The Death of Stalin

Lavrentiy Beria with Joseph Stalin and Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana

The Death of Stalin

A film directed by Armando Iannucci, based on the comic book Death of Stalin, by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin, reviewed by ROBERT HENDERSON

Main Cast 

Jeffrey Tambor as Georgy Malenkov – Deputy General Secretary
Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev – General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
Olga Kurylenko as Maria Yudina – pianist whose family has fallen foul of the Soviet regime
Michael Palin as Vyacheslav Molotov – Foreign Minister
Simon Russell Beale as Lavrentiy Beria – NKVD head
Paddy Considine as Comrade Andreyev – the head of the radio station
Andrea Riseborough as Svetlana Stalina – Stalin’s daughter
Rupert Friend as Vasily Stalin – Stalin’s son
Jason Isaacs as Marshall Georgy Zhukov – the leader of the Red Army
Adrian Mcloughlin as Joseph Stalin
Paul Whitehouse as Anastas Mikoyan – Vice-Premier of the Council of Ministers
Paul Chahidi as Nikolai Bulganin – deputy premier and minister of defence
Dermot Crowley as Lazar Kaganovich – Minister of Labour

Running time, 107 minutes

If an entire society can become a lunatic asylum, Stalin’s Russia was surely that society. Imagine a world in which the present is at the forefront of your mind all the time. No one is safe. The most slavish devotion to the party line and to Comrade Stalin does not guarantee your safety for the party line might change from day to day or an informer tell a lie about you or simply recount an unguarded remark that you made. If a person says as little as possible, that might be taken as a sign that they are secretly disloyal; if they make a great display of loyalty it could be interpreted as a subterfuge to disguise their revisionist or worse their counter-revolutionary, true self. Being a senior member of the Party does not make someone safe. Few senior Bolsheviks from the revolutionary days died in old age. It was a madhouse in which rationality and consistency were dangerous traits. Arthur Koestler’s novel Darkness at Noon captures the general atmosphere of the time and place. Continue reading

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The Colliery Guardian

The Colliery Guardian

Bill Hartley mines a copious archive

The Colliery Guardian was founded in 1858 and closed in 1994. By then, it had shrunk to a rather thin monthly publication in a magazine format. Its reduction in size reflected the decline of the British coal industry following the miners’ strike. As the name implies though, the Guardian was once a newspaper and during the 19th century it appeared weekly, reflecting in its pages the size, importance and confidence of the coal industry and the closely allied iron trades, both at home and overseas. Copies of each year’s editions may be found in large heavyweight volumes bound (more like armoured) in leather to contain the many pages of this former broadsheet publication.

The papers’ correspondents home and abroad reported the triumphs and disasters of the coal industry, together with details of new inventions and innovations. British engineers were everywhere in those days and reports flowed in from across the Atlantic, remote corners of the Russian Empire, India and Australia: any part of the globe where coal was mined or might be was covered. This was a world of heavy engineering and every edition of the Guardian was filled with advertisements. Britain truly was workshop of the world. Many towns had an iron foundry and anyone wishing to equip a colliery railway could order locomotives and a fleet of wagons from half a dozen sources to be found in the paper. Other ephemera connected with coal mining covered everything from wheelbarrows to winding machinery. That said, the Guardian was no mere trade paper. If an editorial policy existed then it might have been, ‘anything of interest to our readers’. A dip into its pages at any point throughout the nineteenth century unearths a huge range of news and information; a treasure trove of Victoriana. Continue reading

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Falstaff, music composed by Verdi, libretto by Arrigo Boito, Opera Vlaanderen, Antwerpen, Belgium, December 31st 2017, directed by Christoph Waltz, conducted by Tomáš Netopil, reviewed by TONY COOPER

With a libretto by Arrigo Boito based on Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor and scenes from Henry IV (parts I & II), Falstaff – which received its première in February 1893 at La Scala, Milan – was the last of Verdi’s 28 operas and written as he was approaching the ripe old age of 80. It was also his second comedy and, indeed, his third work based on a Shakespeare play, following that of Macbeth and Otello.

A somewhat insubstantial plot revolves round the thwarted and farcical efforts of the well-loved fat old knight of Windsor, Sir John Falstaff, to seduce two married women to gain access to their husbands’ wealth.

This work is now part of the operatic repertoire worldwide but this was not always the case. Although the prospect of a new opera from Verdi generated great interest in Italy and around the world, Falstaff did not prove to be as popular as earlier works in the composer’s canon. After the initial performances in Italy, it fell into neglect until championed by Arturo Toscanini who insisted on its revival at La Scala and the New York Met in the late 19th and early 20th century. Many felt that the opera suffered from a lack of full-blooded melodies so much loved in Verdi’s previous operas, a view strongly contested by Toscanini. But conductors of the generation after him championed the work, including that famed trio – Herbert von Karajan, Leonard Bernstein and Georg Solti. Continue reading

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The Great War; a Cavalry officer negotiates a mined road


Lo, all our pomp of yesterday 
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!

For Stuart Millson, loss and decline inform Elgar’s music

The biographer Jerrold Northrop Moore remarks that if Elgar had died in his early thirties, his name today would only live on in specialist books about English music – his few, mainly choral works being given the occasional outing at provincial festivals. Elgar was 39 when his Norse saga, King Olaf, was written for a festival in North Staffordshire. His masterpiece, the Enigma Variations, championed by the great Wagnerian Hans Richter, would come three years later, in 1899.

Fortunately, Elgar lived a long life, drawing inspiration from many sources: the lanes and hills of Worcestershire, Herefordshire – and, in his Introduction & Allegro for strings, the coast of West Wales – and thirteen years later, the woodland and local legends of Sussex, in the Piano Quintet. Continue reading

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Third Parties in Canada

Color Field, Mark Rothko, No 61 (Rust and Blue), 1953

Third Parties in Canada

Seasonal fare for anoraks, courtesy of MARK WEGIERSKI

“Third parties” are an endlessly fascinating topic of study. The notion arises in polities characterized by “first-past-the-post” voting systems, where there are usually only two major parties. Polities characterized by proportional representation (PR) voting systems tend to have a multiplicity of parties. Particular popular attention – although scant electoral support — is given to “third parties” in the U.S. – where the “two-party” system is so strongly entrenched. Since the 1850s, with the rise of the Republican Party, there have been two main parties in the U.S. – although both of them have undergone tremendous permutations. Since that time, there has never been  a “third party” in U.S. politics which achieved the electoral breakthroughs that a considerable number of “third parties” have been able to do in Canada. Indeed, these “third parties” are sometimes not easily categorized as conventionally conservative or liberal. For example, the candidacies of both Ralph Nader (Green Party), and Pat Buchanan (Reform Party) in the 2000 U.S. Presidential election, had elements that were neither conventionally conservative, nor conventionally liberal. “Third parties” often amount to a salutary “shaking-up” of the political system – actually making it more truly populist. Continue reading

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No Secular Heavens Here

The Three Fates, by Claude Dalbanne

No Secular Heavens Here

Manilius’ Astronomica and the Poetics of 4. 1-11, by Darrell Sutton

Lucretius (99BC-55BC) penned an atheistic poem entitled De Rerum Natura (DRN). Its Latin text contains poetry of a high order. In the world of DRN, natural solutions seem more acceptable than any scheme of divine causation. Manilius’ Astronomica is a rival text to the DRN and may have been composed in order to offer a stylistic answer to the dilemma ancient Romans faced about human autonomy. Such as it is, Manilius’ poem is a focus of growing investigation. Students are drawn to it for a variety of reasons. Its poetry preserves evidence of common Graeco-Roman trends in the conception of celestial objects during the first century of the Common Era. Indeed, the text consists of several statements with eastern origins.

This essay is arranged in three sections. First, there is a brief conspectus of the context in which the poem was written and of what is known of Manilius. Second, a few comments are supplied on select verses regarding Manilius’ belief about the divine descent of wisdom and its dissemination through the display of celestial bodies. And third, a thorough study of the poetics of the text at 4.1-11. Continue reading

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Bitter and Twisted


Dimitri Platanias as Rigoletto

Bitter and Twisted

Rigoletto, opera in three acts, music by Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, after Victor Hugo’s Le Roi s’amuse, director David McVicar, orchestra conducted by Alexander Joel, Royal Opera, 14th December 2017, reviewed by LESLIE JONES

Giuseppe Verdi, like several other composers, passionately admired Shakespeare. As Susan Rutherford notes in the official programme (‘Attempting New Things’), in 1849, he drew up a list of plays that he thought could be made into operas. It included King Lear, Hamlet, The Tempest but also Victor Hugo’s verse drama Le Roi s’amuse. In the event, only the last idea came to fruition.

For Verdi, Rigoletto was his finest work. He regarded Hugo’s characterisation of Triboulet, the prototype of Rigoletto, as “one of the greatest creations that the theatre in any country or period could boast”. As in ancient Greek tragedy, Rigoletto is the play thing of the gods and by virtue of his character defects, instrumental in his own undoing. For as he himself acknowledges, there are divergent sides to his personality. Once at home, the cynical, world weary court jester gives way to the doting, over-protective father (of Gilda, played here by the technically gifted soprano Sofia Fomina). He considers the “vile, cursed race of courtiers” responsible for his moral failings and for his goading of Count Monterone, which elicits the latter’s fateful curse. Continue reading

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In House


In House

The English Country House: from the Archives of Country Life, Rizzoli, 2017, ISBN 978-0-8478-3057-2, £50, reviewed by Angela-Ellis Jones

‘The English country house is an extraordinary phenomenon that lies at the very heart of England’s history and cultural life’. So begins a magnificent tome which showcases  sixty-two houses which have featured in Country Life since the 1980s, when it started printing photographs in colour. The architectural styles span seven centuries, from the mediaeval Stokesay Castle to the newly built, Lutyens-inspired Corfe Farm. Many are still private homes, often inhabited by descendants of the families that built them. The houses show a wide geographical spread – almost all counties boast at least one entry in the book. The variety of England’s vernacular architecture is a testament to the remarkable diversity of its geology. Continue reading

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Rattle and Hun

Wassily Kandinsky, Romantic Landscape

Rattle and Hun

Sir Simon Rattle, Berlin Philharmonic, Staatsoper, Unter Den Linden, Berlin, December 2017: Stravinsky, Petrushka, Rachmaninov, Symphony No. 3 in A minor. Staatskapelle Berlin, conducted by François-Xavier Roth, Konzerthauss, Berlin. Reviewed by TONY COOPER

Sergei Rachmaninov wrote his Third Symphony in 1936, whilst living in Switzerland where he had a home located just outside of Hertenstein, near Lake Lucerne. Named Villa Senar, it was the composer’s summer residence for most of the 1930s. He died in 1943, after emigrating to the United States and, apparently, wishing to be buried at Senar. But the Second World War thwarted his wishes.

Rachmaninov’s three symphonies reflect different phases in his creative development. The First (written in 1895) conjures up a stormy combination of contemporary trends in Russian symphonic music, whilst the Second (1907) reflects the opulence of the music of Tchaikovsky. The Third Symphony, first heard in Britain in November 1937 with the London Philharmonic under Sir Thomas Beecham, saw the light of day a year earlier with Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Critical opinion was divided. Public opinion proved negative but the composer remained convinced of its worth. Continue reading

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M.L. West, Cementing a Legacy

Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus, by JMW Turner

M.L.West, Cementing a Legacy

M.L. West, ed., Homerus Odyssea, Berlin/Boston, Walter de Gruyter, 2017, Pp. LXII, 519

One hundred and fifty years ago, German academics were strides ahead of their non-Teutonic, classicist peers. Since then, a text-critical revolution has occurred: a select few men and women adapted and improved German classical implements for the betterment of classical studies as a whole. The distribution of good judgment in the editing of ancient Greek and Latin texts has now has been equalized, and to good effect

This edition of “Homer’s” Odyssey supersedes P. von der Mühll, Homeri Odyssea (Teubner, 1984), and is the culmination of five decades of academic study of Greek epic by West. The critical text exhibits all the scientific principles set forth in previous editions of Greek texts edited by him. Scholarly debts are repaid by him to several competent scholars (XXV). By June of 2015 the book was in effect finished (XXVI). Dr. Stephanie West, a distinguished classicist in her own right, tells readers that M.L. West (1937-2015), her husband, died before he could put the finishing touches to the final pages (XXVI). So the task fell to her. She is to be commended for her efforts. Continue reading

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