To many Janeites, it won't matter a fig that American director Whit Stillman has such fine films as Metropolitan (1990), Barcelona (1994), The Last Days of Disco (1998) and Damsels in Distress (2011) to his credit. They will solely be concerned that he has had the temerity to turn Jane Austen's posthumously published epistolary novella, Lady Susan, into a chic satire of Georgian manners entitled Love & Friendship. It's possible some will take exception to the transatlantic undertone and the letter-reading scene lampooning the young Austen's chosen format. But, as was the case with Joss Wheedon's inspired interpretation of William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing (2012), the sacred text is in respectful and capable hands and only those unable to overcome their pride and prejudice will fail to enjoy this slick chronicle of the cunning schemes of an indigent femme fatale.

Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) has been staying at Langford since the death of her husband. However, Lady Lucy Manwaring (Jenn Murray) is so convinced that something is going on between her guest and her spouse (Lochlann O'Mearáin) that Susan is forced to make arrangements to visit brother-in-law Charles Vernon (Justin Edwards) at Churchill. His wife, Catherine (Emma Greenwell), has never met her relation before, but has heard sufficient gossip to be wary of her and has never forgiven her for voicing opposition to her marriage. Catherine's younger brother, Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel), has similarly preconceived notions and he is mortified when the newly arrived Susan overhears him sharing them with his sister.

Quickly dispensing with unpaid travelling companion-cum-maid, Mrs Cross (Kelly Campbell), Susan sets out to make a good impression on Catherine by pampering her young son. She also exploits Reginald's embarrassment to monopolise him at every opportunity and he soon becomes her unyielding apologist whenever Catherine questions her behaviour or motives. Indeed, he even defends her peevishness when her daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark), runs away from school and asks to be allowed to stay at Churchill despite spurning a proposal from the eligible and affluent Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett).

Catherine confides her frustration in a letter to her parents (James Fleet and Jemma Redgrave), which Sir Reginald insists on reading aloud, complete with punctuation, when Lady DeCourcy admits to having tired eyes. But she can only welcome Sir James when he pays a surprise visit, even though it is readily apparent that Frederica wants nothing to do with him. Susan is aware that Mrs Manwaring wants to make a match with her own daughter, Maria (Sophie Radermacher) and complains about Susan's machinations to her guardian, Mr Johnson (Stephen Fry), the ageing husband of Susan's closest confidante, Alicia (Chloë Sevigny), an American who has been warned she will be dispatched back to Connecticut if she continues her friendship with the disreputable widow.

While in London to make provision for Frederica's continued education, Susan visits Alicia and reveals that she is charmed by Reginald, but would still rather be intimate with Manwaring. Aware that the latter is married, however, she sticks to her plan to unite Frederica and Sir James and lures him to Churchill to plight his troth. As a country gentleman of limited schooling, he makes a poor impression from the moment he declares his bafflement at the naming of the estate when it possesses neither a church nor a hill. He also causes eyebrows to raise when he is nonplussed by the peas he is served at supper.

Thus, when the timorous Frederica informs Reginald that she has no desire to marry Sir James, he promises to raise the matter with her mother. The resulting conversation turns into a full-blown argument, however, and Reginald announces that he is going to stay with his parents. But Susan moves swiftly to repair the damage and (off screen) commits to wed Reginald and leaves for London to see Alicia.

In fact, Susan has gone to the capital to see Manwaring and she is most put out when Reginald shows up unannounced at her lodgings. She sends him on an errand to deliver a letter to Alicia. But his arrival coincides with that of a distraught Lady Lucy, who has come to seek the counsel of Mr Johnson. Such is her distress that she rips the missive out of Reginald's hands on recognising the handwriting and reveals that Susan is currently alone with her estranged husband. Reginald doubts the veracity of her accusation, but a servant is produced who testifies that Susan had duped him into being a messenger while she trysted with her lover.

Dismayed by her perfidy, Reginald calls on Susan. However, such is her inability to admit to any wrongdoing that she condemns him for failing to carry out a simple mission and breaks their engagement because she feels she can no longer trust him. He returns to Churchill to find Frederica still being pestered by Sir James because Susan has impressed upon her the importance of obeying God's law about honouring a mother's wishes. She consults with the young curate (Conor MacNeill) and he assures her that it is his favourite Commandment and Sir James concurs that it is the most important of the twelve. When Charles corrects him, he is delighted that there are two dictates he no longer has to worry about and wonders which other could be dropped along with the Sabbath restrictions that keep him from hunting.

Drawn together by circumstances, Reginald and Frederica take to walking together while staying with his parents. They are overjoyed, therefore, to receive a letter from Susan announcing her marriage to Sir James. She admits he is silly, but concedes he has a certain charm, as well as ten thousand a year. Charles and Catherine (who is no better disposed towards Susan) are relieved by the news and begin making plans for a wedding. However, as Sir James reveals to Alicia over tea, he is about to become a father and she smiles as he explains that he received the tidings the morning after their wedding night. He also expresses his excitement that Manwaring has come to stay with them, as he is a keen huntsman and both he and Lady Susan enjoy his company.

As the film fades on Frederica singing at her reception, one is left with the impression that no one could have done a better job of tailoring this story for the screen. Stillman has always had a fine ear for dialogue and he captures the idiom and cadence of 1790s English with considerable aplomb. He also coaxes splendid performances out of Kate Beckinsale and an excellent ensemble, while making the most of the country house locations across Ireland. Production designer Anna Rackard, costumier Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh and cinematographer Richard Van Oosterhout prove key collaborators in this regard and Benjamin Esdraffo and Mark Suozzo are also to be commended for their feather-light score, which is as droll as the old silent movie inserts introducing the dramatis personnae.

However, Stillman might have found more diverse ways of staging the numerous conversations, as he relies over heavily on the kind of walk-and-talk tactic beloved of such TV shows as The West Wing. Obviously life moved at a different pace in the late 18th century and confidences were often shared outdoors. But, even though he enlivens certain episodes with on-screen script), so many scenes seem to start with the characters starting to stroll towards the camera that the effect becomes wearyingly repetitive.

Nevertheless, the acting is uniformly first rate. Reuniting with Stillman (and Sevigny) after The Last Days of Disco, Beckinsale is particularly impressive, as she delivers her lines at a confident clip that confirms the quick-thinking wit of the genteely fiendish Lady Susan. Her ability to remain civil while deceiving and double-crossing without a shred of conscience is matched by Tom Bennett's hilarious lack of intelligence and any form of social grace. His garrulous idiocy is a joy to behold, as is his complete ignorance of his own shortcomings, as he does his utmost to be affable and knowledgeable. If there is any justice, he will be nominated for a Best Supporting Oscar next spring.

Fresh from appearing in Burr Steers's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Morfydd Clark also shows well, as she reveals herself to be very much her mother's daughter in wrapping Xavier Samuel around her little finger. Emma Greenwell might have been a little acerbic in her dealings with Beckinsale, but only Chloë Sevigny struggles to get into the swing alongside the scandalously underused Stephen Fry, even though Stillman has found amusing ways to justify her presence. But she rises to the occasion when trying to calm the hysterical Jenn Murray and when making tea for Bennett's flushed father-to-be.

Such is the magnitude of Stillman's mercifully irony-free achievement in adapting presold material for the first time that one how long it will be before someone takes a tilt at Sanditon or The Watsons. Then, there are the six volumes in the Austen Project to consider, as audiences are still drawn to pictures with a famous name attached, as Australian actor-director Simon Stone proved with his 2011 stage adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's The Wild Duck. But, while theatre critics enthused about The Daughter, the film version is a major disappointment.

In a rundown logging town in New South Wales, Geoffrey Rush announces that the recession has hit so hard that he is going to have to close down his sawmill. Ewen Leslie takes the news better than most, as the business has already taken its toll on the family, as father Sam Neill has just been released from prison for embezzling money from the firm he once controlled with Rush. Leslie is married to schoolteacher Miranda Otto and dotes on teenage daughter Odessa Young, who has dyed her hair lilac and recently started dating classmate Wilson Moore.

Widowed 15 years earlier, Rush has also found love and is about to marry his young housekeeper, Anna Torv. He has persuaded estranged son Paul Schneider to be his best man and, because his own marriage is crumbling in New York, he agrees to return home for the first time since his mother killed herself. At a barbecue to celebrate his homecoming, Schneider is happy to see childhood friend Leslie again and he commiserates with him on becoming unemployed.

While out hunting, Rush wounds a wild duck and he asks Neill to nurse it back to health in his menagerie. Reluctant to leave the bird as it struggles to spread its wings again, Young also ventures into the woods with Moore and they try to have sex for the first time. However, he fails to perform and runs away in humiliation. Schneider and Leslie are also faced with temptation when the latter gets a job interview in Sydney and the pals get chatting to Sara West and Kate Box in a bar shortly after they visit their alma mater and the tipsy Leslie laments dropping out and allowing his father to carry the can for the swindle.

Shortly after they return home, Schneider has a Skype conversation in which his wife announces she is leaving him. Suddenly feeling miserable and determined that everyone else should be brought down to his level, Schneider accuses Rush of having had an affair with Otto and blames them for his mother's death. Sensing an opportunity to get his own back, Neill informs Schneider that he and Rush were cooking the books, but that he alone took the blame.

On Rush and Torv's wedding day, a distraught Schneider tells Leslie that his wife had an affair with Rush while working in the big house. When Leslie confronts her, Otto admits that Young is Rush's daughter and Leslie is so devastated that he strikes Rush and declares that he is moving into a motel. Confused by the commotion, Young asks Schneider what is going on. But, when she tries to find solace in his embrace, he pushes her away. She seeks out Leslie and is so dismayed when he also spurns her that she shoots herself with Neill's gun. As the film ends, Leslie joins Otto and Neill at the hospital to await news.

Theatre directors often make the mistake of failing to open out a stage play in adapting it for the big screen. But, while Simon Stone and cinematographer Andrew Commis (who shot another simmering domestic shocker, Rachel Ward's Beautiful Kate, 2009) do a decent job in contrasting the woodland locale with the darker recesses of the estate dwellings, Stone retains the formal style of speech that holds audiences rapt when delivered live and sounds utterly florid and forced when heard through cinema speakers. When they are not expository, too many passages are declamatory or structured to make a socio-political point. Even the brief moments of superimposed silence feel loaded. Nobody speaks naturally and, as a consequence, too many principal players are allowed to overcook their performances.

Rush, Otto and Neill do what they can in limited screen time, but Schneider seems to exist solely to cause the calamity and nothing more. Exuding the decency that makes treachery all the more shattering, Ewen Leslie tries harder than most to dial it down and his scenes with the debuting Odessa Young have a credible charm that is absent elsewhere. The cast (and nimble editor Veronika Jenet) are not helped by Commis's lurches jittery handheld coverage of their bickering or by the booming moodiness of Mark Bradshaw's score. So, even though Stone (whose only prior film experience was a vignette in the 2013 Tim Winton anthology, The Turning) takes fewer liberties with the text than Liv Ullmann's did with her re-imagining of August Strindberg's Miss Julie (2014), his clumsy symbolism involving the wild duck makes it evident what will ultimately transpire. This lack of suspense makes the hothouse domestic drama seem all the more soap operatic.

It's a good week for admirers of the Irish designer-cum-architect Eileen Gray (1878-1976), as two films about her life go on general release. However, neither Marco Antonio Orsini's documentary. Gray Matters, nor Mary McGuckian's biopic, The Price of Desire, does justice to the achievement of a modernist pioneer who was forever forced to fight the male chauvinism of her immediate socio-cultural circle and an indifferent art establishment. Each picture opens with the 2009 Christie's auction in Paris that saw the Dragon Chair once owned by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé exceed its expected sale price of £3 million to set a world-record for a 20th-century design item of £19 million. Yet neither director bothers to assess the aesthetic value or significance of the piece and neither refers to it again during the course of their respective films, which are frequently undermined by the presupposition that the audience is already familiar with Gray, her milieu and her work.

Born on 9 August 1878 in Enniscorthy in southern Ireland, Katherine Eileen Moray Smith was the daughter of painter James McLaren Smith and Eveleen Pounden, who became the 19th Baroness Gray on the death of her own mother in 1895. Having parted from her husband, the baroness changed the surname of her five children, although Eileen never used her title. She did, however, grow up in considerable comfort in Ireland and South Kensington and became one of the first woman to be accepted to study painting at the Slade School of Fine Art, where she befriended Jessie Gavin and Kathleen Bruce, with whom she moved to Paris shortly after visiting the 1900 Exposition Universelle.

Despite studying at the Académie Julian and the Académie Colarossi, the financially independent Gray frequently returned to the Slade. However, she was frustrated by the rigidity of the classes in drawing and painting and she started to experiment with Japanese lacquer techniques. On settling in Paris in 1906, she forged a four-year partnership with Seizo Sugawara, who helped her refine her skills as she produced a series of brick screens that are now highly prized by collectors like Anthony DeLorenzo and Adriana Friedman. They discuss their design alongside Gray specialists Jennifer Goff and Caroline Constant, Christie's director Philippe Garner, MoMA conservator Roger Griffith and Zeev Aram, to whom Gray granted the rights to reproduce her designs in 1973.

Despite being acclaimed for the Monte Carlo Room at the Salon D'Automne exhibition in 1924, Gray was reluctant to exhibit her work and it was only when she was commissioned by milliner Suzanne Talbot (aka Madame Mathieu Lévy) to redecorate her apartment in the Rue de Lota that she began to acquire a reputation, thanks to such iconic items as the Dragon Chair, the Bibendum Chair and the Pirogue Boat Bed. Her new-found renown enabled her to open Galerie Jean Désert, a small shop on the fashionable Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, in which she not only sold Art Deco furniture, but also carpets that were co-designed by Evelyn Wyld and woven in a small workshop nearby.

Among her friends in this period were the American painter Romaine Brooks and her writer lover Natalie Barney and Gray had her own romance with cabaret singer Marisa Damia (for whom she created the famous Siren Chair) before she was seduced by Gabrielle Bloch. In 1921, however, at the age of 43, she lost her heart to Jean Badovici, a Romanian architect-critic 15 years her junior after he approached her about an article in his magazine, L'Architecture Vivante, which has already published influential pieces on the Dutch De Stijl movement and Le Corbusier (the pseudonym of Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris), the Swiss-born architect who would later sum up his theories in the famous Five Points of Architecture

Convinced that Gray could make the transition to architect, Badovici proposed a joint project at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin on the Côte d'Azur, which they named E-1027 after the alphabetical value of their initials. Although Le Corbusier gave Gray a set of drawings, she produced her own variations and used tubular steel to produce a circular glass table and the Transat chair. However, she didn't live in the property (which had to be registered in Badovici's name for legal reasons) for long, as her relationship with Badovici broke down and she returned to her apartment on the Rue de Bonaparte in Paris to work on the design for her second house, Tempe à Pailla, outside Menton. This was completed in 1931 and, at the age of 76, she created Lou Pérou in Saint-Tropez. Neither house is shown in the film, however, as they no longer bear much resemblance to Gray's original conception.

Gray was furious when she discovered that Badovici had given Le Corbusier permission to cover her minimalist walls at E-1027 with garish Cubist murals that she considered an act of vandalism. But she remained close to Badovici until his death in 1956. Ironically, Le Corbusier (who fostered the impression that he had designed E-1027 in a 1948 photo article) succumbed to a massive heart attack while swimming within sight of the villa in August 1965. But, despite being blind in one eye and suffering from Parkinson's Disease, Gray survived for another decade, during which time her reputation was enhanced by architectural historian Joseph Rykwert, who appears to extol virtues that are also commended by Oliver Holy, Elizabeth Szaneer Kujawski, Ronald Lauder, Elie Massaoutis, Cloé Pitiot, Roberto Rebutato, Barry Shifman and Cécile Verdier.

Yet, Orsini devotes little time to Gray's work with celluloid and Plexiglass and in summing up her life and career, he leaves sizeable phases uncovered and singularly fails to place her legacy in a wider socio-artistic context. Goff and Constant are as enthusiastic as they are informed, but several of the other experts are floridly superficial in their appraisal of the so-called Mother of Modernism. This is doubly disappointing given the fact that this is anything but a beginner's guide to Gray and her oeuvre. That said, without Orsini's efforts, much of McGuckian's dramatisation would be as bafflingly obscure as it is self-consciously precious.

The intention is clearly to depict Gray as a woman whose independence of thought and deed made her both alluring and alarming. However, McGuckian's screenplay fails to provide any sort of context for the drama that centres around Gray's relationships with Badovici and Le Corbusier. Dates are at a premium, as the story flits between the 1970s and the inter-war years, while the audience is often left to guess the names and relevance of the minor characters orbiting an unholy trinity who often seem to be acting in entirely different films. As Gray, Orla Brady is invariably shot in profile and is often required to stare impassively into the distance to convey emotions ranging from passion to fury, while Francesco Scianna oozes insouciant charm like a gigolo or professional divorce corespondent and Vincent Pérez frequently dips out of a scene to address the camera directly in order to comment on the action or impart his own spin upon its import.

No one is helped by the fact that the dialogue (which shifts pretentiously between English and French) sounds like it has been lifted from an art history primer. And, yet, this could not be more handsomely or evocatively staged in authentic locations that capture the elegance and élan of an age that revolutionised many things, with the notable exception of the treatment of women.

Eileen Gray (Orla Brady) has acquired a reputation for lacquer work in collaboration with Seizo Sugawara (Tan Win) and for carpets in conjunction with Evelyn Wyld (Cherise Silvestri). However, when she falls in love with singer Marisa Damia (Alanis Morissette), Gray designs her a chair and moves into interior design with such success that Le Corbusier (Vincent Pérez), Jean Badovici (Francesco Scianna) and Fernand Léger (Dominique Pinon) are so astonished by her Monte Carlo room that Badovici requests an interview for his magazine.

On first meeting at the Galerie Jean Désert, Gray feels an irresistible attraction that seemingly couldn't be better timed, as Damia has been lured away by Gabrielle Bloch (Caitriona Balfe). Lesbian friends Romaine Brooks (Elsa Zylberstein) and Natalie Barney (Natasha Girardi) are delighted for her and loyal maid Louise Dany (Tamara Vuckovic) soon gets used to having Badovici sleeping over at 21 Rue Bonaparte. But he is keen for everyone to see what a clever girlfriend he has and suggests they collaborate on a holiday home on the south coast because he has a hunch she will be as brilliant an architect as she is everything else.

Le Corbusier confides his doubts, but still lends Gray some drawings. A series of flash forwards reveal that he quickly developed a proprietorial feel for the project and we see him ushering friend Marie Louise Schelbert (Anne Lambton) to a 1960 auction at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin to prevent E-1027 falling into the hands of the philistinic Aristotle Onassis (David Herlihy). His relief soon turns to dismay, however, when Schelbert celebrates her unorthodox victory by throwing priceless items of modernist furniture off the balcony.

Back in the mid-1920s, however, all is sweetness and bleached Mediterranean light, as Gray and Badovici use the numerical value of their initials to name their love nest. They frequently play host to Le Corbusier and Léger, who commends Gray on using tubular steel in designing the Transat chair. But tensions soon mount when Badovici keeps inviting budding architect Charlotte Perriand (Adriana Randall) to stay and Gray feels betrayed when he opts to take her to an architectural congress. She discovers the full extent of his infidelity, however, when she catches him in bed with a bright young thing when she barges into his apartment to recover some artefacts she had ordered him to throw away.

Frustrated at having to put E-1027 in Badovicis name, as French law doesn't allow foreigners to own property, Gray starts work on Tempe à Pailla, whose name was derived from the proverb about figs in straw ripening over time. She spends long periods with Brooks and Barney and knows nothing of Badovici's decision to allow Le Corbusier to daub some gaudy Cubist murals on her pristine white walls. The Wehrmacht clearly didn't think much of the designs, as they use them for target practice following the Fall of France in June 1940. But Gray remains oblivious, as she is forced to move out of her coastal residence and sigh sadly as a column of ragged refugees crosses her path.

This section of the picture is so sketchy that it's impossible to tell where Gray is living and how much contact she has with her former friends. She clearly remains in touch with Badovici and rushes to his bedside when she learns he is dying from a diseased liver. But she arrives too late to help him make a will and Le Corbusier (who has now built a wooden cabin beside E-1027) looks on with some amusement as Gray argues with Mireille Roupest (Hayet Belhalloufi) about handing over the keys. However. he doesn't get to enjoy his triumph for long, as he perishes in the sea in 1965. But the damage he did to Gray's vision of the property persuaded her not to go inside when she paid a final visit in 1967.

Sadly, her sight began to fade in her later years and she was blind in one eye by the time Bruce Chatwin (Martin George Swabey) came to interview her and was encouraged to visit Patagonia (an incident memorialised in Patricia O'Reilly's novel, The Interview). She died at the age of 98 on 31 October 1978 and McGuckian lingers discreetly as she collapses to the floor whilst working. But we learn so little about Gray's final 33 years that one wonders why this coda is included. But several of McGuckian's creative choices seem capricious, most notably Le Corbusier's recurring breaches of the fourth wall and the floating soft-focus close-ups of a pensive Gray, as she contemplates the latest act of chauvinism or betrayal. Neither gambit reveals as much about the character or the zeitgeist as is intended, but McGuckian persists in decorating her picture with such gauche flourishes that, ironically, feel as intrusively redundant as Le Corbusier's sexualised graffiti.

Brady (who replaced Winona Ryder early in proceedings) does her best to convey Gray's poise and spirit, but the lifeless poses she is forced to adopt sap the energy out of a personality whose creative genius is too often taken for granted. Sandwiched between Gray's self-absorbed feminist paragon and Pérez's muggingly smug villain, Scianna struggles to register as much more than a pretty boy who gives Gray encouragement and reminds her in middle age that she is actively bisexual. Fine actors like Zylberstein and Pinon are even more undersold, with the former having little to do but smile sweetly while the latter turns Léger into a ligger.

Apart from Brian Byrne's gelatinous score, the production values are more impressive, with Zeev Aram recreating the furnishings for E-1027 and Julian Lennon ably facsimilising the photograph of Damia that Gray kept on her mantelpiece. Cinematographer Stefan von Bjorn also makes adept use of the Riviera light, but his images occasionally calcify around the starchily reverent script that reduces potentially compelling characters to components in a gallery of mannered tableaux inertes.

The Cannes Film Festival has just ended for another year and the critics have been divided over the merits of the major prize winners. Last spring, Emmanuelle Bercot had quite an eventful week, as she not only opened proceedings as the director of Standing Tall, but she also ended it by taking the Best Actress prize for Mon Roi, the fourth outing behind the camera for fellow performer, Maïwenn Le Besco. Ironically, Standing Tall chronicled the misfortunes of a troubled teenager who has been abandoned by his mother, while Mon Roi charts the reasons why a young boy will grow up in a broken home. Given the extent to which Maïwenn relies on improvisation, it would be fascinating to compare the pictures more closely. But Standing Tall - like 2013's On My Way before it - has yet to secure a UK release, despite the presence in each of Catherine Deneuve.

Sent to a seaside rehabilitation centre after damaging her knee in a skiing accident, twice divorced fortysomething lawyer Emmanuelle Bercot is asked by the resident psychiatrist whether her fall was a mishap or a cry for help. In embarrassed discomfort, Bercot fights back the tears at the suggestion that she had tried to kill herself. But, as she undergoes a course of gruelling physiotherapy, she starts to reflect on the events that led to her injury.

While clubbing with brother Louis Garrel and his girlfriend Isild Le Besco, Bercot notices Vincent Cassel with his friends. She recognises him from her time as a bartender and she asks if he remembers her by flicking water from a champagne bucket in his face (a tactic he had used to pick up girls in the bar). Despite his surprise and her aversion, she accepts an invitation back to his apartment and, as Garrel and Le Besco doze off on the sofa, Bercot and Cassel chat until dawn, when he tosses her his mobile and tells her to call him before he zooms off in a snazzy car.

From the outset, Garrel is not impressed and warns his sister against doing anything foolish. But, having been swept off to a wedding on their first formal date, Bercot is intrigued and drops into Cassel's restaurant unannounced. She receives a frosty welcome from his ex-girlfriend, Chrystèle Saint Louis Augustin (a model who has fallen back on waitressing because of her crippling addictions), but Cassel seems every bit as smitten as Bercot and a montage shows them falling in love.

Interspersing the flashbacks with scenes of Bercot exercising her knee in the centre gym and swimming pool, Maïwenn continues her tale by having Cassel announce during a midnight ironing session that he wants to have a child with Bercot. She is still establishing her reputation in the legal profession and has misgivings, especially as Cassel keeps disappearing to help Saint Louis Augustin recover from her latest relapse. However, the feelings she experiences during love making are so intense and Cassel seems so sincere in his devotion that she agrees and they form the picture of happiness as they look at the images on the ultrasound screen.

Having moved into his apartment, Bercot feels entitled to Cassel's undivided attention. But he cannot bring himself to abandon Saint Louis Augustin and returns from one errand of mercy to find Bercot packing because her patience is exhausted. Garrel urges her to ditch Cassel, but she ends up defending him and insisting that he is a good man who is loyal to his friends. When she returns home, Cassel promises to be more considerate and suggests that he takes a smaller apartment nearby so that he doesn't disturb Bercot with his comings and goings. Naturally, she is perplexed by the proposal, but not only goes along with it, but also agrees to marry Cassel.

Despite the occasional tiff, all seems rosy again until a bailiff arrives at the door with a warrant to remove items of furniture to cover a debt that Cassel has failed to honour. She is furious with him, as several family heirlooms were taken away. But he redeems the more precious pieces and assures her that everything will be fine. Indeed, he spends more time with Bercot and happens to be in bed with her when her waters break. Once again, they appear the perfect couple as they gaze in rapture at their infant son. But Bercot is put out when Cassel insists on her bringing the boy to meet Saint Louis Augustin. Moreover, when she finds out that Cassel is also a habitual drug user, she demands a divorce.

Cassel is nonplussed, as she cites the very factors that attracted her as the reasons for her disillusion. He shrugs that he will always be a gregarious personality who places a high value on friendship and makes it clear that he will not make the separation easy. They argue while stuck in a traffic jam and Bercot is horrified when Cassel scrapes along a line of parked cars as he reverses. He threatens to sue for custody of their son and she is left to scream in the rain as he speeds away.

Typically, the pair end up in bed on the day they divorce and Félix Bossuet is overjoyed to find his father hiding in the bathroom when he comes to find his mother. Indeed, they spend a great deal of time together and Bercot becomes convinced they can work something out. Once again, Garrel is sceptical, as she has started taking pills for her nerves. But Bercot avers that she has worked too hard to have a family to lose her last chance of making it work. They go to counselling and Cassel promises to go into rehab before becoming a model parent. But Bercot catches him in bed with a casual pick-up and, when he hosts a party for his friends to put his gadabout days behind him, Bercot gets drunk and causes a scene that causes Cassel to carry her away from the table.

Back at the centre, Bercot has forged an unlikely attachment with a group of young lads in the canteen. She enjoys their irreverent humour and their banter over their ethnic backgrounds. They provide support when she suffers a setback in flexing her knee and give her the strength to start putting weight on her leg in the pool. No longer confined to a wheelchair, Bercot starts getting around on cruches and she is touched when her new friends make a fuss of Bossuet when he comes for a visit. Consequently, as her stay draws to a close, she goes on a day out with the boys and laughs loudly as they try to flirt with passing girls at an outdoor café.

Despite the luncheon outburst, Bercot and Cassel keep trying to muddle along. He remains secretive, but has cut his ties to Saint Louis Augustin and makes a big fuss of Bossuet on his seventh birthday by taking him on holiday and producing a horse and a pony to ride on a Moroccan beach. In the restaurant that night, he poses as a waiter and makes the other diners laugh and Bercot has hopes that things might work out. But, when she gets an important case defending a killer who has made the news, Cassel sneers at her for supporting a maniac and feels jilted when she cuts short a meal to return to the office. Thus, when she informs Cassel in her office that she has met a new man, he orders her to keep him away from Bossuet and vows to take him away from her.

Eventually, Cassel comes to terms with the situation. However, when he joins Bercot to discuss Bossuet's progress at school, he is dismissively courteous towards her. As they look through workbooks, Bercot notices the pride Cassel takes in his son's achievements and she studies his profile with lingering affection. He sees she is wearing the gold watch he bought her, but avoids eye contact. Indeed, he can barely bring himself to bid her farewell as he leaves and the film ends with Bercot chatting to the teacher with the realisation playing in her mind that this is how things are going to be from now on.

There is always a danger when a director invites the cast to improvise around a detailed outline that scenes are going to drift and that the stars are going to compete for the limelight. But Maïwenn has so refined her technique that she is able to achieve a naturalism that gives the audience the impression they are eavesdropping on daily life. Moreover, she is always careful in ensuring that the significant dramatic moments emerge out of plausible situations. But, no matter how immersed an actor may be in a role, the camera always magnifies gestures and emotions, with the result that even the most authentic performance can occasionally lapse into melodramatics.

Bercot and Cassel excel in this sprawling account of mismatched lovers who cannot live with or without each other. But they tend to keep things on the surface and little insight is offered into Cassel's addictive waywardness or Bercot's readiness to tolerate his antics. There are moments when Claire Mathon's relentlessly inquisitive widescreen lens catches them acting, with Bercot never seeming entirely comfortable fooling around with her youthful buddies at the clinic. But they both create credible characters whose flaws are allowed to stand unjudged by Maïwenn and co-writer Étienne Comar. Any overt sympathy lies with Bercot, but Cassel is accorded his reasons and, consequently, is never demonised, despite Garrel's constant carping. Yet, such is the emphasis on Bercot and Cassel that few of the other characters are more than ciphers and this disparity serves to heighten the soapishness of some of the more emotive sequences.

Making her fourth feature after Pardonnez-moi (2006), All About Actresses (2009) and Polisse (2011), Maïwenn directs without drawing undue attention to herself. But she does borrow stylistic tics from a range of other film-makers in forging an economical style that gives the actors plenty of space. She is splendidly served by Mathon, production designer Dan Weill and editor Simon Jacquet. Stephen Warbeck's score is also well judged. However, time hangs a little heavily as Bercot comes out of her shell at the clinic because the interludes try too hard to demonstrate the random nature of attraction and the more relaxed attitude that the younger generation has towards women. It also seems highly unlikely that the centre psychiatrist would not wish to follow-up their initial session, as, while Bercot might be on her way to a physical recovery, there seems no doubt that her emotional scars are much more debilitating.

The roi is of a more conventional kind in Kenneth Branagh's Henry V (1944), which is returning to cinemas as part of the celebration of the quartercentenary William Shakespeare's death. The 28 year-old debutant was taking a risk in taking on a film that had earned Laurence Olivier an honorary Oscar in 1945 for bringing such a rousing subject to the screen at a time of war. Yet, Branagh would earn nominations for both his performance and his direction, which eschewed Olivier's sunny stylisation for a mud-spattered realism that raised as many eyebrows among Shakespearean scholars as the interpolations from the two-part Henry IV to show Prince Hal turning his back on his frivolous past and his onetime drinking companions in order to embrace the duties of kingship.

After The Chorus (Derek Jacobi in modern dress) sets the scene, the Archbishop of Canterbury (Charles Kay) meets with the Bishop of Ely (Alec McCowen) to devise a gambit that will prevent Henry V (Kenneth Branagh) from passing legislation enabling him to confiscate church property. They hit upon the Salic Law that the French had invoked in 1410 to deny Henry IV a claim to the throne and persuade the young king that he has a right to rule a realm with which the English had been at war since 1337. Henry's uncle, the Duke of Exeter (Brian Blessed), joins with the Earl of Westmoreland (Paul Gregory) to support the stratagem and, as a consequence, the clerics succeed in convincing their monarch to invade France if his legitimacy is denied.

Having consulted with his nobles and kinsmen, Henry summons the French ambassador, the Duke of Berry (Nigel Greaves), who brings a gift from the Dauphin (Michael Maloney). Exeter is furious when Henry opens the chest to find it contains tennis balls, which have been sent to highlight his youth and mock his former indolence. But Henry remains calm and dismisses Berry before making plans to invade France.

In London, Bardolph (Richard Briers), Nym (Geoffrey Hutchings) and Pistol (Robert Stephens) recall their happy days carousing with Prince Hal and his bawdy mentor, Sir John Falstaff (Robbie Coltrane) at the inn owned by Mistress Quickley (Judi Dench). They are sad that their ringleader is slipping towards death and that he parted on such acrimonious terms after Henry renounced his wasted youth on inheriting the throne. Nevertheless, they enlist for the expedition and make haste for Southampton, where Henry is proving his mettle by charging the Earl of Cambridge (Fabian Cartwright), Lord Scroop (Stephen Simms) and Sir Thomas Grey (Jay Villiers) with treason.

Across the Channel, Charles VI (Paul Scofield) is holding council with his ministers about how to deal with Henry's approach. Aware of Henry's roistering youth, the Dauphin laughs off his threat. But the Constable (Richard Easton) assures the king that Henry is a changed character and that the French have struggled to repel previous English incursions. As they deliberate, Exeter arrives to declare that Henry will take the throne by force if it is not relinquished peaceably. Unable to resist a cheap shot at the Dauphin, Exeter withdraws to await Charles's response.

The French decision to resist provokes Henry into laying siege to the town of Harfleur. He surveys the scene with Exeter and his younger brothers, Gloucester (Simon Shepherd) and Bedford (James Larkin). Bardolph, Nym and Pistol are now in the ranks alongside Gower (Daniel Webb), the Irishman MacMorris (John Sessions) and the Scot, Jamy (Jimmy Yuill), who are being whipped into shape by the Welsh captain, Fluellen (Ian Holm), who is attended by a young page boy (Christian Bale).

Henry delivers a rousing speech to his troops and they respond by forcing the Governor (David Lloyd Meredith) into surrendering. The news reaches Paris that the Dauphin failed to arrive in time to relieve the siege and Charles orders his nobles to engage the invaders in a pitched battle. Elsewhere in the palace, however, his daughter Katharine (Emma Thompson) asks her lady-in-waiting, Alice (Geraldine McEwan), to teach her some essential English words, as she has a feeling she is soon going to need them.

Pressing on towards Calais, Henry's army encounters some foul weather and disease ravages the troops. However, he shows no mercy when Bardolph is caught looting a church and he is summarily hanged. Morale is low, therefore, when Mountjoy (Christopher Ravenscroft) arrives to insist that Henry surrenders and delivers a ransom to King Charles for his safe conduct back to the Channel ports. Henry scorns his demands and promises that a sickly English army would be more than a match for the French.

The mood in the rival camps could not be more different, with spirits being high among the French foot soldiers, even though their officers have little faith in the Dauphin. Across the field at Agincourt, Henry consults with Gloucester, Bedford and Sir Thomas Erpingham (Edward Jewesbury), who confides that the men are ready, but subdued. Adopting a disguise, Henry wanders out to listen to what his warriors are saying. He is pleased when Pistol fails to recognise him, but is dismayed to hear Bates (Shaun Prendergast) and Williams (Michael Williams) questioning the king's credentials for command. The discussion becomes heated and Henry nearly comes to blows with Williams, who agrees that they should fight a duel if they survive the following day's action.

Chastened by what he has learned, Henry prays for the wisdom, strength and courage to lead his men to victory against an adversary that outnumbers him by five to one. As St Crispin's Day dawns, Henry rallies his troops with a stirring speech in which he promises that they will forever be remembered for their achievements. Enraged by Mountjoy's entreaty to surrender, Henry orders the attack with a volley of arrows that causes heavy casualties among the French cavalry. Seizing the initiative, he orders a counterattack that catches the Dauphin off guard and, when the Constable is killed, the senior nobles realise that the battle can only end in ignominious defeat.

In an act of cowardice, some of the French soldiers get behind the English lines and murder some of the page boys. They also torch the tents. But Henry and Fluellen swiftly avenge the slaughter and the king is in no mood for leniency when Mountjoy petitions for surrender. Indeed, such is his readiness for a fight that he seeks out Williams and returns the glove thrown down the night before. Naturally, the soldier is astonished to learn that he had called out the monarch and he backs down with as much good grace as he can muster.

As part of the terms of the Treaty of Troyes, Henry is proclaimed King of England and France. He is also betrothed to Katharine, who seems very taken with her country's conqueror. But, as The Chorus concludes, Henry was not destined to live for long and the long regency for his son weakened the English position, which deteriorated further when Henry VI ascended the throne.

Branagh would win a BAFTA for his direction, while Phyllis Dalton landed an Academy Award for her costume design. Among the stalwarts who went unrewarded were cinematographer Kenneth MacMillan, production designer Tim Harvey and first-time composer Patrick Doyle. No one but Branagh drew an Oscar nomination, but the ensemble provides doughty support, with Richard Briers going to his death with pitiful amiability as Bardolph and Michael Maloney doing everything in his power to make the Dauphin seem loathesome. One of the few missteps comes from the usually reliable Emma Thompson, who just seems too sensible to play the fluffily naive Katharine.

Unburdened by the need to provide uplifting propaganda for the embattled masses, Branagh has an easier job than Olivier in imposing his vision on to the text. He is able to dispense with the Book of Hours visuals that were intended to provide wartime audiences with a splash of morale-boosting colour and convey the brutal, bloody awfulness of medieval combat by staging the battle scenes in quagmires that resembled the newsreel footage of the slow slog to Berlin reaching British cinemas from June 1944. Branagh is also able to give a performance rather than recite the verse, as Olivier was still unconvinced that Shakespeare belonged on the movie screen and he played it safe to ensure the expensive picture made back its production costs. He would approach things very differently when he embarked upon Hamlet four years later.

By keeping the camera close to the action, Branagh avoids accusations of producing a glorifying spectacle by concentrating on the powers of leadership that Henry exhibits and another inspirational figurehead rallies his charges for another tilt at continental glory in Debbie Shuter and Adam Tysoe's Streetdance Family

. Following the fortunes of the Entity dance troupe from Barking that would reach the final of Britain's Got Talent in 2015, this sticks closely to the documentary format established by Marilyn Agrelo's Mad Hot Ballroom (2005) and since utilised in varying degrees by Beadie Finzi's Only When I Dance (2009), Anne Bass's Dancing Across Borders (2010), Sue Bourne's Jig, Bess Kargman's First Position (both 2011) and Kenneth Elvebakk's Ballet Boys (2014). But no one buying a ticket for this highly engaging and enjoyable film will expect the dance to take precedence over the journey.

Twenty-seven year-old Tashan Muir formed Entity to give kids from a deprived Essex housing estate something to keep them out of trouble. Such was his impact on the 10-16 year olds that he began entering them into competitions and became such a potent force that children were defecting from other companies to sign up and rivals were beginning to resort to underhand tactics in order to nobble them. As Shuter and Tydsoe take up the story, the latter's 11 year-old son Ethan has just been accepted and is part of a team preparing for the 2014 Street Dance International All England Championship in Luton.

Tashan runs Entity with the help of Jade Beckett, whose 14 year-old brother Evion is best friends with one of the star dancers, Jordan Shepherd, a 12 year-old who nervously confides to the camera that street dance has helped him grow in confidence so that he is no longer afraid of the bullies at school. His mother, Angelika, had a heart attack when her son was just eight and she supports him every step of the way so that he has some happy memories of her in case she is struck down again.

While the kids put in the hard work in the rehearsal room, Shuter and Tydsoe are very much interested in the parents who make untold sacrifices to ferry their offspring to practices and competitions across the country. Michelle Alexander and Charmaine Newman are among the more voluble supporters, as they cheer on their respective daughter Bo and son Max. June Turgott is a little more laid back and jokes that she is happy to fetch and carry daughter Somoya, so long as she doesn't miss Downton Abbey.

Among the other parent-child combinations are Emma and Michael Lynch and their daughter, Chloe; Pater Adjaye and his son Samuel; former majorette Clare Lewington and her boy Albie; Sam and Glen Lowman and their daughter Chelsea; Sasha and Brad Platt and their son Lewis; Kez Gibson and her daughter Fiyon; Mark Miller and his daughter Chaise; Paul Schade and his daughter Nicole; Cherie Simmons and her daughter Dolcie; and Gina Passera-Hughes and her daughters Lydia and Francesca. Not all get name-checked during the documentary, but they are vital members of the extended family and Tashan makes it abundantly clear that he values each and every one of them.

At Luton, Shuter and Tydsoe introduce Derek Povey, who is the president of Street Dance International and a caption makes it clear that he is happy to help anyone at any time. Yet Tashan is unhappy with the way in which Entity keep having to jump through hoops that don't seem to hinder rival troupes and he refuses to get carried away when they win the Under-16s section at a canter and progress to the European Championships.

A montage cut to a decidedly un-hip-hop piece of ersatz Swingle II shows Tashan putting the kids through their paces in the run up to Rimini. They respond to his pep talks and quiet words of individual encouragement and the parents are happy to let him do things his own way. Spirits are high, therefore, as everyone joins in a rousing chorus of `We Are the Champions' in the hotel on the eve of the competition. But the mood is very different the following morning, with Shuter and Tydsoe gaining the impression that an important piece of information is being withheld from them.

As they linger outside the venue, they notice Jade teaching Evion the steps that Jordan had been performing in the routine. Only then do they realise that Jordan, Angelika and her husband Richard are missing and it gradually transpires that the latter had challenged Tashan about his methods and caused such a scene that he felt sufficiently disrespected to drop Jordan from the squad. When Shuter and Tydsoe finally catch up with the breaking story, they see Tashan explaining to Jordan that he cannot allow anyone to challenge his authority and, even though he loves him like his own son, he has to cut him loose to protect the rest of the group.

Clearly negotiations went on behind the scenes, as Jordan takes his place for the First Round routine and, much to his credit, he puts in a flawless performance. But Tashan finds himself in another crisis when the judges warn him that the number he has chosen for the semi final is 30 seconds too long. Keeping a lid on his anger, he edits the track on a laptop and re-choreographs the steps in the car park so that everyone knows what they are doing. However, the last-minute changes affect the performance and Entity fail to make the final. He gathers the kids around him and assures them that they are the best in the business and that others are prepared to cheat to beat them. He sighs that it's all politics and guarantees they will bounce back for the Worlds in Bochum.

Back in Barking, the mums gather for a natter and express their support for Tashan. They do wonder, however, whether he is part of the reason the judges have it in for their kids. But Shuter and Tydsoe avoid such contentious issues and retain their faith in Tashan, as he patches everyone together for the biggest competition of their young lives. The co-directors do spare a thought for Jordan, however, who has wisely chosen family over friends. He sheds a tear because he misses being part of something special, but he keeps practicing just in case.

Max takes his spot in the First Round in Germany and they sail into the Quarter Finals. Laura Walsh is particularly thrilled by their progress as Entity has given her and 13 year-old daughter Keir something else to focus on after the loss of her husband to cancer. They hug each other and their eyes well up, but they know he is looking down on them both and urging Keir to do her best.

Several of the other troupes look good, with the Polish, Danish, Swedish and Canadian squads nailing the urban vibe. Tashan chats with his Canadian counterpart and they agree that the standards are high and that the organisers are the most contrary bunch imaginable. Keen to bask in the limelight, Derek flies in to see Entity blaze into the Semi Finals and everyone feels confident as they celebrate in a restaurant. But Tashan is less than impressed with their efforts the following morning and complains that they look tired compared to some of their rivals.

While they are waiting for the results, however, Derek flounces in and accuses Tashan of attending a meeting that was for senior management only. As the teenagers look on in bewilderment, Derek effs and blinds in Tashan's face and he does well to retain his composure. Keen to avoid a public scene, he steers Derek away from the concourse in order to prove that he had been invited by one of the committee bigwigs. Unsurprisingly, the parents are appalled by the tantrum, which seems to have been quite deliberately thrown in full view of the camera and the kids. They decry the lack of support from the home agency when Entity are the first UK team to make a World Final. But Tashan tells his dancers to channel the anger they feel towards Derek into their performance.

As finals day arrives, Bo jars her knee while practicing a somersault and Tashan shuffles his pack once more to ensure the minimum disruption. The parents take their seats and watch nervously as the other troupes strut their stuff. They jump to their feet when Entity walk into the arena and whoop their way through the entire routine. Tashan sits cross-legged at the edge of the stage and exudes a sense of calm that transmits itself to the dancers. They are sharp, precise and full of attitude and Tashan takes them backstage to watch the playback on a giant television screen. He reassures them that they have never been better and the judges clearly agree, as the prizes are awarded from seventh place to first and Entity come out on top.

Tashan curls in a ball on the floor with relief, as parents and kids hug around him. No one says it, but they all know that they have triumphed in spite of the efforts of Derek to usurp their moment of glory. One feels for Jordan at missing out because of his father's ill-judged intervention, but a closing caption reveals that he is back in the fold as Entity train to defend their title.

Following the example of Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson, who followed the course of their son's education in American Promise (2013), Adam Tydsoe finds a way to turn a home movie into a feature film. This is a much more edifying spectacle than Idris Brewster's travails at the exclusive Dalton School in New York, as there is a refreshing lack of pushiness or competitiveness among parents who have bought into Tashan's all-for-one ethos. A little more might be made of the fact that the majority of the kids are white, but Shuter and Tydsoe seem oblivious to any socio-political nuance. They have hit upon a compelling Us vs Them story and they tell it with energy and affection and without too much tissue-soaking sentimentality.