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Hidden Figures


Stars: Taraji P Henson, Kevin Costner, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Mon√°e, Kirsten Dunst, Mahershala Ali, Jim Parsons, Glen Powell, Kimberley Quinn

Director: Theodore Melfi

This more-than-inspiring true-life drama focuses on a group of talented Afro-American women who worked on NASA space programmes in the early 1960s (and beyond). Leading character is mathematical genius Katherine Goble (Henson) who, as a child of seven (Lidya Jewett), was sent to an exclusive, if still all-black boys' school: her mastery of algebraic equations was even then astonishing.

Thirty-five years later, we find her widowed with three daughters, and working in the 'colored' computer section at NASA. Her main friends there are Dorothy (Spencer), who bosses the department, but is denied supervisor's rank and pay by frosty Vivian Mitchell (Dunst), and feisty Mary (Mon√°e) who is determined to become the company's first female Afro-American engineer.

Touted as someone with more than a head for figures, Katherine finds herself transferred to the main computer room, headed by gruff Col Harrison (Costner), where details of space flights are calculated. Harrison soon comes to appreciate Katherine's worth, though chief computer scientist Stafford (Parsons) sees her as a threat and gives her a cool reception, as well as a coffee flask labelled 'colored'.

She has to run half a mile or so to her old building to go the loo, as there are no 'colored' toilet facilities at her new base. Harrison soon puts a stop to that: Katherine's time is too valuable.

Even as her new colleagues are dazzled by her aptitude for calculations and algebraic formulae that will help send men into space, Katherine (who, incidentally, is still alive today at the age of 98) finds herself wooed by army officer Jim Johnson (Ali).

There is perhaps just a little too much home life and not quite enough maths here, but this is an uplifting story that compels you to forgive its flaws, set against the beginnings of revolt against America's shameful segregation laws. Terrific performances, too, particularly by the cuddly Spencer and, if things sometimes seem a shade too good to be true, you'd like to think that's how they were.

Only the scene where Katherine rants hysterically at her boss doesn't ring true - or even fit the character.

But, besides being thought-provoking, the film is also thrilling and suspenseful at times, especially when the epic flight of John H Glenn (Powell), who has demanded that Katherine personally check all the data, is threatened by disaster. It's essential viewing.

David Quinlan

USA 2016. UK Distributor: 20th Century Fox. Colour by efilm.
127 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 12 Feb 2017