This film by director Simon Chung has a sweet surface that masks the pain below the story. It is the story of a western man found naked by the side of the river. The police pick him up but can get no information from him since he will not speak. He is sent to the hospital where Xiao Jiang, a male nurse takes an interest in him. As the film progresses we find out that the man is called Luke and that his trauma is caused through events that befell him and his boyfriend.
Luke is an exchange student, in China to improve his Mandarin. Here he befriends a small group of students that includes a couple. Luke’s interest is in Han Dong rather than in his girlfriend and, as their relationship grows, she grows suspicious at what is going on. Her attempts to find out the truth lead to the central tragedy of the film.
It is Xiao Jiang’s pursuit of the truth to discover why Luke won’t speak that leads us through the story. He tracks down the girlfriend and uncovers her involvement.
The ending could be judged as ‘happy’ but the delight of this film is in the sweet characters who try to deal with their attraction to each other and the implications of being gay in a society that isn’t welcoming to difference. But, love is where it falls and the intense attraction between Luke and Han Dong becomes a sexual relationship. The direction of the relationship between Luke and Xiao Jiang is left open. If you watch the film you will see why the possibility of a relationship between the two is available.
‘Speechless’ was filmed in secret in China, in the East Coast city of Shantou. It is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
It has been over 30 years since I first set foot in this amazing museum. I went as a newly arrived student full of wonder at the world that was opening up to me. My new found independence was a treasure in its own right and I used it to explore all the things I had not previously experienced. The Ashmolean was high on my list. I little thought, back in the 80s, that it would take so long to return.
The museum is world famous and has its place in history as the first University museum, dating back to 1677 when Elias Ashmole gave his cabinet of curiosities to the University of Oxford. It is like a small version of the British Museum with a wing of the National Gallery added. In my visit, I was keen to see painting and sculpture but also to see what else was on offer.
Top of my list was Alessandro Allori’s ‘Portrait of a Young Man’. The painting of an unknown young man shows him as a person of refinement and education, illustrated by the items in the picture such as a sculpture in the background and the medal in his hand.
Next was ‘A Converted British Family Sheltering a Christian Missionary from the Persecution of the Druids’ by William Holman Hunt. This painting, exhibited in 1850, shows a missionary being rescued while, in the background, his companion is taken.
The sculpture I liked the best was ‘The Catapault’ by William Reid Dick who was most famous for his war memorial sculptures. This piece is from 1911.
The Ashmolean Museum is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
The true story of Hana’s suitcase is a remarkable one and one that is well told in this moving account by Karen Levine. It crosses three continents to trace the story of a young girl, her brother and the suitcase. The reason the suitcase was needed was the most poignant thing of all because Hana was a young Jewish girl in 30s Europe caught up in the anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust.
The reason we know about Hana’s story is down to a Japanese woman Fumiko Ishioka and her small museum in Tokyo. The Tokyo Holocaust Resource Centre was established to ensure generations of young people know about and learn the lessons of the destruction caused by he hatred of difference. She visited Auschwitz as part of her work and asked for the loan of items to exhibit back in Tokyo. She particularly wanted a child’s she and a suitcase because of their symbolic value.
Hana’s suitcase was loaned in 2000 and put on display. It had a name, date of birth and the German word for orphan ‘Wisenkind’ written on it in large writing. Several young volunteers at the museum became interested in the person behind the name and the quest to find Hana began.
The book relates the search for the young Czech girl, or at least information about her fate. They hoped to find her alive and well but the journey took Fumiko Ishioka back to Europe where she discovered that Hana was one of the millions killed by the Nazi German regime. She had been killed in the gas chambers hours after arriving at Auschwitz in 1944. The search also turned up the information that her brother, George, had survived the camp and had moved to Canada after the war. A third continent became part of the story.
This book was written by Karen Levine who was also a producer on a film made about a suitcase that acted as both a symbol of events that should never be forgotten and the powerful reminder of the determination of some people to keep the memories alive.
‘Hana’s Suitcase’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
This novel by Susan Barker is set in several separate periods as it unfolds its story of colonial guilt and the effect on one family. In the 50s, Christopher Milnar a man passionate about the East and a fluent speaker of Mandarin is posted to Malaya where the British Empire is under siege from the Communists and Nationalists who attack from the dark. His skills are put to use in a camp or village for the local people placed there for their own safety. Part concentration camp and part model village, tensions are close to the surface. Christopher falls in love with Chinese Evangeline, a love that is doomed because of their different cultures and because it is not clear where her loyalties lie or what her intentions towards him really are.
Half a century later, Christopher lives with the ghosts in his head; his contemporaries from his colonial days visit him to goad him and torture him. As he grapples with his ghosts, the story of his time in Malaya is relayed, showing us why he is so conflicted.
With him in his London flat are the grandson and granddaughter he hardly knows but whose care is now his duty. Their mother, his daughter, is dead and another consequence of Empire comes to haunt him.
The novel shows the legacy of colonialism as it affects the relationship between one man and his mixed race daughter. The legacy has its effect on the third generation as well as grandchildren grow up in the shadow of both a mother and grandfather damaged by the ghosts of the past .
This novel is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
It is National Poetry Day in the UK so who better to reach for to celebrate than A. E. Housman!
Here Dead We Lie
Here dead we lie
Because we did not choose
To live and shame the land
From which we sprung.
Life, to be sure,
Is nothing much to lose,
But young men think it is,
And we were young.
A E Housman
This poem by Theo Dorgan should be reproduced in large format and placed somewhere important. Perhaps it should be projected onto the Houses of Parliament or, better yet, painted on the grass of Parliament Square where politicians can see it, or floated down the Thames on a billboard on a boat. Unfortunately, most of the Members of Parliament look inwards.
When the great ships come back,
and come they will,
when they stand in the sky
all over the world,
candescent suns by day,
radiant cathedrals in the night,
how shall we answer the question:
What have you done
with what was given you
what have you done with
the blue, beautiful world?
This television series from Yorkshire Television in the late 1960s was a favourite of mine as a boy. It was broadcast when I was of an age when I started to realise that there were parts of Britain other than London, where people talked with different accents. In this case the Yorkshire setting was significant to the unfolding story.
Each episode was a self-contained story but there was an ongoing story of hidden treasure in the background until the last moment of the last episode. This was highly sophisticated stuff in 1969!
Jonathan Flaxton was a boy who inherited Flaxton Hall from an uncle who had died, supposedly a rich man although nobody could find the fortune. With his mother and servant, he took up residence in the Hall in Yorkshire. His father was away at the Crimea War, missing presumed dead, and the responsibility of running the hall fell to him and his mother. Fortunately, he befriended a sweep who was harshly treated by his master. Archie was taken in at Flaxton Hall and became the second Flaxton boy. Together, Archie and Jonathan had many adventures which mostly seemed to involve running across the moors!
Looking at this series again after over 40 years, I was surprised at how implausible some of the stories were, especially when the two boys outwitted villains. Yet, I didn’t think that in 1969 but rather wished I was part of their adventures too. I wanted to be a Flaxton boy. There were four series in all from 1969 until the early seventies. Each series jumped a time span, going from the 1850s of series one to the Second World War in the fourth series, but in each there were two boys being best friends and having adventures; and no mention was ever made of the class system!
Peter Firth, who played Archie, went on to have a wide and distinguished career in television and film. Indeed, he is still having it!
‘The Flaxton Boys’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?