Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (2021 film)

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  Mancunian kids of my generation grew up thinking that drag queens were incredibly cool.  That was largely thanks to the late, great Frank “Foo Foo” Lammar, one of the most well-known and popular figures in Manchester in the 1980s, always working hard to raise money for charity and always in the local press.  When Foo Foo sadly died of cancer in 2003, Sir Alex Ferguson gave one of the readings at his funeral: that’s how cool he was.

So it would never occurred to me that there was anything strange about being a drag queen.  There were the TV drag queens too – Danny La Rue was very popular back then, and then there were Dame Edna Everage, and, later, Lily Savage.  However, I suppose it’s one thing for established drag queens and another for teenage boys wanting to become drag queens; and, in this film adaptation of the stage musical, set in Sheffield (is it me or are films about boys trying to break away from macho stereotypes always set in northern cities?) in 2017, sees 16-year-old Jamie trying to fulfil his ambition of becoming a drag queen but being picked on by school bullies and rejected by his homophobic dad.   It’s aimed at teenagers and it’s absolutely full of tropes and cliches – the camp gay boy is best mates with the swotty Asian girl,  the teacher (they only seem to have one teacher)’s grumpy, the mum’s supportive, the dad isn’t – but it’s really very watchable.

And, at the end, of course, Jamie turns up to the school prom in a dress, his best mate puts the bully in his place, all the other kids support Jamie when the teacher says he can’t go in because he’s breaking the dress code, and in they all go and dance the night away.

Made me feel so old, though.   I remember when Sarah Lancashire and Shobna Gulati were being cast as the glamorous young girls, not the downtrodden mum and honorary auntie!   Kids messing about with mobile phones at school all the time, a big fuss about the school prom (in my day, only American schools had proms, and the only proms you got near here were the sort you walked along at the seaside), and I kept wishing we could have some decent ’80s music instead of today’s stuff 🙂 .

It seems to be mainly aimed at teenagers, as I said, and it does come across as being a bit didactic – we’re told a million times about how important it is to be yourself, and Richard E Grant gives Jamie, who appears to be extraordinarily ignorant about anything that happened in the pre-internet age, a lesson about the fight for gay rights in the ’80s and ’90s.   Speaking of history, someone really needs to tell the scriptwriters that Emmeline Pankhurst would not have had the slightest problem with girls getting glammed up for a school prom.  Do you ever see pictures of Emmeline looking anything other than fabulous, except when she’d just come out of prison?

But most of the points are important and, for the most part, well-made, even if they are laid on with a trowel.

And they finish up by taking group selfies at the prom and WhatsApping them to their mums.  I feel like Methuselah …. 🙂 …

 

Cinderella

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Er, OK.  (Cinder)Ella wants to be a dress designer, break into the male-dominated world of business and not give it all up to be a princess.  The prince isn’t so much charming as a bit of a dork who seems to have walked straight off the set of Blackadder III.  His sister, “the People’s Princess” (oh puh-lease!) lectures everyone about not buying so many catapults, and using wind power instead of fossil fuels.

The “Fabulous” Godmother is Billy Porter from Pose.  The Wicked Stepmother, played by Idina Menzel, sings “Material Girl” and regrets not having had a career as a pianist.  Before the ball, the prince sings “Somebody to Love”, and all the hopeful princesses sing “Whatta Man”.  Everyone sings “Rhythm Nation”.  The town crier is a rapper.

It’s a pretty star-studded cast, including James Corden, Romesh Ranganathan and James Acaster as three helpful mice who are turned into coachmen, and Pierce Brosnan and Minnie Driver stealing the show as the King and Queen –  clearly not taking any of it seriously!

As long as you don’t take any of it seriously either, you’ll probably quite enjoy it.  It’s very lively and cheerful, and it’s not so much a feminist rewrite as a gentle mockery of the whole fairy tale genre.

And, at the end, the prince decides to give up his royal status and travel the world with Ella, whilst his sister takes over as heir.  Well, at least he decides to go travelling, rather than to lecture people about things he knows nothing about and tell lies about his family like, er, certain other people who might spring to mind and who are known to be quite pally with James Corden, who was one of the producers.  So they ride off in unwedded bliss, with Ella declaring herself his “love” rather than his girlfriend, partner or anything else, because, hey, who needs labels?

If you prefer your fairy tales traditional, give this a miss.  If you’re up for a laugh, give it a go!

 

Mr Jones

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  This film tells the tragic story of Gareth Jones, the brave young Welsh journalist who tried to tell the world about the Holodymyr, the man-made famine which killed millions of people in Ukraine in 1932-33, part of a wider famine also affecting Kazakhstan and other parts of the Soviet Union, and is now considered genocide in Ukraine.  Not only were the Soviets were determined to cover it up, but so were left-wing intellectuals in the West, unwilling to admit that damage that Stalinism had done.  That, and false reporting by the New York Times‘ “man in Moscow” Walter Duranty, meant that the efforts of Jones, Malcolm Muggeridge and others to bring the famine to world attention sadly did little good.   Jones was murdered by bandits, almost certainly in the pay of the Soviet secret police, not long after his reports were published.

It’s not the easiest of films to watch, especially as quite a lot of it’s in Russian with English subtitles, but it tells an important and still little-known story of very tragic events.

It was only in the era of glasnost that people were really able to talk for the first time about what happened.  Gorbachev himself spoke of losing two aunts and an uncle in the mixed Russian-Ukrainian village in Southern Russia where he grew up.   It’s not clear how many people died – estimates vary from 3 million to 12 million – and there’s little clarity and fierce argument over exactly what went on.  Stalin’s collectivisation programme, together with generally poor administration, meant that crop yields fell in the first place, and a lot of grain was lost in the processing and transportation processes.  Then such grain as there was was requisitioned, and most of it was allocated to industrial workers in towns, leaving those in the countryside to starve.

Some people think that, whilst due to appalling mismanagement, it wasn’t deliberate.  Others believe that the Stalinist administration deliberately starved people in rural areas, probably to stifle Ukrainian nationalism.

Malcolm Muggeridge – am I the only person who associates him with Adrian Mole? – raised the issue in the British press, after spending time in the Soviet Union.  Other Western reporters also raised the issue.  However, they didn’t feature in this film, which was all about Gareth Jones, the first Western writer to speak out using his own name.

We saw Jones working in the Soviet Union, and some fairly harrowing scenes as he uncovered what was going on.  Then we saw his attempts to bring it to Western attention – and how, although his reports were widely publicised, it didn’t really suit anyone in authority to accept what was happening.   George Bernard Shaw and others would later travel to the Soviet Union, at Stalin’s behest, to claim that they saw no signs of famine: in this film, it was George Orwell who was reluctant to accept the damage done by communism, but that did sum up the views of many left-wing intellectuals.

Business people were eager to normalise relations with the Soviet Union, in the middle of the Depression, in the hopes of boosting the economy.  And we saw Lloyd George, for whom Jones had once worked, saying that he accepted what Jones was saying but that he didn’t know what Jones wanted him to do about it – what *could* he do about it?  On top of that, the Metro-Vickers trial was going on – the Soviets were holding six British engineering workers.  The film suggested that they’d threatened to execute them if Jones published his report … although I’m not sure that that’s very accurate.

The main figure, though, was Walter Duranty, the Liverpool-born journalist working for the New York Times, who insisted that Stalinism, although brutal, was necessary because the Soviet Union couldn’t be governed any other way, claimed that there was no famine and that Jones and the others were talking rubbish, and played a big part in Roosevelt’s decision to recognise the Soviet regime.  In the film, Duranty’s presented as a big baddie, forcing people to lie.  But what were his motives?  It’s certainly known that he did know about the famine.  Did he genuinely believe that Stalinism was a good thing?  Was he keen to promote good relations between the USSR and the West, to avoid war or promote trade?  Was he maybe, as some people have suggested, being blackmailed because he was gay?

There’s so much we don’t know.  But we do know that the famine happened, that it was the fault of the Stalinist regime, that millions of people died, and that Gareth Jones and other brave Western journalists tried to expose it.  People are very critical of the media these days: we shouldn’t forget what an important job journalists do.   And the Holodymyr, usually referred to as the Holodomor in the Russian rather than Ukrainian translation, is still little-known in the West.  Sad story all round.

 

Jungle Cruise

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This was great – an ’80s-style good-humoured, action-packed adventure-with-a-bit-of-fantasy film, reminiscent of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Romancing the Stone but with CGI jaguars and scorpions.   In a nod to the 2020s, however, most of the rope-swinging, fighting and shooting was carried out by a female botanist who’d been denied admission to the Royal Society by a load of boring old men, and who also went around liberating captive animals, whilst most of the swooning involved her stock character upper class twit of a brother.  None of it was meant to be taken too seriously though … er, says the person who got upset when they were talking about conquistadors being in Peru 400 years before the Great War.  Lest anyone else get traumatised at the prospect of a film involving people being cursed to live as monsters for 360 years and magical trees providing a cure for all ills not being historically accurate, it should be pointed out that it was later explained that the expedition in question actually took place in the 1550s, so that was all OK.

Our heroine Lily was on the hunt for the legendary Tears of the Moon, a tree with petals that could cure all ills and lift curses – not for self-aggrandisement, but so that she could a) help Britain win the war (this being 1916) and b) work for the general good of mankind, et al.  The legend was that some Spanish conquistadors had tried to find the tree, and had stolen an arrowhead which was the key to its location, but had been cursed by a local tribe so that they could never leave the Amazonian jungle.  The arrowhead had somehow made its way to London and come into the possession of the Royal Society – quite how it had managed that, if the people who stole it couldn’t leave the Amazon, was never explained, but never mind.

Prince Joachim, the dastardly youngest son of the Kaiser, was also after the Tears of the Moon.  After Lily outwitted him and took the arrowhead, he followed her to the Amazon in a submarine, where he was eventually squished by a falling pillar.  It should be noted that none of this was historically accurate 😉 – although the Kaiser’s youngest son was indeed called Prince Joachim.

Lily was accompanied by her twit of a brother, MacGregor, who took along his golf clubs, tennis rackets, expensive booze, numerous changes of clothes, et al – as I said, stock upper class twit character, but he did have his moments of heroism.  It was later explained that he was accompanying Lily because the rest of the family kept trying to force him into marriage with a suitable young lady, and she was the only one who accepted that he wasn’t interested in young ladies.  Sadly, instead of copping off with a handsome Peruvian or Brazilian sailor, he ended up back in London.

Lily and MacGregor were taken up the Amazon by Frank, a wisecracking, tough guy Brazilian boatman who turned out to be Spanish, spoke perfect English with a North American accent, and was being pursed by some Italian mafiosi.  It wasn’t very clear why the Italian mafiosi were in Brazil.  Nor indeed why Lily and MacGregor hadn’t started off in Peru.  But never mind.  Frank spent his time taking rich, gullible American tourists for stage-managed adventures up the Amazon, but he was also after the Tears of the Moon, for reasons which became clear later.

So off we went.  The film was “inspired” by the Jungle Cruise rides at Disneyworld and Disneyland, those wonderful places where we used to go in the days when you could actually travel abroad without it being nearly as much hassle as sailing through dangerous Amazonian rapids and dodging snakes, and so we encountered piranhas, snakes, scorpions, et al.  And we also encountered a tribe of cannibals – who turned out to be play-acting because Frank had paid them to.  I’m so pleased that films like this are still being made, and that the film industry hasn’t been entirely browbeaten by the woke brigade, because I can imagine some people seeing this and screeching about racism and stereotypes and cultural appropriation and “evil” colonialism and so on and so forth, when it wasn’t like that.  The joke was on the gullible American tourists who fell for all Frank’s stage-managed scenes, and the Amazonian tribespeople, with a female leader, were working with Frank and also assisted Lily in overcoming the various baddies.

Anyway, there were numerous dramatic scenes involving rocks, water, snakes, trees, baddies looking like they’d won but then getting their come-uppance – you know the sort of thing.  It was filmed in Hawaii, apparently, and the scenery looked great even if it wasn’t really South America and a lot of it was probably computer-generated!  And, of course, the goodies triumphed in the end.

This was my first visit to the cinema in 17 months.  One moan!  It costs £4.99 for a standard ticket at Vue.  However, if you book online, you get charged a 79p “booking fee” (why??), so, unless I’m going to see something likely to be very busy, I just pay at the till.  However, today I was told that it now cost £5.99 to pay at the till, and was only £4.99 if you booked online.  Er, no.  If you book online it costs £4.99 plus 79p, i.e. £5.78.  So films now do not cost £4.99.  I understand them putting up prices to try to recoup some of the losses suffered over the past 17 months, but I object to them not being honest about it!  Otherwise, everything was fine.  Some people came in wearing masks, but no-one kept them on – but it was early on Sunday morning, so it wasn’t that busy.  I didn’t feel at all uneasy about being there.  And roll on the long-awaited release of the new James Bond film!   As for Jungle Cruise, if the August weather carries on being like this and you’re looking for somewhere to go where you can stay dry, give it a go!

An American Pickle

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This is absolutely brilliant.  I thought it might be silly – man gets pickled in brine for 100 years – but it’s an incredibly clever film about modern life and culture wars, specifically in New York but it would work in a lot of other places too.  If you’re the sort of person who takes yourself very seriously and gets offended at the slightest thing, you won’t get it at all.  If you’re not, you will love it – you’ll laugh a lot, but it’ll make you think too.

Our hero is Herschel Greenbaum, who, along with his wife Sarah, decides to flee Eastern Europe after a pogrom at their shtetl.  They move to New York, in 1919, i.e. 100 years before most of the film is set.  The dates don’t work brilliantly, which may upset pedantic historians such as my good self, but anyway.  They’re expecting the American Dream, but, instead, Herschel can only get a job trying to kill rats at a pickle factory where workers get very low pay and health and safety regulations don’t exist.  One day, Herschel falls into a barrel of pickles, as you do, and apparently no-one – including his wife and child! – looks very hard for him.  The factory is condemned and abandoned, and Herschel remains in the pickle barrel for 100 years, until some kids messing around accidentally find the barrel and, hey presto, Herschel emerges into the present day, the same age as he was when he was, er, pickled, having been preserved perfectly by the brine.  Maybe don’t think too much about the science behind this 🙂 .

His wife and son are long dead.  His only grandson and granddaughter-in-law were killed in a car crash.  But there’s a great-grandson, Ben.  Herschel asks his great-grandson to take him to Sarah’s grave – but the part of the cemetery it’s in is no longer used, it’s derelict and overgrown, and there are even advertising hoardings there.  Someone’s putting up an advert for Cossack vodka.  Herschel loses his rag and attacks them.  He and Ben are arrested.

Herschel demands to know why Ben hasn’t been looking after the family graves, and why no-one seems to care that a cemetery, which should be a revered place, has been allowed to become waste ground – and this is something that does happen in real life.  It transpires that Ben hasn’t been doing anything much for the last five years other than working on his computer, trying to get “ethical” investors for an internet business.  Now, his final hopes are dashed, because he’s been arrested, so “ethical” businesses won’t touch him, because the arrest is the first thing that comes up when they Google his name.  He throws Herschel out.

Herschel, hurt but undeterred, buys a load of cheap cucumbers and some salt, collects a load of old jars, puts the cucumbers and salt in the jars, lets the jars fill up with rainwater, and sets himself up as a street vendor.  It catches on – because he’s recycling jars and using 100% natural ingredients.  People in New York love it.  Long queues form at his stall.  Videos of him go viral.  Everyone wants to buy his stuff.  But, hey, he then gets closed down by the New York equivalent of the Food Standards Agency, because he’s violating ten zillion health and safety protocols.  Oh dear.

He gets going again, but then he’s told that he needs to promote the business by going on Twitter, and, preferably, proving that he’s being “inclusive” by “reaching out” to different demographic groups.  He posts things which are typical for someone from his background – 100 years ago – and aren’t meant to be the slightest bit offensive; but, of course, next thing you know, he’s being accused of being sexist, homophobic, ableist and everything else-ist.  Young virtue-signalling snowflakes besiege his stall, and he’s “cancelled” on line.  Meanwhile, right-wingers hail him as a defender of free speech and applaud him for exploring the boundaries of the First Amendment, which he understands about as much as Prince Harry does, and even call for him to run for political office.  Celebs on both sides decide that they’re experts on it all, and have their say.  It’s all over the papers.  It’s debated on TV and social media.  It really is brilliant – – you can just imagine this happening.

He doesn’t get any of it.  He was just trying to sell pickles.

He then manages also to alienate the Christian right.  When asked about whether public schools should promote Christianity, he expresses opinions about Christianity which would make perfect sense to someone from an early 20th century Jewish shtetl under attack from Cossacks, but obviously don’t to American Christian right-wingers.  So now nearly everyone’s got it in for him, and – in bit of a nod to Mr Trump’s views on immigrants? – he’s deported as a hate figure.

And all he was trying to do was sell pickles.

His great-grandson, feeling horribly guilty because, jealous of his success, he was the one who reported him to the food standards people and then encouraged him to go on Twitter, follows him to Eastern Europe (we’re never told exactly where it is).   They both end up back in New York, planning to set up some sort of business together.  Ben’s learnt some lessons about the importance of family ties and being a bit less obsessed with his computer and ethical investors, but Herschel’s a bit sad because he feels that, in America, no-one will ever forgive you if you’ve said something that didn’t meet with their approval.   It’s America, but it could happen in a lot of other places too, not least here.

As I said, it’ll make you think.  He wasn’t trying to upset anyone, and he wasn’t trying to make a point about anything.  He was just trying to sell pickles.  Very, very clever film.

 

 

Radioactive

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This is the Marie Curie biopic which was meant to be released in cinemas last June, but ended up going straight to various “platforms” instead.  This meant that I saved the £4.99 cinema entry fee, the cost of getting to the cinema and back, and the amount I’d have spent on a cup of tea and possibly an ice cream, but I’d gladly pay if we could get to a point where cinemas could reopen.  Possibly not for this film, though: it was a bit boring.

It really shouldn’t have been, because it’s the most incredible story – how, at a time when it was incredibly difficult for women to work in science, one woman made scientific discoveries which changed the world, winning the Nobel Prize twice, once for physics (in 1903, jointly with her husband and another scientist) and once for chemistry (in 1911).  The film also showed her important work, alongside one of her daughters, in treated wounded soldiers during the First World War.  Plus we saw her marriage (although I doubt that a biopic of a male scientist would have involved people frolicking naked in a pond), the births of her two daughters, the tragic death of her husband after he was run over by a cart, and how France turned on her when it became known that she was having an affair with a younger, married man … which rather bizarrely got a bit mixed up with the fallout from the Dreyfus Affair.

But, somehow, the film just didn’t really hold my attention.  Maybe it’s because I’m not a scientist: there was quite a lot of sciency talk in it.  There was nothing particularly wrong with it, but it just wasn’t all that interesting.  Oh well!

Six Minutes To Midnight

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This film sounded very interesting, being based around the very strange but true story of the Augusta Victoria College, a German finishing school for young female relatives/associates of high-ranking Nazi officials, based not in Germany but, from 1932 to 1939 in Bexhill-on-Sea on the Sussex coast.  Unfortunately, the storyline was just stupid.  It was supposed to be a thrilling espionage drama, but it was unconvincing and verged on the farcical.

Our hero, played by Eddie Izzard, was a British spy masquerading as a teacher, although he seemed to do little teaching other than to train the girls, who were remarkably ill-disciplined by anyone’s standards, never mind Nazi standards, to sing “It’s A Long Way To Tipperary”.  At one point, he tried to hide from the police by stealing a uniform which a brass band player had left lying on the beach whilst he went for a swim (as you do), then marching with the brass band, without an instrument, whilst the flugle player whose uniform he’d nicked marched alongside him in his underwear.  It would have been quite funny in ‘Allo ‘Allo or Dad’s Army, but this was supposed to be a serious spy film.

Meanwhile, Judi Dench did her best as the sweet little old British headmistress (the headmistress of the actual school was German, and presumably carefully chosen by the authorities) who didn’t realise that the Nazis weren’t actually very nice people, and joined in when the girls all made Nazi salutes and chanted Nazi slogans because she thought it was just a confidence boosting things; but the idea of the character made no sense.  This was the summer of 1939.  My school was offering free places to girls who’d come to the UK as refugees from Nazi persecution.  People knew jolly well what was going on.  And that would have gone for sweet little old ladies in idyllic seaside resorts as much as for anyone else.

Maybe part of the problem was that no-one seems very sure exactly what the point of the school was.  Possibly so that the girls could try to spread Nazi ideals in British society, but, seeing as they hardly ever left the school, and didn’t come into contact with anyone outside it, I don’t quite see how that was meant to work.  Were they all meant to hang around after leaving, and impress people with their ability to walk elegantly because of all the time they’d spent balancing books on their heads?

A decent scriptwriter would have come up with a plausible explanation.  Instead, all we got was that the other teacher, a young German woman, was a Nazi.  However, other than chatting to other Nazis at a music evening, there didn’t seem to be much point to her either.  Well, not until our hero went out to meet his superior officer, and she followed him and shot the said officer dead.  Presumably she was also responsible for the death of a previous teacher, whose body turned up on the beach, but that was never really explained, even though our hero was meant to be finding out about it.  A lot of things in this film were never really explained.  Anyway, the police turned up and thought our hero had shot his boss, so he went on the run … but was captured after the incident with the brass band and the underwear.

He was then visited in the local nick by two government officials, a senior one with a posh voice and a junior one with a not-posh voice.  But then, in a “thrilling” twist in the tale (it actually wasn’t that thrilling), it turned out that the posh bloke was a Nazi spy.  Our man escaped again, and was helped out by the local bus driver, who was obsessed with people not getting mud on his kitchen floor but was happy to give our man a change of clothes – thankfully, not a uniform this time.  Then our man teamed up with the junior official.

Oh, and everyone kept saying “English” where “British” would have been more appropriate, which was interesting given that the film was made by the Welsh Film Board.

Meanwhile, the Nazi teacher was arranging for the girls to be evacuated by plane, necessitating their climbing up a hill with their suitcases (in broad daylight – presumably this was OK, as no-one happening to walk past would have found this at all suspicious), hanging around until it got dark, and then waving flares to show the plane where to land. Despite the fact that it was broad daylight and the plane couldn’t land until it got dark, they didn’t have time to stop when one of the girls dropped her case and it fell down the hill, even though it was only a small hill and it would only have taken two minutes to retrieve the case, but never mind.

Mysterious planes often land in strange places in Enid Blyton books, and indeed in James Bond films, but I didn’t really get why, the UK not requiring exit visas, the girls – there were only about a dozen of them – and the teacher couldn’t have just hopped on a train to the nearest port (Google informs me that it’s only about 55 miles from Bexhill to Dover), got on a ferry, then got on a train to Germany.  There might even have been direct sailings from Harwich to Hamburg at that time.

However, our hero had managed to get through to Whitehall, the plane was intercepted, and he and the sweet little old headmistress turned up, deterred the Nazi teacher from shooting all the girls rather than risk their being interned (???), and a lot of hugging went on.  The girls were then taken back to the school, where they lined up and sang “It’s A Long Way To Tipperary”.  I think we were actually supposed to feel sorry for them, which opens up all sorts of thorny questions – OK, they wouldn’t have had much choice about being sent to the school, but they were in the late teens, so old enough to understand what was going on.  But the film never got into anything as deep as that.

I’m not even sure why it was such a big deal that the girls were leaving, and why they were so desperate to stop them.   It’s not like they were spies.  All they did was mess around in the dormitory, go swimming, and try to learn English.  Why not just let them go home?  If the idea was for them to try to spread Nazi ideals, then wouldn’t it actually’ve been better to have them out of the UK, goodbye and good riddance, rather than trying to keep them here?!

The whole thing was just silly, quite frankly – and it was a shame, because someone could have made a very good story about this school.  Maybe, one day, someone will, but this certainly wasn’t it!

 

 

 

Lad: A Yorkshire Story

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What an absolutely lovely film this is – and that’s from a Lancastrian 🙂 .  It was made in 2013 and didn’t do much at the time, but it’s become a “lockdown hit” on Amazon Prime.   Our “lad” is Tom, a 13-year-old boy living in the Settle area – so that’s about an hour’s drive across the Pennines from here, and it’s a beautiful drive, especially on a sunny day -, whose life falls apart when his dad dies suddenly, his brother leaves to join the Army, and his mum struggles to pay the mortgage on one wage.  After getting into a bit of trouble with the police, he’s ordered to do community service, which consists of helping a Yorkshire Dales park ranger called Al, who becomes like an uncle to him and, although there’s a sad ending, helps him to learn to cope with what’s happened and to see the way ahead.

It’s a gentle, slow-moving film, with some glorious shots of Malham Cove and the countryside around Settle and Austwick, and it really is worth watching.  The only problem is that it makes you feel all the more frustrated about being told you can’t go out into the countryside!

There’s a curious lack of grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins or even family friends to help support Tom and his mum Sarah.  However, in the general community, everyone’s nice to everyone else – other than a baddie bank boss who isn’t very sympathetic to the family’s financial problems after the dad’s death – and there’s no aggressive agenda, so anyone (the Guardian etc) who prefers hatred and aggression to goodness and kindness won’t appreciate it, but I think most people will.

Tom and Al are the main characters, but there are sub-plots about Tom’s growing friendship with Al’s granddaughter, and about Sarah, who trains as an HGV driver when she can’t manage on her wage from working in a shop after losing her husband.  Not that much actually happens – if you’re waiting for someone to fall in Malham Tarn or off a cliff, you’ll still be waiting at the end of the film – but it’s just a really nice film, sweet but not sentimental.  Not historical, but still highly recommended!

The Bird Catcher

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Today is Holocaust Memorial Day.  This isn’t a particularly good Holocaust film, or a particularly good film at all, but it deserves credit for telling one of the many lesser-known Holocaust stories.  It seems as if every month there’s another new book called The X of Auschwitz or The Y of Auschwitz.  I’m not for a moment criticising those books, but there’s a lot of focus on the death camps, and on what happened in certain countries; and there are other stories to be told as well.

The beautiful, historical Norwegian city of Trondheim is probably one of the last places in mainland Europe which you’d associate with the Holocaust, but it was occupied by the Nazis for five years.  In the October of 1942, it was placed under martial law.  Dozens of people were arrested and executed, and the entire Jewish population of the town rounded up.  In this film, our heroine Esther rather improbably escapes, and ends up disguised as a boy and working on a farm run by Nazi sympathisers … before blurting out her true identity in a sauna full of naked Norwegian Nazis (honestly), and escaping by sledge across a frozen lake to Sweden.  As I said, it’s not the greatest film ever, and the story’s more than a bit unconvincing, but it does draw attention to the little-told story of the Holocaust in Norway.

The relationship between Esther, or, as she calls herself, Ola, and the family on the farm is complex.  She’s originally taken there by the son of the family, Axsel, who’s got cerebral palsy.  Axsel and Esther form a close bond.  Axsel’s father, Johann, sees Ola/Esther as the strong son he always wanted … apparently not noticing that she’s actually a girl, even though they’re in close physical proximity for a lot of the time.  Johann’s wife Anna is having an affair with a Nazi officer, but, when she finds out who Esther really is, is quite sympathetic towards her – and, at the end of the film, when Esther returns to Trondheim and Anna is there, being spat at by locals as a Nazi sympathiser, Esther shows her sympathy in return.

The Nazis are around all the time – the German Nazis, and also the members of the Norwegian far right party led by Vidkun Quisling.  There’s no mention of the Resistance.  There’s no mention of anyone helping Jews to escape: Norway didn’t see the mass rescue that Denmark did, but about two-thirds of Norwegian Jews were still able to leave.  Nobody’s wearing paper clips attached to their clothes.  There’s no mention of Telavag, the town destroyed by the Nazis in a horrific atrocity which saw all the men either executed or sent to a concentration camp and all the women and children imprisoned.  There’s certainly no reference to the brave Norwegians who sailed from Bergen to Scotland in little boats, to be trained by British forces and return as saboteurs.

That’s very unusual for a story set in wartime Norway: the extent to which there was collaboration is still controversial, but I certainly wasn’t expecting the film to show so many characters as being pro-Nazi, with barely a mention of any who weren’t.  It’d be interesting to know how this film was received in Norway, if it’s been shown there.

To get back to the story, after the bit with the naked Nazis in the sauna, Esther and Axsel flee together but, sadly, the ice cracks and Axsel drowns.  Esther makes it to Sweden, survives, and returns to Norway after the war.  You do wonder why, if neutral Sweden was so close, she didn’t try to escape across the border sooner.  But a lot of things about this film don’t bear up to too much scrutiny.  The best thing about it is all the glorious shots of snowy Norwegian scenery.  But, as I said, it does show one of the many little-known stories of the Holocaust.  There are a lot of them.

 

Military Wives

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This is all rather predictable, but it’s a lovely feelgood film. And there’s a lot of ’80s music in it, which is always a plus point.  It’s inspired by the story of real Military Wives choir, who performed at the Festival of Remembrance in 2011 and then got the Christmas number one spot, but it’s been turned into a comedy-drama-with-sad-bits-too, like Calendar Girls.

We’ve got posh colonel’s wife Kate, who comes across like a prefect in a boarding school book, wanting all the women to join in group social activities whilst their partners are serving Afghanistan, and a lot of not posh women who are rather bemused by the idea.  But they do all get quite caught up in it, and it does help them to bond.  It also distracts them from their worries – and we warm to Kate as we understand that her son’s recently been killed in action, and that she’s looking for a way to try to cope.  Then, inevitably, the husband of one of the women is killed, and the others come together to try to comfort her.

They aren’t keen on traditional choir music, and go for ’80s pop instead, which is great stuff! Then they’re asked to perform at the Festival of Remembrance.  There’s a disastrous performance at a local market, which knocks everyone’s confidence.  Then they aren’t sure that it’d be appropriate to go ahead after the aforementioned death.  Then there’s a big falling out.  But, of course, it all comes right in the end.  Hurrah!

I don’t know how realistic a depiction it is of life at a military barracks, but it … well, the lifestyle wouldn’t appeal to most people.  OK, it has to come across as a closed community or else the idea wouldn’t work, but no-one’s got a job, or any friends in the surrounding area.  The teenage daughter of one of the women moans about being bored.  I’m not surprised.  It’s a bit 1950s, with all these women hanging around waiting for their husbands, and not doing much else.  And no husbands waiting for wives, or indeed husbands waiting for husbands or wives waiting for wives.  As I understand it, the real choir is also open to servicewomen – although I suppose that wouldn’t have worked for the film, because the idea was that the regiment was away in Afghanistan.

But, hey, it’s a nice film about female friendship and women supporting each other, and I liked it.  And it’s a reminder of just how difficult it must be to be the partner of someone in the Armed Forces, or any other dangerous job.

I’d have gone to see this at the pictures, but it was only just coming out when we went into lockdown, so I didn’t get the chance.  I’d have paid for either car parking or a return ticket on the Metrolink.  I’d have paid for admission at Vue.  I’d also have bought a drink, and maybe something to eat.  Then I’d have gone for a wander round town afterwards, and bought another drink, and maybe something to eat, and maybe done a bit of shopping.  As it was, with cinemas closed, I watched it on Amazon Prime, for which I pay anyway, and made my own drinks.  So I’ve saved money, and calories, but it’s not exactly done the local economy much good.  Such is 2020.

We need more feelgood films!