The Man Who Knew Infinity (2015)

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Tamil Srinivasa Ramanujan is toiling away as a clerk in Madras, a maths prodigy who is entirely self-taught and with little future in his home country. His work leads Professor GH Hardy to bring him to Cambridge and a difficult career ensues throughout WW1. Adapted by writer/director Matthew Brown from the book by Robert Kanigel, this biographical drama is puzzling and touching in equal parts:  the beauty of mathematics is difficult to convey to a dimwit like myself but the relationships and overt racism on campus bring out the best in Dev Patel’s acting skills. The essence of his character is religious faith – he eventually confesses to the gruff and irascible atheist Hardy (Jeremy Irons) that he believes his God is speaking to him in his sleep. Hardy’s inspiration is less theological and his insistence on proofs leads Ramanujan to a period of self-doubt, depression and serious illness. Hardy becomes his friend very late in the day, following racist attacks, vicious rivalries within the University and a declining marriage: back home in India, Ramanujan’s mother has been hiding the letters his illiterate wife was writing to him and his wife doesn’t know and ultimately writes to inform him she is leaving him. This is a beautifully handled drama about a little known man whose work during the last year of his life has been used to understand black holes. What was that about infinity and beyond?! Ah, sweet mystery of life. Gimme dat ol time religion.

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The Flood (1963)

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This Children’s Film Foundation production is superb and not a little ruthless! Eight kids are stranded when a river breaks its banks not far from Ely in Cambridgeshire. Four of them are part of a rather posh farming family whose parents have taken off to hospital for the imminent birth of a new sibling. The flood leaves the kids stranded on a virtual island and local hooligans steal their food and lose it in the river but they all end up helping each other on a raft they’ve built from barrels and pieces of wood, Blue Peter-style. Smartly written by Jean Scott Rogers, excellently directed by Frederic Goode who seamlessly incorporates news footage and gets brilliant performances from the cast of kids. If only all filmmaking were this efficient. Great shots of the flooded Fens, and of The Cutter Inn in Ely.

Out of the Shadow (1961)

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aka Murder on the Campus, from the camera-stylo of Michael Winner, returning to his alma mater, Cambridge University. Terence Longdon (pictured above) is a journalist just returned from a foreign trip to be told his student brother has committed suicide. When he goes to the college to sort out his belongings, he is stonewalled by everyone and becomes suspicious. He teams up with Mary Johnson whose professor father (Dermot Walsh) has gone missing and they uncover a crime ring with links to postwar activities by American soldiers who will stop at nothing to find their booty. More deaths ensue … This is a low-budget crime thriller but has the benefit of the setting, a decent set of lead performances and a so-hep-it’s-groovy  jazz soundtrack by Jackie Brown and Cy Payne.

Lessons in Love (2014)

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A Cambridge professor of literature has a habit of sleeping with his most beautiful students. When one of them gets pregnant he marries her and moves to her hometown of Los Angeles despite being taken with her wild sister who makes a living as a romance novel editor. Then … the young wife strays, the sister’s marriage breaks down and a whole swaperoo happens while a deportation order is issued against the lecturer. It sounds banal and unkind but it’s beautifully shot and thoughtful about what makes modern family work, sort of. Probably more attached to reality than Woody Allen’s thoughts on the subject. Brosnan is terrific as the attractively louche alcoholic whose teachings on the Romantics infect his own efforts to make life better. Unlike Joaquin Phoenix in Irrational Man it is actually possible that this pretty person could have two beauties fall for his questionable charms. A thoughtful entertainment.