A review of the 2013 film “Adore”

June 13th, 2020 by Roger Darlington

I guess that many people would call this a woman’s movie. It is based on a short short by a woman (the novella “The Grandmothers” by Doris Lessing); it is directed by a woman (Anne Fontaine from Luxembourg); and the leading roles are taken by two women (Robin Wright and Naomi Watts as Australian best friends Roz and Lil respectively).

It tells the story of how Roz and Lil each falls in love with the surfer son of the other and how these complicated relationships work out. If you can forgive the unlikely plotting and some wonky dialogue, it is a visually enjoyable film because the four leads are so beautiful and the location shooting (Seal Rocks in New South Wales) is one long advertisement for holidaying in Australia

Posted in Cultural issues | Comments (0)

A review of a 2001 biography of Winston Churchill by Roy Jenkins

June 9th, 2020 by Roger Darlington

In a public poll organised by the BBC in 2002, which generated more than one and a half million votes, Sir Winston Chuchill (1874-1965) was voted the greatest Briton ever. Certainly he was a remarkable man with some outstanding accomplishments, but he was a complex and controversial character.

The son of a British Lord and an American socialite, Churchill was born in Blenheim Palace and educated at Harrow School and always thought that he was destined for great things. Although he was often – but unfairly in Jenkins’ view – called a warmongerer, if there was a conflict in progress, he wanted to be part of it, starting with action in British India, the Anglo-Sudan War and the Second Boer War.

In 1900, he was elected as a Conservative Member of Parliamant and, in 1904 he defected to the Liberals. He held three ministerial positions in the Asquith Government: President of the Board of Trade, Home Secretary and First Lord of the Admiralty. As Home Secretary, he was overly harsh in his response to industrial unrest in South Wales (although Jenkins lets him off lightly) and, as First Lord, he was forced to resign after the failure of the Dardenelles Campaign. 

After some time in France serving in the Great War, he was back in government under Lloyd George, serving as Minister of Munitions, Secretary for War, Secretary for Air, and Secretary for the Colonies. After two years outside Parliament, he was back now as Conservative MP and served in Baldwin’s Government as Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1924-1929 when he returned Britain to the Gold Standard which Jenkins describes as “the greatest mistake” of that government.. 

After no less than eight ministerial positions, Churchill endured what he saw as the wilderness years of the decade 1929 to 1939. In that time, he was on the wrong side of history in opposing vehemently the notion of independence for India, but he was prescient (and well informed by key figures) in warning of the rising military threat from Hitler’s Germany and in resisting the appeasement policy of the Chamberlain Government.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, he was back in office as First Lord of the Admiralty again and then, following the disaster of the Norwegian Campaign, he became Prime Minister in 1940, providing strong leadership – and inspirational speeches – when Britain (and the Empire) stood alone in the Battle of Britain and until the Soviet Union’s switching of sides in mid 1941 and America’s entry into the war in late 1941. 

As wartime Prime Minister, Churchill was the strategic military leader who concentrated on the conflict and relations with Roosevelt and Stalin but, as Jenkins makes clear, he was constatntly trying to interfere in operational matters and overly anxious about Operation Overlord. In government, he was wonderfully supported in terms of domestic policy by the Labour Ministers Clement Attlee, Ernest Bevin and Herbert Morrison.

Churchill – and many others – were stunned by the massive Labour victory in the 1945 General Election, but Jenkins points out that the polls had been suggesting such an outcome for years. Arguably he should have resigned the Conservative leadership then, but he stayed on until the Conservatives were back in power in 1951 when, in Jenkins’ words, he was “gloriously unfit for office”. He struggled on with the premiership until 1955, by which time he was 80, increasingly afflcted by strokes and unable to perform effectively.

Even then he could not give up political life and remained an MP for a further 10 years although he never spoke in the House of Commons again. The end came in 1965, just months after finally leaving the Commons and now a venerable 90 years old. He had been a Minister for over 28 years and an MP for 64 years fighting a total of 19 elections. 

Although Churchill is primarily remembered as a politician and statesman, he was a prolific writer of letters, articles and books and produced no less than 32 volumes, winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953. He was a talented painter and even an able bricklayer. 

This biography by Roy Jenkins was published in 2001 but, such is its length (some 900 pages of main text), that I did not mange to find the time to read it until the coronavirus lockdown. In many ways, Jenkins is a suitable author for a work on Churchill since he himself had military experience, served in senior ministerial positions, and wrote around 20 political works. However, I did not savour the book as much as I hoped. Jenkins has a flamboyant writing style with excessively long sentences and ostentatious use of French and Latin words and he repeatedly goes into meandering details. Also I felt that he relied too heavily on correspondence from, to and about his subject. 

Finally, although throughout the work Jenkins expresses judgements – by no means always supportive – on Churchill’s positions and actions, the biography lacks a concluding overarching assessment of the man. Instead we simply have one, final sentence in which, comparing Churchill to Gladstone, Jenkins opines: “I now put Churchill, with all his idiosyncrasies, his indulgences, his occasional childishness, but also his genius, his tenacity and his persistent ability, right or wrong, successful or unsuccessful, to be larger than life, as the greatest human being ever to occupy 10 Downing Street”.

Posted in History | Comments (0)

A review of the film “American Made”

June 5th, 2020 by Roger Darlington

This 2017 film reminds me of “Charlie Wilson’s War” (2007) and especially “Air America” (1990) since all three deal with true-life covert American involvement in foreign wars which were so bizarre that the movies in question are a mixture of drama and comedy and, in the cases of both “American Made” and “Air America”, daredevil pilots are at the heart of the action.

This time the central character is Barry Seal, played by Tom Cruise, a former airline pilot who switches to smaller craft to smuggle drugs and guns into various Central American war zones on behalf of agencies representing Uncle Sam. It is only loosely based on Seal’s story with director Doug Limon calling it “a fun lie based on a true story”.

I confess I struggled somewhat with a film which makes such criminal activity look like fun and such nefarious characters as Colombia’s Pablo Escobar and Panama’s Manuel Noriega appear as business associates.

What makes the film appealling is Cruise with his boyish charm and the flying which is exhilerating. Director Doug Liman is himself a pilot and made sure that the aviation language and techniques are true to life, while Cruise does his own stunt flying with aplomb.

Posted in Cultural issues | Comments (0)

Most people have never heard of the Treaty Of Trianon – but Hungarians have never forgotten it

June 4th, 2020 by Roger Darlington

The Treaty of Trianon was signed on 4 June 1920 – 100 years ago today – at the Trianon Palace at Versailles in France. It was part of the settlement of the First World War and it was signed by representatives of Hungary on one side and the Allied Powers on the other.

Why did it take so long after the cessation of hostilities?

The Allies’ presentation of their terms for peace with Hungary was delayed first by their reluctance to treat with Bela Kun’s communist regime in that country and subsequently by the obvious instability of the more moderate Hungarian governments that assumed office during the Romanian occupation of Budapest (from August to mid-November 1919). At last, however, the Allies recognized a new government, and on 16 January 1920 at Neuilly, near Paris, a Hungarian delegation received the draft of a treaty.

What were the final terms of the treaty?

By the terms of the treaty, Hungary was shorn of at least two-thirds of its former territory and two-thirds of its inhabitants. Five countries were allocated bits of the former Hunarian Empire.

Czechoslovakia was given Slovakia, sub-Carpathian Ruthenia, the region of Pressburg (Bratislava), and other minor sites. Austria received western Hungary (most of Burgenland). The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (Yugoslavia) took Croatia-Slavonia and part of the Banat. Romania received most of Banat and all of Transylvania. Italy received Fiume.

Except for plebiscites in two small regions, all the transfers were effected without any plebiscites.

The Covent of the League of Nations was integrally included in the treaty. Hungary’s armed forces were to be restricted to 35,000 men, lightly armed and employed only to maintain internal order and to secure the frontiers. The amount of reparations to be imposed was to be determined later.

The seeds of much resentment, ethnic conflict, and interwar tension were sown through the treaty. Hungarian officials opposed what they considered its violation of Hungary’s historical character, as well as the displacement of so many ethnic Magyars, especially without plebiscites, in violation of the principle of self-determination.

Posted in History | Comments (0)

Word of the day: exonym

June 2nd, 2020 by Roger Darlington

I confess that I had to look this word up when I saw in used by a friend in a Facebook posting (he’s a bit of a medical buff).

It means: a name used by foreigners for a place (such as as Florence for Firenze or Londres for London) or a name used by foreigners to refer to a people or social group that the group itself does not use (such as the inhabitants of northern Britain called Picts by the Romans or more recently the use of Germans for Deutsche).

Posted in Cultural issues | Comments (0)

The American tragedy: when black anger lashes out at the labour movement

June 1st, 2020 by Roger Darlington

A relative of mine in Seattle has suggested that I blog about the death of African-American George Floyd and the resultant protests and rioting. I hesitated because I’m aware of being British and of my white privilege.

But an American friend of mine on Facebook has posted photographs of the Washington DC headquarters of the AFL-CIO – the equivalent of the Trades Union Congress in Britain – which has been trashed by rioters in the city. Now I was a professional trade union official for 24 years and, on one of my visits to the US, I visited the AFL-CIO building, so the images spoke to me.

Of course, the protestors probably didn’t specifically target the building. It is in downtown Washington DC and it was perhaps seen as a symbol of the establishment. But the American labour movement supports the Black Lives Matter movement. The AFL-CIO tweeted: “The Labor Movement is much more than a building. We’ve said it before and will will say it again: Black Lives Matter.”

The murder of George Floyd – for that is what it was – is just the latest in a long line of incidents in which unarmed black men have been killed by white police officers. It comes on top of centuries of racial discrimination and disadvantage in the United States. It comes at a time when over 100,000 have died from the coronavirus and some 40 million have been made unemployed as a result of the pandemic.

All these problems exist in Britain and many other countries, but the United States is especially blighted by its poor coverage of health provision, its weak social security entitlements, its small trade union movement, its flawed system of political representation, and – perhaps above all just now – its appalling political leadership.

There are no quick or easy answers but, if the Democratic Party does not take back the Presidency (and hopefully the Senate) in November, black lives, Latino lives, poor lives, LGBT lives, and many other lives will not matter.

Posted in American current affairs | Comments (5)

A review of the recent film “Allied”

May 31st, 2020 by Roger Darlington

Brad Pitt plays French-speaking Canadian pilot Max Vatan and Marion Cotillard is the French resistance fighter Marianne Beauséjour who team up for an audacious mission in Vichy-controlled Casablanca in 1942. The action then moves to London and occupied France.

Apparently inspired loosely by actual events, this film – scripted by the British Steven Knight and directed by the American Robert Zemeckis – presents all the British characters as cardboard cut-outs and sadly it is often too slow and overall increasingly implausible with a weak ending.

Yet it looks really good: as well as the watchable two stars, the costumes and sets are authentic and clever special effects render the aircraft of the time in convincing form. 

Posted in Cultural issues | Comments (0)

A review of the recent film “The Gentlemen”

May 29th, 2020 by Roger Darlington

You know what you’re getting with Guy Ritchie and this is a quintessentially Guy Ritchie movie: he co-created the story, co-wrote the script, and both produced and directed. So unsurprisingly this crime story, set in London, has a convoluted plot with plenty of violence and bad language plus a fair bit of humour.

What makes it particularly entertaining is the casting. Matthew McConaughey – always a class act – is the American with a highly lucrative marijuana business which he wishes to sell. Framing the whole narrative with his own story is a British geezer played by Hugh Grant as you have never seen and hear him before. Supporting cast members include Michelle Dockery from TV series “Downton Abbey” and Colin Farrell from everything.

It’s all rather silly but diverting fun.

Posted in Cultural issues | Comments (0)

A third of Americans now show signs of clinical anxiety or depression, Census Bureau finds amid coronavirus pandemic

May 27th, 2020 by Roger Darlington

One of the countries with the worst record of handling the pandemic is the United States but, as well as a death toll approaching 100,000, there is massive impact on mental health in a nation with poor social programmes and institutions compared to most of Europe.

A third of Americans are showing signs of clinical anxiety or depression, Census Bureau data shows, the most definitive and alarming sign yet of th e psychological toll exacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

When asked questions normally used to screen patients for mental health problems, 24 % showed clinically significant symptoms of major depressive disorder and 30 % showed symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder.

Some groups have been hit harder than others. Rates of anxiety and depression were far higher among younger adults, women and the poor. The worse scores in young adults were especially notable, given that the virus has been more likely to kill the elderly or leave them critically ill.

More information here,

Posted in American current affairs | Comments (0)

Which countries are doing best and worst in tackling the coronavirus? Is Britain really doing that badly?

May 27th, 2020 by Roger Darlington

Of course, it depends on how you measure this.

Do you use the number of confirmed cases which depends massively on the testing regime in that nation? Or the number of deaths confirmed as caused by or involving Covid-19? Or the number of excess deaths over and above what would be expected for the time of the year compared to the average for say the previous five years?

And what period of time are we talking about? The situation now or say on the basis of a rolling seven-day average? Or from the beginning which might be when we first knew about the virus or when a country first had a confirmed case or when a country first had a confirmed death?

And, finally, of course one has the take the raw data and express it as some proportion of the population of different nations.

The figures compiled for the site Our World in Data are based on a rolling seven-day average and are updated daily. On Monday, the British rate was the worst in the world at 4.54 deaths per million per day. It has since slipped down the table.

Nevertheless, Britain’s status as one of the worst-hit countries continued to be underlined from Office for National Statistics (ONS) data released on Tuesday, which showed there had been 53,960 excess deaths in England & Wales from the start of the outbreak to 15 May. Scotland recorded 4,434 excess deaths between 23 March and 17 May and Northern Ireland recorded 834 excess deaths between 21 March and 15 May, giving a total for the UK of 59,228 up to 17 May.

So the number of excess deaths registered in the UK during the Covid-19 outbreak has almost reached 60,000, Whichever way you look at the statistics, Britain currently has one of the worst records in the world. We had the warnings from Italy and Spain and we were supposed to have one of the best health systems in the world, but we have been failed by our political leaders.

If you want a richer source of relevant data for all countries updated constantly, check out the Worldometer site.

Posted in British current affairs, Science & technology, World current affairs | Comments (0)