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“I’m stalking Rosa Parks… Don’t know about this….” Rosa reviewed. A few spoilers further down…

In some ways, last night’s adventure was almost a throwback to the William Hartnell era of historical adventures, where the aim of the Tardis crew was to bear witness to history rather than trying to influence it.  This was a story about letting necessary history take its course.   Back in the early 1960s, The Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara had no agenda other than trying to escape back to the Tardis from grisly historical scenarios without being decapitated first.  Last night’s adventure was definitely a return to an educative paradigm that informed the earliest years of the programme as it was first plotted under Sidney Newman and Verity Lambert.  In those days, science fiction alternated dutifully with history.  Space and time took turns.  It was no accident that there was a science teacher and a history teacher on board the Tardis.  It wasn’t until Time Meddler (1965), that the show started to try to consider how history might be fundamentally changed, and to create dramas that combined sci-fi and history within one adventure.

“Rosa” was all about trying to get detailed history right.  Both the Tardis crew and the viewers were set a history project.  Thanks to this show, Rosa Parks will be an urgent conversational topic in schools across the UK and beyond. In brief but important exchanges between Yasmin and Ryan, it is suggested that the UK has no occasion to be too smug when judging the USA, and 2018 should not feel too smug when judging 1955.  The most depressing feature of this otherwise affirmative show, however, is the suggestion that extreme racism is apparently still a significant problem in the 79th century.  This is not Roddenberry’s universe.

I have an issue with Rose though, and it may be an insoluble one.  There is a fundamental problem, I think, with trying to tell a story about political activism and combining it with a story about historical contingency.   It’s often assumed that historical determinism robs people of agency – but there’s a version of extreme contingency that robs people of agency as well.  Time travel narratives thrive, of course, on “what ifs?”.   What if such and such had ducked or so and and so hadn’t ducked.  For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost, for the want of a shoe, the horse was lost, for the want of a horse the rider was lost, for the want of a rider the battles was lost…  etc. etc. etc.   And it is always fun to isolate these moments and build counterfactual dramas around them.

The problem is, that Rosa Parks’ bus protest on December 1st 1955 was not one of those moments of pivotal contingency.  It was an incredibly important and influential moment, but it was far more than a unique concatenation of events.  If some 79th century time traveling white supremacist had somehow prevented Rosa Parks from protesting on that day, she would have protested on a different day with a different bus.  She was determined to protest.  And if Rosa Parks had been lost to history, then one of a number of other people would have stepped up.  On December 1st 1955, Rosa Parks changed history, but the broad thrust of the civil rights movement did not depend on how crowded one particular bus was on one particular evening.

I’m delighted that Rosa Parks was celebrated last night, and I was profoundly moved by the episode.  But her heroic decision was not confined to a few crucial minutes. Hers was an activist life, a life of continual reiterated decision.  History was changed by Rosa Parks and by others like her – but changed by careful preparation, organisation, networking and determined courage.  Hers was a long and decisive life.  She changed the world.  But change was gonna come.

I was scared about Rosa having seen the trailer last week.  I haven’t been properly scared by Doctor Who since I was a small child watching Hinchcliffe-Holmes era stories like Seeds of Doom or The Deadly Assassin.  I was a completely different kind of scared of course – I was scared that the attempt to “do” Rosa Parks would fail badly.  I was afraid they would ignore her activism altogether and depict her as an “ordinary” housewife in the wrong (right) place at the wrong (right) time.   I was also afraid that The Doctor would become some sort of “white saviour” figure.  I remember a truly cringe-making episode of Quantum Leap where Sam Beckett ends up “inspiring” an ancestor of Martin Luther King.  I don’t even really enjoy the joke in Back to the Future where it is suggested that Rock and Roll was invented by a white teenager from the 1980s.  These sort of appropriations can be the very stuff of time travel narratives.

Rosa was always going to be “well-meaning”.  And as a piece of TV drama it was far better than that.  It offered some detailed history and a compelling dramatisation of what it must have been like to live in an officially racist city like Montgomery in the 1950s.  The memorable drama of Rosa actually had nothing to do with the actual plot of Rosa and the actual plot in fact threatened to undermine the worthwhile drama of the story.  This was a co-written story, and I’m inclined to think that Malorie Blackman wrote the scenes dealing with the hideous realities of day to day racist oppression in Montgomery Alabama while Chris Chibnall wrote the timey-wimey plot enabling bits.  Perhaps it would have been a more powerful drama if the show had gone full-Hartnell, without any attempted warping of the historical timeline, leaving the Doctor and her companions mere witnesses.

As I say, the real issue here is perhaps insoluble.  A sci fi story about extreme contingency and counterfactual speculation does not fit with a drama about serious and ongoing political struggle.  I don’t think there’s any way of making these things fit together.

So, Rosa was a powerful consciousness-raising drama.  Jodie Whittaker had less to do, because she was not the heroic protagonist of the story.  The Doctor is usually here to help, but she was placed in a situation where she could not help – and nor should she have done.  Vinette Robinson’s Rosa retained her rightful place at the heroic centre of the drama and history took its course.   But history is about more than moments.  It’s about processes.

If I devote a deal of time to my problems with this episode it’s because I want to set the Jodie Whittaker era to a very high standard.  If I tend to think that the show has a broadly progressive agenda, then I want critically aware people to keep the show on track.  Incidentally, I’ve been on that bus.  It is preserved as the centrepiece of a fascinating exhibit at the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn Michigan.





Come Dine With Me. The 1985 BBC production of Titus Andronicus.



What an extraordinary career Trevor Peacock has had.  A talented songwriter in the 1960s, he it was who wrote “Mrs Brown you’ve got a Lovely Daughter” for Hermann’s Hermits.  In later years he was most famous for playing a doddery and stuttering parishioner of Rev.  Dawn French in The Vicar of Dibley.  In between these two book-ended accomplishments, Trevor Peacock did a deal of acting.

The title role of Titus Andronicus has been hugely influential in recent years, and has arguably inspired the characters of both Ned Stark and Arya Stark in Game of Thrones.  Director Jane Howell made great use of Trevor Peacock in her version of the Wars of the Roses tetralogy, perhaps the most notable triumph of the whole BBC Shakespeare series, casting him as both Talbot and Jack Cade to great effect.

Trevor Peacock has a gravelly voice and a steely glare of impenetrable determination, which serves him sell on this occasion.  Titus kills his own son for insubordination early in the play.

Peacock is particularly persuasive when he reaches the crucial mid-point in the drama when rage and suffering become so ludicrously excessive that there are no more tears to shed and no more expressions of sorry left unexpressed. All that is left is insane but logical revenge.  In this context, perhaps the craziest character on stage is Marcus Andronicus, as played by veteran Edward Hardwicke (long-standing Watson to Jeremy Brett’s Holmes).  Anybody who can repeatedly counsel reason and moderation in this demented world must be truly nuts.

Anna Calder-Marshall has a lot of memorable screen/stage time in this production but not many lines to deliver.  This is because she spends most of the play as Lavinia with blood dribbling from her tongue-less mouth waving her truncated stumps at people.  Inevitably, she offers a spectacle of a kind of extremity of suffering that tends make people recoil rather than run and help.  Poor young Lucius is understandably freaked out whenever Auntie Lavinia wants a hug.

Eileen Atkins deserves some special attention – as a punky goth who instantly wins the heart of a Roman emperor.  Far more intelligent than her thuggish rapist sons, she is especially effective when pretending to be “Revenge”, made up in skeletal paint she is someone who puts some wit and energy and imagination into her atrocities.  Atkins’ Tamora is like Ramsay Bolton in that she realises that the most exquisite refinements of cruelty inflicted on any given victim require the strategic injection of false hope from time to time.

We need to pause for a moment and reflect on the fact that no black British actor could be found to play Othello, noble moor of Venice, but they could find one to play the unspeakably evil Aaron the moor, who revels in every kind of villainy and who dies repenting the barest possibility that he might have once in his life even accidentally done something good.  We focus on Hugh Quarshie in this production, not so much because he’s the only black guy on stage as because he’s the only person who ever smiles.  While everyone else is dressed in very drab brown and mauve interpretations of Roman dress, Aaron is dressed as a renaissance prince.  He also, amid successive atrocities, gives us a unique illustration of unconditional love.  Nobody in this production loves anyone like Hugh Quarshie’s Aaron loves his own infant son.  In the final scene of the play a sinister box is placed prominently, a rough casket for this infant who has been executed by order of the new regime.  Jane Howell wishes to make it clear that while one bunch of psychopaths might lie dead in the forum, the basis for endless cycles of retributive atrocity remains intact.

Apart from Aaron, the only person to be troubled by this infanticide is Young Lucius, played by Paul Davies Prowles – a bespectacled boy who is used throughout the play as a way of demonstrating a lonely as yet undesensitised gaze.  If young Lucius is to survive for very long in this world, he will have to become a monster too.

Titus Andronicus would seem to be set during the late Imperial period, during the reigns of those short-lived emperors that nobody can quite remember at a time when Rome is vulnerable to being sacked by Goths.  Interestingly, however, there is absolutely no mention of Christianity in this play.  If the first Augustus is meant to have found Rome made of bricks and transformed it to marble, then Jane Howell has transformed it back into bricks.  The main stage set resembles those layered alcoves that archaeologists think may have been a shopping mall that you can see at one end of Trajan’s forum.

It’s a very visually unsettling production and if it’s not as blood-thirsty as it might be, it is certainly bloodthirsty enough for me, thank you very much.  The throat-cutting of Chiron and Demetrius should send a chill down the spine of anyone not completely desensitised to violence.  And then there’s the pie, with its crust of powdered bone flour mixed with blood and its flesh of Chiron and Demetrius.  I can’t look at that pie without feeling queasy and when Tamora tucks in, I found myself turning away.  When it comes to atrocities, there is of course a law of diminishing returns.  Jane Howells is aware of this and organises the fatal stabbing of Lavinia by her father as a truly blessed release.  It is perhaps the most loving action performed by Trevor Peacock’s Titus in the course of the play.

Dudley Simpson, the genius who scored much of my televisual childhood, offers a very jagged and percussive score for this production that is always unsettling but rarely obtrusive.

This intelligent production is not one that made me want to laugh out loud at any point.  I took thing utterly seriously throughout.  This may be no small praise regarding any staging of Titus Andronicus.

The official certification for this DVD is “PG”.  The same as for the BBC Comedy of Errors.

I have some thoughts about other productions in the 1978-1985 BBC Shakespeare series.


The Winter’s Tale:

Timon of Athens

Taming of the Shrew:

Troilus and Cressida:

Merchant of Venice:

Merry Wives of Windsor:


Twelfth Night:


Measure for Measure:

Henry VIII

Love’s Labours Lost:

Romeo and Juliet:

The Scottish One:

Much Ado About Nothing:

King Lear:

Here is Midsummer Night’s Dream:

Here’s Julius Caesar:

King John:

Here’s Richard II:

The BBC Richard III could not be more unlike the BBC Richard II…

Here is Henry VI Part III

Henry VI. Part Two:

Henry VI, Part One:

Here’s my review of the BBC Henry V:

BBC Henry IV, Part TWO:

But here’s my review of the BBC Henry IV Part ONE:

And the BBC Antony and Cleopatra:


Not to mention a sombre but intensely homoerotic Coriolanus:

Here’s Comedy of Errors:

And… All’s Well That End’s Well:

Helen Mirren in the BBC As You Like It:


“And Swift expires a driveler and a show…” On this day in 1745.

OTD Jonathan Swift – not a driveler…


swift death mask

Except that he didn’t.  Swift certainly died on this day in 1745 (OS), but there’s no record of his driveling especially, and nor was he a “show”.  People did not pay good money to line up outside the Deanery of St Patrick’s just to see a once great man in a state of incoherent decrepitude.

Still, it’s a good line in a great poem and Samuel Johnson was in the business of compiling examples of unhappy endings.  Swift was certainly very unhappy and incommunicative in his years, experiencing intense pain and no longer bothering to acknowledge any human kinship.

Samuel Johnson was not an unqualified fan of Swift’s. (Johnson, of course, was not an unqualified fan of anybody.)   Johnson admired Tale of a Tub, was indifferent to Gulliver’s Travels, approved of Swift’s Irish nationalism and generally preferred Swift’s prose to his verse.  As someone prone to intense fits…

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Laurel and Hardy in Way out West (1937). Obviously.


Nobody sounds clever when they say Way out West is their favourite Laurel and Hardy feature.  It’s a bit like saying that The Beatles are your favourite band.  But sometimes favourites are favourites for very good reasons.

Most days, I’m of the opinion that Sons of the Desert is the greatest of Laurel and Hardy features.  But some days, I think it’s Way Out West.  And just as Samuel Johnson declared that he could “I rejoice to concur with the common reader” while expressing his sincere appreciation for Thomas Gray’s vastly popular “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”, so I feel a sense of honest relief in saying how much I sincere love something that is loved by so many.

Having reaffirmed my love for Way out West, it can seem hard to figure out much for me to say about it.  Everybody has seen it and everybody smiles when they think of it, and the only reason I’m blogging about it is a completist’s itch.

I find that the difference between Sons of the Desert and Way out West is that for the former I am laughing for much of the way through whereas for the latter I am smiling all the way through.  The first inspires hilarity and the second warmth.

There’s an actual story to be told here, and it’s a Cinderella story in which Stan and Ollie play unlikely fairy godmothers. Rosina Lawrence, who danced so delightfully with Charley Chase in On the Wrong Trek (1936) is Mary Roberts – an overworked dishwasher in a saloon run by James Finlayson and Sharon Lynn.  (For a very small and dusty western settlement, Brushwood Gulch boasts a saloon with a very large stage area and an impressive floor-show.)  Stan and Ollie play legal emissaries charged with informing Mary that her errant father has died and handing over to her the deed to a gold mine which she has just inherited.  Notwithstanding the machinations of Lynn and Fin, this purpose is eventually effected and the film ends more or less happily.

There are some delicious routines along the way.  Of course there is the enjoyment of Stan being able to light his own thumb, but even better for me is the way he manages to “lose” his thumb while trying to hitchhike before succeeding in stopping a stagecoach by flashing his leg as a homage to the famous Claudette Colbert hitchhiking scene from the multi Oscar-winning hit It Happened One Night.  I love the chase scenes with Stan and Ollie and Lynn and Fin and the way Ollie repeatedly has to blow the deed just out of reach of the bad guys.  I love the tickle fight that ensues between Lynn and Stan.   It’s typical yet wonderful that of course it is Stan who has to pull Ollie up to the window by block and tackle rather than the devastingly obvious other way round and the simplicity of the tit for tat rope battle is also delightful.  When Stan and Ollie are holding on to the same rope they are each at one another’s mercy.

And of course there is singing.  In addition to the unalloyed pleasure of just hearing Ollie sing, the way he politely summons the barkeep and solicits a mallet (which is instantly forthcoming) is elegance itself.

There are quite a few very innovative special effects on show here.  In addition to the lighter thumb, Ollie’s head is stretched bizarrely.  The speed with which Stan and Ollie  make their first exit from Brushwood is also fun to watch.  Although impressive, none of these effects seem obtrusive, because they seem like surreal extensions of character dynamics that have been properly established.

Even better than the singing of the “Trail of the Lonesome Pine” is Stan and Ollie’s dance to the Avalon boys on their way into the saloon.   And it’s somehow appropriate that it’s obvious that they’re dancing in front of a back projection.  The back projection seems like a perfect reflection of the fact that while dancing they are absolutely in a world of their own.  Brilliantly, they do not smile or laugh as they dance.  Theirs is a mood of high seriousness – dance is somehow important to them and deserves nothing less than their complete undivided attention. Together they are one with the music and are quite indifferent to the gawping scorn of others.  This is just Stan and Ollie enjoying their own happy co-dependence in a way that mere words could never express.

I’ve some thoughts about some other Laurel and Hardy films.


Pick a Star:

Our Relations

On the Wrong Trek:

The Bohemian Girl:

Bonnie Scotland:

Thicker than Water

The Fixer Uppers:

Tit for Tat:

The Live Ghost:

Babes in Toyland

Them Thar Hills:

Going Bye Bye:

Hollywood Party:

Oliver the Eighth:
Sons of the Desert

Dirty Work:

Wild Poses:

Busy Bodies:

The Midnight Patrol:

The Devil’s Brother

Me and my Pal

Twice Two:

Towed in a Hole:

Their First Mistake:

Pack Up Your Troubles


County Hospital:

The Chimp:

The Music Box:

Any Old Port:


“On the Loose”:

Beau Hunks:

One Good Turn:

Come Clean:

Pardon Us:

Laughing Gravy:

The Stolen Jools:

Chickens Come Home:

Be Big:

Another Fine Mess:

The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case

Hog Wild

Below Zero:



Here is Night Owls:

Angora Love:

The Hoose Gow:

They Go Boom:

Perfect Day:

Men O’ War:


Unaccustomed as We are Are:

Bacon Grabbers:

Double Whoopee:

Big Business:

That’s My Wife:

Wrong Again:


We Faw Down:

Habeas Corpus:

Two Tars:

Early to Bed:

Should Married Men Go Home?:

Their Purple Moment:

You’re Darn Tootin’:

From Soup to Nuts:

Leave em Laughing:

Battle of the Century:

Putting Pants on Philip:

Hats Off:

Call of the Cuckoo:

The Second Hundred Years:

Flying Elephants:

Sugar Daddies:

Do Detectives Think?

Sailors Beware!:

With Love and Hisses:

Love ‘Em and Weep:

Slipping Wives:

45 Minutes from Hollywood:

Duck Soup:

The Lucky Dog:

Why does everyone invoke WWII and Brexit rather than WWI?


Actually, I’m all in favour of not trying to apply world war analogies to Brexit.  If prominent Leave campaigners get in touch with me and confess that using Spitfires to try to sell the “Leave” vote was really stupid and inappropriate then I will happily erase the remainder of this blog.  Everybody will be better off without specious, poorly considered and completely unresearched world war comparisons.

However, it does seem interesting to me, particularly in this, the centenary year of the war’s conclusion, that we’re not talking more about WWI and Brexit.

A.J.P. Taylor famously argued decades ago that this disastrous and eminently avoidable looking conflict owed much to 1914 railway timetables.  None of the Great Powers actually wanted a big war as such – with the possible exception of Austria, which wanted a much smaller war than the one they got.  However, as Taylor argued, once the Powers started to mobilize, nobody had the faintest plan for a reverse gear.  The fear that whoever mobilized the slowest would be “behind” the others and would therefore “lose” was all consuming.  Nobody was prepared to stop the trains let alone put them in reverse.  A war that most politicians across Europe took place because of a largely willed denial of agency, because of a sense that history was running on determinate and literal tracks.

Most UK MPs no that there is no happy Brexit.  The sovereign parliament of Westminster is committed to doing something it broadly knows will be destructive because it feels that it has no real agency.  The train lines were laid down in June 2016 and a timetable was published.  No matter that the destinations are not as advertised and no matter that even if 37% percent of a restricted electorate delivered a narrow “Leave” majority way back then most polls show a “Remain” majority – the train is moving and can’t be stopped.

The inexorability of a Brexit that few people want reminds me of Europe as a whole in 1914.  2018 Britain is, paradoxically enough, like 1914 Europe – self-immolating in a fit of impotent.  It is, apparently, as impossible for people to admit that they’ve made stupid mistakes and everything needs to be rethought now as it was impossible, apparently, in the summer of 1914, for direct and honest dialogue to limit the consequences of a diplomatic crisis.  And so the trains keep moving according the the sacred schedule.

Is the advertised fine for using pressing the emergency stop button really so prohibitive?

There is another respect in which Brexit reminds me of World War One.  The generals are a long way from the trenches.  The cheerleaders of Brexit promised quick and cheap and easy victory.  None of them are prepared to acknowledge their own error and shamelessly change their tune to sing of heroic sacrifice and warn of a form of dishonour that is worse than “slavish” concessions to the EU that might ensure that people are protected from real material suffering.  But these Brexiteers tend to be very wealthy – wealthy to the point of being recession proof.  These are people who can and do move their money all over the world at the push of a button.  They regularly bet against the health of the British  economy and get richer doing so.  Like WWI staff officers, they will be broadcasting their rhetoric of steely resistance from some chateau miles from the front lines, while it is the most vulnerable members of society who will suddenly find themselves in No Man’s Land.

Things to do… People to see… The Ghost Monument pondered with comparatively few spoilers.

ghost monument

The Doctor is required to run.   The Doctor runs quite strangely.   I will not say that the Doctor runs like a girl – I will say that the Doctor runs like Patrick Troughton.  It’s an inefficient, alien, flailing kind of running style that will not win many medals but will somehow take her where she wants to go in a hurry.   We will see more and more quirks like these developing.

There is much visually here that is satisfying.  Clearly there was a decision made to try and find a location as unlike Sheffield as can humanly be imagined.  Much of this episode was filmed in South Africa.  Times have changed indeed since every alien environment tended to be filmed in a sand pit in Dorset.

The boy clutched a cushion at various points and confessed to being agreeably afraid.  This is good news with a vengeance.

Relationships have not yet established themselves which means that they take up a deal of time.  A great deal seems to hang on exactly when and how Ryan Sinclair can bring himself to call Graham “Grandad”.  Undoubtedly this will happen, at a moment of high drama and courageous self sacrifice.  I know that Graham is the only “family” that Ryan has in the world, but there’s a neediness in Graham that I find rather troubling.  You sense that Ryan has nothing against Graham apart from this neediness – the constant need of an old white guy who was married to a young black guy’s grandma for three years to affirm a familial relation.  Graham complains that Ryan doesn’t talk about things enough but sullen silence seems a very normal coping mechanism under the circumstances.

Then there’s Yasmin Khan.  She doesn’t have enough to do yet – does she?  She’s the least conflicted member of the cast and the scripts aren’t interested enough in her up to this point.  Undoubtedly the Chibnall regime is aware of this problem and will deal with it – perhaps belatedly but I’m sure melodramatically.

We’re back to the Russell T. Davies era insofar as we have a team of related people to focus on rather than a Doctor-Companion binary.  However, Russell T. Davies rarely stuffed the whole team into the Tardis at once.  Now we have seen crowded console rooms before.  Hartnell, Troughton and Davison all had to deal with three passengers.  Invariably and cruelly, one of those passengers would turn out to be an actual passenger and then find themselves evicted after a while.

The best relationship last night of course was at the end.  As the Doctor is reunited with the Tardis, the first hint of an erotic connection was generated.  As she touches her Tardis, a frisson of shared energy is communicated.  The Doctor cares deeply for her companions, but her love for the Tardis is (at present) in a different category.  When she declares “you’ve redecorated (yourself)… I really really like it…” she is deliberately misquoting herself and reversing the Second Doctor’s complaint to the Third and the Tenth Doctor’s complaint to the Eleventh.  If “The Doctor’s Wife” ever returns, then the erotic dynamics of the show may become very interesting indeed.  Although we really don’t want to see The Doctor defined by a sexual relationship, there are passions that need an outlet and a closer understanding of the organic aspects of the Doctor-Tardis connection may be the way to go.

It was fitting that this episode was named after the Tardis.

I am worried about “Rosa”.  I am worried about “Rosa” because time travel adventures are about small twists of fate.  They are about contingency.  I am worried about the idea of Rosa Parks being depicted as an ordinary bus traveler who made a spur of the moment decision that changed the course of history.  I am worried about the notion that had she missed a particular bus on a particular day, then the entire civil rights struggle might have been delayed or derailed.

This is not who Rosa Parks was.  She was a dedicated activist who prepared and rehearsed for the protest she made.  If it had not been that particular Montgomery bus, it would have been another bus round about the same time.  Rosa Parks deserves credit for who she was and for the many many very deliberate things she did – not merely for being at a particular place at a particular time.

Above all, of course, a show with an avowedly progressive agenda has a very serious responsibility to avoid a “white saviour” narrative  involving a Daenerys Targaryen  injected into the timeline of real-world historical struggle.

If Doctor Who gets it wrong next week – not just historically wrong but morally and politically wrong – then it will be a significant setback for the Whittaker-Chibnall era.

Please don’t get it wrong.

I’ve seen Venom so you don’t have to. Venom doesn’t have a viable plot so I’m not sure I can “spoil” it.


I have a twelve year old son.  I see Marvel movies.  Heaven help me I’ve now seen Venom.

Tom Hardy plays Eddie Brock.  Eddie is quite dim and he can’t really talk properly.  He’s not really from San Francisco – but from back east – New York (or so he sort of says.  I suspect he’s from further east than that.)  He sort of drools his lines in this film, as though Hardy is concerned that decent articulation of actual words might alert the accent police.  I’m not sure I recorded a single conceptual leap made by Eddie Brock in the course of this “story”.

Nonetheless we are asked to believe that Eddie Brock is a pioneering investigative journalist, a bold crusading loose cannon of a journalist who rides a motorbike.

There’s someone called “Michelle Williams” playing his love interest here.  But this surely can’t be the acclaimed “Michelle Williams” we’ve seen in Marilyn and meShutter Island Island, Manchester by the Sea, Brokeback Mountain etc. etc. etc.   I mean, there’s no way someone like her would agree to appear as the poorly sketched love interest in an inept Marvel movie is there?

If there’s someone stupider than Eddie in this film – it must be his editor who asks this notoriously unpredictable Eddie to conduct a very very deferential interview with a powerful and dangerous billionaire.  Eddie hacks into his girlfriend’s computer because she works for people who works for people who works for the evil Carlton Drake – and equipped with the right email, he manages to ask Drake a tough question.  Of course, he’s thrown out of the building, fired from his job, his girlfriend is fired from her job and his relationship with her is over.

Riz Ahmed plays this Carlton Drake – a megalomaniac Elon Musk figure (or is that just an Elon Musk figure?) who is convinced he can save humanity by sending spacecraft to collect stuff that might cure cancer etc. etc.  He’s also sure that humans can’t survive for more than a generation or two and so we need to fuse with alien “symbiotes” so that we can all go and live on another planet somewhere.  He not only believes this, but has persuaded a team of crack scientists to believe it too, or at least to nod submissively while he loudly believes it.  From his San Francisco laboratory – the laboratory that ethics committees forgot – he feeds homeless people into a confined space with the aliens to see if they can make a real connection. Did I mention that these aliens – greying accumulations of tagliatelle – cannot survive in an oxygen rich atmosphere unless they somehow bond with a creature that can?

Anyway – somehow (it really doesn’t matter how), our Eddie manages to be the only really successful host for one of these clumps of tagliatelle and “Venom” is born. Drake wants his tagliatelle back of course, and so all sorts of Frisco wrecking fights take place between Drake’s private army and Eddie’s symbiote.  Eddie-Venom can go full tentacle or half tentacle as and when the occasion demands.

Meanwhile there’s another clump of tagliatelle that escaped from a crash in Malaysia and has been hopping from host to host until it can get to Frisco where it eventually bonds with Drake.

Half of this film seems to be trying to project a bleak apocalyptic vibe but then the filmmakers seem to intuit that this really isn’t working and ask us all to accept that it’s been a comedy all along.  The comedy buddy movie is inaugurated once Eddie and Venom start arguing with one another.  Eventually we learn that Venom was, like Eddie, something of a loser on his home world and thinks it would be more fun to prevent his team leader from leading an invasion fleet to Earth when he could instead stay on Earth on his own inside Eddie and play “Starsky and Hutch” with him.

Top tagliatelle – “Riot” – of course ends up in a huge fight with Venom.  It’s a sort of tag-team wrestling display.  Brock/Venom vs Drake/Riot is a contest that alternates between confused tangles of tagliatelle threatening the shred each other to capellini and two tired men panting for breath.

Funny thing about Venom.  This dollop of pasta from a distant star system turns out to be a far far more lucid anglophone conversationalist than Eddie.  Unlike Eddie, Venom can string together coherent sentences.  He can crack wise.  He can interpret the human logic of interpersonal relations – unlike Eddie.  When Eddie and Venom are bantering – Venom usually gets the punchline.  Like all buddy movies, we’re asked to believe that beneath the surface chatter of constant put downs is a bedrock of love and respect.

Please, I beg of you, do not seek to challenge my interpretation of this film by actually going to see it.  Those two hours of your life are much better spent reading and rereading the ingredients on a bottle of Lea and Perrins Worcester Sauce or perhaps staring blankly into space.

Chatting with my brother a week or so, he remarked that with all the money being thrown at movies these days, it is astonishing how many pictures leave the big studios which don’t really make any sense at all.  If these movies were surreal masterpieces that were intended to interrogate any concept of stable reality then that would be fine.

But no -they’re just crap.

How much would it cost for studios to show their films to someone (almost anyone) before they are released who is licensed and actively encouraged to say “this makes no sense at all.  You need to re-edit and if necessary re-shoot the film until it does.  Otherwise nobody will ever care about the characters and situations you’ve only half created.”

I will volunteer for this role.  And for this crucial service I will demand just one half of whatever it was Tom Hardy was paid for his role in Venom. Better value for money does not exist.

Dad would have been 90 today.


Not that anyone ever thought Dad would make it to 90.  There was an occasion when he was hospitalised in his late seventies and when he was forced to describe his diet and lifestyle to doctors they kept him in for a bit longer out of curiosity.  I think they thought he was the basis of an article in The Lancet.  Probably an article with the title “Everything we think we know is wrong…”  As it was, he passed seven years ago – a month shy of his 83rd birthday.

My Dad was fond of birthdays and, unusually, got more fond of birthdays as he got older.  He would send out as Christmas presents bulk-bought very utilitarian calendars for the following years with today’s date circled many times in biro.

After he died, my brother helped collect and print a number of his letters.  Had he lived a bit longer, a bit healthier, and been a bit more adept with technology (in other words – had he been someone other than Dad) – he could have been a consummate blogger.  He had the ability to expand on a small topic and give it a surreal significance.  He also had the ability to strike up a conversation with just about anyone.  He was blessed with a strangely elusive sort of voice that was rich and memorable and yet oddly classless and geographically vague.  I’m sure that a Professor Henry Higgins might have been able to pin him down to lower middle class Merseyside but by and large nobody knew quite where he came from when he started to speak.

And certainly nobody knew where he was liable to go.

If he had a weakness (“IF!”) it was that he didn’t suffer bores gladly.  He had a rather low boredom threshold as it happens – and a low boredom threshold prevents you from getting certain things done.

As I get older myself, of course I imagine myself resembling him more and more.  I inherited his name (his entire name) – which is a legacy I have not chosen to pass on.  I think the experience of having all your mail opened and every telephone call being the source of awkward confusion is an experience that young people should be spared if possible.

Physically I am certainly starting to resemble the version of Dad I most remember as a child.  I therefore find myself missing him every time I’m compelled to look in the mirror and actually examine my jowls for shaving purposes.  And I can’t help missing my Dad without thinking  “I must tell Dad”… this that or the other.  I miss throwing him a conversational ball and seeing what he’d do with it.

Happy Birthday Dad.


Progress Report – 2018. Shakespeare, Beethoven, and Laurel and Hardy



I believe I’ll get stuff done.  I believe I will.  There were a number of things I swore at the beginning of 2018 I’d get done and I will accomplish most of them by the year’s end – even if Big Ben and Jools Holland are looming presences while I sort out some final punctuation.

I swore I’d have finished watching ever single Shakespeare play in the 1978-1985 BBC Shakespeare series and blog a little review of each one.  I only have Titus Andronicus, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Hamlet, and The Tempest to go.  Yes – I can finish up by the end of December.  The point of this series is that it started very very badly, and by gritting your teeth through some early missteps associated with Cedric Messina – before Jonathan Miller and Shaun Sutton took over – you feel very rewarded by the end.  With several productions you also feel nostalgic for an age when television sought to reproduce a particular size and shape of theatrical experience, an age when television was not in constant awe of cinema – an age in which “filmic” was not an automatic term of applause.

I also swore that I’d listen to as much Beethoven as I possibly could.  I’m bound to have missed a bunch of short and occasional works, but I will have listened to all the symphonies, the concertos, the piano sonatas, the violin sonatas, the cello sonatas, the string quartets, the opera, the choral works etc. etc.  I won’t have blogged about any of these experiences because I’m just not musicologically literate enough.  Nobody should waste precious minutes of their lives reading anything I have to say about Beethoven.  It’s enough to say that in some strange way, Beethoven will have reconfigured me as a slightly better human being.

I swore I’d have watched every Laurel and Hardy film as well as well as blogging reviews of them.  I believe I’m on target for December 31 as well.  I have a few more magical films to review and then I have the agonising experience of rewatching their 1940s films with MGM and Fox.  Oh what a falling off was there, once Stan was deprived of any creative influence behind the camera.  But as a good, tame, obedient little completist I’ll get the whole job done too.

I had some other box-ticking cultural stuffing to do as well – but I won’t bore you with it. Not yet anyway.

There was also a bunch of work I owe to my actual employers – together with a fundamental human obligation to my family.  But hey – I’m only human.


Rallying the UK 63%. Professor A.C. Grayling. Last night in Maynooth


After a long day in the office, there’s part of me that wants nothing less than a lecture about Brexit.  This part of me is, however,  a lazy and dishonest part, a morally delinquent element of my make up.

You see, I can help but feel that one of the root causes of Brexit is the cowardice and stupidity of people like me – people who were well placed to see what was going on in Britain and who wilfully blinded themselves.  When I’m reminded of Brexit, I feel reminded of the fact that I should probably spend every remaining day of my life apologising to everybody in the world for the full extent of this failure.

Furthermore, here in Ireland, Brexit evokes a sense of impotent dread, given how much it will impact upon our island and how little we can do to prevent or even mitigate its various impacts.

Yet Professor Grayling, on stage and in person, is astonishingly buoyant.  He has clearly given the speech we heard very often, and it could be suggested that he made only very fleeting though polite nods to the fact that he was addressing an Irish audience and not a British audience.   He offered us a rather familiar, though sometimes very enlightening survey of the origins of the Westminster model of representative governance from the Putney Debates of 1647, through Locke, Montesquieu, Jefferson etc.  pointing out, crucially, that the original “Westminster Model” regarded “The Crown” as a separate executive rather than fusing the executive and legislative identities as closely as they became during the mid nineteenth-century.

This context was useful for the very necessary detail that was to follow.  Prof. Grayling drew everyone’s attention to the Parliamentary Briefing Paper No.07212 which stipulated that for forthcoming June 2016 Brexit referendum (perhaps more accurately a plebiscite) was, explicitly, an advisory rather than a binding referendum.  He also noted the important restrictions placed on the electorate.  16-18 year olds were not permitted to vote, as they had been in the Scottish Independence referendum and nor were British citizen who had been living outside the UK for more than fifteen years (i.e. me), and nor, crucially were law abiding tax paying EU citizen resident in the UK.  These excluded voters were all likely remain voters who were removed from this most defining of decisions.

The referendum resulted, as we all know in a 48.9% vote for Remain and a 51.9% vote for Leave.  Prof. Grayling noted, however, that other referendums of this magnitude have required a majority percentage threshold.  Scottish devolution proposals were curtailed back in 1979 precisely because the required threshold was not reached.  He also noted that according to British law trade unions are not allowed to call a strike unless 40% of the eligible union electorate have voted for it.

The percentage of the eligible electorate that voted for Brexit?  37%.

He also noted that while the vote for Remain can be straightforwardly interpreted as a clear statement of support for staying in the EU, the Leave vote, when analysed, fragments into a strange range of motives, ranging from “sticking it to the powers that be” – to rather nasty nativism – to genuine concern for the accountability of transnational structures of governance.

Such were the contradictions involved with the criteria applied to the application and interpretation of this referendum that Prof. Grayling declared that the UK had ignored its own constitutional principles before triggering Article 50.

Following this detailed forensic assessment, came the jolly part.  He, as coordinator of many anti-Brexit groups, is very confident about the possibility and outcome of second Brexit vote.   He pointed out that all recent opinion polls demonstrate majorities in the UK in favour of remain.  He noted the UK still has before the last day of December 2020, to effect a simple and painless withdrawal from the Brexit chaos.

He concluded by declaring his belief that the creature currently known as populism is never an authentically democratic phenomenon, a grass route bubbling up of authentically popular sentiment – but is always associated with a sort of collective surrender to demagoguery.

The Q&A session perhaps inevitably resulted in less optimistic questions being raised.  Some of us left feeling that Professor Grayling may have proved the political logic of a second referendum, and that a second referendum may well be the only way out of the current Westminster log-jam.  Many of us felt less confident that the key movers and shakers could be described as rationally motivated, or motivated by anything other than how others can be blamed for failure.  Theresa May’s government appears to have muddled on, in 72 hour installments, for so long, that any decisive crisis has been long averted.  Yet this muddling through has been taking place on a train leading to an abyss.

I got to talk to A.C. Grayling afterwards and found him most charming, witty, and well informed.  Perhaps a charm offensive is, after all, the best policy.  In a twisted world in which a serial, proven, impenitent liar like Boris Johnson can survive politically because enough people find him inexplicably charming, then perhaps charm is the best (perhaps the only) weapon that the forces of light can muster.

Despite all my misgivings, I found myself less depressed coming out of a lecture on Brexit than I was going in.  Thank you Professor A.C. Grayling. This is a state of affairs I could never have predicted yesterday morning.