Thursday, May 31, 2012

Is Brett Murray's 'Spear' teaching us the same as Yuill Damaso's 'Anatomy Lesson'?

 Forgotten all about that other notoious painting two years ago?
Refresh you memory about the politics of art and the art of politics:

Yuill Damaso’s painting ‘The Anatomy Lesson’, after Rembrandt’s 1632 masterpiece of the same title, has not caused a storm (even if it is one in a teacup) because of its artistic merit or lack of it. His choice of subject is condemned as tasteless and, as always when cultures collide, racist; as an abuse of Nelson Mandela and his family; as an affront to African values, which - so the ANC complained to Mr Damaso - consider it witchcraft to show a living person dead. Cosatu also felt obliged to express their disgust at the painter’s exploitation of an icon to increase ‘profitability in the sale room.’

Ignoring for a moment whether Mr Mandela is abused, these are cultural and political objections. It makes sense then to look at the two paintings from the opposite viewpoint, as visitors do in a gallery, to see if there is anything they have missed.

Mr Damaso has pointed out that African culture is not his culture and he does not see anything wrong in what he has done. He might have added Rembrandt himself ‘profited’ from his work: it was a commission from a wealthy surgeon, Dr Nicolaes Tulp, who is shown conducting the anatomy class in the original painting. There is no outrage in one artist openly finding inspiration in another, or in Mr Damaso hoping his updated version of a famous Rembrandt might also prove profitable, albeit these days ‘in the sale room’. Artists have always had to earn a living one way or the other.

Other moral certainties look less certain on closer examination. In 1632 Amsterdam was the thriving centre of a new country. The United Provinces (Holland today) had emerged victorious after decades of war against an imperial power, the Spanish Hapsburgs. South Africans know better than most the pride and energy that releases in a people. The city bustled with trade, with a new-found confidence and freedom, and was a centre for the new ‘scientific’ thinking, the investigation of the natural world and ideas. Even so, cutting up a human corpse was still at the cutting edge. Rembrandt’s ‘Anatomy Lesson’ bravely as well as brilliantly records a rare event, conducted only with special permission.

No one can deny what a SA reader posted on a news story about this subject. ‘It is not fair,’ he wrote, ‘to expect Africans to accept that which they deem taboo (in order) to be politically correct in terms of freedom of expression.’

That is right as far as it goes. But more is involved in this than freedom of expression. The anatomy class Rembrandt painted would have excited and been supported by ‘progressives’ - and condemned as profanity by conservatives. Rembrandt was not sensationally exercising ‘freedom of expression’ and publicising an abomination, as can happen in our modern media-driven age. He was recording one of the ways men were working to understand, and eventually to improve, the human condition. This ideal is shared by ‘Africans’ as well as other ‘cultures’.

Those who criticise Mr Damaso’s work might just take another look at it. Is there nothing in the idea that all our politicians would profit from finding out what makes Nelson Mandela tick? Has Mr Damaso actually done anything worse than add an insightful little twist to this remarkable man’s certain immortality?

As to whether Mr Mandela feels personally abused by this presumption, an ANC spokesman interviewed on etv brushed aside any need to ask him. The party has spoken and, not for the first time, the party considers the debate closed. At times it must seem to Mr Mandela that he has been anatomized and abused all his life. Happily, he is wise enough to know that is the fate of everyone who accomplishes extraordinary things.

In Rembrandt’s original, the anatomy class is held by the distinguished burgher Dr Tulp; in Mr Damaso’s adaptation, by the innocent child Aids victim, Nkosi Johnson, from whom the grown-ups indeed had much to learn. Both tutors look out of the picture to address a wider audience beyond the students around them.

The wider audience is us. Only we, in the end, can see if there is anything important to be learned here.

This article first appeared on Newstime, July 10 2010

Friday, May 18, 2012

Hearing 'Tristan and Isolde' for the first time


On May 4 1954 I heard the Prelude to Tristan and Isolde and the Liebestod for the first time. Words remain as helpless as they always were to describe the shattering effect it had on me. After some more fruitless runs at it as a way to start off this postscript*, I give up on all attempts for good. I should have known better by now than to try.

But lying awake several nights recently, I have found myself with enough words at last to tease out from that overwhelming experience strands that are intelligible, at least to me. In with my soaring wonder at this totally new music, the tumultuous onrush of feeling that swamped and swept me away, there mingled a sense of something fathomless and frightening happening to me: an intimation that everything was changing, would not be the same again. I was hearing all there could ever be and nothing you could ever have.

This intuition was uncannily in accord with Wagner’s intention but it worked in me the other way round. When my reason reassembled I had not learned that Bliss lay elsewhere. I concluded that the world was full of wonders and that I enjoyed special privileges, even special powers, to come by them. Unable to express or share it, but never doubting it, I lived in expectation that ineffable beauty would recur, be there for me, not often perhaps but as a matter of course, throughout life. The thought that I would be looking for it in the wrong place never crossed my mind. 

As the busy years went by, I came to know that May 4 1954 would not repeat. When I thought of it I felt no sense of loss. Rather I felt a tinge of guilt, mild unease at something lacking in me that the highest point of all had been this music one night alone. I see now those feelings were more mistaken than if I had felt loss. My out-of-this-world experience changed and magnified my life in this world. It does not relegate any part of it, even though it is more than any part of it. It is not unfortunate that you never have the moment again. It is supremely fortunate that you have it at all.

There is nothing on earth like Tristan and Isolde. Wagner composed it after he came to see ‘the world’s nothingness’. But to see the world as nothing means he must have also seen it as everything - and his to create. On May 4 1954, unprepared, uncomprehending, I shared in with the rest of my experience that frantic intensity of need to exist and exist for - that if this, this, were the only thing the world is to offer, you would live and die to get in to have it.

As for The Twilight of the Gods, I saw an ENO production years ago myself. In it the producer simply refused to accept that Wagner had ever stopped being a young revolutionary. At the end, when the gods had fallen, Valhalla and the world burned, the ring had returned to the Rhinemaidens and the final chord of music died, the curtain did not fall. Instead half-lights came up. The entire cast had come silently back on stage and now stood in the dimness with their backs to the audience. They turned to us as one, putting to us the unspoken question: What kind of world should we be living in?

Not even genius can tell us what to think. When I see young Dave and me in the shop in Enfield now buying Act III of Die Walkure, you are with us; we are all chatting away.

* This is the last part of Wagner Notes for Holly, complete on this site dated April 2007 

Monday, May 14, 2012

South Africa's problem is not a lack of leadership


You cannot fail to have noticed how the media keep going on about leaders or the lack of them. South Africa, editors and commentators constantly complain, needs leadership and President Zuma is not providing it.

They forget that when President Mbeki was very definitely providing it - on Aids and on Zimbabwe to take just two examples - SA supposedly did not like it at all. Or could it be most South Africans are realistic enough to know they have in fact little say or influence on how their leaders handle issues?

To throw some light on the subject, David Bullard recently asked on Politicsweb* if it matters who leads the ANC, which gave everyone a chance to pitch for their personal favourite. Mr Bullard could have spared himself the abuse and his readers the trouble.

In his book Eight days in September, Frank Chikane, who worked one way or another with all the presidents between 1995 and 2009 and should therefore know what he is talking about, admits: 'Polokwane did not radically change the policies of the ANC ... it was more about the removal of Mbeki.' And he goes on to add: 'Those who were thinking .. it would be easy to change policies .. failed to take account of the fact that the party's policies could not be changed without the approval of a national (party) conference.'

In short, SA's problem (or, if you prefer, 'challenge' - we all seem more comfortable with that word these days) is little or nothing to do with the quality of individual leaders. It is due to the fact that SA is not the 'democracy' it is said to be, but rather a monocracy or party-state.

In a democratic state, the function of political opposition is not 'to keep the ruling party on its toes'. That would not be enough even if it happened, and in SA it plainly does not happen. The expression is a coinage of commentators who do not wish to explore SA's political situation more fully and expose how it works against both governing and governed. Here are some of the points always glossed over:

1] Opposition is failing if it is merely a cosmetic to present the state as a multi-party democracy: it must be a reality that presents the people with an alternative national government. In the same way, the vote must amount to more than the freedom to vote or to abstain. To have any force, it must imply the electorate is able to change the government at the polls.

2] Both conditions are missing in SA. Presently around two-thirds of voters do not see existing opposition as an alternative government. As a result, citizens as a body do not play (or again, if you prefer, do not choose to play) their assigned social role of agents of change.

3] With two essential democratic institutions - opposition and the electorate - 'non-performing', SA is not a democracy but a monocracy. Political power is largely unchecked and the outcome is cronyism, widespread corruption and periodic moves or attempted moves on basic democratic freedoms that threaten the elite. Patronage replaces merit as the social bond and cadre deployment keeps the system going. Cadre deployment is not the cause of SA's democratic deficit, as commentators routinely suggest. It is one more result of it.

4] However, it is not only unjust but seriously mistaken to see these problems in terms of the ANC's general moral decline, as if the party’s entire membership all of a sudden lacks the virtues of politicians everywhere else. We will not find solutions if we insist on looking in the wrong place.

Under democracy, political parties do not maintain discipline either by recruiting saints or by sermonizing about morality. They remind members that any obvious lack of integrity reflects on the whole party and puts it at risk at the next election. Shape up or ship out.

As we see with the drawn-out drama of Julius Malema, the ANC leans over backwards to avoid a hard line. It does not follow that the current leadership is weak. Thabo Mbeki may be lamented in some quarters as a lost strong leader, but in office he had much less to say about corruption than President Zuma has.

The truth is no ANC leader can go to war over the issue of members' conduct; it would be the finish of him as leader and of his already divided party. But it would be a different matter altogether if ill-discipline and misconduct placed the ANC at risk of losing the next election. We will see leadership soon enough, and see it on a whole range of issues, the day SA has an alternative government waiting in the wings.

*Politicsweb first published this article on April 12 2012

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Understanding what Julius Malema means for South Africa


You may feel the current imbroglio over discipline serves the ANC right. The party has only itself to blame for Julius Malema. He is the product of its heady promise of a ‘revolution', but is somewhat out of favour with the leadership at the moment because he is doing things that could actually bring revolution about.

After the alarming upheavals across Africa recently, Mr Malema cannot be indulged anymore. Socialism was ruled out as a system post apartheid, if indeed it was ever in the ANC's plan: different interests can read the Freedom Charter as for and against. What has counted since 1994 is that SA settles down to earn a living in a capitalist world and that ANC loyalists are well provided for in the mixed economy they preside over.

Mr Malema does not understand or care about such compromises. As a young man with nothing to lose and much to gain, he can easily rock the overloaded ANC boat - and in what is euphemistically called SA's ‘party-dominant democracy' that imperils the entire ship of state. If it's not socialist revolution, what other kind of revolution could Mr Malema intend - or, horror of horrors, unwittingly unleash? That is the question.

Many are suspicious he is the champion of people whose lives he visibly does not share. In everyday language, they cannot understand how he can be a ‘communist' and a commonplace capitalist at the same time. Not that people are lost for words. They can explain how he contrives to speak for the poorest of the poor when his personal preferences are clearly for the richest of the rich. They can interpret the expensive cars, watch and whisky, the veiled threats and menaces against ‘whites': Mr Malema is a hypocrite, a populist, a demagogue - are three of the more polite ways his opponents put it.

That still leaves a political explanation outstanding. Can Karl Marx in any way go hand in hand with what some openly call Mr Malema's fascism?

Before venturing a view on that very sensitive subject, let something be absolutely clear. Nothing is more mistaken than to lift experiences from other places and times and suggest they necessarily or even might follow here and now. History is not a set of laws or the moral tale it is often said to tell. It is a hugely complicated and constantly changing passage of interacting events that, with study, can leave you a tiny bit less than totally ignorant of the human predicament. That is all.

In that light, we can agree Marxism springs from the highest ideals of humanity - the community of all, internationalism and peace - and that fascism is not an ideology in any sense. Fascism is a politics of coercion which, if it entails anything besides verbal and physical violence, promotes extreme nationalism cultivated through a fervent nativism shading into racism, with all three being embodied in a messianic leader ready to be martyred for the sake of ‘the people'. Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuhrer.

However, such theoretical differences have always had a way of vanishing in practice. Certainly in Europe communism and fascism were implacable enemies: their street brawls in Germany after World War I finally ended in the World War II fight to the death between Comrade Stalin's USSR and Herr Hitler's Third Reich. But in both cases, the revolutionary party-state had extinguished civil liberties much earlier. The difference in reality was only between a dictatorship of the proletariat and a dictatorship of the Volk.

Outside Europe, communism readily teamed up with new and growing national feelings. In China in the early 1920s and in the long war against Japan, communists and nationalists were on the same side. Later the two worked together to end French rule in Indo-China and to replace the corrupt regime in Cuba; in SA the story was the same. Nativism-nationalism fought to free lands from colonial rule; communism fought to free peoples from capitalism. Both marked out the imperial west, and its apparently hypocritical democratic values, as the permanent enemy and threat.

Julius Malema plays with a complex inheritance: African and European; white and black; cultural and universal. Imperialism, Marxism, democratic centralism, fascism, all driven by a crusading zeal to dominate, hold out deceptive ends. Whether the intrusive former youth leader means good or ill for SA, we must decide. He cannot tell us when he cannot tell the outcome himself.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Shrien Dewani and Jacob Zuma: two takes on trial by media


The majority of people with an opinion on the subject evidently decided for themselves that Shrien Dewani is guilty of murdering his wife on holiday in South Africa; those with no view are generally not much interested either way.

Mr Dewani’s family and close friends insisted he is grief-stricken and cannot be guilty, while the open-minded in SA and in the UK became increasingly baffled by all the claims and counterclaims. They want Mr Dewani to return to SA and face the music. If he is innocent all will be well; he must take the rap if he is not.

Is it really as simple as that?

Not so long ago, most of SA made up its mind that president-in-waiting Jacob Zuma was or was not guilty of corruption, by association with his former friend, benefactor and financial adviser Mr Schabir Shaik. Mr Shaik was found guilty of the charge and briefly imprisoned.

People did not need to know the law, follow a trial or hear out all the evidence and a judge’s detailed verdict to reach their decision. They decided according to whether they liked or disliked Mr Zuma and his alleged politics. They decided on the basis of stories and innuendoes in the newspapers and from the conclusions they freely drew from all the gossip and mud-slinging.

Such is democracy. Who would have it any other way? How can it be any other way?

To check the rush to judgement where it went against their interests, President Zuma’s friends and political supporters launched a counterattack. Their policy was to repeat, until everyone was tired of hearing it, that in the new SA everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Remember the campaign? It caught on. It led to newspapers getting the blame. There were endless denunciations of ‘trial by media’, as if the media were somehow conjuring the entire drama out of thin air. The public was prepared, the context carefully created, for a legal loophole to be found.

Mr Schrien Dewani cannot match the influence President Zuma was able to bring to bear to avoid trial. He is not a candidate for the presidency, a high-up in the ANC, or even a South African citizen.

But he has one advantage. He could afford to hire the well-known UK public relations consultant Mr Max Clifford, along with top legal advice. And it finally dawned on the authorities here that the plan from the outset was to suggest by every means possible that Mr Dewani will not get a fair trial in South Africa, or is in no condition to face one even if he did.

Whether either was true was not the issue. The issue was could Mr Clifford and the lawyers make the idea stick? Could sufficient objections be found, enough seeds of doubt sown, to prevent their client’s extradition?

Mr Clifford did his job and, though we may not like the job or Mr Clifford, he did not do badly for his client.

Of course, he received every help from his opponents. Early on, the alarmingly titled head of SA’s civil police ‘General’ Cele - whose job specification, one liked to hope at the time, covered arresting suspects but not pronouncing them guilty in advance - informed the world that Mr Dewani was a 'monkey come to SA to murder his wife'.

As if that were not enough, Judge John Hlope - of all judges - took the stage as another PR gift to Mr Dewani's supporters. Shadowed by a list of controversies over his own professional conduct, Judge Hlope sentenced Zola Tongo, Mr Dewani’s taxi driver on the night of the murder, to prison for 18 years.

SA journalist Michael Trapido dealt with this in an article titled, ‘Hlope can’t preside but Dewani would get a fair trial'. He explained that Judge Hlope was legally ineligible to preside over any further trial in the case - including a trial in future of Shrien Dewani in SA. But didn't Mr Dewani now appear quite definitely guilty by association? And, if he did, what had that to do with the media?

The extradition process drags on in the UK, leaving us to ponder if there is any such thing as the 'trial by media' politicians complain about. 

After all, no politician is heard to say Mr Dewani is innocent until proven guilty - suggesting once again that newspapers are the way they are because people are the way they are.




A look behind Zapiro's cartoon of Muhammad


It is obvious from the way Jonathan Shapiro’s cartoon immediately divided opinion, if it was not already obvious from common sense, that there is no right answer in the new SA to the question, Should we be able to picture the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him)?

The answer is Yes or No depending on your religion and how devoutly you follow it, or - if the word is still pc - on culture. In short, it is a question of belief and belonging.

Although radicals and dissenting sects as ever dispute it, the few violent ones with violence, the great monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all hold to the universal values of peace and the equality of man. However much they are divided politically, world spiritual leaders today do not presume to pronounce on the symbols and rituals of different faiths and have long known better than to profane things that are sacred to others. That was the way in earlier societies in an unenlightened age.

If religion has mostly moved on in understanding, how strange that reason all too often has not. After all, reason is humanity’s progressive faculty. Its brilliant offspring, the natural and social sciences, are supposed to have left religion behind, not the other way around. As its advocates confidently point out, reason uncovers the real truth and rescues people from superstition and prejudice. For everyone's sake, it must pursue that end - and nothing should be sacrosanct in the no-holds-barred, ‘robust debate’.

The difficulty is this is self-evident only to those who agree with it. Also most people can tell you, from everyday experience, that reason is ill-equipped to settle differences involving fundamental beliefs, which come awkwardly tangled up with loyalties and love.

Forget for a moment whether it really makes sense to try to talk others out of their religious convictions. If a family turns down more money to move abroad, is it the ‘reasons’ they give, or something stronger, that decides them to stay at home? Does it help to expose and mock it? How many parents refrain from ‘reasoning’ sons and daughters out of making an unwise marriage? Are they cowards? On a lighter note, how many supporters go on backing their soccer or rugby team however regularly they lose? Now that really does go against all reason. We just smile and understand.

Into a far future, SA society at large - a multicultural society in a globalized world - cannot escape its own moral challenge: how we all live together. We have forgotten, or never remind ourselves, that the glorious ideals of modern liberal democracy enshrined in the dry words of SA’s ‘advanced’ constitution took two thousand years and more to put on paper. The notion that all are accountable, including the powerful; the sanctity of the individual ‘soul’ and the resulting imperatives of equality and social justice - these and other values are not simply the bequest of great leaders, but are passed on to us by generations of ordinary worshippers out of their humble faith.

The theories and institutions of liberal democracy are the achievements of educated minds, but they took centuries of sacrifice by everyone to construct. Above all, they required the imagination to foresee that a more inclusive future would come - and would demand them. Written constitutions, representative bodies, Acts of Toleration, Bills of Rights - these are the products of a long, infinitely complex history of give-and-take, of endless compromises by unnumbered people who struggled to come up with peaceable solutions to the problems raised by change in their times.

The satirist at his work owes no duty to any of this, or to anything or anyone else. Nevertheless this does not mean his barbs can never go astray. We do not have to see this particular cartoon as an artful move to boost sales and circulation of a weekly newspaper. It can appear better and worse than that - as a misguided effort to accelerate enlightenment that in fact sets it back. It can appear one more part of a crusade - a term of obloquy associated not with progressive Reason at all, but with a zealous, unreformed religion best left in the past.


This article was first published on Newstime, May 26 2010


Do you believe in Nostradamus?


To us, he is a symbol or presents a question - either a Merlin-like figure of supernatural power or the eternal charlatan. What is the truth about the man?

Michel de Nostredame was born in Provence in 1503 and died in 1566. He was clever: he could read and write. Perhaps his young dream was to be a physician, but an outbreak of plague closed the university he went to and he became a self-taught apothecary or herbalist. He developed a ‘rose pill’ that protected against the plague. Sadly, it did not save his wife and two children, who appear to have died in a later outbreak. This may have made him more determined to fight the plague across southern France in the 1540s. He became well known and married again - provident chap, to a rich widow this time - and had six more children. He adopted a Latin name: it marked out a man as a scholar and helped his reputation. How has such a normal history made that name - ‘Nostradamus’ - a byword for the paranormal?

In those days, high and low believed in what we would call, broadly, ‘magic’. People met and talked to ghosts. The Roman church taught they were the restless souls of those in Purgatory or, more terrifyingly, demons sent by the Devil to lure the unwary to hell. People also feared the fairies. Though not evil, fairies were not the innocent children’s playmates we know. Their mischief might stop the milk turning to cream. They might kill your pig or steal your baby and leave behind a changeling. People put food and drink out for the fairies at night, to keep on the right side of them.

There was no difference in the mind between the material and spiritual. The church bells were rung in a storm to drive off the devils that were making the thunder.  Magnetic rocks, the hills and valleys changing with light, the dark forest and splashing waterfall, were alive with sprites and spirits. Eclipses and comets in the sky, a frog hopping across your path, a chair collapsing under you, were seen as omens. In times of ceaseless civil and religious war, famine and plague, these signs could only portend worse to come.

Every village had a ‘cunning man’ or ‘wise woman’. They offered comfort and cures with magic charms and s√©ances, herbs gathered at some sacred spot by full moon, and countless other age-old remedies science would deem mumbo-jumbo. The rich would pay well, the poor what they could, to recover their health; to find out who had stolen a hat or a saucepan; to locate buried treasure; to trace a loved one who had gone missing.

Records show these magic consultations concerned very human problems. Young maids wanted to know which man they would marry, wives when their husbands would die, and husbands when their wives would.

A learned writer had a living in all this. Nostradamus began to produce almanacs. These were enormously popular publications. They predicted the weather for farmers and pointed to changes in politics and personal lives, brought on by changes in the heavens. Almanacs are the distant ancestors of the ‘Stars’ you read in today’s periodicals for fun. But astrology was a serious matter in Europe in 1550.

There was nothing unusual in Nostradamus prophesying then: the difference was, he was famous. Borrowing from biblical sources and collections of ancient occult writings, he made thousands of prophecies for people who wanted to look into the future. As with forecasts today, things did not look good. One of his most famous quatrains - four line verses - allegedly foretold that the French king Henry II would be killed in a joust, and is said to have proved Nostradamus’s miraculous powers to everyone when the disaster actually happened on June 30 1559.

The story is certainly a later invention. Besides inviting the charge of witchcraft, it was terribly dangerous to prophesy the death of a reigning monarch and Nostradamus would hardly have been so foolish. Earlier he had met the king, whose patronage was obviously priceless, and dedicated some of his prophecies to him. Also, Henry’s Queen, Catherine de Medici, made Nostradamus her court seer, advising her and her sons, the future kings of France.

What Nostradamus foretells, tells as much about us as about him. Envy, gossip and rumour over the years have built on our love of mysteries; and despite centuries of science, we find it frightening to be all alone in a cold universe from which the living spirits have departed.    


Do you have to be an Englishman to like Brighton Rock?


I made a point of going to see Brighton Rock, a re-make of the 1947 film of Graham Greene's novel that starred - I think actually first 'made' - the young Richard Attenborough as Pinkie.

I wanted to see it above all for nostalgic reasons. I never saw the original film but read the book long ago and the story's most unlikely reappearance as a movie now intrigued me no end, even though the director, so I read, has moved the setting to the '60s in Brighton instead of the '30s.

I especially wanted to see what they made of that Brighton visually - they achieve such amazing things in film today. And as I thought it would, the film presented a soulless, seedy working class resort of decaying once-graceful buildings and hideous contemporary highrise. The sea crawls sluggishly and black, the pier with its tawdry entertainments never invites brightly by day or night. The town is desirable again today, commuter country, and one rakes around in one's mind to remember the Mods and Rockers who terrorised the south coast resorts for a while in the early '60s. The movie reminds of things you've forgotten or never knew at all. Old fashioned, bent 'coppers', capital punishment, the flick knife.

Most of all, though, however odd this sounds to you, it is deeply touching for me to see 'ordinary' English people now, re-visit their pub with them and hear the accents that I once of course never heard, taking them for granted - Rose, the pathetic, innocent waitress in the dreary little tearoom; the slimy, successful yet somehow still tinpot crooks and brutal English thugs; the awful pretentiousness of the 'posh' Brighton hotel where the middle class gathered to take afternoon tea or indulge in an expensive whisky to the background of  a 'Palm Court' quartet. When I saw Atonement - last year I think it was - I found myself in tears during the Dunkirk scene - a sudden rush of feeling for all the things I had never noticed about England and the English as I grew up an Englishman in England - the soppy bravery and resilience, the satisfaction and pleasure taken in poor and very simple things, the magnificent history in spite of all that.

I'd guess Brighton Rock is not for many women - I went alone because Tess will not go anywhere near anything violent. But Sam Riley, who looks astonishingly like Leonardo di Caprio, I'd guess would stir her woman's heart. Pinkie is an affectionless psychopath, but the film is about love, as everything seems to be in this world in the end, and about how even the very worst of us, the most nightmarish of all, does not live entirely without it.