Skip to main content

Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best experience possible, please make sure any ad blockers are switched off, or add to your trusted sites, and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help you can email us.

Matthew d’Ancona’s Culture: The Beast will haunt you

Our editor-at-large’s rundown of the pick of the week’s cinema, television and books

Léa Seydoux and George Mackay in The Beast. Photo: Carole Bethuel


Selected cinemas

Why does Gabrielle (Léa Seydoux) suddenly scream? This is the mystery that threads through the three timelines of Bertrand Bonello’s beautiful and beguiling film – inspired by Henry James’s short story The Beast in the Jungle (1903).

In belle époque Paris, the first version of Gabrielle is a concert pianist, married to a rich manufacturer of dolls. At a refined salon, she encounters the first version of Louis (George MacKay), a young Englishman whose intense intellect and decorous attentions distract her from the routines of married life.

Fast forward to 2014 and the most explicitly disturbing of the three episodes, in which Gabrielle is an actor and model, housesitting in Los Angeles, and Louis is a cold-eyed incel and stalker. To add to the menace, some of what he says in his vlogging clips directly quotes the real-life words of Elliot Rodger, the misogynist murderer who killed six people in Isla Vista, California, on his so-called “Day of Retribution” in May 2014.

Thirty years later, the third Gabrielle is looking for a job in an age when human beings struggle to find employment – an unexplained “tragedy” in 2025 having accelerated the transference of responsibility to AI.

Told that her chances of work will be improved if she rids herself of intrusive emotions by DNA “purification”, she wavers. The third version of Louis she meets shares her reservations about this dehumanising process.

What knits together the time-hopping story is Gabrielle’s terror of an undefined “Beast”. The final scene offers an answer of a kind that is in no way pat and will haunt you long after you leave the cinema.


The Sympathizer
Sky Atlantic/NOW

Based on Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, this seven-part series, co-created by Park Chan-wook (who also directs the first three episodes) is as riveting as it is demanding of the viewer.

The spine of the plot is provided by the fortunes of “the Captain” (Hoa Xuande, outstanding), a spy for the communist North embedded in the South Vietnamese secret police as chief aide to the General (Toan Le) – and extracted from Saigon to Los Angeles by CIA handler Claude (Robert Downey Jr, in the first of five roles) to work with a new and pretty ramshackle group of expat counter-revolutionaries. All the while, the Captain is keeping his true masters in Saigon up to speed.

In a clear echo of Peter Sellers in Dr Strangelove, Downey Jr’s broadly comic turns as various characters – flinty US congressman, deranged academic, narcissistic film director – are both cartoonish and sinister. When it is exploring the Vietnamese characters, The Sympathizer is interested in the layers of identity, the nuance of deceit, the struggle between friendship and ideology. But the intermittent appearance of RDJ as the multiple and yet interchangeable faces of America is deliberately menacing. Uncle Sam is everywhere, in different forms, but always recognisable, sowing mayhem without conscience.


I Was There: Dispatches from a Life in Rock and Roll, by Alan Edward
Simon & Schuster, June 6

A legend in the world of pop and entertainment, Alan Edwards has represented some of the biggest stars of all time: the Rolling Stones, Prince, Michael Jackson, the Spice Girls and, above all, David Bowie. This terrific and often moving memoir is full of amazing stories about life on the road with the gods and goddesses of rock. It also has a remarkable personal tale to tell, about the rise of Edwards from the punk era to the very top of his industry. A must-read for anyone remotely interested in the popular culture of the past half century. (You can hear TNE founder Matt Kelly and me talking to Alan on last Friday’s episode of The Two Matts.)



Vincent (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a puppeteering genius in 1980s New York, the creative force behind the Sesame Street-esque Good Day Sunshine. But the show is in trouble and Vincent is visibly cracking up, neglecting his nine-year-old son Edgar (Ivan Morris Howe) and arguing furiously with his wife Cassie (Gaby Hoffmann) – who is also having an affair.

Edgar, developing fast as an artist himself, dreams up a seven-foot-tall furry blue monster called Eric to help his wayward father save the show. Then horror strikes when – after arguing with Vincent – he goes missing on his way to school.

The cast is uniformly excellent, especially Cumberbatch as a man lapsing into alcohol and drug abuse – while being followed by a version of Eric, portrayed as a sort of foul-mouthed, coke-snorting Harvey the rabbit.

But Eric really starts to crackle with energy when we are introduced to NYPD detective Michael Ledroit (McKinley Belcher III), a closeted Black gay man who is caring for his partner William (Mark Gillis) who is bed-ridden and confronting death from Aids.

Belcher delivers a stunning performance: simultaneously focused on finding Edgar, full of rage, and stretched to breaking point by the double life he is forced to lead. Surrounded by bigotry and corruption, he is what Thomas Wolfe would have called “God’s lonely man”.

Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best experience possible, please make sure any ad blockers are switched off, or add to your trusted sites, and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help you can email us.

See inside the Ladies and Gentlemen, The President of the United States..? edition

Are people prepared to pay through the nose for a good wine? Photo: Getty

Josh Barrie on food: Whining and dining

A restaurant in Notting Hill is turning heads thanks to its new corkage policy: want to bring your own wine into Dorian? It’ll cost you £100

The original poster for Stairway to Heaven

Bonnie Greer’s Vintage: Jack Cardiff, a poet of the cinema

The cinematographer not only understood what a camera is meant to do, he visually understood what cinema should do