This 2016 film from director Henry Coombes only made it into my hinterland because the part of Albert, played by co-writer David Sillars, is so engaging and entertaining. He plays an older gay man in semi- retirement who is called upon by an old friend to help her grandson with his depression. Albert, once a Jungian counsellor, now spends most of his time in his dirty apartment painting. He does not welcome distractions but agrees to help out his old friend.
Ben, the grandson who arrives for his sessions, is sweet enough but in a relationship with a boyfriend so unpleasant that you sort of get the feeling that ditching him might be all the advice he needs from Albert.
The film works only because of the central performance of Sillars who is great when conducting counselling sessions and when dancing in the gay club. He carries the film and this does weaken the whole enterprise as, when he isn’t on screen, the story is less powerful. Power to the elbow of Henry Coombes for trying, though. The film is never less than interesting!
Some films rise above cliché, or rather they take the clichés and make the most of them! This film, like ‘Dead Poets Society’, has some moments that steer close to sentimentality without overdoing it. The effect is uplifting and within the realms of realism.
This is another film set in the confining spaces of a private school. This one, in Ireland, is ruled by rugby. The boys who are good at sport are the top dogs and the misfits, like Ned, have to live with the taunts and insults; the biggest insult of all is to be called ‘gay’. Into this world comes Conor, a star rugby player from another school. His reputation precedes him as a great sportsman and a boy who fights all who annoy him. He aims to keep his head down but this is a school that desperately wants to win the title and they see Conor as the answer to their prayers.
Ned and Conor are made to share a room. The others sympathise that Conor must share with Ned but are then wrong footed when the two become friends. Ned is abused for being gay and Conor is actually gay. As the film progresses we see Conor deal with this identity conflict.
Add to the mix another ‘Dead Poets Society’ touch with an English teacher who inspires (some of) the pupils. Connor sees in him something of himself and tries to seek his help.
Andrew Scott plays the teacher and Nicholas Galitzine plays Conor. Fionn O’Shea plays Ned in this John Butler directed film. It is the type of movie that is feelgood without playing for easy laughs or simplistic endings. Ultimately, the film is about identity and acceptance and we can never have too many films that tackle homophobia.
This gentle film from director Marco Berger covers an unusual angle in a relationship. Bruno’s girlfriend ends their affair because she has met Pablo. His plan to split the couple and get revenge on Pablo does not go well for Bruno. First, when he sleeps with Laura again this does not bring about the desired result. Instead, he decides to pretend to have feelings for Pablo himself and lure him into a position where he can expose him as gay.
Bruno befriends Pablo as part of this plan B only to find that he actually does like him. The more time they spend together, the more they discover they like each other and then, of course, they reach a point of questioning their own sexuality.
The film meanders to the point where their feelings are revealed but it is the better for this slow pace. It handles well the point of disbelief when two men have to admit to themselves that what they are experiencing is love.
‘Plan B’ by Marco Berger is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
I first read this book in 1988 when it read more as reportage than history. Now, reading it again I am struck by how some things have changed but also by how much the issues remain relevant thirty years later.
I read Dervla Murphy’s book about Northern Ireland before I moved on to this, her account of living in Bradford and then Birmingham in 1985. These were significant years in race relations in Britain. In Bradford, the Ray Honeyford affair was causing rifts in the city between older white people and the growing population of Asians. Honeyford was a headteacher with strong views about Bradford Council’s anti- racist policies. His use of a right wing journal to express these views was unwise in the least and campaigns that I remember were set up to oust him from his post. This made him something of a martyr figure for the right wing; Margaret Thatcher invited him to Downing Street to participate in an Educational forum! Dervla Murphy found herself living in the very area where Honeyford was headmaster when it all blew up. Her account of life there is reasoned and does not take sides; she is at pains to say she knows and likes both Honeyford and the leader of the campaign to oust him. Here she records what she sees, knowing that as an observer she is also a participant.
This dual role has more impact when she moves on to Birmingham arriving in Handsworth just before the riots there. Her time here is more dramatic. She is both threatened and intimidated by groups who decide she can be nothing other than a police informer. Her frequent use of her notebook to record what is happening around her leads only to further suspicion.
Dervla Murphy is a thoughtful observer. She meets as many people as she can to gather their life stories as well as their insights into life in (what was then) modern Britain. What emerges seems obvious now: there is no black point of view but many views. The prejudices held by both sides are formed because of the lack of understanding and unwillingness to cross a divide.
Re-reading the book is fascinating: the mid- 80s came back to me. I was clearer when I was younger about where I stood on all these issues. Having re-read it, I can see that I have changed and, although my general political philosophy has not changed, I can see that life is more complicated than it can be painted by politicians.
Murphy uses the terms ‘Black’ and ‘Brown’ to make distinctions between the Afro- Caribbean and the Asians. Mixed race children are discussed only in terms of problems; how will they cope in a world where they don’t fit in. I suppose it is a victory that we have better umbrella terms for races and that children of mixed race are celebrated rather than seen as problems.
‘Tales from Two Cities’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
This autobiographical novel is from young French novelist Edouard Louis. It tells the hard hitting story of growing up as an outsider in poor circumstances in northern France. Young Edouard knows he is different; the signs are in the reactions to him from everyone else. Edouard is an effeminate ten year old boy when we first meet him. His persona annoys his peer group and worries his parents.
His childhood is a story of learning that survival will depend heavily on regulating how he comes across. What is surprising, and moving, is that the boy does not blame others for their reactions to him. He accepts as normal that his manner and his attitudes (and later his sexuality) place him very low on life’s hierarchy. At the top are the physically tough, his father and cousins among them. These are the men who dominate his village. Hard physical jobs just to survive turn out tough, physical men whose attitudes to, and treatment of, women are shocking. Their view of effeminate boys is equally as clear cut.
There is a sense of triumph to the book, if only because the relating of the childhood experiences suggest survival, if nothing else. Escape to the city must have provided the author with a second act where he was validated. How else would he have written a book that despite its grim subject is written with such beauty?
‘The End of Eddy’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
This novel by Lawrence Hill made for fascinating reading. A novel, it follows the story of Langston Cane as he researches his family background in preparation for a novel. This metacognition is heightened by the fact that each of the (male) relatives he follows are also called Langston Cane.
‘Our’ Langston is number five and working for a government minister when the book opens but a misdemeanour with a speech he prepares for his boss finds him out of work. As his wife has also left him, he is without a purpose until family history sends him from Toronto to Baltimore and his aunt who is estranged from her brother. She has information about her father and grandfather and Langston uses this to piece together a story of race and civil rights across the generations.
Both world wars feature as does the underground railway to Canada used by slaves escaping the USA. The civil rights movement and interracial marriage are here, too. An African illegally resident is a key character while historical figures such as John Brown and Frederick Douglass pop up.
What makes the book work as more than a fictionalised family history is the story of Cane trying to navigate the present while looking into the past. Lawrence Hill avoids giving us a chronological version of the past Cane’s revealing bits of the past out of sequence before providing ‘chunks’ of the story of previous Langston Canes.
‘Any Known Blood’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
This novella by Icelandic writer, Sjon, is an interesting exploration of a young man making his way in the world. Gay and prepared to take money for favours, our hero exists in Reykjavik in 1918 when a terrible flu epidemic hit the city.
This tragedy serves as a background to a story of a young man, Mani, who is in love with the cinema because it offers dreams of another life and who becomes an apprentice to a doctor during the worst of the crisis. He goes into houses to find people at the edge of death or, in some cases, finds their corpses instead.
Mani is not ashamed of being gay and enjoys his encounters with his men as much as he likes the cinema. This is not an anguished coming of age tale or rather the anguish is confined to the terrible events in the city. Yet, there is an encounter with a Danish sailor at the independence celebrations. It is this meeting that sends his life off in another direction. Mani may be happy to be gay but he lives in a society that does not share his pride.
In such a short book, Sjon covers issues of belonging, identity and the threat on society from outside. Flu, homosexuals and the cinema all act as alien influences in 1918 Reykjavik.
There is a coda that serves to connect the story to the author. It explains, at last, the sub-title of the book: The Boy Who Never Was.