Monthly Archives: September 2013

Hannah and Diana

Two films in three days, both about real controversial but remarkable 20th century women whose actions in the media caused them strife.

But these women have little else in common. The greatest difference is my relationship with them. Hannah Arendt was known to me as a university seminar name, a face on my women philosophers display in a bookshop that I made when I ran that section. I’d forgotten that face so I do not know (I am going to peek shortly) if Barbara Sukowa who played Hannah in the film resembled the real Hannah. She was not yet real to me.

And there was the other great difference – I do not know Hannah’s story so I could take the film as it came. I noted, despite the German hand in both films, the English language biopic flavour, and it wasn’t a welcome observation. I felt Hannah Arendt tried too hard to taunt and attract an American audience with clichéd quips about the nation that annoy me as much as stiff upper lips and tea drinking. It is in German and English, which may encourage non subtitle watchers to get over that barrier.

Despite the labouredness of the brash ignorant Americans, I very much enjoyed this film. I liked it best for putting philosophy into a drama without making it clunky – an art to learn. It’s relevant to a paper I am preparing where I’ll reference Hannah’s thoughts about how evil can only be done with the cooperation, or at least non resistance of good people – a statement she made about her fellow Jews and the holocaust which caused an outrage.

The Diana film also had a quote along similar lines: that evil can only happen when good people stand by and do nothing. But the contexts are different and I could go into a discourse about whether evil is absolute or a perspective, and whether military intervention is ever justified. I’ll save most of that for elsewhere, but just to remark here that it’s possible for the perpetrators of evil to believe they are following the honour code of duty and have therefore done nothing wrong, as Hannah thought of Nazi leader Eichmann. His banality or not is not something I’ll discuss here. But personality (or its lack) does bring me back to what I’d like to say on both films.

Hannah’s personality is a strong one, though the critique of her being arrogant and unfeeling is fired at her in the film. Yet she is seen as sympathetic and charismatic and caring to her friends and devoted to her husband. But Naomi Watt’s Diana seems to lack that personality, and unlike Hannah, I know Diana well.

Well, what I mean of course, is that I know lots about her. I am one of the many who admired her but didn’t meet her and my opinions are coming from third hand information – something abhorrent to me as a historian. The books about Diana that you might think methodologically are most reliable are the most dubious – those written by former ‘special friends’. I think that if one is really close to a famous person, that you protect and respect their confidences. I am very likely to return one source to the charity shop from whence it came, for the shallow tabloid mentality at its worst, aggrandising the author whilst decrying other special friends. Whenever you read, “Source close to…. says”, you know that they’re not real friends – or won’t remain so.

So I wonder where this new Diana film gains its source, as her lover Hasnat Khan was a private man and this was a mostly secret affair, so how do we know what happened between them? My dubious book, by a special healer friend,  does corroborate most of the film’s story.

Unlike other reviewers, I won’t make personal remarks on an actor’s ability or looks or predict where their career will go because of a performance. But I will say that I don’t think Naomi Watts has captured Diana. I’m half annoyed at actor of another nationality depicting our English Rose. I excused the Aussie in Elizabeth, my favourite film, because Cate Blanchett was magnificent. But Naomi did not convey the presence that I suspect Diana must have had, which went beyond face touching and hand holding. The Mail – my least favourite newspaper – showed a contrasting picture of Naomi doing the Bashir Panorama interview and the real Diana. French and Saunder’s makeup department were more accurate than this in their many take offs. Diana’s trademark immaculately thick swept hair was part of the glamour that earned Diana her celebrity status. Although Naomi says her role was not mimicry but interpretation, her performance was not enough of either, and she hasn’t got the twinkling warmth or downcast eyes right.

I also did not warm to Hasnat Khan’s portrayal. I am aware that he is alive, and can be hurt by comments, and by a stranger who does not know the real person. But I will say that the arrogance of a high ranking surgeon who chain smokes but assumes his right as doctor to lecture patients on health, who constantly speaks of ‘my work’ like a scratched disk, who freaks about publicity though he encounters so little compared to Diana and her other lovers… I could break off to do a rant on experiences of allopathic doctors who assume that their intrusive, dangerous methods are the only right ones, and that when Hasnat asks for permission to do another operation, the “of course” of the next of kin is assumed, as so often is the case.

Perhaps the real Hasnat is (now) very different – I hope so. I do know he experimented on sheep and killed them, which ought to be treated as a crime. I did not feel, as Diana in the film says, that he performs with focus and love, or that there was something remarkable about him when we first see him. But as we often don’t hear the internal monologue of characters in film, sometimes it’s very hard to get that sense of an intense emotion and reaction. This wasn’t a physically charged love at first sight but something else that we only learn about too long after to fully convince us of their love. Naveen Andrews does not resemble Hasnat and implied to me that standard good looks is the only type of face that Diana would have fallen for. Perhaps Hasnat’s real qualities are somewhat different. I liked the little he is on record for saying, and his discretion could teach much to certain butlers and therapists.

We’re not allowed to know Dodi – is that for fear of upsetting his father, or is the film saying that this was a playboy ruse to amuse Diana and to taunt Hasnat for breaking up with her? It’s not set up as a story of 2 lovers, but of one love and mistaken attention given to the wrong man at the end of her life. My sympathies were with Diana for ending it with this Hasnat who put his family and his work first and seemed not to really understand who Diana was, who had an angry temper, and who I was happy to see her let go of.

I felt both films were respectful and sympathetic to their titular heroines and those close to them, and aimed at a wide audience. After assembling my own view, I found out that Diana has come under criticism. I’d like to highlight the paucity of the Independent review, whose opening slag-off uses inaccurate similes such as “as flat and wet as Norfolk” (it undulates and it’s less wet than the West of Britain). The Independent review gropes for other comparisons, supposedly witty, acerbic and comic, but gives little substance to the review nor engages with the film. His review was not the only one that’s true of.

I enjoyed Diana, which started off artily but became one of the British stable of crowd pleasing biopics. But then I didn’t like The King’s Speech or The Queen for just that reason.

As a story, Diana arcs and bookmarks well with the intrusive cameras of that Parisian hotel and sessions with a healer (not the book writing one) where Diana has transformed her recurring dream from falling into one of flying; yet I didn’t feel this Diana had made the metamorphosis that the real one seemed to. The final spoken words reflect a romantic poem already referenced in the film, implying a posthumous recognition of Hasnat and Diana’s love. And the final words, a title card, remind us of the best of Diana’s charity work achievements, whilst tying up Hasnat’s life simply and without judgement, implying his good work also continues (unless you’re a sheep).

The film was too focussed on Hasnat’s relationship and eerily quiet about others, and portrayed Paul Burrell in the same mould as his predecessor. It’s made me think of Diana again, but I’m come away with a sense of disappointment. But it did push her landmine victories, and that rightly is something to leave us with as an enduring memory.

And as for Hannah Arendt – I chose to watch this two more times, and enjoyed it more, whilst being less annoyed. This is profound, quality film making, a long lasting love story against public outrage with characters not made to look supposedly more glamorous in film. I have not had further thoughts or inclination towards Diana the movie.

Hannah Arendt screened at the Cambridge Film Festival and was released in the UK in October 2013. Diana was released  in the UK at the end of September.

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Princess Dianas

When I changed my viewing and research from the British Royals to Wonder Woman, I was expecting a complete change. But Wonder Woman is also a Princess Diana, and politics as well as changing roles for women are key to both subjects.

Although one is blonde, one is dark; one is real, one is fiction; one is immortal, one died young, these women do have certain qualities in common:



immediate and genuine rapport

beauty – from within as much as pleasantly aligned features –  but not an object


tall – about 6ft (though Lynda Carter needed 3 inch heels to be that height)

national representative

an outsider

One was an English born aristocrat who became the wife and mother of heirs to the throne of the same country, and one was born on a secret island and took on America as her adopted country. But both had to get to learn the ways of a new world.

But Diana, Princess of Wales was more complicated and with conflicting qualities. Even those who were fond of her don’t deny a darker side. She said that her own suffering enabled and fuelled her to reach out to others.

In the TV series, Diana Prince has no emotional breakdowns and her problems do not seem very menacing or last long; but contractions have existed in all manifestations of Wonder Woman since her invention 70 years ago, and these are used more in comic story lines. But Lynda Carter said that she played Wonder Woman with a vulnerability, and that’s what made her  – and the other Diana – so appealing.

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Millionaire women

I won’t name these people in the spirit of not picking on them.

But I’m reading a book by a woman I respect about the lives of millionaire women in the English speaking world, all of whom had a poor start in life.

I’ve been interested in abundance speakers for a time, but I officially rejected the law of attraction after 2 years and have a healthy cynicism for it and the abundance message.

I’ve also become interested in finance – not growing my own, but in the economic system.

And I’ve decided that people like these women are contributing to the poverty of others.

Some mention no spirituality or social causes. Money is an end in itself. Growth of money is an end in itself. I am querying inflation – money does not grow on its own: the markets are created that way. It is the desire for more than brings the prices of everything up – yet some people do not earn more, or not in line with the growth that profits the few.

When on Secret Millionaire, one woman spoke of how she put aside part of her £10 earnings a day to save – but she knew she was on TV for 2 weeks and that her multimillion empire would still be there when her contract finished. Did she have to pay for what so many others do out of that kind of money… bills, rent, insurance, childcare, clothes, etc? She didn’t expect a social life. She didn’t mind cleaning tables in a cafe – a job which she was lucky enough to get on her first day – because she knew it wasn’t for long.

She claimed that by investing the money that most of us spend on the lottery, we would all be millionaires. But lottery money is used for others; it is charitable giving with rewards attached. Her money growth is not benefitting anyone outside of her own circle.

The women in this book have various assistants to do the jobs they hate. They don’t shop or clean or groom their kids. They hate offices, but make employees stay in them whilst they sit by the beach and have food and fresh flowers brought to them. Can’t they see – that they expect others to have different lives and do the jobs they won’t to maintain their dream. One said – you won’t get rich by having a job. The way to make money is through passive riches, ie investment in (italics mine) other people’s companies and in property.
We all need to live under a roof, and yet this need fuels the greed of others.

Another woman spoke of how she gives the impression of being the biggest and so everyone flocks to her, and big is best in New York’s eyes. She is concerned with beating her competitors, even taking staff from them… and it’s this competition that brought in two recessions in my lifetime. Suddenly I feel an interest watching American Psycho (about Yuppies) after all.

Its’ all about people envisioning more, loving the look of money and spreadsheets, and believing that wealth – or lack of it – is simply personal responsibility and attitude. Once they have left poverty behind, they forget what it’s like, believing we can all climb the tree. But the trunk would break, and you make it impossible to have a grounded life for others.

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Things to do with £16 – or why insurance is fear based waste

I could have bought 2 cinema tickets,  or one luxury central London one

and I’d have got into many gigs and theatres for that


I could have eaten out or had a bottle of reasonable wine


I could have travelled 70-150 miles by train, return


I could have had entry to a major historic attraction


bought a top or sandals (esp. in the sale)


and got a lovely picturebook souvenir.


I also could have paid my summer gas bill.


Alas, this particular £16 did not do any of these useful, pleasurable things. All of these, even the bill, paid for something I tangibly had. I did have hot water for my summer of showers. I did see that film. I did ride that train, I am wearing the garment, and my body is digesting the pleasant items I put in it. My bookshelf is enhanced with the ongoing enjoyment of the book; my scrapbook bears testimony to the evening out, which I can recall much later.


But no – this £16 bought me nothing that I had any use or value of. Apart from the do it yourself print out, I’d wonder I’d spent it on anything at all, or if I just gave the money into the ether. For as my trip was pleasant, and without hiccup, I got nothing whatever back for the insurance I’d paid. I wasn’t going to bother, then something in the news made me think that I might end up paying far more if I didn’t. But then, wouldn’t there be excuses of why the company should not pay, how it was somehow my fault (isn’t blame key to this industry) and the paperwork would be worth £16 in my own time and frustration.


But it’s fear of the unknown, the what if, the makes us all believe the lie that insurance is essential. In some cases, it’s required by law – wouldn’t we all like our line of work to be used by everyone by government decree! But it is not actually a necessity. I can’t claim a refund because I didn’t need the insurance. I can’t complain legitimately. Yet I can speak out and say, insurance is based on commoditization and fear and is an immoral notion. I’m not proud to have lived in a city where a famous insurer began his business. I would never look at a suitcase and think, how can I underwrite that… let alone another life. I’d have rather kept my £16 and had something tangible and pleasurable or at least useful, and not lined the pocket of another fat cat.

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Pride and Prejudice: Minister accused of gay hate crimes

It’s ironic that on the day I finish editing my novel about synthesising being gay and Christian, there’s a news story on just that in the city in which my story is set. The front page of the local rag has a picture of a pastor set against the recent gay Pride parade. His email to the organisers has earned him a hate crime allegation with the police.

I felt many things as I read that story.

First was the irony that this same newspaper published the faces and names of men at a homosexual gathering which got raided to shame them. It was mentioned at a Pride event – local gay people have not forgotten how their paper treated them.  Perhaps fearing hate crimes allegations directed at itself, the paper now covers the Pride celebration like any other local event. Its tone in this article seemed to be firmly with the LGBT community and against this local evangelical minister.

My second feeling is that this paper’s article is very biased and poor. We do not know what the email of “homophobic language” contained. We are only told that the minister, Alan Clifford,  went up to a stall at Pride and offered an exchange of leaflets. His were called “Good news for Gays” and “Jesus – Saviour of us All”. Too true, I thought; for God loves gay people and is here for us as much as anyone else. Further research confirms the tenor of the minster’s views – that ‘gays’ are perverts who need curing – which has become international news. His views are upsetting, angering – and make me sad.

My next thought was regret that the Pride organisers made this email into a police affair. If I had received an email of the sort I am assuming was sent from Dr C, I would have written back, explaining my views and challenging his. I’d have directed him to George Hopper’s pamphlet “The Reluctant Journey” about a Methodist who, on exploring the Biblical teaching on being gay and actually meeting some, had a complete change of heart. He is celebrated as a supporter of gay Christian people, whilst retaining his more evangelical and Bible based faith. I hope my own book might assist with this too.

I believe that challenge and heart changing is far more productive than crime making. What the latter does is reverse the oppression, so that traditional Christians and other faiths feel they’re persecuted ones, and wonder how equality and anti discrimination works when they are being silenced. You give prejudiced people more reason to feel it, and more reason to band together – Dr Clifford is already hailed as being persecuted for witnessing. Two papers copying each other ended that the minster is anti Muslim too. But saying that Jesus is greater than Mohammed is not Islamophobic  – for Christians, Jesus as God is higher than any prophet, and banning or deriding that statement is not allowing freedom of belief. There is far more genuine Islamophobia in the media and from politicians, which I abhor.

I also note the irony that complaints about Dr Clifford being offensive to lead to investigation; but he cannot call the other side offensive and register a complaint.

I would like to see an end to all such offensives.

I’ve now read Dr Clifford’s response. He makes two other valid points – that the intention was compassionate campaigning, not to harass; and that ‘homophobia’ is a misnomer, for prejudice is not fear. Perhaps there is a little fear in anti gay sentiment, of the notion that they are set to break up the order of your society, and what being open to them might mean for your faith journey. It’s something I can relate to, but I am glad of where that journey took me and to whom I now embrace, not decry.

The other concern is – we have too much police control, and that police were experienced as aggressive at this event. Like the local paper, they have turned from breaking up gay meetings to supporting gay people. This is admirable in principle.

It seems we are now in a minefield where freedom of speech as ever is being eroded – even on matters where one sympathises. Sentiments which hurt and insult others who have perhaps already been through stress should not go unchecked – they should be challenged.  But not be afraid to broadcast a view lest it leads to a police record.

I am deeply saddened when people use their freedom of speech to curtail the freedoms of others. I cannot understand why those whose central message ought to be about love see a legitimate expression of it as an aberration, something abhorrent to be campaigned against rather than celebrated. When a faith should be about a better world – more free, more loving, more understanding – I am despondent that some preach hatred and separation instead of inclusion. I refer them to the Easter sermon that was preached in the film version of Chocolat.

It’s PR like this that harms evangelical Christianity especially – you are not serving, you are doing a disservice.

But I am sad at the other team too. Subverting and reversing freedom and anger is no way to be better understood and accepted by those not yet able and willing to do so. It’ll keep those Christians with feeling they’re misunderstood victims who must stick together and fight for the cause. It means the circle might go round again, spinning between bashing gay people or Bible bashers, depending on who has the most sway on leadership.

We don’t want any bashing. We want a world where such differences are no longer divisions, and people don’t not say or do something for fear of reprisal, but because they no longer feel it.

It also seems my novel’s message is still much needed, for both sides.

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