It's always a pleasure to spend time with Agnès Varda. But it's impossible to watch Varda By Agnès without a tinge of sadness, as the irrepressible 90 year-old auteur passed away a couple of months after this valedictory documentary premiered at the Berlin Film Festival. One suspects that Varda knew this would be her last picture, as she looks back with a mixture of quiet pride and mischievous wistfulness over a career as a film-maker, photographer and installation artist that started in 1954. In all, she produced 24 features and 22 shorts, many of which could be described as cine-selfies, as Varda sought to make sense of herself and the world around her. This last testament is full of clips from her key works and reminiscences gleaned from a farewell lecture tour. In truth, it's rather conventional and offers few insights that admirers won't have heard or read before. But it allows us to say a grateful goodbye to the most important female French film-maker since Alice Guy-Blaché.

Sitting in a director's chair on an opera house stage, Agnès Varda tells the audience that the three key words that drive her film-making are `inspiration, creation and sharing'. She uses a clip from Uncle Yanco (1967) to show how some films come about as the result of happy accidents, as she met her uncle by chance while working in San Francisco and filmed quickly once she realised that their encounter would make an amusing short. While acknowledging that film-making is an expensive business, she urges people to find ways around the obstacles, as budget should never be a barrier to expression.

While making Cléo From 5 to 7 (1962), she got round her meagre resources by limiting the action to 90 minutes in the life of a woman awaiting the results of some medical tests. Combining objective and subjective time, she explores how Cléo (Corinne Marchand) feels as she wanders around Paris. In order to keep the thought of the Death card from a Tarot reading reverberating around Cléo's head, Varda had copies of the 1517 and 1518-20 versions of Hans Baldung Grien's `Death and the Maiden' placed within the mise-en-scène. She also placed the song precisely in the middle of the picture and has Cléo change from a white to a black dress, as she returns to the streets.

Varda loves documentaries and has always added real moments into her fictional films. But she prefers to make actualities about things she knows, with Daguerréotypes (1975) being made near her home on Rue Daguerre to capture the village sense of the neighbourhood. She is joined by camerawoman Nurith Aviv, who recalls the shoot and how they filmed shopkeepers and customers in the hope that something would unfold during a transaction. Varda would rather watch and hope than create false excitement through editing, although she admits that few of her subjects opened up on camera and she dubs them `the silent majority'.

By contrast, the Black Panthers were a vocal minority and she recorded their training to protest the arrest of Huey Newton in the short Black Panthers (1968). Varda was impressed by the feminist aspect of the movement and takes pride in having been part of the push for changes in the law regarding contraception and abortion in the 1970s. She reflected her concerns in One Sings, the Other Doesn't (1977), which used songs that included quotes from Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels to show how women fare in a patriarchal society.

This theme also underpinned the Golden Lion-winning Vagabond (1985), which she made with 17 year-old newcomer Sandrine Bonnaire. Sitting on a dolly in the middle of nowhere, Varda explains how she integrated lengthy tracking shots into the action and the purpose they served in the story and in the structuring of the film. She reunites with Bonnaire under umbrellas to recall the hardships that the actress had to endure in order to convey Mona's sense of alienation and rootlessness. When she remembers getting blisters from digging a garden for once scene, Varda jokes that she should have licked them in gratitude, as she knows she gave Bonnaire a tough time during the shoot. In addition to making her learn certain survivalist skills, she also forced her to confront her own mortality by having her zipped into a body bag in an early scene.  

Another contains a beach and the seaside has played a vital role in several Varda projects. Having reflected on the influence that philosopher Gaston Bachelard had on her work, she invites some children to plant some cardboard birds in the sand around her director's chair. She then has them disappear in a series of jump cut in order to muses upon the film-maker's worst nightmare: an empty cinema. 

Back in the packed opera house, she muddles the words `criminology' and `filmography', as she concedes that she has had to endure the odd critical and commercial flop. But she alights on a happier project in Le Bonheur (1965), which took its visual inspiration from Impressionism and the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. She explains how she persuaded TV personality Jean-Claude Drout and his wife Claire to play the happily married couple whose idyll is threatened by his passion for postal worker Marie-France Boyer, who resembles Claire. The press was scandalised by the storyline, but Varda delights in her use of colour in her compositions and in the intra-scene fades, which even borrowed the shades of the Tricoleur to lead into the scene on Bastille Day. 

Describing her method as `cinécriture', Varda compares it to literary style in showing how each decision made during pre-production, shooting and editing is part of a conscious plan that reflects the personality and concerns of the auteur. That said, she based Jacquot de Nantes (1991) on the notes that husband Jacques Demy was making about his childhood in the last months of his life. She used black-and-white stock to recreate the 1930s sections set around his father's backstreet garage, colour for the clips from Demy's own films and extreme close-ups of the dying Demy to `accompany time' rather than freeze it. 

Following the success of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), Demy was invited to Hollywood and Varda found Los Angeles to be a puzzling, but exciting place. She made Lions Love (1969) with Gerome Ragni and James Rado, who had written the hippie musical, Hair, and Andy Warhol's muse, Viva. The fourth important character was the television, so that Varda could show life happening around them. She invited film-maker Shirley Clarke to cameo, as she felt she was her French equivalent, and recreated famous artworks by Pablo Picasso and René Magritte in tableau that were much easier to edit than the scenes shot with three 35mm cameras, as the amount of improvising made it difficult to edit between the various takes.

While in LA, Varda became obsessed with graffiti and made Murs Murs (1981) to showcase the work of Kent Twitchell and Willie Herron, as well as the numerous anonymous artists whose work represented freedom and rebellion. She also made Documenteur (1981), which starred editor Sabine Mamou and Varda's son, Mathieu Demy, as a mother and son coping with a break-up. Using documentary scenes to reflect their situation, Varda allowed chance to play a part and admits to having no idea what the two men kneeling on the beach beside a woman with a bible on her chest were actually doing. 

Georges Delerue composed the music for the sequence showing a woman playing with her hair in a launderette. He had also worked on L'Opéra-mouffe (Diary of a Pregnant Woman, 1958), which Varda had filmed on the Rue Mouffetard while she was pregnant. She felt the scene had changed little from the Middle Ages and wanted to show how the sad faces she captured enduring the trials of life had once been babies who had brought joy to their parents and who had hopes and dreams that had often eluded them. 

Varda revels in making documentaries and encourages her audience to experiment with the pure and raw forms. She enjoyed organising her shoots to ensure she captured the sights and sounds that had inspired a project. But her first film, La Pointe Courte (1954), had almost been an accident, as she was a photographer with no experience of the moving image. However, she knew she wanted to echo the structure of William Faulkner's The Wild Palms by alternating scenes of the fishermen of Sète with the marital problems besetting Philippe Noiret and Silvia Monfort. She relied heavily on editor Alain Resnais and composer Pierre Barbaud, but knew her own mind, as she wanted the sound to remain in the foreground of the mix, regardless of where the characters were positioned within the frame. 

She jumps from Sète to Sceaux, where she made Jane B. By Agnès V. (1988) with her friend Jane Birkin. This was a record of an artist and her model that incorporated a story that Birkin had written. It's wonderfully self-reflexive and they interrupted the shoot to make Kung Fu Master (1988), which again featured Mathieu, as a boy determined to conquer a video arcade game. Once this summer project was completed, they returned to the portrait, which Varda had suggested after Birkin had complained that she was approaching 40. We see some of the pastiches of classic paintings that the pair concocted before Varda switches from the history of art to the centenary of cinema and her misfiring contribution to the celebrations, One Hundred and One Nights (1995). She recalls the stars who came to visit Simon Cinema (Michel Piccoli) and the shooting of the boat scene with Catherine Deneuve and Robert De Niro. But it was a rare flop and she didn't make another fictional film on 35mm or 16mm, as the new century heralded a switch to digital photography. 

Pausing briefly to reflect on her first incarnation as a photographer, Varda shows off famous stage stills of Gérard Philipe and Jean Vilar, as well as the cultural celebrities she snapped down the years. She also posed Fidel Castro against some stone wings and caught life on the hoof in a series of meticulously composed street scenes. Her eye is impeccable, while her compassion is inescapable. But Varda was never one to stand still and admire, as she shows with various self-portraits that made use of mosaic and modernist collage. This desire to do things differently also sparked her move into digital technology. 

The smallness of the cameras made it possible to make The Gleaners and I (2000) feel uncomfortable, as they searched through the discarded produce at a street market. She also ventured into the countryside to film people taking their pick of potatoes deemed of insufficient quality for sale and shows how the heart-shaped spuds she kept produced shoots of new life as they began to shrivel and dry out. Varda also had a potato costume made for the premiere of her three-screen installation, Patatutopia, at the Venice Biennale in 2003. Reminded of the triptychs of medieval art, Varda relished the opportunity to contrast images and coerce viewers into taking another look at things they took for granted. 

She next created The Triptych of Noirmoutier (2005), which used side screens to expand a scene of a man sitting at a kitchen table with his mother rolling a ball of thread and his wife peeling potatoes. One of the three copies was bought by Hervé Chandès, the director of the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art. He joins Varda on stage, as he had commissioned the 2006 show, L'île et elle, which reflected on her life with Demy in Noirmoutier. She also created a cinema shack, in which she hung strips from Les Créatures (1966) to allow light to pass through the celluloid. Following a brief potted history of reel projection, she shows how La Bonheur was used to create another shack which also housed giant sunflowers (which featured in the credit sequence). The exhibit was reached through an arch of film canisters, while Varda also mounted snippets of film in light boxes that were mounted on the wall. 

Varda speaks enthusiastically about recycling and admits to a guilty pang about a display of plastic items because she loves their colours and wishes they didn't have such a negative impact on the environment. Old footage shows her dancing in front of the piece because it reminded her of the happier times that she encapsulated in the slideshow diaporama, Ping Pong, Tong et Camping. She slipped into more meditative mode in The Widows of Noirmoutier (2006), This was made up from 15 screens, with a large central one containing a 35mm film photographed by Eric Gauthier. The others were arranged around it to show video footage of the women talking and Varda had 14 chairs and sets of headphones linking in to them to provide an intimate acquaintance with the speaker. 

When the exhibition toured, the voices were dubbed and Varda confides that she found this project fascinating because such personal and specific references turned out to have a universal relevance. But she doesn't linger on the subject of death and bereavement. Instead, she recalls the panic she felt as she approached her 80th birthday and she decided to make The Beaches of Agnès (2008) as a celebration to the coastlines she had come to love. She even created her own beach on the Rue Daguerre and paid further tribute to her work colleagues by using mirrors to capture their portraits. 

While revisiting her childhood home in Brussels, she met a couple who collected model trains and decided they were more interesting and included them in the film. Similarly, she returned to Sète to show Blaise and Vincent test footage she had filmed in 1954 when their parents, Pierre and Suzou had stood in for Noiret and Monfort. They had never seen moving pictures of their long-dead father before and the sequence in which they wheel a projection cart around the village retains its potency. 

Varda paid further tribute to the deceased in Personnes, which formed part of the TV series, Agnès de ci de là Varda (2011), She also continued to make installations, including one in a condemned building in Nantes to highlight the miseries of squatting. Among the other items combining still and moving images is video about the shell-covered grave Varda created for her cat, Zgougou. Chandès bought this and installed it in a shed in the Foundation grounds and Varda meets some children who have been to see it. 

This lovely sequence, with one boy commenting on the colours stopping him from feeling sad and one girl skipping back to watch the film again in order to contemplate it alone, showing how easily a chasm of eight decades can be spanned by simple human contact. As she sits in her chair on the tideline on Noirmoutier, Varda reflects upon the savagery and violence in the world and recalls being asked to produce an installation in the Pantheon to commemorate those who had helped the Jews during the Second World War (who are known as Les Justes). 

In order to recreate scenes of simple heroism, Varda cast ordinary people, as they have never let her down in the past. Indeed, they played a key role in Faces Places (2017), which she made with the help of JR and his magic photo van. She remembers Françoise being cross with other goat's cheese makers for burning off the animals' horns and creating an image of her old friend Guy Bourdin on a fallen blockhouse on a Normandy beach. She had planned to end that film by blurring herself and JR in a sandstorm, so she uses it now to drift into screen history that will prove far more indelible than the paper print of Bourdin that was washed away by the first tide. 

Anyone who has witnessed a cinema masterclass will be familiar with the false modesty in which they are usually shrouded. But there's no side to Agnès Varda's succinct assessment of her achievements across three fields of endeavour. She keeps the camera well away from her private life. But, in tandem with co-editor Nicolas Longinotti, she offers shrewd insights into all of her features with the exception of Les Créatures and the documentaries The Young Girls Turn 25 (1993) and Cinévardaphoto (2004). They're hardly earth-shattering revelations about her methodologies or thematic preoccupations, but they are conveyed with such an unassuming intimacy that many will feel they are being addressed personally and invited to share whispered secrets. 

What is most striking is the breadth of Varda's innovation - which easily matches that of fellow nouvelle vagueuers Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut and Jacques Rivette - is the accessibility and inclusivity of her ideas. Opting to wear her intellectualism lightly has caused her to be sneered upon by highbrows who prefer their cinema to be as impenetrably gnomic as possible. But there's an element of chauvinism about such an approach, as the admittedly non-cine-literate Varda has never been given her full due for launching the New Wave while JLG and his cronies were still undergoing crash courses in screen history and appreciation under Henri Langlois at the Cinémathèque Française, while churning out self-aggrandising criticism and theories about Traditions of Quality at Cahiers du Cinéma. 

Varda would never blow her own trumpet (there's no mention here, for example, of Faces Places making her the oldest person to be nominated for a competitive Oscar or her receiving an honorary Academy Award) and it will take a third-party documentary to put the record straight. But, counting Eva Longoria and Ava DuVernay among its backers, this charming companion to The Beaches of Agnès will do for now, as we bid a fond and grateful adieu to a one-off who became her own greatest creation.

Timing is a key facet of cricket and the makers of a new documentary about the England team must be thanking their lucky stars that the umpires and their off-field support team became so caught up in the drama of Sunday's World Cup Final that they forgot the rules and handed the hosts the trophy. Directed by Barney Douglas and scripted by Gabriel Clarke, The Edge represents a solid follow-up after the duo's respective successes with Warriors (2015) and Bobby Robson: More Than a Manager (2018). Narrated by Toby Jones and chronicling the efforts of skippers Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook to steer England to the top of the world rankings, this also offers sobering insights into the psychological stresses involved in elite sport. For all its proficiency and good intentions, however, this sometimes irksomely back-slapping effort falls some way short of the standards set by Stevan Riley's Fire in Babylon (2010) and James Erskine's From the Ashes (2011).

Following an opening onslaught of hyperbole over a flash-cut montage that's designed to convey the terrifying intensity of Test combat, we cut to a series of monochrome clips from Grahame Tharp's 1950 British Council short, Cricket, to hear Ralph Richardson and John Arlott wax lyrical about a game that England gave to an empire that seized it as a unique opportunity to bloody the mother country's nose. The narration hints that teams like Australia, India and the West Indies wanted it more and that was why England had plummeted down the rankings before coach Peter Moores and captain Kevin Pietersen were sacked in January 2009. 

Reckoning that there was only one way to go from the depths of the doldrums, Johannesburger Andrew Strauss accepted the captaincy, only for England to be skittled out for 51 in his first match in Jamaica. With the condemnation of Sky commentators and ex-heroes Bob Willis and Ian Botham ringing in their ears, Strauss and teammates Alastair Cook, James Anderson and Graeme Swann accepted that things could only get better and they started to improve with the appointment as coach of former Zimbabwean Test batsman, Andy Flower. 

Such was his fabled rectitude and intensity that he had used his position to speak out about Robert Mugabe's abuses of power. No wonder Ian Bell, 
Steven Finn, Matt Prior and Tim Bresnan were scared and impressed by him. But all agreed at a bruising team meeting that his two-year plan to take England from seventh to top of the ICC rankings was worth making sacrifices for, especially as they could kick start it by reviving memories of 2005 by reclaiming the Ashes from Australia. 

The first Test in July was at Cardiff's Sophia Gardens and skipper Ricky Ponting was determined to prove that lessons had been learned from the last tour. But, while the Aussies were on top for much of the game, they hadn't reckoned on the stubborn last wicket resistance of paceman Anderson and spinner Monty Panesar. Paul Collingwood jokes that few gave them a chance of surviving for 40 minutes, but they put their bodies on the line to secure the draw. 

An overwritten splurge about batting bank accounts and the need for a good England team to have a Geoffrey Boycott or Michael Atherton to allow the spendthrifts to thrive leads to the introduction of Jonathan Trott as the vital piece of imported granite that this XI required. As the son of an English father, the Cape Town-born Trott had a British passport and Stuart Broad and Anderson joke about how compulsive he could be in the dressing room. But he felt he had the right stuff and, as we hurtle past the next three Tests as if they were of little consequence, we reach the Oval for the decider. 

After Broad's five-wicket haul had put the hosts on top, the debuting Trott strode out to bat. He explains how he conquered his nerves by imagining himself in the middle of an empty field and we are treated to a cutaway of Trott doing just that in his full kit. The trick worked, however, as he made a maiden century and Swann spun England to victory. Much to his dismay, however, when he got his hands on the famous urn, he saw a sticker for £4.95 from the Lords shop on the bottom. 

The success took England to fifth in the rankings and Flower reminded his players that the hard work had only just begun. In order to make it a bit easier, he proposed the return of Pietersen, who had left South Africa at the age of 20 in protest at the introduction of a quota system in the Test team and set his sights on playing for England. All agreed, he was the most naturally gifted player in the squad, but there was a new resolve for others to make statement innings throughout the team. 

Candid footage of bungee jumping shows the camaraderie that was developing, as the unit left for the World Twenty20 Cup in the Caribbean in May 2010. But there's no time to consider how England won its first major trophy and why bother mentioning Test series against South Africa, Bangladesh and Pakistan when we can fast forward to the year-ending tour of Australia? We do need to take an October detour to the Bavarian Alps, however, to show how Flower put the touring party through rigorous survival training in order to toughen them up for the battle ahead. Such was the relentlessness of the special forces trainers that Flower wondered whether he had done the right thing, especially when Anderson broke a rib during a boxing bout. But, despite some bellyaching from Pietersen and Panesar, most agreed that the experience helped the group bond, although Strauss insists that the most useful moment was a sharing session around the campfire that created a newfound sense of team trust.

Following another purple splurge of macho-babble about Anglo-Australian rivalry that finds room to namecheck Don Bradman and the lethal pace duo of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, we are introduced to Melbournian bowling coach David Saker, who gave Flower and his troops an insight into the Aussie psyche. But, having dwelt on Strauss's third-ball duck in the first innings at Brisbane, Douglas and Clarke again offer little sporting analysis in using montage and voiceover to focus on team mentality, as England succumbed to defeat in Perth after a gritty draw in the opener and a win at Adelaide - games that were characterised as much by the calibre of the sledging as the standard of play (even though both Cook and Pietersen posted double centuries). 

Redemption came during the Boxing Day Test at Melbourne after Bresnan replaced Finn, who was the team's leading wicket taker. Yet, even though it was Chris Tremlett who returned the best figures in Australia's capitulation for 98, he doesn't merit a mention as Douglas turns the spotlight on Jimmy Anderson (his buddy and the executive producer of Warriors) and shows him running on a Lancastrian beach while he describes his memories of the day in voiceover. Indeed, it was Bresnan who did the damage in the second innings, after England had notched 513. The hero of the innings was actually Trott with 163, but the slant is placed on Strauss and Cook so knocking the stuffing out of the Australian team at the end of the first day that there were swathes of empty seats before the close. The MCG, which had been compared to the arena in Ridley Scott's Gladiator (2000), no longer seems so intimidating. 

With the Ashes retained, the team partied hard and reflected on the benefits of the Bavarian nightmare. They also won at a canter in Sydney for one of the most memorable series wins Down Under. But this isn't worth mentioning, as we see England rise to No.2 in the rankings behind their 2011 visitors, India. But we only get to see two balls from the entire series as England reach the summit for the first time in history. Much is made of this and how they became the greatest England team of all time. But the rankings were only introduced in 2003, which is nothing considering that Test cricket began in 1877. Perhaps that's why Strauss admits that holding the ICC mace felt like a bit of an anti-climax.

There's only one way to go from the top, of course, and that's down and Douglas and Clarke shift from triumphalism to empathy, as they start to examine the toll that 18 months of graft and sacrifice had taken on the minds and bodies of the core players. This means another leap forward, as the winter series against India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are ignored, while Pietersen conveniently forgets the voluntary nature of his involvement in the Indian Premier League in complaining that he was playing too much cricket to give his best with any consistency. Naturally, one feels sympathy with someone who went into some dark places away from the wicket, but Douglas and Clarke are only telling part of the story in order to hammer home their point. 

Having retired from one-day and T-20 cricket, Pietersen blitzed 149 against South Africa at Headingley. But all was not well, as he admits to having broken down in the changing room and been annoyed at having to do the media when in a fragile state. He hinted that the third Test would be his last, but he was dropped after sending text messages to mates in the Proteas's team that reportedly criticised Flower and Strauss. As the game at Lords was also scheduled to be his swan song, Strauss felt badly let down and Anderson claims it did feel akin to cheating on the wife. Broad denies involvement in a Twitter account that mocked Pietersen, but it clearly riled him. Yet, while Trott claimed his compatriot was a loyal man who only lashed out when he was attacked, Collingwood suggests he became harder to manage the less he needed the England platform to launch the KP brand. 

The pressure told on Strauss, who left under a cloud after doing so much to help change the culture. Fellow Joburger Matt Prior implies that the management failed to realise the seriousness of the chink in the team's armour and was powerless to respond when they became cracks. But new captain Cook brought Pietersen back into the team for the 2012 tour to India, where they proceeded to win for the first time since 1984. Nothing is shown of the actual cricket, however, as the focus falls back on to the psychological strain of competing at the highest level. Panesar reveals that he withdrew to his room and comfort ate when things went badly for him, while Flower admits that his martinet management style might not have suited players who needed an arm around the shoulder. 

Being away 250 nights a year was also having an effect on Flower's home life, but not everyone could channel and compartmentalise in the same way. Pietersen, Finn, Prior and Trott all admit to crying in the changing room, as the pressure to maintain performance levels became too much for them to bear. Teammates were aware of the problems, but they had their own place to fight for and rocking the boat was a poor career choice. But the rumblings grew louder as England set off to defend the Ashes in November 2013 (no mention of that summer's home series against the old enemy, however, which England had won 3-0). 

As Mitchell Johnson steamed in, wickets tumbled and Trott began to struggle with the mental aspect of his technique. In order to convey this, Douglas cants the camera to suggest disorientation before having a fully kitted Trott plunge into a deep pool and see his carefree country field fall into a darkness that was strafed by lightning cracking over the skyscrapers of a forbidding nocturnal city. As Trott admits to tears flowing on the field, Douglas cuts to shots of the Aussies appearing to laugh at his discomfort and includes an extract from a David Warner interview in which he accuses Trott of being weak. Trott recognised that playing for England had driven him to what he calls a life or death moment and he decided to withdraw from squad after the first Test in Brisbane. 

The director's intention is clear, but the audiovisual gambits employed to convey Trott's distress are pretty cackhanded. But the coverage of the remainder of the series is rushed, with Swann's immediate retirement before the Boxing Day Test being mentioned as an afterthought following the revelation that England had been whitewashed. Pietersen and Flower's post-tour departures are announced through news bulletin sound bites over a wildly melodramatic shot of the map to which Douglas has consistently referred while plotting England's campaign of world domination disintegrating in flames inside the bunker-like room in which Flower had held his pivotal team talk. 

It's a shame that the makers feel the need to resort to such cornball sensationalism, as they have a serious point to make and have several high-profile cricketers willing to do it for them on camera. Moreover, they also have Flower admitting that he would now do things differently in trying to connect with the person as well as the player. Prior doubts whether it's possible to be the best person one can be when there is so much on the line, while Bell concedes that other players might have done more to keep an eye on teammates. 

Somewhat curiously, without seeking to ascertain how newcomers like Joe Root and Ben Stokes felt coming into this environment, we lurch forward to Cook scoring a century against India in his last Test at the Oval in 2018. As he tends the cows on his farm and dandles his baby, he claims it felt good to go out on a high knowing there was nothing left in the tank. In fact, he is currently playing county cricket for Essex and Trott also returned to Warwickshire for a few more seasons of pressure-off enjoyment before signing off against Kent last September. When asked about what he will miss, however, he wells up because nothing will be able to replace forging partnerships with good mates like Cook, Strauss, Pietersen and Bell. 

In summation, even the players who went through hell look back on what they have achieved with pride. Strauss suggests that the bad things are what you miss most when you retire, as they helped make the highs seem more cherishable. As we see the team smoking cigars in a circle on the pitch at the Sydney Cricket Ground having retained the Ashes, we hear Saker remind them that these moments are rare and make everything worthwhile, Swann confides that he has been a lucky b***ard in having so many great memories to look back on. So, is it all worth it after all?

If Cecil B. DeMille had ever made a documentary about cricket, it might have looked something like this. The great showman was famous for showing sin in all its lurid detail and then punishing it in the final reel in order to stay within the Production Code guidelines. Douglas and Clarke also want it both ways, as they seek to show the macho bantering and bonding side of Test cricket, while also exposing the damage it can do to the mentally vulnerable. They also confine their discussion to the England set-up when it might have been useful to know if any other Test side has been through similar traumas. Moreover, they also make the Australians the villains of the piece by including numerous cheap shots of them sledging and mocking, when England are scarcely novices in this department.  

This infuriating selectivity carries over into the choice of audiovisual material, as events are not always presented in their proper context. It was a winning team that lost 5-0 in 2013-14, but it's not always made clear that the unhappiness was mounting against a backdrop of continued success rather than resounding defeat. By skirting over series with less kudos attached to them, this bullishly edited and bombastically scripted film presents a skewed account of this particular England team's evolution. Douglas and Clarke mean well and clearly feel a duty of care to their interviewees. But, given their access to the people that matter most in this fascinating story, this has to be put down as a missed opportunity.

William McGregor has been building quite a reputation since he came to the fore with the student film. Who's Afraid of the Water Sprite? (2009). While continuing to produce shorts, he has also made a solid impression with small-screen assignments like Misfits (2013), Poldark (2015) and One of Us (2016). But, while his feature debut, Gwen, confirms his talent for using the landscape to generate and sustain atmosphere, this audacious blend of Gothic horror and social realism lacks the narrative heft to make it anything more than an eye-catching calling card.

With their father away in the Crimea, Gwen (Eleanor Worthington-Cox) and her younger sister, Mari (Jodie Innes), have to help their mother, Elen (Maxine Peake), with the chores on their small Snowdonian holding. As they return from playing blind man's buff beside a boulder in the valley, the girls see Dr Wren (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith) supervising the disposal of the entire Griffiths family, who have succumbed to cholera. But, while Gwen prays for their souls at table, Elen is angry with her for being late and letting the supper burn. She also shoots her daughters a jaundiced stare, as Gwen sings Mari a lullaby and wish their father would come home.

Woken in the night by noises outside, Gwen lights a lantern and ventures into the misty darkness to confront the intruder. But, while she sees no one, a shadowy figure passes the camera, as Gwen returns to be and extinguishes the lamp. 

The next morning, Gwen takes the sheep on to the hillside to graze. She picks herbs to grind into a tea for her mother, who assures her that nobody would prowl around their cottage. Both prick their fingers to rouge their cheeks before walking in the teeth of the gale to the chapel, where Minister Bowen (Richard Elfyn) gives thanks for the blessing of work in the mines and the mills and prays for the safe return of those at war. Gwen notices Harri Morris turn to smile at her during the sermon, a glance that is also seen by Dr Wren. 

As they leave, slate quarry owner Mr Wynne (Mark Lewis Jones) asks Elen for a quiet word and she sends the girls on ahead. On returning, they find a sheep's heart nailed to their front door and Elen tosses it on the fire, as she suspects that Wynne has sent one of his bully boys to intimidate them into selling their land so that he can expand his excavations. She reassures her daughters that she would never sell their home, but Gwen watches her brooding by candlelight and feels sure that the rotten potato she found in the field is an ill omen.

At first light, Elen finds the flock decimated in the paddock and Gwen looks on in horror as she takes a rock and puts one beast with its throaf cut out of its misery. She orders Gwen to build a bonfire and Mari watches through the window as they burn the carcasses. When the flames die down, Elen fishes out a charred skull and grinds with a stone from the wall and scatters the pieces outside the gate to ward off evil spirits. Gwen returns to the embers and suddenly remembers that the Griffiths sheep were also slaughtered before they died. With snow falling around her, she pulls the planks off the front door and ventures inside, only for Elen to find her and send her home with a severe reprimand. 

Convinced her father (Dyfrig Evans) would have listened to her, Gwen goes to the chapel to pray and remembers the happy times they all had playing around the dolmen. Back home, Elen has an epileptic fit while drying Gwen's hair and she manages to get her to bed. She questions the need to go to chapel the next morning, but Elen insists she is well enough to go. When she has another fit in her pew, Dr Wren helps her outside under the watchful eye of Wynne, who employs him. But he calls at the cottage and allows Gwen to have a bottle of tonic wine on tick. However, he reminds her that she will have to pay after market day or he will get into trouble. 

While Elen recovers, Gwen takes over running the household. When she discovers that rats have eaten the eggs, she kills a chicken and Elen nods in approval at the broth she makes. However, she flies into a rage when Gwen fails to knock on her door and walks in to find her cutting her arm. Nothing more is said, but Elen accepts she is not well enough to go to market and reminds Gwen that they need to make some money, as they don't have any sheep to sell. Harri comes to her stall, but is ordered away by his father, Edward (Richard Harrington), and it seems clear that Wynne has told his employees and tenants not to buy from her. 

Having sold nothing, Gwen asks Dr Wren if he can give her two more bottles of tonic. She also inquires why Elen was cutting herself and he explains enigmatically that some people feel that sin can be bled out of the body. Wren feels sorry for Gwen and gives her the bottles, but also asks her to think about selling the farm and starting again in the town. But Gwen refuses to work in a factory and insists they must keep the home fires burning for her father. 

As she returns home, however, a bolt of lightning scares her horse and it damages its leg so badly in bolting that Elen decides to put it down. She gives the blade to Gwen, but she can't bring herself to do the deed and she sobs in the wild wind, as Elen puts the creature out of its misery. The day's trauma isn't yet over, however, as Wynne, Morris and Wren march on to Elen's property and accuse Gwen of having stolen the tonic wine. She refuses to believe them and orders them out of her house. But she is so het up that she suffers another fit, while taking an axe to the horse to get some meat to sell to pay her debt.

Nursing bruises on her wrist from her mother's ferocity, Gwen tries to make her feel comfortable in bed before retiring for the night. She dreams about the family playing by the dolmen, only for everyone else to disappear. When she finally sees Elen, she is standing in her nightgown and turns to look behind her in a sinister manner. Hearing a door creak, Gwen goes to check on Elen and gets the fright of her life when she turns abruptly to give her a demonic shriek. 

It's just nightmare, but Gwen is shaken and eats breakfast with Mari in ashen silence. They strike out for chapel, but Elen is too weak and she slumps down on a rock to complain that her neighbours have been driven away by Wynne's greed. She sobs that a sheep thief will have his hand cut off, but someone who steals an entire mountain receives a peerage. Returning to bed, Elen asks Gwen to read a letter she has hidden in her wardrobe. She is dismayed to discover that her father has abandoned them rather than going to war and she refuses to listen to Elen's protestations that she was trying to protect her girls from the hideous reality of his treachery. Squelching through the mud, Gwen rushes outside and lets out a howl of anguish. 

Imagining her father dying of his wounds in a scarlet tunic, Gwen tosses the family's wooden crucifix on the fire. At the same time, Morris goes to the chapel to pray after Wynne hands him a dagger to murder Elen and her daughters and make it look like they died in a fire. As he approaches with a flaming torch, however, Elen sees him coming and tries to disarm him. He overpowers her, however, and Gwen has to fetch the axe to chop down the locked door. The intruder turns to confront her and attempts to throttle her using the axe handle. But Elen grabs his dropped knife and slits his throat. 

She apologises for Gwen for not telling her the truth and urges her to flee with Mari (who has somehow slept through the commotion) before the angry mob led by Wynne can come to exact its brutal brand of justice. Elen staggers through the doorway and sinks to her knees in the mud. Sporting a stovepipe hat, Wynne kills her with a single blow of his sword before pouring petrol over her corpse and setting light to it. Harri looks on in despair, as his neighbours set about burning down the house. But, as they turn to see their home being stolen from them, Gwen and Mari cling to the hope that they will be able to find their father. 

This final glimmer of optimism is the only thing to take from a denouement that can only be described as novelettish nonsense. Up to this point, McGregor had just about managed to pull off his bid to create a Loachian costume drama. Indeed, there are moments when this strikingly composed picture recalls Bela Tarr's The Turin Horse (2011), Robert Eggers's The Witch (2015), William Oldroyd's Lady Macbeth (2016) and Lance Daly's Black 47 (2018). But the plot is as flimsy and formulaic as the latter's account of the Irish Potato Famine and just as thematically threadbare and melodramatically clumsy in its depiction of the wicked barons and the worthy peasants. 

Stealing focus from Maxine Peake, as she runs the gauntest gamut of emotive suffering, Eleanor Worthington-Cox gives a committed performance as the innocent receiving a cruel lesson in human depravity. But the dialogue is deadeningly deliberate and only Elen and Gwen come close to being fully realised characters. The remainder are Cymraeg ciphers who are strikingly lit by cinematographer Adam Etherington and artfully arranged around Laura Ellis Cricks's admirably authentic sets. Dinah Collin's costumes are also worthy of note, as is the sound design supervised by Anna My Bertmark to complement the unsettling wailings of James Edward Barker's score. Great things are expected of McGregor, but he will have to do a lot better than borrowing horror tropes to conjure up an oppressive sense of desolation and injustice to justify the Star of Tomorrow tag bestowed by Screen International in 2012.

Originally staged at the Bush Theatre in 1986, Rober Holman's play, Making Noise Quietly, was revived by the Oxford Stage Company in 1999 and the Donmar Warehouse in 2012. Divided into three acts, it arrives on screen under the direction of Dominic Dromgoole, who ran the OSC between 1999-2005 before a stint at the Old Vic led to him replacing Mark Rylance as the artistic director of Shakespeare's Globe. Since founding Open Palm Films, he has dipped his toe into cinematic waters as a producer on Simon Amstell's Benjamin, Bill Buckhurst's Pond Life, Lisa Mulcahy's Undercliffe and John-Paul Davidson and Stephen Warbeck's The Man in the Hat (all 2018). But Dromgoole follows several other stage specialists in struggling to translate situations and speeches designed for enclosed spaces to a broader canvas with unforced authenticity. 

The first of the `Three Conversations' is `Being Friends', which is set in Kent in 1944. Mancunian Quaker Oliver Bell (Luke Thompson) has been sent to work on the dairy farm belonging to the Whittles (James Lailey and Joanne Howarth). He is snapped at in the village shop by Mildred (Pauline McLynn), whose sons are both fighting the Axis and she refuses to allow a conscientious objector on her premises. Tunbridge artist Eric Faber (Matthew Tennyson) feels sorry for Oliver and invites him to eat bread, cheese and cherries in the countryside. 

As they talk, Luke explains his circumstances, while Eric describes the novel he is about to publish about an adolescent encounter with a pederast during a seaside holiday with his father. He limps after being knocked off his bicycle by a woman driver and Luke offers to wheel the cycle for him when he mentions that he is awaiting some TB test results. They greet a Gypsy family, as Eric reveals that he lives with his boyfriend and answers Luke's questions about how they met and how they make love. 

Finding a spot on a hillside, Eric spreads a blanket and lays out the food. He also produces two bottles of beer and tells Luke that the bread was baked by a lesbian artist friend in town. Their conversation is interrupted by doodlebugs flying overhead and they dive for cover. Coming up, they see smoke rising from the church that Eric had just been sketching while the vicar (Paul Rider) had been helping his grandson search for his missing tortoise. 

Once the rockets have passed, Luke describes his experiences as a nursing assistant. He claims that one of the German patients had been deliberately stabbed in the eye with a needle and such cruelty prompted him to request a transfer. Eric is distressed by the story and excuses himself so he can cry without being seen. When he returns he starts correcting the proofs for his novel and Luke notices that it has a foreword by Edith Sitwell. He shows Eric the snapshot he took from the German's pocket and confides that he is thinking about volunteering to fight to put an end to such barbarism. They peel off their shirts and vests to enjoy the warm sunshine before skinny-dipping in the nearby pond. 

An interlude is provided by a brief shot of a man playing a piano in a farm outbuilding before `Lost' takes us to Redcar in Cleveland in June 1982. May Appleton (Barbara Marten) is awaiting her daughter and her children to celebrate her grandson's birthday. Husband Jim is playing snooker at the Legion when naval officer Geoffrey Church (Geoffrey Streatfield) appears in the open doorway. He has come to offer his condolences because May's son, Ian, has been killed in the Falklands and he is surprised that she has heard nothing from the Admiralty.

Church is even more taken aback when May reveals that she hadn't heard from Ian for five years. She had been so proud of him when he had served alongside Prince Charles on HMS Bronington and Church reveals that he had been their shipmate. As the son of a vice-admiral, he has found it hard to impress family members with his achievements and May suggests that her husband fell out with Ian because he had risen through the ranks after he had made little impact in the RAF. 

But her tone changes when she thinks how much the news is going to hurt Jim, as he had broken his father's heart and she had always felt it was good riddance to bad rubbish when he left home. As someone who knew him well, Church accepts that Ian could be difficult and he admits that he had changed in recent times. But he tries to reassure May that her son had been a fine sailor and had died doing his duty. But she considers the South Atlantic to be a meaningless campaign and declares that his first responsibility should have been to his family and that he could have taken the time to write once he knew he was going into a war zone. 

May asks Church to leave and he regrets making a hash of things, as he had so much to say. He had wanted to inform her that Jim had been married to Hilary and that she had wanted the mother-in-law she had never met to know how sorry she was. Feeling sorry for the widow, May asks Church to pass on her good wishes. But, when he explains that Hilary is his sister, she snaps at him for letting her say so many unguarded things. Church assures her that nothing will go any further and she nods in gratitude. Standing by the window, looking out at the people passing by on the beach, May says they will only tell Jim the good things - about Ian's marriage and the fact he had died in the service of his country. He nods, as she summons some love and pride to suppress the hatred and disappointment that will forever linger in her heart. 

Finally, `Making Noise Quietly' takes us to Black Forest in Bavaria in August 1996. While Helene Ensslin (Deborah Findlay) paints near her holiday chalet, tweenager Sam (Orton O'Brien) comes rushing through the trees being pursued by Alan Tadd (Trystan Gravelle). As the boy can only communicate through screeches, Helene takes some convincing that Alan is his father. But he runs into his arms, as the Welshman apologises for frightening him. 

Helene invites them to stay the night, but says nothing when her husband calls from Cologne. As he is English, she is able to talk to Alan, while Sam gallivants around the woods by torchlight. He explains that he is a soldier and is only Sam's stepfather, as his mother ran off with a sergeant and he is now taking legal advice about what would be best for the lad's future. Listening without prejudice, Helene tells Alan that he can stay for as long as he needs to, as she is taking some time off from her busy life in the city. 

As Helene sleeps, Sam creeps into her room and strokes her face. He also steals a gold ring off her finger, as he had pocketed a spoon during dinner. She wakes to hear the boy screaming in the bathroom, as Alan tries to wash him. Peering through the door, she sees bruises on Sam's back and is appalled by the way that Alan bellows at him to make him shut up. So, she asks Sam to help her paint in the forest and he writes messages in felt pen on his forearm and points to words in a book he keeps in his pocket in order to communicate. Helene tells him that the chalet had been in her family for many years and she enjoys being able to think in peace. 

When Sam can't find a tube of pale blue paint, however, Alan accuses him of stealing it and hangs him by his ankles so it will drop out of his pockets. Helene is appalled by such brutality and tells Alan that kleptomania is no excuse for violence. Cowering under a blanket, Sam examines the items he has purloined and hopes that Helene will continue to protect him. Unused to being challenged, Alan announces that he won't stay where he's not welcome and picks up Helene's easel and marches back towards the house. 

Catching up with him, Helene asks why he has gone AWOL from his barracks after getting three months' compassionate leave, but he doesn't reply. Putting her equipment back in the studio, Alan asks Helene why she paints variations on the same view and she says they reflect her mood. That night, Sam sits in a corner looking at pictures in a book, while Alan sits quietly and listens to the piano record Helene is playing. She realises how unusual it must be for him not to feel tense and recognises his affection for a difficult child. 

Next morning, she makes a deal with Sam to paint his portrait if he returns everything he has stolen. He sits proudly against a rock in a clearing, while Alan watches Helene paint over her shoulder. When she mentions that the ring belonged to her father and that she must have it back, Alan goes to get it from the sleeping boy's pocket. She tells him not to always charge at things like a bull at a gate and he apologises snarkily for being such a `c' word. Helene takes exception to his use of the word, as he falls far short of the cruelty of the guard who had befriended her 10 year-old self when she had arrived at Birkenau. Taking a shine to her, he had found her paper to draw on and had kept the pictures beside his bed. But, one day, he had accused her of lying to him and, as a punishment, he had beaten her legs with a stick while she sketched. 

Helene's husband is due to join her the next day and Alan takes a moment alone to ask her if she will help him with Sam. He shows her the crucifix he took from a dead Argentinian in the Falklands and curse the superior officer who got the OBE when he helped capture 100 Iraqis during the Gulf War. Fighting back the tears, Alan suggests that the adrenaline he feels in combat rises up when he is beating Sam and he has to keep apologising to recover his wits. In a curious way, Sam goads him because he needs the moments of reconciliation as much as Alan does. But he longs for the days when Sam had spoken a few words and they had more of a connection. 

Wandering around the studio, Alan paints `Sorry' on the arm of Sam's portrait. But he charges back into the main room to order Sam to return the ring. Helene insists she's in charge of the situation and tells the boy to empty his pockets and put the contents on a table. She promises he can keep the ring if he says `thank you', but he merely screeches and stamps in order to get his own way. Wrapping herself around him to stop him from lashing out, Helene urges Sam to speak and praises him when he does. No sooner has he received the ring, however, than he hurls it across the room. Undaunted, Helene selects a small blue badge from the pile of possessions and refuses to return it even after Alan explains that Sam's mother had given it to him. When she refuses to relent, Alan tries to intimidate her. But she refuses to budge and Sam runs off into the night.

He has been crying by the time they find him and Helene ignores Alan when he promises to protect Sam from the mean old lady. They sit a little way apart in the darkness. Helene asks Alan what he's going to do and suggests that he needs to forgive himself in order to get Sam to forgive him. She calls the boy to sit beside her and he talks to her, as he places the ring on her finger. Alan digs in the soil and Sam smiles as he asks if he is looking for creepy crawlies. 

Linked by wartime trauma, the three vignettes work better in isolation than alone. Reminiscent of Pat O'Connor's 1988 adaptation of JL Carr's A Month in the Country, the first episode is by far the slightest and the least convincingly acted. The concluding segment is admirably performed but somewhat strained in its scripting. But everything seems to coalesce in the central storyline, as Barbara Marten excels as the no-nonsense Yorkshirewoman seeking to protect a husband, son and stranger from the harsh truths that she alone is strong enough to handle. 

Quite how the eccentric piano conceit fits into all this beyond showcasing Stephen Warbeck's score is anyone's guess. But this is one of Dromgoole's few stumbles in a competent debut that succeeds in opening out the drama without sacrificing any of its intimacy. He is ably abetted in this regard by cinematographer Nick Cooke and production designer Damien Creagh's whose interiors in the latter tales are beautifully judged. But it's Dromgoole who imposes the melancholic sense of gravitas that allows viewers to overlook the wordiness of some of the speeches and the occasional glitch in the pacing.

The career of Dane Thomas Vinterberg has drifted somewhat since his Dogme95 heyday with Festen (1998). He's been feted for such domestic sagas as The Hunt (2012) and The Commune (2016), but his overseas ventures have been less successful, with It's All About Love (2003), Dear Wendy (2005) and Far From the Madding Crowd (2015) having moments rather than being momentous. 

In 2010, Vinterberg directed a film about two brothers bumping along on the bottom of Danish society that was entitled Submarino. Now, he turns his attention to an actual submarine in Kursk, which he inherited from compatriot Martin Zandvliet and which draws on A Time to Die, a 2002 book by ITN reporter Robert Moore, who crops up in a rather stilted cameos,  Scripted by Saving Private Ryan's Robert Rodat, this is a careful reconstruction of a tragedy that gripped the world back in 2000. But, because the story is so well known, it lacks the suspense of fictional variations on the theme like Roy Ward Baker's Morning Departure (1950) and Kathryn Bigelow's K-19: The Widowmaker (2002), . 

In August 2000, shortly after Vladimir Putin assumed power in Russia, cash flow problems within the navy are so severe that the crew of the Kursk have to sell their watches to help Pavel Sonin (Matthias Schweighöfer) pay for his Orthodox wedding to Darya (Katrine Greis-Rosenthal). The plan was hatched by Captain-Lieutenant Mikhail Averin (Matthias Schoenaerts), who is expecting a second child after son Misha (Artemiy Spiridonov) with his wife, Tanya (Léa Seydoux). It's clear from the the speech made by Anton Markov (August Diehl) and the tears shed by Oleg Lebedev (Magnus Millang) that there is a firm bond between crewmates, who join in a chorus of the Northern Fleet's anthem before counting the number of seconds that Pavel and Darya kiss.

As the Kursk sets sail the next morning, Misha watches wistfully from the school playground and the screen expands to widescreen to show how small the submarine looks in the vast Berents Sea. Supervising the exercise is 
Admiral Vyacheslav Grudzinsky (Peter Simonischek), who laments that much of the old Soviet fleet has been left to rust and he just hopes Russia has enough firepower to defend itself from whatever enemies it has in the post-Cold War world. Commodore David Russell (Colin Firth) is monitoring the war game for the Royal Navy and he confides to his colleagues that he had once been fishing and drinking with Grudzinsky and found him a tough nut. 

As the Kursk steams towards its launch position, Pavel informs Captain Shirokov (Martin Brambach) that one of the older missiles is heating up and suggests firing it early to get it off the sub. However, Shirokov is a stickler for doing things according to the book and denies the request. No sooner does he curse the skipper for his intransigence than the torpedo detonates and triggers a series of explosions that dumps the craft on the sea bed. With water pouring in, Mikhail tries to contact the weapons bay, but receives no reply. Anton informs him that he is going to stay at his post and hope to prevent a Chernobyl-like blast and asks his friend to tell his wife that he loves her. 

Grabbing his photo of Tanya and Misha, Mikhail seals Compartment Nine and tells his 22 surviving shipmates that they have to remain calm and professional if they are going to stay alive long enough to be rescued. Leo (Joel Basman) is terrified and Mikhail has to give him a reassuring pep talk, as Niko (Chris Pascal) and Sasha (Kristof Coenen) do their bit to fix the leak to prevent them from being submerged. While they toil, Russell and assistant  Bruce Hamil (John Hollingworth) detect the explosions and he seeks to speak to Grudzinsky to find out what is going on and ascertain if Britain can lend any assistance. 

Rumours also start spreading around Murmansk, but the authorities refuse to tell Tanya anything and Anton's mother, Oksana (Pernilla August), urges her to stay strong because everything possible will be done to rescue the crew. Having sent a submersible to investigate, however, Grudzinsky is convinced that nobody could have survived the calamity. Consequently, the rescue vessel remains in port and Tanya fears the worst. But Grudzinsky orders the fleet to cut power so they can pick up any knocking and there is much relief when the noise is detected and the recovery operation swings into action. Russell is frustrated by the Russian refusal to accept help, however, as there is too much top secret equipment aboard the Kursk for the Kremlin to risk NATO forces seeing it.

Aboard the submarine, Mikhail orders Oleg to prepare the oxygen pump, as the air supply is running low. Moreover, he has to use the emergency electricity generator after the power outs and plunges the compartment into darkness. As there are no cartridges for the pump, however, Mikhail and Sasha have to swim underwater to the storage lockers in Compartment Eight to find some and the latter is on the point of blacking out when they return. Oleg jokes about why they took so long to lighten the mood, as they now have 20 cartridges to keep them going. 

What they don't know, however, is that the rescue operation is not going well. Tanya and her friends lose patience with Captain Ivan Timoshenko (Miglen Mirtchev) when he spouts patriotic waffle during a briefing and Oksana chides her for forcing them to withdraw rather than face a barrage of criticism. In trying to dock with the Kursk, the submersible fails to create a watertight seal and cheers turn to jeers when the survivors realise that the craft is resurfacing. Mikhail orders them to stay alert, as they will be back. But the rescue ship skipper (Bjarne Henriksen) informs Grudzinsky that cutbacks prevented them from replacing worn seals, while the reserve battery packs were sold with the Mir, which is now taking tourists to see the Titanic.

After a second attempt fails, Grudzinsky contacts Russell about sending a British craft because he is tired of trying to do the impossible with the inadequate. But, as Tanya watches television, she sees Admiral Vladimir Petrenko (Max von Sydow) deflect questions at a press conference in averring that the Kursk's problems were caused by it striking a non-Russian vessel. She accusing him of lying when he comes to Murmansk and (with Misha watching on) Oksana is dragged from the room and forcibly sedated for daring to challenge the authority of a senior officer, who keeps insisting that the men knew the risks when they joined up. 

Grudzinsky is also dismayed by Moscow's refusal to allow British and Norwegian experts to attend the scene and he defies his superiors by accepting Russell's offer of help. Joining Graham Mann (Steven Waddington) aboard the Sea Eagle, Russell approaches the accident zone. However, he is ordered to keep his distance because Grudzinsky has been stripped of his command and Petrenko is now in charge. 

Meanwhile, tensions are mounting on the Kursk, as Mikhail has to fight with Maxim (Pit Bukowski) to prevent him making a reckless bid to swim through the escape hatch. However, he is also suffering from his own growing sense of despair and asks Oleg how he felt when he lost his father at sea when he was a small boy. He assures him that he retains memories and has always felt his father's presence and Mikhail thanks him for his encouraging words (as he had earlier been grateful for his bid to boost morale by telling a joke about a cold polar bear). 

Russell and Mann meet Petrenko, who seems baffled why they think they could do a better job than the Russian navy. But, when the Priz submersible's third attempt to dock fails - amidst arguments between its pilots (Lars Brygmann and Martin Greis-Rosenthal) over their own safety - the Brits are summoned. However, events overtake them. Determined to raise spirits, Oleg wakes everyone up and coaxes them into sharing their food supplies for a hearty breakfast. He even finds some vodka and jokes that he doesn't want to leave because things are so good down here. But, when Leo goes to replace the oxygen canister, he causes a fire that destroys the pump. Holding his breath underwater until the flames are doused, Mikhail sees Misha swimming towards him to clasp his hand. 

As the submariners sing a last chorus of their anthem, Mikhail expresses his pride at serving with them. On the surface, the British bell sends down divers who open the hatch to reveal the truth (and the screen reduces in size to reflect the moment that hope is finally lost). Russell is distraught because he knows Russian pride killed the survivors. Misha also blames Petrenko and shoots him a glare during a memorial service before refusing to shake his hand. Tanya reads the note that Mikhail had scribbled after speaking to Oleg and the lament sung by the choir recalls the joyous refrain from the opening wedding. As they walk away, the quartermaster commends Misha on his action and returns his father's watch as a mark of respect. 

It's impossible not to be moved by a tragedy that deprived 71 children of their fathers. While this is a respectful recreation of the key events aboard the Kursk and around its home base, however, one has to question the conviction of Luc Besson's EuropaCorp after it decided to remove the scenes discussing Putin's reluctance to break his vacation in Sochi to avoid being tainted by the fallout from the incident. According to the Hollywood Reporter, executives were concerned that they would be targeted for hacking if they upset the Russian president (as his father had been a submariner). But ducking the issue feels like an abnegation and draws much of the sting from the criticism of Petrenko and the naval brass, especially as Putin actually fronted the press conference from which Oksana is ejected. 

Opening with a homage to Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter (1977) and running with the necessary licence taken by Rodat's script, Vinterberg returns to the theme of a small community's mettle being tested by crisis to tell his tale capably, but without ever approaching the immediacy and suspense of Alex Parkinson's subterranean rescue documentary, Last Breath (2019). He benefits considerably from the expertise of production designer Thierry Flamand, cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle and composer Alexandre Desplat, while the performances are solid enough. But the hodge-podge of pan-European accents proves as distracting as the switches between aspect ratios. 

Colin Firth follows up a fine turn as Donald Crowhurst in James Marsh's The Mercy (2017) with another persuasive display of nautical nous, while Matthias Schoenaerts also tempers his bristling masculinity with allusions to a softer side. But it's hard not to compare his grand aquatic set-piece with Shelley Winters's heroic swim in Ronald Neame's pioneering disaster movie, The Poseidon Adventure (1972). Mention should also be made of the 89 year-old Max von Sydow, who is still capable of producing genuinely hissable villainy. Indeed, the contrast between the looks he gives Firth across the Peter the Great's table and young Artemiy Spiridonov across the church ranks among this worthy, but stolid feature's few memorable moments.

Although it's scarcely been seen in this country, Shirley Clarke's The Connection (1961) has had an enormous influence on modern film-making. Adapted from a Jack Gelber play and featuring several of the original cast, the action turns around a documentarist profiling a group of heroin addicts anxiously awaiting their dealer. The footage has apparently been assembled by the cameraman after the director disappeared, making this one of the first `found footage' pictures. However, as the actuality has been staged in a bid to satirise and subvert the emerging cinéma vérité style, this also ranks as the first `mockumentary'. 

This format has become something of a cliché since Rob Reiner perfected it in This Is Spinal Tap (1984). But Reality TV, social media and sites like BuzzFeed and Vice keep shifting the perameters and the debuting duo of Ewa Banaszkiewicz and Mateusz Dymek explore the nature of filmic truth in a media savvy, post-Brexit London in My Friend the Polish Girl. 

In an opening caption, American documentarist Katie Broughton (Emma Friedman-Cohen) explains that she had intended her first film to be about `immigrants, Brexit, and how people are used and disposed of'. But it `kind of didn’t turn out that way'. Following auditions to find a suitable subject, Katie decides upon Alicja Dabrowska (Aneta Piotrowska) because her partner is dying of cancer. When Katie interviews Michael Plough (Daniel Barry), however, he reveals that a minor form of thyroid cancer had been surgically treated and that he is now fine. Despite the intrusive nature of Katie's less than sensitive questioning, he is more peeved with Alicja for betraying a confidence and asks Katie to shut off  the camera so they can talk in private. 

Alicja is 32 and works part-time at a cinema while pursuing her acting ambitions. When Katie asks her to give her name in profile, she is unhappy with her delivery and asks her to slow it down before suggesting she gives it more energy. By giving direction, Katie betrays the fact she is trying to control the shoot in the way that pioneering documentary maker Robert Flaherty had done a century earlier. But Katie seems blissfully unaware of the connection and blunders on in a high-handed, off-camera manner that bleeds into her narration when she loses patience with Alicja for not being part of an artistic Polish émigré community. Her efforts to gather some friends in a café result in a cursory encounter with a harassed mother she hardly knows and Katie complains that she's been left profiling a mundane couple with none of the health or social exclusion issues she had hoped to explore. 

Katie's delusions continue to tumble out after Michael walks out of the shot after she tries to provoke a situation by asking about the couple's sex life. Alicja is rewarded with a pink heart emoji for confiding that she enjoys oral sex, but Michael is punished with a yellow smiley face, as he stomps upstairs. When Alicja takes Katie to the zebra crossing on Abbey Road where The Beatles posed for their 1969 album cover, she confesses that Michael has withdrawn his co-operation and wants her to quit, too. But Katie assures her that this study in truth is all about her and plays on Alicja's vanity and ambition by claiming that it will be seen at a lot of festivals (`probably'). 

She's not convinced, but Katie is becoming obsessed with a woman she considers to be elusive and beautiful and she wants to dig deeper to discover the source of her pain. It becomes more apparent when Michael moves out after Alicja decides to continue filming, although she gets the giggles while he is lugging his stuff into a van. No sooner has he gone, however, than she tries to call him and is disappointed to discover that he has turned his phone off. Rather than giving her space or seeking to ascertain her feelings, Katie asks Alicja if she wants to carry on with the project and answers for her during a protracted silence. 

Katie reports that Alicja never cried following Michael's departure. But she screams in a staged close-up that sees her head morph into a line drawing of a bird with a naked female body that is swallowed up by a cat. 

Life goes on and Katie films Alicja rearranging what's left of the furniture and showing off some of her photographs. There's a cheesecake feel to many of them and Katie's camera lingers on exposed body parts, as Alicja advertises a room on her Facebook page. She admits to knowing few of the 1847 friends she has amassed or any of her neighbours near Edgware Road Tube station. Pondering where Muslims come from, she suggests that Katie profiles a Polish friend who wears a burqa, but smiles that she needs to finish this film first. 

The search for a new flatmate proves frustrating and Alicja chomps Hula Hoops in the kitchen while lamenting that her life is a mess. When Katie asks about her family, she reveals that she hasn't spoken to her mother in three years, but doesn't think this is a big deal. She's more evasive when quizzed about her father and Katie's voiceover stresses the tragic element in her nature. Cutting to animation depicting the Alicja bird having its tummy rubbed in the palm of a hand, Katie wishes she could protect her friend. But the image of red splodges falling around a potentially predatory cat turn out to be misleading, as they are dropping from a brush painting fingernails. When Alicja turns the question back on Katie, she clams up before blurting out her resentment at the careerist mother who left home when she was 17. 

Alicja makes a poor showing at an audition for a toothpaste commercial, when her accent makes the word `enamel' sound like `animal'. She goes to her skivvying job at the BFI IMAX and tidies up around the flat she can't afford. As she contemplates selling her gold jewellery to meet the rent, Michael calls. Unsure what to do, Alicja asks Katie if she should answer, but she doesn't. Irritated by the fact that nothing cine-fantastic is happening, Katie considers intervening to change the course of Alicja's life. She takes her to the Groucho Club and introduces her to Alex (Anthony Abbott), who is about to produce a metaphysical gangster film called Thunder & Angels. 

With her lens as much interested in the tops of Alicja's fishnet stockings as Alex and his cronies discussing the plot of what she sneeringly dismisses in voiceover as an `averagely interesting' plotline, Katie angles for Alicja to land a small role in the movie. She clinches the deal by putting her hand on Alex's thigh, as he talks. But Katie seems a touch jealous and her fixation with Alicja prompts her to add colour to the monochrome image of her blowing a kiss of gratitude towards the camera. 

Her crush also manifests itself in shots of Alicja sitting on the toilet and brushing her teeth (with Katie visible behind her in the mirror). Seemingly aware of the effect she has on her director, Alicja plays up to her by posing coquettishly in a doorway in a t-shirt and knickers while asking if she wants to crash for the night. Katie asks Alicja why she's so sexual and can't stop herself from inquiring whether she was abused as a child. But a phone call stops the conversation dead, as Alicja has learns that Michael's cancer has returned. 

Three months pass and Alicja goes to a read through of the script. She meets fellow cast members, who roll their eyes when she gushes about the quality of the screenplay when introducing herself and explaining that she's playing the Russian call girl. Too excited and self-absorbed to notice the reaction, she flashes a smile in Katie's direction. 

But the mood is more sombre at the Pembridge Palliative Care Centre, as Alicja emerges to declare that Michael is dying and looks awful. She remembers her grandmother saying that you never die alone if you are loved. However, she did die alone and Alicja reveals that she had tried to kill herself when she was 12 (cue colour cutaway to blood oozing from slashed wrists into a sink). Nothing more is said, however, as Katie cuts away to Alicja looking up alternative cures online. Ignoring Katie's misgivings, Alicja buys a week's supply of pills from a doctor who insists on having his face pixellated. When she visits Michael, she allows herself to be talked into filming him on Katie's phone and he asks her to leave when he realises what she's doing. 

Alicja is in the middle of a costume fitting - during which she reveals that this is her seventh picture as a prostitute and one of the crew jokes that she must be a Method actor - when the call comes to inform her that Michael had passed. Once again, Katie notes that she refuses to cry and is overwhelmed when Alicja confides that she's her only friend in the world and puts her head on her lap while they sit on a bench beside the lake in Hyde Park. Katie admits that she had hoped for drama in her film, but this turn of events took things beyond what she had expected. As we see a colour close-up of Alicja lying in a bath surrounded by naked dolls, Katie reveals that she has moved in. However, she finds Alicja's behaviour to be weird when she shows her around and claims that it will be like having an extended sleepover. 

Katie accompanies Alicja to Hampstead for Michael's wake. Teetering on high heels, she stumbles as she approaches the venue and remains ill at ease because she doesn't know anybody. As Katie thrusts her camera into people's faces, the majority confess that they hadn't known Michael all that well. A woman (Danusia Samal) bursts into song and there's a smattering of embarrassed applause. Alicja attempts some small talk and is delighted to meet Uncle Mike (Darren Rose), who gives them a lift home. He tells a risqué joke, but feels awkward when Alicja cadges a cigarette and puts her head on his shoulder. 

A few days later, Katie fills the screen with black emoji hearts while filming Alicja sleeping. But she wakes to the news that Alex has dropped her from the film and Katie asks Alicja if she feels rejected by British society (because Alex had voted for Brexit). Shortly afterwards, they get a visit from Michael's actor friend, Max (Max Davis). who had missed the funeral because he was touring in a play. He brings wine and a spurned Katie floods the scene with light to make him feel uncomfortable. Having filmed the pair play-fighting and hugging, she lets her feelings be known in the voiceover when Max misses his train and has to stay on the sofa bed. She is equally terse when Alicja creeps back into their room in the small hours and flops on her bed with the news that Max loves her. 

Miffed by the fact that Alicja slips downstairs and doesn't return, Katie gives Max grief over breakfast (placing an aubergine emoji over his groin). When Alicja slips away with a giggling fit, Katie demands to know if Max loves her and calls him childish when he echoes the question and begins filming her with his phone. Her voice becomes more strident when Max and Alicja go for a walk and she orders her to come closer to the camera. She snaps when Alicja cycles in silent circles in a quiet street because she is not only losing control over the content and direction of her film, but she is also being supplanted in the central role in Alicja's life. 

However, the Max episode merely unleashes Alicja's grief, which she channels into a sensual dance in a t-shirt and underwear. When she pulls Katie into the frame, she feels too self-conscious to join in and sits demurely on the sofa. Following Alicja upstairs, she asks what sex with Michael was like and cajoles her into giving a demonstration of how it felt. She removes her bra and begins to writhe on the floor. But, when it becomes apparent that she is enjoying the sensation a little too much, Katie orders her to stop several times before Alicja states in Polish that she doesn't want to. Looking up and back into the lens, she fixes its gaze and challenges Katie's intentions in asking her to simulate intimacy.

Katie expresses her dismay direct to camera and is reluctant to continue. But she knows she needs an ending and returns to the flat to suggest that Alicja needs counselling. Over the coming days, she becomes elusive and starts smoking again. She washes down junk food with cheap red wine and sleeps a lot. However, Katie is taken by surprise when she finds Alicja lying on the bathroom floor in a pool of blood. As the ambulance took half an hour to arrive, Alicja dies and Katie questions the extent to which she was responsible for her suicide, given that she had already attempted it once before. Summing up, she claims they were misfits who found each other - the girl who couldn't feel and the Polish friend who couldn't cry. 

But, as the credits roll on Katie's documentary, we learn that the ending was faked. When Katie asks Alicja how it felt to feign death, she chomps on her cereal and chants `blah, blah, blah' to drown out Katie's artistic justification for her actions. She runs away along a busy pavement when Katie tries to follow her and dips into the Underground to make her escape. Eventually, they rendezvous and Alicja confides that she feels used. She asks Katie if she even likes her and she insists she does. They go back to Katie's flat and Alicja is amazed by how plush it is. While half-telling an anecdote about being on a beach when she thought she was pregnant, Alicja asks Katie if she's rich and has lots of trendy friends. When she remains silent, Alicja says she has her. 

Having sat on the bed with a large cat pillow case on her head, Katie announces that she knows how to finish her film. She goes to the flat and makes Alicja face off camera while she hands her an envelope containing £6000. Regretting that they had failed to cover the darker aspects of her past, Katie assures Alicja that she's a strong woman and will be fine without her. She's nonplussed, as she had expected her to say something else. But the action cuts away to an animated interlude showing the cat clutching a balloon and landing on the bird's back when it bursts. A cartoon audience applauds wildly, as the film ends. In voiceover, however, Katie admits to being alone with and without Alicja.

With the monochrome patina reinforcing the faint echoes of Jacques Rivette's Paris nous appartient (1961), Roman Polanski's Repulsion (1964) and Ingmar Bergman's Persona (1966), this is a visually striking snapshot of London through the eyes of a couple of outsiders who are too preoccupied with themselves and each other to notice what is going on around them. The old maxim about life being what happens while you're busy making other plans richochets around the carefully calculating action, which will speak to anyone who has endured a period of insecurity and ennui. At times, the focus is too tight to allow Banaszkiewicz and Dymek room to discuss their wider themes. But these often seem tangential to the offbeat love story that unfolds as the women jostle for supremacy in front of and away from the camera.

Bearing a passing resemblance to both Cameron Diaz and Sandrine Bonnaire, Aneta Piotrowska proves mesmerisingly photogenic. But she also achieves a stillness and interiority that makes Alicja both enigmatic and vulnerable, as her behaviour veers between being spontaneous, cunning, gauche and desperate. Acting primarily with her voice, Emma Friedman-Cohen also registers impressively, as she conveys Katie's brittle sense of entitlement and unapologetic brand of American brashness that gives the picture a vague political undercurrent. But the performances owe much to the dexterity of Michal Dymek's camerawork, as the lens betrays Katie's perspective as much as Mathieu Rök's animated flights of fancy. 

The shifts between film formats and palettes are neatly achieved by Dymek and co-editor Matylda Dymek, while the script written with Banaszkiewicz cogently examines the ethics of actuality at a time when the confessional documentary is in vogue and when social media has encouraged people live on camera and share, even when others wish they wouldn't. The satire may be too gently observational for some, while not everyone will buy the Max episode or the faux ending. The zeitgeisty use of captions and emojis will also grate. But, despite the odd misstep and longueur, the neophytes can't be faulted for the audiovisual ambition of their Snapchat aesthetic and it will be intriguing to see what they come up with next.

Among the many amusing characters created by Kayvan Novak for the E4 series, Fonejacker (2006-12), was the Ugandan phone scammer George Agdgdgwngo. While he was a mischievous caricature, Belgian debutant Ben Asamoah latches on to a cabal of real-life catfishers in Sakawa, a Dochouse presentation that takes its title from the Ghanaian term for online fraud schemes. Providing as many astute insights into the life in the West African nation as An African Election (2011), Jarreth and Kenneth Merz's account of the presidential showdown between Nana Akufo-Addo and John Atta Mills, this is also a thoughtful treatise on the colonial legacy and the perils of letting one's Internet guard down. 

Life is tough in the Ghanaian village where OneDollar lives along with his single mother sister, Ama. She has a fruit stall on the market, while he spends his days looking for lonely men online who can be duped into parting with their cash. He shows Ama how to set up a profile and start a flirtatious conversation. As she types with one finger, he reveals that Brits called Peter are the easiest marks because they are almost all stupid. Meanwhile, at the local rubbish tip, scavengers take old PCs and laptops apart looking for the hard drives so that they can scan them for live passwords and financial details. 

As Ama drops off her son at the Joyful Academy, OneDollar goes to a travel agency to inquire about flights to Italy. He wants to start a farm there, but is surprised to learn that he needs a birth certificate to get a passport and the $200 deposit he needs is way beyond his means. But he returns to the room he shares with around a dozen other scammers and sets to work on the dating sites to pose as a beautiful African girl to reel in a sucker. During a cigarette break, he discusses hot spots with a colleague and they say Canadians speak terrible English, while Chicagoans are too savvy to fall for their patter. They agree, however, that white men are sex mad and so disgusting with their single-minded lechery that they deserve to be fleeced. 

One pal urges OneDollar to get hold of some secondhand hard drives so that he can have their contents downloaded, as they can often pay dividends. We see one middle-aged Londoner who has been foolish enough to leave his bank details in a saved file and they trawl through his photographs to get an idea of the man and his lifestyle. This kind of information is like sakawa gold dust and OneDollar hopes it will help him reach his target amount of $40,000 so that he can emigrate.

We see one of the gang getting a tattoo and he complains that he used to work as a houseboy for €12 a month for a white woman who spent €500 a fortnight on fresh fish. He jokes that he used to phone his mother to ask how to cook her meals, but clearly resents being paid so poorly by a woman who flaunted her wealth. OneDollar shows Ama how to use Google Maps Street View so that she can see where one of his clients lives. She is amazed by the affluence, but claims she simply wants to make enough to start hairdressing and earn enough honestly to raise her son. But OneDollar has bigger ambitions and confides that it's possible to keep tabs on anyone online anywhere in the world and that it becomes easier to scam them once you have your hooks in them.

When not teaching the alphabet to his daughter, OneDollar is chatting to one of his American clients. He puts on a high-pitch voice and professes his love for the man after he gets jealous about some of the names on a social media site. Not everyone can do convincing voices, however, and it's possible to buy modulators that change speech tone and two pals high five with glee when they try it out for the first time. Some time later, one of the gang gets a man in the UK to send him a Skype link and he roars with laughter that he has been so gullible. He tells his pals that every snippet of information can come in useful and hopes that he can pick this guy's pocket without too much effort. 

Having discovered that she needs a huge sum to pay her way as an apprentice at a salon, Ama asks OneDollar to help her nail some dupes. However, she isn't good at chatting and lacks the computer skills to flit around the Internet and he admits that he is losing patience with her. She promises to improve and he warns her that he wants back the money he loaned her and won't forgive her if she messes around because he is having a tough time himself. When they hear a radio interview with Baba, Am asks OneDollar to accompany her to a consultation, as he claims to be able to use his spiritual powers to entice white men into concluding a deal online. He tells her to put some nuts, eggs and menstrual blood into a pot and contact him when it has been mixed with rain water. 

Ama is also told to write a love letter to her target and OneDollar helps her prepare it. But the others in the group reckon Baba is a fraud and recommend a wise women who deal with the river gods. OneDollar goes to her to be purified and she bathes him in the river and sends him home with an egg that she urges him to let hatch into a chick. He keeps the egg in a homemade incubator beside his laptop and keeps calling his likeliest US prospect to chat on the phone and keep him keen. The fellow apologises for not having the cash to bring `her' over, but OneDollar assures him that `she' is prepared to wait. 

When Ama calls her chap, however, the line is so bad that he hangs up and another mark slips through her fingers. OneDollar takes her to a skilled female scammer to give her some tips. She offers to handle the client for a while in return for a fee and suggests that Ama start showing a bit of flesh to lure men into parting with their cash. As Western white men are all perverts, this shouldn't be too difficult, even if they ask her for intimate photos, used underwear or even the sound of her breaking wind. 

That night, OneDollar goes home to tell his daughter a charming story about a little boy who was turned into a golden crocodile because he allowed greed to get the better of him. The irony of this fable about settling for what you have should not be lost on the audience, as they see a glammed-up Ama posing for photos to send to her clients. She looks uncomfortable and seems more convinced by Baba's magic, as she lets the pot fill with rain when the heavens open. By contrast, OneDollar tries to speed up the egg hatching by placing it on a plate of straw over a charcoal fire. The only change in his luck, however, is that his daughter contracts malaria and he has to take her to the doctor. 

He starts learning Italian from an app, but he doesn't seem to be doing very well. His friend tells him to study harder and drink less, but OneDollar isn't one to listen to advice. When he calls the travel agent to ask about his passport, he discovers that he needs a bank account and he is frustrated by the number of hoops he has to jump through. But he trusts the man in the suit with an office on the main road in the nearby town and asks if he will set up an account in his name. 

While he has phone sex with his American target, Ama watches a pig stick its snout into the pot she had prepared for Baba. She scrolls through the pictures on her laptop, but has yet to earn any money. As an audio montage plays of middle-aged men groaning to the coaxing of Ghanaian men using `magic phones', Asamoah demonstrates how they are living in two different worlds by concluding on a drone shot that rises up from the rubbish tip where some youths are burning filleted computers. 

Easily one of the most depressing films of the year so far, this a scathing indictment of the developed world and those who have turned the Internet into a place of amorality, exploitation, deceit and degradation. Although he doesn't approve of the scammers, Asamoah is prepared to cut them some slack, as they are doing whatever it takes to scratch a living in a country where the odds are stacked so heavily against them. Moreover, they have chosen targets with whom it's difficult to feel a great deal of sympathy, as the majority of the white males who chat to `the girls' are seeking cheap thrills without any remorse or responsibility. But some may well be genuinely lonely souls who are being ripped off for a moment of weakness. Whatever the rights and wrongs, it's a desperately sad situation. 

While Asamoah and cameraman Jonathan Wannyn pick up plenty of telling detail in the cramped interiors in which the sakawa merchants toil, the reluctance to identify the characters sometimes makes it difficult to follow who OneDollar and Ama are dealing with. Anonymity is clearly a concern, but if they are willing to show their faces, why not adopt a pseudonym (it's not as though they use their real names online, after all)? It also prevents Asamoah capturing the sense of community that exists and this undermines the bid to explore sakawa's religious connotations and how Christians and Muslims reconcile this reliance on traditional ritual with their spiritual beliefs. However, given the way in which Africa has been plundered since the beginning of the slave era, it only seems fair that a few flagrant falsehoods and empty promises get to wing their back in the opposite direction. Not that we see that many e-scams work, however. Indeed, the biggest crooks in the film are the witch-doctors and the travel agent who keeps coming up with more reasons to wheedle cash out of OneDollar.

While the release of The Edge couldn't be better timed, Jason Baffa's Loopers: The Caddie's Long Walk is scheduled to arrive in cinemas two days after The Open has packed up and left Royal Portrush. There may be those who will grateful for something to watch between visits to the 19th Hole, but it might have been wiser to screen this study of the relationship between players and caddies in the run up to the world's oldest golf tournament to cruise in on the air of expectation. One thing is for sure, however, not even the presence of Bill Murray as narrator will win over those who concur with Mark Twain that golf is nothing more than a good walk spoiled. 

As we are introduced to such professional caddies as Teddy Julian from Ballybunnion Golf Club and Gordon Rorison from Pebble Beach, Bill Murray proclaims that having a caddie with local knowledge on an alien course is to have `an ally in a battle against the elements, the golf course and life itself'. Gone are the days when a caddie was simply required to `show up, keep up and shut up' and six-time Major winner Nick Faldo thinks that's a good thing. Former pro caddie Michael Collins says that the secret is to know when to talk about golf during a round and when to turn the subject of conversation to anything else. 

Scottish golf writer David Hamilton gives us a brief history of the game, from the first mention in 1474 when it was banned by the Scottish king because he wanted people to practice archery to defeat the English (although some sources would claim that James II and his parliament passed this edict in 1457). As we see some amusingly colourful animations, Roger McStravick, the author of St Andrews in the Footsteps of Old Tom Morris, challenges the myth that Mary, Queen of Scots brought the game (and caddies) from France. He also denies that she went golfing just days after the murder of her husband, Lord Darnley, as this was put about by her enemies to make her seem callous. 

Hamilton and fellow historian Neil Laird discuss the evolution of caddying, as the person carrying a player's clubs was also required to find balls lost in the rough. But many caddies were from the lower ranks and often drank and cursed on the course. Having made the transition from caddie to player, Old Tom Morris (1821-1908) introduced a code of conduct and the position of Caddiemaster to ensure that standards were maintained. Ward Clayton, the author of Men on the Bag: The Caddies of Augusta National, introduces us to veteran Caddiemaster, Mike Kiely from the Canterbury Golf Club in Beachwood, Ohio. He has been caddying for half a century and is a member of the Hall of Fame (as is Bill Murray).

At the Lahinch Golf Club in Ireland, President Martin Barrett says that local caddies are essential for visiting players on a links course. We move to Carnoustie in Scotland to watch a couple of golf tourists in action and learn how Katie Reid advises players by assessing their game in the first few holes. 
Steve Williams, the New Zealander who caddied for Tiger Woods from 1999-2011, says that links golf is the trickiest form of the game and caddie insight is vital to a successful round. As Murray explains, the caddies need to know about wind direction and the state of the ground, while also being able to recommend clubs, gauge yardage and read greens. 

Eight-time champion Tom Watson admits to having hated links golf until he mastered the art with the help of Alfie Fyles (1974-83), who was on the bag as he won five Opens in nine years. Mike Keiser, the owner of the Bandon Dunes course in Oregon claims that many of the world's best courses are coastal and he is proud that his resort has had a Field of Dreams effect, as Americans had little concept of links golf. But Rick Reilly, the author of Who's Your Caddy?, insists that European caddies are the best and jokes that the ruder and drunker they are, the more fun and useful they are, too. John Boyne a caddie at St Andrews, which has hosted the Open more than any other course, might disagree, but takes pride in the service he provides to visitors. 

Around the turn of the last century, the Carnoustie 300 left Scotland to bring the crafts of club making, green keeping and caddying to the United States. One of those who emigrated was Stewart Maden, who formed a partnership with the great Bobby Jones, who became the first to win the grand slam of the amateur and professional championships in the UK and USA in 1930. However, he retired at the age of 28 to help build the Augusta National course, where Willie `Pappy' Stokes founded the Caddie Corps. By watching the rain, he realised that all putts move toward Rae's Creek and this local knowledge helped him guide four players to five Masters titles. 

Many Augusta caddies came from the vicinity and Jariah Beard (1956-82) and Carl Jackson (1958-2015) say that many were poor black kids who had no other source of income. Pappy trained them to read the mindset of players, as well as the course, and the committee ruled that competitors at the Masters had to use local caddies until 1983. In 1960, Pappy paired 19 year-old Nathaniel `Ironman' Avery with superstar Arnold Palmer and gave him a ticking off when he threw a club at the bag. His words snapped Palmer out of his funk and he won the tournament and demanded Ironman on his bag from thenceforth (they would win three more green jackets together). 

Jack Nicklaus formed another fabled partnership with Willie Peterson, with the introvert golfer so feeding off the energy of his rambunctious caddie that he won five of his six Masters under his tutelage. But the success of these players saw caddies take home bigger percentages of their winnings and a new breed of freelance caddies nicknamed `pro jocks' began showing up at courses hoping for a big pay day. But Augusta stuck to its guns and first-time qualifier Fuzzy Zoeller was paired with Jerry Beard in 1979 and walked away with the title. In an interview, Zoeller claims to have been like a blind man with a guide dog, as he followed every piece of advice that Beard gave him. 

Yet, segregation meant that caddies were not allowed in the clubhouse and could only use the course on days when it was closed to members and paying visitors. Among those who graduated to the pro tour were Charlie Sifford (the first African-American to play on the PGA tour), Henry Brown, Lee Elder and Jim Dent, who won 12 PGA events during his largely forgotten career. Six-time Major champion Lee Trevino says that any black or Hispanic who made the grade came from the caddie ranks. 

Perhaps the most remarkable rise was that of Greg Puga, who came from a tough area of East Los Angeles and was drawn to golf because he disliked sharing the glory in team games. His parents made sacrifices for him to go to a driving range and take lessons, while his teacher set up a school golf team to help him develop. He also went caddying to get use of the local country club course and, having won the Mid-Amateur tournament, he qualified for the Masters in 2001. During his week, he played the back nine with Ben Crenshaw and met Carl Jackson. Moreover, he became the Cinderella story of the week and then went back to caddying at the Bel-Air Country Club. 

This is also home to Roosevelt Richardson, who recalls pitching to caddie at course car parks. Veteran Fred Sanders (who has been on the tour since 1983) says caddies could lose money travelling to events and either not getting selected or being picked by someone who failed to make the cut. The most successful parking lot pick-up was Bruce Edwards, who went on to bag for Tom Watson for 20 years. But he had to watch on TV as Leon McCladdie partnered his boss to two Masters wins. When a schedule mix-up following a rainstorm in 1982 led to many caddies failing to show up for their tee times, Watson lobbied for outsiders to be allowed. This enabled Edwards (who later contracted motor neurone disease) to walk Augusta, but it also meant that a lot of local caddies lost the pay day that had often kept them afloat for an entire year. 

Jackson retained his slot, however, thanks to his partnership with Ben Crenshaw. They won together in 1984 and came close several times over the next decade. But, in 1995, win Crenshaw grieving the loss of mentor Harvey Penick, Jackson guided him to a memorable victory by suggesting a slight adjustment to his swing and by keeping him calm on the 18th when the pressure started to get to him. 

Unlike most prominent courses in America, Pebble Beach is a resort open to the public and Mike Abbruzzese, Michael Canepa and former amateur champion Casey Boyns explain the caddie's role in making playing the course a lifetime experience. When the big boys come, however, the likes of Pete Bender have to up their game. But the demanding Nick Faldo found an unlikely soulmate in Swede Fanny Sunesson, who guided him to Masters and Open wins in their first year. As the only female caddie on the tour, she had to win over the sceptics. But she was a perfectionist whose work ethic earned her respect and made her Faldo's ideal companion.

Everything changed for players and caddies alike when Tiger Woods burst on to the scene. He made golf exciting and brought in new TV viewers and sponsors, with the result that purses rose dramatically. His first caddie was Mike `Fluff' Cowan, but Steve Williams replaced him and became the highest paid athlete in New Zealand at the height of Tiger's success. They were friends off the course, too, with Woods being best man at Williams's wedding. On occasion, he could go too far, such as when he threw a spectator's camera into a lake after he snapped Woods playing a shot. But, in 2011, Woods fired Williams and it's one of the film's major flaws that it refuses to go into any details and contents itself with recording that Woods has won only one Major since (actually two, but this year's Masters was secured after Murray's narration had been recorded). 

As we see Jim `Bones' Mackay in action with Phil Mickelsen, we learn that Michael Greller earned $1 million dollars in 2015 and 2017 while bagging for Jordan Spieth. Archive footage from 2015 shows Bill Murray revealing that he got $3 a bag when he started caddying and he insists his experiences taught him as much as the Second City troupe, National Lampoon or Saturday Night Live. We also see a clip from Honor Caddie, a 1950 film whose cast list included Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, as well legends like Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen and Chick Evans, who created a scholarship for caddies in 1928. Among those who benefited was oil tycoons George and Geoff Solich, who set up his own fund to help under-privileged kids compete for the Evans grant. 

We hear from some lucky recipients before meeting Michael Greller, who began caddying at Chambers Bay in Washington while working as a maths teacher. In 2010, he caddied for Justin Thomas at the US Amateur Championship and he introduced him to the teenage Jordan Spieth. When they first competed at the Masters, Greller sought out Carl Jackson, who shared the secrets of his yardage book and the duo finished second behind Bubba Watson before returning to win in 2015. Two years later, they won the Open after Greller talked Spieth through a recovery shot after a nightmare on the 13th at Royal Birkdale. 

By contrast, Allen Hall caddies for his son Hunter, who has autism and won the Bronze Medal at the 2015 Special Olympic World Games. Golf comes in for a lot of stick and, in some cases, rightly so. But it can do wonderful things and there is genuine poignancy in the footage of Crenshaw and Jackson retiring together in 2015 after 39 Masters journeys. Michael Collins (who is now an analyst for ESPN) avers that golf is now a team game and those who don't treat their caddies as partners don't win. 

As the credits roll over some bloopers, a clip of Bill Murray using the word `looper' in Harold Ramis's Caddyshack (1980) and a rendition of `Flower of Scotland', those who enjoy the history and lore of golf will feel themselves to have been well informed and capably entertained. Detractors will pick up on the class and race issues and wonder why Baffa chose not to discuss them in greater depth. Perhaps this has something to do with his background in surf movies like One California Day (2007), which tend to be pretty laid back. 

But with Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in the news for all the wrong reasons again, it's easy for critics who regard golf as either a dull spectacle or a symbol of resource-wasting. privilege-reinforcing capitalism to take a free swing at this slickly assembled, if occasionally superficial documentary (in a way, it should be said, they never do with films about the equally, if not more elitist sport of motor racing). The narration is sometimes clubbably clichéd and the talking-head contributions are of variable quality. But Baffa attempts to show the flipside of the coin and whether it comes up heads or tails will very much depend on your opinion of the sport and its socio-political shortcomings.