Bearer of the Flame

Bearer of the Flame

Ernest Hemingway: A Biography, Mary V Dearborn, Knopf, 738 pp., $35;
Ernest Hemingway: A New Life, James M Hutchisson, Pennsylvania State University Press, 292 pp., $37.95. Reviewed by STODDARD MARTIN

PART ONE

1961 saw two great events in the cultural history of the American male: the inauguration of John F Kennedy and the suicide of Ernest Hemingway. Precisely between this pair of events, my family moved from suburban Philadelphia to a California beach town. I was twelve. The popular song of the day was ‘The New Frontier’, by the Kingston Trio. From back East to out West was a transit from books and the indoors to the sea and a cult of the body. My beach town was in thrall to surfers, sailors, sports-fishermen and aficionados of bull-fights across the Mexican border 30 miles away. It was populated by transplants from Texas, Kansas City and the Upper Midwest whose forbears had made fortunes as oilmen, bankers and industrialists. The wives were heiresses, the husbands veterans of World War II, mostly naval or marine officers who had seen duty in the Pacific. All had grown up in an era shadowed by Prohibition; all were hard drinkers, many adulterers. The ones not clipping coupons had cushy jobs in what President Eisenhower in his farewell address had branded ‘the military-industrial establishment’.

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Churchill

Churchill in Quebec, February 1944

Churchill

Cast:
Brian Cox as Winston Churchill
Miranda Richardson as Clementine Churchill
John Slattery as Dwight D. Eisenhower
James Purefoy as King George VI
Julian Wadham as General Bernard Montgomery
Danny Webb as Field Marshall Alan Brooke
Jonathan Aris as Air Chief Marshall Trafford Leigh-Mallory
George Anton as Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay
Steven Cree as Group Captain James Stag, a Royal Air Force meteorologist
Angela Costello as Kay Summersby chauffeur and later as personal secretary to Dwight D. Eisenhower
Richard Durden as Jan Smuts, South African general turned politician
Ella Purnell as Helen Garrett (Churchill’s secretary)
Script by Alex von Tunzelmann

Director:  Jonathan Teplitzky

Film reviewed by ROBERT HENDERSON

This was a disappointing film in terms of its general theatrical quality which veers towards the melodramatic, but even more because it is a travesty of Churchill’s character. That fine actor Brian Cox might have been made for the role of Churchill and with a script which reflected Churchill’s personality, opinions and behaviour accurately I have no doubt that he would have produced a great depiction of the man. But here he is bound by a script which makes Churchill seem like a tempestuous child, and a child who more often than not could be side-lined and insulted to his face despite being Prime Minister in the midst of a most terrible and threatening war. It is difficult to think of any scene involving characters with power and influence which shows him as being the dominant character. For example, he does not chair the meetings with Eisenhower and the other military men. In real life he did.

The film is set in the four days before D-Day and the execution of Operation Overlord, the invasion of  Normandy. Churchill  is portrayed as being pathologically anxious that the  invasion should not be another  bloodbath like Gallipoli in the Great War, a failure for which Churchill has been held wholly or largely responsible. As a consequence, the film has him interminably prevaricating over the D-Day landings and after the decision is made to invade Churchill is shown praying for unfavourable weather to stop the operation: “Please, please, please let it pour tomorrow. Let the heavens open and a deluge burst forth such as has never been seen in the English Channel. Let the sea churn into peaks and troughs and tidal waves!”

That passage encapsulates the tone of the film. Churchill is not seen as being either in command or as a figure of authority but as a man frightened for his reputation and perhaps his soul. So strong a part of the film was the obsession with the failure at Gallipoli I could not help wondering if this was in part a consequence of having an Australian director, Jonathan Teplitzky. Australians are frequently more than a little angry about Gallipoli even today and blame the British for the loss of Australian lives there. Film scripts are not sacrosanct and it would be interesting to know if the subject of Gallipoli loomed as large in the initial script as it did in the film.

The historian Andrew Roberts has unreservedly slated the film for its many inaccuracies relating to Churchill’s state of mind leading up to the Normandy landings, viz: “The only problem with the movie–written by the historian Alex von Tunzelmann – is that it gets absolutely everything wrong. Never in the course of movie-making have so many specious errors been made in so long a film by so few writers.” Roberts attacks the film on the grounds that it wrongly shows Churchill as dithering over D-Day, being seriously at odds with his wife, at war with the generals and bullying his staff.

To the lack of historical accuracy about events and Churchill’s state of mind can be added the portrayal of his physical state. Churchill in real life was far from the physically lumbering man obese to the point of physical handicap that was depicted in the film. He played polo into his fifties and rode to hounds into his seventies  (in 1944 he was seventy). This physical misrepresentation feeds into the picture the film painted of Churchill being a man who by that stage of the war was a spent force and a positive hindrance to its successful prosecution.

The depiction of Churchill’s relationship with the military is also improbable. He is shown displaying a chronic fault of Hitler, namely, playing at being a military mastermind by suggesting different strategies such as decoy operations to mislead the Germans. There is also some startling and incongruous language involving the military, with Montgomery calling Churchill a ‘bastard’ to his face and casting aspersions on his commitment to the Normandy landings by accusing him of ‘doubt, dithering and treachery’. The PM later describes Montgomery (not in his presence) as a ‘Puffed-up little s**t.’ It all seems unlikely, not least because it implies that the military not the politicians were the real government of the UK at that time.

Indeed, there is a striking absence of other British politicians in the film or of any civilians in positions of authority and influence. For example, Churchill’s leading scientific advisor Frederick Lindemann had a very close relationship with him and the two met often during the war. It is somewhat odd that he did not appear at all because apart from his value as a scientific advisor Llindemann had a real friendship with Churchill and at a time of great stress it is probable that Churchill would have welcomed having him around.

Then there is Churchill’s relationship with his wife Clemmie. She is quite ready to criticise Churchill, as when she scolds him for his drinking and apologises for his behaviour towards his staff. At one point she even slaps him. There is far too much agonising from Clemmie about how Winston has neglected her and about how her life has been unfulfilling. Churchill is shown playing up to this, saying at one point, ‘I would understand if you left me. I’d leave me if I could.’

Even if there was any historical evidence for this behaviour, would the Prime Minister’s wife have exhibited it just before D-Day? However, the evidence for such behaviour is simply lacking. This element of the film seems suspiciously like an anachronistic feminist implant designed to show that in 1944, men behaved “badly”, that is, displayed politically incorrect behaviour and that women spiritedly rebelled against such treatment. The fact that scriptwriter Alex von Tunzelmann is a Guardian columnist may be indicative here. It would be very interesting to see if she could justify her script in terms of historical accuracy.

Is this film worth seeing? Probably not for as a pure piece of drama it fails. The action flits from scene to scene in a stilted fashion which robs the film of cohesion and leaves the impression that each scene is being ticked off as having covered a particular issue. Nor, apart from Churchill and his wife, is there much character development for although the film has a substantial number of historically important characters, little time is allotted to each. These supporting characters are, as one can more or less take for granted in a film manned by British actors, adroitly executed in as far as their limited roles allow. Within the confines of this constraint, Julian Wadham’s Montgomery stood out.

That should be equivalent to saying don’t waste your money. However, Churchill is one of those films which has an importance beyond its qualities as a film. Its effect is to turn Churchill from a war hero into an irresolute, fearful incompetent. In fact, the misrepresentation of Churchill is so complete that it qualifies as character assassination. The danger is that it will colour the public’s view of the man. Consequently, see it so that you can afterwards refute its view of Churchill. In short, it should be seen for its faults not its virtues.

Robert Henderson is QR’s film critic

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Dunkirk

British troops at Dunkirk

Dunkirk

Cast:
Fionn Whitehead as Tommy, a British Army private
Tom Glynn-Carney as Peter, Mr Dawson’s son
Mark Rylance as Mr Dawson, a mariner and Peter’s father
Jack Lowden as Pilot Officer Collins, a Royal Air Force Spitfire pilot
Harry Styles as Alex, a private in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders
Aneurin Barnard as “Gibson”, a French soldier masquerading as a British Army private
James D’Arcy as Colonel Winnant
Barry Keoghan as George, a young man who helps to crew Dawson’s boat
Kenneth Branagh as Commander Bolton the pier-master during the evacuation
Cillian Murphy as a frightened soldier
Tom Hardy as Farrier, a Royal Air Force Spitfire pilot
Michael Caine appears in a spoken cameo role as Fortis Leader

Director Christopher Nolan

Film reviewed by ROBERT HENDERSON

The year is 1940. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) has been sent to Europe to help repel the Germans. This fails and the BEF eventually make their way to Dunkirk, a French port six miles from the Belgian border. Here they wait, more in hope than expectation, to be evacuated back to Britain. But against the odds, between 27th May and 4th June, over 300,000 British, colonial and French troops were evacuated, most by Royal Navy (RN) ships but some by civilian boats, many very small, crewed by a mixture of RN personnel and civilians. (Small boats were useful because they could get near enough to shore for soldiers to wade out to them. Larger boats had to either wait offshore to have soldiers ferried to them or they used a form of jetty called a mole to take people on board.)

The Germans did not press forward into Dunkirk with their army as might have been expected. Instead they attacked using planes and submarines. Why they took this course is unclear but it was sanctioned by Hitler. It may have been that Goering persuaded Hitler to allow the Luftwaffe to gain the kudos of finishing off the British forces. It might have been that Hitler believed that once the British forces were out of continental Europe, they would never come back. It could have been caution on the part of Hitler and his generals. Whatever the reason, during the week the evacuation lasted the troops on Dunkirk beach were subject to bombing and British vessels engaged in the evacuation were bombed and torpedoed. That is the bare bones of Dunkirk.

The brutal reality of war has often not been represented honestly or convincingly in films, but the graphic opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan arguably changed that and most war films since have been much more unsparing of the audience’s squeamishness.   Indeed, modern film makers have taken to heart the American civil war general William Sherman’s remark “War is hell” and created hell on the screen. Christopher Nolan does so here. Consequently, the film scores very well when it comes to the military action, giving a convincing depiction of the multiplicity of ways of dying in action and the sheer violence and randomness of the killing and wounding. The effect is to give a nihilistic quality to many of the scenes. Whether someone lives or dies has no particular reason.

The aerial battles between Spitfires providing cover to the men on the beach with German fighters are particularly compelling, perhaps because such warfare has the shape of single combat and the manoeuvres of planes flying fast but not at supersonic speed while attacking with machine guns rather than missiles has an intimacy that the blind destruction of men on the ground absolutely lacks. The Spitfire pilot had to get close to his target and fire his guns in sustained bursts.

All of this makes for a complicated story to tell. To address this fact Nolan has decided on an impressionistic style rather than a straightforward chronological narrative. He does this by dividing the film into three separate sections entitled land, sea and air.

The quick flitting from one piece of action to another in the film does not give great opportunity for character development but Mark Rylance as Mr Dawson, the civilian skipper of a small boat, knits together the progress of the sea story as a representative of the “small ships”.

James D’Arcy as Colonel Winnant and Kenneth Branagh as Commander Bolton the pier-master during the evacuation represent the experience of senior officers, while Fionn Whitehead as Tommy and Harry Styles as Alex give a backbone to the experience of the private soldier. Spitfire pilots Jack Lowden as Pilot Officer Collins and Tom Hardy as Farrier do the same for the air action.

Rylance oozes calmness under fire and brings what he always does to the screen, an intensely sympathetic personality, while Hardy is coolness personified, with a courage which is anything but showy. He is a man who is brave whilst doing what he does out of a sense of duty.

The one character that I found unconvincing was that of Cillian Murphy, who plays a frightened soldier whose nerve has gone after having been in a ship which was torpedoed. The Dawsons pick him up on the way to France and the soldier in a state of panic tries without success to get Dawson to turn about and head for England. Somehow he never managed to make his mental anguish seem anything other than histrionic.

The film has its historical inaccuracies and omissions. Next to nothing is made of the French army’s resistance which hindered the German advance on Dunkirk and the considerable damage that occurred in Dunkirk is absent. But neither is the British rear-guard action to allow most of the BEF to reach Dunkirk and be rescued. The idea of the film is to show the British experience at Dunkirk and in the English Channel rather than try to give the complete picture of the action around Dunkirk and indeed within Britain itself, where the families of both the stranded BEF men and of those who had sailed their small boat like the fictitious Mr Dawson might have been included in the story.

Whether the viewer finds the limited scope of the film satisfying or not, it is nonetheless a legitimate dramatic device to concentrate on the direct experience of those on the beach and the British forces by sea and air which facilitated the remarkable evacuation of some 190,000 British and 120,000 French soldiers. If the film had taken in the French and German warfare relating to Dunkirk or the behaviour of the relatives and friends of the servicemen trapped in Dunkirk it would have been an entirely different film.

Dunkirk has its limitation as a coherent drama but taken as a whole is an invigorating and exciting production. It gives a vivid idea of the immediacy and multiplicity of danger which war brings and the sheer helplessness of humans caught in its coils. That is reason enough to see it. But there is also another reason. The World Wars left their mark long after they were over and not just in terms of the dead and wounded. It left its mark on the survivors. I was born in 1947. The war loomed very large in my childhood and even my early adult years. One regularly met ordinary people who had done extraordinary things: landing on the beaches on D Day; serving on the convoys to Russia; flying Spitfires and Hurricanes in the Battle of Britain or flying sortie after sortie with Bomber Command. The result was a toughness in people generally but particularly in those who had seen action, which is lacking today. It is a film which will speak especially to people who remember what the war and its aftermath was like.

Robert Henderson is QR’s film critic

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Wensleydale Heifer

The Wensleydale Heifer

Em Marshall-Luck enjoys fine food in North Yorkshire

The Wensleydale Heifer is an outstanding hotel, bar and seafood restaurant nestling in the village of West Witton under the benevolent, albeit looming gaze of Penn Hill. There are various sections to the establishment – smart bars; snugs; more informal lounge type of areas; and the restaurant itself. This has tables dressed properly in white linen with real roses in very tall and elegant vases, colourful display plates, elegant tall wine and water glasses, and appropriate cutlery. A sheep theme runs through the whole establishment (slightly oddly, given its name; but perhaps not quite so incongruous when one bears in mind the fact that Wensleydale is known for its sheep) with rather kitsch model sheep on the mantelpieces and suchlike. Continue reading

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Oakeshott’s World View

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, frontispiece

Oakeshott’s World View

Noel O’Sullivan (ed.), The Place of Michael Oakeshott in Contemporary Western and Non-Western Thought, Imprint Academic, 2017; £19.95; pbk; 197 pages, reviewed in two parts by ALLAN POND

[This collection includes some of the papers given at the 2015 conference of the Michael Oakeshott Association held at Hull University plus some papers not presented to the conference but on the same theme of the conference which also lends its title to the book.]

Part One

The past twenty years has seen an upsurge in scholarly interest in Oakeshott’s work much of it inspired by the Oakeshott Association and its dissemination by the publishers of this book. The editor in his introduction notes that Oakeshott himself, if still with us, might be surprised by this upsurge in the influence of his writings since while alive he was relatively unknown outside a highly specialist audience of academic philosophers and (some) historians. Indeed the very year he died (1990) a fellow philosopher reviewing one of the first full length studies of Oakeshott’s political theory to have appeared, Paul Franco’s The Political Philosophy of Michael Oakeshott in the TLS, opined It is surprising that the work of Michael Oakeshott is not more widely read these days, since much of what he wrote in the 1940s and 50s is curiously in keeping with the spirit of our times” (Waldron, 1990) Continue reading

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ENDNOTES, 8th August 2017

Batman, The Dark Knight

ENDNOTES, 8th August 2017       

In this edition: The Richard Hickox Legacy from Chandos Records, including The Black Knight, reviewed by Stuart Millson

The orchestral and operatic conductor, Richard Hickox CBE, was probably one of the hardest-working and most committed recording artists of his generation. His death at the age of just 60 shocked the musical world and robbed it of one of its quiet stars – for the late maestro was never in the overbearing, over-dramatic, self-publicising bracket of musicians. A large-of-frame, genial figure, Hickox was a man who simply got on with the job in hand, rather than pursuing visual style or seeking out crowd-pleasing popularity. I recall seeing him at the 1983 Proms, making what I believe was his debut there with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. He struck me as an almost boyish figure (fresh faced and very much a new try-out), and I felt that the Stravinsky he conducted (a suite from The Firebird) went up in flames, although with plenty of drama and colour along its hurtling course. Continue reading

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Bastille Day equals Brexit Day

Anonymous, Prise de la Bastille

Bastille Day equals Brexit Day

Stephen MacLean highlights the Remainers’ fear of freedom

Freedom lovers around the world celebrate Bastille Day (14th July) in recognition of the rights of man and ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité’. As many on the Continent believe, the French Revolution was the pivotal event in the rise of the individual against the entrenched power of the Crown, the aristocratic court, and the privileges of the Roman ‘Gallic’ Church. But the irony is lost by those who fight Britain’s exit from the European Union, particularly the leadership in the devolved regions of Scotland and Wales, whose preference, it seems, is to live under foreign-dominating EU law than the domestic laws of the United Kingdom. Continue reading

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Piazza Fontana, Cirencester

Piazza Fontana, Cirencester

Em Marshall-Luck finds a surprising Italian treat

A lesson is to be had in not judging by appearances as one approaches Piazza Fontana. Conveniently and centrally located on the now hugely improved and smartened Castle Street in Cirencester’s attractive centre, one reaches this Italian restaurant via a rather unimposing entrance, through a low-ceilinged and slightly dingy passageway with faded and peeling white-painted bricks. I must confess that the flashing OPEN sign and the pre-fabricated door instilled in me a mild sense of trepidation. The young man at the reception desk in the entrance area was hesitant about where to seat us, so the manager and owner, Ersin, was fetched, introduced himself, and seated us at the far end of the conservatory room, looking out over a little courtyard with pleasing, old stone walls and plants abounding; one can imagine the courtyard being a lovely spot to eat in the warmer days of the year. Continue reading

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We Cannot Escape History

Bob Barron, Matins 2

We Cannot Escape History

Mark Wegierski contrasts American and Canadian Conservatism 

[An article based on a presentation read at the “Conservatism: Made in USA” Conference, held at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Poland, on April 28, 2010]

America was founded as a revolutionary society which cast off the fetters of the Old World, whereas Canada originated in two distinct cultures. The first of these was French Canada – which had maintained its Ancien Regime – being already under British rule at the time of the French Revolution. The origins of French Canada go back to the founding of Québec in 1608. By 1760, French Canada had been conquered by the British. However, the British were relatively tolerant, allowing, for example, the maintenance of the Roman Catholic faith. The second culture – which became decidedly more dominant, especially in the nineteenth century — was British (or English) Canada, whose origins lay mostly in the United Empire Loyalists – refugees from the American Revolution – who settled in Upper Canada (Ontario) and the Maritimes (on the Atlantic coast). Continue reading

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Old Downton Lodge

Old Downton Lodge

Em Marshall-Luck enjoys a meal worthy of a Michelin star

Old Downton Lodge is a remarkable place. Set amidst Shropshire’s rolling hills (despite the establishment itself being in a tongue of Herefordshire, poking rudely into Shropshire) it was originally a farm and is formed of a series of very old buildings, with the oldest part – the dining room – dating back to the eleventh century. The present owners have been here six years, and have gradually converted it from a B&B to a spectacularly sophisticated restaurant, with the assistance of head chef Karl Martin, who has been with them for three years.

There are also 10 individually decorated bedrooms; I was pleased to hear that these are dog-friendly, although children under the age of 12 are not allowed in the restaurant, due to the length and intensity of the meals. Continue reading

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