Three Identical Strangers, Channel 4, 11pm
In 1980, 19-year-old Bobby Shafran climbed into his old Volvo car and headed from his home in New York to an upstate community college where he imagined he was about to start a new life. He wasn’t wrong. What he didn’t expect was the warm welcome he received from everyone on campus – hellos and handshakes, but also hugs and kisses from people who to him were complete strangers.
It eventually became clear that Bobby was being mistaken for Eddy Galland, who had been a student at the same college but who had dropped out and was not planning to return. When a friend of Galland’s asked Bobby his date of birth, things turned even stranger – he and Galland had the same birthday. Galland’s friend drove Bobby straight to New Jersey to meet his doppelganger and it was when they realised they had both been adopted through the same New York-based agency that the penny dropped. Bobby and Eddy were twins, separated at birth (or, as is revealed later in this jaw-dropping documentary, at the age of six months).
But that’s not where the story ends. Also in New York, also adopted, and also sharing a July 12 birthday was David Kellman. The twins, it transpired, were actually triplets. Soon they were a media sensation. They appeared on chat shows, were photographed and interviewed in the flat they shared or out and about at glitzy New York nightspots, and were soon famous enough to open a restaurant in trendy SoHo called – what else? – Triplets. It made a million dollars in its first year of business. They even appear (briefly) alongside Madonna in a street scene from Desperately Seeking Susan.
A co-production between Channel 4 and CNN, this film from British director Tim Wardle blends contemporary interviews with archive footage to tell the story of what happened and how and why. But what is already an incredible story turns weirder (and considerably darker) with the arrival on screen of investigative journalist Lawrence Wright, a staff writer at The New Yorker. The author of acclaimed books on Scientology and al-Qaeda, Wright found himself digging into the career of noted psychiatrist Peter Neubauer for a 1995 article on identical twins. What he discovered, and what he relates to Wardle, pitches Three Identical Strangers into a different world entirely and asks some fundamental questions about everything from medical ethics to that age old debate about whether it’s nature or nurture which is the biggest influence on human personalities.
Mickey And The Bear, Film 4, 10.50pm
Writer-director Annabelle Attanasio’s thoughtful coming-of-age drama is anchored by a strong performance by Camila Morrone. She plays the titular Mickey, a strong-willed, talented high-school student, who dreams of getting out of her small Montana town. The main thing standing in her way is her widowed father Hank (James Badge Dale), an Iraq veteran who is reliant on prescription drugs – and his teenage daughter, despite their often turbulent relationship. Her domineering boyfriend (Ben Rosenfield) also seems to be holding her back, but can Mickey find a way to break out from both of them and make her own way in the world?
The Wolf Of Wall Street, ITV 4, 10pm
In the aftermath of Black Monday, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) loses his job on Wall Street and is forced to sell penny stocks at a fly-by-night operation in Long Island. Blessed with the gift of the gab, Jordan excels and decides to open his own firm, Stratton Oakmont, with salesman Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill). The dodgy business goes from strength to strength, but its ‘work hard, play harder’ mantra attracts the attentions of FBI Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler), who resolves to bring Belfort down. The Wolf of Wall Street is a lurid, exhilarating and blackly funny portrait of debauchery. Director Martin Scorsese pulls no punches in his depiction of Belfort’s wild excesses, and his brio, coupled with DiCaprio’s twitchy lead performance, means the lengthy running time flies by.
I Am Not A Witch, Film 4, 11.15pm
The debut feature film from Zambian-born, Welsh-raised writer-director Rungano Nyoni isn’t easy to categorise. Maggie Mulubwa stars as Shula, a young girl who is accused of being a witch on the basis that strange things have happened since she turned up in her village. She’s sent to a witch camp, where she finds some sense of community among the other women, but the man in charge, Mr Banda (Henry BJ Phiri), decides to exploit her supposed powers for profit. The movie was inspired by Nyoni’s own experiences of visiting a real witch camp, but while it does explore the realities of these women’s lives, there’s also a touch of magic to this striking, deeply unusual tale. Great stuff and well worth a watch.
Monsters And Men, Film 4, 9pm
The feature-length 2018 debut from acclaimed short-film director Reinaldo Marcus Green, Monsters And Men is a timely drama about the police shooting of an African-American man, told from three contrasting and equally vital perspectives. Green’s script spends roughly one third of the running time on each of these characters. They include local resident Manny Ortega (Anthony Ramos), who captures the incident on camera, undercover cop Dennis Williams (John David Washington), who contemplates testifying against the officer responsible, and gifted high school student Zyrick (Kelvin Harrison Jr), whose dreams of a college baseball scholarship may be waylaid by an urge to take to the streets and protest.
Moonlight, Channel 4, 12.35am
Twelve-year-old Chiron (Alex Hibbert) is one of the smallest boys in his year and an obvious target for bullies. Any beatings pale next to the pain inflicted by his mother Paula (Naomie Harris), a drug addict. Her neglect drives Chiron into the arms of Paula’s dealer, Juan (Mahershala Ali), and his girlfriend Teresa (singer Janelle Monae), who try to provide a stable home environment as the lad contends with growing pains. Chiron grows into an awkward 16-year-old (now played by Ashton Sanders) and recognises his attraction to best friend Kevin (Jharrel Jerome). Many years later, Chiron (now played by Trevante Rhodes) and Kevin (now played by Andre Holland) are reunited. Writer-director Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning drama is an extraordinary film of naked emotion, broken dreams and deep longing.
And one to stream …
Palm Springs, Amazon Prime
One of around half a dozen films with the same basic premise knocking around the various streaming platforms, this acerbic mash-up of rom-com and sci-fi puzzler stars Saturday Night Live stalwart Andy Samberg as Nyles, a guest at a Palm Springs wedding who also happens to be stuck in a time loop. Every time he falls asleep or kills himself or is murdered by a man named Roy, he wakes up back in the same hotel bed where girlfriend Misty (Meredith Hagner) is busy moisturising her leg. ‘Nice leg,’ is his usual opener.
Writer Andy Siara has described Palm Springs as a sequel to a film that doesn’t actually exist, so the twist here is that Nyles is already in the time loop when the film begins. So is Roy and so, after wandering into the cave in which the glowing time portal loop thingy resides, is Sarah (Cristin Milioti), the sister of the bride. Together she and Nyles explore as many as possible of the manifold possibilities afforded them as they can – usually with an alcoholic beverage in hand – and, wouldn’t you know, despite Nyles’s in-built cynicism and Sarah’s wariness of relationships, they begin to fall for each other. Roy is less happy to have been dragged into the whole time loop business by Nyles, which is why he is constantly thinking up ways to kill him.
One film that does already exist, of course, is Groundhog Day, the fountainhead of time loop comedies. And while the first words out of the mouth of anybody who really is stuck in one would be something along the lines of ‘Wow, this is just like that film with Bill Murray and her from Four Weddings And A Funeral’, Harold Ramis’s 1993 classic isn’t mentioned once. Not once.
Perhaps it’s just as well. Overt comparisons would not favour Palm Springs. Russian Doll (still available to watch on Netflix) also does this kind of thing way better. Still, even though the film’s inner logic often trips over itself, Samberg and Milioti hold their own well enough – and there’s a fantastic performance from Whiplash star JK Simmons playing the belligerent Roy.