THE acting in Damage (World, 9.30pm), from Jeremy Irons, Juliette Binoche and Miranda Richardson (The Crying Game) especially, is immaculate. Sadly, the compliments end there. Acclaimed French director Louis Malle has created one of the most passionless movies about passion ever to hit the screen. Everything about it is perfect to the point of being brittle. The plot is pure soap opera melodrama; an upstanding British politician - there are few of them left - falls for his son's delicious French girlfriend. The gratuitous sex scenes that follow are so mechanical that the ratings controversy that coloured the film's release, at least in the US, seems laughable. Nobody could find this erotic. Irons' and Binoche's many couplings look cold, clinical and - when lit through Venetian blinds - terminally arty. Things pick up in the final third, when Irons' descent into the abyss is hastened. He is perfectly cast and looks the part. Why then does Ms Binoche have her hair cut like a helmet? AND why did horror author Stephen King disown Lawnmower Man (Pearl, 9.30pm)? The film is based on one of his stories, but he wanted nothing to do with it. Scientist Pierce Brosnan needs a guinea pig for substance experiments. Who better than the grinning defective who mows the lawn? Watch out for the pyrotechnics at the end. THE best-remembered thing about The Scarlet Pimpernel (STAR Plus, 2.00pm) is the little bit of doggerel that Leslie Howard makes up to throw off suspicion: 'They seek him here, they seek him there/The Frenchies seek him everywhere/Is he in Heaven? Is he in Hell?/That damned elusive Pimpernel.' In every way this is a classic. In France the upper classes are losing their heads. But the French revolutionary government is troubled by a series of daring rescues of condemned nobles, pulled off by a man who leaves behind a small red flower - a pimpernel. AMONG those doing what they do best in The Ringling Bros And Barnum And Bailey Circus (World, 8.30pm) are David Larible, an Italian-born clown who relaxes, he says, by reading Proust, listening to Edith Piaf and watching Road-Runner cartoons. This production commemorates the 200th anniversary of the famous circus. THE historical melodrama Cromwell (Pearl, 1.45pm) is memorable for some good production values and for one line from King Charles I who, minutes before he is due to be executed, is told he will have to walk to the chopping block. An aide protests, saying the King should be allowed the dignity of a carriage ride. Charles interjects: 'Never mind, the exercise will do me good'. Richard Harris plays Oliver Cromwell, aided and abetted by a good cast, among them Robert Morley and Alec Guinness. THE latest edition of Halliwell's Film Guide says of On The Black Hill (Pearl, 2.00am): 'Twin brothers grow up on a Welsh hill farm.' It is not the most promising of synopses, but the film is better than that. It was based on the novel by the late Bruce Chatwin, which is a good start, and stars Mike Gwilym and Robert Gwilym (real twins) as the fictional twins doing the growing up. CHINESE director Li Shaohong once made a film version of the book that lies on every Ikea coffee table in every Mid-Levels apartment, Chronicle Of A Death Foretold, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It was selected as one of the 10 best films of the year (1991) by the Shanghai Critics' Association and won the praise of Marquez in a letter he wrote to Li. This all has nothing to do with Family Portrait (Pearl, 12.15am), another film by Li. It stars Song Dandan and centres on a photographer and the son he never knew he had. Song, to her eternal credit, once starred in a film called The Manager With A Silly-Looking Hat.