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Penguin Monarchs. Edward VII, Reviewed.

Edward the Seventh | Television Heaven

“You’re very fat Tum Tum” exclaimed a friend of Bertie’s while drunk at a house-party. This guest was required to leave before breakfast and was persona non grata with Bertie ever after. Had the same comment been made to Henry VIII, the consequences would doubtless have been more severe.

But nobody would have ever said such a thing to Henry VIII. This is the problem with monarchs who seem to be relaxed and affable. You can never quite tell when they’re suddenly going to pull rank. Various members of the disorderly fratriarchy that was the court of Charles II fell into the same trap.

Bertie-Edward would love hanging out with cronies in clubs, but also get all high and mighty about the wrong button on the wrong day on the wrong uniform.

These contradictions pleasantly inform a very entertaining read. Richard Davenport-Hines is a stylish and witty writer and the prose is positively sparkling with several laugh out loud moments. Davenport-Hines presents an Edward VII who could be self-indulgent, petulant, irresponsible and hopelessly libidinous. Concepts of conjugal fidelity are never very resilient in royal families and those closest to Bertie-Edward could only bring themselves to suggest that he exercise slightly more discretion. In mitigation, Bertie-Edward’s childhood was brutal and his family dysfunctional.

I query this book’s assertion that Edward VIII and George VI were the only Hanoverian (and yes they’re still Hanoverian) monarchs not to hate their next heirs. George V famously declared that he was terrified of his own father and was determined to “pay it forward”. A case can be made, meanwhile, for George IV. Neither George IV nor George VI had any sons. As far as we know.

On the other hand, Edward VII was broadly tolerant and welfarist as well as being a superb charity fundraiser. He was also, by the standards of his class and generation, not a racist. He was consistently anti anti semitic. His liberalism was checked whenever charity threatened to become an entitlement. Let hospitals be built, but without making progressive income tax the basis of funding them.

A flaw in this book is the fact that it devotes very little attention to the most historically significant aspect of Edward VII’s reign – the struggle with Asquith and Lloyd George over the so-called “People’s Budget”. This conflict was one of the most decisive and significant episodes in British constitutional history – a showdown between hereditary and elective authority with momentous consequences. It deserved more time and more consideration of where Edward VII saw himself constitutionally.

Edward VII did not exactly overrule elected prime ministers but he undoubtedly wielded, and felt entitled to wield, a great deal of “soft power”, particularly in the context of European diplomacy. Crucially, in Berlin, it was assumed that Edward VII’s political clout was much greater than it really was. In a world of international paranoia, the perception of power is itself a very potent thing.

I adored the take down of the tariff reformers in this book, the Joseph Chamberlain imperialist protectionist mentality that sees all economic growth as a zero sum game and every other nation’s prosperity as a threat.

I have thoughts about other books in this series.

See below.

Richard I:

King John:

Edward II:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/11/11/penguin-monarchs-edward-ii-reviewed/

Edward III:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/10/27/penguin-monarchs-edward-iii/

Richard II:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/09/06/penguin-monarchs-richard-ii/

Henry V:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/08/29/penguin-monarchs-henry-v/

Henry VI:

Edward IV:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/08/24/penguin-monarchs-edward-iv/

Richard III:

Henry VIII:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/08/17/penguin-monarchs-henry-viii/

Edward VI:

Queen Mary:

Elizabeth I:

James I and VI:

Penguin Monarchs: James I and VI

Charles I:

Oliver Cromwell:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/07/27/penguin-monarchs-oliver-cromwell/

Charles II:

James II and VII:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/07/20/penguin-monarchs-james-ii/embed/#?secret=JAbYEnebdc

William and Mary:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/07/22/penguin-monarchs-william-and-mary/

George I:

George III:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/09/12/penguin-monarchs-george-iii/

George IV:

Victoria:

There must be an an…gel… playing with my heart.

Doctor Who: Flux — Village of the Angels first thoughts (spoilers)

Turns out you never leave the Agency. I mean “The Division”. Or is it just “Division”?

Jason Bourne, I mean The Doctor, is being recalled. And as part of her recall, she is turned into an angel in a scene that will be long anthologised I think. I would like to see terms and conditions attached to service with the Division. I think Division members need union representation and the ability to bargain collectively. As things stand, they appear to have virtually no rights.

This has been perhaps the most successful Flux episode so far. We have been alternating, strategically, between episodes in which temporal chaos is affecting everything everywhere all at once, and episodes which are dominated by a specific threat which plays out more or less consecutively. The two episodes dominated by Sontarans and Angels feel, necessarily, more coherent than episodes one and three and therefore work better as stand alone episodes.

I did like Kevin McNally as Professor Jericho. He starts off as a blustering pompous blunderer, but soon becomes an authentic hero – capable of staring down angels in a crisis. In my mind’s eye, however, he’s always a very young actor playing Castor in I Claudius.

There’s an intelligent consensus that the weeping angels are the most effective new threat concept that DW has come up with this century. And this is an episode that knows how to use them properly. Give us a siege drama – milk the claustrophobia – and give us enough time in between blinks to actually learn a bit about the characters involved.

Angels and (other) ministers of grace defend Chibnell and Alderton for managing moments of classic horror. The discovery that the unpopular old lady is Peggy, who has had to wait 66 years for her warnings to become meaningful dawns just before it is revealed. As a reveal, it hovers and looms for a bit. We are reminded that the Angels are psychologically cruel, managing to prolong grief and loss more than any other villains in the galaxy. Mind you, little Peggy is very cold when it comes to the dispatch of her elderly carers.

There’s speculation as to the identity of Bel and Vinder’s unborn child. Given that Time has pretty much collapsed in terms of a vehicle of consecutive logic, some even speculate that the unborn child is The Doctor. I’m not sure I want or need a “big reveal” on this scale. All I really want is some sense in which the desperate indefatigable love of Bel and Vinder somehow saves the entire universe.

The Lost Will and Testament of Jake Thackray. A lovely present.

The Lost Will and Testament of Jake Thackray - Album by John Watterson |  Spotify

This arrived in the post on Friday afternoon. An old friend of mine had promised that “something lovely” would arrive. Something did.

John Watterson has made an album out of Jake Thackray songs that either don’t quite exist or which are hard to get hold of (i.e. – not in Jake in a Box). I was previously aware only of the last two songs on this album.

Watterson is wonderful. Now I can manage a passable Jake Thackray impression – especially after a few pints – but what Watterson offers is something better than an impression, something quite truthful and nuanced. It is very very easy to imagine that Jake not John is singing. Watterson is the closest anyone can get now to seeing Jake “live”.

“The Ferryman”

This does not use Jake Thackray’s melody, which is either missing, never recorded, never written or maybe never even conceived. The tune was written by Paul Thompson. The tune does sound like the perfect extrapolation of the plaintive cadencing of the words, though. Drunkenness is of course a persistent Thackray theme. We are back in the world of “The Black Swan” and “Ulysses”. Also notable in this song is Thackray’s religious imperative. So many of these songs reflect the mindset of a sincere Catholic who perhaps nonetheless feels that they are quaver away from damnation, a Catholic who leans heavily on the sacrament of confession.

“The Municipal Workers Strike”

This is a very strange thing, a song about a public sector pay dispute that is almost completely “apolitical”. This is not about any particular grievance or injustice. It’s not about “attacking” anyone but rather about cherishing the foibles of various occupations associated with local authorities. The strike is just a spur, a way of imagining these occupations gone but not forgotten.

“Where Lucy Comes”

Here is another example of a lyric sheet with a missing melody, supplied again by Paul Thompson. There must have once been a Thackray melody since it was performed on the BBC in 1970. There’s some very nifty guitar work here. The narrator is on the run from creditors and other aggrieved parties and the door is only to be opened to Lucy with the tortoise shell eyes. There is a very religious sense in which this Lucy somehow manages to redeem boorish retributive hypermasculinised humanity.

“Our Dog”

This might be Jake Thackray’s last song. It is suffused with love. It is also very typically Thackray in that “Jesus Christ” morphs from being an expletive to being a saviour. The clueless hound who provokes profanity ends up being a fit consort for the Son of Man.

“Side by Side”

This shows Jake at his most serious. It combines the sexual with the political in its sorrowful acknowledgement of cruel borders running down streets as well as down double beds. Intended originally for German TV, it has a yearning quality that illustrates how a Francophile Yorkshireman can cherish the notion of a better world which keeps bridges rather than walls in constant repair.

“The Perm House”

I had to look up “perm house”. Apparently it’s a 1980s heat-efficient underground dwelling. Jake, being Jake, wishes to dwell on the erotic possibilities of such a habitat. I much prefer this articulation of “it’s getting hot in here so take off all your clothes” to any subsequent lyric.

“One of Them”

This song quotes the phobic language it deplores a little too freely to make for comfortable listening. It’s a song about hateful jokes and the entrenched attitudes they represent. The phrase “they don’t really mind” echoes down the decades and more than anything I wish this song were more out of date than it really is. The chorus hangs on one of Thackray’s favourite words – “ag-on-ise” – which is also occurs splendiferously in perhaps his most famous song “The Last Will and Testament of Jake Thackray”. Agony is cognate with empathy in Thackray’s angry yet romantic political imagination.

Kinnell

This is the most constructed song on the album – based on a few scribbled verses. The song certainly existed at one point and was apparently performed often in private settings. Ultimately Jake was unhappy with any performance venue larger than a medium sized pub and therefore the gap between public and private performance of a Jake Thackray is both small and blurry. The melody is (again) by Paul Thompson and Thompson and Watterson completed the lyric together. It’s a tale of archetypal villainy and “Kinnell” is less a name than an abbreviated exclamation.

“Lullaby-My-Daddio”

Who better than Jake to describe situations that are hilarious and tragic in equal measure? This song is as sad as “Cat’s in the Cradle” and a lot funnier. It’s also painfully autobiographical, Treating the heartrending scenario of an infant’s precocious reaction to the droolings of a hilarious yet ruinously alcoholic father.

“God Bless America”

This feels rather jarring. Jake Thackray was, quite possibly, the least American human being ever to speak English in the twentieth century. So here’s a very bitter anti-American song delivered with a Yorkshire accent. Jake was, perhaps, far too unAmerican to be effectively anti-American. For sure, the things being denounced are very bad and very American. I’m not an anti-American myself, however, and I retain a naive faith that the worst of America will be redeemed by the best of America. And in any case, the legitimate expression of any “Damn you America” song gains a critical mass of force and credibility if you sound more like Woody Guthrie than Jake Thackray.

“The Cenotaph”

Now this is an unusual song, a troubled meandering series of iconoclastic reflections on war, the memory of war, and the abuse of the memory of war. It’s like a commentary of Gray’s Elegy on a Country Churchyard and a reminder that above all, in the midst of death, we are in life.

“Uncle Arthur”

This song feels less substantial than most of the material on the album. The only actual rock band that Jake Thackray reminds me of is The Kinks and this is an unusual rewriting of “Dedicated Follower of Fashion”. It’s a slight (and slightly cruel) variation on an embarrassing uncle narrative. Were it much longer and more thoughtful it might be regarded as an almost profound meditation on fashion victimhood.

“The Bull”.

According to the sleeve notes, Jake’s widow Sheila declared that this was the song of which Jake was most proud. It’s a bitter, snarly, Orwellian sort of song. It’s also the distillation of everything that Jake found most distasteful in life. “The Bull” is an emblem of swaggering, posturing superiority. “The Bull” is anyone or anything that assumes and requires deference. Even a nominal revolution cannot necessarily defeat “The Bull”. Jake, like Pete Townshend, “won’t get fooled again” and the only way to defeat him/it is to spot him/it when he/it is still far far in the distance.

“Remembrance”.

This I already knew. Like “Some Mother’s Son” by The Kinks, this is something that everyone should listen to at some point during the first week of November. Every year.

“Tortoise”.

Another one I was already acquainted with. This is a tiny little joke of a song but it fulfills the necessary function of ensuring that the album goes out on a defiantly frivolous note. For many years now I have always looked at tortoises as “little crunchy pies”. Only looked, mind.

So what is there to be said about John Watterson by way of summation? Above all, Watterson in terms of both his singing and his guitar playing, is pre-eminently serving Jake. He is channeling Jake as faithfully and lovingly as possible.

Given that, as I say, Jake hated playing large venues – there is a sense in which the impromptu appropriation of a Jake song is entirely fit and proper. But you must seize the voice too. You must let the lugubrious voice of Jake come upon you. You cannot impose your own accent or experience upon this material but must, instead, embrace and liberate your own inner Jake.

This album also reminds me that I must somehow, before I die, make proper time for his idol, George Brassens. Anyone so beloved by Jake must themselves be deserving of love and attention.

Jim Garrison would have been 100 years old today. Thinking about JFK…

New Orleans DA Jim Garrison was born 100 years ago today. His investigation of the JFK assassination and unsuccessful prosecution of local businessman Clay Shaw for conspiracy to murder formed the basis of what might be Oliver Stone’s most brilliant and rubbish film.

A number of Stone films are remarkable for their ultimate timidity. In Wall Street, the inspiring conclusion involves finding a slightly more genteel capitalist to save you who will impose slightly smaller pay cuts. In Nixon, the most grievous and sinister accusation against Tricky Dickie is reduced to an inaudible whisper. In JFK, however, every conceivable accusation is fully ventilated and amplified. Whatever else it is, it’s an uninhibited film.

This film, which seeks to fully vindicate Garrison, cannot help but make you think that Garrison was prosecuting (many have said persecuting) Shaw based on the most flimsy tissue of reported associations. Small wonder it took the jury very little time to acquit him. Although Shaw walked free, Garrison continued to try to prosecute him for perjury for the short remainder of Shaw’s life.

Indeed, the whole hopeless trial looks as though it might have been an excuse to subpoena the Zapruder film and show it to the jurors in court.

And then there’s the fact that just about everybody (except Oswald) involved in Stone/Garrison’s version of this conspiracy is gay.

Incidentally, I once appeared in a documentary about Jonathan Swift narrated by Donald Sutherland. Thanks to JFK, this gives me a Kevin Bacon number of 2.

Wearily, I repeat my conviction that the notion that Lee Oswald acting alone killed Kennedy is the theory that makes the most sense. A shot from the overpass would have shattered the car windscreen. A shot from the knoll would have hit Jackie as well. The only shot that hits Kennedy and Connally comes from an elevated position from behind the car. And who is Oswald? A defiant contrarian, determined to prove himself different from (and better than) other people. A desperate lonely man with a grotesquely inflated sense of historical destiny. Someone who defects to the Soviet Union to try to be different before discovering that being a Marxist in a Marxist country doesn’t make you different at all. Someone hungry for fame and attention. No reasonably funded band of conspirators backed by any reasonably well funded government would ever choose a publicity hound like Oswald to take a central role in any kind of secret mission.

Believing all of the above, why is JFK still watchable? Because it contains some of the most extraordinary collection of cameo performances. Kevin Costner, at the height of his career, was an odd specimen. Not an especially interesting actor, he had a remarkable power to to organise far more interesting actors who were circling around him. His was a centripetal power and in the 80s we watched people like Sean Connery, Alan Rickman, and Gene Hackman shine brightly in his orbit. In JFK the tediously dogged Garrison gets to meet Donald Sutherland, Joe Pesci, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Bacon, Gary Oldman, Ed Asner, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau (though not sadly together), Laurie Metcalf and John Candy all get to act their socks off.

Most wasted, unfortunately, is Sissy Spacek. One of the most fascinating actors of her generation is reduced to mouthing tedious nagging domestic platitudes.

The truth is that conspiracy theories can be very comforting, which is why the film is so successful. The cosy joy of a good conspiracy theory is that it reduces the complexity of oppression and injustice to a cabal of relatively few people who depend on darkness for their success. The effect of a really nifty conspiracy theory is therefore to assist you to relax into the expectation that you can simply shine a torch in roughly the right direction and an entire edifice of wickedness will collapse.

Though perhaps conspiracy theories are less comforting these days. Perhaps the fact that people can believe in conspiratorial structures based on absolutely nothing while ignoring evidence that is staring them in the face is worrisome, and illustrates that the sort of comfort they provide is a comfort that perverts the course of civic consciousness.

Jim Garrison was, apparently, a likable man and many who met him were impressed by his integrity. Others weren’t.

“Being members of the imperial family, you can afford the luxury of republican sentiment.” I Claudius, Episode 11, Reviewed.

I, Claudius" Fool's Luck (TV Episode 1976) - IMDb

Re. Robert Graves… I never enjoyed Claudius the God as much as I Claudius. I preferred Claudius as witness to imperial chicanery to Claudius as someone who has to constantly justify his own imperial actions.

Accordingly, I think it’s just as well that the events of this second book are squeezed into just three episodes.

Claudius’s stammer has diminished significantly on his accession. It is pleasant, initially to see him take charge so effectively, although the necessary betrayal of his own republican ideals has a pathos to it. If you play (or are forced to play) the Game of Thrones, you win or you die etc. etc. etc. Claudius has to accept his fate or perish we are told, above all by his old friend Herod.

Of course, we’re talking about Graves’ Claudius. There’s not a shred of real evidence that Claudius ever dreamed of restoring the republic. Even historians who rather like Claudius cannot pretend that he was anything other than a populist despot, who executed ambitious senators and who enriched freedmen in the highest offices in part because they could not possibly command political support. He was a bread and games despot who was concerned about civil unrest in Alexandria and the capacity of Ostia to feed the plebs.

This episode unfortunately wrecks my “Fall of…” model. There is no familiar character who “falls” in this episode. The closest we get is Appius Junius Silanus, the craggy and intransigent senator played by Lyndon Brook who is introduced and dismissed within this same fifty minute slice. Cassius Dio records a real Silanus who supposedly rejected Messalina’s advances having married her mother Domitia and who is subsequently accused of attempted assassination. In the TV series, the assassination plot actually gets as far as a real stab wound.

I sort of wish that the fall of Herod had been shunted forward to this episode as this would have made my modeling of the series more elegant. Herod has been played by the suave James Faulkner, who you may have seen recently incinerated with dragon fire on the orders of Daenerys Targaryen. There’s something about the way Faulkner says “the Lady Messalini is excessively romantic…” that has always grated. But Faulkner makes up for it with his farewell speech to Claudius.

“Well, just one more piece, then I’m done. Trust no one, my friend, no one. Not your most grateful freedman. Not your most intimate friend. Not your dearest child. Not the wife of your bosom. Trust no one.”

We are introduced in this episode to the sparring double act that will dominate much of the rest of the drama: Pallas and Narcissus, played by the incomparable Bernard Hepton and the more genial John Cater. These two freedmen are constantly at Claudius’ elbow. Bernard Hepton was a wonderful actor, superlative in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy though perhaps more famous for his central role in Secret Army. My favourite TV performance of his is as a remarkably sympathetic Caiaphas in Dennis Potter’s Son of Man. This Caiaphas emerges, plausibly, as a conscientious man in an impossible position – having to maintain a working relationship with the Roman occupying powers without losing the respect of his own people – all the while prioritising the continuity of Temple worship. Pallas (the brother of Felix who appears in the Acts of the Apostles) emerges as a very devious creature indeed, someone capable of rigging the estimates for the new harbour works at Portus north of Ostia just to keep grain prices high. He is thwarted but not exposed by Claudius’ diligence and so the harbour is built.

But let us be clear. I Claudius is not a drama about good governance. For every occasional scene devoted to the suggestion that Claudius was a conscientious ruler, there are three or four devoted to palace intrigue. Sheila White’s Messalina is remarkable. Her declaration to Silanus makes explicit what a few earlier scenes had only hinted at. She is, in fact, another monster. It’s the fact that the same soft, seductive, baby voice that she employs to extract favours from Claudius is used to betray him that shocks.

There’s a particular look that she has that she employs for the last frames of this episode – a look of withering contempt and unquenchable vengeance.

I have thoughts about other episodes in this series.

See below.

Episode 1:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/09/25/a-touch-of-murder-rewatching-i-claudius-episode-one/

Episode 2:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/09/28/family-affairs-i-claudius-part-1b/

Episode 3:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/10/01/waiting-in-the-wings-i-claudius-part-3-reviewed/

Episode 4:

Episode 5:

Episode 6:

Episode 7:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/10/18/queen-of-heaven-i-claudius-episode-7-reviewed/

Episode 8:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/10/30/reign-of-terror-i-claudius-episode-8-reviewed/

Episode 9:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/11/04/zeus-by-jove-i-claudius-episode-9-reviewed/

Episode 10:

Penguin Monarchs. Richard I, reviewed.

It’s an infamous factoid that Richard I (Richard “Gare de Lyon”) only spent about six months in England as king. This book’s investment in England is roughly equivalent to Richard’s.

Thomas Asbridge is a leading authority on the Crusades, so it is understandable that “the lion’s share” of this book is devoted to Richard’s campaigns against Saladin. Asbridge is at pains, however, to point out that Richard’s largely successful campaigns against Philip II of France once he’d been released from Austrian captivity are almost equally impressive. Governance of England barely gets a look in.

Asbridge does let us know that England was not plundered in a reckless and frantic effort to pay for Richard’s wars of religious frenzy. England was actually plundered in a very careful and well organised way we are told, in a fashion that pays tribute to Richard’s administrative abilities and shrewd judge of subordinates. Richard was certainly not short of those “enabling” virtues that all really destructive people need.

You can be too close to your subject matter. Asbridge makes it clear on numerous occasions in this short book that you have to judge medieval kings by medieval standards. I don’t think I’m necessarily compelled to judge anything by medieval standards, but I sort of get his point. He presents someone who was, in a sense, more proud of being a knight than being a king. Concepts of chivalry were primitive and inchoate in the twelfth century, but still potent.

Asbridge does not present Richard as a religious zealot, but rather as someone for whom success as a crusader knight presented the highest expression of honour that the age in which he lived had to offer. Under these circumstances, we are invited to understand that it would have been almost impossible to resist the appeal to join the Third Crusade. Indeed, the Richard of this book appears to be carried away by irresistible ideological momentum. Only at the end of the book does Asbridge seem to acknowledge that at no point does Richard appear to have thought of anything other than purely personal glory. Vainglory.

If heroism on the battlefield is the greatest of all regal virtues (and many in the twelfth century believed that it was) then Richard I was indeed a very great king (if you are in the business of “scoring” kings – which I’m not). If you are interested in good governance, peace, prosperity, and rule of law then Richard’s tenure in regal office looks like a nightmare.

Richard inherited the vast Angevin empire from his father, but given twelfth century infrastructure and twelfth century technology the only way to retain it was to ride all over it all the time, putting out fires. England was important to Richard because it was the wealthiest of his territories and the territory he was unambiguously “king of” without having to pay any nominal homage for. But from the point of view of defense, England was the territory he needed to spend the least time in and accordingly, he was hardly ever there. Like Alexander the Great, with whom he was compared, Richard showed little interest in succession or the long term governance of the Angevin sprawl of territories. John was not just a disaster waiting to happen, he was a disaster that had already happened and Richard did not consider sufficiently that one well aimed arrow was all that it would take to give this disaster free reign.

Tolkien was surely referencing the fabulous story of Blondel the minstrel when he described Sam Gamgee rescuing Frodo from the Tower of Cirith Ungol.

The story of Richard I goes beyond trying to understand what makes for “good” and “bad” kings. It’s a story that invites us to consider how and why the arts of destruction have been so storied and fabled, with such disastrously inspiration consequences? It’s a story about cults of militarism and their tragic efficacy. Were kings created for kingdoms or kingdoms for kings?

Asbridge does not, incidentally, mention those accusations of cannibalism.

I have thoughts about other books in this series.

See below.

King John:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/09/27/penguin-monarchs-king-john/

Edward II:

Edward III:

Richard II:

Henry V:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/08/29/penguin-monarchs-henry-v/

Henry VI:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/08/27/penguin-monarchs-henry-vi/

Edward IV:

Richard III:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/08/23/penguin-monarchs-richard-iii/

Henry VIII:

Edward VI:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/08/14/penguin-monarchs-edward-vi/

Queen Mary:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/08/10/penguin-monarchs-mary-i/embed/#?secret=7sTQ0yrVYE

Elizabeth I:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/08/06/penguin-monarchs-elizabeth-i/

James I and VI:

Penguin Monarchs: James I and VI

Charles I:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/07/29/penguin-monarchs-charles-i/

Oliver Cromwell:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/07/27/penguin-monarchs-oliver-cromwell/

Charles II:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/07/23/penguin-monarchs-charles-ii/

James II and VII:

William and Mary:

George I:


https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/10/02/penguin-monarchs-george-i/

George III:

George IV:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/09/02/penguin-monarchs-george-iv/

Victoria:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/09/07/penguin-monarchs-victoria/embed/#?secret=EwiIEhvUko

“Sometimes I think I’m going mad… no be honest… has that thought ever crossed your mind?” I Claudius, Episode Ten, Reviewed.

I, Claudius" Hail Who? (TV Episode 1976) - IMDb

At the beginning of this episode, Claudius is living in modest accommodation with a sex worker called Calpurnia who is an unusual character in the context of this series in that she is a) female and b) not a fiend in human form.

Claudius is forced to serve as “chucker outer” at a brothel orgy at which attendance is compulsory for anyone rich enough for Caligula to want to squeeze. This extraordinary scene is perhaps notable for a very early same sex kiss. The fact that this embrace is presented in the justifying context of the depravity of Caligula’s court makes it seem rather less of a liberating breakthrough moment, however.

Caligula’s chief assassin is played by a relatively young actor, Sam Dastor, who manages to exude brooding menace despite being unconvincingly grizzled up in order to make him a viable survivor of the Teutoburg Forest massacre. It is unclear to what extent he is motivated by political zeal for republicanism or by personal pique based on the embarrassing passwords that Caligula keeps giving him. One must remember that Caligula is only the third Roman Emperor. Had he reigned a little later, he might have realised that the one group of people emperors can never piss off is the Praetorian Guard. Indeed, by the end of the third century BCE, “stabbed by the Praetorian Guard” would practically count as “death by natural causes” if you have the dangerous honour of being an emperor. A few years later Sam Dastor would appear as the sublimely witty Casca in the BBC production of Julius Caesar making him, I strongly suspect, the only actor to have stabbed two different Caesars under the direction of Herbert Wise.

Note a very early TV appearance by Bernard Hill, a fine actor associated with some of the finest television drama ever conceived. He has the small but very pivotal role of Gratus, the Praetorian who comes up with the idea of making Claudius emperor.

Claudius gets married again. ‘Cos that always goes well, eh?

And so we are introduced to the hypnotically beautiful Sheila White as Messalina. Perhaps, nothing in the series is as hideous as the maniacal laughter on the grotesquely made up face of cross-dressing ballet-dancing Caligula as he contemplates the wedding night of Claudius and Messalina. Messalina is all innocence at first. She will morph, seamlessly it seems, into a hideous hybrid of Julia and Livilla.

I really think that some of Derek Jacobi’s best acting is from this episode. He is central to many of the events here rather than merely observing them, and his deftness at somehow staying alive is brilliantly communicated. The funniest scene in the entire series involves Caligula asking Claudius if he thinks he (Caligula) is going crazy… “no – be honest”. Jacobi has a wonderful scene where he describes the reign of paranoid terror and the round up and execution of suspects while trying to smile and play with Caligula’s unfortunate baby in her crib.

All the Homeric quotations from this episode are from the eighteenth-century Alexander Pope “translation”. Since they are in heroic couplets, they are a lot easier to remember. Which is just as well, because lives depend on getting them right.

I have thoughts about other episodes in this series.

See below:

Episode 1:

Episode 2:

Episode 3:

Episode 4:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/10/06/what-shall-we-do-about-claudius-i-claudius-episode-4/

Episode 5:

Episode 6:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/10/13/caligula-darling-what-are-you-doing-out-of-bed-i-claudius-episode-6-reviewed/

Episode 7:

Episode 8:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/10/30/reign-of-terror-i-claudius-episode-8-reviewed/

Episode 9:

Reigning in Hell. Once, Upon, Time – reviewed…

Doctor Who review, 'Once, Upon Time': Even the most feared villains in the  Whoniverse can't save this meaningless mess | The Independent

So. What the flux going on?

We tend to think of Time and Space as going together like a Horse and Carriage. Nothing can exist in Time that doesn’t exist in Space and vice versa. But what if these parents fell out? What if Time and Space divorced? Who gets the children?

In order to maintain interest in Doctor Who over a period of weeks it is necessary to keep varying the stakes. During the Moffat-Smith era, there was a tendency to threaten the very nature of time and space on a continual basis, which became somewhat tiresome. I don’t want The Doctor to have to save this and every other universe all the live long day. Sometimes I just want her to just save Guildford.

So this third episode, which its restless overlapping timelines and its deliberate confusion of what is doing what to whom WHEN, is clearly a high stakes outing. But I think Chibnall intends to alternate between chaos and confusion. Last week’s Sontaran episode was mainly set in one place with things happening in a particular order. Next week’s episode looks as though it will be anchored in the context of a particular run in with the Weeping Angels.

In the meantime, there are some very lovely visuals here. The flux is leaving some very poetic vistas of desolation in its wake.

Jo Martin is back to reprise her earlier Doctor – one who fought with yet resisted the so called “Division”. She seems to have acquired the name of “The Fugitive Doctor”, now that the numbering system is presumably redundant. Does this mean, incidentally, that Doctors 1-12 will all have to receive adjectives and epithets in place of their old number? The Cantankerous Doctor, The Clown Doctor, The Dandy Doctor, The Scarved Doctor, The Cricketing Doctor, The Nasty Doctor, The Mysterious Doctor, The San Francisco Doctor, The War Doctor, The Northern Doctor, The Faux-Cockney Doctor, The Fez Doctor, the Scottish Doctor… etc. etc?

Barbara Flynn was magnificent for the roughly 90 seconds we saw her. She’s apparently called “Awsok” which sounds like the name of a student society devoted to soppy movies. The Doctor is often sneered at by various megabeings for her irrational partiality for planet earth. Awsok sneers at the Doctor for her irrational partiality for the entire universe as we know it – which is apparently a universe whose time is up. Don’t get so sentimental Doctor!

I’m starting to think that the thing that will end up saving Time, Space, and Consecutive Logic will be the love of Bel and Vinder. Love will prove stronger than Time. That has to be the answer, doesn’t it? And not just in the context of Doctor Who?

Penguin Monarchs. Edward II, Reviewed.

Derek Jarman's "Edward II" Still Provokes, Thrills, and Bewitches - The  Village Voice

Thanks to Kit Marlowe and Derek Jarman, we have a powerful image of a man passionately in love persecuted and destroyed by a brutal military elite. It was Marlowe’s genius to take the bones of the story of Edward II and turn them into an emotionally involving tale of passion, power, grief and despair. Detailed, careful historical research will not, unfortunately, provide you with any such drama. Detailed, careful historical research can never invalidate the potency of such drama either.

Some monarchs seem appealing because their military failure seems to be offset by patronage of the arts. Not so Edward II. He was actually rather fond of warfare. He was just terrible at it. And there is no record of him evidencing anything resembling an aesthetic sensibility. Indeed, we are told repeatedly in this book that his fondness for “low” and plebian activities was part of why so many earls and barons found him impossible to owe any sort of meaningful allegiance to.

When Edward was accused of “sodomy” (as he certainly was) it seems like something of an add-on – a way of exacerbating and distilling the extent to which he was “against nature”. It is the view of Chris Given-Wilson that people would have turned a blind eye to the erotic recreations of Edward and Piers were it not for the political failings and transgressions associated with both men. You can be violent and successful or benign and successful. You can even be benign and useless. But to be violent and useless is to attract every phobic epithet in the fourteenth-century rhetorical arsenal.

He’s not a lovable man, but none of the major power-brokers of the early fourteenth century compel much admiration. Chris Given Wilson subtitles his book “the terrors of kingship” despite the wit and verve of the prose, it succeeds in foreclosing high medieval governance as a tangled nightmare of competing impossibilities. It is interesting to read about “ordinances” – the code that was supposed to bind this particular monarch within a framework of acceptable usages. Edward, like his grandfather Henry III, was challenged by a baronial class that sought to seize the machinery of government for themselves. These ordinances are variously endorsed, rejected, restated and ignored according the balance of power at any given time.

The extraordinary tactical skills of Robert the Bruce and his ability to bring the war of Scottish Independence to English soil is deftly described.

Not the first time, it occurs to me that more plays and films need to be made placing Isabella of France centre stage. Her career was extraordinary and the tale of Isabella and Mortimer can be told with a degree of pathos as well as prurient fascination.

Edward’s chief antagonist – the Earl of Lancaster – was such an autonomous ruler that he’s almost best described as a sort of “King of the North”. Given-Wilson presents a Lancaster who is at least as horrible as Edward.

The fall of Piers, the Despensers, and finally Edward himself is a tale in which nobody emerges “well” and which provokes questions about the ultimate loci of legitimacy that Medieval England was completely unable to tackle.

King John:

Richard II:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/09/06/penguin-monarchs-richard-ii/

Henry V:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/08/29/penguin-monarchs-henry-v/

Henry VI:

Edward IV:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/08/24/penguin-monarchs-edward-iv/

Richard III:

Henry VIII:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/08/17/penguin-monarchs-henry-viii/

Edward VI:

Queen Mary:

Elizabeth I:

James I and VI:

Penguin Monarchs: James I and VI

Charles I:

Oliver Cromwell:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/07/27/penguin-monarchs-oliver-cromwell/

Charles II:

James II and VII:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/07/20/penguin-monarchs-james-ii/embed/#?secret=JAbYEnebdc

William and Mary:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/07/22/penguin-monarchs-william-and-mary/

George I:
https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/10/02/penguin-monarchs-george-i/

George III:

https://conradbrunstrom.wordpress.com/2021/09/12/penguin-monarchs-george-iii/

George IV:

Victoria:

McCartney. The Lyrics. Reviewed.

PRH UK Announces 'The Lyrics' By Paul McCartney - Bertelsmann SE & Co. KGaA

In his 1998 volume of poems Hay, Paul Muldoon has a sequence of verses called “Sleeve Notes” which are playful autobiographical meditations on well known albums. Reflecting on The Beatles, Muldoon remarks “I’d never noticed the play on ‘album‘ and ‘white’.

This ‘play’ did not exist for very many people before Muldoon thought of it. None of the Beatles were punning in Latin in 1968 and in any case The White Album is merely a name that was given out of convenience by most people to The Beatles. If a pun was ever intended, then it must have been intended by Richard Hamilton.

However, unintended playfulness is at the heart of this Muldoon-McCartney project (or should I say McCartney-Muldoon project?). A far more relevant unintended pun is the crucial one that Muldoon notes that joins Macca and “makar” – i.e. “maker” i.e. ποιητής. Paul McCartney’s songs are not intended as windows into the existential truth of Paul McCartney but as “things” in their own right, things that have a separate life of their own. Macca will not object to you appropriating or misinterpreting a song of his, because such an appropriation merely vindicates the independent life of the thing he has made. His children have left womb and built homes of their own. And this is what Macca takes joy of. His craftsmanship is a passion. He makes songs because the making of a song where there was no song – the fixing of a “hole” – is that which gives him joy. His formalism is ecstatic.

It is no accident that this book contains a paragraph fondly describing Macca’s successful attempt to make a table without nails.

Muldoon and McCartney share a first name and some Irish context. Oddly enough, this book plays down Catholicism. They also share a lifelong lyrical fascination with surreal sea voyages carrying an eclectic assortment of passengers. They are both magic realists.

The book was edited together from a series of very long and apparently very congenial taped conversations. Macca has been very sensitively and delicately edited, I have to say. At no point did I ever think I was ‘hearing’ Muldoon instead of Macca. This does expose McCartney’s limitations as a prose writer I think, but exposes them appropriately. Prose is not Macca’s preferred medium. His sequenced sentences are often clunky, jejune and exclamatory. And preserving this clunkiness is key to the authenticity (or the authenticity-effect) of the work.

This collaborative work would not have worked as felicitously with a novelist. A novelist would have been less content to leave Paul’s prose the way it’s presented. In particular, I think a novelist might have worked harder to remove some of the repetitions. A poet on the other hand, has (potentially) a much greater respect for refrains and leitmotifs. Macca seems to make the same point over and over again in the context of different songs and Muldoon, who has frequently played with the ballad form, appears to want to accommodate rather than restrain this urge to restate what’s important.

This is as close to an autobiography as we’re going to get and in the case of Macca it’s better and more appropriate than any autobiography could be. There is no “real” Macca hiding behind the songs. The songs are a life’s hard work. There are and are not “him”. But this is where the generosity of the artist comes in. In this book Paul offers personal context but never allows the context to overwhelm the text to the point where slippery and suggestive meanings get nailed down. Muldoon has clearly prompted Paul to consider without too heavily referencing certain Barthian instincts regarding the idea that the reader (or listener) is the real generator of meaning. Paul McCartney is not an intellectual and despite his repeated praise of his own former English teacher, I’m not sure he’s really a thwarted literature professor either. What comes out of this book in the meantime is a persistent belief that people who enjoy his songs are entitled to weave their own meaningfulness out of the listening experience. If you enjoy hearing “My Love”, Paul does not demand that you retain throughout an early 70s image of Linda McCartney. You are more than welcome to supply your own loved one. This is the Shandean Macca – the Macca who invites you to draw your own picture of Widow Wadman.

Likewise, changing Jules to Jude is a typical Macca way of allowing a song to float and speak to a wider world. John was not “wrong” to feel that the song was about John and Yoko (except insofar as he tended to think that everything was about John and Yoko) because unexpected and unintended relevance attached to any song is part of the very success of any song. Nothing about this hefty book is more important than this.

This is why there is a provisionality about so many of these commentaries. There’s a lot of “it could mean this” and “it could mean that…” And he’s referring not just to his own unconscious but to yours and mine as well.

Oddly enough in the context of project of this nature Paul is very resistant to the idea that great lyrics ought to work independently of rhythm and melody. I agree. Sneering at printed lyrics intended to be sung is the worst form of ill informed snobbery. When reading the book I found myself trying to force myself to “unknow” the tunes – to try to imagine how I’d respond to them if I were given them as “poems”. Impossible. The ones that perhaps come closest to functioning as unsupported poems were “Eleanor Rigby”, “Penny Lane”, and “Calico Skies”, all three of which have exquisite tunes.

Because the distinction between words and music is not absolute – any more than the distinction between poetry and music is absolute. As Macca points out – phrases have a rhythm to it and words are sounds. If nothing else, this is a book that makes lovely tunes play in your head.

Some of the illustrations are new. Reading this book gives you an enhanced appreciation for certain key locations in Macca’s life. Macca’s pastoral persona is perhaps as close to a “core self” as can be imagined and the images from Scotland are very revealing. By way of contrast, the attic room in the Asher family house in Central London is a place that defined many of Paul’s most creative moments. From his window he could see what I still call “The Post Office Tower” being completed. The relationship between Macca and Ma Asher is particularly interesting.

I have some caveats. There is too much John in this book and some of these John references feel too defensive. When we learn that Paul was very interested in literature as a boy, do we need to know that he was interested “far more” than John? When Paul asserts that he really could be handy mending a fuse when the lights have gone do we need to be instantly told that John was rubbish at mending fuses? It is reassuring to be reminded that the really nasty period between John and Paul lasted less than three years – 1969-1972 – but the pain of those years still seems evident. Perhaps Paul’s real grievance is less with John than with decades of Johncentric views of both the Beatles and the Lennon-McCartney partnership. And perhaps I live in a sort of Maccabubble where I vaguely assume that everyone accepts and admires Macca for who he is and what he has accomplished so that these defensive snipes feel rather unnecessary.

We’ve long known that Paul has wanted to reverse the writing credits on songs for which he was the main composer. With this book he achieves something of this. I have a few questions though. He includes “Please Please Me” and “A Hard Day’s Night” and gives John lead authorship. These are interesting because Macca likes the former because of its punning title and the latter is included I think because he just loves performing it live. “Ticket to Ride” appears now as “Paul McCartney and John Lennon” however. When Paul was asked about this one in 1998 he claimed a larger chunk of its authorship that had been traditionally assumed but still gave it 60-40 to John. Has he now acquired at least another 11% controlling interest in the song and if so how is his memory better now than it was in 1998? These things perhaps ought not to matter, but they seem to matter to Macca. My own view is that the intuitive creative bond between John and Paul and the chemistry that occurred not just when they were in the same room but when each had the other in their heads was such that any attempt to nail down percentages is ontologically flawed.

Then again, perhaps this defensiveness is justified. Fab literates like myself were astounded to hear that Paul was being accused suddenly, this year, of ‘blaming’ John for breaking up The Beatles when all Paul was doing was repeating the same story that has gone unchallenged for decades. John Lennon showed up to a meeting and said “I think you’re daft, I want a divorce.” Who has not known this? Lots of people apparently.

Some of the emphases in this book are decidedly strange. There’s perversity to a book which spends more time on “Her Majesty” than on “Here, There and Everywhere” (to give two alphabetically adjacent examples). Some of the absentees and inclusions are highly eccentric – but perhaps these choices reflect a particular discursive journey. The nature of Paul Muldoon’s contribution may be pivotal. If Muldoon is not the world’s greatest living anglophone poet he is the funniest poet who might be. He’s not a man who can be employed as a mere stenographer. Where and how did Muldoon nudge? Were these always Macca’s unprompted choices?

Of course, strange choices can make for fascinating reflections. Among the very wonderful Chris Shaw Eggpods, there is a tremendous interview with Ian Leslie who celebrates Paul McCartney using twelve songs. Nobody else in the world would pick those same twelve songs and only one of these twelve songs would appear on everybody’s top twelve Macca list. Yet Leslie managed to not only tell a crafted story about Macca using those songs but also give me a heightened appreciation for each of them. This book, on the other hand, has not helped me to suddenly upvote “Magneto and Titanium Man” or “Average Person” (a song that has always felt to me more like a parody of a McCartney song written by John Lennon). “Too Many People” is a good song but how about hearing about the far more ambitious and emotionally involving “Back Seat of My Car?” One of my favourite Wings songs is the absent “Listen to What the Man Said”. Thing is, I’ve heard that song umpteen times without ever being clear whether we’re supposed to listen to what the man said or not. It’s not that I want this ambiguity cleared up (I never want ambiguity cleared up) but I would have welcomed a bit more context for the ambiguity.

Perhaps there’s always a tendency to want to “darken” Macca because the greatest scandal concerning him involves his outrageous normality. Macca offends defining Faustian paradigmatic assumptions concerning the nature of genius. He does not appear to have ever met the Devil at the crossroads at any defining point of his early life and if he did so then Lucifer is being bizarrely dilatory when it comes to collecting on his debt. It’s not that Paul McCartney has never experienced hardship, tragedy or bereavement. He’s experienced all of them. And it’s not that he’s never put a foot wrong professionally or personally. He’s made many mistakes in both categories. It’s that he’s recovered from all of these these so well without looking like a damaged personality. It’s the fact that he has retained the love of friends and family while being unfailingly polite to most everyone he meets. I don’t like swearing much (and neither does Macca according to this book) but the bottom line is – Macca should be a lot more fucked up than he is. Macca will never be forgiven for his unfuckedupness because he stands as a living affront to what many people feel ought to be the Divine Economy of the Universe. If Nature gives so generously with one hand, she ought to take proportionately with the other.

Otherwise, what sort of consolation do those of us who aren’t creative geniuses have when confronted with such a towering body of work?