Tuesday, 21 February 2012

TV and Film Reviews

Law and Order UK: Last Friday saw a very dark story about a manipulative woman who conned men out of money to help her supposedly dying sister in Africa. The men (police, court officials) were floundering until a woman lawyer pointed them in the right direction for finding evidence. At first sight, it was not obvious, because the woman suspect was at first apparently a victim, and worked for a police forensic laboratory.

It was a very uncomfortable tale, with perjury, fabrication of evidence (leading to a taxi driver being arrested for a murder), and a climax in court where the accused told the judge he had said she would be alright when she had sex with him that morning. She hadn't, she was using that kind of accusation to attack the judicial process.

When she was found out, she finally launched into a bitter tirade about how men treated women as meat, and she was only getting her own back, and justifiably so. I hope I never meet anyone like that; it was a seriously scary portrayal of someone who appeared on the surface to be quite a normal human being, but who used their sexuality as a weapon.

"Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned" said William Congreve in the Mourning Bride (1697); often misquoted, this summed up the plot of this episode.

Sexuality and manipulation featured strongly in an early James Bond film, "From Russia with Love" (1963), which I watched at the weekend. He sleeps with the girl, and wants to get his hands on the Russian Lector decoding machine (a clone of an Enigma - electronic rather than mechanical, but typewriter size). Yet he is not prepared to abandon her to the villains, and there is a degree of chivalry present there as well, which is also there in the original book.

A notable highlight is the recreation of a match between Chess Masters Boris Spassky and David Bronstein at the USSR Championship in Leningrad in 1960, where the Spectre agent Kronsteen wins the game. It's a wonderful set piece, in a vast open hall, with chess pieces on the table being mirrored on the large magnetic board. It was almost a visual illustration of Bobby Fischer's remark about playing the game. "Chess is war on a board," he once said. "The object is to crush the other man's mind." And Kronsteen is the one who sets up the elaborate plan, with move and counter move, to crush Bond.

The whole film presents a much more leisurely pace than modern Bond, and the Istanbul location and the Orient Express is used to great effect. Would you be allowed to film in Mosques nowadays though, I wonder?

I remember visiting Istanbul in the 1970s, and seeing people puffing away on those strange bubbly globes, which looked quite fun. The Turkish coffee, small cups of very hot, black, sweet coffee, was another memory I'll not forget. I've seen lots of other types of coffee nowadays, but Turkish coffee is not usually one of them at coffee shops. According to David Warr, who knows all about coffee in Jersey, no one makes it locally. Agatha Christie loved Turkish coffee, and it features in one of her short stories, "The Harlequin Tea Set"

"They have some special Turkish coffee here," said Mr. Quin. "Really good of its kind. Everything else is, as you have guessed, rather unpalatable. But one can always have a cup of Turkish coffee, can one not? Let us have one because I suppose you will soon have to get on with your pilgrimage, or whatever it is."

The Turkish coffee was brought in little cups of oriental pattern. Ali placed them with a smile and departed. Mr. Satterthwaite sipped approvingly.

"As sweet as love, as black as night and as hot as hell. That is the old Arab phrase, isn't it?"

Harley smiled over his shoulder and nodded.

I caught up with "The Great British Countryside" with Hugh Dennis and Julia Bradbury at the weekend. While there is a degree of overlap with the BBC's programme Coast, this is one not so tightly focused on separate bits of the coastline, but instead gives more of an overview in contrast to Coast's fine detail. It used the different parts of the coast - and inland - to illustrate the changing geology and use of the land.

Any series which devotes just one hour to Devon and Cornwall is going to be a bit of a "big picture", but this series doesn't do badly in conveying a sense of deep geological time - and it was good to see ordinary people - such as a man who works in Tesco - also have an interest in geology. He regularly went fossil hunting, and although not a paid professional, had found an particularly fine ichthyosaur fossil; he keeps it in his kitchen!

I always like learning new snippets of knowledge that I didn't know before, and this series did that. I didn't in fact know that limestone from around the town of Beer is in fact the best for working with, and is used extensively in Exeter Cathedral, nor that the rise in copper and tin prices has made opening a Cornish mine viable once more, which is rather nice. I did recognise the vast China clay quarry in Cornwall though, because it was used as a very different location from bog standard quarries for filming Dr Who "Colony in Space". That geeky fact went unmentioned, which was probably for the best.

I liked the fact that Dartmoor ponies keep the landscape from becoming overgrown by grazing - an eco-friendly method. We've a lot more sheep in Jersey than we used to, and they do much the same task. I didn't know that Cornish hedges are in fact not hedges, but stone walls with earth in the middle, which prevent soil erosion and flash flooding. All in all, a geological focus with some interesting historical asides that I'll be watching next week - Yorkshire!

‎"Call The Midwife" ended on a high note, with a wedding. Chummy stood up to her terrible snob of a mother and married the policeman she loved. Before that was a wonderful sequence where, with candlelight and a bare minimum of resources, she delivers triplets. The houses have a 50s feel around them and often look rather dingy, but this one had no electricity, no water hot or cold, and really looked like a slum. We forget how low the standard of living was in the 1950s, and how wartime austerity still was biting after the war. Formica worktops would become a new sign of modernity, and I still have an old table with one dating from the 1950s in my garden shed.

‎"Upstairs Downstairs" came back with a slightly different feel, a bit more of an edge to it, as the realities of impending war, and the legacy of the Great War, both began to impact on Eaton Place. The Butler, Mr Pritchard, stood up for Quaker conscience in the face of hostility from both the police and the household, although those upstairs were more tolerant.

It is rare for belief to play a large part in a drama as this did, but the script was nuanced, so that you could both see why Mr Pritchard followed his conscience, and why others were hostile to it. They had sacrificed much, and saw conscience as a convenient excuse, an easy way out. But as he explained, he had been brought up by Quaker parents, and had embraced their belief; it was a deep seated and not a shallow conviction. He had, in fact, worked at an ambulance driver in the Great War, which he saw as the easy option because he did not go to prison like other more principled Quakers, and it was only when he protested against the unspeakable prison conditions that his fellow Quakers were in that he himself was sent to prison.

On the larger stage, the Munich Treaty was well done, with an impressive portrayal of Chamberlain as a man prepared to sign away almost anything to preserve the peace. It is not perhaps surprising that "appeasement" became such a dirty word. Chamberlain had no principles, except peace, and this part of the narrative showed how there can be such a thing as a bad peace where there is a fundamental lack of honesty. Peace and principles were at loggerheads here, unlike the small domestic drama played out back at Eaton Place.


L'Office du Jèrriais said...

From the Dictionnaire Jersiais-Français (p512-513): "thée ... Du thée dait être fort comme lé dgiâbl'ye, caud comme l'enfé, nièr comme la niet, doux comme l'amour! - dicton pour amuser évidemment."

A universal sentiment?

Nick Palmer said...

When were you in Istanbul Tony? I was there in 1975 in January and again in May. I well remember Turkish coffee - almost liquid mud (but tasty).

TonyTheProf said...

Some time in the 1970s, but I can't remember which year. I was on the trail of Spectre! (no that last bits a joke!)