Howard’s End : A Film Review

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Howard’s End

Directed by James Ivory, Produced by Ismail Merchant, Screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Based on Howards End by E. M. Forster

Cast, Anthony Hopkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Helena Bonham Carter, Emma Thompson, James Wilby, Samuel West, Jemma Redgrave, Prunella Scales, Music by Richard Robbins, Percy Grainger (opening and end title), Cinematography Tony Pierce-Roberts, Edited by Andrew Marcus, Production company, Merchant Ivory Productions

 

 

 

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Edwardian period piece.

This remastered release of the classic Merchant and Ivory Howard’s End depiction of the E.M. Forster’ 1910 novel is a favourite and is seen as one worthy of revived rerelease.  It has not worn that well and is a reminder that when it was made in 1991 it gave of a wiff of sentimentality which Tory Britain resided under and still does.  It reflects on handed down residue of imperial warfare when things are not entirely explained.  The question of how we arrived at this state.  Forster is essentially playful and creates characters with complexities of a backstory and the Anglo-German was to be a prescient but fateful insert with how alike the nations of wealth were like.  It was an age of industrial growth and come hell or high water money was to be made and flights to be taken ships to despatch people to far ends of the earth and Henry Wilcox a true British capitalist is one to take interest in all things colonial.  The import export world of trade and stealing wealth in the form of their minerals of helplessly under developed nations such as in Africa and the Middle East where oil wealth was a bottomless pit.  The wars stay outside the nation.

There is a conceit or play on names with the Schlegel family of an Anglo German bourgeoisie class, with whom the Wilcox’s become entangled and unexpectedly so.  The conceit being maybe a realisation of the already modern Europeans.  The brittleness of the comedic almost farcical leanings of both families, across each other’s lives in a time when place and position were unable to recovery from slight and mishap is something Forster and the duo of that pairing of Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory, who were not just creative partners but life partners, savour.

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At least the upper crust were not ridiculing themselves but a colonial pairing who got the absurdity of the characters extremely observantly.  It set out a past which Britain could reflect on.  The suffragette period and optimism of nations trading withoutvwarring but the warring and colonialism of French, Spanish, English were kept of their respective shores.  The wealth of Henry Wilcox is burgeoning throughout and property after property, become acquired – Mayfair, Shropshire, Somerset – so as to present the period as one where the acquisition of money was enabled by compliance to the golden rule of buy cheap sell high.  In whatever commodity regardless of its origin could facilitate it.

This makes Howard’s End, the family home where the Wilcox family all grew up all the more portent yet a simple piece off rural England.  Possibly Hildenborough in Kent which is renamed Hilton.  

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Literal Strength

Random House provide an excellent readers guide.  The following is taken from it.

It was as a university student at King’s College that Forster was first inspired by the liberal humanism of philosopher George Moore, who advocated the contemplation of beauty and the cultivation of personal relations as a spiritual antidote to the rootless, mechanistic ethos of his age. Forster, together with the young men who would later form the Bloomsbury group of writers (Lytton Strachey, John Maynard Keynes, and Leonard Woolf, among others), embraced this challenge to traditional religious morality and to the growing commercial spirit of the time. Forster spent some of his happiest days in this company, a lifestyle mirrored in the Schlegels’ passion for art, friendship, and the life of the mind.

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Society

Comparisons are then clearly explored between the two families.  One rooted in intellectual (Cambridge is never evoked) the artistic, cultural explorers, pioneering, liberal family the Schlegel’s and the industrial rampant Wilcox family immersed in ideas of commerciality and gain.

Implicit is Forsters unease with the limitations of the Schlegel families oeuvre so he nails each character into a dilemma and we see we’re their true values reside.  Margaret played immaculately by a extremely well observed, nuanced performance of Emma Thompson, is the most apparently pragmatically incisive one of the Schlegel family, whose about turn is all too conceited and carried of with superb, carefully careworn empathetic playing.  I always have an affinity with a fellow left-hander.  Albeit a the fictional one is not within our more worthy characters and I believe it’s realised by Emma Thompson.  That about turn is huge.

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Away with nature

Frailty is not a trait of Henry Wilcox but we are given insight after insight as to his loose arrangements with human nature.  They betray his weaknesses and all come around again.  Margaret has visions of uniting town and country, man and woman, commerce and culture while she hold also to the wisdom of ancient voices.

The ancient voices she hear through herself and the troubled vexed and impoverished Leonard who has the misfortune to recieve a bit of advice which turns his life upside down.  Their meeting is another happenstance which is a necessity of the story.  The advice given completely breaks him and his loving wife Jackie, who was left as an orphan at 16 in Cyprus through the death of her trader father. On  returning to England found Leonard.  Leonard is the ancient voice of another time.

His scholarly endeavors at home confuse and make for strange relations with his fiancé,  she is a homemaker but they are in poor housing next to a railway.  The sky and the country are a dreamland which he is unable to share with Jackie, intellectually or spiritually and this side of him finds him behaving erratically, very out of normality for what it is.  Nature v Human nature as Margaret Schlegel would have it.  Her rationalit’s scopes out acceptance of peculiar actions while being unable to fully accept them.  On the other hand Helen is a wild rover on the landscape of the new world arriving.

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Forster challenges through his juxtaposition of the symbolic Howard’s End as an idyll and enchanted garden, the comparison of  modernities progress in London where insurers prosper, gather the risk, where Leonard works diligently and effectively as a clerk (the Porphyrion Fire and Life Insurance Company) against his own anxiety of knowing there is something other than this to life. His character development pitches the redoubtable Mrs Ruth Wilcox into the fray.

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As the eldest and Henry’s wife she is totally in love with Howard’s End which is hers and it came to her through an old yeomanry stock route. When he casts Howard’s End as a fulcrum of the story he does so having regretted leaving his own ideal childhood home just north of London, Rooksnest, and through the industrialisation moving at a quick pace found himself living in Tonbridge, or Tunbridge Wells, where the business class congregated. This was very significant to Forster. He seen it, in his own childhood, as a loss of connection to place, a respect for individuality, and a commitment to the contemplative life which he regarded as in essence England.   It shows how strong place means to the young.  Imbedded in the psyche as a function of survival perhaps as essential knowledge of belonging.

As a King’s College student at Cambridge Forster would be influenced by the Liberal humanism of George Moore, who sought beauty as spiritual solace setting his philosophy out of religious and capitalistic values. In later years he would be stimulated by fellow students later to belong to the Bloomsbury Group, Lytton Strachey, John Maynard Keynes, and Leonard Woolf, among others. It previous times it would have been Wollstonecraft, Godwin, Stewart, Blake, Paine radicalising the form of governance with ideals of liberal enlightenment. One separated from religion.

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Samuel West as Leonard Bast

When Forster sets the two families across the street from one another; the Wilcox family move into Wickham Place, the inevitable meeting of the two ladies Mrs Wilcox, Ruth, and Meg, Margaret of the Schlegel family whose aunt is the busy body of their family, Aunt Juley (Prunella Scales) is imminent.   Once formalities are over and they meet regularly Ruth forms a bond with Margaret who is she sees, a younger version of herself. Though Sufferage is not the thing for Ruth who is content for men to be the ones to vote, Margaret is a habitué of the former quietly or thunderously disappearing Howard’s End life epoch. Recognising this Ruth introduces unknown to Margaret another plot device which has the rest of the Wilcox family turn to treat her with distrust and distaste. This is a very re-siting of the Howard’s End ‘character’ as a metaphor for the English throwing the baby out with the bath water and ruining the jewel in the crown, its garden of Eden.

The presence of Henry becomes more evident and the Schlegels seek his advice concerning a person of their acquaintance, the young clerk a Leonard whose tenuous introduction into the Schlegel fold has Helen at least a member of the cause celebre class.  She sees in him a worthiness chrysalis wanting to search for light.  Henry is also seen as a possible real estate advisor which he reluctantly becomes involved in.  Very quickly he is established as having enough wealth to himself plan his next move from Wickam Place and a small flat to a salubrious house in Mayfair.  So Howard’s End, Wickham Place, Mayfair.  To that list he later adds stately houses and farmholdings.  It is never clear how different he regards the lives of the classes but certainly Ruth despairs at this less than Human regard for servants and his lackies.

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The events conspire to create a problem Margaret and particularly Helen feel is partly of their making with their assistance for Leonard having not worked out at all as intended.  The two stories overlap and intrigue in the way they unfold.  There are family asides concerning Howard’s End with Henry’s Ruth obedient sons, Paul and particularly Charles played by the magical James Wilby.  Susie Lindeman as Dolly Wilcox his wife is a funny and doting, simpleton for want of a better word.  Charles is covetous of Howard’s End and is the dogsbody in his fathers commercial trading company.  He makes no decisions, is presumably not allowed to and calls father Sir.  He is a for want of a better word, gormless, earlobe tugging, narrow visioned, unambitious man who goes with the tide.  He creates a future for himself based on Howard’s End and maybe this is a simple everyman though limited scope Englishman Forster sees most men’s ambitions.  It’s hard to draw real hard and fixed forms around most of the characters and cast them in either an intentional negative or positive role.  The basic reasoning I make therefore of Forster’s intention is to have us, the reader, (viewer as Ruth/Ismail/James imagined) place our own vision of society on.

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Margaret and Tibby

The Schlegel set were limited towards recognition of social conventions, economic trend, efficiency, with no realisation of their own position afforded them. Forster presumably was more extensive and global in his view while seeing the English garden of Eden as a parody of the Liberty he felt absent.

The Wilcox’s are more ambitious as far as weddings are concerned and Margaret Schlegel oddly is an independent not seeing any need to marry or it appears any capacity for sexual desire.  When you see how luminous and intelligent she becomes in company it’s not confidence she lacks, she is ambitious for others and watchful of her siblings. Tibby played by Adrian Ross Magenty, is I think the youngest and he is academic without having a need to turn his knowledge into money.  He sets of to Magdalen College, Oxford with a certainty of obtaining greater wisdom having committed himself to being as clever as Margaret imagines him to be.  Just how Margaret advances you will have to go on recall dial or wait to see again or maybe for the first time have this complexity revealed to you by going to see the film.  It is worth it and Emma Thompson plays it so well and with a light hand.

Bluebells

In encountering Leonard the other side of life in London is brought from the shadows. With the use of the countryside Ruth/Ismail/James see the nature as constant and seasonal and the touches of colour and it’s abundance are from the opening shot which has Ruth in Evening dress stroll through woodland and grassland, lavender and pansies edging the lawns we are hopelessly drawn into a rhapsody on cultivated splendour.  Leonard is conspiratol in this as he takes in the outdoors at twilight going through Bluebell wood.  Bluebell wood is in Surrey a staple of natures wonder.

“The more people one knows, the easier it is to replace them. It is one of the curses of London. I quite expect to end my life caring most for a place.”

Surrey has these famous bluebell woods where people visit annually as spring moves into summer.  Winkworth Arboretum (near Godalming)
Abinger Roughs and Netley Park (between Dorking and Guildford off the A25)
Harewoods (Outwood, Redhill) but the most famous which is where we are disposed to call to mind (given the Kent connections)  of I think is Emmetts Garden, Sevenoaks, Ightham Mote, (Scathes Wood) Sevenoaks.  Others and well known through asccess being very simple are in grander places. Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Cranbrook, where there are a mere 126 million bluebell flowers in these woods virtue of the maintenance of those gardens, habitat by Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson. Then there is Knole, Sevenoaks.  Knole is the perfect place from which to set off to One Tree Hill, where the heady scent of English Bluebells fills the woodland. One Tree Hill consists of a varied mosaic of habitats, with woodland and open glades, providing homes for some rare wildlife species too.  Most of which lies within an SSSI, and motorways, large Tesco apart is in an area of outstanding beauty.

The situation of nature is not a small one and it is very intentional in my view.  As in Forster’s awakening along the lines of George Moore there is much to be drawn here.  In Ruth’s walk for example.  It is a transition and a walk before twilight.  Just as the floor of bluebells, daffodils and lavender growing in woods open and show amazingly their vital existence; the plant is now a protected species in England, they carpet the close habitats to us with a wonderment.  They come to flower just before the crown of leaves fill the trees and darkness is present under the shade of the trees.  How metaphorical can you get. It is where Ruth is.  Another piece of glory is Leonard striding through, presumably treading down plants in flush of colour, in has ungainly walk.   He lacks the stand back and admire need that presents but ploughs on through.  It is also in the shadows of twilight as he heads into the unknown future with a lack of knowledge to accompany him.  Behind him he leaves anxieties and simpler practical domiciliary occupations of the mind.  Dickens is recollected as a storyteller of the juxtapositions and socitetal mores.  Forster is more ingenious and while utopian Shaw; he gets a mention, science is evident to E.M. as an importance discovering natures atomic secrets and stars astronomy come into Leonard’s field of vision. The Milky Way being a corridor we are in and can see while seeming apart from it.

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Set pieces and Interludes.  

The film is set in chapters of indeterminate length and within one or two of those the error of a fade to black then reintroduction to the same scene at a later point hangs heavy and when initially encountered this appears to be a film reel failure.  It is shown digitally though and is in upscale 4K projection.  So it jars but is only the choice made in the early nineties.

Places

In Tunbridge Wells this vision itself which the original book evokes things changed dramatically ten years after it was written.  I can’t help adding a reflection on the resurgence needed in this part of England and after again in the later War suffering  very badly, it is worth adding more comment.  In TW’s after the War one of the first problems to be faced was the shortage of dwellings. The old houses occupied as billets were gradually reinstated and sold or turned into flats: new houses of moderate size were being put up here and there: there was a desperate need for working class houses. The Corporation had many years before purchased land for the purpose of building small houses, but the opposition to the scheme was such that the land was sold. In 1920, 30 houses of the Hawkenbury Estate were built by the Corporation, but so very high was the price of materials (mostly Government controlled) at the time that the cost was enormous and nothing like an economic rent could be asked. In 1920 an estate was laid out at Rusthall, and in subsequent years additional groups of dwellings have been built to the number of over three hundred houses.

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The late Joseph Bennett who played Paul Wilcox R.I.P.

Conclusion ####4

This is a vision for those unaware that before Downton Abbey there were much better constructs of period drama with a vice like grip on change and changes inherent in people as circumstances alter.  Place is fundamentally symbolic and at the heart of the drama.  The aforementioned stole this too, and feveriously a clash of European idealism itself portending to a future Forster would have had known little or nothing of kept as contrast with the island a petrel blue carpeted idil framed in Forster’s mind, is challenged and is seen to be changing.  Pragmatism is laid out.  Misfortune is experienced.  Love knots are forged and inescapable truths revealed or misread.  Several interweaving strands are for the sake of the book and latterly film are advanced using pardonable device and carry on the story in a wide view.  The alternations are not great leaps and we leave the story for long periods and revisit it in different places and circumstances to see how events have played out.  The characterisations, the celebration of lace and sense of place are at times chocolate box but they are devices with an underplaying part which I describe above.

When I first saw this film I lived in Surrey, was able to take advantage of yearly visits to Bluebell woods and walks in, on Boxhill and visit Knole and Sissnghurst, the Georgian Tunbridge Wells with its beautiful now properly restored, Pantiles.  There is the headless horse rider in Hurst Wood to the 20 ghosts it is said to haunt The Pantiles.  The words and vision is haunting us from ancient times again.

 

John Graham

28 July 2017

Belfast

From 28 July to 3 August 2017 at Queens Film Theatre Belfast and general release.

cant believe its 25 years since it’s made.

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The Secret Scripture : A Film Review


The Secret Scripture

Director Jim Sheridan, Producer Noel Pearson, Screenplay by Jim Sheridan, Johnny Ferguson. Cast, Vanessa Redgrave, Rooney Mara, Eric Bana, Theo James, Aidan Turner, Jack Reynor, Susan Lynch, Siobhan Redmond, Adrian Dunbar. Music by Brian Byrne, Cinematography Mikhail Krichman, Edited by Dermot Diskin, Production company, Ingenious Senior Film Fund, Voltage Pictures, Ferndale Films. Cert. 12a. Duration 1hr 48mins.


Beyond Dublin in the Green

Some people have got this film horribly wrong and are unable to cross over into it’s tragedy in a trinity of hope. The Irish Times gives it this ‘tribute’ – What’s that? Who’s he? Where’d that come from? When Barry’s novel was published, several critics argued that the final unlikely twist felt at odds with a hitherto disciplined narrative. It says something about the film that the reversal feels perfectly at home among so many even greater lunacies. It even casts sectarianism into a new vein without making comment of how diffuse these things are to convey – it seems in a blind alley Ireland. The mastery of the Bible both potent and conclusive lends written comfort to Rose, a woman betrayed.  It is within the unspoken reading between the lines we go with this film based on the novel of the same name by Sebastian Barry which makes for more imagining than the act of storytelling in film this is.  Nevertheless it is handled extremely carefully with a melding of eras and in themselves drawing comparisons.  The landscape is more familiar to the Irish and the need to know (Philomenas Story is a close relative) diaspora from Canada, America or Britain whose children are the fathers and mothers of new generations of the ‘departed’.  In complete association too are those left beneath fields, institutions buried so none would reflect on their memory except the mothers and those in the know.  From Priests to Police to Orderlies. Into the equationn come knowing townsfolk contributing to the complicity and getting on with their lives by ignoring it in order to straighten their own existence in the changing world.  For the story to begin we enter the present day at Rose’s Hospital and Residential Care home in the midst of it closing down.  Some lessons are learnt and there is clearly an attempt by Director Jim Sheridan to acknowledge Times have changed and the bullying and treatment of people like animals has been removed.  In this present environment there is real care and a making good with what is at hand.  Even the prospect of Rose being able to go to somewhere other than a mental asylum has reared its head.

With the dramatic stroke of a pen Sebastian Barry conjures up a back story to the aging and institutionalised grande dame Vanessa Redgrave playing Roseanne McNulty whose 50 years committal to this decaying and listed for demolition Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital, is transported on the journey of her earlier life and circumstances.  Doctor Grene (Eric Bana) is sent to determine whether Roseanne is fit to be released.  The younger Rose is played by the affluent and Irish connected, Rooney Mara whose arrival in a small village in 1940s Ireland causes two men, a fighter pilot and a priest, played by Jack Reynor and Theo James.


New horizons revisited

Jim Sheridan has Oscar-winning debut My Left Foot and In the Name of the Father as home based movies and into Irishmans habitual magnetic pull to tales of immigration he went and it did not fail him with the exile story In America, and was an acclaimed award winning film also.  Some subsequent entries to the mainstream movie still didn’t seem to suit his work and this is a return of more recognisable formats and it is an attempt by Sebastian Barry to story tell the periods which define present day Ireland the diaspora and wars intervention.  This of course brings in relationships as the bolstering narrative force.  The auld triangle of a beautiful young woman and two bantam cocks clanging the auld triangle and creating conflicts?

Rose has kept a dairy all these years and we enter its tableau – shortly into the arrival of Rooney Mara from Belfast where it’s unsafe after bombing there.  The arrival of a beautiful independent woman is on this West Ireland landscape in the shadow of Yeats Benbullben outside Sligo, is to an already developed hybrid of gentry, Anglo patrons and a subdued, suppressed by Religion ‘compliant’ malcontented population.  They are not mercifully at war though many across Ireland went and fought alongside the British as it was 1. an option 2. There was little for them at home.  The mainstay of any small community is its perverse sense of hierarchy and those who disobey and act up are likely cast out.  Rose is recruited into her Aunts Hotel Temperance establishment and quickly the honeypot of the scented air takes her into the midst of village taboos.  The first ‘normal’ encounter is with a young man called Conroy a labourer for a hard nosed local family.  They have a built in hatred on the English and when there is another approach not altogether religious and skirting his own anxieties surrounding masculinity and his sacrifice comes Father ..    Rose deflects such straight eyed advances and goes her own path while accepting invitations to the local dance.  The presence of the Church is everywhere and in the dance hall they are required to keep apart while hoAldi get one another while the Priest including the presence of Father …. they leave enough space not to be sinful.

The film is drawn out using a great deal of passage from the present to the past.  It in done with good untroublingbpassage and with the versatile Vanessa Redgrave playing the Lady Rose and the unnerving accurate Rooney Mara as the younger vunerable Rose.

Inconsistencies and alterations. Implausibilities? 

Very strongly held views on this film have come from many who find the story confusing and too contrived in its far fetched coincidences and shaping of characters that feature less in the book than put to purposes dramatic here.  Some even call it a travesty.  Sebastian Barry having sold the rights keeps his counsel and his silence is taken as being far from endorsement. There certainly are large parts of the long history left in the book and a Rooney Mara’s Rose here has a prominent role in a central love story which contains its central themes.  She is an incomer, she is a beautiful sophisticated woman, she is of independent mind, she is entering a part of ‘remnants of occupied’ Ireland beset with unfettered resentment, she enters a village which has ahigh morality  driven by the Church, she is also in proximity to state institutions which remove children and separate single mothers from their babies and lock them up and give their babies away for money.  She also is in proximity to a Medical system crudely operating the appliances of ECT and shock treatment as normal for mental illnesses or difference.  She also notices the formidable rectitude of everyone to hierarchical status including her domineering Aunt (Siobhan Redmond) who’s name along with a few others are not easy to find on press credits oddly.  So is it deplorable to drop large parts of a book and get Shakespearean in this gazette of Ireland observed by the Filmaker Jim Sheridan who wrote the script along with the late Johnny Ferguson.?  There are central characters in this which do not sit comfortably with some people.  The airman flying a Spitfire – they ignore the reconnaissance tasks in the West Coast Atlantic seaboard where U-boats were often found and Lough Foyle famously being the last outpost for plenty of U-boats and also forget the American airbases – the recent BBC My Mother and other Strangers gave you the opposite to this film, delivering a War soap opera – which were in Fermanagh and all across Northern Ireland full of troops and airmen training to be pilots in preparation for the Secret D-day landings.  8,000 in Kilkenny Co.Down alone. While the book may have consorted with the flying mission instead of being a land based soldier, it matters little.  Bonzos are quite capable of shooting down ‘foreign’ planes and planes crash.  Many flights no doubt took place over this very stretch of Ireland’s republic.   Where do you take fault?  Is it the neatness of parts of the linkages.  Is the element of delving into people’s past too trite?  Sheading interesting characters? Is the ludicrously large white collared Priest Father Gaunt too comical and pathetic a figure. His character is volumously turgid and corrupt of a conflicted man. Are the nurses of the old school too clean and Matronly while being intensely underlyingly cruel? All these questions to my mind are nonsense and in the core of the film Rose is telling you how unstable memory is. The record to has advanced writing out that history.  Some of it is fantasy and in parts some of the grim reality turns out to have another side.  I don’t care if half the time the story finds a simple way to the next part as we are closely kept to the woman at is heart trying to imagine what happened to her.  Can you imagine how much she must have struggled to put that behind her.  For her imaginings of what happened to ultimately coincide with a partial reality?  The questions need not be effecting in terms of how they are coming to you as essentially they are in the realm of broken fractured memory.  The script actually places false directions in Rose’s mind only.  The other characters are real and no such bewilderment is visited through them.  Their part is sometimes savage and brutal.  Rose’s is in a state of protection in a fixed world she has inhabited for 50 years?  Can you imagine the damage caused to her and many women like her?

Similarities

I opened the play The Steward of Christendom at random and came across the same times as here. There are common investigations and trials of the past – society in Ireland – undergone by Sebastian Barry of which I rate the play as masterly, profound, haunting, sad forgotten history, much as this film indeed takes us into and it is quite political but Donal McCann made it definitely ‘other’ about the human improsoned in Ireland. Inside the Institution and outside on the Island fighting seeming wrongs. It made the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end in its horrific prescience. Even now it inhabits the same place – even more so given the recent barbaric dreadful disclosures of previous generations guilt and the pain inflicted in those institutions.  Here’s the line I found straight on opening its pages of the powerful orderly Smith – Even in the ward of old dames with their dead brains, have some of them opened their eyes and are weeping to be woken, with your bloody shouting.  Do you want to go in with them, old man? After I beat you! Sebastian Barry on the case even then.

Eric Bana takes a high dose of listening to his requirement for enquiry about Rose.
The rich dramatic material at play and the fascinating historical backdrop means there’s plenty here that proves initially appealing. The young Rose is trapped by her sexuality, arousing interest in men without the slightest provocation on her part yet facing the full force of blame from those around her. The film briefly explores the complicated rituals of dating at the time and the dangers of a bruised male ego when a woman dares to turn a man down.
Initially there was a backlash in contemporary Ireland to the book with its closeness to history and claims of abuse ever in the headlines playing out.  It was seen in reviewers eyes as being far fetched and characterisations of romance purile and simplistic. For the film it’s seen likewise by many. The closing of the film is too contrived and unexpected as Vanessa Redgrave holds centre stage with her marbles intact.  The Secret Scripture use devices of story telling which only flow smoothly in books but it is admittedly hard to convey in the time period of a movie.  Demands of twists and turns though have been dealt with very satisfactorily by Jim Sheridan and there is no overplay of the gestures and realisations as they unfold.  With Vanessa Redgrave playing Beethoven’a Moonlight Sonata, (an accusatory critic paled at its repetitiveness) in solitary moments in a room, we see the breathing diaphragm of a living person recollecting her past.  It is not only sweet and convincing it is powerful and moving.

For the time periods to intermingle we have to have contrast and Susan Lynch playing the part of a present day nurse becomes a key vehicle for the sensitivity of history learnt. Her knowing, caring, is in seeing the woman in Lady Rose and reflecting on what she has gone through over forty years.  With the instruction having been given to assess her being taken up by a psychiatrist who is intrigued by the fortitude and forceful will of Lady Rose, is Eric Bana who plays admirable the ‘outside’ caring professional, quick to note discrepancies in the work of his peer, the notable Dr Jello  of Adrian Dunbar who is in charge with emptying the establishment and sees it as in ‘the line of duty’ as a role he plays with predictable solidity.   Dr Grene on the other hand is given slack and time by Sebastian Barry to develop a quick relationship of patient and Doctor which in present times of austerity are unimaginable.  Nevertheless an authors due – the slack given on occasion to movies due to time scale particularly in adapting books – is to make plausible a story’s reach.  Eric Bana and Susan Lynch form a convincing team and share the sandwiches, lunchbox treats and soups etc. or whatever sustenance is at hand in between Rose’s rest and elderly ramblings.  They too remain in the ghost like building emptying around them.  That is when switches occur back to Rooney Maras action packed life take us into a believable village – preposterous to critics of the book – with fabrications of conflicts infighting and japes and foolery unbetoken of Ireland of the time.


Irony lost on viewers

Sebastian Barry has of course given some ribald irony and an edit of preposterous heft to the story as if to say – Ireland, you were present when this was happening around your ears yet all you could do was turn a blind eye and more than that get caught up in rebellion against a country at war and a religiosity which tore the faith in God out of you and created a purgatory here on earth. It is tangible to see this cussedness in Irish people of that time but it causes more pain it would seem.  The truth always too has its victims. That is the line, the horrific line this film wishes to take us over and into a powerful emotionally troubling period for the characters who represent in fiction real people’s lives unimaginable at this distance horribly corrupted and ruined.  So there is a backlash of morality fighting for concealment as due reflection turns over too many stones close to the perpetrators unable to come to terms with their own families part in these vexing times.  Why drag up the past?  The reason is it uncoils itself in many ways not least in being held in so, it becomes repeated as a manifestation of ancient held in guilt in the sub-cncious passed on.  The doplar effect of the mind.  Séan Hillen in his Irelantis fictional world creates a counter narrative in art with the juxtaposed John Hinde visions of Ireland and as richly as film and novel forms.  More is essential for understanding ourselves the better.

There are scenes in the film which many will find arguable and condonable however I see those particularly disturbing pieces of work as entirely plausible credible entries to the hidden stories Ireland has masked for decades.  It may not be the truth but it bears an uncanny resemblance to the unfurling detail.  It is why it must be examined for what it contains, not for what you would like it to appear.


No chemistry? It’s not totally about their relationship but what hovers around it.

On parallel works

Hence the auld triangle goes jingle jangle. From Galway to Dingle, from Derry to West Cork it’s been happening for decades. Both the internment of the young and vunerable and the institutional abuses therein. The Steward of Christendom by Sebastian Barry was an intensely brilliant play I’ve seen several times and had on it acting – the unforgettable The Dead film character of Gabriel Conroy played by Donal McCann whose performance in John Huston’s 1987 film of the Joyce short is itself a piece of Irish history and also a masterful core part of Irish Cultural excellence in all its various themes.

The themes of the play are not equivalent in this film but provide another shape to the times within this film. For a synopsis of The Steward of Christendom – I’ve extracted the following from a ubiquitous source. The play opens in a county home (an inpatient psychiatric facility) in Baltinglass, Ireland in 1932, some years after Irish independence. In the opening scene, Dunne (Donal McCann) appears to be raving incoherently, reliving an episode of his childhood. As the play continues, Dunne slips from moments of lucidity to reliving parts of his career as a senior officer in the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP), especially the handover of Dublin Castle to Michael Collins in 1922 after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. He also relives memories of his family, particularly his daughters, Annie, Maud, and Dolly. Dunne is also visited by the ghost of his son Willie, killed in WWI; Willie’s ghost appears to him in the form a 13-year-old child but dressed in the soldier’s uniform of his 18-year-old self.

Here the date focussed on by Barry is the early 1940’s. The institutions had been around and become part of the identity of Ireland. In Belfast the 1932 move to Stormont from what was and had been the Northern Ireland Parliament one hundred yards from QFT in the now Theological College since partition in 1925. Sebastian Barry covers this ground in much of his work, of institutional Ireland of State and Health the life on the streets and rural world grippingly as he loosely affirms family connections with the Thomas Dunne the Dublin Metropolitan Police Commander in the play. So too this film for its depiction of a former period of important movement in Ireland. These histories are intertwined and Michael Collins, Eamon de Valera both had ‘seats’ at the Belfast Union College but never once collected from the fifty boxes of the MPs the Order papers of the day for that emerging Parliament. One could play the card Eamon de Valera was a double agent to the British hegemony as future republicans were to similarly trade their countries status. Not in a film though as truth is mainly stranger than fiction.

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Conclusion ####4

I began with a mindset carrying ideas of the lukewarm critical reception of the book and film, both inhabiting that doubt common to adaption of part historical narratives.  I need not have concerned myself too much because this film opens up a layer of life which is seldom considered in its continued influence and in the magnitude of its shaping usand the identity formed as a Nation on its multiple layers of relationships across continents, across short sea journeys and across hedges and parishes.  It harbours a fiction I see to contain many probable realities. I never read the book.  In the depiction of Lady Rose played brilliantly on both parts. Rooney Mara as the young independent free spirited, intelligent incomer beauty full of warmth and expectation and the kaleidoscopic thespian skills not wasted or lost of Vanessa Redgrave, herself no stranger to loss or to Ireland’s perplexing past, is not only endearingly charming but purposely disjointedly harmonious and comforting in its plainness.  There is nothing plain under the surface no matter what the Irish take or spin on it happens to be or where the deniers – and they are the ‘plain’ folk of Ireland themselves, mostly due to present many frstations of suffering across the world would prefer to banish and put away in a state of complacent bewilderment.  If only that were our only path.  The Secret Scripture is written – a form of blasphemy- in black on the Bible – as in the Temperance Hotel (you could say it was a depiction of Ulster which has many many connections with Sligo) – here is a Lilliputian Jonathan Swift world of male believe.  Now and then.  The Bible being the only book – in this puritan hotel – is the only marginila Rose has to take into her incarceration as a hidden diary.  For its uncovering, not matter it’s Preposterous retrieval there are unsettling truths like the words of the Bible itself.  As it is not a Book which is safe in the Clergies hands nor taken with pillars of salt in communion amongst the suppressed and mal treated citizens, already infiltrated by a siege power of a monarchist force.  Since the 1166 occupation the persistent and systematic entrapment is in plain sight from the pulpit and before the pulpit.  Both the Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland contrite and corrupt in unity of suppression against Gods will.  This film will be seen initially as a passing anecdotal fable worthy of a watch but light on appeal.  It will upset and conflict with perceptions narrow and broad but I would say it will after several viewings reveal itself in time to be full of its own contested narrative slowly bringing a reckoning to bear as its bold and more extreme view is received as history continues to recite its clarion vision.  It is there for us to see in a wider sense and while novels, films can only open some fictional presentation of a past long gone it is always a sudden shock to see its proximity to truth and realisation is slow but within reach.  On a question alone of the mix up of plot and some too fanciful occurrences I knock it back from being a 5 as it is to my mind of a very determined voice setting out to familiarise the world and those closer with the inexcusable period in the past in this country – worse if most probably being effected unknown to us in other parts of the world – and it is a piece of the pyramid of truth being built in memory of those children and women.

It is like a whisky chaser hitting your throats but this is why the fondness for diversion is like dashing your head on the rocks.  So much is ventured there is no small comfort to be had except through thinking along the lines I think Jim Sheridan, Sebastian Barry and the fine strong cast found themselves nurturing.  While it is discomforting it is due plenty of deliberation.

John Graham

22 March 2017

Belfast

On at Queens Film Theatre from Friday 24 March through to and including  30th March and on General release.

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Post Behan Brectian Proustian stories

In Ireland the confinement of Women and Men distinguished little in Mental Institutions from the Prisons like the Mountjoy that inspired the Dominic Behan The auld triangle goes jingle jangle. The lyrics still are chilling and how the Bi-sexual Brendan Behan came to them is anyone’s guess but the waking traingle of the Prison warder still makes people sit up and listen to these lyrics – the last verse.

In the female prison there are seventy women 

And I wish it was with them that I did dwell 

And that auld triangle, went jingle jangle 

All along the banks of the Royal Canal

Was the mind of Ireland imprisoned during these times?

From The Quare Fellow of 1956

ACT 1:
A hungry feeling came o’er me stealing

And the mice were squealing in my prison cell,

And that old triangle

Went jingle jangle,

Along the banks of the Royal Canal.

To begin the morning

The warder bawling

Get out of bed and clean up your cell,

And that old triangle

Went jingle jangle,

Along the banks of the Royal Canal.
The screw was peeping

And the lag was weeping…

(SONG BREAKS OFF HERE)

ACT 2:

A hungry feeling came o’er me stealing

And the mice were squealing in my prison cell,

And the old triangle

Went jingle jangle,

Along the banks of the Royal Canal.

On a fine spring evening,

The lag lay dreaming

The seagulls wheeling high above the wall,

And the old triangle

Went jingle jangle,

Along the banks of the Royal Canal.
The screw was peeping

The lag was sleeping

While he lay weeping for the girl Sal…

(SONG BREAKS OFF HERE)
The wind was rising

And the day declining

As I lay pining in my prison cell

And that old triangle

Went jingle jangle,

Along the banks of the Royal Canal.
In the female prison

There are seventy women…

(SONG BREAKS OFF HERE)
The day was dying and the wind was sighing,

As I lay crying in my prison cell,

And the old triangle

Went jingle jangle,

Along the banks of the Royal Canal.

ACT III, Scene II (end of play):

In the female prison

There are seventy women

I wish it was with them that I did dwell,

Then that old triangle

Could jingle jangle

Along the banks of the Royal Canal.

To this song provided for The Quare Fellow by brother Dominic we can add along the themes of imprisonment is this universal song. 

I shall be released

By Bob Dylan

They say ev’rything can be replaced

Yet ev’ry distance is not near

So I remember ev’ry face

Of ev’ry man who put me here

I see my light come shining

From the west unto the east

Any day now, any day now

I shall be released

They say ev’ry man needs protection

They say ev’ry man must fall

Yet I swear I see my reflection

Some place so high above this wall

I see my light come shining

From the west unto the east

Any day now, any day now

I shall be released

Standing next to me in this lonely crowd

Is a man who swears he’s not to blame

All day long I hear him shout so loud

Crying out that he was framed

I see my light come shining

From the west unto the east

Any day now, any day now

I shall be released

 

End