strange_complex: (Saturnalian Santa)
OK, so my Christmas experience this year may have been pretty miserable, but I answered 23 out of 25 questions on this meme before family dramas intervened, and now I am damned well going to finish it.

I've given some indication of my answer to this question in the post for Day 15, where I explained the religious element which Christmas has for me, through the syncretism between Santa Claus and Saturn. It feels important to have a midwinter festival to cheer up the dark days of winter.

Christmas is also important to me because it is important to so many other people around me. I like it for the same reasons as I like the monarchy, and in fact looking for past LJ posts in which I have explained my reasons for liking the monarchy, I find that I have actually drawn the comparison between it and Christmas before. Whether we like either or not, and however we choose to relate to them, all of us in the UK (and many of us beyond) have those things in common. I don't think that means we need to treat them as sacred cows, but I do think it is valuable and useful - for example by giving us all a central point around which to position ourselves in relation to the institution itself and the other people who also feel some sense of a relationship with it.

Finally, Christmas is important to me because it is something we do every year, in more or less the same way. That makes it comforting and familiar, and helps me to maintain a sense of connection with my own past. The last few Christmases may have been pretty grim, but they haven't all been like that, and I want to remember the ones which were good by continuing to celebrate the festival. Also, the unchanging and cyclical nature of a festival like Christmas helps to set off the gradual changes which take place between one iteration of it and the next. Sadly for me, what it has shown this year is a sharp reflection of how much and how badly things have changed in the life of my family since Mum became ill - but while that has been painful, I think it is something I needed to see.

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strange_complex: (Miss Pettigrew)
I saw this on Monday night with [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan and [livejournal.com profile] planet_andy, in a packed-out Cottage Road cinema where we were very lucky to be able to nab our favourite pullman seats with extra leg-room in a special segregated row.

It's definitely good stuff - packed full of cracking performances by our best British talents; nicely scripted with lots of great lines, and very beautifully shot. I particularly liked the rather muted colour-palette which was used throughout, and which I realised towards the end was probably deliberately designed to recall the tones of tinted colour pictures from the period.

At the heart of the drama is the contrast, tension and eventual resolution between a royal personage and a commoner: actually a very old story, which may be found in The Prince and the Pauper or Roman Holiday, for example, and is also the essence of Mrs. Brown. It's a fantastic trope, of course, with all sorts of scope for asking questions about whether royal status is a blessing or curse, and suggesting that most of what makes a king or queen different from anyone else is really just so much illusion and artifice. It's no surprise that it goes down so well, especially in a mature constitutional monarchy like ours.

In this particular film, we see a George VI who is incredibly privileged on the face of it, but gets frustrated at the absence of any real control over his own life, and the conventions and expectations which he has to abide by. We learn about his rather loveless relationship with his father and his unworldly perspective, while of course his stammer is the entirely human failing which brings him down to the level of an awkward school-boy, and makes him need the help of an Ozzie immigrant to do something which most of us find easy.

Unlike the king, the speech-therapist, Lionel Logue, has a loving relationship with his family, and is refreshingly unfazed by authority. It's especially fun to see him challenging and poking fun at the king in the course of their sessions, as he gradually breaks down the icy royal façade to get at the man with the stammer behind it. But the story would feel unbalanced if Logue was entirely perfect. We also learn that he's a failed actor and a rogue practitioner with no real qualifications, and it is mainly him who precipitates the inevitable temporary falling-out in their relationship by trying to steer 'Bertie' (as he still is at that stage) too heavy-handedly towards wanting to take over from his older brother as king.

So that's all very neat, and as I say it's very well done. But it did sometimes feel as though it were doling out the moral lessons about how We Are All The Same Really a bit too heavy-handedly for me. It's not a new idea, and no matter how well it is executed, it can't really qualify as challenging or exciting in this day and age.

Other random notes - I'd hoped for some good-quality Art Deco porn, given the 1930s setting, and was quite excited by the opening scenes in the BBC, which delivered just that. But of course it is in the nature of our royal family to hang around in ageing ancestral homes, so there wasn't actually terribly much in the way of fashionable contemporary architecture for the rest of the film. Also, after being pleasantly surprised to find that I could really believe in Helena Bonham-Carter as the character of Bellatrix LeStrange when I saw her recently in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I was right back to being completely unable to think of her as anyone other than herself in this film. So I guess she needs roles which are really quite caricaturish and mad to escape from that effect.

Finally, if you've seen the film, you'll probably enjoy this archive recording of the climactic speech. I'd heard it before, as most of us probably have, but it does acquire an extra layer of interest and emotional resonance after an insight into the story behind it.

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strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
I saw this on Wednesday evening at the Cottage Road Cinema with [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan, [livejournal.com profile] planet_andy and [livejournal.com profile] big_daz. Classic film nights are a regular feature at the Cottage Road Cinema, and it's not just the film itself you get to see, but a Pathé news reel and some period adverts as well. It was ace! We saw news items about a new cable-car being opened in Wales, and another about Russian plans to import British cattle for breeding, the not-terribly-subtle subtext of both being effectively "Three cheers for good old Blighty, and down with everyone else!" Then we saw adverts for local fabric shops, record emporia and restaurants, all conveniently located in Caernarfon in the early 1960s. Finally - and best of all - we were wished a very Happy Christmas and a Gay 1964 - in tinsel. Whereupon I had no option but to punch the air in post-ironic joy.

Also, there was a film! I've seen isolated chunks of it before, as you do when channel-hopping, so knew I was in for a lavish technicolor Saint Judy-fest (as [livejournal.com profile] ms_siobhan quite rightly calls her) - and in that I was not disappointed! I was kind of assuming the film would turn out to have some kind of a plot when seen all in one go, but honestly the efforts in that direction were a bit half-hearted, really. It's more like a series of set-pieces, and quite a few turns of events never really get explained or followed up properly. Not that that matters, because the set-pieces are ace. I think I possibly liked Saint Judy beating up the insipid, generic boy next door best of all... though it was a bit more disappointing when she later agreed to marry him. :-( Also, there were some great lines - especially from the little kid, Tootie. Like, "I have to have two kinds of ice cream. I'm recuperating." So, really, who cares about the plot.

Finally, as the credits rolled, the Cottage Road Cinema put the last touch to the period-appropriate atmosphere by playing 'God Save the Queen', and projecting a youthful picture of Her Madge onto the screen. And because it was the kind of place where everyone was really getting into the Classic spirit of the thing and doing the same, [livejournal.com profile] big_daz and I stood up. It made for a perfect end to the evening - and I can't wait for the next one.

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strange_complex: (Claudius god)
Seen this evening with [livejournal.com profile] big_daz at the Light.

This is definitely a very patriotic and royalist film, which is no surprise given that one of its producers was Sarah Ferguson. That's not necessarily a criticism, and it's certainly entirely in keeping with the position Queen Victoria already occupies in the nation psyche. But I'm just saying that anyone who wants to see a measured critique of either Victoria specifically or the institution of the monarchy more generally should probably give this film a miss.

Personally, I didn't mind it in the least. Partly, this is because I am a royalist anyway,1 and partly it's because, since Queen Victoria was a woman, the patriotic fervour also had a distinctly feminist slant. There was a lot of emphasis on her casting off the influences of the various power-hungry men who were seeking to control her, and establishing a style of rulership of her own which was ultimately better for the nation. But while at one level this could be read as "See, you greedy and corrupt politicians try to sully the golden purity of our wondrous monarchy, but its true nobility prevails!", a secondary reading more along the lines of "Take that, you patriarchal fools!" put in a very healthy appearance.

Furthermore, the score centred throughout around perhaps the most patriotic and royalist piece of music ever written: Handel's Zadok the Priest. Which I love, and which we sang in the Sacred Wing in December 2007, and which really made the passion rise and kept making me want to yell out "GOD SAVE THE KING! LONG LIVE THE KING!" (or queen, even) at the appropriate moments. Add to that the beautiful camerawork, with lots of very good use of imbalanced shots in particular (i.e. the main focus of the shot is off to the left or right of the screen, not in the centre - I don't know if there's a better technical term for that), and a script which was sparing and naturalistic, conveying a great sense of the volumes left unspoken (as you would expect from Julian Fellowes, who was also responsible for Gosford Park), and you're in business, really.

So it's not one for those seeking an intellectual challenge or rigorous debate, but if you're up for a bit of QWEEN VICTORRIA IS TEH ACES, it makes for a good night out. And if at least one member of the cast doesn't feature in the next Honours List, I will eat my hat.


1. Essentially because I think that the monarchy offers a valuable cultural focus which helps to bind us together as a community, and that an important part of the nature of that focus is a vivid and tangible link with our past - which, as a historian, I obviously consider to be a particularly important component of our cultural identity.

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strange_complex: (Penny Lilac)
Today would appear to be the Queen's birthday. That's as in her actual birthday, not her official birthday, which is celebrated in June.

I know this because the very first thing I heard, groggily, this morning when Radio 4 came on was an announcement to this effect, followed by the National Anthem. It's lucky I don't belong to that ever-diminishing group of people who believe you must stand up when the anthem is played, no matter what the circumstances, or it would have been a very rude awakening indeed. Instead, I was able to continue my usual morning habit of lying prone, groaning mildly, and trying to summon up the energy to lean over and switch on the light.

But I love that I live in a nation where we still mark such occasions with national radio broadcasts. The day would probably have passed me by if we didn't. Yet, since we do, I can now count my experience of this event as something I have in common with all the other citizens of the UK (and indeed commonwealth) today: or at least, those that know about it.

I believe I'll always be a royalist, despite my otherwise left-wing liberal tendencies, precisely because I see the creation of a sense of communal identity through rituals such as this as a positive thing. It's what always makes me fascinated by 'big' funerals, such as Princess Diana's, the Queen Mother's, and, even, the Pope (although I'm certainly not a Catholic). Clearly there have to be caveats, since the same sorts of rituals can also be used to promote abusive power-structures and feelings of extreme nationalism. But at the right level I am all for them: after all, we are social beings, and I like to be given a sense that I have something in common with others.

Meanwhile, I also find through a bit of Googling about the event that the broadcast of the National Anthem on such occasions has caused Radio 4 some heartache in the past (1998). I love that I live in a nation where we consider such things worth agonising over, too.

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