Reading Matters….and a film

140460.jpgStella Rimington makes use of all her history and knowledge as Director General of MI5 in her series of novels about her alter ego Liz Carlyle. I hadn’t read one of her novels for some time but having picked up this at a good price it was to be my bedtime reading for some nights. However ‘The Geneva Trap’ was so good that I couldn’t resist delving into it during the daytime too. It was a great read from beginning to end. Basic outline of the plot from Bloomsbury (terrific publisher)….’Geneva, 2012. When a Russian intelligence officer approaches MI5 with vital information about the imminent cyber-sabotage of an Anglo-American Defence programme, he refuses to talk to anyone but Liz Carlyle. But who is he, and what is his connection to the British agent?
At a tracking station in Nevada, US Navy officers watch in horror as one of their unmanned drones plummets out of the sky, and panic spreads through the British and American Intelligence services. Is this a Russian plot to disable the West’s defences? Or is the threat coming from elsewhere?
As Liz and her team hunt for a mole inside the MOD, the trail leads them from Geneva, to Marseilles and into a labyrinth of international intrigue, in a race against time to stop the Cold War heating up once again…’

But the plot is just a part of the enjoyment – the relationships between key personnel in MI5 and MI6 are a significant element in the development of the story. And the locations are characterful (I do actually think Stella Rimington could make a bit more of ‘location’). I really would highly recommend this novel. Just as good as Le Carre, Graham Greene etc and you can’t give higher praise than that. I must buy some more.

the-girl-in-the-spiders-web-1-e1537879398393-700x356.jpgYesterday we went to Vue Plymouth to see the latest Scandi-Noir film – ‘The Girl In The Spider’s Web’. Now I have read the book (an unfinished script by Stieg Larsson) which I enjoyed, but the reviews of the film were what you call mixed, so I wasn’t anticipating a great afternoon. However I really enjoyed our outing to the cinema (so much more of an experience than sitting at home watching on a small screen, as I have said many a time). And the lead was just great. We had seen both Swedish and American versions of ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’, both with good lead actresses, but the Swedish version infinitely superior, so I was really apprehensive about seeing Claire Foy (recently, I hear, good as Queen Elizabeth II / Princess Elizabeth) in the demanding role. I regarded her as a somewhat conservative actor. She was absolutely marvellous here. The film itself was a bit James Bond-like with massive action, chases, gadgetry and all the rest, the plot obviously implausible. But that mattered not at all. You sank yourself into the adventure and went along with it. The only annoying thing? Film scheduled for 1.15pm, didn’t actually start until 1.50pm after all the adverts and previews. Far too long.

My worthy reading matter for a few months has been ‘Soul of the Age’ by Jonathan 51AKsVqp0TL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgBate, subtitles ‘the Life, Mind and World of William Shakespeare’. An incredible piece of work, almost a lifetime’s work you would say (except that Jonathan is still young). David Crystal concludes ‘completely fresh and full of surprises…’. It is certainly that. And Simon Russell Beale..’bursting with new idea and crafty analysis…’. I just wonder whether Jonathan is at times, quite often in fact, too clever by half. His knowledge is certainly immense. From the early stages when he talks of Lear’s fantastic garland

‘Crowned with rank fumiter, and furrow weeds,                                                                         With hardocks, hemlock, nettles, cuckoo flowers,                                                                     Darnel, and all the idle weeds that grow                                                                                                                                         In our sustaining corn.’

and comments that these are exactly what one would find in an arable field and its margin in England at the end of Summer, one is almost bewitched by the superior knowledge on display and keen to learn, so that we can appreciate Shakespeare in a new light. But the more Jonathan delves into Shakespeare’s life and his world,  and the wider he casts his net, the less plausible do I find his conclusions. He is keen to castigate critic after critic, but his own jumps in reasoning based on the flimsiest of evidence or downright supposition led me fairly soon to lose faith. Having said that, I found the whole book incomparably interesting and, as his friend Beale said, a dazzling portrait.
27/11/2018

Reading matters…….and an important film

51ZsJbutzLL.jpgThis book has been at the back of my mind for some reason, so I dug it out for  a re-read after, what, 40 years or more. It is one of George Orwell’s most powerful and best novels. Let’s get it clear, I am one of those currently politically-incorrect people who believe the British Empire did far more good in the world than critics (who tend to concentrate on single events or themes) would have you believe. And in any case, as a historian, I would argue that it is absolutely impossible to set huge infrastructure improvements, educational and civilising influences, the keeping of the peace world-wide for long periods, etc etc against slavery in the early stages of the Empire, and various unjustifiable (in today’s terms) massacres and ill-treatment of subject nations. The Empire was of its time. It was what it was. However this novel by Orwell is a very, very powerful rebuke to people like me and an antidote to any positive reading of the ‘benefits’ of Empire. I was surprised to find out that this was Orwell’s first novel. It certainly doesn’t read like a first. Basically it tells the tale of a minor English player in Burma in the waning days of the Empire, how he lives and loves, how he reacts unsuccessfully to the embittered views of other members of the Club in the little town in Burma where the story is set. The story doesn’t have a happy ending, and the protagonist’s life and death are perhaps a metaphor for Empire itself. It is based actually on Orwell’s own experiences, he spent five years from 1922 to 1927 as a police officer in the Indian Imperial Police force in Burma. In a letter from 1946, Orwell said “I dare say it’s unfair in some ways and inaccurate in some details, but much of it is simply reporting what I have seen”. It was dynamite in its day and only published in the States at first, and it’s not hard to see why. In my opinion a great read.

We recently found a WHSmith’s remainder outlet in Plymouth. I have never seen one before. Anyhow it inevitably led to the buying of some books. We got a Peter James 817flfX-18L.jpgsigned hardback ‘Dead Man’s Time’ for £6, not bad. It has been my bedtime reading. As always Peter has interesting characters including his protagonist DS Grace. But all the major and minor actors are well-drawn. And as always there is a slightly unusual story line. In this case a 95 year old wanting revenge for something that happened in his childhood, and revenge for the recent torture and murder of his elder sister. The plot is interesting and takes lots of turns. Brighton doesn’t feature quite as much as in some of his novels…a shame as I like a strong ‘Place’ element. But with the plot capturing you and lots of small chapters (ideal for bedtime reading) what’s not to like. Procedure, one assumes, is exemplary as Peter has intimate access to lots and lots of Police folk in Brighton and he makes full use of his detailed knowledge of how the Police work. All in all another thoroughly enjoyable novel by one of the creme de la creme in Crime writers.

1_PeterlooFilm.jpgWe saw recently the Mike Leigh film ‘Peterloo’. Maxine Peak, one of my favourite actresses, is one of the main characters. A review I had read in The Times had slated it, mainly it seems on the grounds that there was too much dialogue in meetings etc and not enough action. How feeble critics are. What a world we live in where there has to be movement and action all the time! It was quite long at two and a half hours but I didn’t notice this ……unlike The Times critic I was absorbed. What it is about is the background to, and the events of, the Peterloo ‘massacre’ in 1819. The Guardian precises it nicely…’     On 16 August 1819, at what we would now call a pro-democracy demonstration in St Peter’s Field, Manchester, an excitable band of cavalry and yeomanry – whose commander had airily absented himself for a day at the races – charged with sabres drawn into a crowd of 60,000 unarmed people, many of whom were unable to escape the enclosed space. The troops killed 18 and injured hundreds more……It was Britain’s 19th-century mix of Sharpeville and Hillsborough. The government was entirely delighted with the result, and not displeased with the nickname “Peterloo”, as it felt like a rerun of its victory over Napoleon, the creature of something it continued to fear intensely: the French Revolution.’                                                                                                                             But the thing is, it was in many ways a victory for democracy – for never again would any Government allow such dramatic military actions to be taken against people expressing their free will in a public meeting. And eventually the Great Reform Act and Anti-Corn Laws legislation would be passed. It also led The Times to take up, to some degree, the whole issue of Reform, and almost directly led to the founding of The Manchester Guardian ( a great newspaper, sadly since its move to London a shadow of its former self). So a film on very important issues with some relevance to today and a topic ‘Peterloo’ which is hardly on the syllabus in schools. Mike Leigh himself has said children should be taught about Peterloo. “They will know about 1066 and Magna Carta and Henry VIII and his six wives and they may be told about the French revolution and the battle of Waterloo … [The massacre] was a major, major event which resonated down the 19th century into the 20th century in the context of democracy and suffrage.” Manchester Histories, a charity, is leading the campaign for Peterloo to be taught in all schools. What I didn’t like about the film (this and many others!) was how unrealistic the settings and stages were. It’s all very well finding a great location but covering the streets with sand of all things in order to hide yellow parking lines just doesn’t cut the mustard. The same with the characters. The poor of Manchester were atrociously dirty and smelly. It’s no use just dressing them up in costumes Hollywood-style. And everywhere was so clean. In reality you couldn’t see a hand in front of you because of the smoke and the smog. All wrong, wrong wrong……..

 

 

 

 

The Little Stranger…a great film

083118littlestranger7.1.jpgWe hadn’t been to the cinema for a while, so having read the excellent book by Sarah Waters, set in Warwickshire where we lived for some time, a trip to Vue in Plymouth was looked forward to by us both. We went by bus and with time to spare had time to visit Waterstones in order to but the latest Cormoran Strike novel Lethal White which I am already enjoying. Then we walked the mile or so to the cinema and saw parts of Plymouth which were new to us, especially interesting being Sutton harbour. This is one of the regenerated parts of the waterfront in Plymouth, all of them very good. And there were some excellent flats, some in historic quayside buildings and some totally new. I looked to see what was for sale and was amazed that we could afford (just about) one or two of the 2-bed ones. A marina view almost as good as a sea view?20180924_125940.jpg20180924_125946.jpg20180924_161455.jpg20180924_161955.jpgAnd the harbour is still home to several big trawlers which is encouraging. Anyway the film…….. both F. and I enjoyed it very much. Whilst it does make a lot of the class system in late 40’s Britain, it is at heart a ghost story.  Which makes it strange that the Times’ film critic Kevin Maher should comment…..dIt’s a profoundly perverse movie about two people who are essentially going mad (is the ghost real? Is it not?) because the political reality around them is changing so radically.’ I don’t think ghosts take account of the current political situation whether in this film or any other. And as for his crass comment ‘The director has made a movie that’s a Brexit Britain parable about the intoxicating, if futile, allure of national identity.’……what an idiot!! And how typical of a London Metro Remoaner to be unable to see anything away from their loss of the vote on Brexit. How pathetic. The actors involved – Charlotte Rampling obviously well-known, the others not so much – were brilliant. The setting was magnificent – a run-down country house (filmed in Ireland?). And the plot was tautly dealed with by the Director. I think there were perhaps nine other people watching apart from us. The cinema is so obviously so much superior to watching Netflix at home on a screen no matter what size it is. What then have cinemas to do? Just keep plugging away (like High-Street retailers) until the realisation dawns, as it will, that cinema and physical shopping are much better. Start living, get out more!