Why the English civil war is a misnomer

November 1st, 2019 by Roger Darlington

This week, I started a new six-week evening class at London’s City Literary Institute. The course – deliver by Dr Jamie McDougall – is entitled: “The Making Of The United Kingdom 1603-1801: Restoration, Revolution, and Political Unions”. I thought it would be a good time to understand how the UK was created when we are conducting a general election which could lead to the break-up of the UK.

A major part of the first session of the course concerned what is usually called the English Civil War. In fact, like so much of our supposed knowledge of history, the concept of the English Civil War is a substantial over-simplification.

It was not an exclusively English affair but involved forces from, and battles in, Wales, Scotland and Ireland as well. Furthermore it was not so much a single conflict as a series of five wars: the First Bishops War of 1639, the Second Bishops War of 1640, the First Civil War of 1642-1646, the Second Civil War of 1648 and the Third Civil War of 1649-1651.

What were the main constitutional results of these civil wars?

  • The feudal rights of the Crown and the Tudor prerogative courts were never to be restored.
  • The King’s power to levy taxes without the consent of the House of Commons or his right to arrest members without just cause was destroyed.
  • Parliament became an unchallengeable part of the British constitution and the Church of England ceased to be the sole religious institution.

In the next three and a half centuries, England has had no civil war. Not many countries can say that. But the current conflict over Brexit could be seen as a non-military civil war – certainly a profound clash of cultures that, in modern times at least, is an unprecedented strain on this United Kingdom.

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A review of the important new film “Official Secrets”

October 29th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

In 2003, 28 year old China-watcher Katherine Gun worked for Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) when she came across evidence that the British and the Americans were covertly monitoring members of the UN Security Council in an effort to obtain leverage on countries that might be persuaded to support a crucial second vote authorising the invasion of Iraq.

She leaked the information, it found its way into the “Observer” newspaper, and she was charged with a breach of the Official Secrets Act with the human rights organisation Liberty backing her defence. 

This is the story told by this film which has taken a great deal of effort and an inordinate amount to time to be made (the script has been around for a decade). My four years in government are still subject to the Official Secrets Act and I have been a lifelong member of Liberty, so I can certainly empathise with the characters and issues in this important work. 

Keira Knightley – who is really maturing as an actor – gives a convincing and nuanced performance as Gun and the impressive castlist includes Ralph Fiennes, Matt Smith, Rhys Ifans, Jeremy Northam and Tamsin Greig. Credit goes to Gavin Hood (“Eye In The Sky”) as director and co-writer for producing such a trenchant analysis of the whistle-blowing and the prosecution. 

However, as cinema, “Official Secrets” has a number of problems. First, the procedures and issues are quite complicated so a fair bit of the dialogue is rather expository. Second, everyone knows that the leak failed to stop the invasion and that no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq and many will know that the court case against Gun was abandoned, so the film lacks the vital element of tension.

Set against that, the work is really timely in reminding us that whistle-blowers often expose egregious misuse of power, that governments have to be held to account, and that foreign interventions have profound consequences.

Wikipedia page on Katherine Gun click here

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A review of “Terminator: Dark Fate”

October 28th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

I thought the first two “Terminator” movies (1984 & 1991) were terrific and the third (2003) and fourth (2009) were entertaining enough, but the fifth (2015) was disappointing and I felt that we’d seen the end of the franchise. However, it seems that – even after 35 years – you just can’t keep those killers from the future crashing into the present with seemingly unstoppable intent. In fact, pleasingly this is the third best segment of the franchise.

A major factor is that, as well as Arnold Schwarzenegger as the original T-800 Terminator (now with the funniest lines), we have Linda Hamilton back as Sarah Connor, looking great after all these years and packing a bigger arsenal than ever. We have a new Terminator – a Rev-9 model – with the metal skeleton of the original and the oozing liquid of the T-1000 plus the capability of functioning in both forms simultaneously (Latino actor Gabriel Luna). And we have a new protector in the shape of an female augmented human called Grace – she calls herself a “super soldier” – portrayed with style by Mackenzie Davis (who had the eponymous role in “Tully”). 

Also we have all the classic tropes but with subtle variations. So there is no Skynet (that future was prevented) but there is Legion which is as bad. The new Terminator is not trying to kill the mother of the future leader of the human rebellion but such a warrior of the future himself or herself. And the original Terminator doesn’t announce “I’ll be back”; instead Connor utters the famous lines, while Arnie tells his ‘family’ “I won’t be back”. 

All the usual chasing, shooting and fighting is there in entertaining formats and the storyline is very similar to the second film (although set in a post Judgement Day 2022), but there are some contemporary political references with a Mexican heroine and scenes at Trump’s border wall and US detention camps. 

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My nearest cinema and a review of “Joker”

October 27th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

As all my friends know, I am a massive cinema fan. I see a fair number of films and review all of them online.

Now, when I moved to London’s South Bank seven month ago, I was excited that I would be living so near so many cinemas. Indeed the British Film Institute – which I immediately joined – is barely 10 minutes walk away.

But then I discovered that amazingly the Sea Containers Hotel, which is literally on the other side of the road from my block of flats, has a Curzon cinema in its basement. It’s only one small theatre of 56 seats and it only shows a film on weekends – but wow. And this weekend, for the first time, I strolled across the road to see “Joker”.

How did Arthur Fleck become the arch-villian of Gotham City the Joker? What were the events that led to the child Bruce Wayne – later to become Batman – witnessing the murder of his parents? This movie – brilliantly directed, co-written and co-produced by Todd Phillips – provides answers to these questions in what is perhaps the best cinematic work of the DC Universe. 

At the pulsating heart of the film is Joaquin Phoenix in the eponymous role. Now we’ve seen some superlative portrayals of the Joker on the big screen – Jack Nicholson in “Batman” (1989) and Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight”(2008) – but here Phoenix is simply mesmerising in a role which he totally inhabits and for which he lost an incredible amount of weight. Every movement and every line is compelling and distinctive. As he managed to do in “Gladiator”, Phoenix somehow contrives to make the viewer understand and even sympathise with a complex character denied love.

The supporting actors – most obviously Robert de Niro – are uniformly convincing, the rendition of Gotham City is captivating, and the sound and music gripping in a film that scores on every front. This is a work that will not attract a wide audience, given the dark material and its occasional but brutal violence, but deservedly it will win many award nominations and could well garner Phoenix an Oscar.

Posted in Cultural issues, My life & thoughts | Comments (0)

Who would have thought that anyone would be interested in my diaries?

October 25th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

I started keeping a diary when I was 13 and, since then, I haven’t missed a single day . This means that I’ve kept a diary for almost 58 years or 21,114 days to be precise. It is a personal diary written only for me – but this week I was visited by an historian who is interested in looking at a selected period.

David Kynaston is half way through a huge project involving the writing of six books on post-war Britain covering the period 1945-1979. He has already published the first three works: “Austerity Britain” (1945-1951), “Family Britain” (1951-1957) and “Modernity Britain” (1957-1962).

He visited me this week to discuss his next book, which will cover the period 1963-1967, and to look at my diaries for this period. He would like to use a few quotes from my diaries when he revisits me to study them in more detail.

My diaries will make only a tiny contribution to his project since I was only 15-19 at the time and my comments are understandably youthful, but it was a time of Beatles music, Bond films, the space race and Labour Governments.

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A review of “The Metamorphosis And Other Stories” by Franz Kafka

October 23rd, 2019 by Roger Darlington

In my early 20s, I read all three of Kafka’s novels – “America”, “The Trial” and “The Castle” – as well as some of his short stories including “The Metamorphosis”. I had thought that this would be the end of my Kafka phase but, some 50 years later, a Czech friend bought me a handsomely-bound collection of a new translation of no less than 38 short stories, so I was back in the world of the Czech Jew who wrote in German and created an inimitable vision somewhere between dream and nightmare. 

Kafka spent almost all of his life in his native city of Prague but, as a member of the small German-speaking Jewish community, he was doubly isolated from the Czech/Christian majority and in addition had a contentious relationship with his father. All these factors profoundly influenced his writing.

The most striking works in this anthrology are “The Metamorphosis”, “In The Penal Colony” and “A Hunger Artist” which are among the few longer narratives. Most of the other stories are really short – often a page, a paragragh, even a sentence, but always intriguing and usually unsettling.

The stories are opaque and open to many interpretations but common themes are a lack of control and justice, a sense of anquish and menace, and a illusionary search for meaning. Not for nothing has the word “Kafkaesque” gone into so many languages.

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Why aren’t more consumers engaging with the broadband market?

October 22nd, 2019 by Roger Darlington

Recently the consumer organisation Which? published new research – gathering an in-depth understanding of why consumers aren’t engaging in the broadband market. 

This behavioural research identifies six key barriers to engagement among disengaged consumers:

  1. Consumers have low confidence in assessing what they need and identifying a suitable package
  2. Consumers are confused about how pricing works in the broadband market
  3. There is a lack of effective communication about current and alternative packages
  4. Consumers believe their service is ‘fine’. This is despite many experiencing problems or paying a relatively high price for their package. 
  5. Consumers aren’t willing to risk changing provider as they worry that it may result in a worse broadband service
  6. Consumers believe that making changes to their contract may result in unexpected add-on costs.

You can read more of the insights uncovered in the full report written in partnership with BritainThinks here.

Posted in Consumer matters, Science & technology | Comments (2)

How could an animation film for children cause an international row?

October 21st, 2019 by Roger Darlington

This weekend, I took my two granddaughters (aged 8 and 3) to see the new animation movie “Abominable” and they loved it. They were able to identify with the young Chinese girl Yi, who lives in Shanghai, when she discovers a yeti on the roof of her apartment block and endeavours to return him to his family on Mount Everest. What could be more charming and innocent?

Well, “Abominable” is the first co-production between US company DreamWorks and China’s Pearl Studio production firm and one very short scene in the movie has caused an international outrage.

There is a map of China which includes the infamous nine-dash line which depicts the territorial claims of China in relation to the South China Sea. The problem is that these claims are contested by Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan. So the release of “Abominable” in these countries has been highly problematic.

You can learn more about the international row here.

Posted in Cultural issues, World current affairs | Comments (0)

A review of the charming but poignant film “The Farewell”

October 20th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

This mostly Mandarin-speaking film is billed as “based on a true lie”. since it is the lightly-fictionalised experience of writer and director Chinese-American Lulu Wang. The lie in question is the deceit perpetrated by the family of Chinese grandmother Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) when she is diagnosed with incurable lung cancer and given little time to live. She is not told that she is ill, but instead treated to an unprecedented family reunion through the device of a hastily-arranged marriage.

The events – amusing, moving, sad, poignant – are seen from the point of view of Nai Nai’s beloved granddaughter Billi, played with sensitivity by rapper-turned-actor Awkwafina (real name Nora Lum) whom I saw in “Ocean’s 8”.

Most of the narrative is set in the north-eastern Chinese city of Changchun, a metropolis with the population of London that is totally unknown to almost everyone outside China (including me). In fact, I have visited China four times and spent many hours in Chinese flats eating huge meals in large family gatherings, just as is featured so often in “The Farewell”, so much of the movie really resonated with me.

But, anyone with a heart will enjoy this delightful film with its subtle comparison of cultures and portrayal of very different – but all too human – characters, all of whom mean well.

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Brexit bingo – on the day of the Commons vote and the people’s march

October 19th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

A drink is not compulsory each time you hear these, but it might not be a bad idea:

  • “Customs border in the Irish Sea”
  • “Get Brexit done”
  • “The will of the people”
  • “17.4 million people”
  • “No more dither and delay”
  • “A reckless Tory Brexit”
  • “No-deal cliff edge”
  • “Chlorinated chicken”
  • “No one voted to be poorer”
  • “Race to the bottom”

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