Movie review – The Imitation Game

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and those were different times are well-worn cliches and excuses, but what happened to Alan Turing really does beggar belief.

We saw The Imitation Game last night, a profoundly moving true story of a gifted mathematician who broke the Nazi Enigma code and, as a result, made a significant contribution to shortening and winning the Second World War.

His thanks? He was offered the choice of a two year prison sentence or chemical castration, after being convicted for being a homosexual, illegal in those relatively recent times.

Alan Turing committed suicide a year into the hormone treatment. He was 41.

Growing up, he was destined to be an outsider. More brilliant than his contemporaries, arrogant, socially inept and gay, he was never going to conform.

I haven’t seen Benedict Cumberbatch in anything before, but here he portrays Alan Turin’s anguished isolation perfectly.

The Imitation Game (2014) Poster

Working during the war at the  secret Government Code & Cypher School at Bletchley Park, he has a confrontational relationship with Charles Dance’s Commander Denniston, his boss. And in the shadows lurks Mark Strong’s Stewart Menzies, a calculating MI6 spymaster pulling the strings of various characters like a master puppeteer.

Keira Knightley plays her usual posh English girl, but with real depth as Joan Clarke, another naturally gifted mathematician who joins the Enigma team.

Joan and Alan fall in love with each others’ minds. She helps him to smooth out some of his rough antisocial edges. They become engaged in order to keep her at Bletchley, after she has been summoned back to her parents to marry her off. More evidence of how quickly social attitudes have changed.

The action flips between 1951, when Alan’s Manchester home has been broken into; 1928 when he’s at boarding school; and during WW2, in a desperate race against time to break the code as the Germans threaten to gain naval superiority.

This is a fine film, well directed by Morten Tyldum and sympathetically acted by a strong cast at the top of their game.

But above all, it’s about an outsider who helped to save a nation, but who was then condemned by the misguided morality of the time.

In 2013 the Queen signed a royal pardon for Alan Turing’s criminal conviction.

Theatre review – Persuasion

Persuasion

Review by Andrew Morris (for Essential Surrey)

The Yvonne Arnaud Mill Studio, Guildford until Saturday April 25

Jane Austen was an astute observer of early 19th century social customs. And she was arguably at her most perceptive in Persuasion, her last completed novel, published shortly after her death in 1817 at the tender age of 41.

In a whimsical but well observed adaptation by Hotbuckle Productions, 27 year-old Anne Elliot is intelligent, literary and sensitive.

And on the shelf.

Eight years earlier she had fallen in love with Frederick Wentworth, a dashing young naval officer. But she had been persuaded that Frederick was not a good enough match and, against her better judgement and natural instinct, severed the relationship.

But now the class tables have been deliciously turned.

Captain Wentworth returns imbued with honour and wealth, while Anne’s own profligate father has ensured the Elliot fortune is much diminished. The family estate Kellynch Hall is rented to Admiral Croft and his wife Sophia, Wentworth’s sister, while the vain and snobbish Elliot patriarch Sir Walter decamps to lodgings in fashionable Bath with his empty-headed eldest daughter, Elizabeth.

Frederick now ignores poor Anne, either through revenge or indifference.

A helter-skelter journey across the country follows before we find any answers. And on the way we encounter more match-seeking, fortune-hunting and a pivotal accident.

The brilliantly inventive company of just four actors somehow manages to portray the complete panoply of characters, effortlessly switching with ne’er a slip twixt costume and lip.

Hotbuckle founder and Persuasion adapter Adrian Preater plays Sir Walter perfectly, as a vain, preening, oleaginous buffoon, who may have squandered his family’s fortune but who remains a baronet. And class is all that matters, isn’t it? Moments later, Adrian becomes the mild, tweed-clad Charles, more interested in hunting than soothing his soppy wife’s brow. And then downcast, widowed poet Captain Benwick.

With a seamless change of accent, shawl or gait Clare Harlow is ditzy Mary, social climber Elizabeth or class-conscious Lady Russell, who turned Anne against Frederick all those years ago.

And Peter Randall is equally convincing whether playing rebuffed but still proud Captain Wentworth, devious cousin William Elliot or fawning family solicitor Mr Shepard.

The single constant is Emily Lockwood as Anne. With a mellifluous tone and deft gestures, she vividly conveys amusement at her superficial family, indifference to social niceties, and heart-rending regret that she was persuaded to reject the man she loved.

Ms Austen’s satirical rapier may best pierce the customs of her age, but her overriding message is permanent: be constant and be true to your own feelings.

The Mill Studio lends itself perfectly to this intimate production in which the chameleon-like actors are also the orchestra, set-movers and prop-creators. See it if you can.

Partnerships

Lunch today was a marriage made in culinary heaven: a humble bacon & avocado sandwich, common and yet regal in its symphony of different flavours and textures.

The avocado was ripe enough to slide off its rounded stone without the usual messy palaver. The thin layer left inside its mottled skin was spreadable on the fresh wholemeal bread, with the rest sliced like a moist Braeburn apple for a pie filling.

Slightly salty back bacon had been fried in its own fat – untainted by other oils – until just turning that slight tint of burnt brown that Masterchef says is the perfect finish for the ubiquitous scallop.

The crinkled rashers were eased onto the ridged avocado slices, and into the healthy wholemeal, as comforting as sliding under a warm duvet after a hard day at work. Except that there’s unlikely to be a generous smear of brown sauce in bed, that final ingredient making a bacon & avocado butty such a comforting foodie blanket.

An unlikely partnership perhaps, but a classic example of success through unholy alliances.

What unexpected combinations work for you, I wonder….?

 

Pension Freedom Day – and the politics of choice

Today is Pension Freedom Day. Hooray.

For decades the options for those with Defined Contribution personal pension schemes (compared with those lucky people with Defined Benefit aka Final Salary schemes) has been limited.

You could cash in your pension pot, after a lifetime of working, and buy an annuity for the rest of your natural days. You would then have a secure, fixed income. That income would be less if you wanted it to increase each year in line with inflation, or if you wanted your surviving spouse to receive a continuing proportion, for example.

There are other nuances but essentially the downsides of an annuity are that the insurance company benefits if you snuff it before the actuarial tables say you will, and the taxation implications were always punitive. Not attractive, as I wrote in an earlier article.

But from today, you have much greater choice and flexibility over your pension fund (after reaching 55).

So I give a rousing three cheers to George Osborne and this Conservative government. And I’m not ashamed to shout it from the rafters.

It’s my money. I’ve worked damned hard – well, ok, those 6 years in Bermuda weren’t all that demanding – all my working life, and I deserve the right to make my own choices about what to do with it.

Retire Sign Shows Finish Work And Message Stock Photo

In broader terms, this is a metaphor for capitalism v socialism. The political right want to decrease taxation – personal, to maximise the disposable income in your pocket each month, so that you can decide where best to spend it; corporate, to encourage businesses to invest in people and physical assets. And yes, to make a profit, which should NOT be a dirty word.

The political left believe in increasing taxation to maximise taxes because they want to spend more on public services. Because they know better than us what we need. The Nanny State.

I know which philosophy I prefer. Capitalism – with a social conscience, of course. Socialism doesn’t work, in economic terms. It scares away the wealth creators, discourages inward investment and inevitably causes a downward economic spiral.

I know how I’m voting on May 7th. But if Messrs Miliband and Balls win – with or without the help of a rainbow coalition – at least I’ll be able to buy a car with my meagre pension pot, and drive off to another country. Before they change the rules again.

 

 

 

Theatre review – Blood Brothers

Blood Brothers is an enduring piece of musical theatre.

It stands alone as a cracking piece of entertainment, with an emotional storyline and haunting music. But it can also be viewed as an allegory of the English class system, posing the nature v nurture question about a child’s development.

I saw BB again last weekend at the intimate White Rock theatre in Hastings, thanks to Kev & Debbie Lance.

I rarely see movies, plays or musicals twice. This was the third time I’d seen BB, but enjoyed every minute of it, all over again. Like pulling on a favourite old jumper found in the corner of wardrobe after a few years, scrunched up between that sweatshirt you got on holiday in 1992 and those M&S budgie-smugglers with the perished elastic.

Mind you, the first two viewings were a lifetime ago, in the 1980s. With Kiki Dee and then with Barbara Dickson in the central female role of Mrs Johnstone, mother of the fated brothers. This time Maureen Nolan performed the role admirably. And Marti Pellow – of Wet Wet Wet fame – played the narrator, the pivotal male role.

Written and composed by Willy Russell, BB tells the sorry tale of twin brothers Mickey & Eddie, born in Liverpool in the early 1960s. But Mrs Johnstone already has 7 other kids, her feckless husband has gone and she’s struggling to make ends meet in poverty-stricken Scouseland. So she gives one of the twins away to Mrs Lyons, a posh lady for whom Mrs J cleans, and who is desperate for a child of her own.

The music weaves its magical way around the evolving storyline as the boys’ lives move in socially disparate directions. They also fall in love with the same girl, their lives ending in inevitable tragedy. Inevitable because the opening scene tells of their simultaneous deaths, just as they were born together.

Written originally as a school play, BB went on to be performed more than 10,000 times in London, the 3rd longest-running musical production in West End history.

It finally ended its run at the Phoenix Theatre in November 2012, but lives on, thanks to a national tour throughout 2015.

If you haven’t seen it, go. And if you’ve seen it already, go again. Either way, I’ll bet you’ll come out humming Marilyn Monroe or Tell Me It’s Not True..

 

 

 

Eurostar – we salute you

How did we ever live without Eurostar, the high-speed train diving under the Channel since 1994 to link us more closely with our European neighbours?

Remember the clanking old ferries criss-crossing their turbulent way between Dover and Calais, lorry drivers swigging cans of Carlsberg for breakfast and day-trippers throwing up in the detritus-strewn café?

Or the cushioned hovercraft lifting its noisy skirts above the Ramsgate tarmac, with engines as noisy and whining as Janet Street-Porter?

We’ve been lucky to be fairly frequent users of Eurostar over the years. For leisure rather than for business trips.

To Brussels, for a delightful long weekend In Bruges after a pain-free transfer on a local Belgian train.  Sightseeing and chocolate eating, rather than killing time with Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell.

To Paris several times, recently to see the French Open tennis at ultra-cool Roland Garros. After a full day’s work in London, we checked into our hotel in the Marais still in good time to enjoy a few late night drinks and a couple of Gauloises in a louche jazz bar. Actually, we don’t smoke. But it sounded better.

In the summer there’s a special direct service all the way to Avignon, within touching distance of the glamorous Riviera. In just under 6 hours you’re transported from the grimy streets of north London to the sun-baked walled city of the legendary Pont and the imposing Palais des Papes, the epicentre of the Catholic church in the 14th century before migrating to Rome.

And from 1st May 2015, the direct service will also extend to Marseille. So just 6 hours 27 minutes after leaving St Pancras you can be in this edgy, exotic Mediterranean city – France’s 2nd largest – with an easy ferry link to Corsica, should you want to extend the adventure.

But our favourite Eurostar memories are the skiing trips. Leaving St Pancras on a Friday evening, indulging in a glass of fizz or Côtes du Rhône with a decent 3 course meal, grabbing some intermittent seated sleep before arriving in snow-laden Bourg Saint Maurice at 6 am on a crisp Alpine morning.

After good old Taxi Capucon has whisked you up the mountain at breakneck Gallic speed, you can hit the pistes by 9 o’clock….at roughly the same time as everyone else is cursing the long frustration-filled Easyjet queue at Gatwick, still 2 hours before flight time and an all-day transfer.

The Eurostar on-line booking and check-in systems are as well-oiled as a WD-40 salesman. St Pancras has been restored to its Victorian splendour, and an hour or two browsing its high-class shops or eating in its bistros is a pleasure, rather than a travelling chore.

On-board, the service is quietly efficient as the land- and soundscapes shift from city outskirts to Medway in-filling, orchards in the Garden of England, a gentle hum underneath the busy Channel and the bland flatlands of northern France.

The trip from London to Paris can now be done in just under 3 hours. Unless somebody jumps off the platform at Ashford, of course. In which case you can be sat on the train at platform 10 for 5 hours, as I did recently.

Imagine the carnage at Heathrow or Gatwick with those delays.

But Eurostar brought us lunch early – together with extra free booze – as we all sat reading, chatting with other passengers or the on-board staff, playing cards or discussing preferred suicide options.

Eventually arriving in Paris, one team greeted those who had missed connections and needed help with transport options, while another handed out free boxed suppers.

And a few weeks later, they confirmed I would be given a free return trip AND 50% compensation. Despite having no control over depressed jumpers.

Now that’s customer service.

Eurostar, we salute you. Next stop Marseille….