Protest, racial politics and white guilt: reactions to Selma

If film really holds a mirror up to the world, then judging by this year’s awards season, our world is full of tormented white male intellectuals, grasping with fundamental ideas about talent and science and existence. Women exist as their props, crutches, or – totally originally – sex objects. The general rule seems to be that all of them are white.

This year Hollywood has produced two exceptions: Selma and Wild. I’m going to focus on Selma, partly because I found Wild underwhelming, and partly because Selma is a phenomenal work of art.

Martin Luther King. Photo: Creative Commons

Martin Luther King. Photo: Creative Commons

Directed by Ava DuVernay – a woman of colour – it stars David Oyelowo, yet another in that long line of black British actors gone to the States to find work, as Martin Luther King negotiating the black right to vote in 1965, and the infamous march from Selma to Montgomery that was met with police violence.

The film is incredibly moving, and for me achieved that rare feat exclusive to a truly good work of art, whereby you are so absorbed that you scream, laugh, gush, cry. I cried on about three separate occasions, at both the poignant portrayal of a marriage by Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo, who plays King’s wife Coretta, and the savage racism that facilitates the oppression and murder of black lives.  Continue reading

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Wolf Hall: kittens and walking wombs

When have you ever seen a stellar American costume drama? I think it’s safe to say that we do it the best, even if that’s because we have some weird, borderline unhealthy obsession with tradition and class and putting people in their place.

When Hilary Mantel published the historical novel Wolf Hall in 2009, the air must have been winded from TV producers punching it with sheer joy. While Mantel’s writing is very good, the book is bursting with screen potential. The costumes; the baroque music; the stately homes; the opportunity to capitalise on the public’s curious and, quite honestly, tiresome obsession with the monarchy.

The BBC’s production (Wednesdays, 9pm, BBC Two) does the book great justice.

I am strangely drawn to lined faces, and Mark Rylance’s is up there with Samuel Beckett. It is truly a thing of wonder. Every line, every twitch, every smirk: he conveys Thomas Cromwell’s emotion, ambition and development impeccably. Rylance is most famous for his stage acting, and I get the impression that to experience this would be a unique pleasure in the way that it just wouldn’t with other actors, no matter how competent. Like his character Cromwell, Rylance is the glue holding every storyline together: there is hardly one scene in which he is not leading the way, buttering someone up, consoling somebody, manipulating.

In episode two, the camera treated us to lingering shots of him holding, seemingly for no want of furthering the plot, a kitten. If this show was a web page, traffic would be soaring. I’m afraid I couldn’t take this without tweeting it.


 Admittedly, Rylance is the only reason I’m still watching. Like the book, the TV adaptation is slow, and Anne Boleyn, though brilliantly conveyed by one-to-watch Claire Foy, is intolerable. She sits on a high chair bossing people around, frustrated that Henry hasn’t divorced Catherine of Aragon yet or just said “sod it” and seduced her anyway, still married to the Spanish Queen. She also, clearly, resents that Mary, her funnier, livelier sister (remember “The Other Boleyn Girl”?), has had sex with Henry, while she hasn’t. Oh and she spits lines out in French every now and then.

Having said that, this week’s episode 3 ended with her finally married to Henry and about to give birth, and my feminist solidarity can’t help but sympathise with any woman who suspects she exists purely as a walking womb, to be cast aside should she give birth to a girl rather than a boy. (I was reminded here of Mantel’s comments about Kate Middleton a couple of years ago, suggesting that she exists only to breed.)  

Oh and Damian Lewis? He’s OK; no, he’s good – but like in the book, there isn’t much of him. The story is very much Cromwell’s. And that’s what makes it unique.  

Side note: look at those pearls, tucked into Boleyn’s cleavage. Bizarre.  

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I’m back!

I haven’t written on this blog for about two years now, which is terrible I know, but I have been having other adventures – mainly moving to Cambodia where I worked as a features and lifestyle reporter at the Phnom Penh Post, an English language national newspaper.

This was a phenomenal experience both professionally and personally. I learned so much about a fascinating country, through reading, meeting experts and finding and writing my own stories. I feel so lucky that I was able to contribute to the ever growing tapestry of writing on Cambodia, which had to start afresh following the brutal eradication of free speech, education, literature and art under the Khmer Rouge.

If you’re interested in the stories I wrote there, please visit my page on the Phnom Penh Post’s website, which acts as an archive of my work.

The Phnom Penh skyline, from my friend's apartment rooftop.

The Phnom Penh skyline, from my friend’s apartment rooftop.

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Theatre review: “Chavs” at the Lyric, Hammersmith

The dramatisation of Owen Jones’ Chavs explores the British class system through stereotypes.

Owen Jones was inspired to write Chavs: the demonization of the working class, his polemic on class hatred in the UK, when friends at a dinner party jokingly lamented the demise of Woolworths, asking “where would all the chavs get their Christmas presents.”

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Mentioned in The Week…

Photo: Charlotte Henley

The Week quotes from my Wild Swans review for its drama section…

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The Hunter S – a new pub in Dalston

An artist's impression of Hunter S Thompson. Photo by Abode of Chaos

Just when people were advised not to start up a business during a recession, one company has proved them wrong.

Two years ago Seven-Eighths Ltd opened The Hemingway in London Fields – and last month the organisation opened The Hunter S on the edge of Dalston.

Tucked into a corner just south of Ball’s Pond Road, the Hunter S is named, like the Hemingway, after the literary great. Ruairi Gilles, Director of Seven-Eighths Limited and an owner of both pubs, says that the two men are examples of “great writers and great drinkers.”


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Speed Dating: it’s that time of year

Valentine’s Day is never easy when you’re perennially single. Scrap that: no time is easy, especially when you fall for people who barely notice your existence and have a mother who, despite being atheist, might well pray daily for your romantic success.

I am the Bridget Jones of 2012. And what do I do? I take up speed dating.

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