The Boy with the Topknot

Sathnam Sanghera’s memoir was a brilliant evocation of his childhood as well as an exploration of what it is like to have a past truth revealed.  In this case, the discovery of his father’s mental illness and the impact this must have had on his mother.  Dealing with the past as an adult threw up for him his feelings about what he might have known but did not confront.  It was a terrific exploration of how families cope and how they create their own histories.  It was a wonderful book so no surprise that BBC television made a film version.

Sacha Darwan plays the adult Sathnam Sanghera as he heads back home from his high powered job on a national newspaper in London.  His family in Wolverhampton have a life that seems alien to him now, especially as he has a girlfriend in London who is neither Punjabi nor Sikh.  He has yet to reveal this truth since it would break with family tradition.  On the other hand, his parents have a secret from him, one that is revealed when he helps them with packing.  The medication for his father is to control his schizophrenia.  The shock for the adult Sathnam is that he never knew this central aspect of his family’s story.  He was equally unaware that his sister seems to exhibit the same symptoms as his father.

This is a story of uncovering the past and coming to terms with it.  The film shows the younger Sathnam as a shadow figure looking on as his adult self walks the old streets of his childhood city.  Coming to terms with the past also involves coming to terms with the present: there is a partner, who as white British, may not be accepted in his family; the time has come to find out.

The book was excellent and the film lives up to the calibre of the written word even if the story has to be pared down for the benefit of the screen.  In telling the central story much of his school life is jettisoned here.  Yet it is a film with heart and one that does justice to Sathnam Sanghera’s memoir.

 

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Centre of My World

Central to this film version of Andreas Steinhofel’s amazing novel is the theme of identity.  Phil has a gap in his knowledge of himself since his mother, called Glass by everyone, refuses to reveal the name of his father.  Phil and his twin Diane grow up in an unconventional way with a mother who is something of a free spirit in a large house that is remarkable because of its bohemian look.  The rest of the town may look down on them because of their unorthodox lifestyle but they don’t care because they have each other.

I declare the following:  I thought the book was amazing.  I loved it when I first read it which was when it first appeared in English, translated from German.  I also love the work of Andreas Steinhofel.  I did not love this film but I liked it!

Phil is gay so when he meets Nicholas and is smitten he is thrilled to have his feelings returned.  The relationship becomes a sexual one and Phil finds himself accepted by somebody outside his family which is just as well as this is the moment when conflict between Diane and Glass threatens their unit.  Things are made worse by the fact that neither sister nor mother will tell him why they are in dispute.

Phil retreats into his relationship and appears to have found love.  There is even room for Phil’s best and long term friend Kat and the three become friends.  Glass may reject lovers after just a short while but Phil is different.  So when the betrayal comes, of friend Kat and boyfriend Nicholas, the pain is acute.  When the truth of the rift between Diane and Glass is revealed Phil questions his place in the family.

The film has reduced aspects of the book, how could it do otherwise and stay within a reasonable theatrical showing duration?  Yet, for me, although the relationship between the two boys is well portrayed and the pain shown by Phil when he realises Kat has betrayed him is poignant, many of the other characters lose their fullness and come across as self- centred or immature, as in the case of Kat and Glass, or are not well developed at all, as in the case of Diane.

Louis Hofmann is brilliant as Phil.  ‘Centre of My World’ enters my hinterland but mostly so it can sit alongside the book which remains a true artistic expression of young love.

 

Flying Blind

Cross cultural relationships are a common theme in films and television but what makes this 2012 film from director Katarzyna Klimkiewicz different is the fact that we are never sure if the Algerian student has an ulterior motive for starting a relationship with the older engineer who just happens to be working on a highly sensitive aerospace contract for the military.

Helen McCrory plays the ambitious engineer at the top of her game who meets Kahil at a lecture she gives at the local university.  He is impressed by her lecture and says so when he passes her in the car park.  Another incidental meeting sparks her interest and they meet up and start a relationship.  McCrory’s Frankie is following in the footsteps of her father who worked on Concorde.  Like him, she places work first and his worries about her developing relationship are heightened by the fact that he is ‘foreign’.  His worries start to transfer themselves to Frankie who, having met Kalil’s friends at his house, wonders if she is being used.

The film is an excellent exploration of people’s motives and our prejudices; we often keep these hidden but they lie just below the surface.

Najib Oudghiri plays Kahil as a straightforward young man yet the doubts remain and the tension is maintained throughout the film.  Security officers, team members and Kahil’s friends all have views about the relationship and the ending, when it comes, acts as a mirror to our current concerns.  The film’s title is well-earned!

‘Flying Blind’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

 

 

The Year of the Runaways

If I had a list of favourite books, this one would have to be on it.  I don’t, I have a hinterland instead so there is room for this wonderful story of the lives of four people, all desperate in their own way, as they cross in Sheffield in Yorkshire.

There is a central story of the four people, three men and a woman, trying to survive in difficult circumstances in a city that is sometimes unwelcoming.  The novel is broken up with extended back story chapters showing the paths that led each character to their current situation.  In unveiling the story, Sunjeev Sahota, shows us how interdependent our lives are but also how easy it is to ignore those at the bottom of the pile.

Tochi, Randeep and Avtar live together with other migrant workers in a squat in Sheffield.  Each has come to Britain from India.  Randeep has an arranged marriage with a British Asian woman and Avtar has a student visa.  They are both Sikhs and are connected through the sister of one who is the girlfriend of the other. Tochi is from the very bottom of the pile in India since he is an ‘untouchable’.  His story is the most tragic, something that must be kept in mind when he often seems to be the least sympathetic of characters in the book.  The everyday injustices are seen in the small moments and in the way these men treat each other.  At the edge of their lives is Narindar, a young woman from a reasonably prosperous family who wants to live out the teachings of her Sikh religion by doing good.  Her chosen path is her way of living out her faith but when this conflicts with family honour there is heartache and anxiety.

This excellent novel shows an aspect of British life that is most often only revealed through the shrill headlines of the tabloid press.  Sunjeev Sahota shows us what might lie behind the accusatory headlines of illegal immigrant and sham marriages.  At first sight, the title seems to refer to the fact that the men have run away to England.  By the end of the book, I wondered whether the ‘runaway’ was the aspiration to get them out of the hell they were in.

This book is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

 

 

Seat in Shadow

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!

Handsome Devil

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.

 

Plan B

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?

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