This 2017 study by Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev of an acrimoniously-divorcing middle-class Muscovite couple, and the disappearance of and search for their desperately neglected son, is brilliant and wise. Some Western critics of the film have, however, read it through the lens of the currently-dominant Russophobia, and in doing so have placed on it a political weight that it cannot bear.
Having parents who lived through the war as children on opposing sides – and uncles on each side who fought – I reflect on the German half of my family’s experiences: the grandfather who fought on the Eastern front, the grandmother who negotiated depression at home, and the aunt and uncle who tried to stop the Americans advancing.
I was intrigued to see this succès de scandale. It had been called ‘revolting’ by the Russian Communist Party, and ‘disgraceful’ by Peter Hitchens. According to some it reflected on Putin, whilst according to David Cameron it reflected on Theresa May. It was praised as Iannucci’s deepest work, and condemned as a grosss lapse from form. It has not yet received a Russian license, and it grossed twice in its opening weekend what In the Loop did in 2009. I went fully prepared to hate it and walk out.
In the event, I stayed in my Everyman armchair to the credits’ end, so may now toss my own ha’pennyworth into the furor.
This morning my German aunt died, leaving my mother as the last survivor of four German siblings. I recall a few things in tribute to her.
In commemoration of St. Lucian poet Derek Walcott’s death on 17th March 2017, I conduct an interview with Australian poet Jaya Savige about his relationship to the poet.
In commemoration of St. Lucian poet Derek Walcott’s death on 17th March 2017, I recall the one time I met him, Port of Spain, 2001 – and my regrets at having been jejune and prickly..
My summer holiday this year was a week in Shanghai (and Suzhou and Nanjing) followed by a week in Kuala Lumpur (and Melaka and Kuching, Borneo). I was dazzled and occasionally culture-shocked and for the first time began to understand the Second World War in the East.
There are, I find, many advantages to being born relatively late for your generation. Your parents know pretty much what they are about; they grow old when you still have a strong arm with which to support them; and,…
It is with some trepidation that I blog for the first time about Donald Trump. It is partly because I feel such trepidation that I feel the need to do so. Donald Trump is a gifted demagogue,…
The new film adaptation of Mike Bartlett’s 2014 play King Charles III is impressively versified and acted, and wise about the heaviness of heads that wear crowns even today – but sadly it gets it wrong about Lord Leveson’s recommendations about the regulation of the press.
The BBC has produced a magnificent three-hour dramatic response to the Rochdale child abuse scandal, which was only uncertainly brought to its end with the trial of nine men in 2012, and which was eclipsed in its horror by similar events in Oxford – where I was living at the time.
Jonathan Coe’s 1994 masterpiece ‘What a Carve Up!’ shows how to do sex writing – and why it is difficult.
Graham Greene’s novel ‘The Comedians’ leads me to a contemporary documentary about Papa Doc’s Haiti, and to wonder why documentaries can’t convey a population’s terror the way that fiction can.
In my home hangs a two-thirds life-size reproduction of George Stubb’s almost life-size portrait of the second Marquess of Rockingham’s favourite race- and stud-horse, Whistlejacket. Painted in 1762, it resonates with every artistic and intellectual movement going from its own time onwards, and induces a meditation on life – horse life – and art.
Invited by the students of New College of the Humanities to contribute to an edition of their newspaper with the theme ‘Metropolis’, I considered the kind of symbol that Moscow has been over the centuries, and whether it is one now.
Being taken daily by my dogs to a cemetery prompts some thoughts on Victorian, and modern, ways of death.
I attend an Orthodox funeral and reflect on the appeal of Orthodoxy’s uncustomisability…
Arguments for Bremain or Brexit – and especially the latter – are incomplete if they do not set out a vision for the future of the US-UK ‘Special Relationship’.
Seeing a live cinema screening of the Donmar Warehouse’s production of Christopher Hampton’s play prompted a few reflections on sex and the English.
Two 2015 BBC1 adaptations of mid-twentieth-century classics – ‘An Inspector Calls’, and ‘And Then There Were None’ – struck me with the similarity of these works’ themes, and the opposition of their conclusions.
The recent ITV series ‘The Durrells’ has prompted some reflections on Gerald Durrell’s Corfu trilogy, on Lawrence Durrell’s and Theodore Stephanides’ own memoirs of Corfu of the 1930s, and on the exclusions that they make in their memoirs of that happy time and place.
John Bradshaw’s ‘In Defence of Dogs’ has inspired a few thoughts on the good ways in which humans resemble dogs..
Tagged with: Dogs
Posted in Books
My saintly Dad has a few quirks in spite of his saintliness. It has come over me to share them.
The National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition ‘Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky’ makes me wonder why the West knows Russia’s writers and composers of this period – but not its painters.
This term Geoff Colman – Head of Acting at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama – gave an acting workshop for the students at New College of the Humanities. His advice glittered with metaphors and aperçus, from which I here reconstruct his Stanislavsky-based theory of acting.
This morning I felt unsettled at being at home on Easter morning. So I wrote this blog, recalling the intensity of Easters past, and how strange is the waxing and waning of the great stories in our lives. Happy Easter!
Bob Marshall-Andrews’s latest novel ‘Camille: And the Lost Diaries of Samuel Pepys’ shows again what Marshall-Andrews can do in the way of historical thriller and farcical comedy – unerringly on the side of cakes, ale, and life.
A warm crowd on a cold day opposes the weapons system that more influential countries such as Germany seem to feel perfectly safe without.
The Old Vic’s ‘The Master Builder’ takes a great play and a great lead actor and manages to create something disappointingly prosaic. Let’s hope that the first London audience of 1893 got something better.
Spectre is in many ways excellent – but as a whole it is muddled, and blunts its own political point.
There are two ways of looking at things: tragically and comedically. Tolstoy recommends tragedy. But when it comes to personal troubles, there’s everything to be said for comedy.
This lavish, likeable, intelligent adaptation shows more of what Virginia Woolf characterised as the English ‘instinct to enjoy’ than of the Russian, and Tolstoyan, capacity to ‘suffer and understand’. So enjoy.
Tagged with: BBC
, War and Peace
Posted in Films
‘Re:Home’ is a striking piece of verbatim theatre reflecting on the changes in the Beaumont Road Estate in Leyton, London, in the decade since the demolition of its 1960s towers. The narrative? Life there still isn’t perfect – but it’s a lot better.
The newly-reopened Tottenham Court Road Station is a crushing disappointment. But the sinister Centre Point which soars above it still inspires me.
Ben Power’s conflation of three early mining plays by DH Lawrence works well, in a moving production at the National Theatre’s Dorfman Theatre.
A yearling dog-owner, I decide to write a numbered list – of the kind that I adore to read – of that things that I have learned that no listicle had ever alerted me to.
I do something that I try to avoid doing, and revisit my old university. Nostalgia-averse, the day turns out better than I’d expected, and much better than a similar visit was for Nabokov in 1937.
A few weeks ago I visited one of the only Gulag memorial sites – Perm-36 in the Urals. In the company of my English friends, I tried to work out what I – and we – were doing there.
In May I spoke at the Hay-on-Wye Festival. Initially reluctant, I was in the end glad – as was Wordsworth before me – to have revisited the banks of the Wye.
I try to argue why contempt for age, not age, is the real enemy of life…
Tagged with: Ageism
Posted in Reflections
A friend showed me his copy of D.H. Lawrence’s ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’, which was used by the Prosecution at the novel’s trial in 1960. I look at the blue-pencilled sections and have a few thoughts…
I recently visited Southwell and thought, not just of its Civil War past, but of D.H. Lawrence’s characters, for whom Southwell represented, variously, the past and the future.
On the occasion of a friend’s namesday, I meditate on friendship.
Tagged with: Friendship
Posted in Reflections
On 9th March 2015 Howard Jacobson, novelist, was interviewed by Jaya Savige, poet, at New College of the Humanities, London. Over the course of the evening Jacobson explained how he became a writer – and how it was necessary for him to make a break with his Cambridge mentor F.R. Leavis in order to do that.
This week I attended a Parliamentary rally of Hacked Off, the campaign for the implementation of the recommendations of the Leveson Report, for a free press, and a fair press. John Cleese was in bruising and bruised satiric form…
Tagged with: Hacked Off
Posted in Events
In December 2014 the drama society of the New College of the Humanities made full use of the College’s location at 19 Bedford Square, London, to perform six short plays written by themselves. Ranging from taut naturalism to lingua-clastic avant-garde, with subject matter from France’s Charles X to Syrian refugees, the evening was a triumph of ensemble work which reflected the College’s, as well as reflecting on the students’, process of growing up.
The current Young Vic production of Arthur Miller’s 1956 play ‘A View from the Bridge’ brings excellent acting and excellent visual and audio sets to a play of genius. And it reminded me of my own experience of Sicilian culture in New York nearly half a century later…
London has a Russian bath. I visited it, ate honey, was beaten with birch bundles, drank tea, and reflected on its health-giving qualities…
Tagged with: Banya
, Russian culture
Posted in Events
2014 ITV television drama concerning the man accused by some of Britain’s newspapers of murdering his tenant Joanna Yeates in December 2010.
Written by Peter Morgan (of Frost-Nixon, The Queen), directed by Roger Michell (of Notting Hill). 120 minutes. Broadcast 10th and 11th November 2014 on ITV.
Tagged with: Hacked Off
Posted in Films
This piece was written for the student newspaper of New College of the Humanities, The Anchor, December 2014, following a talk which I gave to the College’s academic salon, the Ottoline Club, in November 2014.
This 1000-word piece was written for ‘Dawn of the Unread’ – http://www.dawnoftheunread.com/issue00-01.html – a multi-part digital graphic novel aimed at younger teens, celebrating Nottingham’s literary history.
To quote creators James Walker & Co: ‘Our concept is: If the dead go unread, there’s gonna be some trouble. Literary figures from Nottingham’s past return from the grave in search of the one thing that can keep their memories alive…boooks. It was created partly as a reaction to independent bookshops falling below 1,000 in February and the recent cuts faced by libraries.’
A recent instalment is on D.H. Lawrence.
Drawn by Hunt Emerson and written by Kevin Jackson, it includes the following hyperlink-embedded essays, as well as my own:
Hunt Emerson (Lawrence and comics)
Billy Ivory (Adaptations for screen),
Robert Shore (Lady Chatterley’s Trial)
Jeremy Hague (Lawrence and the University).
Eastwood (DH Lawrence Society)
Kevin Jackson (Travel and being grumpy)
Wayne Burrows (Why you have to read Out of Sheer Rage)
Tagged with: D.H. Lawrence
Posted in Books
Helen Bamber, founder of the Medical Foundation for Victims of Torture, died 21st August 2014. I recollect the one time I heard her speak.
This is a short review of the New College of the Humanities student production of ‘Twelfth Night’ staged at the end of Trinity term 2014.
This post is the text of a talk which I gave at the 6/20 discussion society today in London, and which I hope to develop and publish elsewhere.
‘The Invisible Woman’ is a fine film, but a lot less coarsely entertaining than Dickens himself; London’s Dickens Museum does great walking tours but less illuminating candle-lit evenings; the St Pancras is worth a tour; and why does England do so many Victorian fairs and festivals, and so few Georgian ones?
A review of the three plays performed by students of New College of the Humanities during Michaelmas and Hilary terms 2013-14: Ionescu’s ‘The Bald Prima-Donna’, Pinter’s ‘Betrayal’, and Eno’s ‘Oh! the Humanity’. I was impressed by all three productions, but appreciated Ionescu’s play the most, and saw my way through to how ‘Betrayal’ isn’t entirely trivial as well as depressing.
The Shunga exhibition at the British Museum took some stomaching, but largely depicted happy, consensual, sex, with an explicitness which it was a particularity of Japan of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to tolerate and value.
This play is dazzlingly acted, clever, and winsome – but where is the political bite?
Spyros Mercouris last night put forward a strong case for the Parthenon Marbles’ return. But at least as moving was the circle dance performed at the end by the Greek expats of London – a dance more ancient than the marbles themselves.
This was an exhibition about life rather than death – but it was a rather pacific, domestic, ahistoricist life that we got. In fact the Ancient Pompeiians did more than eat figs and enjoy phallic garden ornaments; they exploited (or were) slaves, and included some of the most privileged, sophisticated citizen’s of the world’s most powerful and populous empire.
Tagged with: Pompeii
Posted in Exhibitions
This tight, sparkling American tragedy set in the Catskills of the 1950s focuses on a neurotic girl, her frighteningly perceptive mother, and her (im)plausible American hunk of a potential husband.
An extremely impressive play about the relationship between America and China; China it lets off the hook for nothing; America it lets off the hook for a fair bit; it’s a play yearning to be a film; but it’s still a moving exploration of heroism.
Tagged with: Chimerica
Posted in Plays
Skyfall continues the moral and political revisionism of the Daniel Craig Bond era by cutting out the USA, and condemning torture.
Tagged with: James Bond
Posted in Films