Thursday, 5 April 2012

Reviews: White Heat, God Made the English, Titanic

White Heat: We are up to 1979, the winter of discontent, and Margaret Thatcher quoting from the Prayer of St Francis (just before she proceeded to reverse all its maxims in her time as Prime Minister). Jack is selected and standing as a Labour candidate, but gets done for having drugs [cannabis] in his car. Victor was borrowing the car to get an cake for the engagement party, and Jack almost tries to let him take the blame (and be struck off as a doctor). So his great hope is gone, and he has to resign as candidate. This mirrors events in microcosm, for we see Jeremy Thorpe being brought down by scandal. Attempted murder, shooting of a dog, and being gay. Politicians and would-be politicians can't afford to have skeletons in their cupboard.

And a Jay - who is gay - is set about by a gang of skinheads when he has a liaison with a gay man in a park. Homophobia is rife in late 1970s Britain. Alan admits to Victor that he finds the subject distasteful, but knows that he is wrong to do so. Gut instinct and ethics battle it out.

Meanwhile, Orla befriends a homeless refugee from Afghanistan, takes him back to their flat, and gives him a bath, clean clothes, finds his story - he is an illegal alien. But for all her good deeds, he leaves, having helped himself to her cash and cards from her wallet. Generosity is not always repaid with trust.

Meanwhile, in the present, Victor, Alan and Lily (it was their engagement party) go back to the pub of the engagement party. It's all changed, been revamped, looks nothing like it did in 1979. That's an experience that a lot of us have had!

God Made the English. This time the focus was on Englishness, and it was a much better programme than last week. The DNA evidence for the resident populations gives lie to the myth of massive Anglo Saxon invasions. The diversity of the religious culture in the 1800s was also very interesting; only 52% in the Church of England. And it was nice to hear the way in which the influx of clever Huguenots boosted society - one is seen on the £50 note - the first Governor of the Bank of England! In Jersey, of course, they integrated well as French speakers with a French speaking population, and several became Rectors of Parish Churches.

But it was the small details which brought it to life: the Family of God, with their Latin inscription on a Church bell; the patterns of English bell ringing, and the sad tale of Baptist child refused a burial service in a churchyard by the Rector because the child was baptist, hence in his eyes, not a Christian, and he didn't want the non-Conformists conducting a service at the burial either. That story became a national row!

I think MacCulloch was right too in his assessment that multiculturalism has led to isolated extremists, who while in a minority, can have a large and detrimental effect. The way in which the past came to a broad diversity under one umbrella of "Englishness" is eroded, and toleration is not enough of a positive voice to built a cohesive society; into the void come all the diverse religious fundamentalisms, nationalism, and groups that thrive on tearing society apart, not bringing it together.

I was not wholly convinced by his sunny optimism that the Church of England is best placed to act as a broker for conversations and discussions about religion in the public sphere; it seems too inwardly bent on squabbling within itself at the moment on matters of gay priests and women bishops. Clearly this was filmed before the announced retirement of Rowan Williams, and the collapse of the Anglican Covenant, and I wonder if he would have been so optimistic if he had know that was around the corner.

But a much better program all around, and if you are interested, Jersey and Guernsey people (in older families) have largely Danish DNA (same as in
Normandy) and Breton DNA. Of course now, that has been diluted a bit with English DNA.

Watched Titanic with Len Goodman earlier. There was an untold story of the caterers, Italian, and hand picked for excellence, and the opulence of the menu (I think he said 15 course, the sauce for the entree taking 2 hours to prepare), the quantity of food and drink (enough to feed a small town for a week) was fascinating. The Italian in charge had left a good restaurant, and saw the Titanic as an opportunity to make his mark on the world as one of the top caterers. Of course, neither he nor any of his fellow Italians survived. So much promise and hope drowned when the ship sank.

He also looked at the musicians. It was very good, and only a nit picker like me would note that - contrary to the films - there were actually several musical groups, not just one band, on the Titanic, an 8 piece orchestra, a subset of that which played as a quintet (both under Wallace Hartley) and a trio of violin, cello and piano (that played exclusively in the reception room) which was entirely separate, and not under Mr Hartley. And they didn't play "Nearer My God To Thee".

But nit-picking aside, these personal stories, handed down the generations, brought it home on a personal level, and the ballroom where one of the musicians played before he left on his tragic voyage still exists, and Len and his wife actually performed ballroom dance numbers there. There was a photo of the young Len, as well. The story of the pregnant woman, who was engaged to one of the bandsmen was very sad. The father of the man (who drowned) disowned her, and tried to prevent her getting compensation for her and her daughter, and only after around 100 years have the two sides of the family, cousins, discovered each other.

Goodman is an excellent and engaging presenter, and I look forward to next week with interest.

Titanic: The TV series progresses, although there is a lot of repeating last week, seen from the perspective of different characters. It is like a posh costume drama version of the brilliant Hoodwinked Movie, but not as funny. There still seems problems with scale. We did get mention of Molly Brown, but she's sitting at a different table in the dining room, so we don't get to see her. We don't really see a lot of the dining room; it has about maybe 3 tables in view, apart from the one being focused on. There are a few more people in the engine room now, as the water floods in, maybe even half a dozen. But it still feels like Titanic on the cheap, or adapted from some kind of stage play, where scale is restricted because of the confines of the stage. Even the iceberg, as it slithers by, seems strangely diminished.

One interesting way is that 2nd Officer Lightoller is portrayed as something of a heroic individual. Lightoller gave evidence to the American Enquiry, headed by Senator Smith, and when asked when he left the ship, replied that he didn't - the ship left him, as it sunk beneath him. In the James Cameron film, he was portrayed as something of a flustered character, almost in a panic in case the lifeboats capsized. Yet in "A Night to Remember", he is portrayed as a heroic figure, taking charge when the Captain had abdicated responsibility through shock (and of course played by that most heroic of actors, Kenneth More). Here, the heroic portrayal has returned; he takes charge when Captain Smith suffers a mental collapse and cannot make decisions. Unlike the Cameron version, he's a much more sympathetic and slightly older, more experienced character. I think that's probably more correct to history.

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