Four new films to see in cinemas this week

Downton Abbey: A New Era, The Velvet Queen, Casablanca Beats, The Lady of Heaven

DOWNTON ABBEY: A NEW ERA ★★★☆☆
Directed by Simon Curtis. Starring Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith, Michelle Dockery, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter, Phyllis Logan, Penelope Wilton, Nathalie Baye, Dominic West, Laura Haddock. PG cert, gen release, 102 min
The hectic, multi-plotted sequel to the hit spin-off of the cosy TV series sends one half of the family to the south if France while the other half endures a film crew at Downton Abbey. The subplots would require longer than the film's duration to summarise – someone is in love with a married someone else, someone's father may not be who we thought, someone might be pregnant, someone (cough!) is looking awfully tired, and so on – each conveyed in scenes so hurried they would make even TikTok users dizzy. Yet it sort of works. Excellent actors elevate even the ropiest dialogue. Full review DC

THE VELVET QUEEN/LA PANTHÈRE DES NEIGES ★★★★☆
Directed by Marie Amiguet, Vincent Munier. Featuring Vincent Munier, Sylvian Tesson. Limited release, 92 min

Marie Amiguet remains behind the camera, unacknowledged by her co-director, the world-renowned wildlife photographer Vincent Munier, and his onscreen travelling companion, the writer Sylvian Tesson, while the trio search for the regal snow leopard of the title. As they scour the nooks and crannies of a vast, snowy Napalese landscape, they encounter birds, bears, Tibetan foxes and such lesser-spotted creatures as the Bharal and Pallas's cat, without ever glimpsing so much as a panther's whisker. Understated yet dramatic original music composed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis compliments the sudden animal motions that appear, as if by magic, against barren terrain. Full review TB

CASABLANCA BEATS/HAUT ET FORT ★★★☆☆
Directed by Nabil Ayouch. Starring Anas Basbousi, Ismail Adouab, Meriem Nekkach, Nouhaila Arif, Zineb Boujemaa, Abdelilah Basbousi. 12A cert, limited release, 101 min

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Pitched somewhere between Être et avoir and Fame, this lively official competition entry from last year's Cannes selection was shot around and inspired by the Positive School, an arts centre founded by Casablanca Beat's writer-director Nabil Ayouch. Set against the tough, impoverished and frequently radicalised Casablancan suburb of Sidi Moumen, the film opens as an enigmatic young teacher Anas (Basbousi) spray-paints the classroom wall where he will soon unite students from different backgrounds through hip-hop. Taking cues from the lively cast, the drama is scrappy, occasionally messy, prone to distractions, and never less than diverting. Full review TB

THE LADY OF HEAVEN ★★★☆☆
Directed by Eli King. Starring Denise Black, Ray Fearon, Mark Anthony Brighton, Chris Jarman, Gabriel Cartade, 15A cert, limited release, 142 min

This faith-based British indie is much concerned with the story of Fatima, daughter of Muhammad, but also takes in wider first millennium history and some contemporary traumas. It is made with respect. It has educational value. But the filmmakers, working with a modest budget, have made sure to include much head-splitting action. Respecting the prohibition on depicting holy figures in Islam, the producers employ a mixture of ingenious lighting and CGI to give an impression of the those characters. Perhaps not for casual audiences, but those already interested will find this odd film diverting. Full review DC