The ballet biopic has taken some interesting steps in recent times and Wim Wenders's Pina (2011) and Jacqui and David Morris's Nureyev (2018) is now followed by Icíar Bollaín's Yuli: The Carlos Acosta Story. Adapted from the Cuban dancer's autobiography, No Way Home, this is the third narrative collaboration - after Even the Rain (2010) and The Olive Tree (2016) - between the Spanish director and her British screenwriting partner, Paul Laverty, who is best known for his association with Ken Loach. 

Arriving at the Cuban National Ballet after driving through the vibrant streets of Havana , Carlos Acosta (playing himself) sits in on rehearsals while flicking through the pages of a scrapbook. He recalls breakdancing as a 10 year-old boy (Edlison Manuel Olbera Núñez) and begrudgingly accompanying parents Pedro (Santiago Alfonso) and Maria (Yerlín Pérez) to an audition at the prestigious ballet school. Convinced dancing was not for real men, Yuli had refused to co-operate. But Chery (Laura De La Uz) recognises his talent and offers him a place, which he accepts at the insistence of his mother and father, who are too poor to live apart, even though they have been divorced for some time. 

Such is the Hispanic Maria's growing sense of desperation that she agrees to leave Yuli and Marilin (Anyeley Kwei) behind so that she can flee to Florida with her mother, sister and eldest daughter. Berta (Andrea Doimeadiós). Pedro is dismayed and takes Yuli to the plantation, where his ancestors had been slaves. He describes the indignities and punishments they had suffered, but reminds him that he belongs to the Ogun warriors and should always be proud of his Yoruba heritage. 

Back in the present, Acosta dances an interpretation of this brush with his past (playing his father, while Mario Elias assumes the Yuli role) and surprises the other members of the company by revealing that he only ever made this journey in his mind. As we return to the 1980s, Maria decides to stay in Havana. But Yuli detests his classes and runs away from the school. He finds himself in Vittorio Garatti's National Arts Schools and overhears a guide telling a party about how it was built on the site of a former country club after Fidel Castro and Che Guevara had hatched the idea while playing its final round of golf. However, when Soviets had considered it a luxury and the project had been abandoned before it was completed. 

When Pedro is jailed after a motorcyclist is killed by running into the back of his truck, Yuli goes off the rails and Chery has to come to his neighbourhood to drag him off to a concert. She cleans him up as best she can in the back of a car, while other staff members berate Yuli for throwing away a golden opportunity. He performs with aplomb and takes Pedro a photograph to show him how well he is doing. Indeed, he lies that he is a changed character and that the school is thrilled with his progress. In order to replicate his father's fury on finding out the truth, Acosta and Elias dance a belt thrashing session that leads back into Yuli's mother and sisters trying to console him in his pain. 

As Chery is unable to prevent Yuli from being expelled, she arranges for him to attend the ESBEC boarding school in Pinar del Río. Despite his pleas not to be sent away, Yuli heeds Pedro's claim that he would accept daily beatings if it meant helping his son to realise his talent. The action cross-cuts between Yuli loathing every second of his ordeal and Elias dancing his conflicted emotions. At one point, Acosta gives Elias notes that reveal the extent of his loneliness on Wednesdays, which was visiting day and Pedro and Maria never came to see him, as his father was always too busy and his mother was always too sick. 

A silhouetted dance shows Yuli being bullied after he was caught stealing and we see him humiliated in front of the entire school. At this lowest ebb, however, he attended a ballet performance on the outdoor stage and he was so mesmerised by the power and grace of the male dancer (and moved by the applause he receives) that he starts practicing alone at night and a spectacular sequence presents him pirouetting in a downpour, with the rain sprays off his head as he spins. 

From this epiphanal moment, we cut to 1990, as Carlos (Keyvin Martínez) wins the prestigious Prix de Lausanne and, despite poor TV reception, Pedro, Maria and Marilin (Betiza Bismark) watch with a pride that isn't felt by Berta. Under Chery's tutelage, he goes to Turin, where he wins a scholarship and dances on an empty stage with Isabelle. Back home, Pedro keeps a scrapbook, as the Cuban press waxes lyrical about the `Golden Mulato'. He also tells him to forget home and seize the opportunity to break new ground for a black dancer by dancing with the English National Ballet. Worried that Chery will get into trouble for letting him go without government permission, Carlos is nervous about accepting. But she refuses to let him miss a chance to develop as an artist and as a man. 

Despite the step up, London proves to be a lonely place and Carlos is racked by the news that Berta has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Moreover, he damages his ankle, and, while recovering in hospital, he sees reports about compatriots risking their lives to reach Miami by makeshift raft because the Cuban economy has collapsed. Needing to reconnect, Carlos flies home. But, while Maria and Marilin are delighted to see him, Pedro is furious with him for complaining about a bit of rain and allowing nostalgic wallowing to cause him to lose concentration and jeopardise his career. When Carlos claims he wouldn't care if he ever danced again and accuses his father of stealing his childhood, Pedro berates him for wasting a gift he doesn't deserve. 

We leap from this confrontation in a Havana backstreet to Acosta watching his company performing a political piece about American interference in Latin America (with English narration, but no identifying caption to clue non-Acostaficionados what on earth we're supposed to be watching). When one of the troupe asks Acosta to explain the piece, he simply gets up and walks away with a curt remark about knowing the truths about his life and others needing to find them out for themselves. This point leads us back to Carlos hanging out with his pal Opito (Cesar Domínguez), who relishes confrontation with cops demanding bribes and bouncers seeking to keep him out of the swanky hotels favoured by tourists. One of the gang informs Carlos that Opito is building a raft to sail to Florida and he gets cross with his friend for trying to talk him out of such a perilous voyage. 

No mention is made of the fact that Carlos is on his way to becoming principal dancer at the National Ballet of Cuba. Instead, we see Chery scolding him for getting fat while living the high life with his posse. He insists he is worried about his ankle (which isn't true, as he is already dancing) and she avers that he is insulting her by throwing her sacrifices back in her face. She urges him to accept an invitation to join the Houston Ballet and he goes to see the National Ballet director with Pedro (their quarrel forgotten, just like that). As they wait in the foyer, a small black boy leaves a lesson to ask if he is the famous Carlos and father and son burst out laughing when the onetime truant tells the kid to focus on his studies. 

Elias leads a routine in which Yuli becomes a ladies' man. But he keeps his eye on the prize and we see Pedro smiling with quiet satisfaction as he pastes in a clipping about his son joining the Royal Ballet. More pages are filled with the covers of programmes from Carlos's triumphs, as we cut between him walking the cold London streets on his own and an ensemble piece with Elias that seems to suggest he is anything but alone. Strobe lights suddenly flash and we cut back to Havana, where Berta (who has been all but forgotten for the last 30 minutes of the film) is about to throw herself off the sea wall. Too busy to join his family for the funeral, Carlos tosses a rose off a bridge into the Thames and silently curses the cruelty of the world.

Normal service is soon resumed, however, and Pedro resumes his scrapbook-keeping duties, as Carlos becomes the Royal Ballet's first black Romeo. He comes to London to see his son perform and gives a speech at supper afterwards, in which he thanks Maria and Chery for their part in keeping Carlos heading in the right direction. Moreover, he urges him to make England his home base from which to conquer the world and their toast cuts back to Acosta bringing Romeo and Juliet to Havana and Chery coming to the theatre to tell him how proud she is. Acosta goes to Pedro's grave before dancing on the stage at the Cuban Ballet in a burst of patriotic pride.

Essentially, this scattershot biopic is a tale of three debutants. Renowned dancer and choreographer Santiago Alfonso excels as Pedro Acosta, as he drives his son to recognise and respect his talent, while Edilson Manuel Olbera Núñez is feistily superb as the rebellious Yuli, who seethes with a homophobic distaste for ballet when he could be moonwalking like Michael Jackson. However, the film loses much as a drama when Núñez is replaced by Keyvin Martinez, a dancer in Acosta's company, whose limited acting range is cruelly exposed by the skittishly episodic depiction of Carlos's first difficult years away from home. 

But Martinez is not helped by the sloppiness of Laverty's script, which cuts too many corners in striving to contrast Carlos's homesickness with his family's suffering. One of his reasons for returning to Havana is to see Berta, but he fails to even visit her after Maria mentions that she's improving in hospital. The audience has invested a certain amount of emotion in her situation. Yet, Bollaín and Laverty ignore her and instead insist that we care about Opito and his reckless rafting expedition, when he hasn't figured in the film before. Moreover, it's impossible to discern whether he is a factual character or a composite cipher. Either way, his dilemma comes across as lazy conscience prodding of the kind that Laverty has introduced to Ken Loach's cinema. 

Moreover, we see Martínez dancing with a succession of anonymous partners in rehearsal halls and empty theatres without learning which performances fuelled Acosta's reputation and why. Showbiz biopics have used so-called Hollywood montages of newspaper headlines, calendar pages and showbills to summarise periods of progression or regression. But not everyone will know enough about Acosta's career to appreciate the significance of the items shown and many will want to know a lot more about how he was treated as an imported star than the film is prepared to reveal. How did he and Chery manage to persuade the authorities to let him travel so freely and was his isolation in London down to envy, prejudice or his own demons? What's certain is that Cuba's problems in this period owed as much to the collapse of the Soviet Union as the interventionism of Smedley D. Butler and the insertion of the denunciatory dance routine merely clutters an already digressive and disjointed segment of the story. 

The decision to include metatextual passages of Acosta rehearsing a show based on his life enables Bollaín to circumvent biopic convention and allows viewers to see the man in action. But the cutaways feel self-conscious and aren't always photographed with the dynamism that Alex Catalán brings to the sun-kissed shots of Havana that reinforce the pervading tone of romanticisation as much as Alberto Iglesias's often swooningly lush score. Clearly Acosta himself is happy with Bollaín's approach and there are moments of dramatic and balletic potency. However, this is a flamboyant, faltering and frustrating feature that is nowhere near as daring in its execution as it presumes.

If good intentions guaranteed great cinema, the history of the medium would look very different. A series of captions at the start of The Flood informs us that 70 million people have been forcibly displayed through conflict and persecution in recent times and that, since 2014, more than 18,000 have perished while trying to reach Europe. Such stark statistics should shame us all and few have a keener appreciation of the harsh realities underlying them than director Anthony Woodley, writer Helen Kingston and producer Luke Healy, who all volunteered at the infamous Jungle refugee camp on the outskirts of Calais. Yet, despite this first-hand experience of the migrant crisis, the trio struggle to translate their insights into a persuasive storyline.

Hurting after a divorce that saw her lose custody of her daughter, Wendy (Lena Headey) has taken to filling her water bottle with vodka. She works as an immigration officer and boss Philip (Iain Glen) asks her to handle the case of Haile (Ivanno Jeremiah), an Eritrean who has made the headlines by claiming asylum after brandishing a knife at the cops who found him in the back of a juggernaut. The government want him extradited before the election and Philip has chosen Wendy because she is one of the few staff members who understand the need to stick to quotas in the hope of helping the genuinely deserving cases. 

He sits in on the interview and sounds sceptical when Haile claims that his own mother was named Wendy. As he is pressed about his past, we flashback to the moment he was branded a traitor for allowing a prisoner to escape execution in the Eritrean desert. He is whipped across the soles of his feet for disobeying a shoot to kill order, but manages to crawl across the border, having taken a coin from the fingers of the man he had hoped to spare. 

Philip also expresses surprise when Haile admits that he had landed in Italy after the dinghy in which he had crossed the Mediterranean had sunk. Another flashback shows the panic that ensues when the engine fails and Haile's failed efforts to keep his fellow passengers calm. He alone reached the shore and somehow made his way to the Channel coast, where he found an empty shack at the Jungle. Following her form, Wendy asks if he has ever been a terrorist and Haile is appalled by the suggestion and the fact that he is being held in handcuffs. But she points out that he has brought this upon himself by attacking the police and declares that he will have to come up with a pretty impressive explanation if his application is to be successful. 

Recalling his failed attempts to find a lorry to get him on to a ferry, Haile tells Wendy about meeting Faiz (Peter Singh), who suggested a way in which he could secure a passage. He was taken by this genial Pakistani, who was the first person in his 9000km journey to ask his name. When Wendy asks if he has any dependents in the UK or in Eritrea, Haile reveals that his mother had given him away when he was five years old and this hits a nerve that prompts Wendy to take a break to call her husband to plead with him to allow her more access to her daughter. 

On her return, Wendy asks Haile how he reached Britain and he explains how Faiz and his pregnant wife, Reema (Mandip Gill), had asked him to book three berths with the camp fixer, Nasrat (Arsher Ali), an Afghan who refuses to deal with Pakistanis. After a cat-and-mouse negotiation, he agrees to help Haile, but insists he is a philanthropist rather than a trafficker, as he allows people to fulfil their dreams. Depite Faiz coughing badly, he makes it into the back of the container lorry and they set off, with driver Russell (Jack Gordon being fully aware they are aboard. At the customs barrier, Faiz begins spluttering so badly that one of the other migrants draws a knife to silence him. But Haile disarms him and they settle down for the crossing, after Keith points out two men hanging from the underside of a box van in order to be waved on without being searched. 

Back at the centre, Philip returns to the room, as Wendy asks the tearful Haile if he is fit to continue. He remembers Reema discovering that Faiz had died in his sleep and he had consoled her with the fact that he had made it to British soil, where their son would be born. However, she confides that she hasn't felt the baby kicking for several days. Wendy inquires how Haile came to be in possession of the knife, but he refuses to respond before signing his testimony. Her phraseology concerns Philip, however, who demands to know why she has offered hope to an open-and-shut case. She assures him that she is not allowing her domestic distress to impinge upon her work, but something about Haile keeps gnawing away at her, as she types up her report. 

While dreaming in a room with a dripping tap, Haile receives a rejection letter and begins to panic, as water seems under the door and he fears he is going to drown. As his mind races between his current plight and his ordeal at sea, he feels himself sinking. However, he wakes with a scream, Wendy interviews Reema with the help of interpreter Baiju (Adam Samuel-Bal). She smiles on hearing she's pregnant, but is taken aback when Reema asks if Haile is safe. Turning off the camera, Wendy urges Reema to describe what happened on the lorry and she reveals that Haile had created a diversion to help the others escape after using the knife to cut a hole in the canvas. 

Clutching Reema's hand, Wendy promises to find out if Haile has been accepted for asylum. She checks through her notes and the tapes and discovers that his parents had been political prisoners. When Philip refuses to submit the new evidence because Haile's appeal has already been heard, Wendy insists he suspends her for conducting 93 days worth of inquiries while under the influence of alcohol. Haile goes to live with Reema's family, while he awaits the verdict. Sitting in her car, Wendy calls her ex-husband to inform him she has signed the papers and he not only lets her speak to her daughter, but he also suggests they might be able to come to an arrangement to give her greater access. 

This final detail sums up the film's melodramatic tendency, as the ease with which Wendy's protracted struggle appears to be resolved seems unsatisfactorily far-fetched. The coincidence that she would also get to meet Reema also feels contrived, while the flashbacks occasionally contain information that Haile simply cannot know, such as the trucker's perfidy at the border in order to save his own skin. Furthermore, far too many corners are cut once Haile reaches the continent. But what most undermines Helen Kingston's screenplay is the determination to see the situation from too many perspectives. Even Philip's bid to hurry Haile through the process is rooted in a hope that maintaining quota levels will enable his department to play fair by those `in the flood' with a worthwhile claim.

Although the opening captions declare that the film is based on actual cases, Haile feels too good to be true, especially when he is so winningly played by Ivanno Jeremiah. He even notices that all is not well with his interrogator when her superior is clueless. Despite Lena Headey's admirably buttoned-down performance, Wendy's vulnerability also strains credibility, as does the fact that nobody has detected the vodka on her breath during office hours. 

But Kingston avoids soapboxing and Anthony Woodley directs with more restraint than he displayed on debut with Outpost 11 (2013). He keeps Jon Muschamp's camera fixed on the faces in the spartan interview room, which feels as authentic as production designer Sophia Stocco's cut-price recreation of the Jungle. Editor Mike Pike also cross-cuts capably between the Haile's odyssey and office ordeal. Thus, while this low-key saga may be flawed, its heart is most certainly in the right place.

Having worked together so effectively on the Chet Baker film à clef, Born to Be Blue (2015), actor Ethan Hawke and director Robert Budreau reunite for The Captor, another fictionalisation of actual events that puts a wry comedic spin on the concept of Stockholm Syndrome. Drawing on Daniel Lang's 1974 New Yorker account of the attempt made by Jan-Erik Olsson and Clark Olofsson to rob the Kreditbanken in the Swedish capital in August 1973, this has much in common with Sidney Lumet's Dog Day Afternoon (1975), which took its cues from PF Kluge's Life magazine article, `The Boys in the Bank', which recalled the bungled 1972 robbery of a Brooklyn bank by John Wojtowicz and Salvatore Naturale. 

Buoyed by the music of Bob Dylan, Lars Nystrom (Ethan Hawke) puts on a wig, a cowboy hat and a leather jacket bearing an Alamo-era Texan flag to pose as an American robbing the Kreditbanken in downtown Stockholm. He allows the majority of the customers and the staff to leave, but gets a clerk to tie up tellers Klara Mardh (Bea Santos) and Bianca Lund (Noomi Rapace) after the latter presses the alarm under her desk. Having shot a gun out of the hand of Vinter (Ian Matthews), a cop who tries to sneak up on him, Lars tells Chief Mattsson (Christopher Heyerdahl) that he wants $1 million, a getaway car and the release of jailed bank robber Gunnar Sorensson (Mark Strong). 

Informing everyone that he is famed bank robber Kaj Hansson and is to be addressed as `The Outlaw', Lars allows Bianca to visit the bathroom and advises her to forget any thoughts she might have about escaping. They are playing cribbage when Gunnar arrives and he promptly finds Elov Eriksson (Mark Rendall) hiding in the CCTV monitoring room. He is added to the unhappy band, just as Bianca's husband, Christopher (Thorbjørn Harr), turns up to offer himself as a hostage in his wife's place. She is touched by his gesture and goes into considerable detail in explaining how to cook a fish supper for their children. 

Mattsson tells Lars that he knows he's not Hansson and warns him that Prime Minister Olof Palme (Shanti Roney) has denied his request to leave the bank with his hostages. Furious, Lars calls Palme and threatens to shoot Bea unless he relents. But he gives him some time to consider his position and Gunnar slaps Bianca across the face when she accuses him of being a coward. Needing somewhere safe to sleep, they decamp to the vault. But Lars allows Bianca to call home and reassures Christopher that he is a decent man who won't harm her, despite the scare stories that Mattsson is spreading on the radio. She has recognised his face from a house invasion in Helsingborg, when he put saving an elderly hostage's life over making his getaway. So, she feels sure he won't do anything to harm her. 

The next morning, Lars demands tampons for Klara and fights to retain his composure when a reporter calls the bank and Bianca talks to him live on air about Palme not caring about their fate. Eager to avoid a political calamity, Palme calls the TV station and is patched through to Bianca who demands to know why he is putting innocent people at risk in order to seem masterful. Lars grabs the receiver and repeats his threat. However, he confides in Bianca that, while he doesn't want to kill anybody, he needs to make Mattsson and Palme take him seriously. He shows her a bulletproof vest and asks her to wear it so that he can fake shoot her when she makes an escape bid. She agrees, but Mattsson and Vitner taunt him about being such a softie that he is probably gay and he threatens them with his gun.

Spotting her chance, Bianca makes a break for the staircase and Lars panics and hits her in the back. He pulls her body behind a pillar and shoots at the cops so he can carry her back to the vault. Klara and Elov are appalled and Gunnar is surprised at what his mild-mannered buddy has done. But they have more to worry about when a microphone is lowered down the air vent and Lars orders Klara and Elov to watch what they say. Taking Gunnar to one side, he wonders whether the cops might try flooding the vault with tear gas and they decide to hole up in the CCTV room. As they leave, however, Bianca comes round after the vest took most of the impact and the others are relieved to see her. 

The TV has reported her as dead, however, and Christopher hears the news from a bulletin. Meanwhile, Mattsson tells detectives Vinter and Jakobsson (John Ralston) that he intends taking control because he is tired of Lars treating him like an idiot. So, when he brings them food and painkillers, he locks them in the vault and informs his underlings to turn off the heating to force the Lars and Gunnar into negotiating. He also implies that Klara and Elov have started to collaborate with their kidnappers, even though he doesn't yet know what Bianca has developed something of a bond with Lars. 

When they drill through the roof to drop a gas line, Lars shoots upwards and grazes the cheek of one of the cops. Gunnar accuses him of behaving like a madman (as he has cut a deal with Mattsson to help talk Lars into surrendering) and they begin fighting. Bianca grabs a gun and orders them to stop before returning the weapon to Lars. 

Covering the hole, Mattsson decides to let them freeze overnight. As the others sleep, Lars commends Bianca on her courage and she tells him how much she wants to go home to her children and elderly parents. She recognises how much he loves Gunnar, who had been his cellmate and given him a new sense of identity. But she just them all to leave safely and her words touch Lars so much that he kisses her and they begin making out while the others doze. 

When morning comes, Mattsson announces that he is about to start the gas. But Bianca has an idea to put nooses around Klara and Elov's necks so that they will asphyxiate if they pass out and Mattsson sends a CCTV camera down to check that Lars is telling the truth (with Bianca playing dead to maintain the illusion). Vexed at being outwitted, he agrees to let them go and kidnappers and hostages alike strap on vests for the walk to the blue Mustang 302 like the one that Steve McQueen drove in Bullitt (1968). 

As they leave, Lars places his radio beside Bianca and Mattsson suspects she's still alive and has been co-operating with her captors and orders a minion to send down some gas. When Bianca twitches and coughs, Mattsson realises he's been duped and has a marksman shoot out one of the front tyres. He rushes out to apologise for the error and urges the quartet to wait inside the bank while the wheel is changed. However, he wants to lure them back into the vault and asks Lars for the key to recover Bianca's body. The moment they open the door, however, she warns Lars that they have been trapped and Jakobsen locks them in again so that Mattsson can unleash his gas. 

Determined not to go back to prison, Gunnar threatens to start shooting, so Lars plugs him in the shoulder. Mattsson turns off the gas and opens the door to inform Gunnar that he is going to go away for a long time. The hostages form themselves around Lars and shuffle into the foyer in a bid to protect him. But he is wrestled to the ground and Bianca is pushed off when she tries to cling to him. Watching on TV, Christopher and his young children are overwhelmed to see Bianca alive and being wheeled out to an ambulance on a gurney. They go to the seaside to help her recover, but she has a faraway look in her eyes and Lars is astonished when she comes to see him in prison because she can't forget the experience they shared together. 

An opening caption proclaiming, `Based on an absurd but true story', rather betrays the fact that this entertaining caper is never quite sure whether it's a psychological thriller or a black comedy. But Budreau and his splendid cast commit fully to the unlikely twists and turns thrown up by a siege that is handled with equal ineptitude by those on either side of the law. Indeed, it often seems as though Bianca is the only person who knows what she's doing, even though her impulsive surrender to Lars's nocturnal advances makes it clear that her lack of faith in the system designed to protect her has caused her to succumb to the syndrome named after her capital. 

Relishing the opportunity to play in a lighter vein, Noomi Rapace bears an uncanny resemblance to Sally Phillips, as she tries to make sense of what's going on around her. The scene in which she acts out the preparation of a simple fish dish for her angst-ridden husband is neatly judged, as are her contretemps with the ever-reliable Ethan Hawke, who makes the misguided Lars a villain worth rooting for. By contrast, Christopher Heyerdahl turns Mattsson into a hissable hero, as he seeks to make a name for himself by flexing his muscles. The only weak link is Mark Strong, who is given far too little to do as a character whose duplicity is never made sufficiently apparent, as he waits to see which way the wind is going to blow to his best advantage.

Capably designed by Aidan Leroux (with lots of wooden panelling in the offices) and photographed by Brendan Steacy to reinforce the sense of the walls closing in on the crooks, the action never quite manages to ratchet up the tension. But this owes as much to Budreau's script as Richard Corneau's editing or the Steve London used score that is less effectively used than such Dylan gems as `New Morning', `Tomorrow Is a Long Time', `Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You' and `To Be Alone With You'.

While Christian movies continue to do brisk business Stateside, the UK market remains largely resistant to the likes of Jon Gunn's The Case for Christ (2017) and Andrew and John Irwin's I Can Only Imagine (2018). The presence of Fox News commentator Sean Hannity has done much to boost the profile of Let There Be Light with God-fearing conservative audiences. But his name means much less on this side of the Pond and it's unlikely that actor-director Kevin Sorbo left a deep enough impression from his stint as TV's Hercules to have ageing fanboys flocking to catch this sincere, but remorselessly manipulative melodrama.

While promoting his new book, Aborting God, atheist academic Sol Harkens (Kevin Sorbo) mocks the beliefs of Dr Fornier (Gary Grubbs) during a town hall debate and urges the audience to put more faith in sex, drugs and rock'n'roll than the deity who subjected his eight year-old son to terminal cancer. However, he goes home to an empty apartment and a bottle of vodka because he lives apart from Katy (Sam Sorbo) and their surviving sons, Gus and Conner (Braeden and Shane Sorbo), because they have remained Christians and disapprove of the fact he uses a family tragedy to help sell his books. 

Agent Norm (Daniel Roebuck) and publicist Tracee (Donielle Artese) are delighted with the controversy that Harkens has stirred up by comparing the church to Isis, although they both wish he would patch things up with Katy rather than hang out with like blonde bimbos like Vanessa (Olivia Fox), a Russian model with a gift for mangling the English language. While driving home drunk from a book launch, however, Harkens has a crash and, during the four minutes he is clinically dead, he has a reunion in a time tunnel with his lost boy, Davey (Ethan Jones), who implores him to spread the light.

Waking in hospital, Harkens is warned by Dr Shell (Joe Herrera) that he has a blood clot on the brain and needs to take things easy. But Norm and Tracee want him to exploit his return from a God-free afterlife and take the media by storm. At his next lecture, however, Harkens sees Katy in the audience and has a panic attack, during which he reveals that he saw Davey. While being checked at the hospital, Dr Patel (Leander Suleiman) assures him that near death experiences are nothing more than the imagination running wild. But Katy is convinced he made contact with their son and she ignores Gus's concerns about falling for his father's charm in order to spend increasing amounts of time with him, as she hopes she can guide him back to the right path. 

Norm arranges an interview with journalist Cat Ryerson (Walnette Marie Santiago), but he doesn't feel like answering her questions about his vision. With Norm warning him that he will blow his reputation if he starts doubting his own theories, Harkens seeks out Katy's pastor, Vinny (Michael Franzese), a former wise guy who found Jesus while in prison. He tells Harkens that God loves him so much that he sent his son to give him the message about shining a new light into people's lives and Harkens realises that he has been called. 

Summoning Cat, he gives her the exclusive on his conversion and is promptly fired by Norm, who hisses that their friendship was purely a business transaction. But Harkens doesn't have time to fret, as Katy has come up with a plan to counter the darkness spread by Isis by using an app to co-ordinate a global Christian show of faith by simultaneously shining their phone torches to create a band of light around the planet that can be photographed from space by NASA. She also suggests that each click on the app prompts a donation to a food bank and Harkens is delighted by the notion of feeding the needy physically and spiritually. 

Touched by Gus's assertion that Davey has saved his soul, Harkens invites Katy to dinner and she accepts his marriage proposal. However, the excitement causes a seizure and oncologist Dr Corey (Travis Tritt) delivers the news that she has an inoperable stage four brain tumour. Racing against time, they have Dionne Warwick sing at their wedding, which is interrupted by a call inviting them on to Sean Hannity's show to promote their light initiative. He commissions a three-hour Christmas Eve special that enables him to browbeat Iran and North Korea and app designer Sally (Mona Amein) to explain how Jesus rescued her from an honour killing in her native Pakistan. As friends and family sing `Silent Night' while shining their beams, Katy dies in heavenly peace.

There's no avoiding the mawkishness of the denouement and any hope that the project's good intentions will shine through in the climactic `selfie for God' are confounded by the final instance of the knee-jerk xenophobia that seethes throughout the action. As Sam Jenkins, Mrs Sorbo had played Serena alongside her future spouse in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (1995-99). But she is now a popular radio personality and home-schooling advocate and shamelessly uses the script she has concocted with veteran writer Don Gordon to foist her pernicious political views on audiences who will mostly have bought a ticket to receive a little spiritual uplift. While one can just about tolerate the use of cinema as a prostelysing tool, its exploitation to disseminate Trumpist alarmism is less acceptable and Hannity's smug cameo only confirms the scarcely covert message this cynical picture is striving to convey. 

Playing an Alabama variation on Richard Dawkins, Kevin Sorbo is no more palatable, as he realises he would rather be playing house (of the Lord) in the suburbs than boozing and pill-popping in a downtown loft whose walls are covered with pastiche Warhol prints, book covers and a gormlessly jokey reference to his Herculean heyday. Coming after a pre-credit montage of assaults on homeland security, the `party on' mantra of the opening address gives way to the hectoring tone that Mrs S adopts, even while chiding her ex for quoting The Taming of the Shrew at her. But you can tell she has never really stopped loving him and the glistening gratitude in her eyes when he describes his experiences in the risibly cheap celestial portal would have drawn snickers from the least discriminating punters back in the 1930s. 

At least there would have been decent child actors around in those days, who would have avoided the woefully stiff delivery of the Sorbo siblings (presumably their sister refused to play ball). But there is a lower point in this grimly twee family entertainment, as reformed mobster Michael Franzese sums up the mysteries of Holy Week with this atrocious spiel: `Jesus gets whacked, right? They stick his body in a tomb. They seal it up tighter than a cement drum. What happens next? Bada-bing! The body disappears.' Joe Pesci couldn't have put it better.

Although it's rarely discussed, a fair number of detective fiction's most popular sleuths have an obsessive nature and Simon Fellows puts this observation to potentially intriguing use in his sixth feature, Steel Country. However, while it offers some cogent insights into daily life in the Trumpist Rust Belt, Brendan Higgins's screenplay fails entirely to convince as a whodunit, as it places far too much reliance on contrivance and character quirk in order to snap its ill-fitting pieces into place. 

Donny Devlin drives a bin lorry in the rundown former steel town of Harburgh, Pennsylvania. While on his rounds with Donna Reutzel (Bronagh Waugh), Donny notices that six year-old Tyler Zeigler (Nolan Cook) isn't at his window to wave as he does each week and he raises the matter with Wendy (Christa Beth Campbell), the 11 year-old daughter he fathered after a one-night stand with Linda Connolly (Denise Gough), who is embarrassed by their liaison because Donny has a former of Asperger syndrome. She is now dating Randy (Cory Scott Allen) and Donny is unhappy that he keeps buying things he can't afford to curry favour with Wendy. 

She gets cross with her dad when he hacks into her social media page to ask Tyler's older brother, Justin (Christian Finlayson), if his brother is okay, as she already gets teased at school for having two dads. However, when he hears that Tyler drowned in the creek, Donny is crushed and offers his condolences to the boy's mother, Patty (Kate Forbes), when he sees her smoking on the front step. She's puzzled why the cops seem to think he wandered into the woods when she knows he was a timid child who was afraid of his own shadow. But, when Donny mentions this to Sheriff Mooney (Michael Rose), he is warned to keep his nose out of other people's business and not draw attention to himself. 

Wheelchair-bound mother Betty (Sandra Ellis Lafferty) is also concerned about Donny's limited social awareness and fears that he might fall off the wagon after a period of being dry. But Patty's remark plays on his mind and he decides to conduct his own investigation. He asks his cop buddy Max Himmler (Griff Furst) why Mooney isn't taking the case seriously and is told that they were warned off digging too deeply to avoid upsetting the grieving family. So, when he next collects the trash from the house, Donny rootles through the bin bag and not only finds a nodding American footballer toy, but also torn-up phone records that reveal numerous calls to Dr Joel Pmorowski (Andrew Masset). 

Seeking solace in the felt pen collection he sorts in times of stress, Donny takes Donna into his confidence and, when he receives a note inviting him to a midnight rendezvous on the railway bridge, she offers to drive him. When two hooded figures try to force Donny into jumping on to a passing train, Donna shoots at them in the darkness and a terrified Donny wakes Max to ask why people are trying to kill him. Eager not to get involved, but aware a miscarriage of justice has taken place because Mooney didn't order an autopsy, Max tells Donny to seek out mutual school friend Bill Frankel (Eric Mendenhall) because he can provide him with the backstory that might contain some clues. 

Deciding to take a more direct route, Donny makes an appointment with Pomorowski to talk about Wendy and asks if he was having an affair with Patty. He also demands to know why the doctor didn't order an autopsy and he claims that Patty didn't want one in case it threw up evidence that her son had been abused by his father, Jerry (Jason Davis). Acting on this information, Donny threatens to crush Jerry with his car unless he confesses and he swears he would never harm his kid. On getting home, Donny finds the flap cap he wears to work pinned to the front door with a sharp knife. 

Donna suggests dropping the case and starting a romance with her. But Donny backs away when she tries to kiss him and offends her by mentioning the child she had to give up for adoption. Convinced he still has a shot with Linda, Donny meets her out of work and she tries to let him down gently before blurting out what she only slept with him because they were drunk and that she wants nothing to do with him. Having sorted out his pens, Donny goes to the cemetery and exhumes Tyler's body and drives it to the neighbouring city, where Frankel is a forensics expert. But he is mortified when Donny shows him the corpse in the back of his truck and asks him to examine it for evidence of abuse. 

Refusing to be intimidated by Mooney when he punches him in the face, Donny gets home to find Donna waiting for him with a press cutting about an abuse case involving George Atzerodt (Jared Bankens). He is now a mechanic in Pittsburgh and Donny drives to see him to ask about his ordeal and he gets back to Harburgh to learn from Max that Frankel has examined Tyler's body and ordered an investigation into his molestation. Driving to see the Zeiglers, Donny is told by a weeping Patty that she thought the doctor fancied her and allowed him to be alone with her son to please him. But, when she realised the truth, she was told by Mooney that she would go to prison for neglect if she informed on them. Aghast to discover that two such trusted residents could be so sordid, Donny calls on Wendy to tell her how much he loves her before killing Pomorowski with a crossbow and surrendering to Mooney and his posse in the tantalisingly unresolved denouement.

Having given such a deft performance in a challengingly sensitive role, one might have thought that an actor of Andrew Scott's standing would have argued with his director and screenwriter that the ending they had devised was so preposterous that it would sink an already leaky plot. However, he was made to enact a situation that would beggar belief if what had gone before hadn't been similarly riddled with improbabilities. Yet, despite the lurches in the plotline, the Irish actor best known for playing Moriarty in Sherlock (2010-17) and The Priest in Fleabag (2019) continues to make us believe in a spectrum misfit who walks with his feet at ten to two and whose inability to gauge the impact his inquiry is having makes him a target for those intent on keeping their dark secret hidden.

There's something of David Lynch's original series of Twin Peaks (1990-91) about the set-up and production designer Erik Rehl and cinematographer Marcel Zyskind do a decent job in turning Griffin, Georgia into a Pennsylvanian backwater pocked with telltale Trump/Pence election posters. But, while Fellows provides a reasonably acute outsider's impression of a community that seems unable to learn from past mistakes, he is seemingly content to go along with the flaws in the debuting Higgins's inexpert scenario, in which witnesses and suspects alike appear to have faulty filters and too much stress is placed on Donny's condition to justify inconceivable acts like digging up a body and meting out vigilante justice.