Film Review: Mr Jones (2019)

Directed by Agnieszka Holland, Mr Jones delves deep into a shocking, and underexplored, piece of modern history and asks how we can so easily decide to look the other way

“What’s being done now will transform mankind”

It is remarkable how even now, epochal moments in history in which millions died can remain so unknown in the West. To my shame, I’d never heard of the Holodomor, and I’d wager not many in the UK could tell you what it was –  a man-made famine in the early 1930s, a genocide against the Ukrainian people perpetrated by the Soviet government.

Agnieszka Holland’s film Mr Jones tackles this Western-blindness by exploring the story of Gareth Jones, a Welsh journalist/political adviser (how the lines are ever-blurred…) who risked his life to uncover the story and reveal it to the world, only to find that geo-political realities meant that no-one is really listening (nothing ever really changes does it?!). Continue reading “Film Review: Mr Jones (2019)”

Review: Oslo, National Theatre

“The Americans cannot stand it when others take the lead”

What does it take to get peace in the Middle East? Some determined Norwegians and a plate or two of tasty waffles apparently… At a leisurely three hours in length and set around the Oslo Peace Accords, JT Rogers’ Oslo might not on the face of it seem like theatrical gold but it won a Tony on Broadway and such was the confidence in this production that a West End run was booked in to follow its short engagement at the National before a ticket had even been sold.

And it is a confidence that has paid off handsomely. Bartlett Sher’s direction has an epic sweep to its depiction of world affairs but Rogers’ writing shines through its focus on the intimate detail, on the personal struggle, sacrifice and success of the individuals who managed to break the Israeli-Palestinian deadlock and work towards the unimaginable – a lasting peace. History has shown us the reality of that, something acknowledged in a coda here, but it is still thrilling to watch. Continue reading “Review: Oslo, National Theatre”

TV Review: The Honourable Woman

“It’s the Middle East Shlomo, enemies is what you make”

Only by chance did I find out that The Honourable Woman was leaving Netflix at the end of this month, so I quickly took the opportunity to catch up with Hugo Blick’s political spy thriller and as is so often the case with these things, was left wondering how I could have taken this long to watch it.

Political intrigue and personal drama coming from kidnapped children, suspicious suicides and betrayals ranging from old blood feuds to intra-familial conflict set the scene immediately for a typically dense and complex story from Blick, centred on a refreshingly new take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the seeming impossibility of finding a solution when the wounds of the past are still felt so keenly and deeply. Continue reading “TV Review: The Honourable Woman”

Review: Poppy + George, Watford Palace

“If this is indeed where you were heading, then it appears with all success you have arrived”

There’s something rather gorgeous at the heart of Poppy + George, a recognition that even passing acquaintances can leave as lasting impressions as the deepest of friendships; a reminder too that even if a play can be over and done with in a couple of hours, its impact can linger far beyond. So it is for the group of people who find each other in Diane Samuels’ new play for the Watford Palace Theatre, with music by Gwyneth Herbert.

Their safe haven is a warehouse deep in the East End in 1919, where Russian Jewish (with a bit of Chinese) tailor Smith plies his trade and entertains his friends nattily dressed chauffeur George Sampson and Great War veteran Tommy Johns who is trying to resurrect his fading music hall career. Into their world comes Poppy Wright, a Northern girl looking for a fresh start from a life in service, though the love she finds turns out not to be quite what she expected. Continue reading “Review: Poppy + George, Watford Palace”

Film Review: Suffragette

“You want me to respect the law? Then make the law respectable”

Directed by Sarah Gavron and written by Abi Morgan, Suffragette offers a rather striking perspective on the women’s suffrage movement, inventing a working class character and following her political awakening at a key moment in the fight for women’s rights. Carey Mulligan’s Maud Watts is a dutiful wife and mother, working long, thankless hours at a Bethnal Green laundry whose chance encounter with a riotous group of suffragettes slowly rouses something within her.

This is where Morgan and Gavron’s approach pays dividends, in seeing the movement through working class eyes away from the privilege and relative freedom of the leaders. Even on a shop-floor full of much-put-upon women, suffragette is spat as a dirty word and in the close-knit neighbourhoods too, the leap that Maud has to make to merely stand up for what she believes is right is that much more difficult, more life-changingly dramatic and Mulligan is truly superb in tracing this transformation. Continue reading “Film Review: Suffragette”

Review: Blue Sky, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs

“Oh God! Now’s everyone’s got their own blog…”

Ray enjoys plane-spotting. Since his wife died and his teenage daughter is growing up far too quickly for his liking, it has provided him with a much-needed reason to get out of the house and into the Shropshire countryside. But it is early 2003, Iraq is about to be invaded and there’s a strange buzz of activity around their little airfield. When childhood friend and freelance journalist Jane waltzes back into his life, trying to follow up a lead on a story about a missing Pakistani man last seen being forced onto a US plane, neither of them are prepared for just how far this story will reach.

Blue Sky is a pointedly political new play by Clare Bayley for the Pentabus Theatre company and in the intimate theatre downstairs at the Hampstead, director Elizabeth Freestone makes inventive use of the room with some excellent creative collaborations. Staged in traverse, Naomi Dawson’s deceptively simple design segments the open space, Johanna Town’s runway-inspired lighting is cleverly used as Adrienne Quartly’s sound design expands the horizons of the production into the big bad world being investigated. Continue reading “Review: Blue Sky, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs”