This film version of the book by Timothy Conigrave is outstanding. I always worry that film versions of books I love will fall short but this film enhances the story of high school boyfriends who have a life long relationship, cut short by AIDS. The book is a poignant memoir of falling in love with a boy at school and continuing this relationship through university and into their young adult lives. The fact that their relationship had to endure the negative views of family and others only lends the story more power.
The film version brings the book to life and shows what can only be imagined, especially the later scenes when Tim’s partner John is in the final stages of AIDS. Their determination to remain together is inspiring. In one scene, John’s father makes clear to his son and boyfriend that he thinks he is entitled to a section of the will. His motivation for this is odd but the response from the couple is worth seeing, across faces and without words they are able to convey their feelings at this development.
In the end, the advantage of the film is that it can show the moments that have been written about. The courage of the boys who refuse to be ashamed when their relationship is revealed is, perhaps, more powerful on the screen than on the page.
I spent the whole film waiting for the ending which was inevitable, given the subject matter, and known to me in advance since I had read the book. However, I still hoped that the outcome might be different for these two men. The film is topped and tailed by Tim trying desperately to remember a detail for his book, a detail that is given urgency in the grief he is experiencing. He receives the answer he hopes for and the film ends with the information that he finished the book. The book must be read. The film must be seen. Both are important! Both are in my hinterland.
This novel by Kate Grenville is another exploration of real events through fiction. In this case, she has taken the first settlers of New South Wales and developed a story about the first encounters with aboriginal people. It is a wonderful story of how one man is changed by his encounter with another culture.
Daniel Rooke is a young man who has been out of place all his life. At first, his gift for mathematics causes problems since it earns him a place at an academy where he does not fit in; all the other students are from wealthy families while he is a son of a clerk. He loses himself in numbers and in the natural world. When he grows up he joins the navy so that he can study navigation and the stars. Once again he is out of place, surrounded now by the tough, military minded soldiers and sailors on the trip to the other side of the world. His ship is full of prisoners sent to New South Wales as a punishment.
Once there, his gift for astronomy sets him apart and he is allowed to create a base of sorts away from the main camp, the better to study the stars and await an expected comet. In this semi- detached state he meets aborigines in a closer encounter than is achieved in the main settlement of Botany Bay. As the frequency of his meetings grow so does his desire to learn their language and develop understanding of their way of life. Instrumental in this is a young girl whose inquisitiveness allows her to venture where others of her people fear to go.
Yet, the story must move towards the point where conflict arises; why would it not when the interests of the settlers and the aborigines are in opposition? And so, Daniel Rooke, the accidental Lieutenant of the title finds his own conflict between serving His Majesty and serving science. When he is given a direct order to carry out an act that offends his sense of humanity, he must decide which side of himself will triumph.
This is a wonderful recreation of period with a clear sense of the moral dilemmas that can be faced at any time, given the circumstances. The ending shows what can happen to a man of integrity when the British Empire is in the way.
‘The Lieutenant’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
One thing leads to another and the entry for yesterday reminded me of this other poem by Charles Causley that rests in my hinterland.
Who is that child I see wandering, wandering
down by the side of the quivering stream?
Why does he seem not to hear, though I call to him?
Where does he come from, and what is his name?
Why do I see him at sunrise and sunset
taking, in old-fashioned clothes, the same track?
Why, when he walks, does he cast not a shadow
though the sun rises and falls at his back?
Why does the dust lie so thick on the hedgerow
by the great field where a horse pulls the plough?
Why do I see only meadows, where houses
stand in a line by the riverside now?
Why does he move like a wraith by the water,
soft as the thistledown on the breeze blown?
When I draw near him so that I may hear him,
why does he say that his name is my own?
The best poems remain under the surface until they are needed. The poetry of Charles Causley is like that; poems I read or learned years ago just come back to me for no apparent reason. Many of his poems are in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
Green Man in the Garden
Green Man in the garden
Staring from the tree,
Why do you look so long and hard
Through the pane at me?
Your eyes are dark as holly,
Of sycamore your horns,
Your bones are made of elder-branch,
Your teeth are made of thorns.
Your hat is made of ivy-leaf,
Of bark your dancing shoes,
And evergreen and green and green
Your jacket and shirt and trews.
“Leave your house and leave your land
And throw away the key,
And never look behind,” he creaked,
“And come and live with me.”
I bolted up the window,
I bolted up the door,
I drew the blind that I should find
The green man never more.
But when I softly turned the stair
As I went up to bed,
I saw the green man standing there.
“Sleep well, my friend,” he said.
This 1989 film from Canada is a charming exploration of the creative process. It follows a group of actors who put on a passion play in Montreal. The church authorities take against the main actor, playing Jesus, and, as he and his group deal with the hostility, his life starts to mirror that of Jesus himself.
It is a French- Canadian film from director Denys Arcand with Lothaire Bluteau in the main role of Daniel. At the start of the film Daniel is encouraged to modernise the passion play to bring a new sense of purpose to a tired format. It is the hope of the priest that there will be renewed interest in the play as a result. This mission inspires Daniel who throws himself into research only to come up with an interpretation that offends the catholic church. As the play continues, the church resorts to stronger tactics to stop it.
The film works well when it mirrors the gospel story. Daniel collects his troupe of actors from among the less desirable of society, he is accepted and then rejected by the authorities, he has an outburst when he thinks others have desecrated his craft. The ending is the most problematic because of the obvious links with the bible but it is a satisfactory way of drawing the film to an end.
‘Jesus of Montreal’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
Thinking about the Kingsley Amis novel, ‘The Alteration’, reminded me of how I found out about it back in the time before the internet and access to large book shops. I was a keen reader as a boy. School provided most of my reading material but, as I grew older, I came to see school books as school work and I wanted reading material from elsewhere. This is where a television programme called ‘Read All About It’ came in. I discovered it by myself on a black and white television set we had left over when the family colour one came in.
On my own in a room, I watched it every other Sunday night. (As I recall, it was alternated with the BBC’s film programme hosted by Barry Norman, which I also enjoyed.) Each week Melvyn Bragg presented a show with three guests. Each guest recommended a book and everyone discussed each other’s choices. That was the simplicity and the strength of the programme. The gift to me was that these were all paperbacks so affordable. Also, the books were not always new to bookshops so I could find old copies or even locate them in the local library. This was not the marketing machine at work but a celebration of books and readers- it worked.
Melvyn Bragg went to ITV to present the major arts programme in 1978 and I don’t remember ‘Read All About It’ surviving his departure. Instead, it remains as a happy memory of a time when I was eager to find books for myself and not rely on school any more.
This novel by Kingsley Amis is one I read in my teenage years and loved. Set in an alternative Britain where the Reformation has not taken place, it shows the difference this would have made to the life of the country through the story of one boy, chorister Hubert Anvil. He sings with the voice of an angel and to ensure his voice is preserved for the glory of God, he must go through a small operation. What is clear from early in the novel is that Hubert himself will have no choice in the matter, himself. This is a society dominated by the church from Rome and to please the church is both a desire and a practical move of self-preservation for his family. Unfortunately, something quiet important to Hubert has to be sacrificed!
There are many subtle changes to history to make his world work and Amis is skillful at maintaining a sense of integrity for the context of his story. Any friction between England and the Catholic Church has been ironed out of history: Henry the Eighth’s elder brother did not die so there was no divorce from Catherine of Aragon; the current Pope is an Englishman; there are no religious differences between England and other parts of Great Britain.
As with all novels, the effect of systems and regimes on people is best illustrated by showing the effect on one person. Hubert is surrounded by those who think he is privileged to be considered for the ‘operation’; members of his family will be able to bask in the reflected glory. There are others, though, who want to help him so he goes on the run. This aspect of the novel is well handled; the tension is built through a ten-year old boy’s escape through England. He meets Jewish people who live lives as second class citizens, Native Americans who are also lower caste in their own land, schemers and then, eventually, makes it to his brother on the Edgware Road in London. His brother aims to smuggle him on to an airship to escape to the New World, away from the clutches of Rome.
The ending comes as a surprise but one that fits exactly with this world created by Amis. ‘The Alteration’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?