‘Magic isn’t all twinkly lights and stardust,’ warns Michael Caine’s Psammead in Sky Cinema’s Jacqueline Wilson adaptation. Twinkly sentiment is thankfully kept at bay, with director Andy De Emmony honouring the balance of flighty fancy and unresolved feeling in Wilson’s modern reimagining of E Nesbit.

Divided into two sibling pairings, the four kids (Teddie-Rose

Malleson-Allen and Billy Jenkins, Ashley Aufderheide and Ellie-Mae Siame) are brought together when one family’s father (Matthew Goode) and another’s mother (Paula Patton) announce that they are ‘seeing’ each other. Awkward feelings are thrown into sharp relief when the youngsters encounter Caine’s sand fairy, who grants them a wish a day albeit with learning-curve complications. Russell Brand’s eccentric further complicates plot and tone, his

delivery wobbling between appealing gusto and ’tache-twirling self-indulgence. The kids are more endearing, crucially, and the plot kinks keep the route to the predictable climax lively, as does Caine’s nicely crotchety voicework as Psammead. He’s a winningly wily (and explosively flatulent) creation in a children’s film that manages to be feelgood but never too cutesy. (Kevin Harley) Available on Sky Cinema from Fri 3 Apr.

DRAMA EMA (15) 107min ●●●●●

‘I’m going to horrify you,’ Ema seductively tells a fireman in Pablo Larraín’s tense and blazingly ambitious drama that follows a Chilean couple who split apart after their adopted son is removed. Bleached blonde Ema (Mariana Di Girolamo) is introduced proudly with a flamethrower in her hand. She marches to her own twisted beat and is joined by a loyal female cohort of dancers, who move in unison with animalistic power.

Gael García Bernal plays Ema’s estranged husband and choreographer Gastón. The couple’s confrontations unfold as a series of charged and nasty exchanges, with Ema’s wounding remarks matched by Gastón’s disgust at her empowerment. Larraín cultivates an explosive and bewildering atmosphere, aided by an intense performance from Di Girolamo. Ema is the kind of mysterious, multi-faceted female character that cinema has been crying out for, a thoroughly modern woman hell-bent on achieving her own personal vision of freedom. Though the denouement unwisely attempts to explain her, the trip Larraín takes the viewer on is undoubtedly a thrilling one. (Katherine McLaughlin). Available theatrically and on MUBI, Apr & May.

DRAMA THE ASSISTANT (15) 87min ●●●●●

Exposing the con of certain career opportunities whilst dipping its toe in the murky waters of Weinstein and his ilk, The Assistant is the first narrative feature from Australian filmmaker Kitty Green, director of documentary Casting JonBenet. Set in a toxic workspace, it painstakingly immerses us in the punishing demands and serial unease of a film industry dogsbody.

Ozark’s Julia Garner plays Jane, the horribly exploited right-hand woman to an unseen movie executive. Just five weeks into the job, she’s already wrung out by the life-sucking schedule, an ordeal for which she’s supposed to be grateful. Often an unnoticed observer, Jane is also subjected to regular contempt and has the unenviable task of clearing up after her boss’s liaisons, maintaining his large stash of erectile dysfunction meds, and inducting members of staff employed for dubious reasons. In the aftermath of #MeToo, you don’t need to explain much, while the awkward silences

and disengaged chit-chat speak volumes about the more banal side of Jane’s sorry situation. An encounter with HR (repellently embodied by a resurgent Matthew Macfadyen) is believably belittling, making explicit the rules Jane must observe in order to get on.

With Garner its pitch-perfect conduit, the film takes a clinical approach to a hot-button topic. Honing in carefully in on the daily humiliations of one individual, Green manages to suggest a broader pattern of abuse, seeing beyond the sexual harassment currently, and rightly, making the headlines. She brilliantly captures the way a poisonous personality can infect an entire workplace, and how the routine writing-off of an individual’s actions can leave whole swathes of people complicit in their crimes. (Emma Simmonds) General release postponed due to COVID-19 virus.

COMEDY DRAMA THE COUNTY (12A) 92min ●●●●● Cheeringly, the stories of female empowerment keep on coming, as Rams director Grímur Hákonarson follows his acclaimed story of sheep-stashing with another study in righteous disobedience. Set in rural Iceland, Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir is the middle-aged Inga, who loses her husband (Hinrik Ólafsson) early on. In the aftermath, she discovers that he was working as an informant for the local co- operative, who exert a mafia-like hold on their small community. Using Facebook initially, Inga begins to whistle-blow posting exposés, appearing on the

news, rallying the troops and acting out all the while trying to keep her farm afloat.

Shellshocked and ravaged by grief and toil, Inga nonetheless cuts a magnificent figure like a kind of barnyard Boudica. Fans of Icelandic oddities may be a little disappointed by The County’s gentle rather than overt eccentricity and, while it evokes Sebastián Lelio’s Gloria in its heroine’s love for cheesy pop, unlike that and the similarly wonderful Woman at War, it doesn’t quite deliver in the uplifting stakes. Plumping for quietly inspiring and sincere in its stead, this is still a likeable film about guts and, hopeful, glory. (Emma Simmonds) Selected release and on Curzon Home Cinema from Fri 22 May.

70 THE LIST 1 Apr–31 May 2020