Tag Archives: war

Theatre review – Lilies on the Land

Lilies on the Land – review for Essential Surrey website.

Rating: 4.5 of 5

The Electric Theatre

Book review – A Whole Life

The oft used adage less is more has never been more appropriate than when applied to this charming book:

I chose A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler as my first selection for Steve Dover’s West Surrey Book Club, not quite at random but certainly serendipitously. And because of my own affinity with mountains.

Its brief description on Amazon captivated me as completely as seeing the sun rise on a single mountain, clad in fresh overnight snow.

Andreas Egger lives a simple, hard existence through the first half of the 20th century in a remote valley high in the Austrian Alps. He is at one with his natural habitat, often sleeping on the grass outside his ramshackle hut….and in moments like these he knew that the mountains breathed.

He falls unexpectedly in love and – almost wordlessly – marries Marie. She, together with their unborn baby, dies in an avalanche. He leaves the valley only to fight on the Eastern Front in World War II, spending 8 years incarcerated in desolate conditions.

He returns home to continue working amongst his beloved mountains, helping to construct lifts for the burgeoning ski market. He stumbles into a late career as a mountain guide. He dies.

The book is a mere 149 pages. I read it in not much more than 2 hours. Its simplicity, honesty and beautiful prose captivated me from first to last.

As far as he knew, he had not burdened himself with any appreciable guilt, and he had never succumbed to the temptations of the world: to boozing, whoring and gluttony. He had built a house, had slept in countless beds, stables, on the back of trucks, and even a couple of nights in a Russian wooden crate. He had loved. And he had had an intimation of where love could lead. He had seen a couple of men walk on the Moon. He had never felt compelled to believe in God, and he wasn’t afraid of death. He couldn’t remember where he had come from, and ultimately he didn’t know where he would go. But he could look back without regret on the time in between, his life, with a full-throated laugh and utter amazement.

Charlotte Collins has done a remarkable job translating Herr Seethaler’s original German text.

Read and enjoy A Whole Life….both what it says and how it’s said.

God Bless America

Stars and Stripes flags flutter proudly, high above perfectly manicured lawns.

A few firecrackers spit, as the barbecues sizzle.

White picket fences gleam in the summer sun.

It’s the 4th July in Connecticut, an affluent state just north of New York, and Americans are revelling in their Independence Day holiday weekend.

We enjoy our own BBQ and generous celebration, thanks to good friends Michael and Amanda Warren. Originally from the north of England, but now assimilated Americans after living here for almost 25 years, and bringing up their 3 children in the land of the free.

Later, we watch the “Macy’s 4th July music and fireworks concert” live on TV. A dazzling pyrotechnic display dances over the Hudson River, as a succession of musicians laud their mighty country.

Afterwards, we watch The American Sniper on TV. Based on the real life of Chris Kyle, Bradley Cooper plays the fiercely patriotic Navy Seal, who joins up after watching 9/11 and knowing that being a rodeo cowboy does not give him what he craves.

In 4 tours of Iraq, he kills more than 150 “insurgents” in their own country and becomes known as the legend.  A huge bounty is put on his head by the Iraqis.

Back home between tours of duty, he struggles to come to terms with leading a normal life with his wife and young children, when he could be in the war zone protecting his comrades and everyone in his home country.

Barack Obama is nearing the end of his second term of office. The Democrats’ natural instinct is to recoil from fighting wars overseas, after the disastrous Iraqi conflict undertaken by the Bush Republican administration.

But the new ISIS threat increases by the day.

The United States of America is at a crossroads. Does it continue to be the world’s policeman and, like Bradley Cooper, remain proud to fight on foreign soil for freedom at home, behind the white picket fences?

Or is that exactly why the developed world is terrorised today by an organisation that makes Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda look like boy scouts?

How will USA and the world look next 4th July, I wonder…….


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.

Movie review – Suite Francaise

Another free preview screening, thanks to those nice people at Times+

Somehow everything tastes sweeter, feels better, looks sharper if it’s free. You feel like you’ve won a small victory in the middle of a long and challenging life, inevitably laden with more losses than wins. A bit like Millwall FC, if they were ever awarded a walk-over for someone playing an ineligible player against them.

So here we were on a Monday night at Guildford Odeon, along with a load of other grey-haired Times readers, spontaneously watching a movie for which we’d seen an enticing trailer just a couple of days earlier.

Gill had read the book, written by Irène Némirovsky, a few years ago. It’s an incomplete book, written in real time as the author, a Russian Jew, lived through the German occupation of France in the Second World War. It’s incomplete because she died in Auschwitz, and the manuscript only surfaced many decades later.

The movie must inevitably take a few liberties with the original text, in order to get it onto the silver screen….but Gill reckons the conversion has worked well.

It’s essentially a love story, but also makes some sharp observations about loyalty, betrayal, self-preservation and other very human emotions when the natural order of a small, rural community is put through a tumble-dryer.

A great cast tells the story well. Kristin Scott Thomas plays a buttoned-up French lady of a certain age to perfection.  The versatile Michelle Williams is her daughter-in-law, caught in a moral maze. And relative newcomer Matthias Schoenaerts is the reluctant German officer, a musician rather than a soldier and trapped between love and duty.

Poignant, romantic, sad and yet ultimately hopeful that not everyone is destroyed by war.

A nice escape on a Monday night. Especially as it was free.