Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Brexit: BBC News Continues to be Stupid, or Deliberately Wrong

Just sat watching the BBC's North West Tonight to hear their political correspondent Nina Warhurst claim that our region is a hit confused about the EU elections tomorrow because the two main parties have been pretty absent.

Now I know that the Tories don't seem to be putting much into their campaign (as I blogged at the weekend, they are the only party I haven't received any correspondence from) but Labour missing from our region? Erm, here's a picture of Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn speaking to an audience of hundreds in Bootle on Saturday...

Perhaps North West Tonight didn't get the memo?

Warhurst then went on to say that the region is further confused by Labour's vague stance regarding the EU and a second referendum. Again the BBC don't seem to want to acknowledge that Labour has whipped for a so-called 'people's vote' twice now, but there isn't a sufficient majority for it to pass in the House, which is why it isn't happening.

Let's be clear about the second referendum; Theresa May's latest deal (aka the same as it ever was: why is it we have to respect the result of the Brexit ref, yet she will not respect the result of her first, second or even third attempt at getting her deal through?) claims that parliament must have a vote on whether there will be a second ref, but they have to vote on her deal first. It's a ploy to push her deal through and a meaningless sop towards another vote as she knows damn well there isn't a majority for one. The only way we can get another vote is if the PM backs one. 

Meanwhile tonight, Theresa May is sitting behind the sofa of Number 10 with her fingers in her ear and the door barricaded. She is a PM that neither the country nor her own MPs want and, in typical Tory fashion, she's refusing to acknowledge reality. How very strong and stable.

And the European media? Tonight they're discussing the UN Report into UK poverty which estimates a staggering 40% of our children will be living in poverty by 2021 as a result of the Tories austerity policies. Are our media talking about this? Are they bollocks. We just get the same old Brexit chat and the same old lies. Ignore them. Get out and vote tomorrow - and vote Labour - because we need to send a clear message that we can no longer tolerate what this government has done to us and will continue to do unless there's a General Election and a Labour victory.

RIP Andrew Hall

Sad news coming through this afternoon on social media that the actor Andrew Hall passed away on Monday this week at the age of 65.

Hall will of course be best remembered for the role of Russell, the eldest son of Wendy Craig's Ria in Carla Lane's 1978-1983 BBC sitcom Butterflies - a role he reprised in 2000 for a Children in Need sketch that saw all of the surviving original cast reunite. As a kid in the late 80s and early 90s I would watch the repeats of Butterflies of an evening, shortly after seeing Hall play the role of diligent nurse Dave Spencer in kids ITV drama Children's Ward. Other credits include Coronation Street, in which he played the cross-dressing Marc Selby, Hollyoaks, Brookside, Dream Team, Doctors, Casualty, Holby City, 2point4 Children, Birds of a Feather, Come Fly With Me and, more recently, the American sci-fi series Blood Drive. He was a prestigious stage actor and director too.


Monday, 20 May 2019

Ratcatcher (1999)

"Little postcards from hell" that's how Peter Mullan recently described the semi-autobiographical films of Bill Douglas from the 1970s. It's an apt description for Ratcatcher too, the feature length debut of another Scottish filmmaker, Lynne Ramsey. 

Just like the work of Douglas, there's a tactile aesthetic to Ramsey's film, a kind of shimmering poetry and a sense of fragmentary memory to the everyday poverty of working class Glasgow which again, when seen through the eyes of a child, picks out the hazy minutiae of life in a manner that makes it all seems so curiously sublime; the pocket of shaving foam behind Da's ear, or the momentary escape a net curtain (of all the humdrum everyday things) can provide for the adolescent James, played superbly by William Eadie. 

Film critic Hannah McGill has discussed how Ken Loach influenced the new wave of social realist filmmakers at the turn of the last century, citing Shane Meadows, Mullan and Ramsey as examples. But Ratcatcher offers a stylistic expressionism to the harsh realities it depicts that is wholly in tune with the notion of Mullan's "little postcards from hell" phrase; after all, when you're living in hell you need a strong imagination, and it's this imagination that point's to Ramsey's influences from further afield, specifically American filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Terrence Malick. There's a perfect symbiotic relationship between imagery and music that Ramsey uses that suggests the former in the scene in which Da is violently attacked, cutting to a shot of blood-like raspberry sauce dripping down an ice cream cone as something as sweetly innocuous as The Chordettes' Lollipop plays, but it's in her referencing of Malick that Ratcatcher makes it's biggest point. 

The use of Carl Orff's Gassenhauer points unmistakably towards Badlands. It's telling that she uses the tune to depict the fate of Snowball, the pet mouse of James' friend Kenny (played by John Miller; another wonderful, unforced performance skillfully brought to the fore by Ramsey). It's a moment that should leave us with our hearts in our mouths, a heartbreakingly tragic instance of ignorant and unwitting cruelty, but Ramsey invests it with fantasy, a hopeful happy ending that resides in Kenny's innocent, sheltered mind. Telling because the Malick influence is crucially evident when depicting young James' newly built dream home and the Days of Heaven-esque golden wheat fields that lie beyond its windows. 

Initially framed by Ramsey to suggest a painting, James and his family return here at the close of the film, seemingly having been relocated by the council. On the surface it is a happy ending, but it's an ambiguous one.  Like his earlier leap through the window/painting, this suggests a better world that James can somehow escape into. A fantasy. In reality, James willingly drops to the bottom of the dirty canal that claimed his friend in the film's opening moments and that the film has repeatedly, portentously returned to several times across its narrative. Living on borrowed time, James had about as much chance of living in his dream home as Snowball had of reaching the moon.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister (2010)

Tonight sees the long-anticipated debut of Gentleman Jack on BBC1, Sally Wainwright's take on the tale of Anne Lister, a 19th-century Yorkshirewoman and industrialist widely held to be the first modern lesbian. Starring Suranne Jones, Wainwright's eight-part serial looks set to be a rompy affair...but it's not the first time Lister's life has been adapted for the screen.

In 2010, the BBC broadcast Jane English's The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister. Starring Maxine Peake in the title role, it was a much more touching and tender depiction of Lister as a woman before her time and, as such, was a wonderful period drama in its own right. The period, region and society in which it was set played to the usual tropes of a Bronte or Austen adaptation but, by virtue of Lister herself, it was a deeply original story.

Anne Lister kept extensive diaries detailing her life and her forbidden love, written in an elaborate cipher. These diaries, which inspire much of this biopic, were only decoded 150 years after her death and prove that she was very much an individual born before her time. She held a desire to marry her girlfriend Mariana (Anna Madeley) or as her diary called her '-Zp4z-z', in a kind of proto-civil partnership that was simply unheard of at, and frankly scandalous for, that time. The shrewd Mariana however understood that the only match she could make in an oppressively patriarchal society was one with a man of prospects, and so she ultimately chose an older, wealthy landowner Mr Charles Lawton (Michael Culkin) as her husband, thereby breaking Anne's heart and shattering her naive illusions that they were ever true soul mates. Alone, Anne devoted her time to her studies becoming a canny businesswoman in the coal trade and ultimately finding love and companionship with her young business partner Ann Walker (Christine Bottomley).

In the lead role, Maxine Peake brings her curious mix of comedy, heartbreaking vulnerability and skilfull dramatic intensity that helps fully round the character beautifully. On paper I imagine Lister could easily come off a touch predatory or simply gloomy at the misfortunes that befall upon her because of who she is and what her sexual preference is, but with Peake's remarkable talent this is neatly avoided and the drama bends to her passionate playing and sheer will.

I found this a very moving and well made production which boasts an excellent supporting cast to accompany Peake including the aforementioned Madeley and Bottomley as her romantic interests, Alan David as her uncle and Gemma Jones as her aunt (a role the actress reprises in Gentleman Jack). Susan Lynch delivers a bittersweet turn as a Lister's friend Tib Norcliffe who chooses to live her life as open about her sexuality as possible, whilst Peake's former Shameless co-star Dean Lennox Kelly as a jealous business rival determined to spread malicious gossip about Lister's relationship with Miss Walker.

Will Gentleman Jack be as good as this? Given that Wainwright is behind it, I have high hopes. It certainly looks set to have lots of panache - a story played more positively towards the notion of Lister being some kind of trailblazer than this tale which captured the pain of someone whose love had to be hidden away from 'polite society'.

Return to Sender

It's time to return to the voting booths again this Thursday as the elections for European Parliament take place. Campaigning seems to have been taken up in earnest by most parties and many a letter or leaflet has dropped through the letterbox at the tail end of last week. So far, I've had stuff from Labour, the Lib Dems, UKIP, Nigel Farage's Brexit Party and Independent candidate Stephen Yaxley Lennon (aka 'Tommy Robinson'). Nothing for the Tories though, who clearly know that they are doomed.

I know that it can be really irritating to receive missives from parties you vehemently disagree with. It fair turns my stomach to see something from far right parties personally addressed to me, so here's what I do...

Knowing that returning this mail back to their party HQ's actually costs the party money, I scribble a quick 'Unsolicited Mail - Return to Sender' note at the top of the envelope and pop it back in the postbox. A small victory maybe, but a satisfying one. 

However, before that I like to offer up some sort of reply. UKIP, the Brexit Party and 'Tommy Robinson' all had their leaflets suitably redecorated (nothing too original, just the odd Hitler moustache) and were left in no doubt as to what I feel about them. But it was the Lib Dems that I decided to point towards the truth.

Their leaflet was full of utter lies. This habitually opportunistic party are currently flying under the flag of being the only political force determined to stop Brexit. If that truly was the case then where were Vince Cable and Tim Farron last July on the night of a crucial Brexit legislation vote that could have kept back the hard Brexit mob? They weren't in the House that's for sure and so they did not vote. I can tell you were Farron, the former leader and the man who keeps banging on with 'Where are you Jeremy Corbyn?' at Remain protests, was; he was charging a fiver a head for a lecture in Sherbourne about his faith (or homophobia), but where was present leader Vince Cable? And do they really think we're so stupid that we'd fail to notice how they vote in the House or, more bluntly, when they don't even bother to vote?

The leaflet also goes on to say that Labour refuse to push for a second referendum. Again this is a lie and one that the MSM also seem keen to spread. The fact is that Labour have repeatedly whipped ahead of voting for a second ref or a 'people's vote' but there isn't enough of a majority in the House to push this over the line. 

Cable and the Lib Dems, perhaps more than any other party and politician, deserve our contempt. They sold their soul to share power in 2010 and enabled the austerity that we are still suffering under to this very day. They twist with the wind and are now pretending that they never had any association with the Tories and that they are the only ones with our best interests at heart. They're banking on a resurgence that I think will happen to a degree, but when you're already at rock bottom, there's only one place to go - up.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

The Crying Game (1992)

I mean, I suppose you could argue that The Crying Game is in some ways a close spiritual sister to Neil Jordan's previous film, Mona Lisa, but there's no denying that The Crying Game is one of a kind thanks to that twist.

Like the earlier Jordan film, I can't really put into words how much of an impact this film still makes on me with every watch. The reveal of the twist is no longer a surprise to anyone of course, but this is a film that is far from a one trick pony. The screenplay is so bloody good, that often events are foreshadowed or counterbalanced in the most deliciously ironic and satisfying of ways. Dil's belief that 'Jimmy' aka Fergus is Scottish in some way mirrors his own mistaken allusions regarding Dil, whilst the spectral image that continues to haunt Fergus of Jody in his cricket whites comes forth, complete with Forest Whitaker's incredible smile, to reveal that he had bowled him a very distinctive googly all along. 

The googly in question is of course Jaye Davidson; an incredible role and a brilliant performance. Davidson pitches it all at such a wonderfully underplayed level that it retains its utter mystique and, even now, you find yourself almost convinced. Indeed no performance is out of place here; Stephen Rea is at his most sympathetic and tragically, sweetly heroic, whilst Miranda Richardson and Adrian Dunbar prove an effectively dangerous and darkly alluring pair of screen villains. Meanwhile Ralph Brown plays a character that I once told him arguably sets the template for the tracksuited scorned lover type you would find in any edition of Jeremy Kyle that you could care to mention, which amused him. 

Like a lot of Jordan films, the foundations of The Crying Game are quite fondly nostalgic, yearning for a Noirish 1940s or '50s, and this is never more clear than in Jim Broadbent's sympathetic intermediary of a barman, Col, who comes from a long line of such characters stretching all the way back to Dooley Wilson's Sam in Casablanca. But the beautiful thing about Jordan during this period was that he so effectively infused old fashioned tropes with some distinctively modern storytelling. I still think that my favourite era and genre of filmmaking is Film Four in the 1980s and '90s.

Out On Blue Six: Dave Berry/Boy George

One song, two versions.

First Dave Berry with the original

And Boy George with the cover recorded Neil Jordan's incredible film of the same name

End Transmission