandishes his pistol and is knocked off his horse with a missile after shooting one of the warriors and he is slaughtered as his colleagues beat a hasty retreat. Fletcher is furious with Archie for delivering them into an ambush and he takes out his frustration on Fred when he suggests that they go home because Sam knows the bush too well to allow himself to be captured.

As Fred abandons the chase, Lizzie tells Sam that she thinks she's pregnant. He seems to put a spell on a scorpion so that it appears in Fletcher's boot and bites him in the toe. But he refuses to quit, even when they reach a vast salt flat and Mick and Archie turn back for home, after the latter suggests that Sam is now travelling alone. Fletcher rides on with no idea where he's going and is relieved when Sam comes out of the blazing sun to throw him water canteen. Turning away to rejoin Lizzie, she complains that he should be angy with March not her, as she didn't want to sleep with him. However, they make up after Sam rescues her from Aborigines attacking her at the side of a shallow pool and, that night, she snuggles up to him by the fire.

Fletcher also finds some water and daydreams about Nell (Anni Finsterer) the barmaid as he reclines. But there's no room for fond feelings back on the Kennedy plot, as Archie is jealous because Mick has given Philomac a pair of boots and told him to move his things into the old man's bunkhouse. He scolds him that he will always be a blackfella and that he will never be allowed to take over his father's land, just as he was deprived of his inheritance when he was captured and sold into what has amounted to a lifetime of slavery.

Back in town, a travelling showman (Sotiris Tzelios) uses a handcranked projector to give a screening of Charles Tait's The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906), which mythologises the exploits of the notorious 19th-century outlaw, Ned Kelly. But Fletcher stops the show, as he tears down the screen and curses the loss of a good man on a wild goose chase. He spends the night in Nell's bed and suggests that they buy some land and rear cattle with her adolescent daughter, Olive (Luka May Glynn-Cole). The next morning, however, he finds Sam and Lizzie sitting outside his office waiting to surrender.

Judge Taylor (Matt Day) arrives to hear the case and immediately has Lizzie released. He also summons Archie as a witness Mick drives him into town. Fletcher gloats to Sam that they will hang him high from the gallows being built in the main street. But Taylor insists on due process and sets up his court outdoors because he refuses to hold a trial in the pub. He calls Doctor Shields (Kenneth Longbottom), who describes March's wounds, and Archie, who explains how he had gone to find Philomac after March had chained him to a rock. When Lizzie takes the stand, however, she is too ashamed and afraid to reply when asked about March's behaviour towards Lucy and Fred takes her back to her seat (they are using the movie show's deckchairs) without her saying a word to help her hapless husband.

Sam is less reticent, however, and not only taunts Fletcher that he would never have caught him unless he had given himself in, but he also reveals that he only returned to town because Lizzie is expecting. When Taylor asks whether he could be the father, Sam reveals that he can't have children before describing how he shot March when he tried to blast his way into Fred's house.

On finishing his testimony, he stares across at Fletcher, who is sitting stern-faced behind the bench.

Taylor reconvenes the court the next morning, while Fred is reading from the Bible outside Sam's cell. The townsfolk are already rowdy from drinking in the pub and protect vociferously when Taylor announces that Sam had killed March in justified self-defence and is, therefore, free to go. When the mob close in, Fletcher raises his pistol and they back away, allowing him to remove the shackles and deliver Sam to Fred's safe keeping. Fletcher sees Fred, Sam, Lizzie and Lucy to the edge of town, while Mick bundles Philomac into his buggy. As they ride away, a shot rings out and Sam slumps back into Lizzie's lap.

Fred curses the coward who pulled the trigger and despairs of a country that can allow this kind of barbarism to go unchecked. Cross-cuts show Fred striding away from the murder scene towards a rainbow in the leaden sky and him supervising the raising of a church. Back at the Kennedy place, Philomac drops March's gold watch into the creek.

As the credits roll to Johnny Cash singing `(There'll Be) Peace in the Valley for Me', it's hard not to think back to New Wave classics like Fred Schepisis's The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978), as well as more recent tracts on bush injustice like Rolf De Heer's The Tracker (2007). Tranter and McGregor based their script on a similar trial in Central Australia in the 1920s, but Thornton also draws on the mythology of the Hollywood Western in exploring the way in which the indigenous populations have been portrayed through the genre's history. He also foregrounds the landscape around the MacDonnell Ranges, as he addresses both the connection between the First Australians and the soil and the outsider status of the white colonials who subjugated them and confiscated their ancestral homeland.

Despite the stellar presence of Sam Neill and Bryan Brown, Thornton keeps the narrative focus on the fugitives, who are played with dignified reserve by non-professionals Hamilton Morris and Natassia Gorey-Furber. Similarly delivering their lines in pidgin English and the Aboriginal Arrernte language, Gibson John and the Doolan twins also make a fine impression, although Philomac proves an elusive character, as Thornton denies us psychological access as the boy tries to work out where he stands in a situation he has caused by daring to run away and complicated by stealing from the corpse.

Teaming with son Dylan River on the visuals, Thornton atmospherically contrasts the ochres, silvers and greens of the scrubland with the hues rippling the dawn and dusk skies. He and editor Nick Meyers also make astute use of dissolves and superimpositions to convey the vastness of the wilderness and the insignificance of the humans traversing it. But Meyers also paces proceedings with a precision that carries over into Tony Cronin's exceptional production design and Heather Wallace's soiled and sweat-stained costumes. Together, they have created a frontier dystopia that seems to belong to another age. Yet, around the time this story was unfolding, Don Bradman was making his Test debut in the baggy green.

Scott Elliott and Sid Sadowskyj met on a bus when they were 16 and compiled a `dreamchaser'

list of things to achieve after their teachers assured them that they wouldn't amount to much.

Subsequently, the Yorkshire pals have gone on to amass a considerable fortune through a series of business ventures. But their burning ambition was always to make their own movie and Scott and Sid goes on limited release this week. Produced for just over £1.5 million, this is a rare example of an autobiopic and suggests that the duo have a decent eye for a telling image, considering that they prepared for the project by watching film-making videos on YouTube.

However, their storytelling skills will need honing if they are to become fixtures on the British screen scene.

In a busy opening segment, we see Sid (Tom Blyth) berating Scott (Richard Mason) in an empty office for taking a momentous decision without consulting him. Then, Sid sits in a deserted classroom and writes a letter to his absentee father about how his mother, Karen (Charlotte Milchard) descended into alcoholism after her own mother died. Another narrative leap deposits us in the back of a London cob, as Scott and Sid tell driver Mikey (Jerry Anderson) how they came to be en route to an important business meeting.

Things settle down, as we flashback to the day Scott is given the seat next to Sid in their York classroom. He scrawls Shakespeare's Twelfth Night quote about greatness on the desk top and spends lunchtime interrogating Sid about his life and likes. Dressed in an epauletted jacket with sunglasses and headphones completing the rebel ensemble, Scott is just as unhappy at home with forever feuding parents, Elaine (Juliet Howland) and Malcolm (Paul Lacoux), and seems to have problems with bedwetting.

Having cheeked English teacher Mrs Fin (Maggie Daniels) during a careers session, Scott is sent to see headmaster Mr Olsen (David Summer), who rolls his eyes at the fact that Scott has been expelled from four other schools and suggests that he rethinks his ambition to make films and gets a job in the DVD section of the local supermarket. Annoyed at being pigeonholed, Scott suggests he and Sid get a job that will earn them £10,000. However, he has other things to worry about, as Nanda (Ranj Nagra), who supplies him with under-the-counter vodka at his corner shop, is arrested and thuggish bootleggers Gavin (Colin Fox) and Nicky Watson (Andrew Porter) demand that he makes up the shortfall in their trade.

A comic montage shows Scott and Sid striving to start up an oven-cleaning round. But, as they tell Mikey, they were soon having to hire extra workers, while Nigel the school bull (Jake Botterill) was enlisted to help Sid shift his hooch. Just as things seemed to be looking up, however, Karen is rushed to hospital and Malcolm leaves home. So, in order to lift their spirits, Scott and Sid compile a bucket list and they set about ticking off the more pressing items by spending six days in London buying sharp suits, getting Sid laser eye surgery and helping him pop his cherry following an excruciating barroom encounter with good-time girls Jade (Laura Jean Marsh) and Tara (Danielle Brown).

Following this shoddily chauvinist sequence, the plotting goes a bit haywire. Scott and Sid become party planners, but Olsen finds out about their booze business and Scott is expelled.

Determined not to throw away his education, Sid persuades Scott to study by night while they keep making big bucks planning events for companies across York. Karen starts to sober up and they turn the cleaning business over to Nanda's daughter, Laila (Llila Vis). However, Scott throws a tantrum on being coaxed into going to university and he browbeats Sid into believing he is wasting his time by studying when he could be out in the world making money, meeting people and making a difference.

When Sid quits his course after two months, Scott is there to greet him and they decide to launch a magazine, even though they have shown no previous interest in publishing and have no idea what they are doing. Needed £15,000 seed money, Scott negotiates a ruinous loan with the Watsons and we revisit the opening empty office row when Sid finds out. He blames Scott for making him throw his chances away and brands him a worthless dreamer when Scott insists that he needs him in order to succeed. Yet, within hours, they have patched up and embarked upon Operation Elsa Fury that requires them to paint their faces in Braveheart blue to address their daubed workforce of ambitious twentysomethings.

Nothing is said about how this enterprise actually works, as it becomes an overnight success and Scott and Sid manage to outsmart the Watsons. As Scott tells Mikey, three years pass and they are minted. But, while Sid revels in being a young entrepreneur, Scott gets bored bouncing his pink rubber ball in his cavernous office. He informs Sid that he wants to jack in the business and make movies. They argue, with Sid suggesting that Scott grows up and recognises that life isn't just a series of ticks on a wishlist. But, even though they come to blows in the underground car park, Sid backs down (again) and they head to London to find investors.

As we're watching the picture, we know this remarkable duo managed to pull off another coup.

But, admirable though their ambition and tenacity are, they never quite manage to carry the audience along for the ride. Richard Mason and Tom Blyth are splendidly spirited in the title roles, but Elliot and Sadowskyj make too many presumptions and cut too many corners in trying to cram all of their adventures into a 100-minute feature. The biggest problem lies in the multiple ellipses between Scott and Sid having a get rich quick idea and it paying off without them seeming to do a stroke of work. This proves particularly problematic in the Elsa Fury sequence, which makes next to no sense.

Elliot and Sadowskyj also struggle to convince viewers that Scott is bent on becoming a director.

Apart from a passing reference to Steven Spielberg and Arnold Schwarzenegger, he shows no interest in films whatsoever. He doesn't spend all his time at the cinema or ploughing his way through piles of essential DVDs. Making movies seems to be just another whim for a restless maverick bent on proving his doubters wrong. The real-life pairing clearly keep overcoming obstacles and fulfilling their dreams and all power to them. But the Sid and Scott in this scenario seem to hop between crises like sleepwalkers who are making things up as they go along. Some might find this empowering and enchanting. But many more will be frustrated by the lack of down-to-earth grit in a potentially inspirational tale.

While the script has flaws, the technical side of things is impressively polished. Production designer Lauren Hinley contrasts the squalor of Sid and Karen's home with the cold comforts of the Elliott households before unearthing the various office sets that limn Scott and Sid's meteoric rise. Cinematographer Will Humpris makes nice use of the York locations, while editors Andrew Morrison and Chris Gill keep things moving at a brisk click to Ian Arber's electric guitar score.

So, Elliott and Sadowskyj have much to be proud of in this bold bow. But only time will tell how long they will remain bitten by the movie bug.

Curiously, this week also sees the emergence of another first-time director who has always dreamt of making movies. Like Elliott and Sadowskyj, Saila Kariat comes to cinema with several strings to her bow. Having earned a doctorate in electrical engineering, she held prominent positions at several high-profile Silicon Valley companies before teaching at Santa Clara University and setting up a custom housing business. Unlike her Yorkshire counterparts, however, Kariat also had two daughters and reached her mid-50s before deciding to take the film-making plunge. Her debut, The Valley, owes much to her own experiences. But it also reveals the influence of the classical Hollywood narratives that had captured her imagination as a young girl.

On the day his Virtually You company launches the Augur software that can take online data to help predict a person's future, Neal Kumar (Alyy Khan) drives to the coast, stands on the edge of a cliff and takes a gun out of his trouser belt. One year earlier, Neal had driven home with his wife Roopa (Suchitra Pillai), daughter Monica (Salma Khan) and housekeeper Didi (Samina Peerzada), who had been told off by Roopa for putting an urn of ashes on the mantelpiece of their plush house. Neal may be a big noise in Silican Valley, but his daughter Maya (Agneeta Thacker) has just killed herself and Roopa had not wanted to talk about what might have driven a young woman with the world seemingly at her feet to take such a drastic step.

A flashback shows Maya returning from college for Christmas and she is clearly happier to see Didi than Roopa. The family hosts its annual party and Maya sits outside by the fountain, as she doesn't see why she should have to be nice to people she doesn't know, let alone like. Neal talks her into coming inside and she shudders as Roopa introduces her to a cardiologist and his wife, who look down their noses at the fact she is studying engineering at a local college, while her sister is a high-flier they hope to pair off with their son.

Despite Roopa's misgivings, Neal vows to find out why Maya committed suicide, as he needs to understand her pain. He asks Monica if he did anything wrong, as he had always tried to provide for their every need. She suggests that he might have kept in better touch. But Monica also feels guilty because she had gone skiing with her secret boyfriend and left Maya at home alone when she evidently wanted to discuss her crush on a boy in her English class. Roopa also asks Monica if she had been a good mother and she avers that she might have given them more advice. They hug tearfully, but things remain tense with Neal, as he wants to find out about Maya's college friends, while Roopa is only prepared to chat about her tennis lessons because she needs to escape from her distress.

Neal gives underling David (Tom Fox Davies) a hard time at work over a big deal with Facenote and old pal Gary (Barry Corbin) warns him not to rush by sharing his ideas before his systems have been patented. Gary also warns that boss Andrew (Ashley Murray) likes David and that it wouldn't do to alienate him. Neal watches old home movies of Maya with her horse and recalls ticking her off for not paying enough attention when they went to visit a Zen meditation centre.

He asks Didi if she had noticed anything untoward at Christmas and she reveals that Maya had been unhappy at college, as she had no friends and when he admonishes her for not telling him, Didi protests that nobody listens to the help.

Determined to find out more about his daughter's life, Neal tracks down her roommate, Laura (Hope Lauren), a blonde bimbo who admits that she didn't really know Maya, as they ran with such different crowds. She had been out the day before Maya had thrown herself from their window and knew nothing about it until she came home to find cops everywhere. Laura is clearly regretful, but has little to offer. Thus, when she hands over the copy of John Steinbeck's The Pearl that Maya had been reading before she died, Neal is rude to her, as he wonders why she had kept it when it clearly wouldn't interest a girl like her.

Neal also meets Alicia (Christa B. Allen), who remembers that Maya was always sad and often cried for no reason. She suggests that Maya felt inferior to her parents, as Neal was so smart and Roopa was so beautiful. Neal admits that he was surprised that Maya was doing badly in physics, as he expected her to try, even though she was never a great student. He asks about boys and Alicia mentions Chris (Jake T. Austin), from her English class. However, she decides not to say too much, as she is dismayed by the way in which Neal keeps criticising Maya, as though she has somehow let him down for not taking advantage of the opportunities he had afforded her.

Sparked by Alicia, a flashback shows Maya talking to Chris while working on an essay on The Pearl. She loves the story and, when he asks why she isn't doing English, Maya admits that her father pushed her into engineering. Chris reveals he is from Steinbeck's birthplace, Salinas, and Maya is intrigued by the fact he wants to do industrial design. He invites her to a party at his fraternity house and she accepts, even though she finds socialising difficult. Alicia goes to flirt with a boy she fancies, leaving Maya alone. Chris smokes dope with Laura and makes a bet with his buddy that he can get Maya into bed. Laura isn't impressed, but Alicia ends her recollection by stating that Maya seemed okay when they left the party.

She also lets slip that Maya kept a journal and Neal makes inquiries about her belongings. He rants at an administrator when she apologises for the fact that the box must have gone astray in transit. That night, Neal drowns his sorrows in a bar, where the sight of a pearl necklace reminds him of the pearl pendant he had bought Maya. He had told her how it had been formed and had insisted that it had an unpolished perfection - like her.

The next day, Neal discovers that Chris has quit his course. He finds his address in a poor part of town and questions him about the party. Chris admits doing tequila shots and taking Maya to his room after she had become woozy. But he swears that he had not taken advantage of her and had left college because his mother was having money problems and not because he had anything to hide. He sneers that he doesn't expect him to know how that feels and Neal (who is the self-made son of an Indian village tailor) is nettled by the presumption he has always been rich.

As Chris leaves for work, he mentions that Maya had been worried about a meeting with her physics tutor. When confronted, Professor White agrees that he had told Maya that she needed 100% in her mid-term to get up to a C and recalls that she had cried when he had informed her that she had a poor grasp of the basic concepts. Neal complains he should have helped her more, but the physicist refuses to accept any blame for her death.

On returning to work, Neal botches a presentation to Facenote and David warns Andrew that he is slipping. A concerned Gary asks Neal if he is allowing Maya's demise to distract. But he promises to up his game and soft soaps David by allowing him to give a key speech at a board meeting. However, he remains fixated on Maya and plans to sue the college for losing her possessions. He is distraught, therefore, when he finds Maya's pearl pendant on Roopa's dressing table. She suggests that Maya must have forgotten it at Christmas and reveals that she now wears it for comfort. But Neal is heartbroken, as Maya had promised never to take it off, and he channels his frustration into humiliating David in front of the company brass by announcing ideas that will transform the entire Augur project.

Back home, after Roopa has placed the pearl pendant on the shrine in the prayer room, Neal orders Didi to come clean about the box of Maya's things and she says that Roopa told her to put it in the basement. He finds his daughter's journal and discovers that Maya had been horrified by the sight of Roopa kissing her tennis coach at an outdoor café and that Didi had told her to keep quiet. He also reads that Maya had passed out on Chris's bed and had woken up after he had unbuttoned her top.

Outraged, a drunken Neal obtains a gun from a shady character after the store owner had told him that he would have to wait 10 days to make a purchase under California law. He goes to see Chris and brandishes the weapon. But Chris insists he did nothing to harm Maya and suggests that Neal needs to take a good look at himself. Before he can respond, Chris's mother returns unexpectedly and Neal bolts for the door.

On returning home, he challenges Roopa about her affair and she protests that the coach makes her feel like she is the most important thing in his life. Neal fumes that he has given her everything she could ever have wanted. But Roopa explains that, ever since their marriage had been arranged, she had felt stupid around his genius friends and could never find the time to improve herself because she had the girls to raise. The loneliness finally got her when they went to college and she succumbed to temptation. When Roopa insists that she never planned to betray him, Neal produces the gun. However, she wrests it off him and declares that she can no longer live in this mausoleum of a house because it makes her feel as though she died with Maya.

One year later, Neal finds himself on the clifftop. Rather than shoot himself, however, he throws the gun away and goes to visit Monica. She confides that she always knew that Maya was his favourite, but doesn't blame him for what has happened and wishes that he would come home.

On venturing into the house, he is greeted by Didi, who reveals that she has been keeping the flame. Neal dines with Roopa and is pleased to learn that she has broken up with her coach. He reveals that he has resigned from Virtually You and they agree to forgive, forget and get back together. A montage of happier times ends with a shot of Maya at her dorm window and a gauzy image of the pearl pendant discarded on her desk.

Completed in a mere three weeks, this largely self-financed feature has the look and feel of a TV-movie. Despite the efforts of a decent cast, the dialogue is sometimes stilted, while too many characters have flashback knowledge of events they couldn't possibly have witnessed. Moreover, the scenes of Alyy Khan facing off against sneering company whizz kid Tom Fox Davies feel as melodramatic as his macho pursuit of Jake T. Austin in the mistaken belief that he had driven his daughter to kill herself by deflowering her. But Kariat approaches her themes with compassion and insight, having grown up alongside a brother who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and having been pressurised into studying electrical engineering by her demanding mathematician father.

She also keeps the camerawork simple and makes astute use of Steinbeck's 1947 novella about an impoverished Indian diver, who foolishly comes to believe that wealth is the solution to his problems. Kariat's story is more formulaic. But she examines the difference between paternalism and parenting, the pressures placed on arranged brides and the difficulty that Desi Indian daughters face in living up to their father's expectations with a measure of empathy and discretion that suggests she will do better still if she opts to make a second feature.

It's not been a good few weeks on the cine-front for Switzerland's reputation. Firstly, Valentina Pedicini's Where the Shadows Fall exposed the hideous Kinder der Landstrasse policy that was pursued by successive governments between the 1920s and 1980s in a bid to eradicate the travelling Yenish population. Now, in The Divine Order, Petra Volpe recalls the fact that Swiss women were denied the vote until 1971. Following the example of Sarah Gavron's Suffragette (2015), Volpe elects to recall an historical turning point through the eyes of a fictional character.

But she also seeks to couch the serious issues under discussion in gently comic terms that lay bare the religio-political conservatism that played as significant a role as patriarchal chauvinism in the withholding of electoral equality.

While the rest of the world was recoiling from the counterculture that bubbled to the surface in the 1960s, the small Swiss village where Marie Leuenberger lives with husband Maximilian Simonischek and their two sons still looks like the setting for a Heimatfilm. She cycles along undulating roads to see sister Rachel Braunschweig, who is married to cantankerous farmer Nicholas Ofczarek and their rebellious teenage daughter, Ella Rumpf, who wants to be allowed to date her older boyfriend, who is studying at the art school in Zurich. Leuenberger reminds her niece that lost reputations are not easily regained and insists that there is honour in being a housewife.

To prove her point, she goes home and washes socks, hoovers and makes the beds. She finds a porn mag under the pillow of her cantankerous father-in-law Peter Freiburghaus and flicks through the pages with the same look of wonder with which she gazes at the illuminated globe belonging to her boys, Noe Krejcí and Finn Sutter. This curiosity with the world prompts her to ask Simonischek if she can return to work at the travel agency where she trained. But he refuses to give permission for her to apply and jokes that she wouldn't be so bored with the housework if she got pregnant again.

He has just been promoted by factory boss Therese Affolter, who is a prominent member of the Anti-Politicisation of Women Action Committee that is campaigning to defeat a plebiscite calling for female suffrage. But, when Leuenberger goes into town (and allows Rumpf to go for a motorbike ride with her hippie beau), she is canvassed by the Herisau Womens' Association and stays up all night reading the pamphlets they give her when Simonischek reminds her (before going on a two-week military exercise) that Swiss marriage law gives him the last word in all domestic matters. Moreover, when Ofczarek arranges for Affolter to place Rumpf in juvenile detention for defying his will, Leuenberger refuses to donate when Affolter comes to her social club soliciting donations for the APWAC.

Affolter notes sniffily that Leuenberger's support for female enfranchisement is an irrelevance, as men alone can vote in the referendum. But seventysomething neighbour Sibylle Brunner is impressed by Leuenberger's defiance and reveals that she had campaigned for a change in the law in 1959. She hopes Leuenberger will join the cause and they book a room at the town hall to hold a meeting. Brunner's daughter, Bettina Stucky, wishes she would behave herself and is dismayed when she blunders into the café that she had lost because of her husband's wasteful ways. New owner Marta Zoffoli is an Italian divorcée and she takes an immediate liking to Leuenberger and the cigar-smoking Brunner and suggests they get new hairstyles together.

Leuenberger also buys a new yellow top and a pair of tight jeans. Freiburghaus is appalled and Krejci and Sutter are taken aback when she informs them that she will no longer be at their beck and call. Moreover, when she needs money for posters to advertise her meeting, she threatens to tell her husband about Freiburghaus's nudie mag unless he makes a donation. But, while Brunner delights in provoking the other villagers, Ofczarek is embarrassed by his sister-in-law and loses his temper when she persuades Braunschweig to visit Rumpf after she is transferred to a women's prison from running away from her detention centre. Upset by her daughter declaring her dead to her, Braunschweig throws in her lot with Leuenberger, who vows to fight on even though Krejci and Sutter are being teased at school because their mother's face is on posters across the village.

Leuenberger, Braunschweig and Brunner go to a women's lib march in Zurich and end up carrying a banner. They also attend a seminar on sexual awareness given by Swede Sofia Helin, who coaxes the trio into examining themselves with mirrors to determine their vaginal personality. Brunner smiles at realising she is a silver fox, while the 45 year-old Braunschweig is pleased to discover she's a butterfly. Leuenberger learns she is a tiger and goes dancing at a disco with thoughts in her head about orgasms and taking control of every aspect of her existence.

With Simonischek still away on manoeuvres, Leuenberger prepares to address the meeting.

Many opposed to the cause have come for the free refreshments and Leuenberger is horrified to see her husband coming home early just as she is about to speak. She refuses to leave the stage and presses on through the boorish heckling. But, when Affolter interrupts to state that most women don't want the vote and are happy with the way Switzerland works under male control, Leuenberger calls for a show of hands and is mortified when she sees her husband voting with the herd. She feels more betrayed when he storms out when she is hit in the face with a paper ball and the tears burn in her eyes, as she watches the braying menfolk deriding her.

When she gets home, Simonischek demands to know why she has changed so much and refuses to apologise for voting against her when he has always been in favour of female suffrage. She goes to the café to find lots of other women have gathered to discuss the evening's events.

Zoffoli suggests they go on housework strike until the men come to their senses and turn the pizzeria into a battle headquarters. They have a party and Leuenberger has fun playing bar football before chatting with Braunschweig during a sleepover. She confesses that Ofczarek hits her and regrets taking over the family farm when they had planned to emigrate to Canada.

Meanwhile, Simonischek tries to cook for his father and sons, who soon get tired of eating fried eggs. He also gets baited at work for allowing his wife to become a libber and gets into a fight with one of his mouthier colleagues. But he tries to bake an apple pie and stands up to the misogynist Urs Bosshardt when he leads a deputation to the house to order him to put Leuenberger back in her place. However, she is thoroughly enjoying the camaraderie of the sit-in, which has now been joined by Stucky, who admits to abandoning her legal studies when she married her doctor husband. As they eat a communal meal, however, a rock is thrown through the window and Leuenberger picks it up with a look of steely determination not to be intimidated.

She even refuses to be cowed by Simonischek when he comes to plead with her to call off the strike and come home. That night, however, Bosshardt leads a raid on the café and several women are dragged home by their spouses. As Brunner tries to protest, she suffers a fatal heart attack and tears are shed during a candlelit vigil. But the women go home the next morning, with Leuenberger returning to piles of dirty socks and a cold shoulder in the bedroom. However, she is invited to an interview at the travel agency and gets the job. Yet, when she breaks the news to Simonischek just after he presents her with holiday tickets, he suggests that they get a divorce if she is so unhappy in his home.

Packing a bag, she seeks sanctuary with Zoffoli and is surprised to find that her husband has followed her from Italy. Shrugging that she doesn't want to get old alone, Zoffoli joins the congregation at Brunner's funeral. The pastor speaks about her being a loyal woman who liked to serve her community. But Leuenberger rises to her feet to denounce the law that prevented her from keeping the bar after her worthless spouse died and Simonischek reaches a hand of support along the pew and she accepts it with a half-smile.

On the day of the ballot, the womenfolk make the men walk through them outside the polling station. But they celebrate together at the pizzeria when the result goes in their favour and Leuenberger narrates a closing coda that shows Braunscheweig tentatively patching things up with Rumpf, Ofczarek selling the farm, Zoffoli dumping her husband again and Leuenberger voting and orgasming for the first time, after she introduces Simonischek to the tiger between her legs. Captions accompanied by newsreel footage and Aretha Franklin's `Respect' inform us that the principle of gender equality was enshrined in the Swiss constitution in 1981, although a further nine years elapsed before Appenzell Innerrhoden became the last canton to give women the vote.

It's hard not to be pleased that Leuenberger manages to get it all at the end of this satisfying saga.

But, while Volpe tells her tale with calm assurance, she also allows a little cosiness to seep into the final reel, as the tears mourning Brunner become the smiles of crusading success and the sighs of personal fulfilment. Nevertheless, Volpe takes Swiss society to task for its failure to move with the times and she is ably served by the consistently quizzical Leuenberger and a solid ensemble. Brunner and Zoffoli could have done with sturdier backstories, while Rumpf's plight is allowed to slide into the margins before the trenchant resolution that sees her emerge from prison to hug Braunschweig and ride off with her boyfriend. An afterword about Affolter's reaction to the onrush of feminism might also have been appropriate, as she had been defying the odds in a man's world for several years by running her own company.

Production designer Timm Brueckner and costumier Linda Harper take the technical honours through their deft recreation of period styles, although cinematographer Judith Kaufmann also slips astutely between classical glides and handheld bustles to suggest the changing pace and tone of Leuenberger's existence. Editor Hansjörg Weissbrich similarly keeps things moving to make the quieter exchanges more poignant. Most importantly, however, Volpe resists preaching or mostly avoids judging yesterday's attitudes by today's expectations.

This year will see the 80th anniversary of the signing of the infamous Munich Agreement and the Czech Centre marks the occasion with a screening of Julius Ševcík's A Prominent Patient, a biopic of Jan Masaryk, who was serving as the Czechoslovakian ambassador to the Court of St James when Neville Chamberlain met Adolf Hitler to discuss the problem of the Sudetenland.

However, while it might make an intriguing makeweight on a double bill with Joe Wright's Darkest Hour, this peculiar picture tinkers with historical fact too often to be anything more than an anachronistic curio.

Having broken into a house to play the Czech national anthem on the piano, Jan Masaryk (Karel Roden) is arrested and delivered into the keeping of Dr Stein (Hanns Zischler) at the Vineland hospital in New Jersey in October 1938. The son of the founder of Czechoslovakia, he recalls how his father died on his birthday and the action cuts back to 13 September 1937, as Masaryk proves the life and soul of a party with Madla (Eva Herzigová), as he sings along with the band and snorts cocaine. The next morning, while suffering from a hangover, he pays his final visit to his father, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (Jirí Ornest), who urges him to do things his own way and to remain loyal to President Edvard Beneš (Oldrich Kaiser). Mother Alice Masaryková (Zuzana Kronerová) is furious with him for showing his 87 year-old father such little respect. But he insists on grieving in his own way.

Back on Stein's couch, Masaryk discovers that the doctor is a German exile. But he quickly shifts the focus back on to his patient, who bitterly regrets allowing himself to become something of a court jester during his time in London. But he arrives at the country seat of Sir Robert Vansittart (Tim Preece) in March 1938 with serious matters to discuss. He is frustrated by a lack of support from Britain and France in the face of repeated provocation from Nazi Germany. However, Vansittart insists that the best way for Beneš to show that he is willing to do business with Adolf Hitler would be to attend an international peace conference.

Beneš opposes the idea vehemently because it would give Sudeten German leader Konrad Henlein (Jirí Vyorálek) an opportunity to embarrass the Czechoslovakian government and claim a right to independence that would enable Hitler to adopt his cause as a champion of the oppressed. Having listened in on the phone call with Beneš, Masaryk's secretary, Blazenka (Emília Vášáryová), confides that her son in Bratislava is becoming increasingly worried by the situation. Yet, while he reassures her that things are not so bleak, Masaryk is disappointed when he dines with French ambassador Georges Bonnet (Milton Welsh) - after they attend an illegal bare-knuckle boxing bout - and learns that Paris is prepared to abandon a 1924 treaty to protect the integrity of Czechoslovakia because Britain doesn't think it could provide any worthwhile assistance to a landlocked country.

During their next session at Vineland, Stein asks Masaryk about whether his father had browbeaten him into politics. He recalls wanting to be a musician and having spent time in the United States in 1912. However, he had struggled to cope and had spun his father so many lies about his progress that he declared him a political natural. In fact, Masaryk often wished that he has died instead of his artist brother, Herbert, who had died of typhus at the age of 34 in 1915.

Following a lonely night smoking in his room, Masaryk is persuaded by Stein to keep a speaking engagement in Stone Harbour. He discusses the plight of the Jews in Europe and predicts that things could become catastrophic unless the nations stand up to Hitler. After his talk, Masaryk is introduced to journalist Marcia Davenport (Arly Jover), who thinks he is joking when he claims that he has to get home to the madhouse. She persuades him to go drinking in a nightclub and they cut a rug after sipping flaming glasses of absinthe. As she drives him back to Vineland, she kisses him and slips her card into his hand, with an offer to write about him when he is ready to talk.

Flashing back to May 1938, Masaryk meets Henlein in London. He informs him that he would be better off a king in a border protectorate than a prisoner of an empire. But Henlein is convinced that Hitler only has the best interests of the Sudeten Germans at heart and warns him that they will vote in a plebiscite to join the Third Reich or fight for their independence if provoked by Prague. That night, Masaryk is approached by army colonel Emanuel Moravec (Robert Jasków), who urges him to convince Beneš to show more steel in his dealings with Hitler and suggests that the army might be ready to defend the border even if the president is not.

During a phone call with Beneš, however, Masaryk promises to support him in whatever line he takes to preserve the peace.

As Christmas comes to Vineland, Stein finds Masaryk playing chess against himself. He reveals that he used to play correspondence chess with Sigmund Freud and admits that he fled Germany in 1934 because it had become too dangerous to be homosexual and to hold certain views on psychology. Masaryk sympathises with him, but reminds him that he only lost his clinic. He was forced to abandon his father's country.

In September 1938, Masaryk tries to grab a word with Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax (Dermot Crowley) at the opera. He is denied access by burly bouncers and storms down the staircase into the lobby, where he bumps into Vansittart. Although no longer working in the Foreign Office, he retains a keen interest in the Sudeten situation and informs Masaryk that Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Paul Nicholas) is planning to persuade Beneš into sacrificing areas with a 50% German population. However, he also reveals that there are opponents to the policy within the government and that he is not to lose hope.

On 19 September, Beneš meets with Prime Minister Milan Hodža (Ján Greššo) in Prague to co-ordinate a response to Chamberlain's proposals. They agree to send a delegation to Paris in the hope that France can be persuaded to honour its treaty obligations. Three days later, Masaryk receives a call at 2am to inform him that Britain and France will refuse to defend Czechoslovakia unless it cedes all territories with a majority German population. Masaryk demands to speak to Beneš, but his secretary (Martin Hofmann) says he has gone to bed, when he is listening beside him in agony at having been backed into a corner.

Jumping forward to March 1939, Masaryk reads about the occupation of Czechoslovakia and sneaks down to the pharmacy to find some cocaine. He is stopped by a black doctor and given a sedative after a struggle. Stein realises what has triggered the reaction and is taken aback when a telegram arrives from Beneš asking Masaryk to become his foreign minister in a government in exile based in London. He sits beside Masaryk's bed when he wakes up and is amused when he laments that he never got to punch Beneš for his betrayal.

On 23 September 1938, Masaryk learns from Halifax that Hitler has demanded the entire Sudetenland and has insisted that all factories, fortifications and lines of communication should be handed over intact. He hints that Britain would not blame Czechoslovakia if it mobilised its forces and, as we see a demonstration in Prague urging Beneš to defend the realm, Masaryk calls Beneš and advises him to set the troops in readiness and call on France to stand by its ally in the hope that this will convince Chamberlain that the Czechs are worth fighting for.

An imposing montage follows, as reservists heed the call to arms and tanks and aeroplanes are wheeled out in readiness. Masaryk dictates furiously to Blaženka before he has an audience with Chamberlain. He sneers at a cigar box with a map of the new Sudetenland inlaid in the lid and offends Chamberlain by viewing a family photograph off his desk. Declaring that nobody likes having their possessions snatched, Masaryk pleads with Chamberlain to resist Hitler's demands, as a failure to stand up to him now will merely delay the inevitable.

On 27 September, Chamberlain takes a plane from Heston. During the flight, Bonnet and General Maurice Gamelin (Pierre Peyrichout) break the news to Chamberlain and Halifax that France would be powerless to defend itself against an attack through the Ardennes. Thus, they would be prepared to sell out the Czechs in order to avoid a continental war. Chamberlain is appalled, but Halifax suggests that it might be possible to use Mussolini to persuade Hitler to moderate his demands.

The following day, Masaryk sinks into his chair with relief when he hears a BBC news bulletin state that Chamberlain plans to address the Commons and declare his readiness to go to war for Czechoslovakia. As he washes his hands before leaving, however, Chamberlain receives a telegram inviting him to a conference with Hitler, Mussolini and the French premier, Édouard Daladier. At the Czech embassy, Blaženka looks pained as she listens to the Prime Minister's speech on the radio (at a time when there were no broadcasts from Parliament!). On hearing that his government will be excluded from a discussion of its fate, Masaryk storms out to confront him as he leaves the chamber. However, he learns that Beneš has backed the Anglo-French approach and that his own efforts had been futile.

Two days later, Masaryk takes a taxi to Prague Castle and looks out of the window in dismay at the refugees trundling through the streets with their belongings on the back of carts. He learns that 12,000 more are huddled into Central Station and barges his way into Beneš's office to implore him to fight. However, as Beneš reveals in addressing the crowd from the balcony, it would be folly to resist Hitler alone and he recommends that they accept the loss of the territory agreed at Munich and stand firm in the hope that Britain and France don't come to regret their treachery in the near future.

By August 1939, Masaryk is no closer to leaving Vineland. Indeed, he scarcely seems concerned when the radio carries news of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. However, he agrees to take a car ride along the coast with Stein and is furious to see Beneš waiting for him on the beach. He tries to explain that he had to capitulate to save the lives of millions and exhorts Masaryk to return to London with him to join the government in exile to launch a fightback. But Masaryk refuses to have anything to do with traitors and lambastes Stein for trying to manipulate him. The doctor insists that he is not mad and needs to get back to work if he is to cure himself of his despair.

Left on the shore with just his overcoat, Masaryk sidles into a bar and puts a sad song on the jukebox. On 3 September, he sidles into the office of Marcia's newspaper and they share a coffee in a paper cup. She commends his shrink on getting him back to fighting fitness and, on 7 September, Masaryk makes the first broadcast on the BBC's new Czechoslovak service. As Stein receives a cable thanking him for his treatment, closing captions reveal that Masaryk remained foreign minister until the Communist coup in February 1948. He would be found below his office window on 10 March, with many believing that he was murdered by Soviet agents.

Given that it won 12 Czech Lion awards, it's clear that this handsomely mounted picture is held in the same regard in the Czech Republic as Darkest Hour and Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk are here. But, like them, it takes liberties with the facts that do much to undermine its credibility.

Masaryk, for example, didn't spend time at Vineland and didn't make the acquaintance of Marcia Davenport until 1941 and, even then, it's unlikely that she spoke with such a preposterously unAmerican accent. Spanish actress Arly Jover does what she can with a fairly thankless role, but it's no accident that her Best Supporting nomination was the films only blank at the Lions.

By contrast, Karel Roden is entirely convincing as Masaryk the prodigal son, the bombastic diplomat, the unstinting hedonist and the damaged soul. He is ably supported by Hanns Zischler as the entirely fictitious gay émigré psychiatrist and Oldrich Kaiser as Edvard Beneš, who remains as much demonised in Czech and Slovak territories as appeaser-in-chief Neville Chamberlain is in Britain. He is played with condescending pomposity by Paul Nicholas in a performance that rings all the more hollow when compared to Ronald Pickup's more nuanced approach in Darkest Hour.

Writing with Petr Kolecko and the late Alex Königsmark, Ševcík sometimes struggles to keep his timeframes in check and draw his intended parallels with the current European scene. He also succumbs to moments of grandiosity, such as the opening party sequence and the mobilisation montage. Curiously, he also excludes the Germans and the Italians in placing the focus squarely on the perceived act of betrayal that drove Masaryk to despair. Indeed, apart from a brief interview with Henlein, the Sudeten issue is viewed exclusively as a problem for Prague Castle and Downing Street, which drastically narrows its scope.

Following on from Restart (2005) and Normal (2009), Ševcík directs confidently. He is superbly supported by production designer Martin Štrba and cinematographer Milan Býcek, even though some of the stand-ins for the London landmarks are a bit dubious. Editor Marek Opatrný occasionally allows the pace to slacken, while Michal Lorenc's score is often overly emphatic.

But it's the screenplay's concocted convolutions that ensure that this must be dismissed as a work of speculation at best and fabrication at worst. Whichever it is, it certainly isn't history, although it would be interesting to learn why the scenes depicting Masaryk sleeping with Lady Anne Higgins (Gina Bramhill), the wife of Halifax's assistant, Sir Henry Higgins (James Flynn), have failed to make this cut.

Despite limping in behind George Misch's Calling Hedy Lamarr (2004), Donatello and Fosco Dubini and Barbara Obermaier's Hedy Lamarr: Secrets of a Hollywood Star (2006) and Johanna Gibbon's 2011 contribution to the BBC's Extraordinary Women series, Alexandra Dean's Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story cracks on as if it has scooped the world to revelations about the Austrian actress's screen career, troubled private life and remarkable achievements as an inventor. Admittedly, the debuting Dean has done well to secure interviews with all three of Lamarr's children and makes a decent job of marshalling the wide-ranging audio and visual material. But it's far too simplistic to claim that Lamarr was solely a victim of her beauty and the institutional chauvinism of the Hollywood studio system when her travails were clearly caused by a combination of these factors and both her own vanity and a psychological fragility that prompted her repeatedly to make poor decisions in her private and professional relationships.

`Any girl can look glamorous,' Hedy Lamarr once said. `All she has to do is stand still and look stupid.' Billed as `the most beautiful girl in the world', Lamarr was the model for Disney's Snow White and DC Comics's Catwoman. Yes, as Google animator Jennifer Hom insists, she was akin to a secret crime fighter, as she spent her spare time working on inventions that changed the world. Friend Mel Brooks and son Anthony Loder suggest she was judged on her looks when she should have been valued for her mind.

On Merv Griffin's chat show in the 1960s, Lamarr claimed she was `a simple complicated person' and Dean discovers no better way of defining her subject over the ensuing 85 minutes.

Granddaughter Wendy Colton regrets that Lamarr never got round to writing the autobiography that would have set the record straight, but Dean is happy to use the four-cassette interview that Forbes journalist Fleming Meeks conducted with the 76 year-old Lamarr in 1990 to provide the framework for her story.

Born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Vienna in 1914, the young Hedy was inspired by her banker father Emil to explore how the world worked. At five, she took her musical box apart and re-assembled it and biographer Richard Rhodes and archivist Jan-Christopher Horak sketch in details of her happy childhood with her wealthy, cultured parents. But, film historian Jeanine Bainger insists that her ambitions to become a scientist were derailed by her beauty. However, Hedy was well aware of how to exploit her looks and admits to Meeks that she was an `enfant terrible', who posed nude for photographs at 16 before taking her first minor screen roles at Sacha Studios in 1930.

Her destiny was sealed, however, when she appeared naked and simulated an orgasm in Czech director Gustav Machatý's Ecstasy (1933), which upset Pope Pius XI on grounds of taste and Adolf Hitler because Hedy was Jewish. Director Peter Bogdanovich and scandal specialist Anne Helen Petersen tut in unison about the sensational nature of the picture. But Lamarr tells Meeks that she merely did what she was told by Machatý, who threatened to stab her with a needle through the sofa to get the expressions he wanted. She recalls her father's disappointment with her comporting herself in such a manner and, as a result, she took the lead in Fritz Kreisler's opera, Elisabeth of Austria, and regained Emil's respect when she received rave reviews.

A few months later, the 19 year-old Hedy married munitions tycoon, Fritz Mandl, who was 14 years her senior. He treated her as a trophy wife who could entertain such illustrious house guests as Benito Mussolini. Actress Diane Kruger (who reads from Lamarr's writings throughout the film) denounces important men who treat women as eye candy, but hints that Hedy was also intrigued by the power she could wield through her beauty. She also informs Meeks that she enjoyed the luxurious lifestyle, even though one of the voices off insists that she was bored witless by the titans of industry she met at swish social affairs. Lamarr also declares that Mandl refused to let her near the factory, which supplied arms to Hitler, even though he refused to consort with Mandl because he was Jewish.

Biographer Stephen Michael Shearer suggests that Hedy grew tired of Mandl's possessiveness, although the threat of an imminent Nazi incursion into Austria also influenced her decision to disguise herself as a maid and flee by bicycle, with her jewellery sewn into her uniform. This episode is recreated in a stylised cartoon form that rather confirms the speculative nature of the narrative, as nobody seems entirely sure what Lamarr's motives were in fleeing to London in 1937. It was here that she decided to pursue her screen career after she ran into MGM chief Louis B. Mayer on a talent-scouting mission. Unhappy with his meagre contract offer, she followed him aboard the SS Normandie and made sure that he saw the reaction of every man on the liner in her bid to secure a more lucrative deal.

Renamed by Mayer's wife Margaret Shenberg after her favourite silent star, Barbara La Marr (who was known as `The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful'), Hedy cooled her heels while she studied English and only landed her first role, in John Cromwell's Algiers (1938), when Charles Boyer became entranced at a party and insisted on her being cast alongside him. This exotic remake of Julien Duvivier's Pépé le Moko (1937) made her an overnight sensation. But Mayer had no idea what to do with her - she would have been much better off at Paramount - even though Joan Bennett, Myrna Loy and Vivien Leigh all copied her centrally parted hairstyle. Mel Brooks says he wanted to go to Hollywood to marry her (or simply feel her up under the table - charming!).

Friend Robert Osborne reveals that the woman behind the sophisticated image enjoyed having fun. But she could also spring surprises, such as her second marriage to portly screenwriter Gene Markey. In a letter to her mother, Gertrude, she notes that he reminded her of Emil and the 23 year-old seemed genuinely smitten. Yet, shortly after they adopted a son, James, Markey cheated on Lamarr and she was shattered by the ensuing divorce. However, her anger goaded her into demanding better roles from MGM and the acclaim for her performance in Jack Conway's Boom Town led to further success in Clarence Brown's Come Live With Me, King Vidor's Comrade X and Robert Z. Leonard's Ziegfeld Girl (all 1940).

At no point, however, does Dean pause to assess Lamarr's qualities as an actress. Instead, Anthony Loder and sister Denise Loder-DeLuca protest that their mother was treated like a racehorse and forced to follow a regimen of sleeping and pep pills to ensure that she always looked her best in front of the camera. Yet, as friend Roy Windham intimates, Lamarr was more interested in showing mogul-cum-aviator Howard Hughes how to improve their aerodynamism of his latest plane by studying birds and fish. Her bid to create cola cubes proved less successful, but Lamarr never stopped having ideas.

Although manicurist friend Manya Breuer recalls Lamarr's refusal to admit to her Jewish ancestry, she remained committed to the fight against Fascism. Thus, even though the United States was still neutral, she began collaborating with avant-garde composer George Antheil on solving the problem of U-boats jamming the radio signals being beamed to torpedoes in the North Atlantic. Historian Guy Livingston and Loder explain how she hit upon the idea of `frequency hopping' to prevent the submarines latching on to the radio transmissions.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Rhodes recalls how engineer Robert Price claimed Lamarr stole the idea from one of Mandl's contacts and physicist Tony Rothman recalls Price comparing Lamarr to Mata Hari. But Rhodes insists that the Germans had not been working on such technology and posits that she might have been inspired by a remote control dialling device marketed by Philco.

We see it being used in a clip from Norman Z. McLeod's Topper Takes a Trip (1941) and Loder finds references to the Magic Box in his mother's papers.

Professor Danijela Cabric and inventor Nino Amarena aver that genius isn't always rooted in academic intelligence and credit Lamarr with recognising that Antheil was her ideal collaborator.

She had written her phone number in lipstick on the windshield of his car after meeting him at a party and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas reveals how she had recognised how the synchronisation apparatus he had perfected for Ballet Mécanique, his 1924 piece for 16 player pianos could be adapted to programme random torpedo codes.

Off-screen voices claim that Antheil teamed up with Lamarr because he wanted revenge for his younger brother's death. However, his plane was shot down by a Soviet fighter and it's not clear how building a device to confound Nazi subs would get Antheil even with Joseph Stalin.

Nevertheless, the pair submitted their proposals to the US Navy in Washington, only to have their patent shelved for being too fanciful to be practical. But, as Antheil's nephew, Arthur McTighe, points out, their idea to create a secret communication system using frequence hopping now underpins such staples of modern living as cellphones, wifi, satellites and GPS.

As Antheil had bills to pay, he decided not to refine the design and the 27 year-old Lamarr was hugely disappointed (speculates one off-screen voice) not to be given the opportunity to prove that she was more than just a pretty face. But, even though she was not yet a US citizen, she felt sufficiently patriotic to sell $53 million-worth of war bonds and was frequently on duty signing autographs and selling kisses at the Hollywood Canteen. Yet, in 1942, the government saw fit to confiscate her patent as the property of an enemy alien.

During this period, Lamarr kept making pictures like King Vidor's HM Pulham, Esq (1941) and Robert Siodmak's White Cargo (1942), in which she infamously played a seductive African native named Tondelayo. However, Dean opts against discussing the film's representation of race and follows the off-screen voice that asserts that Mayer divided women into madonnas and whores before proclaiming that Lamarr always believed she was the latter because of Ecstasy.

It's true that MGM put a woman who had invented a gadget that could have made a major impact on the war into a sensationalist potboiler designed to give frontline troops a glimpse of female flesh. But such a sweeping statements does little for the documentary's overall credibility, especially as we don't get to see who made it.

Having described how Lamarr came to resent Mayer for devaluing her and suffered suspension as a consequence, Dean leaps forward four years to the two features that Lamarr produced for herself: Edgar G. Ulmer's The Strange Woman (1947) and Robert Stevenson's Dishonored Lady (1947). Instead of exploring the boldness of such a step at a time when few actors were producing their own films within the studio system or analysing the quality of the work, Dean notes that Lamarr married her British co-star of the latter project, John Loder. Denise and Anthony clearly have little time for the father who abandoned them and they understandably lavish praise on their mother for making them feel loved at a time when she was being rejected by her profession as well as her husband.

A stroke of luck returned Lamarr to the cover of the Tinseltown fanzines, as Cecil B. DeMille paired her with Victor Mature in his glitzy Technicolor biblical epic, Samson and Delilah (1949).

Once again, however, Dean offers no evaluation of the picture or Lamarr's performance and fails to consider in any detail why her bid to produce a costume epic of her own in Europe turned into an artistic and financial millstone. Directed by Marc Allégret and Edgar G. Ulmer, Loves of Three Queens (1954) failed to find an American distributor and left Lamarr in the dire straits that prompted her to marry oil tycoon W. Howard Lee. But Dean is in too much of a hurry to discuss the end of Lamarr's movie career and whisks us off to Texas, where Anthony and Denise had a nice time while their mother designed a ski chalet in Aspen, Colorado. However, Lee was an alcoholic and Lamarr decided to leave him to spare the children. Unfortunately, on the day she was supposed to testify in court, her 11 year-old son was seriously injured in a traffic accident and the judge decided to punish her for sending her studio stand-in to give evidence in her place.

As a consequence, she lost the ski resort and suffered a nervous breakdown.

In speaking to Meeks, Lamarr claimed to have been dead for a while, as she saw her father in a bright light on the ceiling and granddaughter Lodi Loder claims that he was always the love of her life. However, Lamarr was capable of great coldness and Denise remembers the surprise of discovering she had an adopted brother and learning that James had been placed in a military boarding school after proving disruptive. When he asked if he could live with the coach and his wife, Lamarr disowned him and he reveals that they didn't speak again for four decades.

Nevertheless, he continued to love her and refuses to blame her for the breaking of the bond.

Anthony suggests that his mother had pieces missing to be able to jettison her Judaism and her son in such a manner. But he also insists that her increasingly erratic behaviour could be put down to the drugs to which she had become addicted during her time at MGM.

However, Lamarr also became involved with Max Jacobson and `Dr Feelgood' biographer William J. Birnes reveals that his famous vitamin elixirs were actually methamphetamine injections. Anthony claims these shots turned his mother into a monster, but Denise says she was a victim of the studio that used her up and wore her out. Yet, Lamarr continued to exploit her fame in order to survive in the 1960s. Although she had stopped acting, she remained a popular guest on chat and panel shows. However, she was hurt when Lucille Ball parodied her performance as Tondelayo in a 1965 episode of I Love Lucy, although she was more humiliated by a shoplifting charge the following year, which coincided with the publication of Ecstasy and Me, which had been ghostwritten without her full approval by Leo Guild and Cy Rice.

Although she was acquitted, Andy Warhol mocked her fall from grace in Hedy, or The 14 Year Old Girl (1966), in which she was cruelly played by drag queen Mario Montez. As a result of the scandal, Lamarr was denied her screen comeback in Bert I. Gordon's Picture Mommy Dead (1966) when her role was awarded to Zsa Zsa Gabor. In her 1969 interview with Merv Griffin and a young Woody Allen, Lamarr denied having an image to live up to. But she had started having plastic surgery in her forties and Dr Lisa Cassileth claims that many contemporaries asked for procedures similar to the ones that she had helped devise. However, the more surgery she had, the more damage she did to her face and she became something of a recluse.

In a German tele-interview (which provides the basis for the Dubini-Obermaier documentary), she expresses her homesickness and wishes she could make a film about the Viennese sights and sounds that had so enchanted her as a girl. As Lodi Loder reflects on the fact that she only met her grandmother twice in person and that the photos she sent her were studio glamour shots, we learn that Lamarr was left to exist on a stipend from the Screen Actors Guild and social security.

Yet, the frequency hopping idea had been appropriated by the US Navy in time for the Cuban Missile Crisis after they had allowed the patent licence to lapse so they could use it without paying royalties. However, frequency hopping expert David Hughes reveals that government scientist Romuald Irenus had harnessed the technology for a sonobuoy in 1955, a full four years before the patent expired. Moreover, he later thanked Lamarr on his website for the idea that had helped him make his breakthrough in creating sonobuoys and surveillance drones.

Meeks broke the story of Lamarr's scientific achievements in 1990 and she lived long enough to get recognition for her pioneering theories. Major Darrel Grob explains how the US Air Force's Milsatcom network relies on Lamarr and Antheil's designs. In 1997, Anthony went to collect a belated Milstar Award and his mother phoned him in the middle of his acceptance speech. He played a tape-recorded message in which she thanked them for their kindness in honouring her.

But she never received a dime before her death in January 2000 at the age of 85.

As a closing caption gauges that her invention would now be worth $30 billion, Dean leaves us with a lot of unanswered questions. If Lamarr was such a gifted inventor, why didn't she turn her hand to other projects in later life? Similarly, if she was so fiercely independent, why did she marry six unworthy husbands and come out of each marriage with little to show for it? What relationships did she retain within Hollywood and did she make any effort to relaunch her showbiz career after Harry Keller's The Female Animal (1958)? Why did she never get round to her autobiography after she had been so badly misrepresented by Guild and Rice? And why did she send a body double to court when she had a perfectly valid reason for postponing her appearance?

In fact, even when she does delve more deeply, Dean only provides sketchy explanations for Lamarr's inability to sustain relationships, her psychological decline and her ruinous dalliances with drugs and plastic surgery. A home-movie clip of her ravaged face is saddeningly shocking and one is left to wonder where the supposedly impoverished actress got the money for such procedures and why no one tried to dissuade her from having them. It's frustrating that Dean pays so little heed to Lamarr's filmography, as she is nowhere near as negligible an actress as most critics would have you believe. Much more attention should have been paid to her bid to branch out as a producer and to make a proto-feminist stance against the misogyny of the studio machine.

Yet, despite these demerits, this is a sincere attempt to give Lamarr her long-denied due (surely it wouldn't kill one of the communications giants to name a product after her?). Far too many of talking heads have little to contribute, while several of the more salient points are made without on-screen attribution. Moreover, Dean might want to revisit the segments on Louis B. Mayer and his treatment of his female stars in light of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. But this still makes an informative introduction to a woman who should be a household name because of her intellect rather than her iconicism.

Recently seen in Philippe Garrel's Lover For a Day, French actor Eric Caravaca follows his directorial debut, Le Passager (2006), with the deeply personal documentary, Plot 35. Delving into a family tragedy that has become something of a taboo, Caravaca dedicates the film to François Dupeyron, who directed him to the César for Most Promising Male Newcomer in C'est quoi la vie (1999) and a nomination for Best Actor for his work in The Officers' Ward (2001).

Following a home movie shot of a simple white house in Casablanca, Caravaca asks his mother about his sister, Christine, who died before he was born. She recalls her being a sweet-natured child who had been diagnosed with a heart murmur. But she is evasive about specific details, even as she describes how the three year-old succumbed to blue baby syndrome. As he explains how he was prompted to make his film by a feeling of sadness that overcame him in the children's section of a Swiss cemetery, Caravaca shows us footage of his parents' wedding day and he pities the happy couple who would shortly have to endure the unthinkable.

He interviews his brother, Olivier, who agrees that the silence over their sister has always struck him as odd. But their parents have always been slightly mysterious, with their mother hiding her date of birth and changing her name from Angela to Angèle, Germaine and Catherine before returning to Angela. Caravaca digs out the family register and notes that his father also re-christened himself by dropping the `o' from his given name, Gilberto. He also finds their old passports and discovers that, on the day Christine died in 1963, his father had flown from Algiers to Casablanca, while his mother had arrived in the Moroccan city from Paris. Thus, even though she has always said that she had found the toddler in her cot, she hadn't even been in the country and Caravaca is keen to find out why.

However, he knows he faces an uphill task, as the family has a history of shrouding events in secrecy. In 1974, his mother's brother, Francisco, had had a boating incident while they were holidaying in Majorca. She had informed his nephews that he was on an iron lung in hospital and gradually stopped talking about him, even though he had been living with them since separating from his wife. Yet they later discovered that Francisco had died on the day of the accident and had, like Christine, simply been airbrushed out of the picture.

Having looked up blue baby syndrome online, Caravaca realises that it's common among Down Syndrome infants and asks his mother if Christine had been so afflicted. She denies there was anything wrong beside her heart condition and dismisses the notion that she didn't keep any film or photographs because she was ashamed. Getting slightly flustered, she claims not to have kept any images because there was no point in crying over them. But she did put her photograph on her tombstone at Plot 35 in the French cemetery in Casablanca, although she never visited the grave, as she had been brought up to leave the dead to themselves.

Caravaca takes the ferry to North Africa. He reveals that his grandparents settled in Morocco from Spain in 1912, His grandfather had been a successful bootmaker and both parents had been born in 1935 with dual citizenship. They had met in the 1950s and he contrasts the happy home movies of their affluent circle with the monochrome newsreel images of the brutal repression of those fighting for independence. The 8mm trail ends the moment Christine is born in 1960, when the family had relocated to Algiers for Gilbert's work as an engineer. However, following independence in 1962, they had returned to Casablanca and Caravaca illustrates this passage with footage of violent street demonstrations. It was here that Christine died on 24 September 1963, but Gilbert and Angela didn't stay long to mourn her, as they left almost immediately for France.

Armed with a burial certificate, Caravaca goes in search of her grave at the Ben M'Sik Cemetery.

But Plot 35 is missing and he only locates the spot because he knows she was interred near her grandparents. On finding the grave (which gives her death date as 23 September), Caravaca is surprised by how well tended it is compared to that of his maternal grandparents. He is disappointed to discover, however, that the photograph has been removed from the headstone.

The caretaker confides that a woman keeps the flowers neat and promises to put Caravaca in touch with her.

Wandering around the city, Caravaca finds the church in which his parents had married and the factory where his father had worked. Someone has scrawled `It's All About the Memories' on a wall and Caravaca juxtaposes a newsreel commentary about the good things that France did for the Maghreb with images of locals being gunned down unarmed by French troops. He notes that the nation has stopped talking about the conflicts that ended the colonial adventure and draws an oblique parallel with Gilbert and Angela deciding there was nothing more to be said about Christine.

On returning to the cemetery, Caravaca discovers that the woman who tends the grave lives in Spain. She is called Claudia and she explains over the phone that Christine is next to her mother and she was so shocked to find the grave desecrated so soon after the burial that she decided to tidy it up and has since treated Christine like her own daughter. Claudia is surprised that Angela didn't keep any photographs, as she recalls Christine having long blonde hair and blue eyes. This conversation convinces Caravaca to leave his sister in Casablanca, as he had been considering bringing her back to France.

He now interviews Gilbert, who is suffering from cancer. According to him, Christine was a Down Syndrome child and died at four months. Despite Caravaca querying the age, he insists she was very young and remembers how deeply scarred Angela had been by the experience.

When he asks her again about whether there had been anything wrong with her daughter, Angela becomes defensive and says all children require time and effort and she denies that Christine had needed more than most.

Cutting away to Nazi propaganda footage of children suffering from various physical and intellectual difficulties, Caravaca dwells on an awful caption that reads: `It is only charity to deliver those one can't cure.' He then reveals that Gilbert died almost 50 years to the day that Christine passed away and he is touched by the fact his room looked out on to a palm tree that would have reminded him of home. Perhaps because he could never seen Christine, he decided to film his father on his death bed.

Following a travelling shot along a misty forest road, Caravaca goes to the National Centre of Cinematography to show how archivists attempt to preserve decaying celluloid. We see a glossy print of the Lumière record of a train entering a station and a clip of Caravaca home movie, as he suggests that these flickering images bring those captured by them back to life. Then, during a family reunion, cousin Jean-François Mondéjar reveals that Christine had lived with his parents for a while in the Oasis district of Casablanca.

During their interview, Jean-François remembers Christine having a delightful chuckle when he played with her Donald Duck toy. He describes how he found the lifeless body and went to fetch his mother. Moreover, he suggests that Angela was keen to hide the fact she had given birth to a Down Syndrome and had been eager to leave Morocco and start afresh as if nothing untoward had happened.

Caravaca is now able to piece together the story. His mother had no inkling she was expecting anything other than a healthy baby throughout her pregnancy and had been so shocked by Christine that she had moved to Algiers to be as far away from the rest of the family as possible.

However, any hopes she had that the child would grow out of her condition and start speaking were dashed and she decided to move to France after the Algerian War broke out. Unfortunately, they were regarded as foreigners in La Patrie and Angela slipped into a depression that persuaded her to leave Christine with her sister in Casblanca, where she died.

In France, Angela and Gilbert rebuild their lives with Eric and Olivier, as they move between Rennes, Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, Fontenay-sous-Bois, Amboise and Rouen. We see happy family snapshots and, yet, Caravaca insists they all lived with the ghost of Christine, even though she was never mentioned. He interviews the 82 year-old Angela about losing her mother when she was eight and being told she was sleeping when she kissed her goodbye on Christmas Eve.

Another five years would pass before she discovered what had really happened and was disturbed by the news that a five month-old baby had still been alive when their mother had died.

She says she wishes she had been told the truth and unflinchingly reminds her son that he had been brought up to be honest - even though she has remained in denial about her daughter for over half a century.

Returning to Casablanca, Caravaca visits the house where Christine died. It now belongs to Naïma, who used to work for the family and has some keepsakes. Among them is a photograph of a baby girl, with Angela's handwriting identifying her as Christine. Silent home movie footage shows Angela descending the steps of her marital church and posing with Olivier in Casablanca.

She visits her daughter's grave and the film ends with a close-up of the headstone with the rediscovered picture of Christine restored to its rightful place.

Although he doesn't quite succeed in making the connection between Christine and the colonial legacy, Caravaca still draws the audience into this poignant episode from his family's past.

Acting as narrator and inquisitor, as well as writer and director, he shows great tact in coaxing Angela towards an acceptance of her actions and the closing coda accompanied by Florent Marchet's mournful score is deeply moving. It seems slightly surprising that the brothers had not thought to consult cousin Jean-François before about his memories of the early 1960s, but Caravaca teases out the revelations in the manner of a police procedural, which makes the denouement all the more effective.

Offering some intriguing insights into the nature of truth - especially as it's told to children by well-meaning grown-ups - this is also a thoughtful treatise on memory, suppression and changing attitudes towards disability. It's also an examination of motherhood and the status of women in both European and Maghrebi society in the immediate postwar period. Primarily, however, it's an effort to reconnect Christine with her family and preserve her place in the future by restoring her faded image.

There's a change of approach at the Regent Street Cinema on 8 March, as CinemaItaliaUK presents a selection of shorts under the banner Women in Revolt: Daughterhood. The five films will be followed by a panel discussion and there is sure to be much to talk about given the issues that have arisen around the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns.

The longest of the quintet is Payal Sethi's Leeches, which explores the hideous phenomenon of one-day brides. Set in an impoverished Muslim neighbourhood of Hyderabad, the story centres on Sayani Gupta's bid to prevent her illiterate mother (Najma Nusrat) from selling her mute daughter (Preeti Golacha) into a marriage arranged by the shifty Mohammed Abdul Razzak. On discovering that her sister is to be married to an Arab sheikh who demands a virgin, Gupta consults an old woman about feigning purity in order to take Golacha's place.

A Vassar graduate who worked with Mira Nair on Hysterical Blindness (2002), Vanity Fair (2004) and The Namesake (2007), Sethi makes a powerful impression with this tense and deeply unsettling exposé. Full of glimpses of casual machismo and the ways in which poverty and ignorance are exploited by both male and female marriage brokers, this resists a full-on denunciation of the religio-cultural aspects of this archaic practice. But few will be anything but repelled by what they see.

The abuse of parental power is also the theme of the shortest offering, Alanna Nikol's four-minute animation, Forest of Berries. Produced as a thesis film for the School of Visual Arts in New York, it follows Alula as she makes her latest attempt to run away from her domineering father. As she runs into the woods, however, she hurts her leg and she is rescued by a grotesque creature who shows her nothing but kindness. Realising she can't stay, Alula has her protector return her home. But, when her father rallies the villagers to burn down the forest, Alula clambers back on the creatures shoulders and they disappear into the flames.

Making inspired use of purples, reds, magentas and yellows, this computer-animated fairytale is both quietly moving and visually stunning. Although Nikol clearly has a gift for the moving image, she would also make a fantastic children's book illustrator.

Another daughter finds herself unaware that she is in a fairy story in Gökçe Pehlivanoglu's The Yarn. Young Dora (Alis Ikizler) travels in a camper van with her Greek father Angelos (Dimitris Makalias) and his companion Derya (Merve Polat). They stop for lunch at a curiosity shop, where Angelos rustles up some barbecued peppers before giving a puppet show about a mermaid who saves a drowning prince only to lose him on the shore to a beautiful princess.

Arriving at a quiet beach on the Turkish side of the Aegean Sea, Derya goes swimming while Angelos and Dora collect shells. As she communes with the fishes in the clear blue water, Derya spots the puppet prince lying on a rock. But, when she comes to the surface, she realises she is off the Greek coast and sees Dora playing with Angelos and his wife, Theodora (Deniz Ikizler).

Beautifully photographed by Panagiotis Charamis, this is a delightfully deceptive variation on the mermaid myth. The blissful nature of the leisurely day spent driving, eating, singing and sharing makes the twist all the more disconcerting, as Polat rises up to be confronted by a cruel reality that sends her seeking solace in the deep with a splash of her tail. Quite lovely and exquisitely sad.

The daughter is the one to get the surprise in Ellie Rogers's Outlines, as teenager Helen Daniels returns to her father's high-rise apartment from a cancelled practice at school to find Stuart Sessions entertaining Irish escort Niamh McGrady. While he dozes upstairs, Daniels steals the cash from an envelope on the table and settles down to her homework. She tries on a fake nose ring, while waiting for a pizza to be delivered.

McGrady is horrified to see Daniels, as she comes down to collect her money and leave. She surveys the nocturnal London skyline and teases Daniels about the ring in her nose. However, she is taken aback when Daniels reveals that her late mother was also Irish and reassures her that this is her first visit. They are disturbed by a knock on the door and McGrady is amused to see how flustered Daniels is by black delivery girl, Lauren Cato (who also has a nose ring). So, when Daniels hands over McGrady's purloined payment, she offers to pierce her nose for her. But they are interrupted by an abashed Sessions.

Packing a lot into its 15-minute running time, this deft chamber drama ends perfectly with a star jump and a smile. One would like to think that Daniels and McGrady will hook up again, but Rogers leaves virtually all the loose ends untied in a subtly witty and taut piece of storytelling. A graduate of Bournemouth Arts Film School who recently won a Children's BAFTA for the BBC's History Bombs series, Rogers cites Céline Sciamma, Lynne Ramsay and Lukas Moodysson among her influences. But she already has a distinctive voice of her own.

Finally, a daughter struggles to make herself heard in Marc Hardman's Mother. Written by star Jumaan Short, this mini saga centres on a young woman debating whether to go through with an abortion. Her onetime actress mother, Miriam Margolyes reminds her that her pregnancy cost her her career, as she fusses over the breakfast table and tries to cheer up Short by getting her to dance. She continues to chatter in the taxi and in the waiting-room, where Short has a reverie about being able to tell Margolyes to stop talking and do some long-overdue listening. But mother and daughter finally find themselves on the same wavelength when Short hears her name being called.

Ending with Short having an ultrasound and discovering that she's expecting a girl, this is the weakest of the films on show. The performances feel mannered and there's no real sense that Short and Margolyes are related. Moreover, the narrative is too clipped to sketch in sufficient backstory. Thus, while the situation is clearly excruciating, it's feels detached from life.

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