Category: Film


The Crown Renews Itself

AMDG

If you are interested in how ancient institutions reform or renew themselves a fascinating case study is the British Monarchy. Currently the House of Windsor is being intriguingly interpreted in the Netflix series ‘ The Crown‘.  I have just enjoyed finishing the second series written as always by Benedictine-educated Peter Morgan. With each new series being released in December it seems to have become a Christmas tradition.  Just in case you don’t know, it follows the life of Elizabeth II, and how this unfolds alongside the history of the UK in the last century.  Written by one of the best screenplay writers in the business, beautifully shot including with some fine acting – it is fast becoming an annual treat.  Like all good drama, it touches on so many themes from our own lives, moral character, love, power, pride, hubris… etc – but essentially it shows the incredible capacity for this ancient institution to adapt to modern times, without giving too much ground (RC Church anyone?).  Morgan skillfully ensures that these explorations into the private lives of royalty never strays into sensationalism although he treads a very fine line at times.

As Santayana warns us about history repeating itself, the themes it deals with are surprisingly ‘contemporary’. In the first series, there is a fascinating programme that covers the Great Smog in London that killed thousands of people and led to the clean air act  …..  In the current series, Elizabeth’s uncle and former King, Edward,  is exposed as having a flirtation with Hitler and fascism that feels all too real in our volatile times.  Fascinatingly, this particular episode is inter-weaved with a story about Billy Grahams first visit to the UK.  The American evangelist is portrayed as making a big impression on the young Queen, his moral clarity giving her the strength to effectively banish her erstwhile uncle Edward.

Part of my conscience does sting a little bit when I think of a 91-year-old Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor sitting at home surrounded by corgies in front of the TV,  whilst her life is being interpreted and distributed around the world.   In an age of self-promotion and carefully curated public images, it takes an impressive detachment from her, not to publically comment on these things, or resist the temptation to set the record right. However, I think it is essentially a compassionate portrayal of Elizabeth.  Morgan himself takes the line that the series is always accurate even if it is impossible to be ‘truthful’. His point is that no-one knows what was said between Elizabeth and Philip on this day at this time, but with his team of historical researchers, he believes they can produce an accurate representation. That leads to another moral discussion, certainly, the BBC would never be able to make a series like The Crown.

It is also interesting hearing Peter Morgan talk about how it is a golden-age for writers…. with companies like Netflix generously investing in such projects and not interfering too much with the creativity of the writers.  I suppose the streaming model is another example of a ‘disruptive technology’ getting rid of all the vested interests of producers, cinemas etc.  They might get booed by the old-guard at Cannes, but it means that for talent such as Morgan – the creative process seems to have become much cleaner.

AMDG

360946-jpg-c_215_290_x-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxx‘This is a spiritual & cultural artefact’ – was how a producer at the BBC described Scorsese’s recent adaptation of the Shusako Endo novel ‘Silence‘.   A work of historical fiction, i.e based on real characters, about the Jesuits in Japan.  Having seen the film about a month ago, I tend to agree, although the cinema was fairly empty and I notice there is no ‘awards buzz’ about it – I think it will grow in stature and popularity.  I hope it will slowly acquire cult status, it doesn’t have the feel-good, crowd pleasing appeal that LaLa Land has ( and surely people need that in our fragmented times) …. but it has a depth and leaves a ‘haunting’ imprint that will mature over time. Like an artefact it will stand the test of time.

If you think about explicitly Christian films that have gone mainstream, all have differing levels of depth. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, in its own way a masterpiece – has the force of a sledgehammer and I would place it in the Key Stage 3 RE category.  Roland Joffe’s The Mission, slightly more complex interweaving of theology / politics/ ecclesiology maybe would be GCSE, (Key Stage 4) Level.  But Scorsese’s Silence – is certainly A Level (KS5) material – with all its glorious and infuriating ambiguities. Leaving scope for discussion and meditation.

landscape-1482951700-martin-scorsese-silence-religion-on-filmHere in Manchester – many of the students are divided by it, and fascinating discussions ensue.  Some get hung up on the priests apostasy and a sense of betrayal from that, without taking into fact the incredible commitment and self-offering that have got the missionaries their in the first place. In a similar way many of the reviews are polarised.  The more secularised, the less they ‘get it’ – including one absurd review accusing it of ‘torture porn’ (I actually thought the film wasn’t as harrowing as I was expecting). It is as though the sheer fact that you can believe in something enough that you are prepared to die for it. is inconceivable to the more superficial reviews.  Many people (even the usually prescient Robert Barron)  seem to fixated on the ‘apostasy’ element. Which I think misses the point of the film (and the novel).  For me Kichijiro is the main character in the film – and it is God’s Mercy for him , through sacramental confession, this is the most powerful aspect for me.

silence-00977A former student sent me a wonderful email which expresses it like this, “I found myself really focusing on more in the film was the mercy of God, which I think is and should be the big focus within the film and book. The question: How much should I forgive my brother? Seventy seven.  Is something I often thought about when watching this film especially when witnessing Kichijiro continuously plead for confession. For me Fr. Rodriguez and Fr Ferreira are insignificant as for me really the true Christian is perfectly embodied in Kichijiro. As he is what a christian really is: a sinful and weak creature totally dependent on God’s mercy. Interestingly Kichijiro does not really seem to care about human respect or his reputation as seen by his continuous grovelling and humiliating display of weakness before the priest. To me I think the book and film do a great job in showing this about Kichijiro and the mercy of God; but seem to overlook it and get a bit too obsessed with somehow trying to justify someone’s apostasy.    The real question I think is how much are we willing to accept our weakness and plead for forgiveness

Maybe this is echoing Scorsese own life – as revealed in this fascinating interview with the America Jesuit James Martin,  his sense of rejection at a crucial age when he wanted to be a Maryknoll Missionary. He was asked to leave the seminary, and ‘crushed’ in his own words,  and then his ‘pilgrimage’ slowly and painfully from the outside and back to God (?) . Jim has also written a very good  reflective piece on common questions people struggle with after Silence.   So is Silence really about about the Silence of God or the Deafness of Man? .

 

 

 

AMDG

Cheap-FlightOne of the great paradoxes of our time is global travel.  For those of us in the wealthy world, hopping on a plane has become as easy as travelling by bus.  In the Uk with companies such as Ryan Air, and Easy Jet pioneering low cost travel, our expectations have been raised considerably. I remember the first flight I had when I was about 10 – our whole family dressed up as though it was a special occasion.  Now it is run of the mill.  As globalisation shrinks the world, many are being left behind.  So for those who can’t afford to be ‘hypermobile’ it seems as though the rich world are building bigger barriers to restrict their movement.  I was in Istanbul airport a day before the terrorist attacks…  an incredible modern hub, with Wifi everywhere, Starbucks, wealthy tourists, business travelers mingling in a bubble of luxury and affluence.  But these Staging Posts for the hypermobile are becoming targets for rage and anger of the excluded (not that terrorism can be  justified ) .

Elysium-wallpapers-141There was a brilliant film – released in 20013 called Elysium.  It is from the incredibly rich vein of dystopian scifi.  Imagining a future where Planet Earth has been plundered of resources by the wealthy Elite and left as an overpopulated desert for the poor majority.  The elite have created a space station in orbit which they have escaped to – where everything is beautiful green, fertile, the Elysium of the films title.  The Spaceships that shuttle between the two are looked at with envy and despair by the majority of humanity reduced to scrabbling around a parched earth like chickens.  Interestingly the church is represented by this wonderful nun who we discover in a back-story  has been the transformative teacher to our Hero (played by Matt Damon)  – who is an orphan.  So even though the rich have abandoned the earth – the church has not abandoned the poor.  Perhaps Neil Blomkampf, the writer, has had some Catholic influence?

_90030142_033584780-1Sadly however our age of hypermobility sharply contrasts with the fear of immigration that Farage and his cronies whipped up in the poisonous discourse before Brexit.  The rhetoric of ‘taking control’ of our borders seemed to be very effective, but perhaps implausible in a Globalising Economy.  I thank God for my Irish grandparents so I can now apply for dual citizenship – again a luxury for the wealthy.    Having crossed a few borders in the last months it was notable in East Africa that there was a tightening of checks on the borders…  partly because of the yellow fever outbreak in Angola. We have to acknowledge our fears, but when it leads us to build barriers I think we are losing out.  In a choice between Donald Trumps wall building and Pope Francis’ bridge building, I know what future I want.