Pose (Season 3) – BBC 2

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This is the third and final series – or “season”, as our American friends say – of Pose.  It’s going to cover the ongoing difficulties caused by the attitude of religious organisations towards the LGBT community, an area in which, nearly 30 years after this is set, sadly little progress has been made.  And it’s also going to revisit the story of the body in the trunk in the wardrobe: I was really hoping that they’d decided to forget about that, but it seems not!

Well, it’s now 1994, and the gang have reunited to … er, watch O J Simpson being chased by police.  Has anyone ever actually rung their friends to ask them to come round and eat popcorn whilst watching live coverage of a police car chase?!   Oh well, whatever, it worked as a plot device to get everyone together!

The first series, set in the late ’80s, was generally quite upbeat, as we saw people making new lives and forming surrogate families in the ballroom scene in New York, but the second series, set in the early ’90s, was dominated by the effects of the AIDS pandemic.  This series has also started on a downbeat note, as the community continues to lose people to AIDS, others struggle to cope with living with HIV, and a number of major characters turn to drink and drugs.   Meanwhile, the ballroom scene’s becoming increasingly commercialised, and that’s detracting from the community spirit and support that it’s always provided.

However, we’ve got the house mothers doing a superb job of trying to hold it all together – supporting the people who need it, and reminding everyone else of the need to stand by their friends.  A lot of the focus is on the older characters this time, and M J Rodriguez as Blanca, Dominique Jackson as Elektra and Billy Porter as suffering Pray Tell really are putting in very strong performances, as we jump from home scenes to hospital scenes to ballroom scenes.   The 1994 music’s a bit too late for me 🙂 , but never mind!

This has already been shown in America, but I’m not going to try to find out in advance how it ends.  However, I gather that it does end on a positive note, although some characters aren’t going to make it to the last episode.  It’s difficult to find a balance between being too upbeat and being too downbeat when telling the story of a community that’s faced a lot more than its fair share of problems, but this has been really good.  It’s a shame that there isn’t going to be a fourth series, but the producers have said that they feel that this is the right time to stop.  All the best to everyone involved in whatever they do next.

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

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This book’s received a lot of attention, because it’s about the Spanish flu pandemic and, although the author began writing it in 2018, to mark the centenary of the pandemic, it ended up being published in early 2020, just as the Covid pandemic hit.  A book about a pandemic will be the last thing that some people want to read: others will find it intriguing.  It also seemed like a good book to review during Pride month, as it includes a same sex romance – rainbow pic instead of my usual pic to show support for Pride.  I’m afraid that I automatically assumed that this was going to be between the doctor and the nurse, but it was actually between the nurse and the orderly.  When I say “romance”, it’s only very brief, because they only know each other for a few days.  There are no happy endings in this book, but, if you can take all the misery, it’s well worth a read.

I don’t care for the style of writing – it annoys me very greatly when people write speech without using speech marks – but the intensity of it’s fascinating: the entire book only covers three days, and almost all of it’s set within one very small room.  The main character is Julia Power, a nurse in charge of a maternity/Spanish flu ward at a Dublin hospital, and the other two prominent characters are Bridie Sweeney, an orderly, and Kathleen Lynn, a doctor who was a real person and was well-known as a republican activist and suffragist as well as for her medical work.

There are a lot of talking points about the book – the Spanish flu and any parallels that readers may draw between that and the Covid pandemic are the obvious ones, but also everything that the book shows about what went on in institutions run by the Catholic Church in Ireland at the time.  It was nothing I hadn’t heard before, but it didn’t pull any punches, it portrayed nuns extremely negatively, and I’d be interested to know how the book’s been received in the Republic of Ireland.

During the course of the book, we’re told that the Catholic Church mistreats orphans in its care, allowing priests, nuns and lay staff to abuse them, putting them to work at an early age and taking their wages, and even sending young girls to stay with “holiday fathers” (a euphemism for paedophiles).   Disabled and illegitimate children in its institutions are neglected, and unmarried mothers are virtually imprisoned and forced to work to pay for their “care” whilst they were expecting.  And it takes adolescent daughters away from widowed fathers on the grounds that it’s immodest for girls to live with a man with no adult female present.   It’s also blamed for Ireland having a far higher rate of death in childbirth than the rest of the UK, by making the use of contraception taboo and encouraging women to have at least twelve children, and for women suffering a difficult labour being forced to undergo horrific processes such as the sawing in half of their pubic bone, as the priority is to avoid damage to the womb and never mind any other bits.

All of this is based on evidence given by people who were in the institutions concerned, so it’s not been made up, but I’d be interested to know how the book’s been received in the Republic of Ireland, because it really is very heavy on all this.

Also, those who participated in the Easter Rising are repeatedly described as terrorists who were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people, and those who supported it but weren’t arrested as being cruel for tormenting injured Great War veterans.  I’m not saying that this isn’t a valid viewpoint, just that I wouldn’t have expected to “hear” it from Irish characters created by an Irish author.  Kathleen Lynn is presented positively, but her role in the Easter Rising – she was the chief medical officer for the “Irish Citizens’ Army” –  is rather vaguely explained away as being because she thought it might bring about improved conditions for women: she mentions her plans to set up a hospital for women and children, with her friend (and probably her partner), the gloriously named Madeleine ffrench-Mullen – something that did actually happen.  When she’s arrested, the emphasis is on the fact that men are arresting a female doctor: the fact that this is about the Easter Rising is rather skimmed over.  That’s not what I was expecting.

To get back to the Spanish flu, If you’re looking for happy endings, or just any sort of happiness, this is not the book for you!  Of the five expectant mothers admitted to Julia’s ward, three die of the Spanish flu, one survives but her baby is stillborn, and the only one who goes home with her baby has got a violent husband waiting for her.   Julia’s brother has been invalided out of the Army due to shell shock (which doesn’t actually sound right to me – shell shock wasn’t a reason for being discharged during the Great War) and refuses to speak.  Dr Lynn is arrested and imprisoned.  The only person in the book who’s ever cheerful is a hospital porter, and we eventually learn that his singing and joking are just his way of trying to cope with his grief at losing his wife and children in a typhus epidemic.

The only bit of good cheer is that Julia takes the baby of one of the women who died.  This is after the doctor says that he probably won’t survive more than a few months as he’ll be handed over to Evil Nuns, who’ll neglect him as he’s illegitimate and has a hare lip.  An Evil Nun kidnaps him whilst Julia’s briefly out of the room, but Julia manages to rescue him.  The Evil Nun tells her that people will probably assume he’s the result of an incestuous relationship between her and her brother.

Oh, and be prepared for extremely graphic descriptions of difficult childbirth.   The medical information is fascinating, though, as are the general observations about the Spanish flu, including the public notices.  There’s a lot of talk about wearing masks and avoiding close contact, and the book repeatedly makes the point that saying that people should stay at home, and rest in bed if feeling unwell, isn’t very practical when people have got to work.  Some of the blame game stuff going on is very reminiscent of the patronising comments about the “hard work” of people in areas where Covid infection rates are low – mainly rural areas with low population density, and or areas where most people are able to work from home.

Don’t read this if you’re feeling down, because it’ll make you feel a million times worse!  But, if you can cope with all the misery, it’s a very interesting read.

Little and Lion by Brandy Colbert

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  (Facebook group reading challenge.)  OK, we’ve got a black, Jewish, bisexual heroine (Little/Suzette), her white, Jewish, straight, bipolar stepbrother (Lion, short for Lionel), her half-black, half-Korean, hearing-impaired male admirer (Emil), her lesbian best friend (DeeDee), the pansexual Latina girl whom both Little and Lion fancy and who’s been disowned by her religious mother for having an abortion (Rafaela), and the girl with whom Suzette had a secret relationship at a posh (lacrosse-playing) boarding school in Massachusetts (Iris).  And throw in a bit of Beverly Hills 90210: we’re in an upmarket part of Los Angeles, where schoolkids have swimming pools at their homes and drive around in their own cars.

Incidentally, it’d been years since I’d read a modern American teenage book: I read all the Judy Blumes and Paula Danzigers many moons ago, but it *was* many moons ago!

My initial reaction was that the author’s main aim was, in a very well-intentioned way, to make the cast as diverse as possible, and that the plot was going to be secondary to that; but, to be fair, it wasn’t, and the main characters were well-drawn.  However, it kept rather confusingly jumping about between the past and the present, and I could have done without it using so many swear words in the narrative (which stops seeming cool when you’re about 12).  The Suzette storyline generally, although far from entirely, worked quite well, though.  A lot of it was about the anxieties that teenagers experience about how others will react to them being “different” to the majority – whether that’s ethnicity, religion, sexuality, disability, having a mental health condition, or anything else, and especially when it’s more than one of those things.  And just *being* a teenager is complicated.

The Lionel storyline was more problematic.  It was great to see an author tackling the issue of mental health conditions in young people, and also saying straight out that the side effects of the tablets can end up making you feel worse than you did to start with.  However, I don’t think it was handled too well.  First of all, Suzette was sent away to boarding school so she wouldn’t have to cope with Lionel’s illness, and then he came off his tablets and told her but not their parents, so she was stressed out and feeling guilty and didn’t know what to do.  So the way it came across was that Lionel’s medical condition was causing huge problems for Suzette.  This book’s aimed at secondary school kids.  It’s not giving a very helpful message to young readers who may have mental health condition themselves.

I very much appreciated the fact that the author didn’t take the Everyone’s A Racist/Homophobe culture war approach that you come across so often these days, and which is neither true nor helpful, and also the way that she steered well away from tropes.  A lot of books show stepfamilies as having problems, but everyone in this family got on brilliantly.  And a lot of books show teenagers clashing with their parents, but these parents were lovely.  And there was never any concern that they’d react badly to Suzette being bisexual: she knew they’d be fine with it.  A posh Massachusetts boarding school might well have been shown as being full of girls whose families all belonged to country clubs which only admitted WASPs.  It wasn’t.  And it didn’t have a culture of homophobia either.  And some authors would have said that Suzette’s mother had been denied opportunities in life because she was black.  Not at all: she was a successful woman with a degree from Wellesley.

What we did get, and which was very well-written, was the uncertainties and anxieties of being part of a minority group.  In Suzette’s case, three minority groups.  Not everyone’s prejudiced against any minority group, but, sadly and indisputably, some people are, and it’s not always obvious who they are.  If a security guard was watching her in a shop, was that because it was his job to watch everyone, or is it because she was black?  If someone looked at the Star of David on her necklace, was it because they were anti-Semitic, because they thought it was weird that a black girl was wearing a Jewish symbol, or just because they thought it was a pretty necklace and they were admiring it?   And what about Lionel – how were people going to react to finding out that he was bipolar, having just been told that he was off school because he was “sick”?  Would they treat him differently?

What was she supposed to do when someone said something like “Black people aren’t supposed to be good at swimming”.  Pull them up on it or ignore it?  That was an interesting scene.  What do you do when someone says something like that about a minority group?  If you do pull them up on it, are they going to accept that it wasn’t an appropriate thing to say, or are they going to tell you that you’re over-reacting and they didn’t mean anything by it, or that it was a joke and you’ve got no sense of humour, or that you don’t understand English (or American, in this case) irony?

But the main issues were with Suzette herself.  There was a lot of talk about how in Los Angeles it was OK to be yourself, whoever you were, but Suzette hadn’t told people that she was bisexual … although that was because she wasn’t 100% sure herself.  At school, she hadn’t told anyone that she was Jewish, even though she was sure about that. (Lionel and his father were always Jewish: Suzette and her mother converted.)

And we learned that she and Iris had kept their relationship secret, but that a group of other girls had found them together, a homophobic minority of people had had a go at them and that Iris (for unknown reasons) gave them the impression that she’d taken advantage whilst Suzette was drunk, and that Suzette let everyone believe this, leaving all the other girls to think that Iris was some sort of sex predator.  That was problematic.  Suzette was the heroine, and presented sympathetically.  But the way she’d treated Iris was appalling, and neither the character nor the authorial voice seemed to think that she should be apologising for it, instead of thinking that it was all about her and spending her summer holidays trying to work out whether she preferred Emil, whom she’d been dating, or Rafaela.  Even her mum just said that she was sure Iris’d forgive her, rather than pointing out it wasn’t really very nice to let someone get a reputation for being a sex pest just because you didn’t want to tell people that you were bisexual.

The other thing about Suzette that didn’t work was her religion. That was the one “identity” that felt as if it was put in to tick a box – and that was a shame.  The specific issues faced by “Jews of colour” were covered in the local press here during the Black Lives Matter protests last year: several people spoke about problems they’d faced because people tend to have an image of a Jewish person as being white, and I don’t know why the author chose to create a black Jewish character but then write so unconvincingly about the religious side of her character.  We were told early on that she was very religious and that Judaism was very important to her, whereas Lionel wasn’t really bothered about it, but not once did we not once see her attending a service or marking a religious festival, or having any sort of issue with the fact that none of her three potential partners shared her religion.  I could have handled that, but we also saw her turning up at a picnic with prosciutto and cheese – on challah bread! – and then eating grilled shrimp!   What on earth?

As for Lionel, he said he’d start talking his tablets again, and the book concluded by saying that that meant that everything’d be OK.  And Suzette, even though she was really keen on Emil, decided to go back to the boarding school.  Well, I hope that she told everyone that they’d got it wrong about Iris!

I quite enjoyed reading an American teenage novel for the first time in 30-odd years.  I loved those Judy Blume books!

 

Harlot Queen by Hilda Lewis

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To mark LGBT history month, a novel about the much-debated issue of Edward II’s relationships with Piers Gaveston and Hugh le Despenser the younger.  Now, why is there no equivalent word to “mistress” for a male lover?   “Master” just doesn’t work in this context: you wouldn’t talk about Catherine the Great having a lot of “masters”.   You can say “paramour”, or just “lover”; but Hilda Lewis, born in 1896, rather charmingly describes first Gaveston and then le Despenser as “the king’s sweetheart”.  I’ve always liked the word “sweetheart”.  So much nicer than “partner” or “boyfriend/girlfriend” 🙂 .

As a slight aside, it’s been suggested that a statue of Anne Bonny and Mary Read, two 18th century female pirates thought to have been lovers (or, if you prefer, sweethearts), be put up on Burgh Island in Devon.  But the parish council have rejected it, and a statue relating to the local pilchard industry has been suggested instead.  Seriously?   On whose planet are pilchards more interesting than female pirates?!

Anyway, to get back to the book, it says something rather nice about the late Hilda Lewis that she, born the year after Oscar Wilde’s trial, and writing in a style very much of her generation (like Jean Plaidy’s books, it seems very dated now, but I quite like it), in a book published in 1970, starts with a pillow talk conversation between Edward and Gaveston. And she makes it quite clear that, whilst Edward had rotten taste in men and very little common sense himself, this was a true romance … much more so than Isabella’s relationship with Mortimer, to whom she firmly refers as a “paramour” rather than a “sweetheart”.

So, were Piers Gaveston and Hugh le Despenser Edward II’s “sweethearts”, or was he just good friends with them?  Well, like Hilda Lewis, and I think like most people, I’m convinced that both of them were his lovers, and also that people weren’t particularly bothered about that, just about the fact that both of them were seen as greedy, disrespectful, and in receipt of a lot of money, power and influence to which they weren’t entitled.  But that was Edward’s fault, not theirs, and, whilst neither of them were very attractive characters, it was rather unfair that they got the blame: they didn’t force him to give them anything.  The same thing happened with Alice Perrers, the mistress of Edward III. Having said which, the Despensers, both father and son, were pretty nasty pieces of work.

Hilda Lewis is rather mixed in her sympathies, but she’s generally pretty sympathetic towards the “Harlot Queen”, Isabella, known to English historians as “the She-Wolf of France”, and I assume that the title of the book’s meant to be ironic.

It’s fascinating how much these three extra-marital relationships, Edward’s with Gaveston and le Despenser, and Isabella’s with Mortimer, influenced the history of England at this time.  Edward annoyed all the barons, and indeed the rest of the royal family, by handing so much power and money over to Gaveston, and, later, to the Despensers – and the Despensers were also downright cruel, not to mention stealing other people’s land.  Both of his lovers ended up being killed by the barons.  Of course, there was a lot more going on than that – he was totally humiliated by Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn, he was unlucky in that the country was hit by poor harvests and outbreaks of disease, and, as the book reminds us, he inherited huge debts from his father.  But I doubt he’d have been anything like as unpopular had it not been for the way that the Despensers put everyone’s backs up – and he let them.

Then there was Isabella’s relationship with Mortimer.  This one’s particularly interesting, because most kings have had lovers, but few queens have done, and certainly not so openly.  And plenty of kings have been overthrown, but, with the odd exception – Tsar Peter III of Russia being the obvious one – not usually by their own wives!   But she made exactly the same mistake as Edward did, letting her lover become too powerful and wind up all the barons … and he ended up going the same way as Edward’s lovers did.

How much of it was about these relationships, and how much of it was just part of the general tide of history, the clashes between kings and barons?  I think that the signing of the Magna Carta’s become such an iconic moment in English history, and even in world history, that we tend to forget everything else that went on – the Provisions of Oxford and the wars between Henry III and the de Montforts, Edward I and the Model Parliament, and Edward II and the “Lords Ordainers”.  And even the overthrowing of Richard II by Henry IV.  People tend not to have strong opinions about Henry IV, but there is this very strong feeling against Isabella – because she was a woman, and because she overthrew her husband.

Hilda Lewis’s sympathies do seem to jump about a lot.  At first, she’s sympathetic towards Isabella, and very critical of Edward and Gaveston.  But she shows how much the relationship means to Edward, and then suggests that maybe Gaveston isn’t that bad after all.  No sympathy for either Mortimer or the Despensers, and she turns against Isabella, but then she shows sympathy for Isabella again.  But then that probably reflects public opinion at the time.  Fickle, as always   The only people who don’t get criticised at all are Edward III and Philippa: she’s very keen on them 🙂 .

The history in this book is generally pretty accurate, which is wonderful.  I really can’t be doing with people who write about real historical figures but twist it all to suit themselves!   But then, at the end, she has Isabella living in seclusion and never seeing her grandchildren, which isn’t what happened, and she also goes for the “Fieschi letter” storyline (the Fieschi letter having been sent to Edward III by an Italian monk, suggesting that Edward II survived and escaped).  The book includes the well-known story that Edward II was murdered by having a red hot poker stuck up his backside, which a lot of historians now no longer believe … but then it suggests that that wasn’t true, and that Edward escaped, and lived as a monk, and that he and Isabella met up in old age.

It’s unlikely.  But history is full of legends about people who were said to have died but allegedly haven’t.  And, hey, false news and conspiracy theories have been going on since the dawn of time.

In summary, this is a very readable portrayal of a complex series of complex relationships – the marriage of Edward II and Isabella, who did have their moments, the relationship between Edward and Gaveston, the relationship between Edward and the grasping Hugh le Despenser, the relationship between Isabella and the power-hungry Mortimer, the loving relationship between Edward III and Philippa of Hainault – and how they and the history of England all got tangled up together.  Good read!

 

 

It’s A Sin – Channel 4

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I’m fairly sure that this is the first TV series to be named after a Pet Shop Boys song.  I’d assumed that “It’s A Sin” was going to be the theme tune, but, disappointingly, it wasn’t – although we did get plenty of other amazing ’80s music throughout this first episode.  More to the point, it’s, rather strangely, the first British drama series to focus on the AIDS pandemic of the 1980s.

Unlike Philadelphia and the Mark Fowler EastEnders storyline in the early ’90s, this didn’t start with someone having already been diagnosed with HIV and or AIDS, but with four young gay lads leaving home to start new lives in London, in 1981.  All hopes and dreams, bright lights and parties, pubs and clubs.  Well, for three of them, Ritchie, Roscoe and Ash, along with their friend Jill, anyway.  The fourth lad, Colin, was shy and quiet and sat in watching TV.  I’m glad that Colin was there.  Not everyone can be confident and outgoing.

And it was good fun: they had good fun.  It was much lighter than I’d expected it to be.  I knew that there was a storyline involving a confrontation between Roscoe and his homophobic religious family and I was expecting something like the very emotional scene in Pose which saw Damon being physically thrown out of the house by his stepfather and having to sleep on a park bench.  Instead, Roscoe just told them where to shove it, and was next seen having a wonderful time partying the night away in gay bars, going through one bloke after the other.

Sadly, there are probably more Damons than Roscoes, but Russell T Davies has spoken very movingly of wanting those who died of AIDS to be remembered for the joy of their lives and not just for the tragedy of their deaths, and also of wanting to pay tribute to the friends, relatives, medical staff and activists who supported them.

Boys just wanna have fun … and it’s all so poignant, because we know what lies ahead, and we know that some of these young lads are not even going to see their 30th birthdays, and that those who do are going to be mourning the loss of some of the people closest to them.  Towards the end of the first episode, Colin’s colleague was hospitalised with a mysterious illness … and, as soon as we saw the lesion on his face, we knew what it was.  But, in (by then) 1982 none of them had any idea.  Then he died.

In the next episode, we’re – ironically, given that this was filmed before the Covid-19 pandemic –  going to see how some of the characters refuse to believe that AIDS exists, and think that it’s a bizarre rumour spread by homophobic sections of the media, or else think that it’s been released deliberately by a Soviet laboratory.  Russell T Davies has talked about people trying to raise awareness being thrown out of gay pubs and told to take their leaflets with them.  It’s difficult to accept that there’s a deadly disease out there.  Until you start hearing about people dying from it.

Speaking of filming, most of it was filmed in Manchester, Bolton and Darwen, and it’s co-produced by Nicola Shindler from Whitefield.  There – that’s got my local plugs in!   We will apparently see the characters walking round a shopping centre in Eccles.  I know that people really need to know that.

The series starts in 1981, the year of the first death from AIDS in the UK. I was only 6 in 1981, and I can’t actually remember when I first became aware that HIV and AIDS existed.  We saw a character reading a newspaper article about a “mysterious illness” with no name.  That was in September 1982.   HIV wasn’t even identified until 1983.  But I do remember exactly when I first became aware of just how serious the AIDS situation had become, and that was in the summer of 1985.  Rock Hudson had pulled out of Dynasty due to ill-health, and, after it’d initially been given out that he had liver cancer, it was announced that he had AIDS.

He sadly died a few months later, aged 59.  As ever, a story about a big name celeb made a lot more headlines than a story involving ordinary people, but it was quite a pivotal moment, because he was the first really famous person to say that he had AIDS.  My friends and I were absolutely obsessed with Dynasty at the time, and older people obviously knew him as one of the world’s leading film stars, and it did raise awareness of what was happening.  What it couldn’t do, at that stage, was change attitudes and educate people.

In fact, there was quite a lot of controversy, because his character had snogged Krystle Carrington, and people were genuinely concerned that he might have infected Linda Evans, who’d been unaware of his condition.  When you think that we’ve spent most of the last year being told not to get within 6 feet of anyone who’s not in our household/bubble, those fears in 1985 don’t seem as strange as they would have done a couple of years ago.  At that time, even medical professionals were saying that it was inadvisable to kiss – as in full-scale kiss, not a peck on the cheek – someone who was HIV positive.  Most people didn’t believe some of the wilder scare stories, that you could catch it from toilet seats and that sort of thing, but there was a lot of scaremongering going on.

That was 1985. By late 1986/early 1987, everything had changed: it seemed as if everyone was talking about HIV and AIDS.  There was the big government campaign, with the pictures of tombstones.  It was horrible, but it did frighten people into being more careful and that will have saved a lot of lives.  “Hands, face, space,” sounds like something you chant during a nursery school game.  “AIDS: don’t die of ignorance” scares the hell out of you.

And the famous pictures of the Princess of Wales opening an AIDS hospice, and hugging and shaking hands with patients without wearing gloves, did a lot to dispel fears that you could catch it just from casual contact.  But there were still people who thought you could.  The Mark Fowler storyline in EastEnders, in 1990, probably did more to educate people in the UK than anything else did, because it went into so much detail.  Like a lot of people who were teenagers at the time, I certainly learnt more about HIV and AIDS from Mark Fowler than I did from any other source.

EastEnders were, as well as educating people about HIV and AIDS, making the point that anyone could catch it.  The character of Mark wasn’t in any of the high risk groups.  It was difficult: if they’d done the storyline with a gay character, people would have said that they were going along with the idea that it only affected gay men, and they were trying to avoid that … but it’s odd that, even now, none of the British soaps have “done” a storyline in which a gay male character’s been diagnosed with HIV.

Tony Warren, the late creator of Coronation Street, did address the AIDS pandemic in his novel The Lights of Manchester, though.  I read that in 1992.  A gay man moves from Manchester to San Francisco, and is gloriously happy there because he feels a sense of belonging in a city with such a big gay community. Some years later, he comes home for a visit and tells his best friend that his address book’s now full of crossings out, that there are hardly any names left on some pages, and that it’s pure good luck that he hasn’t contracted HIV himself: he hadn’t been careful because, at the time, he hadn’t known that he needed to be.  It’s a shame that that never made it on to TV: it was a very powerful conversation.

Then, in 1993, Tom Hanks won the Best Actor award for Philadelphia; and that was how far things had come.  Going back to 1986, we’d had James Anderton, the infamous “God’s Cop” Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, saying some really horrendous things about people who had AIDS.  Graham Stringer, who’s now an MP but was then the leader of Manchester City Council, had a right go at him.  By 1993, I don’t think a public figure would have said what Anderton did … but even then, when Arthur Ashe died, having contracted HIV from a blood transfusion, remarks were made about how he was a victim, in a way that someone who’d contracted it from sexual contract or shared drugs needles wasn’t.  Did Philadelphia, in which we saw characters expressing those attitudes even as they saw the Tom Hanks character suffering, help to change opinions?

The power of books, films and TV.  And music.  I was supposed to be seeing the Pet Shop Boys at the Manchester Arena last May.  The concert was rescheduled for this May, which, at the time, seemed like light years away: the pandemic was going to be over and done with by Christmas.  Yeah, right.  I don’t think It’s A Sin was ever meant as a campaigning song, but Red Letter Day must have been.  And Jimmy Somerville’s Read My Lips (Enough is Enough) actually demanded more help for HIV/AIDS patients.  The first episode ended with Smalltown Boy.  Do people who weren’t ancient enough to have been around in the ’80s and ’90s know these songs?   And was that Juliet Bravo that they were watching on TV in one episode?

Yes.  The power of TV.  I hope that this series achieves what Russell T Davies wants.  It’s been 40 years since the first death from AIDS in the UK, and a series like this is long overdue.

The Madonna of Bolton by Matt Cain

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I read this (well, apart from the fact that it was on a 99p Kindle offer) partly in honour of the forthcoming Manchester Pride weekend (although the stupid virus has put the kibosh on most of it), and partly (the author being almost exactly the same age as me) as an excuse for a big nostalgia fest about growing up in the North West in the ’80s and early ’90s … never missing an episode of either Coronation Street or Dynasty, reading teen pop magazines, and wearing hooded tops, telling everyone you were obsessed with Madchester music, and hoping that no-one would ever, ever call you either a stiff or a townie.  My entire class once wasted half a Latin lesson discussing how uncool it was to be a townie.  I have no idea why the teacher let us do this.

It’s a novel, but based closely on the author’s own experiences of growing up as a young gay man in Bolton, the issues he faced, and his obsession with Madonna.  How big was Madonna in the ’80s?!  I remember going round to my then best friend’s house for tea on the day that the Like A Prayer video was shown on TV in the UK for the first time, and it was *such* a big deal!   He rather overplays the northern working-class stereotypes; the fact that the book’s written in the present tense is a bit annoying; and the Madonna thing comes and goes rather than being the central theme as the title suggests; but it’s very thoughtfully-written and genuinely moving.

We see how our main man, Charlie (aka Matt) struggles badly due to being bullied at school, and how he feels that he doesn’t fit in either there or at home.  But we’re told that he finds that going to the gay bars and clubs in Canal Street (the heart of the Gay Village in Manchester) makes life a lot easier, which is rather lovely.  We try to be a welcoming city where everyone can be themselves ❤ .  Then we see him go off to university … and then move to London, which is a shame, as I thought the book was going to be set in Bolton.

His life gets in a complete mess, as he struggles to find his place in the world, but it all works out in the end   It could really have done with being a bit longer, to explain it all properly, but it all works out in the end.  And, when he finally meets Mr Right and they get married, the ceremony takes place at Bolton Town Hall and not in London.  Hooray!   And – see what I mean about overdoing the stereotypes?! – they even have Lancashire hotpot at the reception.  This is a really lovely book, and, especially if you can get it on the 99p deal, it’s well worth reading.

 

Deep in Vogue – BBC 3

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Having enjoyed both series of Pose – I started watching it mainly for the ’80s music, but got really into it! – I was very interested to hear about the vogue ballroom scene in Manchester and Liverpool.  I could have done with more about the history and culture and less about the actual choreography, but, OK, that’s just a personal thing.  The main message coming from it was that this is something which has given a lot of confidence to people who, whether because of their ethnicity, their sexuality, their sexual identity or even their gender (society doesn’t do a very good job of giving women confidence) have felt marginalised and unsure of themselves.  It’s wonderful when anything can do that – and it’s very sad that, because of the current situation, a lot of people are cut off from dancing, singing, sports, religious services, playing cards, or whatever else it is that does that for them.  But this was a lovely, positive, hour’s watching.  Anyone feel like writing a Pose-type series set in North West England 🙂 ?

One of the people interviewed made a very good point about how it’s often minority groups who take the lead when it comes to music or other creative forms.  That’s certainly true, and it’s a point I’ve heard made in other programmes.  At the same time, there was also a lot of talk about inclusivity.  There’s been some criticism of Madonna, as a white, straight woman, for getting into voguing, but everyone interviewed on this programme said that it’s for everyone who wants to be involved, and I thought that was great.  There are obviously issues if something gets over-commercialised and taken away from its roots, but that wasn’t what was happening here.  It was about people expressing themselves in a way that works for them, and about a voguing community that provides friendship and emotional support and a safe place for people.

It was interesting to hear that the voguing style in Manchester and Liverpool is noticeably different from that in London.  In the ’80s – my music collection has never got out of the ’80s! – there was a lot of regional variation in music, and it sometimes seems that everything’s got a bit samey and globalised, in the same way that High Streets and a lot of other things have.  So I was really pleased to hear that different parts of the country are doing their own thing where voguing’s concerned.  We don’t all need to be the same!

And, on that same theme, some points were made about voguing helping people to get away from the pressure to conform to stereotypes – one man was talking about people being refused entry to gay clubs for not “looking” gay.  This is something that’s been in the news lately, with Priti Patel talking about the racism she’s faced because she doesn’t conform to the stereotype of what a British Asian woman should be like, and a lot of assumptions are made about what people should think or wear or look like because of their ethnicity or religion or sexuality or anything else.  Everyone is an individual and everyone should feel free to express themselves in their own way, and that was a lot of what this programme was saying.  As I said, a really nice programme.  Anyone feel like writing a Pose-type series set in North West England 🙂 ?

 

 

 

As Far As Blood Goes and A Different Sin by Rochelle Hollander Schwab

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I originally picked A Different Sin, the story of two newsmen who fall in love in 1850s New York, and the experiences of one of the two – the protagonist, David –  as a war artist, from my extensive TBR American Civil War books pile, to mark Pride month.  Then I found out that there was an earlier book, As Far As Blood Goes, about David’s half-brother Michael, who was born into slavery in Virginia but escaped to make a new life for himself in Massachusetts, and decided that, given the present circumstances, it’d be a good time to read that as well.

The story in the earlier book, which I think was the author’s debut novel, is pretty far-fetched, but it does do a reasonable job of getting across some of the horrors of slavery.  The second book is far better written, and works well both as a war novel and as a novel of a relationship between two men at a time when Western society didn’t accept same sex love.  It also addresses the frustration of black men wanting to enlist in the Union Army, with Michael’s eldest son eventually enlisting in the famous Fifty Fourth Massachusetts Regiment, and the attacks on black people in New York during the Draft Riots.  However, whilst it’s pretty good on facts and figures, I felt that it could have explained the causes of the war better.  Also, it all but ignored the fact the main character was a Southerner living and working in the North, which was rather odd.  But nothing’s perfect … and I’m *extremely* picky about novels covering this period of history.

The first book’s told entirely from Michael’s point of view, and the second book entirely from David’s point of view.  That’s a shame in a way, because it means we don’t get to share anyone else’s thoughts or feelings. On the other hand, it *is* all about them – Michael’s position as a black man born into slavery, David’s as a gay man born into a society which doesn’t accept same sex relationships – and so it’s their thoughts and feelings which really matter. The author’s done a very good job of avoiding extremes or stereotypes or preaching, and, although not without some quibbles, I enjoyed both books.

At the end of the second book, the lessons of both are brought together when David sees how horrific it is that society will allow people to be mistreated because of the colour of their skin, and yet, at the same time, condemns two people for being in love.  It’s rather sad that, 155 years later, there are still some people who are guilty on both counts.  #BlackLivesMatter #LoveisLove.

As Far As Blood Goes starts in the 1820s, in the very lovely town of Alexandria, where I stayed for a few nights in 2001.  A Dr Carter has two sons – David, his son by his late wife, Anne, who died when David was little more than a baby, and, barely a year younger, Michael, his unacknowledged son by his slavewoman, Hetty.  Hetty dies a few years into the book.  Michael’s everything he would have wanted in an acknowledged son, academic and hard-working and interested in medicine: David is only interested in art.

The author’s tried very hard not to go to any extremes, as I said.  Dr Carter isn’t evil Simon Legree, but nor is he beloved Gerald O’Hara.  It’s made quite clear that Michael and Hetty despise their status and long for freedom.  We also hear that Hetty had a husband and three children but was separated from them when her previous owner sold her.  And we see Michael’s best friend, Sammy, being sold south by his owner, a neighbour.  But Dr Carter isn’t, at this stage, cruel.  We also learn that he didn’t physically force Hetty, but that she was only compliant because she knew she had little choice.

And, unlike a lot of novels about slavery, there are no plantations here: we don’t get dozens of slaves working in the fields, and others working in a grand home.  That’s probably the image most people have of slavery in the South; but it wasn’t all like that, and it’s good to see a book showing that. We’ve got middle-class, urban families who each own two or three slaves.  We’ve also got free blacks, and slaves who are allowed to earn money by working for themselves, and hope to buy their freedom.  And we’ve got slave children, free black children and white children playing together.  Rather unrealistically, Michael tricks some of the white boys into helping him learn to read by asking them to teach him a few letters at a time.  When Dr Carter finds out, he’s OK about it, and Michael helps him with his medical work … until his baddie brother-in-law  (BBIL), who’s convinced that his sister (David’s mother) died from the shock of learning that her husband had been sleeping with their slave, finds out, and convinces the authorities that Michael’s a rebel (this is around the time of the Nat Turner Rebellion), and Michael’s flogged.

After this, Michael’s determined to escape.  He does so once, but is recaptured.  Dr Carter sells him to a slave trader gang, but one of his white erstwhile playmates helps him to escape, and he makes it to Philadelphia, then New York, then Maine, where he’s able to enter medical school.  I did say that the storylines were rather far-fetched!  But, OK, plenty of slaves did escape.  And, rather than take the surname Freeman, or the surname of a prominent Abolitionist, or indeed the surname Carter, he takes the surname Mabaya, the name of his great-grandfather, who was brought from Africa to America by slave traders: that but was excellent.

He becomes best friends with Isaac, a Jewish student who also feels that he’s treated as outsider.  They both qualify as doctors, move to Boston, become involved with the Anti-Slavery Society there, meet and marry nice young ladies, and have children.  Some well-known names feature – Oliver Wendell Holmes snr and Charles Sumner.  I’m so used to associating Sumner with the Preston Brooks incident that I’m afraid I don’t always remember all the important work he did.  However, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 means that all the former slaves in Boston are living in fear of capture: some are helped by the Underground Railroad to leave for Canada.

There’s quite a lot about the Compromise of 1850, and also about medical history. Michael and Isaac are very involved in trying to prove that microbes cause cholera … and who should turn up at one of their lectures but Dr Carter, having seen the name Michael Mabaya and put two and two together.  He seems pleased that Michael’s done so well for himself, and says that he’ll buy him back from the slave trader gang and formally free him.

But then slave hunters turn up, and Michael’s taken back to Virginia.  It turns out that, unbeknownst to Dr Carter, the BBIL had bought him from the slave traders, and now plans to sell him south. The BBIL stuff is pretty stupid, but we do get an excellent depiction of a man being torn away from his wife, his children and his job, and taken back into slavery, and of the divisions within white American society over whether or not this is right.  This bit is very well done indeed.

Then one of Michael’s old pals helps him to escape (a lot of escaping goes on in this book), with the help of David.  But the BBIL turns up and, in all the kerfuffle, David is knocked over by a buggy, and badly injured.  Dr Carter is too shocked and nervy to operate, so Michael saves David’s life, whilst the BBIL’s threatening to shoot them all.  The BBIL’s a bit unhinged by events, and, in the confusion, signs a bill of sale which the Carters have hastily drawn up, selling Michael back to Dr Carter.  Dr Carter sets him free, and there’s a love-in and Michael says that he wants his father to get to know his children.

As I said, rather far-fetched!   But it does make some very good points about the horrors of slavery, about people being sold away from their families, about how people who’d escaped and forged new lives for themselves could be recaptured years later … and also about how plenty of slaves were actually the children or half-siblings of their owners.

In A Different Sin, with everyone now one big, happy family, and Dr Carter and David both regularly visiting Michael and his wife and children, we see David give up his job as a not very successful lawyer in Alexandria, and move to New York to work for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, and become involved with Zach, a reporter for the Tribune.  They meet on a train: it’s amazing how many romances in books begin on trains!  Again, we meet several well-known names – Horace Greeley, Walt Whitman, Thomas Nast.  (Incidentally, Louisa M Alcott later had stories published in what was by then called Leslie’s Newspaper.)

Although the main plot is the relationship between David and Zach, it’s a Civil War novel (or whichever alternative name you prefer to use for the war between the United States and the Confederate States) and we do see military action, hospital scenes, and the Draft Riots.  Without writing an essay on the issues between the different groups of people in New York, amid rivalry for jobs and general racism, the Draft Riots, whilst New York was unique because of its “melting pot status”, say a lot about racial tensions within the cities of the Union states at the time.  We also, as I’ve said, hear about Michael’s son enlisting.

There’s a lot of factual information about the war and about political events, but the book does go too far down the road of the myth that the war was all about slavery and that Lincoln was some great civil rights hero.  It’s made clear that most white people in the Union states don’t regard black people as equals, and that a lot of them wouldn’t be fighting a war just about slavery, and the prejudice of the white soldiers against black soldiers is certainly made clear.  However, the Southern characters don’t talk about states’ rights, and the Northern characters don’t talk about the Union, and I wasn’t overly impressed with that.

Also, even after war breaks out, no-one seems very bothered that David’s a Virginian (albeit a Union sympathiser and opponent of slavery) working in the Union.  He does a lot of talking about “Rebs” and “Secesh”, so, OK, I think we can accept that he supports the Unionist cause, but he doesn’t ever seem to have an issue with the fact that his home state of Virginia’s on the other side.  I didn’t find that very realistic.  And he seems able to move between New York and Virginia remarkably freely!

It was actually more of a war novel and less of a romantic novel than I’d expected, because David and Zach are apart, and not even in touch, for much of it.  This is David’s choice.  Zach’s comfortable with who he is, but David’s convinced that it’s a sin and a “perversion”, and hates himself for it.  That doesn’t make for easy reading, but I think the author does do a good job, and certainly a very sympathetic one, of depicting his struggles with himself.  The issue is far more his struggle with himself than the views of other people, because hardly anyone else knows: most people keep asking him why he isn’t married, and – in another of the less realistic plots! – he meets a fellow war reporter who turns out to be a woman dressed up as a man because she wants an adventure/to be involved, and gets a bit involved with her.

Anyway, to get back to his time in New York,  he and Zach are caught by a mutual friend (it’s amazing how people in books, films and TV programmes never think to lock doors!), and it’s after that that he decides that he can’t cope with their relationship.  He and Zach fall out big time.  Zach has tried very hard to make him accept that it’s OK, but he can’t. So, to get away, he volunteers to be a war reporter/artist at the front – following General Meade, whom I feel I’ve “known” ever since I read North and South, in which he’s at West Point with Orry and George, when I was 11, and then General Grant in the long and eventually decisive campaign against General Lee. I’ve read both North and South and Gone With The Wind so many times that I was expecting him to be reporting on Sherman’s March, but that’s probably just me!

It does then become primarily a war novel, with a lot of detail about battle and camp life, but we do frequently see David thinking about the fact that he’s attracted to men and not attracted to women, and thinking about Zach.  Then, after a lot of blood and guts, and seeing the way the white soldiers treat the black soldiers – he saves the life of a black soldier who was about to be murdered in cold blood – the lessons of the two novels are pulled together when David sees how ridiculous it is that his society treats black people so badly and yet condemns two men for loving each other.  He goes back to New York, is reunited with Zach, and, presumably, they live happily ever after 🙂 .

But Dr Carter, who’d accepted and acknowledged Michael as his son, wouldn’t accept David’s homosexuality, and cut him off.  This all happened in rather a rush at the end, and maybe it could have been developed more fully, but, sadly, it’s – unlike some aspects of the books – very realistic.  And the ending was certainly interesting – I was expecting his experiences during the war to make David realise that life was too short not to be with the one you loved, etc, but the idea that it was seeing the way the black soldiers were treated that made him realise what was and wasn’t a sin actually worked much better.

OK, I seem to have written way too much here – 19th century American history specialist since I was 11, OK – so I shall shut up now!  But these were two very thought-provoking books, and I’m glad that I’ve read them.

 

 

 

The Skylarks’ War by Hilary McKay

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What a truly lovely book this, aimed at readers aged between around 9 and 11, and telling the story of a group of children growing up just before the First World War and their experiences during the war, is.  I didn’t think that books like this existed – a recently-written, old-fashioned, traditional-style children’s book, adapted to modern sensibilities but without ever being anachronistic.

Each of the five main characters has so much to tell us – bright, ambitious Clarry, who wants the educational opportunities which her father doesn’t think are important for girls; gentle, friendly Simon, whose love for another young man is so sensitively handled at a time when same sex love so often met with hostility; golden boy Rupert, who’s shattered by his experiences at the Front; light-hearted Vanessa who leaves her studies to become a war nurse; and Peter, who can’t serve in the Armed Forces because of a self-inflicted childhood injury, but becomes a doctor instead.

It’s written for children and the style of prose reflects that, but it’s beautifully-written in a way that adults will appreciate too.

I didn’t realise at first that this had only been published in 2018, because the setting is so traditional.  Clarry (Clarissa) and Peter are motherless, which is typical of early to mid-20th century children’s books, although this one has a sad sub-plot in which Clarry blames herself for her mother’s death shortly after childbirth.  Their cousin Rupert’s parents are in India.  They all spend the entire summer holidays with their grandparents in Cornwall.  Rupert goes to boarding school.  We do see Clarry having to get a job after school hours, but that’s more because her dad’s so mean than because the family are short of money.

I’m very impressed with Hilary McKay for writing a book like this, because there’s a very nasty attitude now – “privileged pain”, anyone? – that going to boarding school and having names like Rupert and Clarissa is some sort of crime.  It really isn’t.  Everyone comes from somewhere.  There are a few gentle gibes about parents who dump their kids and go off abroad, and we’re told how hard the servants work – as I said, it’s attuned to modern sensibilities – but there’s none of the spite against well-to-do people which certain people seem to think is acceptable.  It isn’t.  Well done, Hilary McKay.

Everyone hero-worships Rupert, and I didn’t entirely get that, but maybe it works better for readers in the intended age range.  However, Peter doesn’t want to go to Rupert’s school, and jumps off a train in order to injure himself to get out of going.  He ends up going anyway, and is left with a permanent limp.  At school, he becomes best friends with Simon, and the three cousins become very friendly with Simon and his sister Vanessa – who, by some weird coincidence, appear to live in the same town as Peter and Clarry.  Vanessa goes to the local girls’ grammar school, and, with help from her and Peter, Clarry is able to go there too, despite her father’s lack of interest.

It’s interesting that we see both schools.  That’s very unusual in children’s books, which are usually either set in one school or else are about a mixed gender group of children whom we only see when they’re on holiday from their separate schools.

And everyone’s obsessed with Rupert!   Clarry hero-worships him.  So, to some degree, does Peter.  He and Vanessa seem to be quite involved at one point: there’s even a remark about the extent to which she went to try to cheer him up when he was on leave during the war, although nothing’s actually spelt out.  And Simon adores him – which develops from a younger boy’s hero-worship for the cool older boy at school to something deeper.

Simon’s feelings for Rupert are very well-handled.  Hopefully we’re now at a point where having gay characters in children’s books is completely normal and not a big deal, but, with historical fiction, there’s also a need to show the issues of the past, without doing it in a way that will normalise those attitudes for the young readers.  One of Rupert’s friends makes fun of Simon, but Rupert quickly turns the attention away from him.  And an unkind neighbour says something about it being better if “boys like him” die in the war: Clarry is shocked and disgusted.  But Rupert, although he’s straight, isn’t uncomfortable with Simon’s feelings, and the rest of the gang aren’t either.

War breaks out.  Rupert and his best friend join up, and the best friend is killed..  Vanessa becomes a nurse.  We do see some of the action on the Western Front: it isn’t too graphic, but it’s made pretty clear how horrible it is.  The wartime stories aren’t overly realistic, but it is a children’s book.  Simon joins up so that he can be with Rupert, and, hey presto, they’re posted to the same place.  Vanessa and Simon’s dad is taken prisoner by the Ottomans, but escapes and makes his own way home.  When Rupert’s injured, having lost his dog-tags, Clarry tracks him down by sending photos of him to every war hospital in Britain, France and Belgium.  It’s meant for primary school kids, OK!   And it’s all very well-written. Also, in a presumed nod to War Horse, there’s a lot of concern about the family horse (owned by the grandparents of the three cousins) having to go to war.

And it tackles the issues of shell shock and survivor guilt, which were swept under the carpet after the First World War.  Rupert survives, but he’s deeply traumatised, cuts himself off from the other surviving members of the gang, and isn’t able to resume a normal life for several years afterwards.  Meanwhile, Peter, who succeeds in qualifying as a doctor, and Vanessa marry, and have five children.  Clarry graduates from Oxford, and becomes a teacher, and also publishes a book with Peter.

But, in war books, someone always has to die, and it’s Simon.  I know that some people feel that gay characters are too easily killed off, and that there’s a trope about tragic same sex love, but it is a book about the First World War, so one of the two soldiers had to die.  I’d assumed it would be Rupert: I was very surprised when it was Simon.  And that’s part of the reason Rupert feels so bad: he thinks that Simon, who was too young to join up legally or to be conscripted, and lied about his age (as Rupert himself had done) was only there because of him.

It is a children’s book, though, and there has to be a happy ending – unless it’s one of those 19th century religious things where someone sweet and angelic dies!   Rupert returns, and I think we’re meant to assume that he and Clarry get married and live happily ever after.  I’d think it’d be rather weird to marry a cousin with whom you’d grown up, but I suppose it’s not really any different to marrying a childhood friend.  And their reunion takes place in Cornwall, where they spent all those happy, golden childhood summers.

The war hasn’t taken everything.  I keep thinking about how coronavirus has taken this spring, but, just as there were other summers for Clarry and Rupert, hopefully we’ll all stay safe and well and there’ll be other springs for us, with daffodils and bluebells, lambs and laburnum arches, and tennis and football.

This is a lovely, lovely book.  99p on Kindle!  That’s the best 99p I’ve spent in ages.

 

 

Disobedience

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I’m catching up on my film backlog, anyway.  My front room is multi-tasking as an office and a cinema, as well as being a living room and a dining room 🙂 .  This film, starring Rachel Weisz, was about a woman who returned to the London ultra-Orthodox Jewish community where she grew up, and resumed her previous relationship with her female lover and best friend, who was married to a man.  Coronation Street and EastEnders have had storylines covering some of the issues faced by LGBT people within Christianity, Islam and, most recently, Sikhism, but there aren’t a lot of ultra-Orthodox Jewish characters on screen.  I’m not sure that it really got across the second woman’s reasons for her choices, but it was generally very well-written and very well-acted.  The introduction of diversity teaching into schools has highlighted some of the difficulties that LGBT people within strict religious communities experience, and it was interesting to see a full-length film addressing those, and also looking at how, in general, living in a fairly self-contained community works really well for some people but not for others.

Ronit (Rachel Weisz) was living a secular lifestyle in New York, but had returned to the community where she’d grown up following the sudden death of her father, a well-known rabbi.  They’d fallen out several years earlier, but it wasn’t initially clear whether that was just because she’d chosen to leave or for another reason.   Two of her childhood friends, Dovid, a young rabbi expected to take over her father’s job, and Esti, were now married, and she seemed surprised by how Orthodox Esti had become.

It eventually transpired that Ronit and Esti had become romantically involved, and that Ronit’s dad had walked in on them, and that was why she’d left.  Esti had suffered some sort of nervous breakdown, and then married Dovid.  What didn’t really come across was the reason for Esti’s choices.  There was no suggestion that she’d been pushed into marriage with a man by her family or friends, nor that she felt unable to break away because she didn’t want to leave her family and friends.  Her family were barely mentioned, and she didn’t seem to have any friends!   She said that it was all for religious reasons, but we only saw her praying once, and we never saw her reading a religious book, or heard her talking about religion, or just generally seeming very concerned with religion at all.

So I think that that could have been done better.  Ronit had chosen to leave.  Dovid was completely happy with the lifestyle in which he’d been brought up.  Esti was the one who’d chosen a path that didn’t work for her … but I think her reasons could have been explained better.  I just didn’t get any sense of her fighting a difficult battle between her sexuality and the religious teachings which had been instilled into her, and maybe that was a missed opportunity because it’s something that affects a lot of people.

A nosy parker saw Ronit and Esti kissing, and made a complaint to the headmistress of the school where Esti taught, and things got difficult.   Esti eventually ran off, and Dovid and Ronit tracked her down.  She revealed that she was pregnant – after several years of trying for a baby – but said that she wanted Dovid to set her free, because she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do, and she wanted her baby to have the choices that she felt she hadn’t been given. Not particularly realistically, he agreed to end their marriage, and gave both her and Ronit a big hug.  It’d be nice to think that Esti and Ronit ended up living happily ever after, but I felt rather sorry for Dovid, who ended up losing his wife and the chance to be a full-time dad to the baby he’d been wanting for ages.

I think what this lacked was something like the scenes in Coronation Street in which Rana met with hostility from her mother, and tried to explain her feelings to an imam.  That would have got Esti’s situation across a lot better.  And there was a lot of talk about choices, rather than emphasising the fact Esti had not made a choice to be a lesbian: she just was one.  A bit of explanation of some of the religious practices might have been helpful, as well – some viewers wouldn’t be familiar with Orthodox Jewish practices and would probably have found bits of this quite confusing.  But, generally, it was a pretty good film, with really excellent performances in all three of the main parts.