What They Had – films coming to Portsmouth cinemas this week 

Blythe Danner as Ruth Keller and Robert Forster as Bert Keller from What They Had.
Blythe Danner as Ruth Keller and Robert Forster as Bert Keller from What They Had.
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Grab the popcorn for these new releases. 

What They Had (15)

Based on writer-director Elizabeth Chomko's observations of her grandparents, What They Had is a poignant study of a fractured family coming to terms with surrendering a loved one to Alzheimer's.

Her script packs an unexpectedly meaty emotional wallop as characters repeatedly avert their gaze from the painful reality of their situation.

Chomko shoots predominantly inside a family home where years of resentment and regret have seeped into the walls, and photographs of happier times litter the downstairs rooms.

Inevitable heartache is deftly balanced with humour.

Two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank, Michael Shannon and Robert Forster elevate familiar and potentially cloying material, capturing the spiky rat-a-tat of dialogue between kin, who know each other too well but turn a blind eye to their own failings.

Bert Keller (Forster) wakes to find the other side of the martial bed empty.

His beloved wife Ruth (Blythe Danner), who has stage six Alzheimer's, has wandered into a snow storm wearing just a flimsy nightdress and housecoat.

Bert telephones his son Nick (Shannon), who in turn calls his sister Bridget (Swank), and she hurriedly flies into sub-zero Chicago from California with her petulant daughter Emma (Taissa Farmiga) in tow.

Thankfully, Ruth is unharmed but the unsettling episode is the last straw for Nick, who has secured a place for his mother in a memory care facility called The Reminisce Neighbourhood.

Ex-military man Bert stubbornly refuses to entertain the thought of a nursing home – ‘She's my girl. You can't take my girl away from me!’ – and Nick's frustration boils over when peacemaker Bridget refuses to back him up.

Her determination to please the old man by accepting his judgement – and keep secrets about her unhappiness – stokes resentment between the siblings.

What They Had is an assured debut feature from Chomko, who elicits compelling performances from a superb ensemble cast.

The central trio of Swank, Shannon and Forster relish the combative nature of their realistically flawed characters' scenes, neatly dividing our affection and sympathy as the picture moves towards a surprisingly lightweight conclusion.

Released March 1. 

Fighting With My Family (12A)

The family that dropkicks and piledrives together stays together in writer-director Stephen Merchant's spandex-clad comedy drama.

Inspired by a real-life rags-to-riches fairy tale, Fighting With My Family nelson holds our attention with a winning combination of angst, potty-mouthed humour and sentimentality.

Merchant's film is a conventional underdog story, which traces a predictable path in the razzamatazz world of professional wrestling where musclebound heroes and snarling villains whip crowds into a frenzy with their carefully choreographed acrobatics.

A simple, heart-warming story unfolds during the glory days of John Cena and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson under the World Wrestling Entertainment banner.

WWE branding is prominent throughout a life-affirming second half set in sun-kissed Florida but doesn't obstruct Merchant from sketching his misfit characters in sufficient detail to mine salty humour from their confrontations.

Florence Pugh is instantly likeable as the self-confessed "freak", who experiences the usual growing pains as she vies to become a supporting player in a multimillion-dollar "soap opera in spandex".

Patrick Bevis (Nick Frost) turns his back on thieving to establish the World Association of Wrestling (WAW) in Norwich with his wife Julia (Lena Headey).

They fight as Rowdy Ricky Knight and Sweet Saraya and encourage their wrestling-obsessed children Zak (Jack Lowden) and Saraya (Pugh) to resolve differences with a grapple.

Zak and Saraya have their own wrestling alter egos - Zak Zodiac and Britani Knight - and harbour bold ambitions to perform in America.

WWE trainer Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughn) invites the siblings to audition for their dream at the O2 Arena in London.

Zak is confident this will be his shot at bone-crunching super-stardom to provide for his partner Courtney (Hannah Rae), who is pregnant with their first child.

Only Saraya makes the cut and she flies to Florida alone with a new stage name - Paige Knight - to prove her worth against body beautiful rivals Jeri-Lynn (Kim Matula), Kirsten (Aqueela Zoll) and Maddison (Ellie Gonsalves).

Far from the warm embrace of home, Saraya is desperately lonely and she struggles with self-esteem.

Thankfully, Zak boosts his sister's wavering resolve by reminding her that wrestling is in their blood.

"That's not good," she responds. "Makes it sound like hepatitis!"

Fighting With My Family is infused with Merchant's dry humour and he earns further laughs with an extended cameo from Johnson, playing himself with a twinkle in his eye.

One-liners are generously distributed among the cast including a scene-stealing Julia Davis as a strait-laced mother, who is clueless to the pomp and pageantry of the wrestling ring.

End credits include home video footage of the real Paige Knight and her clan to illustrate where the script powerslams fact and somersaults into the realms of crowd-pleasing fiction.

Out now. 

The Aftermath (15)

A wartime love triangle set against the backdrop of a devastated and defeated Germany makes for surprisingly gloomy viewing in James Kent's handsome but emotionally starved drama based on the novel by Rhidian Brook.

Adapted for the screen by Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse, The Aftermath gifts Keira Knightley another elegantly attired but emotionally stifled heroine, whose sexual awakening wreaks havoc on everyone within her orbit.

The smouldering rubble of Hamburg, which was hit by more bombs in one weekend than London suffered during the whole of the Second World War, mirrors the psychological ruins of the affection-starved characters, who have suffered tragic loses during the conflict.

Director Kent ventured into similarly fraught territory - albeit during the First World War - in his handsomely crafted 2014 picture Testament Of Youth, which was galvanised by committed performances from Alicia Vikander, Kit Harington and Taron Egerton.

Bruised and broken hearts are considerably older and wiser here but the pedestrian tug-of-war between Alexander Skarsgard and Jason Clarke for Knightley's stiff-upper-lipped affections fails to get the blood pumping.

There is a chill in the air of 1945 Hamburg, five months after the Allied victory, as Rachael Morgan (Knightley) arrives in the city to join her husband Lewis (Clarke), a British colonel who must combat any residual German resistance.

Lewis requisitions a large mansion belonging to widowed architect Stefan Lubert (Alexander Skarsgard) and consigns the host and his 15-year-old daughter Freda (Flora Thiemann) to the attic while the Morgans make use of the bedrooms and an open-plan living room complete with piano.

The household staff including Heike (Anna Katharina Schimrigk) are duty bound to serve the British intruders.

They whisper snide remarks about Rachael moving ornaments and furniture: "She's making herself at home... like a maggot in the bacon!"

The new lady of the manor is visibly uncomfortable sharing quarters with the enemy, having lost a young son to German bombs in London.

Her husband's friend and fellow officer Burnham (Martin Compston) echoes these sentiments and drunkenly humiliates Stefan during one house party.

Unthinkably, sexual tension simmers between Rachael and Stefan, and when Lewis is called away to deal with a crisis, passions boil over.

Meanwhile, impressionable Freda falls under the spell of a local boy, Albert (Jannik Schumann), who is steadfastly committed to the Nazi movement.

The Aftermath melts at a similar pace to ice covering Hamburg, even with a couple of artfully staged sex scenes involving Knightley and Skarsgard.

Kent's lens swoons at his actors in a state of beautifully lit undress but he neglects to crank up dramatic tension.

When the moment comes for Rachael to stand by one of her men, we have little invested in the outcome and its repercussions.

Released March 1.