"like a comic strip"

Film I'm a huge fan of Cédric Klapisch's The Spanish Apartment/L'auberge espagnole/Pot Luck (the title depends on the territory in which you watch) and its sequel Les Poupées russes/The Russian Dolls, huge romantic films about twentysometings falling in love across Europe so I'm extremely pleased hear that he's turning them in to a trilogy:
"It’s a chance to talk about how time passes, how we’re different at 40 than we were at 25, how the problems are different when you’re a student, when you get a job, when you form a couple and start a family,” said Klapisch, who’s married to French actress and director Lola Doillon (daughter of director Jacques Doillon), with whom he has a four-year-old son.

“And it’s a chance to get back to the style of L’Auberge espagnole, which I like a lot: almost like a comic strip, with off-camera narration and an off-centre approach to reality. I can’t do that in my other films.”
According to the imdb it's to be called Chinese Puzzle and Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Cécile De France and yes indeed, Kevin Bishop are all back.

"I often dressed up as a housewife"

Art Web Urbanist has a wonderful selection of modern interpretations of classic paintings (Star Wars!) and not all of them are computer generated as the vegitable artist Ju Duoqi explains:
"I often dressed up as a housewife, leisurely strolling to the market in a serious search for fun. I would often pace in front of the vegetable stalls, picking things up, thinking and putting them back, trying to figure out which positions made them more interesting. The different types, shapes and colors of the vegetables, with a bit of rearranging, can make for a rich source of imagery. Fresh, withered, rotting, dried, pickled, boiled, fried, they all come out different. I no longer needed a model, as they all became actors and even props."

Miranda July’s semi-memoir It Chooses You

Books Although you might not necessarily notice, I’m often wrecked by writer’s block. Countless minutes, hours even, staring at the flashing cursor in a Word document waiting for inspiration, not knowing where to begin. I know that one of the writing techniques favoured is to start in the middle with the easier sections and work outwards and while that’s fine for academic writing, I know that when I’m splattering opinion on whichever screen this blog will appear, I have to begin at the beginning because it’ll set the tone for everything else.

Sometimes I’ll utilise the Douglas Adams approach of leaving the room and making a cup of tea or having a bath, or in my case a shower since we don’t have a bath and most often something will flash through my brain much as it did about five minutes ago before I returned to my chair for this. True, the result isn’t the most original of openings and on reflection I might even have used it before, but it is at least relevant to the job at hand, reviewing artist and filmmaker Miranda July’s semi-memoir It Chooses You, because it too was the result of writer’s block.

Though her methodolgy for breaking the cycle is rather more complex.

In 2009, July was deep into the writing of her screenplay for her film The Future. She knew how to open and end her story but the middle was a mess, and the more she wrote the messier it became, the insidious version of writer’s block in which the words do flow but they’re either rubbish or mediocre. Idling away one afternoon she says, she was flicking through the Penny Saver, a kind of freebee Exchange and Mart distributed through the Los Angeles area and was intrigued by one advert from a seller offering a leather jacket.

July phoned the seller and asked if she could interview him about his life, offering to pay him for his time. He agreed, and she stumbled briefly into his life, seeking a human relevancy back to her screenplay. So began a detour in which she set about visiting and chatting to as many people as she could from the Penny Saver catalogue. She was accompanied by her assistant Alfred and photographer Bridget Sire, to add legitimacy to what was essentially serial intrusion into other people’s pain to help nullify her own.

The ensuing publication is part artists book, part social commentary and part “making of” for The Future and the result is a bit peculiar, Dave Gorman’s Googlewack Adventure written by a contemporary artist rather than a comedian, and not unlike this old episode of This American Life. A series of people, mainly on the breadline, invite July into their homes where she listens to their life stories, often uplifting, usually depressing, sometimes creepy while Sire turns her forensic lens on their possessions which are equally often uplifting, usually depressing and sometimes creepy.

Throughout I found myself looking for connections.  All of whom could be considered “artists” in some respect and perhaps July is attracted by a kind of subliminal kinship. Some have effectively turned their bodies into sculptural endeavours through transgenderism or tattoos, another sells Indian clothes, a tadpole breeder, a lady with a menagerie in her back garden, the man who collects and displays pictures of young girls, babies and prisons as a way of expressing the family he’ll never have replicated in the woman whose old scrapbook contains magazine images representing imaginary sisters.

What are we to make of these people? July’s tone means it’s impossible not to be somewhat judgemental especially when we meet the bloke who's had a mannequin manufactured to look like his favourite soap star based on a photo taken when he met her or the other who reveals that one of the loves of his life, when he was in his mid-twenties, wasn’t old enough to get married (with all that implies). Much of the time she wants to leave these homes and their inhabitants not long after she’s arrived, but a natural human curiosity drives her on to meet the next.

Since these are the only sellers she’s been able to persuade to meet her, their openness is a natural part of their personality, though now and then you can detect that if July wasn’t paying, they wouldn’t be talking. But some fall over themselves to speak, loneliness being a strong part of their lives and she’s invited back on more than one occasion, even for Christmas. It’s unusual for anyone to be interested in them, and although she doesn’t put it quiet in these words, July’s very much aware that she’s taking advantage of that.

Of course I see myself in both July and the people she meets.  Don't we all have our little collections of things, or moments when we're desperate to tell someone our story in an attempt to validate our existence?  I'm always desperately worried that I'm informing someone against their will giving too complex an answer to a relatively simply question.  I suppose what warms me to July apart from her inherent whimsy is also her inquiring nature.  I like to think I'm capable of that too.

But it does concern me that some of her subjects might react negatively to the way they're portrayed. One seller gives July a smushy fruit salad for lunch, which she later discards mostly uneaten but covers over just in case the person sees what she’s done and is offended. But if that person reads the book, she’ll find out about it anyway and much more besides. Having invited her into their homes, these people have now become the subject of her brutally honest reflections.

Less contentious is the material about the writing process and then some of the filming of The Future. We’re given some unexpected insight into the casting process as she meets a grizzled Don Johnson and watch as the screenplay is influenced by her visits until eventually the film and art project threads coalesce, whimsy giving way to the realities of directing a feature. She counterbalances her opinions of the Penny Savers with some brutal honesty about herself, her own ability to get a film financed despite the relative success of her previous work Me, You and Everyone We Know, but I simply don't know if it's enough.

It Chooses You took two hours to read, about the length of a visit to a particularly rich exhibition and that’s perhaps the best way to approach it. If like me you’re already a fan of July’s work you’ll find much to enjoy, as to an extent she allows us to become the voyeur picking over the details of her own existence and thought processes. If you’re the kind of person who writes, as she describes, blog posts about how annoying she is, it’ll confirm everything you thought.  I wonder what she'll make of this blog post.

It Chooses You by Miranda July is published by Canongate Books Ltd. RRP: £16.99. ISBN: 978-0-85786-254-9. Review copy supplied.

[Incidentally,. excepts of the book have been featured at the New Yorker.  The first five posts at this link.]

Updated 17/12/2011 Miranda has posted video of meeting Ron who was one of the participants:

Making-of-the-book video #3: Ron from Miranda July on Vimeo.

On Ukulele, To Be Or Not Be

some glimmer of hope

TV Oh the gushing praise! Oh the brevity of the paragraphs. They Keep Killing Suzie isn't actually this good but when this was first posted I was clearly desperate for some glimmer of hope in this cold corner of the Whoniverse.  As with last week, the episode wouldn't be as enjoyable without Indira Varma, who on reflection was essentially doing charity work in a series which should have declared a state of emergency weeks before.

Who wrote They Keep Killing Suzie? Speculation suggests that this is the episode that Russell T Davies mentioned rewriting from top to bottom in a recent issue of Doctor Who Magazine and it certainly shared many of the same qualities as the opening episode -- excellent dialogue, pacing, characterisation and the sense of Torchwood as a team rather than a bunch of individuals thrown together.

If it wasn't for that bloody awful music cue at the end this might have been only the third episode which didn't make me wince at the thought of having to come on here and write about it. But here I am writing floridly for the first time in weeks. And having also seen the disappointingly disappointing Pan's Labyrinth tonight. Perhaps I'm just in denial about everything.

It was fairly inevitable that Suzie would be resurrected after the closing scene of Everything Changes and against all the odds they didn't waste the opportunity. Although the rejuvenation glove is the kind of magical device familiar to anyone whose played role playing games, its execution, sapping the life force from Gwen was excellent, especially the 'You're being shot in the head ... slowly ...' moment.

Indira Varma is the missing link of the entire series and her performance was by turns gruesome, sympathetic but importantly weirdly convincing. As she sat in the car almost channelling Eve Myles speech patterns I genuinely wondered if they were going to drop in a real surprise and let Gwen die, Suzie carrying on with some of her personality.

Seeing Torchwood from the outside once again proved to be a highlight, with the brilliant Yasmin Bannerman's comic timing seeming to coax from John Barrowman the sense of fun that's been lacking in previous episodes. In other series she would be a recurring character, like Kate Lockley in the first few seasons of Angel, helping Torchwood but not getting too close.

The one genuine laugh I think I've had in weeks occurred (and I want this marking on the calendar) when her entire office were huddled around the speaker phone to hear that Torchwood were locked in their base. Frankly like large sections of this episode, these scenes looked like they'd drop in from the alternate reality where Torchwood is the best thing on television.

Of course, not everything worked. The chat surrounding what to call the glove and knife was a bit blank and not a patch on the similar scene in the film Tremors (Graboids?). Once again there was a sitcom like attachment to the Hub presumably because, having spent half of the programme budget on the set they want to get the most use from it. There was another visit to what looks like the worst night club in the world (last seen in Day One).

The cavalier attitude to continuity -- as they're speeding at night to Gwen's rescue in the Torchmobile, Owen explains she only has minutes to live only to arrive in broad daylight, or should that be the dawn of the dead? Oh and that final music queue crashing in like a someone with the Best of LeAnne Rimes cd at a student party.

There's also still that ever present lack of interest in the fate of humanity which tends to make it difficult to care about any of the main characters too much. Although calling the amnesia drug, some might say a blatant steal from Men In Black, 'Retcon' has a modicum of cool, it's generally their fault that Max is in the brain sucked condition he's in, but there were Jack and Owen treating him like an animal when he actually deserved their compassion.

But all of these seem like nitpicks in an episode that was doing everything we'd hoped Torchwood might be doing from the off -- asking the big questions about life and death within a soup of humour, cartoon fantasy with sprinkling of violence. Even Tosh was likeable and Ianto regained is original cool. Owen gained something related to character detailing when it was revealed he'd tupped Suzie before Gwen -- so that's a pattern with him is it?

We even found out what was in store for all Torchwood personnel -- you're stuck in a freezer, the rest of your life in a lock up garage -- these are the details that we should have been hearing all along instead of the insistence on focusing on plot over anything else. And the movement in the darkness? I think Jack is going to look Death in the eyesocket and offer to show him his stopwatch.

Next week: Business as usual as another ex-cast member from As, If runs through a storyline which will look strangely similar to one from Star Trek: The Next Generation (The Next Phase if anyone cares at this point -- "C'mon Data, put it together...").

PS, I'd forgotten I'd not enjoyed Pan's Labyrinth the first time around. But I saw it with a good friend and she'd not liked it either.  Perhaps it rubbed off on me.

"Winterval did not rename or replace Christmas."

Journalism Daily Mail admits 'Winterval did not rename or replace Christmas' after a reader does intellectual battle with  them armed with the truth:
"We stated in an article on 26 September that Christmas has been renamed in various places Winterval. Winterval was the collective name for a season of public events, both religious and secular, which took place in Birmingham in 1997 and 1998. We are happy to make clear that Winterval did not rename or replace Christmas."
Excellent work.

"UK garage, R&B and trip-hop"

Music The Guardian ran an affection piece about (the) Sugababes on Saturday which neatly encapsulates the issues, says some nice things about Siobhan's solo albums and is probably most interesting because it's a mainstream organ adding credence to the rumours that they're reforming:
"I want to believe there's more, though. Colour me a nostalgic fool, but that first Sugababes record almost makes up for an entire adolescence of monobrowed maladjustment. Drawing from UK garage, R&B and trip-hop, One Touch was street yet sweet, cool as a cucumber smoothie, pop but not the way Atomic Kitten did it."
Meanwhile, I've had some inspiration on what they should call themselves since their name's been usurped by imposters. How about ...

One Touch.

Yes? No?

Judgement Day.

Books Did you know Murray Gold gave his theme for The Sarah Jane Adventures a middle-eight? It’s here, intact, at the close of Scott Gray’s audio exclusive Judgement Day, its wizzy ethereal register not too far away from Ron Grainer’s version and though it only lasts a few seconds, its existence once again demonstrates the affection of the crew towards this spin-off, under-scoring once again the tragedy that the loss of its star means it can’t still be in production.

But Gray’s play is an excellent tribute. Like its televisual source, it skews a bit younger than traditional Who, and the story’s much simpler but it never patronises its listener and actually offers a really interesting moral conundrum which for various reasons purposefully can’t satisfactorily resolve itself at the conclusion. Potentially, as you’ll see, it could even change our perception of a certain element of stories across the franchise.

As with many SJA stories, Judgement Day begins with Mr Smith sniffing out unusual activity, this time at a newly opened Westfield-like shopping mall and when the gang arrive it seems as though this going to be a Secrets of the Stars inspired investigation in a magician who’s tricks are too good to be true. But as is so often the case in the latter parts of the tv series, the story rapidly takes a left-turn and becomes something rather deeper and quite rightly for this format too broad and deep for the small screen.

And I’d advise you to skip the following few paragraphs if you don’t want to know what happens, but it’s properly worff discussin. I’ll post something else in bold text when I’m done.

We’re introduced to the Veritas, a group of ancient vigilantes travelling the universe punishing beings who withhold certain truths, or more specifically lie. Though they’ve initially set their sights on the magician, they quickly find Sarah Jane and brand her the “worst law-breaker” of all because of her skills, like UNIT, like the Doctor, like Torchwood, in creating cover stories and withholding the existence of aliens from the general public.

This is a world were Journey’s End and its fall out have still been forgotten (retconning the idea that even Clyde’s Dad had heard of the Daleks) presumably due to the cracks or whatever reason Steven Moffat’s cooking up. The action in the mall, in which Clyde and Sky beat back the magician’s power of illusion sets up the idea that anything out of the ordinary will create public panic, fear breeding hatred in a way which is oddly similar to DC’s new attitude to their superheroes.

In a kind of holodeck, Sarah Jane and Rani are shown various instances when the older journalist has undertaking to obscure the truth. In epic, time spinning scale, they’re shown the younger journalist helping UNIT to validate the evacuation of London after the Invasion of the Dinosaurs and whatever happens in Terror of the Zygons (the one classic bit of Baker I’ve never seen and I’m saving for dvd). There’s some obvious poignancy in the idea of the older Sarah visiting her younger self.

For younger viewers, the events of The Vault of Secrets are also rerun from this outside perspective and most specifically the block put on the Chandra’s memories so that they can continue in blissful ignorance about the existence of Androvax and The Men in Black. This is one of the few sections which drags slightly to these adult ears, but with everything else pitched so perfectly, it’s easy to forget that younger listeners might require a more prosaic rendering of events.

Even with their propensity for forgetfulness sometimes either because they were on holiday or due to some Complex Space-Time Event or because they were on holiday, some things clearly have the potential to stick.  In showing them all of these events, the Veritas’s point is this: who is Sarah Jane Smith (and by extension UNIT, the Doctor, Torchwood and C-19 probably), a journalist who should be seeking the truth, to decide what information the people of the Earth should be exposed to?

Sarah Jane’s defence is this: humanity isn’t mature enough to handle it. She points to the events in the shopping mall as an example of society breaking down at the merest whiff of The Other. If humanity was aware of aliens, she says, they’d be looking for them behind every corner and society would rapidly destroy itself (in a way similar to the Veritas’s own planet which became apocalyptic thanks to a lie, hence their moral crusade).

And because of the needs of the story, they accept it, and leave Sarah Jane and friends to go on their merry way. Except this listener at least was left with the question: what does give Sarah Jane and friends the right to withhold this information from the public and doesn’t that put them in the same morally ambiguous position as every intelligence agency in history, and if we want to be tin-hatted about it their expectation that humanity couldn’t handle the grim truth of what we’re capable of?

I don’t know about you, but that makes me extremely uncomfortable. What we have here is a children’s story which is suggesting that it’s ok that underneath the information generally available to the public, there’s a shadowy network in existence of information that someone else has decided to that it shouldn’t be privy to. Replace the existence of aliens (assuming it doesn’t include the existence of aliens) with spys and terrorists in the real world and that’s somewhat problematic.

To be fair, the script does pay lip service to this with Sarah Jane regretting that she effected Gita’s brain, especially after all the knocks her own noggin has taken over the years (“Eldrad must live!”). But the format doesn’t leave much room for dissent. Rani, who Sarah says she’s trying to convince most, ultimately goes along with it despite having spent much of the story lauding Woodstein’s take down of Nixon and his cover up.

What Gray seems to be telling kids, then, is that it’s ok to have cover-up (or just plain flat out lie) if it’s considered to be for the public good (magicians included), but shouldn’t be done for personal gain. I expect the Whoniverse equivalent of Wikileaks might have one or two things to say about that. But the brilliance of the play is that it throws up these questions and inquisitive listeners are having their mind stretched in the in much the same way the televisual version has been capable of.

I’m done. You may now continue spoiler free.

Having not heard any of the earlier SJA audios, I didn’t know quite what to expect and like the Doctor Who exclusives this is an aurally rich experience, with sound aiding the listener's orientation, allowing the text to fix itself on character and dialogue. Simon Power’s music is also well up to standard, thumping away and keeping our attention, but he’s also well aware of the power of silence, knowing when to let Gray’s words drive the narrative.

The writer, who drove the latter half of the Eighth Doctor’s seminal run in Doctor Who Magazine’s comic strip captures all of the characters extremely well, especially Clyde who’s jokes have just the right mix of awful and inspired. As the cover suggests this is also a new adventure for Sky who’s quest to understand humanity creates all kinds of cute moments for the pair, Clyde's given the opportunity to play big brother in a way that was denied during their brief acquaintance on screen.

The best aspect of Anjli Mohindra’s reading is her Gita, which is just uncanny enough that I thought Mina Anwar had been lending some help at the beginning. This couldn’t have been an easy job, especially when reading Lis’s lines, especially since the original version of the script was meant to be narrated by Lis in the first person. But Anjli’s one of the better audiobook readers I’ve come across, and clearly enjoys performing the other characters, especially the aliens, as her treated voice becomes unrecognisable.

In its eighty minutes, Judgement Day retains all of the best aspects of the television series and is as good as a next episode even its central message could be a source of discomfort or comfort depending upon the listener. Which you won’t know about unless you read the spoiler zone. Or actually listen to the thing which I'd highly recommend.

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Judgement Day by Scott Gray is published by AudioGo.  Review copy supplied.

I hadn't seen the 2012 edition

Books Every year, for well over a decade, I've been given the latest copy of the Time Out Film Guide for Christmas. It's one of the rituals I look forward to each 25th December, turning the pages searching for films which have been released that year and seeking their verdict and seeing what other parts of film history have been added in the interim thanks to London repertory and the need to fill the weekly magazine.

Other film guides are available, but none of them seem to quite have the same authority as Time Out with its mission statement to treat films on their own terms within their own genre, not always necessarily asking if it's a great film, but if it is a great surfing film, or teen film or horror film and how does it compare to other examples?

The sarcastic ditching on Ferris Bueller has always been an issue, but the editors were good enough to add an opinion of Sixteen Candles when I sent them a letter noting its absence (not the opinion I enclosed for inclusion but you can't have everything).  Their introductory lists have also proved invaluable, especially when I was planning my MA applications and wanting to know which key films to watch.

Last night I realised I hadn't seen the 2012 edition in the shops and an Amazon search confirmed that it hadn't been published in its usual September slot.  So I emailed Time Out and asked.  I've had a reply and oh, horror of horrors:
Dear Stuart,

Thanks for your email. I'm afraid we aren't publishing a Film Guide this year, and it's unlikely that we will publish another one in the future.

Best wishes,

Time Out Person.
I have of course emailed back and asked why and will post a response if I get one.

Perhaps last year's edition didn't sell in huge numbers. Time Out's website contains all of the reviews anyway (and no longer behind a registration window) so the target audience have probably been using that as their source, especially with the prevalence of mobile technology). They're also linked from LOVEFiLM and show up easily in Google searches.

But it's not the same as having a giant volume in your lap and the serendipity of glancing down the columns at dozens of films most of which look at least a bit interesting even if they're not available.  Or marvelling at the attention to detail which has led to the Harry Potter films are in series order despite its violation the otherwise strictly observed alphabetical sequencing of the rest of the reviews.

Now the Deathly Hallows will never be added.

Updated 8/11/11  I've had a reply:
Hi Stuart,

I’m afraid it wasn’t considered a viable print product so it was cancelled. All the reviews are available on our website – www.timeout.com/film.

Best wishes,

Time Out Person.
Two decades worth of publishing gone.  Welcome to the internet age.

Shakespeare at the BBC:In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg.

Prospero and Ariel on BBC Broadcasting HouseRadio  You may have read in the past week that the BBC is in the process of digitising it's entire radio archive with a view to putting the whole thing on-line, which is pretty amazing.  But the Radio 4 website already has a vast amount of content and I've been glancing through to see if much of it is about or at least connected to Shakespeare.  Unsurprisingly there's a fair amount so I've decided to put together a series of posts indexing the streams to help me make sense of it all.

First, In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg.  I've collected together programmes which directly mention Shakespeare in their synopsis and anything else which seems important, though please note any omissions or other programmes you think might be relevant and could be added.  I've included a quote from each of the programme pages to give a flavour of what lies within.  All of these episodes are available as podcasts should you want to go off and find them.


Shakespeare's Life
"The mystery may have been a pleasure to Dickens but for forgers, conspiracy theorists and Shakespeare scholars it is a tantalising conundrum that has exercised minds since the day the playwright died. How was the low born son of an illiterate craftsman, with a meagre education, able to write with such skill and erudition? How did a provincial man manage to become so attuned to the politics of kings? And how do we know that the plays that we have are the right plays, written by the right man and published in the form they were written?"

Shakespeare's Work
"William Shakespeare 'was not of an age, but for all time' according to Ben Johnson. That was in the seventeenth century and it's a claim that has often been repeated since, but is it really true? Is what we see in theatre and increasingly at the cinema the work of a playwright whose works live on, or are we merely watching historical reconstructions - museum pieces - with any contemporary meaning obscured by the reverence we pay to the author?"

Shakespeare and Literary Criticism
"Why does Shakespeare still hold the popular and indeed academic imagination in the twentieth century? Should we read him above all others as Harold Bloom suggests in the way he suggests? And what does this say about the state of literary criticism today?"


King Lear
"Around the turn of 1606, a group of London theatre-goers braved the plague to take in a new play by the well-known impresario, Mr William Shakespeare. Packed into the Globe Theatre, they were treated to a tale of violence, hatred and betrayal so upsetting that it thereafter languished among Shakespeare’s less popular plays.".


Elizabethan Revenge
"From Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy to Shakespeare's Hamlet, the Elizabethan stage was awash with the bloody business of revenge. Revenge was dramatic, theatrical and hugely popular. It also possessed a fresh psychological depth in the way vengeful minds were portrayed through a new dramatic device: the soliloquy."

"You could be forgiven for thinking that in our century, of all centuries, the notion of the death of a tragedy would be comical. But there is a view that in its broad theatrical sense, tragedy, as defined by Aristotle and accepted to the time of Racine, has indeed lost its place and power as a form."

Pastoral Literature
"An entreaty from Christopher Marlowe's Passionate Shepherd to His Love - thought by many to be the crowning example of Elizabethan pastoral poetry. The traditions of pastoral poetry, literature and drama can be traced back to the third century BC and have principally offered a conventionalised picture of rural life, the naturalness and innocence of which is seen to contrast favourably with the corruption and artificialities of city and court life. Pastoral literature deals with tensions between nature and art, the real and the ideal, the actual and the mythical, and although pastoral works have been written from the point of view of shepherds or rustics, they have often been penned by highly sophisticated, urban poets and playwrights."

The Sonnet
"For over five hundred years its fourteen lines have exercised poetic minds from Petrarch and Shakespeare, to Milton, Wordsworth and Heaney. It has inspired the duelling verse of ‘sonneteering’, encapsulated the political perspectives of Cromwell and Kennedy and most of all it has provided a way to meditate upon love. Dante Gabriel Rossetti called it “the moment’s monument”. What is it about the Sonnet that has inspired poets to bind themselves by its strictures again and again?"


Agincourt (Henry V)
"It is a battle that has resounded through the centuries and has been used by so many to mean so much. But how important was the battle in the strategic struggles of the time? What were the pressures at home that drove Henry's march through France? And what is the cultural legacy of Agincourt?"

Bohemia (The Winter's Tale)
"Why was Bohemia such a crucible of dissent and how were its ideas exported to the rest of Europe? What did it mean to be Bohemian then and how was the ancient kingdom of Bohemia, with its ferment of religious, national and ethnic ideologies, divided up to form the states of modern Central Europe?"

Cleopatra (Anthony & Cleopatra)
"The last pharaoh to rule Egypt, Cleopatra was a woman of intelligence and charisma, later celebrated as a great beauty. During an eventful life she was ousted from her throne and later restored to it with the help of her lover Julius Caesar. A later relationship with another Roman statesman, Mark Antony - and Cleopatra's subsequent death at her own hands - provided Shakespeare with the raw material for one of his greatest plays. Today Cleopatra is still an object of fascination, her story revealing as much about the Roman world as it does about the end of the age of the Pharaohs."

Don Quixote (Cardenio)
"How has the book endured over the centuries? What was the relationship between Cervantes' work and the world of 17th century Spain in which he lived? In what ways was Don Quixote an interpretation of the age which hitherto had not been articulated? And can it live up to the claim that it was the first European novel?"

Fairies (A Midsummer Night's Dream)
"In what way have fairies changed in guise and purpose throughout history? How did ancient fairy lore sit with the Christianity of the Middle Ages? How were fairies appropriated for the purpose of the 16th century witchcraft trials and why did fairies obsess so many Victorian artists and writers? And why is it that stories about fairies exist all over the world and what is our fascination with them?"

Rome and European Civilisation (The Roman Plays)
"According to William Shakespeare, after Brutus slayed his friend Caesar he claimed, “Not that I loved Caesar less but that I loved Rome more”. But what was the idea of Rome that demanded such devotion? And how was an identity forged that exported its values to the greatest Empire the world had ever seen? Rome has meant Republicanism, as well as Imperialism; it has stood for Pax Romana and also for the machinery of war, it is an eternally pagan city that still beats as the Catholic Heart of the Christian Church."

The Siege of Orleans (Henry VI)
"Joan of Arc came to the rescue of France and routed the English army with the help of God. The perfidious English then burnt her as a heretic in Rouen marketplace. At least that's the story we're told but the truth involves the murky world of French court politics, labyrinthine dynastic claims, mass religious hysteria and English military and political incompetence."

"The isolated Ancient Greek city-state of Sparta was a ferocious opposite to the cosmopolitan port of Athens. Spartans were hostile to outsiders and rhetoric, to philosophy and change."

The Dissolution of the Monasteries (Henry VIII or What You Will)
"Was Henry’s decision to destroy monastic culture in this country a tyrannical act of grand larceny or the pious destruction of a corrupt institution?"

The Tudor State (The Histories)
"Were the Tudors as instrumental in reshaping the British state as historians have liked to make out, and did their reign throughout the 16th century really lay the political foundations of our own age?"

The War of the Roses (The Histories)
"The period in the fifteenth century when the House of Lancaster and the House of York were continually at odds is described by Shakespeare, in the three parts of Henry VI and Richard III as a time of enormous moral, military and political turmoil - the quintessential civil war ..."


The Anatomy of Melancholy
"In 1621 the priest and scholar Robert Burton published a book quite unlike any other. The Anatomy of Melancholy brings together almost two thousand years of scholarship, from Ancient Greek philosophy to seventeenth-century medicine. Melancholy, a condition believed to be caused by an imbalance of the body's four humours, was characterised by despondency, depression and inactivity. Burton himself suffered from it, and resolved to compile an authoritative work of scholarship on the malady, drawing on all relevant sources."

Baconian Science
"Francis Bacon was a lawyer and political schemer who climbed the greasy pole of Jacobean politics and then fell down it again. But he is most famous for developing an idea of how science should be done - a method that he hoped would slough off the husk of ancient thinking and usher in a new age. It is called Baconian Method and it has influenced and inspired scientists from Bacon's own time to the present day."

Christopher Marlowe
"A forger, a brawler, a spy, a homosexual and accused of atheism but above all a playwright and poet, Christopher Marlowe was the most celebrated writer of his generation, bringing Tamburlaine, Faustus and The Jew of Malta to the stage and far outshining William Shakespeare during his lifetime. Then came his mysterious death at 29, days before he was due to appear on trial accused of heresy. Was he stabbed in an argument over a bill? Was he assassinated? And how does his work measure up to Shakespeare, a man who paid generous tribute and some say stole some of his best lines?"

"In October 1586, in the forbidding hall of Fotheringhay Castle, Mary Queen of Scots was on trial for her life. Accused of treason and denied legal representation, she sat alone in the shadow of a vast and empty throne belonging to her absent cousin and arch rival Elizabeth I of England. Walsingham, Elizabeth’s Principal Secretary, had already arrested and executed Mary’s fellow conspirators, her only hope lay in the code she had used in all her letters concerning the plot. If her cipher remained unbroken she might yet be saved. Not for the first time the life of an individual and the course of history depended on the arcane art of Cryptography."

The Death of Elizabeth I
"By the spring of 1603, Elizabeth had been Queen for 44 years, and it was clear that she would leave no heir. Many feared that her death would spark insurrection, led perhaps by Puritans, perhaps by Catholics, possibly with the support of Spain. As it became clear that she was dying, Elizabeth's chief minister, Sir Robert Cecil, put into action his covert strategy to secure the succession of King James the Sixth of Scotland."

The Jesuits
"Founded in the 16th century by the soldier Ignatius Loyola, they became a major force throughout the world, from China to South America. “Give us a boy and we will return you a man, a citizen of his country and a child of God”, they declared."

"To T.S.Eliot it was the “Unreal City”, to Wordsworth “Earth has not anything to show more fair” but to Shelley, “Hell is a city much like London”."

The Music of the Sphere
"The idea of music of the spheres ran through late antiquity and the medieval period into the Renaissance and its echoes could be heard in astrology and astronomy, in theology, and, of course, in music itself. Influenced by Pythagoras and Plato, it was discussed by Cicero, Boethius, Marcello Ficino and Johannes Kepler It affords us a glimpse into minds for which the universe was full of meaning, of strange correspondences and grand harmonies."

"In 1800, in his preface to Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth wrote "Every great and original writer, in proportion as he is great and original, must himself create the taste by which he is to be relished". But did the notion of originality begin with the Romantics in the 18th century, or has society always valued originality? Should we consider Shakespeare an innovator or a plagiarist?"

The Pilgrim Fathers
"The Pilgrim Fathers and their 1620 voyage to the New World on the Mayflower. "

Seventeenth Century Print Culture
"From the advent of the printing press the number of books printed each year steadily increased, and so did literacy rates. With a growing and socially diverse readership appearing over the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, printed texts reflected controversy in every area of politics, society and religion. In the advent of the Civil War, print was used as the ideological battleground by the competing forces of Crown and Parliament."

The Spanish Armada
"On May 28th, 1588, a fleet of a hundred and fifty-one Spanish ships set out from Lisbon, bound for England. Its mission was to transport a huge invasion force across the Channel: the Spanish King, Philip II, was determined to remove Elizabeth from the throne and return the English to the Catholic fold."

St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre
"In Paris, in the high summer of 1572, a very unusual wedding was happening in the cathedral of Notre Dame. Henri, the young Huguenot King of Navarre, was marrying the King of France’s beloved sister, Margot, a Catholic. "


The Aeneid
"Virgil's Aeneid was the great epic poem that formed a founding narrative of Rome. It made such an impact on its audience that it soon became a standard text in all schools and wiped away the myths that preceded it. It was written in Augustus' reign at the start of the Imperial era and has been called an apologia for Roman domination; it has also been called the greatest work of literature ever written."

Aristotle's Poetics
"The Poetics is, as far as we know, the first ever work of literary theory. Written in the 4th century BC, it is the work of a scholar who was also a biologist, and treats literary works with the detached analytical eye of a scientist. Aristotle examines drama and epic poetry, and how they achieve their effects; he analyses tragedy and the ways in which it plays on our emotions."

Aristotle's Politics
"Aristotle’s ‘Politics’. Looking out across the city states of 4th century Greece Aristotle asked what made a society good and developed a language of ‘oligarchies’, ‘democracies’ and ‘monarchies’ that we still use today."

The Augustan Age
"Called the Augustan Age, it was a golden age of literature with Virgil's Aeneid and Ovid's Metamorphosis among its treasures. But they were forged amidst creeping tyranny and the demands of literary propaganda. Augustus tightened public morals, funded architectural renewal and prosecuted adultery. Ovid was exiled for his saucy love poems but Virgil's Aeneid, a celebration of Rome's grand purpose, was supported by the regime."

Comedy in Ancient Greek Theatre
"But how did Greek comedy evolve? Why did its subsequent development differ so radically from that of Greek tragedy? To what extent did it reflect the anxieties and preoccupations of a nascent democracy? And can it be said to have left any lasting legacy?"

"Chaucer was born the son of a London vintner, yet rose to high office in the court of Richard II. He travelled throughout France and Italy where he came into contact with the works of Dante, Boccaccio, Machaut and Froissart. He translated Boethius, wrote dream poetry, a defence of women and composed the tragic masterpiece Troilus and Criseyde. As well as the father of English literature, Chaucer was also a philosopher, bureaucrat, courtier and diplomat."

Dante's Inferno
"Dante’s ‘Inferno’ - a medieval journey through the nine circles of Hell. “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here”. This famous phrase is written above the gate of Hell in a 14th century poem by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri. The poem is called the ‘Divine Comedy’ and Hell is known as ‘Dante’s Inferno’. It is a lurid vision of the afterlife complete with severed heads, cruel and unusual punishments and devils in frozen lakes."

The Divine Right of Kings
"The idea that a monarch could heal with his touch flowed from the idea that a king was sacred, appointed by God and above the judgement of earthly powers. It was called the Divine Right of Kings. The idea resided deep in the culture of 17th century Britain affecting the pomp of the Stuart Kings, the writings of Milton and Shakespeare and the political works of John Locke. It is a story that involves witches, regicide, scrofula, Macbeth, miraculous portraits and some of the greatest poetry in the English language."

The Epic
"Who are the heroes of these epics? To what extent was the classical epic a political project, a means of creating a founding myth for empire? How did the Renaissance revive the form and how successful were writers such as Milton in rendering the Christian story an epic? And what does the novel owe to the epic?"

The Greek Myths
"Are you a touch narcissistic? Do you have the body of an Adonis? Are you willing to undertake Herculean tasks or Promethean ventures? Perhaps you have an Oedipus complex?"

The Odyssey
"The Odyssey by Homer, often claimed as the great founding work of Western Literature. It's an epic that has entertained its audience for nearly three thousand years: It has shipwrecks, Cyclops, brave heroes and seductive sex goddesses. But it’s also got revenge, true love and existential angst. The story follows on from Homer's Iliad, and tells of the Greek hero Odysseus and his long attempt to get home to Ithaca after the Trojan War. "

The Oresteia
"Why did Aeschylus make the family the subject of his bloody revenge tragedy? How did his trilogy make a contribution to the development of Athenian legal institutions? And why has the Oresteia had such a powerful hold over the modern imagination?"

The Philosophy of Love
"How has the Western understanding of the Philosophy of Love developed since Plato? Has it always been about finding our ‘other half’?"

"In person Socrates was deliberately irritating, he was funny and he was rude; he didn’t like democracy very much and spent quite a lot of time in shoe shops. He claimed he was on a mission from God to educate his fellow Athenians but has left us nothing in his own hand because he refused to write anything down."

"Stoicism influenced the Christian church, had a big effect on Shakespeare and Renaissance drama and may even have given the British their 'stiff upper lip', but it's a philosophy that was almost forgotten in the 20th century. Does it still have a legacy for us today?"

"Shakespeare’s Iago says “Virtue! A fig! ‘tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are our gardens to the which our wills are gardeners."

"Shakespeare’s King Lear warned, “Nothing will come of nothing”. [...] What was it about zero that so repulsed their intellects? How was zero invented? And what role does zero play in mathematics today?"


Alexander Pope (editor)
"How did Pope manage to transform himself from a crippled outsider into a major cultural and moral authority? How did he shape our ideas about what a “modern author” is? Does his work still have resonances today or is it too firmly embedded in the politics, cultural life and rivalries of the period?"

"Does beauty really have a moral quality? And is it inherent in things, or in the mind of the observer? How much influence have Plato's ideas had on the history of aesthetics and what has been said to counter or develop them?"

Brave New World
"In Act V Scene I of Shakespeare's The Tempest, the character Miranda declares 'O wonder! How many Godly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O Brave new world! That has such people in it!'. It is perhaps the only line of Shakespeare to be made famous by someone else, for Brave New World is not associated with Prospero's Island of sprites, magic and wondrous noises, but with Aldous Huxley's dystopia of eugenics, soma and zero gravity tennis. A world, incidentally, upon which literary references to Shakespeare would be entirely lost."

"how did the Ancients establish the parameters of the true nature of friendship in the literature and philosophy that followed? How have different forms of friendship helped or hindered creativity and intellectual pursuit? What has been the apparent relationship between friendship and power? And what of the darker aspects of friendship - jealousy, envy and exploitation?"

History of Metaphor
"In Shakespeare's As You Like It, the melancholy Jaques declares: "All the world's a stage/And all the men and women merely players." This is a celebrated use of metaphor, a figure of speech in which one thing is used to describe another."

History's relevance in the 20th century
"Why is the study of history important? Is history relevant to us today? Are the truths likely to be yielded from history closer to those disclosed in great novels than the abstract general laws sought by social scientists? And what is the role of imagination in the writing of history?"

The Individual
"The Renaissance gave birth to the concept of the individual. Shakespeare defined this individual in language which accepted the primacy of the male gender: “What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form, in moving, how express and admirable!"

Inspiration and Genius
"Are geniuses born or made? And what are the circumstances necessary for the great leaps of consciousness that inspire the development of science and art? Did Einstein’s brain arrive like that - markedly different from the expected formation - or did it become like that through thought?"

Samuel Johnson
"Samuel Johnson was credited with defining English literature with his Lives of the Poets and his edition of Shakespeare, and of defining English language with his Dictionary. Yet despite those lofty acclamations he failed to get a degree, claimed he had never finished a book, was an inveterate hack who told his friend James Boswell, "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money"."

The Scriblerus Club (Alexander Pope)
"The 18th century Club included some of the most extraordinary and vivid satirists ever to have written in the English language. We are given giants and midgets, implausible unions with Siamese twins, diving competitions into the open sewer of Fleet-ditch, and Olympic-style pissing competitions: "Who best can send on high/The salient spout, far streaming to the sky". "

Shakespeare at the BBC:
In Our Time
with Melvyn Bragg.

Prospero and Ariel on BBC Broadcasting HouseRadio  You may have read in the past week that the BBC is in the process of digitising it's entire radio archive with a view to putting the whole thing on-line, which is pretty amazing.  But the Radio 4 website already has a vast amount of content and I've been glancing through to see if much of it is about or at least connected to Shakespeare.  Unsurprisingly there's a fair amount so I've decided to put together a series of posts indexing the streams to help me make sense of it all.

First, In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg.  I've collected together programmes which directly mention Shakespeare in their synopsis and anything else which seems important, though please note any omissions or other programmes you think might be relevant and could be added.  I've included a quote from each of the programme pages to give a flavour of what lies within.  All of these episodes are available as podcasts should you want to go off and find them.


Morning. by feelinglistless
Morning., a photo by feelinglistless on Flickr.

an ancient settlement on the brink of disaster

Books Paul Magrs’ The Broken Crown opens with a classic bit of Tom business as he and Mrs Wibbsey, zapped back to 1861 after the events of the first instalment of Doctor Who’s Serpent Crest, set about ingratiating themselves with the locals by having a quiet drink in the pub. Sadly for the Doctor, his usual charm is short circuited because of the reaction to Wibbs’s gender, his boggle-eyed reaction to which is comedy gold.  They do at least meet a Reverend Dobbs, whose young ward Andrew,  who as so often the way of things retains a dark secret which may have something to do with the many disappearances in the village and whose tutor Mr Bewley looks and sounds strangely familiar. The inlay synopsis gives away rather more than that, but let’s just assume you want to retain a couple of surprises.

The influence here is children’s anthologies of the 1980s, The Storyteller or Dramarama, with three kids and their magical secret and interfering with the interfering adults in a spooky village and the plau is at its best when laying on the atmosphere of an ancient settlement on the brink of disaster. The plot also has a passing resemblance to Fear Her or Night Terrors for the reasons you can guess but different enough because this is the second episode of a series and unexpectedly very closely linked to the first.   One thread here about imagination and fairy tales is clearly being set up for the next instalment.  This is a change from the previous two series which were akin to the loose storytelling of The Key To Time season but has the knock on effect of removing some of The Broken Crown's intrigue.

Anyone who’s heard the previous play will immediately be given a clue as to what’s happening while listening to the opening scenes, but it takes the Doctor and Wibbs a further half hour to catch up. If you’ve seen Daleks in Manhattan you’ll know that being ahead of the Time Lords tends to stagnate the drama unless there's an epic enough sense of impending doom.  Here the revelation is played as if Magrs expects it to be as much of a surprise for us as it is for his protagonists but because even on audio we've been given too much information at the start, it makes them look rather like they're experiencing a Trigger moment on Only Fools and Horses.  The raised eye brows as he finally catches on.  Perhaps listeners for whom this is their first cd will have a different reaction, but it's not designed for that.

Which as a fan of Magrs's work, as you can imagine, gives me no pleasure.  For all the usual charm from the central pairing and some fun moments in which we enjoy the perceptions of the Doctor from the other villagers, there’s rather too much of shrill people being shrill in rooms.  Terrance Hardiman does bring just the right Hammer tone to the authoritarian Reverend trying to do his best for the boy.  But the child actors who surrounded him, who might (and I feel incredibly cruel saying this) begin with a certain first Harry Potter/Gary Russell in The Famous Five charm, ultimately can’t quite carry the story, not helped by some sections of their dialogue sounding too articulate to be coming from their mouths.  It's all a bit disappointing really.  The next one, Aladdin Time looks entertaining though.  Has Andrew Sachs in the cast playing a scarf.

Doctor Who: Serpent Crest - The Broken Crown by Paul Magrs is out now from AudioGo. Review copy supplied.

"I found, sometimes the way I'm spoken to, or regarded"

Film Gemma Arterton talks The Guardian about being a feminist in the film world:
"It's such a male-dominated industry," she says, eyes rolling. "You can be a feminist, it's just difficult because it sometimes comes back at you. Actually, in the last year I've found it less, because people know I'm a feminist now." I wonder how they know. Does she wear a badge? "I found, sometimes the way I'm spoken to, or regarded … In the last year, the respect for me as an actor rather than as just the girl from the Bond film has changed. I think a lot of it is down to that I am now choosing who I am working with. I meet somebody, and it's a two-way decision. It's not me going, 'please will you employ me?' Now it's, 'am I going to be able to collaborate with you and have a conversation that's not about how big your trailer is?' It's become easier that way."
She's clearly unhappy now about Clash of the Titan and Prince of Persia, but she was the one thing which made both films bearable.