Tag Archives: Kate Winslet

A different angle of Wonder Wheel

The content of Woody Allen’s latest film isn’t being talked about as much issues around the writer-director himself. In towns I know, the film is being shown little, even though it’s just been released in Britain; it’s been skipped from some film magazines.

I know people who won’t see it, because of what’s being said about Woody. But that means that the four main actors and all the others involved in making Wonder Wheel don’t get their work seen, and if it’s not in cinemas, we can’t make our own decisions. The film also feels quite separate from the 25 year old allegations about Woody.

I felt the ones against Blue is the Warmest Colour were more apt, for they were concurrent with and about the movie.

I am not sure what I believe about Woody Allen, or feel about these hash tagged campaigns.

I hate all injustice, abuse, inequality.

But I also hate witch hunts, public career destruction, and false accusation.

Much of these campaigns seem to come from angry and imbalanced sources; there is much hate fuelled behaviour.

They conflate various allegations in Hollywood between quite different situations.

I haven’t warmed to the interviews of Woody’s children, and their statements that if you work with Woody and don’t denounce him that you are wrong – even that you are hurting them, and aiding an abuse allowing culture.

The vehemence of this has turned some actors, it seems, from remaining neutral or even kind of defending decisions to work with Woody into making statements that seem to upend that. I have noted some very carefully phrased speeches about this, encouraging empowerment and listening to those who speak out – which I applaud. But I’m worried that the reverse of the wildfire spreading against abuse is that if you want to keep your career, you’ll denigrate and distance from those several people who have been recently accused.

Of course we should want abuse to stop, and for people to be free to speak out against it.

I also see forgiveness and healing as key, for all involved. Rehabilitation not retribution.

But these often get omitted, if not refused. And it means that the accused – especially those wrongly so – are destroyed without hope.

I have noted female inappropriate behaviour in Hollywood – such as public unsolicited gropes, which press and perpetrator laughed over. Is it different or better because a woman’s doing it?! NO!

There is a big debate to be had about our laws and attitudes, and to unpick the contradictions around sexuality in our culture, which is both promoted and prohibited. We need a healthier one based on respect and permission, not fear and commodity, and which rebalances male and female.


As for the film: Woody’s films do have much in common with each other, and what felt enjoyable and powerful to me several years ago has much less appeal. But Woody is often wise, and his films have been helpful on a personal level.

I saw Wonder Wheel because of Kate Winslet. I saw her previous roles in this. Revolutionary Road is also about a 1950s American former actress who is now living an unwanted domestic dull life. Mildred Pierce, set just 20 years earlier, is also a restless poor waitress – another red haired role – with a difficult relationship with her estranged daughter.

With both her “failed” actress roles, I felt quite an irony. Kate is widely well considered at her job: in the Picturehouses Recommends booklet, Woody is quoted as saying: “I try to cast actresses who have enormous range and depth and intensity. There are only a limited number of actresses in the English language that are that deep and that great. Kate Winslet is one of them.”

We don’t see Ginny act to know if it is quality or discovery which is lacking. Kate says that Ginny pretends her life is a role, but that the sadness is it really is her life. But can’t we live in layers, and who says what is truly real? I note that Ginny found solace in the memory of her acting – it’s what she goes to when unhappy. Talk of theatre with Mickey starts to bring her alive. Like April in Revolutionary Road, Ginny – wife of Humpty! (do you have that egg nursery rhyme in America?) has a travel bug, urged by her lover. She believes that going to a new place will free her – but none of these three stories ends well for Kate’s character. Usually, Woody is wise and positive; although the end is ambiguous, I didn’t leave the cinema how his films normally make me feel.

When Mickey speaks of tragedies that crush, we suspect we’re in one. No, our protagonists will not be able to squeeze out from the wreckage, stronger, to try again. They’re earmarked for the crusher; the past will repeat, and they cannot learn from nor expiate their mistakes.


I’ve written several pieces before on whether Kate’s roles are about women who go mad or die; Wonder Wheel fits this. And when she’s doing that strong but challenged vulnerable person in a drama, she is at her best. This is the film of hers that I’ve enjoyed her in most in some years.

I don’t see the climatic act of her character as being as shocking as the film wants you to see it. Ginny’s act is not what Tiny’s is. She tries to do something, and doesn’t. Who knows if she would have been successful if she had? I also thought that the other possibility of the film’s ending meant that her deed would have no affect on the outcome. The choices of the person concerned had already been made before Ginny; and ultimately what happens, if that is truly the conclusion, is due to those choices and entirely other persons.

Wonder Wheel makes me wonder about the line between theatrical and cinematic. Indoor scenes were too much like a play – the sort I don’t like. It’s not the long scenes of dialogue, or that one of the characters turns to the audience to tell us their thoughts: I like that. I did feel that Mickey ought to bookend and stay consistent by giving us a monologue at the end, but his talk to camera narration switches off. I didn’t like that staid, false, very egged intensity; the one room melodrama. Wonder Wheel, penned recently by Woody, seems to be like the theatre of fifty of more years ago. The staple plays I don’t go and see.

I’m left not only wondering about the wheel of denigration turning in the media, but also that sad turn of you’ll die in the doldrums, or trying to escape them. It’s not a message that I choose to believe or purport.

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Steve Jobs is a ….

[Insert a rhyming word with a silent starting letter]

Film Review

The strobe lighting at the end was typical of Steve Jobs himself – selfishly creating show because he could, without thought for how it affected others. There were no warnings for epilepsy and other sufferers and it wasn’t pleasant, nor was it necessary or desirable.

Because we never see Steve Jobs do a launch, we never see the side of him that drew an audience. So when he claims to be like a conductor, playing the orchestra, we can’t believe him because we’ve never seen him do so. That arrogant put down quote is untrue – the other Steve and Andy wrote the score. Those colleagues weren’t workbenchers, they were creating the notes Jobs took credit for. Not that we should knock our benchworkers either. But most orchestras are about replication to a high standard, including the conductor. My greatest admiration goes to composers and those who can ad lib. No Jobs, you’re not an artist. Artists are the creators and it’s quite possible, as the film points out, to be a nice one.

I felt like giving the other Steve (Wozinak) and Andy Hertzfeld a hug and punching Jobs on their behalf. I am sorry that the actors playing these people (Seth Rogen and Michael Stulhbarg) rarely get much a mention or a photograph in film brochures, but they are very important to the film.

You’ll see that this film made me angry, and that was before I learned from Sight and Sound that director Danny Boyle glibly added $5m to the budget by choosing to shoot in California, but only paid 3000 extras with a banana and apple each for a day’s work. That’s the kind of injustice of Jobs himself.

Yet I did, in part, enjoy the film.

Kate Winslet made the film bearable by her role as Joanna Hoffman, who I sympathised with very much. She can tell Steve off without losing her temper or being as unkind back. It is she who points out the abysmal father he’s being, though she never criticises his behaviour to the child’s mother, who is financially struggling throughout the 14 years of this story. When Joanna said she loved Jobs, I wondered why – and also why she had worked with him for 19 years if these three launches were anything like typical of his behaviour.

I didn’t like the film’s three launch structure, I’m not sure it’s totally right to call them acts. My understanding of the three act structure is that 1 and 3 are short: one sets up the action – why does the story start start now? Act 2 is the main story, and 3 is the denouement to the wrap. Some stories have more than three acts; perhaps this is one of them.

I’m all for breaking convention but stories naturally start with something happening, a break in the usual life of someone… and this, when you catch your breath and think about it, doesn’t really. Steve Jobs doesn’t go far developmentally or in terms of space – it’s all corridors and stages. I disagree with Sight and Sound that Jobs’ improvement and a more positive end note makes the film weaker – I believe passionately that grit and misery aren’t more real or deep, and that we choose our perspective and reasons. And characters are supposed to develop in stories – it’s the point of them, as in life! But because we never see between the acts we don’t see the catalysts and are not therefore able to follow the trajectory of the characters.

Aaron Sorkin, the writer, is quoted in a current film magazine saying that character and plot get in the way – it’s all about dialogue for him. And this film is all dialogue. I was glad about that in a way – some films go to the other extreme and I have often heard the maxim to make film primarily visual and the dialogue is to be used sparingly. But this is too much talking, and despite what he says in the Total Film interview, Sorkin – you haven’t included only what’s needed for the story, because there isn’t that much of one and you said in another place that those things are subordinate for you.

This movie would just as well be a play and has little that’s purely cinematic about it. It’s intense and relentless and it didn’t believe that these conversations would happen minutes before major launches. Just as Jobs is handling one person, there’s a knock and another one wants to start a fight. And all with a timer bomb tick tick to the launch….

Even when Jobs is less nasty and tries to bond with his daughter at last, he’s selfish: He’s been a stickler for time, and now he makes others wait to indulge the thing that currently captures him, inappropriately insisting to see her essays at that moment, despite being late for his biggest launch yet. But I don’t want 100s of songs in my pocket, I like the music industry how it was… has Jobs though about the effect on record shops and companies any more than he has thought of how his inventions involved poor working conditions for those in the factories in other countries that made them? Or that CGI is an uglier form of filmmaking and could lose actors and set makers their jobs, Jobs. I hate his efficient animal with a bicycle speech, which…

I pause to gather myself. I am not sure if reviewing this film is good for my inner workings.

A world where we care about efficiency, where we see the wondrous beings we can be (this Jobs is not a good example) as lacking in that harsh, shallow, number driven way… it recalls the man who observed a coal shoveller and decided the shoveller could be trained to change his technique and shovel more in the same time for the same wage. No thought to the bore of the job, the harm to the worker, or that he ought to deserve more pay and breaks…. such a man is Jobs, a man who I doesn’t see as genius, who has thought about what is possible but not if it’s desirable nor cared what others feel, nor about ethics and implications, nor about harm from electromagnetic frequency that his bicycles in every home and songs in our pocket is causing. There’s a hint Jobs wasn’t money driven but someone hopping about for high sales projections and overpricing his actually ugly box with no operating system sounds pretty commercial to me.

Kate Winslet again has found an interesting role to play, but Jobs is not a man I wish to know more of and nor would I have chosen to spend time with him (real or this version) otherwise.

I close with wondering if the most common still from the film is meant to resemble Ed Harris as Christophe, the creator in/of The Truman Show, in his bubble, controlling a world from a distance, thinking of his own brilliance and boundaries, not of any one else?

Note who’s name’s missing. He, like Jobs, got too much attention in this film, which is at least a six player game. I am feeling over exposed to him and I have yet to like the characters he plays.

However, I read Jobs’ 2005 Stanford speech and felt – there was a fourth act, a coda needed. A man who tells us to find what we love, to live what we love, to see death (which he’d faced) as a gift, and to join the dots retrospectively, now seeing that being thrown out of Apple was a gift… that is a man who has learned wisdom, even if it wasn’t yet kind. Jobs also had a romance – but we never meet his wife. Sorkin’s Steve misses out the things that would be of interest and complete his story.

I have also just found the script and may post again after reading it.

Reviews of The Dressmaker and Carol are coming.



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A post for Kate Winslet’s 40th

Life begins at – and has already been significant for….

Within a week, two of my favourite actresses turn 40. I am choosing to write this on the birthday of the younger of the two, as that is the person I know best and have followed for the longest.

I think I’ve known Kate Winslet for her whole career, and she has been important to me for much of that time. Anyone who’s read this blog before, or even glanced at the tag cloud on the right, will see that Kate is someone who has taken up much screen time – on my computers, on my television sets, of my cinema going. I have seen all her films, often at the cinema and within days of its release; and I own and have rewatched many of them. Click on the cloud to see my analyses of these. It will keep growing.

Yet it is more than reviews and articles that she has inspired in me.

The power of those we don’t know, those that are public and we have an idea of and yet none at all of their real selves, is a theme that drives much of my work. It is true of queens who died centuries before I was born, princesses who died during my lifetime, and superhuman princesses that are invented, but yet feel like real people.

With an actor, there is who they are really, their persona, and the roles they play. There is what they say in the media, and what the media says of them. We glean ideas about them from those roles, those interviews, the analyses of the dresses they wear and the causes they choose. But perhaps like Sarah Douglas said of her role as the black shiny clad Ursa in Superman, the slits in the costume that seem to show the bare skin of the wearer are highly calculated false portals. “You think you see me in places you don’t.”

This theme of revelation of self and of celebrity is pertinent right now. I’ve already said so much about Kate on here, and will continue to view her films (two new ones coming out next month!), but I wanted to speak a little about what she means to me, or rather, what function she has served in my life. It is true of other actors, but her especially.

We don’t need to know our muse, or them to know who we are, and who we think they are doesn’t have to be true. That’s not to say I don’t want to meet Kate – she might be the living famous person I’d most like to – but that a sort of relationship can be created without an exchange, at least, on my side.

I’ve found Kate’s c2000 roles her most powerful and enduring. As a person that I’d like to be with, I’d choose Maddie from Quills, though I’d like to take her far from Charenton, and also Hester from Enigma. I also warmed to Sabine in A Little Chaos.

At this time, I am also doing a Sarah Douglas costume, starting to show some well planned slits as I make my writing known to the world, because I’m launching my book. Although my creation is separate from Kate Winslet, there is something of and someone like her in my novel (which I plan to also make into a film). It is a story about false bottoms of drawers, of consciousness of the layers of ourselves and what we show, and what we keep to ourselves – and how it is easier to explore and reveal ourselves through personas, even publically, than me as me, to those I know well.

It is about the power of an actor’s persona, one which (like Kate’s) often feels very real, very ordinary (and yet not at all ordinary), and a particular role – one that I invented – to be part of our lives; and for stories to have life changing power, not just a couple of hours of entertainment and escape, but to make you face what you couldn’t bear to see.

Thus today, which is not my birthday, is also for me a time of anniversary and celebration – not yet of a life, like Kate’s, which is full of public recognition; mine has thus far been of preparation.

I would like to thank Kate for the inspiration, joy and challenge she has brought to me and so many others who may not know you but whose lives you have certainly touched.

Marion Cotillard will get her own post when I have seen her latest film, Macbeth – hopefully, any day.


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A Little Chaos film review

At last – now the film is officially released, I can share my reviews with you – you can read about my first red carpet and how it fits into Kate Winslet’s repertoire by clicking on her name in the tag cloud on the right.

A Little Chaos is about the challenge to its opposite – order. André Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts), head gardener for Louis XIV’s new palace in the country, has learned order from two sources that have gone before – his father, and the Greco-Romans. Nature will be made symmetrical and predictable and to do the will of men (literally) – until a woman (Kate Winslet) appears, asking to be part of Versailles’ great grandeur. Sabine is everything chaotic and pattern breaking: a freelance single woman with no great professional background, no blue blood pedigree, and whose personal garden is wild and unfettered. ‘Isn’t this your taste?’ Andre asks Sabine with a little derision when they arrive at the unmanaged site that will become the parterres and rockeries familiar today.

When asked, ‘do you respect order?’ Sabine answers that order informs her designs, but implies that something new is needed, something uniquely French, and female. Yet Sabine’s designs that André initially discards have order and are less dissimilar to the other applicants than they really ought to be – and quite unlike the cottage garden Sabine has at home.

At the British premiere, Alan Rickman made clear that while observations were factual (such as the king’s being watched sleeping by several people), that this is not historically true or sadly, possible for Sabine to have held the position she did at that time. Not being true means that the storytellers have to work harder for us to believe how this C17th woman got the attention of the King’s household. The question I wondered was – how did Sabine dare apply to work on the design of the garden of Versailles? How did she know about it? Perhaps she was invited to André’s for interview for pure curiosity, even to put her down – although he does not criticise her gender or audacity, only her designs.

Although this is of the initially-at-odds category of potential love interest, the first flash that they may be kindred is Andre’s belief about gardens – again, coming from his father (note traditional, even Biblical overtones). God started humans off in a garden, and only few have the gift to reclaim that… what? Beauty, freedom, divine communion, growth, balance… gardens lend themselves to many analogies, not spelt out by the film, which otherwise is God and spirituality free.

Symmetry and its opposite is found throughout the film. There are three threesomes: the married King and his mistress (two actually), Andre and his wife and Sabine; Sabine and her husband and his mistress; the duc d’Orlean (Stanley Tucci) and his “fat German” wife and his boyfriend. All of them are held by convention to the partner that doesn’t suit and held away from the one(s) that they want. And all must learn to cleave and leave. Sabine uses a garden analogy to gently steer the King from unkindness to respect of his lover (Jennifer Ehle), showing that care and tending are needed for a lasting flower, and to accept the cycles of nature mean that full bloom is not eternal for any of us. (I found that last part negative and untrue).

Whilst order – of the rockery amphitheatre – is being made out of the wild sloping chaos at Versailles, nature is still bursting in through mud, storm, and then some less than natural intervention involving Sabine’s invention which harnesses nature to create both attractive features and solutions for the garden as a whole. The human manipulation or oversight of nature leads to both triumphs and tragedies.

There are many opposites at work, trying to find synthesis – another being country and city (the established Louvre palace vs new Versailles) – and the paradox that rich high ranking courtiers are not free but at the whim of the king. Initially intimidating to Sabine, she quickly has something that courtiers don’t – freedom, independence, and a greater depth… and she becomes a  celebrity at court. Sabine’s raw idea is melded with André’s to become a famous existing feature of Versailles’s grounds, though it’s still far from the garden she tends at home and not so easy to distinguish from the exacting manipulated shapes of the rest of the gardens. The relationships ends with more traditional symmetry – this is “ A Little” Chaos, not utter revolution.


Gardens as film making

As Thomas Betteridge wrote of Elizabeth (1998), could this be a film about making films? I felt that the analogy was a much stronger one in Chaos: budgets, crews, directors (Louis XIV as a studio boss, or producer?) – and Andre and Sabine as effective Arts department, building a set for the great show that ends the film (the dance of all the main characters around the King in his successfully completed vision).

There’s also the element of chaos as narrative: an inciting incident brings chaos to status quo, and the rest of the tale is about regaining it, with further chaos at a mid and end point before resolution – often a synthesis of ideas (as André’s and Sabine’s garden design) and a definite before/after recognisable finished product – in this case, from swamp to garden feature which has order but also a little chaos in it

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Kate Winslet 4 – does A Little Chaos continue her patterns?

Another Kate Winslet post as I got the nearest to actually seeing her – except, I was, in the words of U2, faraway so close. I attended a gala screening at her home country’s largest film festival, London’s 58th . “It’s so important to be here, I’ve been coming since I was 19” she said at the 57th LFF at the gala screening I missed. But this year’s red carpet contained only her co star and director, Alan Rickman; Kate sent a video message from Australia.

Disappointment aside – and it’s a big one, for I’d not only have seen her (and walked the same carpet) but heard her give a speech and quite possibly been able to ask her a question – I move to the film itself and how it fits in with my other observations about her career.

I’ve no idea if there’s an embargo but I am not doing any plot spoiling until the film is released in the UK and I’ll be sharing other reviews at that time.

So I have to be careful what I say on the mad or dead pattern, except that both are possibilities once again. There was a Titanic moment where she is submerged in water dramatically, though she’s less of the action heroine this time. Sabine De Barra is another woman who, like Adele in Labor Day, has something to reveal around motherhood which is affecting her life, and this is the opportunity for her to face that and move beyond it. Like Adele, Sabine is a woman who is not going out into the world as she might, and finds a portal in which to do so.

In Labor Day and Titanic, that portal is opened by someone else; in Hideous Kinky and Holy Smoke, she’s chosen the adventure, as she has in A Little Chaos – she’s made an application which could get her from her own garden into a far wider one, which is very daring given her background and the era. (In fact, that is a criticism of the film’s premise I have). As always, she doesn’t walk through the portal alone. Her companions here are twofold – the head gardener, Andre le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts from Rust and Bone which I talk about on here) and the King himself – Alan Rickman avec un wig.

Allow me a little chaos and divergence. Kate told Toronto Film Festival journalists last month that it was good to be English again, but I’m confused: yes it was filmed here and she’s talking in her normal accent, but it’s set in France. Alan Rickman was wrong at the premiere yesterday when he said it is all filmed here – Fontainebleau’s exterior is definitely a French chateau. Regarding the issues of the M25 [London’s ring road] and flight paths spoiling filming, I wanted to say to Alan – don’t be so Londocentric then! There’s plenty more of Britain! Neither Ham House nor Bleinham Palace are particularly French looking, and only Matthias Schoenaerts [too many double vowels] is French speaking (actually Belgian) out of the quite large cast, most of whom are British. This invites a Quills comparison – another French story with English speaking cast and accents, filmed close to London whilst Kate was pregnant. Kate’s not been in a European film for a decade, since Finding Neverland; she reminded me of her role as Sylvia when she played Sabine – perhaps it’s the blonde hairstyle and period setting and both characters’ genuine warmth. Kate also recalls Daenerys from Game Of Thrones, with very light hair and skin and dark eyebrows, and a sort of fairytale wench look (again invoking memory of Quills, though this is set over 100 years earlier, in 1680s).

As an ideas based historic drama with a central romance, A Little Chaos could be further compared with Quills, but whereas Quills’s content could shock, Chaos will have a lower cert and therefore wider audience. Chaos felt like the last time she worked with Alan Rickman – Sense and Sensibility – for the (I predict) crowd pleasing, anglophile loving audience who want to think, laugh, cry and gasp – the same recipe as James Cameron claimed to put into Titanic; but this is a peculiarly British offering of The King’s Speech et al mould, which has either royalty real life or aristocratic literature as its source.

Again, Kate’s relationship is focussed on a potential love interest, and like The Holiday, in a third older male figure who helps her free her strictures (that time it was Eli Good/Bad/Ugly Wallach, her Hollywood neighbour, helping her let go of her broken heart; this time, it’s the King, assisting in the same area). But she’s again lacking in female companionship. The LFF guide comments on the strength of women in A Little Chaos, but apart from her housekeeper and a bizarre scene with the underused Jennifer Ehle and the other courtly women (one of whom whips out her breasts) Sabine is surrounded by men. The only woman she might seriously have relationship with is a rival, almost enemy played by Helen McCrory: the wife of Andre.

Chaos as a theme in Kate’s films

Kate is nearly always involved in the bringing in of a new order and disturbing a pattern. Sometimes, as here, she is the instigator; often it’s that accomplice, such as Jack in Titanic, James Barrie in Finding Neverland, who begins something and she is a collaborator and instrument. Broken patterns include asylum running (Quills – she smuggles the writings of the person who causes it to be burned down and her own sensuality is a foil for the celibate Abbe in charge); she rocks the suitable marriage and a set out upper class life in Titanic; her stories and friendship bring disturbance to the expectations of her school and two families (and ultimately society) in Heavenly Creatures; as Marianne in Sense and Sensibility she does not behave as set out by society (though this is the one story she doesn’t break out of but conforms to the pattern, as I’ve written on here in more detail). She breaks patterns in Jude as the woman who won’t marry and thinks railway stations replace cathedrals as places to gather and be impressed; her going to India is about embracing a life that disturbs Sydney suburbia in Holy Smoke and then she ruins the de-programmer’s procedure. She’s also being chaotic in Hideous Kinky by going to another random by Western standards country on a whim with her children, without having secure work. As Adele in Labor Day she breaks with pattern when she becomes prison escapee Frank’s lover. Mildred Pierce is convention breaking for leaving her husband during the Depression and setting up her own business and supporting her play boy (and as a mother – she’s way off any expectation, for that or any time). In Enigma, she stirs up chaos at Bletchley Park by discovering a wartime official secret and going beyond her lowly duty to show what she is really capable of. Perhaps Enigma then is the closest precedent to A Little Chaos: a woman who fulfils her professional potential, ahead of her time in cahoots with an initially resistant man who is getting all the credit.

The antithesis would be Divergent where as Janine, Kate is busy creating and sustaining order after the chaos of revolution – and note this is her first baddie role. It is also true that Hanna in The Reader is someone who is obsessed by order, which replaces her ability to have a moral compass and relate compassionately: this was her least sympathetic, most morally challenged role to date (more on here on that film). The pattern of pattern breaking is also in Little Children (misfit mum has affair), Romance and Cigarettes (another affair and antithesis to S&S), Hamlet (for the affair and then her chaotic spiral into madness); and Iris and Eternal too are about someone who’s nonconformist; April’s busy breaking with convention to escape Revolutionary Road life, and strongly understood by a man with mental health problems who is seen as chaotic by society.

So there’s few films in the Winslet filmography where Kate plays someone who doesn’t fit my chaos theory.

But isn’t chaos part of a story’s tension, and therefore inevitable?

Look out for more of my reviews and analysis nearer the film’s UK release – links will be posted here.

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My first red carpet: is it the experience that counts?

There was an advert in cinemas with a Scots voice intoning – “Cinema, it’s the experience that counts”. Preaching to the converted, I thought, but it is the experience of seeing a film in a large room on a big screen with others which makes leaving the house (as opposed to ever easier home viewing) worthwhile.

So what about the experience of seeing a film in an extra special setting – that of film festival, or better still, a premiere?

This was not my first film festival or occasion when cast or crew took part in the programme, but it was my first red carpet at Britain’s biggest film festival in London’s Leicester Square, the traditional site of many of the nation’s first showings.

When I enquired at the box office what the procedure was for ticket holders to enter the screening, staff teased and said I had to use a secret tunnel! But I did reasonably wonder, with all the cattle railings and security and a wall of photographers, how I got in without disturbing the trail of stars. There’s nothing on the venue (Odeon) or BFI Film Festival’s websites. To others wondering: we came in behind the photographers between celebrity arrivals – and we did have to walk on the red carpet, albeit a shorter stretch than the special guests, and enter the same foyer and auditorium as they did, and show tickets MANY times.

Now I have to tell you how gutted I am: for as much as I was pleased to hear from director Alan Rickman, the biggest star in his new film A Little Chaos was in the continent furthest from the screening, and appeared only by a brief video, giving her filming location and newest child as her reason. I have followed Kate Winslet’s 20 year career for most of it, and made a special sacrifice (eating only bananas due to low budget and using sickness inducing buses) to attend – only to learn she wasn’t coming. Last year, I talked myself out of the £20-30 ticket because I didn’t expect her – only to see her on the carpet in a matching dress in the next day’s news. So this year, I felt it reasonable to assume her presence at the first gala screening of the LFF and British premiere, only to be gutted on arrival.

What then does a film festival atmosphere give to a film, beyond a brief chance to hold up a camera phone to a celebrity who is mostly hidden behind a screen (as any non ticket holder can do at the cinema entrance), and then hear them talk for up to half and hour? Is the introduction and Q&A alone enough: the chance for anyone to hold up a hand and ask a public question, the chance to interact with and see someone famous you likely admire in the same room?

This auditorium – Odeon West End 2 – was sold out, recalling the last Alan Rickman and Kate Winslet film I saw at the cinema, which was also sold out and on its opening weekend – Sense and Sensibility in 1996. And there is a comparison of a typically English period drama, with romance and sadness, but lots of distinctly national humour that will likely delight anglophiles around the world as well as British viewers.

Like my recent experience at Cambridge Film Festival, there were public laughs, but these came at sometimes inappropriate times. At a previous CFF, the explicit and disturbing scenes in Dog Days got a regular laugh until someone yelled back – it’s not funny. I thought it was, said the chastised guffawer. We should have the right to laugh as we are tickled, but it’s also exposing to reveal your humour, and can spoil a moment for others.

There were moments in A Little Chaos that I felt the audience expected to find funny, like the regularity of jokes in a sit com, rather than remembering that films often elicit many emotions and that pathos or shock can be just as possible. The gasps of the sudden throat cutting in Hidden/Cache, the squeals and jumps in The Woman in Black and then the young men in front apologising – that alone was worth the ticket price – are part of what makes cinema special. But often silence or a gesture – I covered my mouth with my hand during the scenes that Kate Winslet’s character is most troubled in A Little Chaos – is as powerful as the vocal response of amusement, which can feel canned and cued.

Of course, the experience can be negative because of talking, rustling, the stink of beer or smelly food, the late coming or re-entry of other customers, the use of phones. In this mostly respectful audience, still a couple of people left the auditorium – in the presence of the press and the film’s maker – and the couple beside me not only gave an unnecessary feature length commentary but talked through the Q&A and didn’t clap the various cast and crew asked to stand. That to me was utterly rude, as you’re here to appreciate their work, and it’s etiquette and respectful.

So was my £20 worth it – plus the now illegal booking fee and an hour lurking round the carpet and my 7 hours on buses? Not quite, and mostly for a missing Winslet. Odeon West End is less large than its black towered sister across the square, and the auditorium itself, although with an 814 capacity, has no special architecture: the early 20th C picture palaces (of which London has several) or the BFI’s own 1960s screen one at Southbank have a sense of occasion that is not present in this fairly usual mainstream subdivided chain cinema. As for the film itself, reviews will appear nearer the film’s UK release date, which is early 2015. More on this and other venues at my sister blog

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Compassion – Hanna(h)s and the Holocaust

I revisited The Reader, the film that finally saw Kate Winslet get her Oscar – as Ricky Gervais predicted, it was about the holocaust. There’s been other such observations (such as in new film The Congress) that this most sensitive subject, often cited as the greatest horror of this or any time, garners recognition.

I shared my initial thoughts on Bernhard Schlink’s tale – five years on, I stand by them all. I had further thoughts on the writing, which in neither case (book nor script) was perfect, but that’s not the focus of this post. You can see them on my Amazon reviews.

The impression that left me with was the assumption that awfulness and shame is the only response that Germans leave themselves for the events of and around World War II; that it is beyond forgiveness, and to attempt it is offensive to Jews – and I again point out that they were one of at least 4 groups (gay, gypsy, disabled too) who were targeted.

There is nothing to be learned, says the daughter who was in the fire and in concentration camps. In the film, Hanna Schmidt says it after her 20 years in prison, before taking her life. Neither party is allowed to grow; the whole story is about stagnant people, in victimhood and guilt. Although I am aware that what holocaust victims endured is something many of us have no idea of, I think all of us have experienced suffering and therefore am not unqualified to suggest that it is those darkest times especially where we see growth.

The Reader is about a court case of six SS guards. My response drifted from the legal response to – what would a counsellor or a minister say to these guards? Their business is not justice in the philosophical sense of logical wranglings, but of the heart.

Hannah Arendt is a film about a very similar subject – the 1960s trial of SS workers. This time, the trial is real and there is only one employee in the dock – an infamous senior one, and whose actions make far more sense to bring to court. (One of my criticisms of The Reader is that the church on fire was a case of manslaughter/Samaritan Law, not a war crime – the things the guards did which might have been weren’t the focus of the trial, thus weakening the premise). In both stories, the defendants are a synecdoche, standing for the vast army of SS workers during Nazi Germany, and the persons are made to represent a historic moment rather than the deeds of the individual.

Hannah Arendt was a German Jew who was captured in the war, and yet her attendance at the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem yields more generous results than the immature fictional Michael Berg who was not implicated or involved in the camps – he wasn’t even born.

Both stories involve a defendant who seems to have lost their moral compass, and can only think in terms of their duty and orders. They cannot grasp their part in sending people to their death; it is a conveyor belt, and once they have done their part on the assembly line, they do not think about the next.

Hannah Arendt’s summation was that Eichmann’s lack of thinking was what made the atrocities he masterminded possible. It is true of Hanna Schmidt, the imaginary guard and lover of Michael in The Reader. Hanna doesn’t just not think, she can’t read; in learning, she faces some of her past by reading about the Holocaust, including Hannah Arendt’s. This hugely important point was left out of the film and Hanna is given even less scope for anything positive than in the book.

What most made me angry was that Kate Winslet, who I admire, said that if viewers sympathised with Hanna whom she played, they would (or should) feel morally compromised.

Wrong. You are never morally compromised for feeling compassion.

That means, to feel with: it is not about endorsing, just listening and empathy.

I again bring up my therapist and pastor, whose business it is not to condemn, but to facilitate a way back to wholeness. I again note how The Reader uses theological terms, which are actually from the legal – redeem, atone, justification, propitiation, expiation. They are ugly in pulpit and court; the two shouldn’t be conjoined.

What scares me most, what makes these stories relevant, is not perpetuating the suffering of the groups who were killed and the now remorseful perpetrators of the last world war. It is that the mindset that made that Nazi movement possible is still with us.

It starts with the milder things, with something that seems reasonable.

But I warn against creating enemies and unquestioning allegiances.

You are never just doing your job – you are never excused from thinking, or your conscience. Conscience is knowing with, and that is not a matter for only thought – it is a feeling, and intuition.

If your role takes away liberties, crushes, oppresses; if you are afraid to stand up to your employer – than something is gravely wrong and needs to be stopped. No contract should ever ask personal principles to come second to work.

It can be in smaller ways – random searches, taking or demanding money that causes poverty and fear; refusing an appeal. Many of us have opportunities and powers in this way. Thinking of them as papers or stats to clear, not as real people, is the first step. That’s how the army gets its staff to kill – targets are other, they are not like you. But this can be true of judges, police and enforcement, customs staff, welfare. Belle is the story of a judge who used his power well.

In small ways, we can begin that change: to refuse to act out of suspicion and prejudice, to break the chain of command which puts pressure on the next person, which uses fear to coerce. We can choose not to believe hype that would justify such actions.

If we never lose sight that the other person isn’t other, they’re a person, we could halt the fear and aggression and ensure dictatorships never again rise.

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Icke and Enigma – the hidden world exposed

What can an ex sports personality gone turquoise new age conspiracy theorist have to do with a wartime codebreaking drama?

I’m always pleased and surprised by the links between seeming unrelated things that I pick up at once. Enigma was a little gift to self to complete my Kate Winslet set, where I finally got a DVD with extras on it, which I had to import. David Icke was a book I found in the spirituality section of a shop that kind of waved and say, sit down with me a moment. You might be surprised.

Sometimes David’s tone doesn’t help his incredulous sounding messages – I’ve yet to understand how the Reptile Alien Dynasty fits in. I’d put David’s rants (may we be on first name terms?) in the same stylistic category as Michael Moore’s, or George Galloway. Whether I can also call David well meaning and genuine despite his faults, I am not yet sure.

How do you tell a real spiritual leader? By the one that opens you out to expand, to think for yourself, to not be persuaded to follow them with consequences if you refuse, who wants make a better, more equal world. And who is ultimately about love. At first, David seems to fit this… but there may be another post on this and I may change my mind (I already have since first posting this).

David says he is telling us about what’s really controlling us, what we’re not meant to know and why it suits certain people to not have it known.

And Enigma, based on the Robert Harris novel, is about secrets of the establishment that were hidden from even spouses who worked together on it. I’ve made reference to his novel before on here but I shall concentrate more on the 2001 film this time. I’m intrigued and angered by wartime propaganda and how this film and its extras propound it. The US trailer’s voiceover speaks of Britain as “our greatest allies”. Characters are often spoken of as war heroes, and there’s mention of success and winning the war (can there be winners in war, truly?). Some of the anecdotes about real life codebreakers were also daunting and weren’t questioned by cast or crew. The lady who helped Kate Winslet for her role as Hester told her that after a 12 hr night shift, she was made to stand on a train to give way to a woman in army uniform. A rude fellow passenger had demanded that this plainclothes lady, who was doing nothing for the war effort, be deferent to this brave serving hero. And because her work was secret, the codebreaking lady felt she had to obey.

I’ve shared my displeasure before at the crossword competition that was as trick to forcibly recruit for codebreaking and to make people like Hester sign at gunpoint for something they didn’t understand. Why would you want to carry the secret of what you did in the war for 30 years, even from your partner, as so many at Bletchley did till it was no longer an official secret? Why couldn’t you tell people even which hut you worked in on the same site? I’m upset at a system that would attack its own in the name of a cause which may not be what it seems. It concerns me that the history we’re presented with may not be the whole one, as Icke and others speak of the Middle Eastern wars of today as being about something other than what our governments and some newspapers would have us believe. And there’s the No Glory In War campaign about World War one, asking us all to look at the real reasons for that war and not to celebrate it at its centenary as something to support current conflict.

Michael Apted in his director’s commentary on his film says that Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire was the start of computers and the surveillance state. The film was released in Britain shortly after the twin towers, when security rules were stepped up and civil rights corroded with new laws. Now we’re seeing the reverse beginning, I hope, with new laws coming in which tighten the secret service’s rei(g)n, and with exposure of the secret snooping. Icke is credited with predicting the Twin Towers in 2001; he claims the webs beneath us are rather Matrix like and that who’s spinning them are linked and invisible people who are a layer below the public and official faces supposedly responsible. Money and power are big factors, and the few are trying to control the many through peer pressure – just like the wartime lady on the train. In Enigma, Hester and Tom don’t let secret service threats stop them discovering that the Katyn atrocity was known by the British government and ignored because they wanted Russian support against Germany. And the film tells us that Russian politicians apologised, but never that British ones did, and the final cut removes the scene of a newspaper with Katyn on the cover.

I’ll keep my review on the actual film Enigma for Amazon, but wanted to share this link of propaganda and secrecy, bullying one’s own to keep them conforming, and that I hope we’re seeing full circle, and that divide and conquer secrecy and ideology is being eroded like English cliffs and we’re seeing the truth – and that often takes more courage than those on the battlefield.



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Bitching about Austen

I might have a season of this, so prepare yourselves.

I’ve already had one – “Death Comes to Pemberley” and links to “Going Off Austen” and I wrote elsewhere “Lydia and Wickham – Pride and Prejudice’s Naughtiest Couple”.

Why am I bitching again? Why didn’t I take Austen off my shelf (lord knows I need the space) 4 years ago and let Janey fans enjoy her?

Having my Kate Winslet season (blog posts on here previously) led me to watch the 1995 Sense and Sensibility, which I was reluctant to do; as I’ve said, I’ve not got on really with Austen’s other 5 novels and I’m fed up with polite period adaptations. But I wanted to see Kate’s performance and her career progression. And for a while, I liked the film; and though it was slower to get into, I read the novel with some pleasure.

It was easy to see why the woman that gave us Ophelia and Rose in Titanic could play Marianne Dashwood – passionate, impetuous, heart broken, (near) dying. I did various “Which Austen character are you” quizzes, and received varying answers, but Marianne appeared more than once. And I wasn’t unhappy with that, because Marianne has spirit, she’s genuine, she doesn’t care for those stupid social rules that beset Austen, she’s not materialistic, she speaks and knows her heart.

As for her supposed faults — it was my irritation with that question that got me the result of Lady Catherine De Burgh in one quiz (I’m sort of amused by that and a bit secretly proud). Emma Thompson in her actor/writer’s commentary of the S&S DVD often points out Marianne’s selfishness and rudeness: she rises unbidden at the table of her hosts and asks to play the piano; she boldly hops into a barouche with her boyfriend in public; she speaks or won’t speak ‘out of turn’ (think how dreadful that phrase is!) and she even complains about her sister’s cold feet in their shared bed. And she writes late night letters to her love who’s just publicly and inexplicable spurned her.

This is really what worries me about Austen. I nearly called this piece

Austen fans keep prudery alive

because I’m more disturbed that modern people are getting this, and sticking up for it! The introduction to the Pitkin guide to Austen, written by a man, says that Austen gives us a moral standard (and lets men understand women!!). An article high on the search engine results I won’t name, but that I did comment on, reviews this film with a paragraph on “Bad Content” which includes low necklines and unmarried mothers. The same magazine issue that my truncated guest essay was published in (Jane Austen’s Regency World, Nov 2010) had an article about sex appeal in Austen. It was illustrated with louche cartoons lampooning contemporary royalty, but the text incongruously is about the fact we don’t understand “seriousness” of the “moral crime” of single motherhood today (GOOD!) and full of words like “condemn” “immoral” “vulgar flirt” and “lower impulses” about anyone whose sexuality is more open.

Do you want us to put the corset back on?!

Many of Kate Winslet’s films have been about women who literally and metaphorically take off the corset, but S&S is about a character who puts it on. In Jude and Hamlet, her ahead of time unconventionality and strength are her undoing, but in Titanic, she is freed. Marianne, understandably as a teenager, would need to mature; she can be thoughtless and unfair, and I most dislike her dismissal of 35 year old Colonel Brandon as aged and infirm (rightly lampooned).

Let me slip aside and say

Jane Austen is ageist

Not only are her heroines ridiculously sensible at 19-21, (even though Jane was double that age when writing – oh we have Anne in Persuasion who’s mid 20s), but she makes the mothers or grandmothers beyond romance and beauty. Lively Mrs Jennings is a widow in the book s0 why not have a romance for her? What about Mrs Dashwood, who is my favourite – only 40, as alive as her middle daughter, and whose wit is removed from the Ang Lee/Thomson version: “men are safe here, let them be ever so rich” and her riposte to Marianne’s inability to imagine that anyone older than her can love. Note how dowdy and pale Gemma Jones is made as Mrs D. What about her and the Colonel?

Austen’s men get wives half their age which by today’s standards would seem dubious.

Back to my corset: I don’t want understanding of those mores revived in our day, thank you. I’m pleased that sex before marriage and children or living together without marriage are not things that most of us bother to judge any more. I don’t want crushing etiquette and class delineation to be revived, or those fragile reputations. And I don’t want to go back to a world of deference and where we never learn to speak what we feel (see my article on Her this Feb).

Let me be clear – I have strong values; just not those constricting, judging ones that Austen lovers seem to see themselves as guardians of.

As for sexuality: everyone who exercises it in Austen is a tart or blaggard. And we’re so upset that anyone might adapt or spoof Austen and go higher than a U certificate. I stick up for Andrew Davies now for putting that (very slight, sensuous) seduction scene at the start of his 2008 Sense and Sensibility. The book’s got a dull opening to adapt and that act, as Jane herself says, is the ‘vice’ that set of all the others. People in Austen who are sexual are gold-diggers and preyers on minors; they shock polite society. Heaven help what Willoughby and Marianne might have done in that barouche the day of the picnic…. well, wouldn’t most of us as a passionate couple? But of course, they can’t have, if Marianne is a heroine.

Early Marianne is the most congruent of Austen heroines that I know, but instead of Elinor and her learning from each other, Marianne becomes her sister. Sense and Sensibility is the story of the taming of Marianne, if not the humbling of her. Marianne is ashamed of her conduct and tells her sister it should have been like hers. By the end, she’s promising to rise by 6 and keep busy all day, improving herself. She never really falls for Brandon, it’s engineered by her social circle (not in the 1995 film), and she becomes “devoted” and mistress of a household, family and most worryingly – patron of a parish…. all before her wisdom teeth have arrived. Yet the former Marianne often acted out of perception and a kind heart: getting up from the table to play the piano to stop a guessing game upsetting to her sister; speaking out against an attempt to defame Elinor. She is right to want to discover what’s happened with Willoughby and tell him how she feels about the ball snub, and so I support the letter than Emma Thompson criticises her for.

Elinor’s embarrassed by Marianne’s public tears on her behalf, and later is glad to note Marianne’s silent discretion the next time she feels like a blub.

Elinor tells Edward – who has stuck up t0 his dreadful mother who cast him off – that he does owe her an apology for he has given offence. I can see none, for his engagement would never need to have been concealed if his mother approved and Mrs Ferrars snr should have allowed her son the autonomy he surely deserves.

Finally, I go back to the lack of corporality allowed, that these characters are all asexual with nothing under their dresses or breeches, and how they are defended if anyone suggests otherwise! We can’t bear to think of them or Jane herself as a living, carnal woman – but Jane had a fanny, she didn’t just write a character with that name.

I know that statement and this whole article (and their sisters) will cause anger, but I note generally how people denigrate what clashes with their own opinion on something they hold precious. Whether it’s Game of Thrones (the antithesis of Jane’s world, where you’ll be criticised for criticising the normalising portrayal of violence) or the genteel drawing rooms of Austen, fans won’t stand for 1 star reviews. But it takes away freedom of speech and forgets that not everyone likes the same. There are many people – intelligent, cultured, well read, tasteful – who don’t like Austen, find her boring, don’t understand the appeal (I’m told Bronte was one). Perhaps because I was one, in my corset, I feel the need to talk about Austen and ensure corsets do not return, for the reanimation of those social objurgations really scares me and rouses me as the former Marianne.

I now feel like watching the zombie version, the Fight Club spoof, or the one Austen I rate – Rozema’s Mansfield Park.

But let’s be honest: Jane wouldn’t do well on one of the writing schools at Chawton — conspicuous exposition in dialogue, telling not showing, heavy backstory at the beginning, baggy endings of endless codas.

Am I going to stop this now? For this article, yes, but the future? I suspect I’ll dust Austen off again for another rant.

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Kate Winslet 3: patterns in her lovers

Further (and probably final – for now) musings on the 20 year career of Ms Winslet…

 – the short term intensive relationship

Titanic, Labor Day, The Reader, perhaps Finding Neverland; the first two are a matter of days in isolation – one on a voyage, the other, a weekend; the next, a summer

– Her loves set her free

They’re often childlike men and not macho – Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) in Titanic who spits and runs and has a boyish aspect, though an inner maturity and sortedness; James M Barrie (Johnny Depp) in Finding Neverland who dresses as a Red Indian and wears spoons on his nose at dinner – truly his Peter Pan; Bilal in Hideous Kinky does handstands and magic tricks and has little sense of real responsibility or adult relating; Miles in The Holiday; Brad in Little Children wants to skateboard and play ball, and isn’t comfortable in his relationships or responsibilties. In The Reader, her lover’s a teenager half her age. In Iris, John Bayley’s perhaps a little bumbling and eccentric and less experienced in relationships; Iris looks after him in a childlike way until her illness; in Enigma, Tom’s a genius in meltdown. Monty in Mildred Pierce is less boyish physically, but he’s a playboy in both senses; he leads her out sexually, but he and worldly wise Wally contribute to Mildred’s downward arc. I am not sure Monty can be said to contribute to Mildred’s rise in confidence or business success – rather, he reaps its rewards.

Note how often chasing, fights, games come into the halcyon days with her loves – Jude, Iris, Eternal…, Titanic.

Jack, Bilal and James bring her character out; Kate’s character brings out John and Michael; in Eternal…, Clem embodies what’s in Joel’s head.

The only macho man so far in Kate’s career is in Labor Day, where Frank’s the controlling one, although he does a traditional women’s thing – he bakes and feeds the family, but then ties up Adele and plays baseball, the right of passage to manhood also in A Kid in King Arthur’s Court, and in Little Children. I would say that another Frank in Revolutionary Road is controlling – but then, his behaviour leads to demise. Note that Leo’s role here is a reverse of his Titanic one.

Ruth disarms PJ of his machismo in Holy Smoke.

Men who give her power and encouragement lead her forward – Jack lets Rose come onto him and take the lead, and he contrasts with her controlling Mum and fiancé by giving Rose the tools for a life of freedom and fulfilment away from stricture.

By working together as equals, and Hester and Tom solve the Enigma.

Kate’s played a woman interested in other women (even subtly, tangentially) 4 times:

Heavenly Creatures is all about a female friendship that’s arguably love (though it’s too complicated to simply call lesbian); in Holy Smoke she dances with another women and kisses her sensuously; Iris is bisexual, and so’s Hester in Enigma, whose drive towards solving a mystery with Tom is because both have feelings for Claire (in the book it’s more obvious). And then, there’s Veda in Mildred Pierce, a hard to place mother daughter relationship where Mildred has physical thrills around her daughter and kisses her on the lips, and fights like a spurned lover. In the novel of Little Children, Sarah had a relationship with a woman before she met her husband.

Her loves are her undoing

Like Shakespeare plays, Kate’s onscreen loves come mostly in two categories, often not overlapping:

Those drive her mad or to near death; and those who give her new life (tradegy/comedy)

The former are in Heavenly Creatures, Hamlet, Jude, Quills, Revolutionary Road, Mildred Pierce

Marianne’s first love in Sense and Sensibility is her undoing (the charismatic, handsome, playful libertine Willoughby), but the second, older love (Colonel Brandon) is reliable and moral.

– Escape through imagination, travel, learning

This is recurrent and the most empowering: even if it goes wrong, it’s due to forces or society.

In Heavenly Creatures, Pauline and Juliette create worlds, but are severed through paranoid families and schools and a legal system

Jude‘s advanced through learning and geographically moving, but classism and judgement about marriage creates poverty leading to tragedy and parting

Travel and the search for the spiritual (which involves some imagination and reading) empower Julia of Hideous Kinky and Ruth of Holy Smoke.

The desire to travel – and not getting it – thwarts April in Revolutionary Road; and its lack is behind the problems of Maddie in Quills and Adele in Labor Day; but it opens up possibilities for Rose in Titanic, Iris in The Holiday

Reading is the solace of Maddie in Quills, whose goodness in life comes from vicariously not being good on the page, and of Hannah in The Reader. Iris Murdoch’s whole existence is around words and worlds – academically and in fiction.

Isolation in body and spirit causes demise; keeping on metaphorical corsets means loss of mind and self, and ultimately, life.

It’s meant to be a warning to do differently, I think, rather than suggesting that bohemianism is destructive, so stay conventional: I think those stories say the reverse.

Breaking out of that gives the autonomous women Kate regularly chooses a better life, a life to the full, and is one of the reasons I enjoy watching her and following her career.

Next season will be Juliette Binoche to go with her new film, A Thousand Times Good Night

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