"There’s a daisy."

Film TIME Magazine is reporting that Lisa Klein’s novelistic adaptation of Hamlet (which I reviewed here) is going into production with Daisy Ridley in the title role and Naomi Watts as Gertrude directed by Claire McCarthy. She says:
"Ophelia is brimming with youth-fueled charisma, exploring the nature of true love and beauty, and I’m so excited to bring this fresh mythic spin to Hamlet from a female perspective,” McCarthy said in a statement. “This retelling will be experienced through the eyes of Ophelia and has the kind of romance, complexity and suspense that makes this beloved story exciting to younger audiences."
It's been a while but that review suggests that I enjoyed the novel and I do remember that it wasn't simply a rote version of the play which just happens to just have the Ophelia scenes. Klein brought real inner life to the character and also the story ranged well before and after the action of the play. If they're brave enough to just have that action in the middle section as per the book and properly background Hamlet then this could be something very good indeed.

[spoiler deleted]

Film The Guardian has an excellent point for point analysis of why Captain America: Civil War is a better film than Bus Dodge. I've deleted the minor spoiler in the middle of this quite:
The Civil War sequence is a hoot, with each character getting their licks in and using their powers in unique and fun ways. True, by this point the scene has 12 characters beating the hell out of one another, offering more room for innovation. [spoiler deleted] But Dawn of Justice’s fight is mainly just the bashing of heads. When Wonder Woman finally appears, we only see her lasso for five seconds, and it’s inconsequential. The celebrated breath of fresh air in that picture isn’t given anything to do other than look gorgeous and smile.
Probably best to ignore the link until you've seen the film. Does anyone know why MARVEL films tend to be released internationally before the US? Buzz? Word of mouth?  You're welcome.

My Favourite Film of 1948.

Film A quick aside. Working through 1001 film list, partly through library dvds, partly through streaming apps, I've been struck by just how awful some of the transfers have been, even major studio releases. For all Scorsese et al's efforts in restoring the likes of The Red Shoes, there are dozens of titles around which exist in barely watchable versions either because the dvd company has simply utilised some old transfer prepared for television or even a VHS release because it's not been thought to be cost effective to produce a better version for something likely only to attract a small audience at a budget price.

But it's also true that blu-ray and boutique releases and indeed the ravishing work done on titles like The Red Shoes, the premium material, has rather spoilt our tastes. For the decade before dvd, most of us were quite comfortable watching films in panned and scanned VHS releases and simply happy to have the miracle of a film in the home which we could watch whenever, no matter that it had been butchered and was very far from what the director originally intended or indeed had their vision compromised because of the needs to shoot the thing in order to ease its transition into the home market by protecting the frame.

Even dvd wasn't initially the panacea. Although some titles were undoubtedly well turned out, the original release of All The President's Men was at such a low bit-rate, the quality was barely better than a VHS recording from the original line of Freeview boxes and The Red Shoes utilised the very yellowed print that you see in the restoration documentary to demonstrate the amount of work which was done in order to make the colours pop. Again, because that was all that was available, we still marvelled. Now, as we can stream these films in HD quality, we shake our heads at that legacy, boggling at how we could possibly accept such poor quality.

But sometimes it's still possible to simply be grateful to see a film, however the quality. A few weeks ago I discovered Peter Hall's filmed version of A Midsummer Night's Dream and found a streamable copy on Amazon Prime. The transfer is awful, the sound pitched far too high and muffled, the dialogue sometimes muffled. The print used is completely unrestored with frame dropouts where it's been repaired, noticeable shudders between reels and dust and hairs and well, you get the idea. It's probably in a worse state than the Blade Runner print I talked about the other months.

Except, I was very pleased to have seen it. The film has been highly out of circulation in the UK - I don't think it's even received a VHS release. There is a region one disc from MGM's archive collection, but that's a bit expensive for me at the moment (apparently that transfer is much better). When a film is this rare, you make do, you enjoy what's been put in front of you.  It was a reminder of those times past but also of how we have to look after and promote this legacy.  How is it that a film starring Judi Dench, Helen Mirren and Diana Rigg, in Shakespeare, at the height of their powers could be treated this poorly?

We Need To Talk About Steve Rogers (again).

Film Let's get the obvious out of the way first. Captain America: Civil War is awesome. That cultural barometer Rotten Tomatoes currently suggests a reviewer average of 93% and that's exactly about right. We'll get to the bat shaped elephant with an S on his chest more clearly in a minute but if you want a demonstration of how the RT algorithm largely works compare that to the other big comic book clash of the year which has now dropped to 27% to see how if something is of quality it will be rewarded with the reviews to match (unless you're of the mind that the entire critical corpus are all on the take from MARVEL to give positive reviews to their films and damn DC in which case this will simply confirm your worst fears).

Needless to say there will be spoilers in this listicle shaped discussion and it is one of those films which works best without any foreknowledge. There's at least one moment I wish I hadn't known about beforehand which is still amazing, but not quite as much first time as it might have been if it had come as the surprise it was meant to be. But genre websites have to attract the clicks and so it was they decided to include this moment in the headline of the article and so the content of a tweet. But unlike Bus Dodge where its best moments were the film, CA:CW is so rich in moments that there were about a hundred other things and incidents and stuff that are equally terrific. Make no mistake, this is the film Age of Ultron should have been (and I was less critical of Joss's nightmare than most people).


One of the fears that I think most of us had going into this was that it seemed like it was going to be The Avengers 2.5 and there is an argument that this is certainly the case. But it's also quite coherently Iron Man 4 and yet it still also manages to keep Cap as the focus character in his own film providing a coherent conclusion to his trilogy, paying off bits of story set in motion back in The First Avenger whilst also setting the scene for the upcoming phase of MARVEL films. If Age of Ultron felt like just another episode in the series, this is more like the mid-season finale as it also simultaneously pays off events from numerous other films along the way. You probably couldn't watch the three Cap films and feel like you've seen a coherent story but none of the MARVEL films function that way.

Notice how the Russos somehow manage to give each of their characters a "moment of charm" for want of a better description or at least a story beat which furthers their narrative within the MCU whilst also justifying their appearance in the film. None of the superhero characters at least feel like cameos with the possible exception of Ant-Man although even his gigantor scene and subsequent incarceration will have potential implications for his sequel. There's no especial reason why Vision and Scarlet Witch should have a bit of romance here, but it provides each of them some motivation going forward, not least Vis whose character arc is surely going to mirror TNG's Data as his artificial intelligence slowly absorbs humanity and investigates what it is to be a sentient being. Including wearing their clothes.

But the ballsiness of the finale in which it seems as though in the expected MARVEL way bygones will be bygones and then everything's turned around and we're given the fight we all turned up to see. Compare this to Bus Dodge in which the expected fight squibbles after two hours of build up. In this, they fight, they fight and then they fight some more as MARVEL fearlessly trashes friendships and the status quo of its universe because that's what the story is about. I was reminded of the anti-regeneration gun in Doctor Who's The Last of the Time Lords. The shift between the expectations as to what was going to be the ending and would have been in the hands of lesser film makers and what occurs is the Hollywood blockbuster equivalent of Martha's giggle.


If there's a problem and this is the 7%, it's that although the film portrays this as both Iron Man and Cap having valid arguments for being on both sides of the Sarcovia accord, given the death and destruction, Iron Man's is the correct end of the argument. There has to be oversight. Even in imperfect systems you can't have vigilantism. It's not perfect and the people making the decisions won't always get it wrong, but as is established, it's not about the superbeings becoming America's police force but the UN's. Which isn't to say there isn't nuance but what's interesting about the script is that it doesn't take sides on the issue so it's entirely possible that someone else would come away from the film with Cap's freedom argument. In the end I'm siding with Romanov.

Notice how the discussion is roughly similar to that in Bus Dodge.  But whereas Batman's solution was to annihilate Superman, here it's about control.  Superheroes begat death and destruction and arguably more supervillains so something has to happen.  The SHIELD comic had a pretty good solution for this, making Coulson an expert in superheroes and having him decide who to deploy and where to the best of their abilities.  Perhaps in the first Infinity War film we'll see a version of this as Tony deploys whatever team he's managed to construct from people willing to sign the accord (whilst simultaneously demonstrating there's life in the mega team idea once he and the rest of this lot have retired).

Agent Carter.

"Oh Peg." I said quietly as Cap received the news. Arguably having Agent Carter die off camera is a bit undignified, but despite what the Russos say about the television sections of the franchise, there has to have been a certain element of not wanting to dampen whatever might be happening with the television series. But historical dramas are often about dead people and Howard Stark was already established as having gone even before he wandered into that series. My next thought was whether Jarvis was still about and of course he is in spirit. Meanwhile are we suppose to assume Bucky dated or at least tried to date Dottie Underwood? Is that one of the reasons he ended up in the Winter Soldier programme. It's all connect isn't it?

Iron Man 4

One of the key threads of the Iron Man films was Tony's relationship with his father and his unresolved issues with people an arms manufacturer who flies around in a humanoid tank. The darkness of Iron Man 3 is finding further fruition here. Some might question why Pepper is kept off screen again, but the producers have realised that their relationship breeds light screwball comedy and tonally the Captain America films, at least the latter two, don't lend themselves to that. We need to see darkly brooding Tony, grey Tony, morally certain Tony and having him spar with Miss Potts would not have felt right. Plus it's difficult to hire Paltrow and then not give her a story to service especially in the film where one of the rules seems to be "no cameos".


Just right. Unless Homecoming is a complete mess, I think this is probably going to be the big screen portrayal of Spider-man which will finally nail it. The Raimi films did the spectacle whilst getting Peter completely wrong and fucking up the structure of the first film. Andrew Garfield was near perfect in the role but was ill served by the films his performance was housed in as Sony misguidedly attempted to spin their own cinematic universe around him. Spidey has always been at his best when he's had other superhumans to but up against, trade notes and so it proves here. Say what you like about producing yet another screen version of the character when TAS2 hasn't even finished its initial streaming cycle, but his appearance in CA:CW more than justifies it.

Notice the economy with which he's introduced, in a long conversation with Tony which hints towards his origin story, Peter keeping something back, the radio active spider bite (we assume) having occurred six months before. But the details which hint towards the future, the retro technology in his room fished out of dumpsters expressing his poverty, no parents, May bringing him up (isn't Marissa Tomei fabulous?) alone having also lost her husband. Part of that is an adaptation from the comics, but Feige has said that John Hughes will be a key influence on the Spider-Man films and they're already laying the ground work here, as we find a set up not too dissimilar in mood to Pretty in Pink or Some Kind of Wonderful.

There's also his personality which is arguably "young Deadpool" but that just shows how closely they're following what can be found in the comics and in the television cartoons. Plus it's not just he's cracking jokes, he's funny and overawed about meeting all of these heroes and even getting to fight them. This is just how such encounters were portrayed in the comics. We'll see how much of the rest of the comics will be transferred to the screen. As the Garfield films found and Bus Dodge, having had a different adaptation pilfer all the good bits, it's a big ask for the audience to so quickly sit through an alternative version. I'd be quite happy for the Daily Bugle to not even appear in his films, although they will come up against the problem of natural aging. He can't stay in school for the next ten years (or however long his trilogy takes).

Agents of SHIELD.

The Russos have made it perfectly clear they don't give a toss about SHIELD and yet SHIELD does have to give a toss about Civil War.  Channel 4 are a bit behind the US in screenings so lord knows what effect all of this business will have on their affairs though it'll probably be less than The Winter Soldier which arguably changed the premise of the series.  Presumably the expectation for the Secret Warriors to register will intensify so it's possibly that Daisy et al will decide to break away from SHIELD and go their own way.  But the walled gardens between the various bits of the franchise are interesting.  How does this registration business effect Daredevil?  Or Jessica Jones?  Or the rest of The Defenders?  One of the ambiguities of the film is the extent to which the accord affects just The Avengers or all superpowered beings as per the comics.

Where do we go from here?

Unlike Age of Ultron, this was mostly about closing off Cap's story for the most part and setting up Spider-Man and Black Panther (and notice how his film doesn't have to be an origin story either now).  Vision mentions his jewel so that's still bubbling under but unlike AoU with Thor's bath et al, there's nothing especially new added to those storylines.  Looking at the slate it looks like stand alone films will alternate with films setting up the Infinity War, notably Guardians and Thor (although not really since Strange, Spidey and Panther are sure to participate).  It's interesting that The Inhumans has been postponed.  My guess is there's some hedge betting going on for post Avengers 3.2.  Any of these projects could be failures and the backlash could start against these films.  The box office on Civil War is going to be very interesting to watch.

"If you read me, we're going to attempt time travel."

Art The biannual press conference announcing the content of the Liverpool Biennial was held yesterday but I couldn't attend due to a work commitment in Manchester and a talk at the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art about contemporary Hong Kong artwork inspired by the umbrella revolution.

They were good enough to send me a length press release which I've skimmed so as not to have too much of an idea of what to expect until it begins in July so here's the brilliant Vanessa Wheeler at The Double Negative with an excellent survey of what's to come:
"This Biennial will be based on the theme of Time Travel and be split into six episodes: Ancient Greece, Chinatown, Children, Monuments of the Future, Flashback, and Software. Each episode, said festival director Sally Tallant at press conferences in Liverpool and London, is a like a fictional genre: confined within itself, but still overlapping with other works to create a mesh of cross-disciplinary art in locations throughout the city. Visitors to the biannual 14-week festival can look forward to a wide-ranging and sometimes bizarre mix of ancient and futuristic sculpture, performance art inspired by medical marvels, a look into the art of smuggling, and an abundance of fantastic fringe events."
Which all sounds a bit more coherent and interesting than the last Biennial which I think you probably detected at the time I was rather disappointed with.  This edition feels more spread out and within the city in a similar way to Biennials of old when there was an excitement to discovering exhibitions and public art works in unusual spaces.

Soup Safari #64:
Thai Chicken Soup at British Home Stores.

Late Lunch. £3.95. British Home Stores, Manchester Arndale Shopping Centre, 57 Market St, Manchester M1 1WN. Phone: 0161 834 1151. Website.

The Truth.

Life Usually the route of my walk to work just bypasses St George's Hall, but I made a special detour so that I could walk across the plateau on this historic day for the city. As you will have seen from the television pictures, ninety-six lanterns have been placed at the bottom of the steps, each representing someone who died at the Hillsborough disaster. As passed by, a cherry picker was replacing banners hung from the top of the columns at the front of the building, which this morning simply listed the names of the victims, yes, the victims, and now have those important words, "truth" and "justice".

A big screen has also been erected, tuned to the BBC, because the rival news channel covering the event would beyond the pale in a moment like this.  Ben Brown, outside the court in Warrington read the names of those victims with their revised times of death, far longer than the 3:15 cut-off arbitrarily applied at the first inquest.  I noticed someone weeping, but otherwise an eerie calm, except for the traffic on St John's Lane and the tramping shoes of the media rushing to the scene, perhaps to ready correspondents for the lunchtime news.

But this isn't the end, these things don't end.  Those people will never return.  Their families who've suffered further through media and political smears, the cover-ups of officials, the fight to be heard, to have this inquest and its verdict will have taken its toll.  It arguably killed someone of them, the tragedy compounded by those who've died since, because it's taken so long, no knowing that the battle wasn't in vain, that vindication would come.  Now it has.

* * * * *

Back in 2012 when the Hillsborough report was published I wrote the following and since it covers most of my other feelings it seems appropriate to repeat it here. I hope you don't mind:

Originally posted: Wednesday, September 12, 2012

I wasn’t at Hillsborough. I was still something of a football fan so was watching on television. Even though I was in my early teens, my memory of the day is sketchy. I remember watching the disaster unfold in the famous footage which has reappeared on news reports in the intervening years including those related to today’s release of documents. I remember listening to the local radio stations which were the main source of news as the day went on, their schedules dumped in favour of poignant music and public service statements. I remember crying through the memorial service at the cathedral which was also broadcast live.

It wasn’t until I reached university that I realised the inaccurate perception of the disaster held amongst some people outside of Liverpool. It was in my first year, in halls, 1994. A group of us were in the room of a friend from the Birmingham area at around the time of that year’s fifth anniversary in April. I think I’d noticed that he’d bought The Sun and commented on Liverpool’s decade long boycott of the paper, how some newsagents refused to stock it or at least put it on display because of that notorious headline and the lies ironically hidden beneath. There were few chairs in the room, I remember. I was sitting on the floor, him on a computer chair.

“The Sun’s report was accurate,” he said to just the wrong person to say it to on just the wrong day. “I know it was because I know people who were there and they saw it happen.” I was too shocked to be angry, but a couple of decades later I can still remember the feeling of not knowing quite what to say. It’s worth noting this wasn’t some friendship breaking conversation. I knew he was an ignorant person from other things he’d said previously, things he’d done. But he was part of the group and so he was a friend. Sometimes “friend” can have many meanings. Nevertheless, I was surprised that he could be of this opinion.

Of course I tried to give the opposing argument, of course I did. Under questioning, I think it was the case the people he knew who were there turned out to be friends of friends of friends, not a direct conversation so indeed he had no proof in what he said. But he was vociferous in that way he could be, parroting out the allegations from The Sun’s original story to the point that it could only be that the source of his belief was the paper’s report passed along from ear to ear until it became “The Truth” in the minds of the people hearing and speaking about it. I understood then just how widely this version of “The Truth” was believed.

Watching the Prime Minister’s statement on the report and subsequent apology in parliament about an hour ago, I wondered if my friend was also watching. As David Cameron offered the shocking synopsis of the report’s findings and how little truth there was in The Sun’s story I wondered if my friend and all of the people like him would finally face up to the fact that everything they thought was wrong. I wondered if they understood the hurt those beliefs caused and that in perpetuating them, they increased the hurt of the families and the people of Liverpool. I’m also pleased that the actual truth can now be understood.

My Favourite Film of 1949.

Film James Cooray Smith has been kind enough to write a guest post about my favourite film of 1949:

The Third Viewing

The first time I saw The Third Man was on television, and the very ending shocked me. When she walks past him on the path out of the graveyard. Because films didn’t end like that. Or at least the films seen by my pre-teen self on weekend afternoons didn’t.

The second time I saw The Third Man was at the cinema, and the very beginning shocked me. When a voice gives you an idea of what to expect. Because the BFI, bless them, showed both versions of the opening narration, both the one for the US market, voiced by Joseph Cotten in character as Holly Martins, and the odder, more omniscient one read by director Carol Reed, that played in the rest of the world.

I had never quite realised, despite attempts by Alex Cox in his Moviedrome introductions to educate me as to this point, that films, even big films, can and usually do have a textual history, like editions of a book do and that in film as in print, no text is purely correct, or indeed correct or pure.

The third time I saw The Third Man, I wrote an undergraduate essay about it. I don’t remember what I wrote. I remember I got what we’d all then self-flatteringly call a ‘High 2:1’. I no longer have a copy, and no one to ask for one, or about it’s content, because the tutor for whom I wrote it, the wonderful Michael Mason, has sadly gone on to the large SCR in the sky.

What might I have written about? The manufactured controversy over whether Welles’ directed any of it? (He didn’t.) Or the more interesting one over whether Graham Greene’s prose narrative of his script, written in preparation for writing the latter, but revised after the film was made, counts as a novelisation or not? (I think it does.) It might have been about whether it’s a British or American film. (It’s the former, by any sensible criteria, despite the AFI’s claims to contrary.) I may have dealt with its status as perhaps the first big feature film to be able to treat the Cold War as ongoing and contemporary.

I could have written about Welles’ dialogue on the wheel, and whether the inaccuracy of its claims (the Swiss did not invent the Cookoo clock, which is German and at the time of the Borgias had a vast and feared European army) are the unintended results of improvisation or a deliberate characterisation. Lime is, after all, a con man, and like his name, corrosive or preservative, depending on how you treat him.

Perhaps I bound them all together and wondered whether Greene or Welles or Carol Reed was the film’s “author”. Probably not. I’ve never had much time for auteur theory, but I honestly can’t remember.

But that’s the thing, isn’t it? There are so many things to say about The Third Man, on a third or a thirtieth viewing. A magnificent, haunting work of art achieved, like all truly great cinema, through collaboration and accident, improvisation and alchemy rather than a single concrete ‘vision’. It’s also a film that casts a long shadow (yes, I know what I did there), with its radio adaptations and spin offs (with Orson Welles!) and television series sequel (without Orson Welles) and how it is endlessly parodied, borrowed from and copied.

Forty years after The Third Man was shot, its sound editor, John Glen, went back to that square, with its wheel still in situ, to shoot a peculiarly straight sort of homage to that scene, in his capacity as the director of The Living Daylights, the last James Bond film to be set in the Cold War, and perhaps the last big feature film to be able to treat that war as ongoing and contemporary.

I never got to know Vienna, the old Vienna of the Cold War, I didn’t go there until this century, to visit my sister who was working as a translator. It was the 22nd of March 2004 and I was walking back to her flat, I think I’d been sent out to buy food, and I was mostly looking down at my phone as I walked. It had been announced that Christopher Eccleston was to play the new Doctor Who, and I was mostly exchanging texts with friends about what an extraordinary piece of casting this was. I was going down some steps, and I slightly stumbled. I looked up to correct my course and there it was. The square. The one in which Welles disappears down a manhole during the film’s. The circular advertising hoarding was still there. It was absolutely unmistakeable, at least partially because I’d accidentally more or less created Reed’s camera angle on that moment with my stumbling entrance to the square. I gasped.

Alchemy, chemistry, accident. Perfect moment. Life imitating art.

Friend from the Future.

TV Bill? Well it is Shakespeare's birthday I suppose. Evening, and there we are, new companion Bill played by Pearl Mackie. Isn't she good? More in the Ace/Sam/Izzy/Lucie/Rose mould character wise so far, with the 90s revival costume and entire lack of fuck-giving in relation to the deadliest foe in the galaxy. We'll talk some more about this in a mo.  Here's the BBC's press release.

The approach to revealing companions has become increasingly sophisticated across the years with midnight press releases giving way to broken embargos on press releases to appearances on The One Show and now we have an actual mini-episode broadcast during Match of the Day of all things, or as has been indicated on the BBC website, "an exclusive scene from a future episode of Doctor Who" so it might not be the Christmas special.

Waiting for its emergence was of course torture for those of us whose interest in the beautiful game wouldn't stretch to even calling it the beautiful game despite Gary Lineker making us feel welcome with some Delgado cosplay. After some typical stoppage time we had to endure seemingly unending analysis of the kind that it's probably quite ironic of us to criticise given our behavior in the run up to the reveal.

Then it was time. Except, no it wasn't because at the moment when it seemed like discussion was ending and the fun was beginning, Gary segwayed into a clip of Graham Taylor discussing his time at Watford and his friendship with Elton John. Taylor probably hasn't been less welcome since he was manager of England. No, I can't do football jokes either.

Then, after narrating some maddeningly detailed fixture television scheduling information, Gary finally affected the ill at ease tone he previously adopted during London 2012 when forced to introduce those drama trailers, "And there's something else coming up on BBC One in the not too distant future, the Doctor has a new companion..."

And we're off and running because Doctor Who has to have lots of running.  And Daleks, not forgetting the Daleks.  Initially I thought these were shots repurposed from Into The Dalek or some other episode, but as the publicity shots indicate there was at least one on set for Capaldi to point over the head of.

The surprise was obviously spoiled by Radio Times writing about her yesterday after noticing a spike in the betting.  If there was a leak, judging by his Twitter, it wasn't the RT writer it went to, he was simply reporting.  Apparently Pearl just started following Billie and Freema on Twitter so that must have been an indication.  Let's see how long she continues tweeting.

It's a bit of a strange place to commenting on a companion based on two minutes of screen time and she's being played by an actor who's completely unknown outside of the theatre.  Most of the commentary is on the fact that she's a POC which is fine and worth noting, but let's not make that her defining characteristic shall we?

We simply don't know enough yet.  She's funny.  She has the capacity to turn on a dime and there's some obvious chemistry with Capaldi which is super important.  The timing is all there.  The script which was probably one of her audition pieces doesn't give much scope beyond screwball comedy, and although I didn't cheer at the end, when has Andy Pryor got this wrong?

She's another cockney, that's worth commenting on but in fairness we've not had someone from London since the RTD era (depending on what Clara's accent was doing that week) (or indeed which Clara).  Like I said the vibe isn't very 2016 at all from, like last, like, decade or the one before or the one before that.  Especially that t-shirt which looks like something Ace would wear.  See below.

Wild speculation: is she a historical companion?  It would be a bold move to have a character from the Wilderness years for example, the kind who might just as easily have travelled with the Eighth Doctor in the novels or comic strip.  What is Bill short for?  Is it short for anything?  It's unusual.  I've just googled "women called Bill" and now know a lot about presidential scandals.

Pearl's probably the least known new companion since the show came back.  Karen had some background on The Kevin Bishop show and Jenna had spent years on Emmerdale.  Pearl's IMDb indicates a bit part in an episode of Doctors from 2014 and a background artist on the John Hardwick's film Svengali from 2013.

Quick sidebar on Svengali's availability because we'll all be wanting to watch it now.  It's on Netflix.  Findable lists other sources where you can buy a stream though given it's mostly the same price as a month's subscription to Netflix, you might as well get Netflix and finally see Freema in Sense8 because she's brilliant and Sense8 is brilliant.  Or Svengali is £3.99 on dvd.

In all the excitement, Capaldi will probably be taken for granted but his performance in the above is extraordinary, his Doctor having apparently divested himself of his demons.  He's a bit crabby, but only with a Tenth facing down The Runaway Bride vibe, certainly the most Doctorish he's been yet.  If anything it's him which actually makes me excited to see the next series.  As it should be.

So nice to have an amuse-bouche in during this year of fasting and nice that there's nothing in here which is going to trouble us about the direction of the programme in 2017 at least.  After that?  Fuck knows.  But I've already said my peace about that.  Did Chibbers had any say in this selection?  Will she continue on into his era?

Two other things.  Two coincidences:

That t-shirt.  It looked familiar.  I tweeted and sure enough James pointed me towards this tweet:
When was this shot? Given that it's a proper piece of drama with grading, special effects sequences and editing, it wasn't going to be in the last couple of days, not least because it would have been signed off my BBC management. Graham Kibble-White was on the case:
Then this from Ed Russell:
Somehow Doctor Who managed to pay homage to someone they didn't know we'd be losing before he was gone.

Next.  Rachel Stott is the artist on Titan's Twelfth Doctor comic:
Oh my.  There we have it, anyway, a Doctor Who companion announced on Shakespeare's birthday.  What a day.

Updated 24/04/2016 Here's an interview with Pearl.

Shakespeare at the BFI.

Theatre The BFI now has a YouTube playlist of thirty odd Shakespeare related videos including the above essay about Shakespeare adaptations across the years. Also included are various examples of silent Shakespeare (as featured in the recent BBC radio documentary), Q&As from recent screenings at the South Bank and documentary clips of Stratford Upon Avon.

Speke Hall.

Speke Hall is a rare Tudor timber-framed manor house in a most unusual setting on the banks of the River Mersey. Restored and brought back to life in the 19th century, it is a unique and beautiful mixture of Tudor simplicity and Victorian Arts and Crafts' aesthetics.

Built by the devout Catholic Norris family - keen to impress visitors with the grandeur of their home and in particular the magnificent Great Hall - this beautiful building has witnessed more than 400 years of turbulent history. From the Tudor period when a secret priest hole was an essential feature, to years of neglect and decay in the 18th and 19th centuries (including a spell when it was used as a cow shed) and then being dragged into the Victorian era of improvement and technology, the Hall has seen it all.

In the 21st century, Speke Hall and its surrounding estate now provide a real oasis from the hurly burly of modern life. As you come through the gates, relax, take a breath and enjoy all that this wonderful place has to offer. The Hall is surrounded by beautiful restored gardens and protected by a collar of woodland.
Heritage My accent is confusing. Despite having been born in Liverpool, I haven't ever really developed a very strong local accent, the scouse accent. More often than not is settles somewhere in generic Northern but not enough so when strangers often ask were I'm from, or are completely baffled to the point of making random guesses. A taxi driver asked if I was from Oxford the other night and didn't seem very convinced when I told him the truth.  There's no particular reason why.  About ten years ago, a linguistic expert from the University told me that it was because I didn't really see myself as being from Liverpool but the world, which is partially true, but after forty years of living, breathing and working in this city you'd think I would have picked up some inflections, especially since sixteen of those years were spent in Speke which has one of the strongest Liverpool accents of them all.

Attending Speke Hall in that case should be something of a homecoming, but the surrounding area has changed a lot in the meantime.  Over the intervening decades, the fields in which I used to play and on one occasion hosted the final 1FM roadshow at the Mersey front have been replaced with the Estuary Industrial Park, a conglomeration of massive warehouses, an area which resembles the industrial zone glimpsed in the opening sequences of the film Blade Runner.  Most are anonymous, although discount chain B&M seems to have built their own country within its borders.  Construction continues and as the 80A bus winds through its streets, its almost impossible to believe that one of the National Trusts Tudor properties could be found anywhere between this maze of grey boxes and the John Lennon Airport.  As the vehicle stopped outside one of these boxes, if couple of retirees hadn't asked the driver if this was the right place for Speke Hall, I might missed it completely.

It's this couple I walked to the Hall with, up to the roundabout as directed by the driver and left into the reassuringly named Speke Hall Road.  A little further and we were in the Hall's grounds and the contrast couldn't be greater, industrialisation giving way to a long pathway framed on either side by rows and rows of daffodils, the sounds of vehicles falling into the distance replaced by birdsong.  Yesterday must have been the hottest this year and for a few moments I simply looked to the sky with its single shade of light blue in awe.  No clouds.  Even in Sefton Park, you're constantly aware that you're on the edge of the city, and although Speke certainly isn't that, more like the outskirts, if it wasn't for the jumbo jets flying overhead, you could almost imagine that you've stepped through a magic portal into part of the Lake District or the Cotswolds.

No wonder my parents brought me to the grounds so often as a child.  At least once a month we'd visit the gardens of Speke Hall when the grounds were still free to visit.  I would have been very young so my memory isn't that strong, but there were picnics, many picnics, in Tupperware pots on gingham blankets.  Philadelphia cheese and tomato baps.  Barrs Cream Soda.  Only once did I ever visit the house, as part of a school trip although again the memories aren't strong enough for me to remember anything now, a marble table is familiar.  Much of everything which happened to me as a pre-teen has dislodged itself, which is probably why I tend to feel more like a child of the 80s even though I was born in 1974.  The evening in the late 90s when the school choir visited to sing for visitors at is much clearer, stood in the front of one of the cafes amid Christmas trees, candles and mince pies.

The house itself hasn't been able to retain its own memories well either due to its many changes of ownership.  Permission to build a mansion in this spot was originally granted to the Norris family as early as 1314, and through a series of, as the guild book alliterates, "additions, adaptations and accompanying losses" the house was constructed across ensuing decades until it largely reached its present form by the late 1500s.  The Norris's kept ownership until the 1730s when Mary Norris entered a contracted marriage with Lord Sidney Beauclerk, the grandson of the actor Nell Gwyn.  He did not live at Speke Hall much and which is when the house fell into dereliction and related papers were lost so everything known about the house before then is through local research and comparative study.  Ask the volunteers about many of the earliest features and they simply don't know or have to resort to conjecture.

That's when the most damage was done to the earlier state of the house with the grounds keepers using the ground floor of the house as a place to store livestock and it's the Watt family to whom the Hall was sold in 1795, although it remained empty until 1856, when Richard Watt V took possession and it him we have to thank for renovating the property and largely putting it in the state it is now.  As part of the renovation process he purchased a large amount of heavy oak furniture in a Tudor style which were designated as heirlooms which is why they remain in the house now.  On his death Speke Hall passed to Watt's daughter Adelaide who leased the house to Frederick Leyland, the shipping line owner and art collector, with J.A.M. Whistler and  D.G. Rossetti being notable visitors.  He made further adjustments to the shape of the house, knocking a few walls through, which must have been quite strange for Adelaide when she later decided to move back in after the lease expired in 1877.

She remained there until her death in 1921.  During the ensuing Trusteeship, the connected surrounding farmland became an aerodrome, with old buildings turned into hangars and the farmhouse becoming the terminal.  The Hall itself passed to the National Trust in 1943, but due to a lack of finances it was then leased to Liverpool City Council who opened it to the public.  The guide book says, that between 1976 and 1986 it fell under the Merseyside Corporation which will have been when I originally visited.  They fixed the roof and so forth.  When the Corporation closed, the National Trust began full time management and although it is a full Trust property (despite continued funding from National Museums Liverpool), there is a sense that they're still dealing with decision taken during the intervening custody including parts of the art collection which the volunteers indicated are now within the collections of the art galleries which should still be within the house.

Despite having visited before, my lack of memory meant I could treat is as a new destination which was unsettling and not helped by being greeted on entry by one of the volunteers from The Hardman House last week, who remembered me.  But "unsettling" is the best description of the place in general.  Walking around you're very aware that although the house has a Tudor shell, the interiors are very much a mix of Victorian tastes and a Victorian attempt to fill the house with furniture from the earlier period so nothing looks quite right.  In one section, the Great Hall, the oldest part of the house gives way to The Blue Dining Room, the newest addition filled with Louis XV style furniture which was likened by Leyland when he saw to "a French plum box".  Between that and the billiard room, you're forever on your toes and surprised by what you might see next.  But I think the Trust have been right to keep the house in the state it is, rather like an old book filled with marginal notes, unlinings and crossings out.

For years I wondered why Speke Hall wasn't included in the arts collections survey and now I know.  When Leyland was a tenant, the walls were apparently covered with great works, pre-Raphaelites and French Impressionists.  But as it stands what's there is unremarkable.  Art UK (the successor to the BBC's Your Paintings) has just twenty-three oils and they mainly copies, apart from some romanticised images of the the Hall itself.  The bedrooms have a few nice tapestries and they're especially proud of a Mortlake tapestry depicting Diogenes and Alexander from c.1700.  Mainly the houses is lauded for its unusual architectural features, notably corridors, which is very rare for a Tudor house and suggests if Speke Hall wasn't a Trust property it could quite easily work as a hotel with the reception in the Great Hall (although given that it's a Grade I listed building that's unlikely).

Something I have learnt on this occasion is that in some of these properties you really do need a guide book in order to make the most of the visit.  Reading back through the Speke Hall volume, there's plenty which I missed so that's something I'll definitely consider in the future depending on the price.  Having gained the massive discount inherent in just paying a fiver a month for membership, adding £4.95 to the cost of the visit seems counterproductive although obviously not if it makes the visit all the richer.  That's an internal discussion for another time.  None of which is to say I won't be returning to Speke Hall.  After visiting the house, I didn't have time for the gardens, including a maze, which are massive, so I thought, given that this is one my locals, it would be best to leave them for another afternoon.  Even if I don't have the accent, my homeland keeps drawing me back.

Card Catalogues.

Books The Folger Shakespeare Library has still retained its card catalogue. In an age when "everything is online", more often than not it isn't because in some cases the process of transforming some texts isn't cost effective or there's a balance to be struck in relation to whether it's even worth the attempt due to how much it would actually be used.

Here they mount a defence for why it's still important in 2016:
"... card catalogs provide an opportunity for serendipitous discovery that is difficult to duplicate in an online catalog. The physical act of searching through the cards requires a somewhat different thought process than searching an electronic catalog. Flipping through the cards on your way to what you think you’re looking for is a great way to find items you didn’t know you were looking for. Because the cards can be physically arranged in different ways, it is possible for us to provide many different access points into our collection. For example, we have both chronological files and publication location files."
Yes it's true. Keyword searches in OPACs are fine as is visiting a shelf number and browsing the materials clustered around the book you're looking for, but there's serendipity to card catalogues, to randomly visiting the drawers and seeing what you'll find.

Share tha'

TV Find above the trailer for the The Hollow Crown: The War of the Roses with Camberwell Bandersnatch's Richard III foregrounded. Publicity for the BBC Shakespeare Festival is gaining ground with the BBC Shakespeare at the epicentre of publicity although I can't help feeling that in the olden days there would have been a blog and/or RSS feed keeping abreast of everything Shakespearean appearing on the BBC website.  No, no, don't look at me. I'm busy.

This week's episodes of daytime soap Doctors has a Shakespeare theme, with each episode inspired by a sonnet and with a scene shot at the RSC.  I'll give you that at least.

Anyway, here's a trailer for the rest of the televisual offer for the festival:
Though I expect they'll repeat a fair amount of the programming from the last BBC Shakespeare Festival four years ago.  And Shakespeare Retold.  And The Bard on the Box.  These things are coming around with increasing rapidity. Perhaps in two years we'll have a redo of Spread of the Eagle?

My Favourite Film of 1950.

Film One of the benefits of my MA Screen Studies course ten years ago was that many of the modules on offer were multi-discipline, or rather were being offered by departments other than drama. So although there was the potential to stay in that corner of the campus, I decided that I'd make my time there as eclectic as possible and so as well as courses in the Modern Language and English departments, I was able to avail myself of a "Science, Media and the Public" course in the science faculty.

Of all the modules, it's this which strayed far from the apparent remit of the MA because as well as screenings that included old episodes of US Horizon equivalent NOVA, Canadian sci-fi series Regenesis, British fantasies The Eleventh Hour and Afterlife, there were readings of such things as The Watchmen (years before Zac Snyder's adaptation). The one film we were shown was Destination Moon which was at least in terms of speculative fiction, how it was assumed people would indeed travel to the moon, a couple of decades before it actually happened.

The main theme of the course was that as with every aspect of human experience and culture, the communication of science is always about moulding a message, deciding which elements of science are relevant to a story being told and that even in shows like Horizon or scientific papers we're not always told the whole story, plenty is trimmed in order to make what we're presented understandable and palatable. There is always an agenda even if the agenda is understanding.

The final essay asked us to take a particular subject and compare and contrast how that subject has been communicated through two or three forms. Attempting to be clever clever I chose the longitude prize and particularly how Dava Sobel's seminal popular science history book began life as a magazine article and was adapted firstly into a co-produced episode of Horizon and NOVA and the Charles Sturridge drama made by Channel 4, co-starring Michael Gambon and John Harrison, the clockmaker who cracked the navigational problem and Jeremy Irons as the teacher who restored his time-pieces.

Here is the essay.  When this was submitted it also included a copy of the original article and other background material I think.  Here's a link to a pdf of the Harvard article. You can buy the book here.  The NOVA version of the Horizon episode is here. You can buy the Longitude miniseries here.

Now, onwards:

Dava Sobel’s 1995 book Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time, charted the endeavour to discover a practicable method of defining longitude at sea for navigation. As indicated in the title, Sobel’s approach was to highlight the work of one man, John Harrison, and the series of clocks that he developed in an attempt to win a prize that was defined by an act of parliament and enacted by a ‘Board of Longitude’ who assessed all of the proposed methods over some decades. Sobel’s book was based upon an earlier magazine article and would later be adapted into both a television science documentary and a drama mini-series.

The appearance of the material in these four different formats offers the ability to compare how the same piece of science is presented and explained in four disparate media texts. Although to some extent it is worthwhile discussing how the communication of science within these works is effected by the elevation of Harrison’s contribution, because of the brevity of this essay a single strand of the science outside of that narrative, the definition of longitude, will be studied and each of the four media text will be compared to demonstrate how the creator has taken advantage of the relative benefits of each, and how successful they have been at communicating the message to and the effects it may have upon the intended audience.

Sobel’s first article on the subject of longitude as published in Harvard Magazine is atypical of the four texts being analysed because, whilst presenting much the same narrative, it is actually a report of the proceedings of a three day international symposium investigating the subject, which took place at the Memorial Hall in Harvard University between the 4th and 6th November 1993. The magazine had originally declined the idea for an article and Sobel had attempted publication in a series of popular science magazines, with National Geographic notably being interested although they were unable to decide how to illustrate the piece so the idea was shelved (underlining that in such magazines some kind of angle is usually required for a story to be published). Then, just two days before the symposium, when the size of event that was taking place was becoming apparent to the magazine editors, Sobel was contacted again and would attend saying later that it ‘was about the best science meeting I’ve ever gone to, and I cover these things all the time.’

Harvard Magazine’s readership contains a high proportion of alumni from the university (the letters page lists not only the name of the correspondent and their location, but also their year of graduation) but nevertheless Sobel has written this article in a style that would be legible to a general readership. Bernard Dixon argues that when writing scientific articles ‘non-specialised terms that are clear and unambiguous in their meaning should be used whenever possible in place of less familiar jargon, if only to make an article or paper as accessible to the widest possible range of readers.’ Although Dixon was writing in relation to articles that appear in science magazines, this piece has been composed to similar guidelines, with the more complicated elements being given a full explanation. Indeed, the writer has also taken advantage of the accepted journalistic technique of autobiographically describing the events including her own reactions to the science as it unfolds, quoting and paraphrasing from the speakers to present the information to the reader. This has the effect of placing the reader in Sobel’s point of view, giving them a sense of the whole event, as well as the content of the lectures themselves, making the science itself much more attractive.

Since the symposium was attended by academics who would have had a clear understanding of longitude concepts and therefore did not mention them during their contributions, Sobel cleverly adds extra commentary in places to clarify various points and it is in these short sections that the journalist explains which lines of a typical globe are longitudinal and how the degrees of the earth relate to time. Firstly, on the opening page during a description of the late Alistair Cooke’s humorous introductory lecture. Secondly, after a direct quote from a speech by David Landes, the Coolidge professor of history and professor of economics at Harvard, weighing up the relative methods of both the lunar and clock methods of navigation. Sobel apparently understood that to underpin the endeavour of finding longitude the reader must be aware of the concept and its importance to shipping. These additions have the effect of reminding the reader of a concept that they may already have been aware of through general knowledge or schooling in service of describing an endeavour that may be less clear to them. Since the concepts are given less weight in the text, they are easily ignored by readers who already have enough of an understanding to be able to follow the rest of the text, yet also accessible enough to those who require a refresher.

It should also be noted that although the article contains many illustrations, there are no pictorial representations of the lines of longitude, which implies that the editor believed that Sobel’s additional words were sufficient. The main illustration on the opening pages, of a naval disaster, is the first iteration of a narrative strand that appears in all four texts of the wrecking of a fleet because of poor navigation leading to the ratification of the longitude prize. The inclusion of the tragedy underlines for the audience the vital importance at the time of finding practicable method for recording longitude at sea – in other words that finding longitude is important because it saves lives, a methodology common in many popular science texts.

Given the opportunity to expand the subject matter of the conference and the article into a book length text , Sobel initially sought the advice of her publishers, who advised her to ‘keep it short. This is not an encyclopaedic treatise. This is an explanation of an aspect of science to intelligent people who know nothing about this subject. That’s what you’re trying to do.’ In its original none illustrated publication the book is just a hundred and seventy five pages long with fifteen chapters – this places it is more in the format of a novel than what might be expected to be a traditional science text. The writing style is chatty and anecdotal -- at a conference after publication related to popular historical science writing Sobel reportedly explained that she wrote the book ‘as an imaginary conversation with her mother (a sailing enthusiast)’ – which places the writer in the position of storyteller presenting a narrative to a receptive audience who are put at ease.

It would appear that Sobel decided that the readership might require a narrative hook and point of access into the story. As was indicated in the introduction, the approach was to highlight the contribution of John Harrison and give the book the tropes of a standard heroic narrative as a protagonist risks all against a villainous antagonist (in this case, astronomers) for the sake of an ideal. Whilst, the focus of this essay does not allow for a wider discussion of the accuracy of emphasising Harrison’s contribution to solving the longitude problem, it must be acknowledged that Sobel’s prioritising of his work does effect the presentation of the science in the text; in those first six chapter’s before Harrison is introduced, the writer is actually emphasising the weight of the problem that the clockmaker must surmount rather than offering an in-depth analysis of the whole story. This averts a reader who might be more interested in the human story from being alienated by the science that surrounds it.

Sobel’s central theme is of science as a human endeavour rather than as an abstract concept. Throughout the book, rather than offering dry, purely scientific explanations, Sobel instead contextualises the science using a repeated methodology of opening out the human element from Harrison’s story to the whole text. In the ensuing chapters, whenever an item of scientific idea is to be discussed, a scientist is usually highlighted first and then the science itself is presented as a result of their decision making process. This method is not always successful, since the coherence of the scientific concept at hand is frequently submerged in the apparent personality of that scientist. Since Reverend Maskyline is one of the antagonists of the ‘story’, as Davida Charney explains, the writer ‘frequently treats the lunar method as a patently inadequate approach, rather than as an alternative that was at least equally plausible’ which has the effect of corrupting the scientific explanation at the expense of the narrative agenda giving the reader a false impression. It should be noted, however, that in explaining how the distance between lines of longitude are measured the writer does not assign a particular identity; she begins with ‘Any sailor worth his salt can gauge his latitude well enough by the length of the day,’ making the measurement important to everyman.

Whilst this slant could be considered populist, it acknowledges Paola Govani’s argument that in these publications there should be ‘different levels of communication, for different readers, or for different needs of the same reader,’ because the target audience for the book will be interested in the human ingredients of the story. As well as layering her own explanations into quotations from scientists and technologists as a way of providing authority, Sobel introduces autobiographical elements that present a less obvious way of colouring the greyer theoretical aspects. The opening definition of longitude occurs during the description of a memory from Sobel’s own childhood, of a trip to New York and the gift of a skeletal globe by her father. The text is infused with a high degree of description, allowing the reader to visualise the globe in their imagination so that they are aware that the book will indeed concern itself with those vertical lines. Sobel herself returns to the narrative in the final chapter in which she described a trip to Greenwich, giving the book the impression of being a journey, that the reader is has discovered this science alongside with the author.

Sobel’s autobiographical introduction does emphasise a technique that would see greater prominence in the Horizon Special and is repeated throughout the text – the introduction of modern elements into the generally historical analysis so that they are more accessible to a contemporary readership. On page five, Sobel advises that ‘Precise knowledge of the hour in two different places at once – a longitude prerequisite so easily accessible today from any pair of cheap wristwatches – was utterly unattainable up to and including the era of pendulum clocks’ vividly illustrating how the relatively primitive technology of the time was being pushed into service to overcome a seemingly intractable dilemma. Contemporary social concerns are also invoked later to stress how much of a concern longitude was to the people of the time – ‘just as any alert schoolchild nowadays knows that cancer cries out for a cure and that there’s no good way to get rid of nuclear waste’ – again the reader is left in little doubt as to why the reward was so high and why so many people were searching for a solution.

The Horizon documentary was originally broadcast as part of the Nova strand on PBS in the United States, appeared on BBC Two on 4th January 1999 and premiered as the opening documentary in the ‘Time Season’. It was also the first programme to feature the BBC Millennium bumper signalling a twelve-month collection of programmes connected with what were the upcoming celebrations. Accompanying publicity in the Radio Times and at the BBC News website indicated to the potential audience that the documentary was based on Dava Sobel’s book. This explicit mentioning of the sourcing of a Horizon programme from an existing work (the book and author are crediting in the closing titles) is unusual for the programme and the connection to two major television events indicates that a marketing attempt was being made to attract viewers outside of the core audience of the series, including those who have read Sobel’s work. This would have some impact how the science is presented.

Roger Silverstone argues that science documentaries should ‘seek to entertain, to seduce by the beauty of their images, by their management of suspense, hope and tragedy, by the wit and elegance of their narration, by the power of their voice.’ This documentary is a perfect demonstration of this ethic. Led by an emotive voiceover, the programme luxuriates in dramatisations of Harrison in thought and work, with the clockmaker (as played by actor Patrick Malahide) soliloquising sections of his memoirs. As José van Dijck indicates, re-enactments are usually twinned with the exposition of an authority such as a scientist with the result being that ‘a fiction effect (is) made subordinate to the reality effect.’ In this documentary the realistic strand is spearheaded by contemporary footage of a training ship, Eye of the Wind, and the recreation of early navigation techniques, accompanied by interjections from William Andrewes, curator of Historic Scientific Instruments from Harvard University. A third strand utilises computer enhanced or generated montages together with the voiceover to explain scientific ideas that cannot be demonstrated in any of the other strands.

The programme makers marshal all three strands together to explain the theory behind longitude in even clearer detail than any of the other three media should allow. The rate of knots is demonstrated using the non-diagetic words of expert Andrewes over footage of a practical demonstration by the crew of the Eye of the Wind. The explanation of the vertical lines and the degrees between, are centred on two computer-animated sequences, each of which are presented in the same visual style. Silvestone argues that science on television should be presented to an audience of ‘presumed non-specialised and non-student audience’ and on this occasion the information is as clear as possible with an uncomplicated voiceover and deceptively simple imagery. Watching a swirling animated globe covered in a map contemporaneous with Harrison’s time, floating through a sepia universe, the audience is able to grasp that this is a historic issue dating back many centuries. In each sequence the globe is animated simultaneously with the voice over illuminating the science at hand – the latitudinal and longitudinal lines being removed, for example, to indicate to the audience which is which.

In essentially adapting the book into a documentary format, the programme makers take the opportunity to explain visually those elements that Dava Sobel’s book could only describe textually and metaphorically. The audience’s understanding of the science changes because they are able to appreciate it representationally rather than within their own imagination. That said, because it is an adaptation, those elements that changed the understanding of the science, the Harrison as hero narrative and the supposed inadequacies of the lunar method are also apparent; the computer animated sections are even employed later to present humorously the apparently less serious attempts at finding the answer, such as the ‘howling dog’ method. This has the effect of compromising the balance of a series that according to Carl Gardner and Robert M. Young is ‘unique in remaining totally expository’ and ‘neutral’ potentially fogging the audience’s understanding of the whole subject.

The Channel Four mini-series (broadcast as the linchpin of their millennium coverage on the 2nd and 3rd January 2000) is a wholly dramatic construct presenting the story of John Harrison. The programme essentially adapts as an adventure narrative, chapters seven to thirteen of the Longitude book. Unlike the Horizon producers, the intent of writer and director Charles Sturridge was not educational since he had been commissioned to produce something wholly entertaining, an approach highlighted in a publicity interview for Radio Times magazine in which he strenuous denied that the programme was meant to be intellectually demanding -- he was creating something that was ‘built to be as embracing as possible.’ As Rima and Michael Apple indicate, the science that appears on screen in these historical science dramas is filtered through ‘the demands of filmmaking itself.’ Unlike the book and the Horizon documentary which to some extent used Harrison’s story as a way of making the concepts palatable, in the mini-series the science becomes a slave to the narrative and is only included for dramatic purposes.

The most significant adaptation change is to split the storyline between parallel protagonists. As well as the Harrison, Sturridge introduces the story of Rupert Gould, the former army officer who had been instrumental in restoring the earlier clockmaker’s timepieces during the 1930s. Gould merits just a few pages towards the end of Sobel’s book, but Sturridge opens out his story, weaving it through that of Harrison. In dramatic terms, this allows the director to create tension when the Harrison narrative lacks excitement (for example during the twenty year creation of the H-3 clock) but it also provides the same capability, as the footage shot on board the Eye of the Wind for the Horizon documentary, of explaining in close to modern context for the audience those scientific concepts that were key to Harrison’s work (and also it has to be said underline for the viewer the Harrison legend).

Since the dramatic weight of the story is behind Harrison and Gould, that science which is included in the programme predominantly revolves around the technological innovations of the clocks. For example, in order to underline the evidence of Harrison’s craftsmanship before he became involved in the marine timepieces, one scene features Gould in the roof of a barn introducing the wooden clock and the grasshopper escapement to his daughter in simplistic terms and these are followed by a very expository scene in which the keeper of clock explains to Gould’s wife (in one of the few moments that she would appear express interest in time pieces) that it doesn’t require cleaning. There is little mention of the men who worked before Harrison’s time who attempted to solve the longitude problem (chapters one to five of the book) and the astronomical solution is now reduced to an antagonistic concept that is not explained with any great detail. The clarification of the concept of longitude occurs during two distinct but connected scene setting sequences at the opening of the programme separate from the main narrative, as though an acknowledgement has been made that the audience requires some awareness of these underlining concepts, but that they should not be understood to be as dramatically important part of the ensuing plot.

The first of the sequences is more successful in presenting the message than the second. Both include a narration read by someone presumed to be Dava Sobel (although this isn’t indicated) that outlines the concepts using words adapted from the opening chapter of the book. In the first pre-title sequence the biographical nature of the opening chapter of the book is melded with the pictorial representation of the Horizon documentary, as the lines of longitude are explained to the audience using sepia mock-home movie footage recreating young Sobel’s trip to New York with the beaded wire ball and the globe that Atlas shoulders above the Rockefeller centre appearing at the centre of the frame capturing the audience’s attention. In the second, the weight of didactic explanation for latitude and longitude is left to the narration during a virtuoso computer enhanced helicopter shot that begins floating across in a city, speeds across the ocean and ends in the thrall of the doomed English fleet. On this second occasion, although the accent is still on visual spectacle, because the narration and images are not connected, the audience’s attention is split and arguably the science on display becomes more confusing and complicated, especially since they are denied the ability to absorb the information again as they would re-reading the section in the book.

To conclude. In the Harvard Magazine article, Sobel was able through the words of the academics gathered for the symposium, to communicate clearly the story of longitude, her short textual enhancements improving the audience’s understanding of those concepts whose omission might have rendered the article less understandable. Whatever criticisms may be levelled at the author’s narrative approach to the book, highlighting Harrison’s contribution over others, because her writing is accessible and filled with vivid descriptions and metaphor the general audience towards whom the text is focussed is wholly able to grasp the key issues that made the quest for a practicable method so important. In the Horizon documentary, by engaging three different approaches to presenting the information at hand, the programme makers are able to offer explanations in a visually arresting manner with a voice over that is accessible without being needlessly simplistic. The mini-series works dramatically because it does not let the science overshadow the story at its heart, even if those concepts unlike the documentary do become slightly drowned out by the visuals. Although the same essential information is being communicated through these four media texts, each has unique properties that either enhance or betray the audience’s ability to understand the science of longitude.


Longitude: A Horizon Special (1998): Production: Green Umbrella, BBC and WGBH Boston. 45 mins. Directed by Peter Jones.

Longitude (2000): Production: Granada Film Productions. 198 mins (2 parts). Directed by Charles Sturridge.


Apple, R D. and Apple M.W. (1993): “Screening Science,” Isis 84 (4), 750-754.

Charney, D. (2003): “Lone Geniuses in Popular Science,” Written Communication 20 (3), 215-241.

Dijck, J. (2006): “Picturizing science: The science documentary as multimedia spectacle,” International Journal of Cultural Studies 9 (1), 5-24.

Dixon, B. (1993): “Plain Words Please,” New Scientist 137 (1865), 39-40.

Gardener, C. and Young, C.M. (1985): “Science on TV: A Critique,” in Bennett T., Boyd-Bowman S., Mercer C. and Woollacott, J. (eds), Popular Film and Television: A Reader (London: BFI Publishing in association with The Open University Press), 171-93.

Govoni, P. (2005): “Historians of Science and the Sobel Effect,” Journal of Science Communication 4 (1), 1-17.

Booknotes interview: Dava Sobel (1999): , accessed 16 May 2006.

Matthews, M.M. (2004): “Dava Sobel and the Popularization of the History of Science,” From the itinerant lecturers of the 18th century to popularizing physics in the 21st century – exploring the relationship between learning and entertainment: Proceedings of a conference held in Pognana sul Lario, Italy. June 1-6, 2003.. , accessed 18 May 2006.

Silverstone, R. (1985): Framing Science: The Making of a BBC Documentary. (London: British Film Institute).

Smith, R. (1999): “The Test of Time,” Radio Times: 31 December 1999 – 7 January 2000, 304 (3958), 28-30.

Sobel, D. (1994): “Longitude: How The Mystery Was Cracked,” Harvard Magazine, March/April, 44-52.

Sobel, D. (1998): Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time (London: Forth Estate Limited).

The Hardmans' House.

Explore the contrasting sides of this house: the neat, professional, spacious business rooms and the cluttered, cramped living quarters of the renowned portrait photographer Edward Chambré Hardman and his wife Margaret. They lived and worked here for 40 years, keeping everything and changing nothing.

The business focused on professional studio portraits but their real love was for vivid landscape images. Some of their huge collection of photographs is on display in the house, along with the equipment they used to take and develop the iconic images.
Photography Or just as accurately in project terms, the local. The Hardmans' House at 59 Rodney Street is the most local of National Trust properties, within walking distance of home and unlike my previous attempt to visit art collections in North West England were I climaxed with the Walker Art Gallery, it seemed best to begin local for the most part and expand outwards.  Plus this wasn't my first visit to the house, having spent an hour there as part of a flickr meet-up back in 2007 (which you can read about here).

Chambre Hardman is perhaps best known for his photograph The Birth of the Ark Royal which shows the Air Craft Carrier, painted white for its launch by the Queen Mother almost hovering above some typically Northern rows of houses, a small boy on his paper round in the foreground (the house's blog as an essay about the photo).  Although portraits were his business, landscape photography was his passion despite its unfashionability during his peak period.  Now, it is through him that Liverpudlians often view their past and I've had this shot from the Liverpool Museum steps on William Brown Street on my wall for years.

The business was actually called Burrell and Hardman, having met his original business partner Kenneth Burrell during their service in the Indian Army.  The initially set up on Bold Street but after their initial success and expansion into Chester (the appointment book listed six or more sitters a day, eight as Christmas), the war took its toll and so after the lease in the original offices ended they moved to the current position.  By then, his wife Margaret was running the business, whom he met when she joined the staff years earlier.  They had a staff of up to ten assistants, although as a volunteer noted their was a high turnover because of personality clashed with Margaret which usually led to firings.

Visits to the house are as timed tours bookable beforehand.  The house is very small and so these are limited to just seven people at a time, and at 12:30, thanks to a couple of cancellations that was just myself and a couple from Sheffield (were we asked for our place of origin a few times by the volunteers perhaps so that they could gage our local knowledge and adjust their explanations accordingly).  The volunteers stand in various sections of the house and we were passed in between, from waiting rooms through studio, dark rooms to living quarters and all with a minimum of fuss offering something of an impression of what it must have been like for clients.

Hardman retired in 1965.  After a fall which left him unable to climb stairs in 1989, he was befriended by Peter Hagerty, who according to a volunteer was visiting the house one day and found social services "cleaning up the place" or bin bagging his negatives, photographs and various items little knowing of their historic value.  Having reached the legacy in time, Hagerty helped set up a trust to safeguard Hardman's life's work but the house was a much larger undertaking and so it was gifted to the National Trust in 2002 and they went about cataloguing the contents and deciding how best to present them to the public.

Not much has changed since my original visit, the approach by the Trust for this property being to preserve how the house would have been during the peak of the photographer's career in the 40s and 50s.  Each room still retains a particular smell from photographic paper, chemicals, dust or just age.  The furniture and appliance are all from living memory, with a kitchen which looks like my Gran's house as late as the early 80s.  Once again I made the observation to a guide that he didn't hang photographs in his own quarters, preferring the work of local painters like Henry Carr.  Working in dark rooms until after midnight on touching up and developing photographs clearly meant he needed a break.

There's plenty of clutter.  It's not clear how much of this is due to the Trust's intervention or Chambre Hardman's own lifestyle, but every surface in the areas which wouldn't be seen by the public are covered in boxes and tins and papers and cups, lots and lots of cups.  He and his wife hoarded egg boxes, not the supermarket kind, but the rectangular boxes within which the eggs were delivered by post, the service being efficient enough for that to be best practice then.  In the basement too are giant chests filled with photographic paper which originated during the second world war and still have request labels requiring for them to be returned should they be unused.  The remains of the Anderson shelter are still outside.  He didn't throw much away.

That means it's not really a place you want to linger in much and the tour period is probably ample.  I was particularly fascinated by the photography process.  Due to waiting times, a photography session usually too up to ninety minutes (although the assistants were encouraged to flat out lie to potential clients about the duration depending on who they were, high end businessmen entering expecting a half hour appointment) and just eight shots would be taken with five to ten second exposures (on the assumption that one would be salvageable if most of them were ruined by some kind of movement fro the sitter).  Margaret was apparently never happy with the result, sometimes asking assistants to reprint shots on the days clients were due to picking them, often while they were in the building.

The whole visit took about two hours but didn't ever feel like it.  If you are local I'd very much recommend it, even as a way of seeing a recent social history writ large not unlike the viewing Chambre Hardman's own photographs.  Within one of the display cabinets there's a shot of the grounds outside St Luke's Church pointing towards the top of Bold Street on a sunny day taken during the mid-fifties.  Having only ever thought of the building as a war memorial, I was surprised to see it being treated in this way, the grass filled with sunbathers and people having fun something you wouldn't necessarily expect to see in the grounds of a church.  That's the power of this kind of photography, making the familiar, unfamiliar.

Topless of the Pops.

Music The All Saints have given a typically brilliant interview for the BBC in which they talk about how they had to deal with sexism in the industry offering a specific example of something which happened on Top of the Pops:
The sexism spilled over into their TV appearances, and the band shudder as they recall a traumatic Top of the Pops taping.

"They were filming images of us to use as a backdrop," says Shaznay, "and they wanted us to take our tops off."

The producers, they explain, wanted to shoot the band from the shoulders up, giving the impression they were performing in the nude.

"The vision was that we looked naked and we didn't want that vision," adds Natalie. "But because it was such a huge show, we were told 'if you don't do it, you don't get to go on the show,'" says Melanie.

"The girl that worked with us was in tears because she was trying to fight our corner," Natalie continues. "We ended up having to compromise with the producers. We dropped our tops to here [indicating her armpits] so it would look like we were topless."

"We did it but we were stroppy about it," says Nicole. "Again, we got labelled as being difficult."
The BBC being the BBC have asked the BBC for a quote:
A BBC spokesman said: "We're not able to comment on something that is alleged to have happened nearly 20 years ago, but today we seek to ensure that everyone working at the BBC does so in an environment in which they are comfortable."
Quite right. Here's the clip:

I'd forgotten Melanie used to wear glasses.  You can see what All Saints mean, a few straps but for some reason, yes, bare shoulders all.

"were firmly told that the reconstruction must be exceptionally basic"

TV A blast from the past. The Doctor Who Restoration Team website has been updated with material about the final set of dvd releases including Web of Fear, Enemy of the World and The Underwater Menace. The explanation for why the final release's "recons" were of such basic quality is pleasingly honest from their end:
"Rather than animate the missing episodes, the instruction that came to us via our commissioning editor was that they were to be presented as an inexplicably basic telesnap and off-air soundtrack reconstruction. Although we offered to prepare reconstructions to the standard of that featured on The Web of Fear for no extra cost, we were firmly told that the reconstruction must be exceptionally basic - no recreated opening titles or credits, no composite shots, no moves to add life to the storytelling, and all the telesnaps had to be presented one after another in the order they were shot and without repetition. A very odd commercial decision which were are at a loss to understand."
Well yes, indeed, and we're yet to actually have an explanation about that. If the team offered to do the work at a higher standard for free because of a love of the franchise, why would they be told not to bother?

The results are horrible.  There's a moment in the last episode where over four minutes of action play out without any sense of what's going on across a telesnap which doesn't really show what's happening.

About the only reason I can think of is if they have in mind some kind of sales correlation in which a perfectly watchable recon negates the need for someone to buy the audio version with narration but they still feel the need to put something on the dvd.  Sigh.


Film Oh hello, Findable.TV.

One of the inherent problems with subscribing to three different streaming services, Amazon Prime, Netflix and the Faustian pact with the Devil, is that if you want to see if a particular film is there you have search all three sites separately and if it's not there then head off into the forest of pay services hoping for the best.

Oh hello Findable.TV, which searches all the services together then tells you where something is available and for how much. Not just subscription services, but the catch-up apps for terrestrial television and all of the rental and purchase options.

If only I'd had this at my disposable when I was searching for source for the items on the 1001 Films list.

It's not perfect. Brooklyn isn't listed yet despite being available on multiple services. Throwing my favourite five at it, Findable also doesn't notice that The Seventh Seal is available for rent at Amazon but was able to tell me that In The Bleak Midwinter is streamable from the ashes of BlinkBox.

But yes, wow [via].