(CBC, 10 p.m.) The intricate narrative structure of the Carol Shields novel Swann is the kind that bedevils directors, even if the story is compellingly dramatic. The surprise is that Swann is so very successful -- director Anna Benson Gyles has pared the narrative down, drawn out the central characters with a compact, elliptical grace and allowed a meditative tone to emerge. Brenda Fricker is Rose, the Canadian, small-town librarian who was the only person to really know Mary Swann, whose poetry has become a sensation after her violent death. Miranda Richardson is the American Sarah, a successful, glamorous writer who wants to write a quickie book about the suddenly hot topic of Mary Swann. What happens when Sarah begins her research disturbs layers of myth and perceived truth. This is a mystery about writing. Fricker is effortlessly exemplary as the librarian rooted in a solid world that few around her understand, and Richardson inhabits Sarah as a tough, sleek woman whose fragility is deeply repressed.
A ZED & TWO NOUGHTS (1985)
(Showcase, 11 p.m.) For the last few nights, Showcase has been airing movies by Peter Greenaway, the maker of the most baroque movies. A Zed & Two Noughts -- think about it, "zoo" -- is one of his most visually provocative and maddening. It starts with the wives of identical twin zoologists being killed in a car accident which involves a swan. The action, such as it is, moves to the Rotterdam Zoo, when the twin zoologists (Eric Deacon and Brian Deacon) begin studying death and decay. The film is a perverse comedy, all muted profundity about the symmetry of everything and the inevitability of death. Greenaway packs it with visual sumptuousness and elaborate visual jokes that are aimed as much at being repulsive as they are revealing. A must if you want to see how movies can be made in ways that utterly defy convention.
BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO THIRST (1997)
(Showcase, 10 p.m.) Any
serious afficionado of crime drama will want to see this, a terrific rarity from Norway. Originally made for Norwegian TV, it features a lesbian detective (Kjersti Elvik) on the trail of an especially weird killer and rapist. Opening with a hard-to-take rape scene -- which isn't gratuitous but sets the tone for a very hard-edged drama -- it then progresses into long scenes that take place in darkness before the dominant colour becomes blood-red. It's deeply disturbing, and very different in tone from the standard American or British crime drama.
KISS ME DEADLY (1955)
(TVO, midnight) For the summer, TVO is offering many old classics and, commercial free, they're well worth your attention. Kiss Me Deadly is one of the great movie versions of pulp fiction -- director Robert Aldrich gives the Mickey Spillane story a full luridness. Ralph Meeker plays Mike Hammer in a twisted tale involving a seemingly crazy woman (Cloris Leachman) and a very mysterious secret held by shadowy, powerful men. The movie is intensely cynical and pumped-up in its slant on corruption at every level of society.
THE RED SHOES (1948)
(Citytv, 2:20 a.m.) The number of times this movie shows up on late night TV tells you that is watched over and over again, as it deserves to be. Michael Powell's movie about the conflicts between art and life, set inside a ballet company, is not only an unforgettable drama, it is a landmark movie for its style. Moira Shearer plays Vicky the dancer whose devotion to her art is challenged by the reality of her love for a composer. The ballet company impressario (Anton Walbrook) demands that art comes first and, when Vicky dances in The Red Shoes, a ballet based on the Hans Christian Anderson tale, art and life combust.
THE WINTER GUEST (1997)
(CBC, 8 p.m.) The first film directed by actor Alan Rickman is very much about actors sinking their teeth into a subtly emotional script. He cast Emma Thompson as Frances, a grieving widow, and Phyllida Law, Thompson's real mother, as Elspeth, Frances's demanding mother. Most of the movie is about the shifting landscape of the mother/daughter relationship as the two try to come to terms with Frances's changed life. Elspeth, sensing that her daughter might be brought back to reality by a good battle, keeps needling her sad daughter and picking fights. In turn, Frances recognizes that her mother needs to be both useful and feel needed. The mother/daughter tension is at the film's core. However, Rickman also introduces several other duos, old and young, to illustrate the complexities of all families and friendships.
LAKE PLACID (1999)
(TMN, 9 p.m.) When David E. Kelley isn't turning out scripts for his TV shows Ally McBeal and The Practice, he writes movies, apparently. He wrote Lake Placid and it's a very cheesy, jaunty horror flick about a mad, bad and dangerous crocodile. Bridget Fonda plays a paleontologist who is surprisingly shocked by the critter's behaviour. Bill Pullman plays some kind of cop sent out to kill it. Oliver Platt is a millionaire whose hobby is crocodiles. Everybody acts badly and the crocodile, which is obviously a computer-generated image, doesn't look scary at all. Kelley is having fun here, inviting the audience to indulge in old-fashioned scary nonsense.