The Most Valuable Life Lessons I Gained From Star Wars

“In my experience there is no such thing as luck.” ~ Obi-Wan Kenobi

Happy Star Wars Day! You know what’s coming… #MayThe4thBeWithYou!

There I said it. But the force is strong with all of us. That’s why Star Wars has become the biggest, most iconic modern story on the planet, indeed in galaxies far, far away…

Star Wars fans and geeks are celebrating all over the world, and gaming companies and the likes of Lego are putting out special offers to mark the occasion.

Star Wars isn’t merely a futuristic science fiction fantasy story franchise, it has somehow created its own religion. I think the fact that it seems to have taken on its own mythical status is because it speaks primarily to our human struggles.

It has caught our collective imaginations in a way that no other modern film story has, possibly with the exception of Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones.

We had the sad news of the passing of Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca a few days ago, may he rest in peace.

We also lost Carrie Fisher in 2016, who played the beautiful, beloved and sometimes prickly, Princess Leia.

I grew up with Star Wars. Episodes IV (A New Hope), V (The Empire Strikes Back) and VI (The Return of the Jedi) and they became ingrained in my psyche, having been watched and devoured multiple times in my childhood. They have a special place in my memories. Usually of family Christmases spent with a tummy full of roast dinner sat around the TV with us children practicing our Jedi moves and chasing each other with wild abandon around the house as storm troopers and fighters for the rebellion.

I’m sure many of my generation have similar experiences. Those films still take me back to my childhood, and my sons also love the Star Wars franchise.

Aside from the stunning visual effects, (the later prequel films seemed to focus more on this element than the story to their detriment), battles of cosmic proportions and the many strange creatures they encountered on different planets, (Ewoks were my favourite), they portrayed the eternal battle between light and dark forces, and the human decision about which side we gravitate to, of course complicated by choices clouded with massive grey areas!

The story arc of Anakin Skywalker; his rise from obscurity to his destiny as a Jedi Knight and his subsequent turn to the ‘dark side’ and becoming Darth Vader, the principle villain, as a result of manipulation of his anger and hate by the Emperor reads like reality. The negative situations in this world are driven and fuelled by anger, fear and hate. We all have a choice at any given moment.

The main actors almost became synonymous with their roles. But these stories that are loved and that continue to inspire millions of people across generations may never have taken off and conquered the universe had it not been for some skillful editing.

The first film cut of A New Hope by George Lucas was rough around the edges and needed quite a bit of work. Which means there’s hope for the rest of us!

This fascinating short film charts the journey from the early scenes to the final film that we saw on our cinema screens:

There are more than five lessons to take away from Star Wars for sure, but as time is short and the house won’t clean itself (I’m still waiting for that technological invention), here are the ones that have helped me.

My top five Star Wars life lessons:

  1. It doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect to begin with

Life is a work in progress. This knowledge takes the pressure off, especially in creative pursuits – the first draft can be pants, as long as you get all your ideas down. It can then evolve into something more polished, as the video above demonstrates.

Imagine if Lucas and his team had not continued to work on the story and improve the audience experience?

Human history has shown us how the first rendering of anything was pretty rubbish compared with subsequent versions or inventions. But that didn’t matter, because it led onto mostly better things. That’s the nature of evolution, the ability of a species to adapt to its environment and improve its existence.

Now, in addition to the Millenium Falcon  we have aeroplanes that can fly at high speed around the world in a matter of hours, phones that enable instant communication across the globe at the touch of a button, plus all of our modern conveniences.

The Renaissance, arguably the greatest period of mankind’s creative flourishing and artistic achievements could not have come without the cultural efforts of the previous eras. You get my drift. We are always editing our lives through feedback, but we have to start somewhere. All that matters is that we start, and keep going.

  1. There is no try, there is only do

Or, to use Yoda’s exact immortal words: “Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.” I love this scene from The Empire Strikes Back where Luke Skywalker’s x-wing has sunk into the swamp on Dagobah, and he feels hopeless, thinking that he’ll never get it out. Master Yoda’s lesson on using the force doesn’t just apply to the film, it applies to us, to everyday life.

How many times have we found ourselves in a position where we felt powerless?

Maybe we find ourselves questioning our purpose in life at certain times. There have been many instances where I dipped my toe into the water rather than plunging in.

I didn’t understand the significance of this scene when I was a girl, but now, whenever I catch myself speaking or using the word ‘try’ in a sentence in relation to my life, I think of this scene, and I correct myself, telling myself: I do, or I do not do. I have to own my power.

That little teeny tiny three letter word TRY almost certainly condemns us to failure.

  1. Family can be perplexing, but we should love them anyway

With modern ‘blended’ families and family dramas unfolding in the news, it’s no surprise that sometimes those who are closest to us tend to cause the greatest challenges in our lives! It can be almost impossible not to be dragged into or embroiled in family drama.

I see the constant media frenzy surrounding Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and her estranged father and my heart goes out to her. Not only are they dealing with their own relationship issues, but are having to do so under intense public scrutiny. Gossip mongers and trolls circle like sharks, waiting for either to stumble. It seems plenty of people are willing to share their opinion and judgement despite only having third hand information and no personal involvement.

Maybe for some it’s easier to distract themselves from their own troubles by focusing on other people’s problems.

In the original Star Wars trilogy Luke Skywalker discovers Princess Leia is his twin sister, and that they were separated at birth, and Leia and Han Solo fall in love while saving the universe.

The characters of the droids R2D2 and C3PO are just as lovable.

The heart breaking moment Luke discovers the identity of his father in The Empire Strikes Back:

Imagine how gutting it would be to discover that your daddy is Darth Vader?! He may want his father’s approval but he has to follow his own path and destroy him in order not to become like him and have history repeat itself:

Have you ever had a family issue? I might as well ask, is the Pope Catholic?

The parallels with our larger family, humanity are also startling. We all need to channel the wisdom of our ‘inner Jedi’ more than ever.

  1. Imagination really is more important than intelligence

This one is partly inspired by Einstein, but the imagination George Lucas expressed through the creation of these characters that we can all relate to in some degree and their adventures across the galaxy continues to inspire creativity and storytelling.

Nothing exists in reality until it first exists in the mind. Ideas and thoughts are the precursor to matter.

  1. Believe in yourself.

This was the core message that the Jedi’s had to embody. The connection between all living beings and ‘the force’, the universal energy that surrounds and fills all living things, (essentially our divine spark), which is the source of their power.

Self mastery was their ultimate goal. They could not control the actions of others, (except with the occasional Jedi mind trick on weak villains), but they could control their own attitude and actions.

Whenever I feel myself living in my head, not being grounded, I know its time to spend more time in nature and allow myself to feel what I feel in the present moment. Being in the ‘flow’ state.

How many times have we talked ourselves out of our greatness? Or not taken a course of action because we doubted ourselves?

This has been the hardest lesson for me to learn so far, and it’s still a work in progress! It takes daily courage and faith to be the Jedi of your own life.

Even though I know what happens in the films and no matter how many times I watch them I never get bored of them, just like listening to my favourite pieces of music. Also, having a great soundtrack can define a movie, and John Williams nailed it with his soundtrack to the original Star Wars trilogy:

A powerful story is timeless, and the vicarious life lessons therein worth seeing again and again. I think I can feel a Star Wars binge session coming on…

Movie Review: Despite its Bleak Subject, Darkest Hour Will Lift Your Spirits

“You are strong because you are imperfect. You are wise because you have doubts.” Clemmie to Winston in Darkest Hour

Winston Churchill remains one of my all-time heroes so it was a must for me to see the latest Churchill film focusing on his early days as Prime Minister in May 1940: Darkest Hour.

Unusually I found myself sans offspring, and spent 2 hours in the cinema completely absorbed by this stunning movie. In fact, I was on the edge of my seat and the hairs on my arms were stood on end throughout most of it, as I was furnished with many facts that I had previously been ignorant of; illuminated beautifully with dramatic and cinematic flair by director Joe Wright, his cast and crew.

I was already a fan of Joe Wright, his version of Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightly and Matthew Macfadyen has a special place in my heart, I very much enjoyed his cinematic version of Ian McEwan’s novel Atonement, and my son was an extra in PAN.

Kazuhiro Tsuji did an amazing job of making Gary Oldman unrecognisable (except perhaps a tad around the eyes), his facial prosthetics transformed the actor into an uncanny resemblance of the great leader.

There aren’t really any words adequate enough to praise Gary Oldman’s performance.

I think he was outstanding and gave the performance of a lifetime, well worthy of a coveted Oscar from the Academy, or a BAFTA from the British Film Academy for an actor in a leading role.

The spirit of Winston must have whispered to him and imbued him with the emotions he experienced at that desperate, turbulent time from far beyond the grave.

For me he perfectly captured Winston’s dogged demeanour, his bullish, bellicose mannerisms that cloaked his sensitive and kind nature, his courage of conviction, his private moments of anguish, unsurpassed oratory abilities, his inner metal, his fiery emotional side, his razor sharp wit and prolific intellect, his enduring love for Clementine; in short, the sum total of all his vices and brilliance that made him so human and relatable.

Gary Oldman himself talks about his reservations in playing such an iconic man that would be compared to other performances by a range of accomplished actors:

Kristin Scott Thomas is perfect as Clementine Churchill, his beautiful, elegant and long suffering wife, who admits in a congratulatory speech to Winston and their family on their first night in No. 10, that she knew she would always come second to his public life.

They raise their glasses to Winston and make a jocular family toast to, “Not buggering it up!”

There are a few touching scenes where Winston is feeling down on himself in the face of overwhelming problems, with the weight of the world (or at least the balance of power in the world), on his shoulders. Clemmie is his equal, his guiding star, the one person who is his rock as he faces impossible odds.

Lily James is wonderful as his sweet and loyal personal secretary, Miss Elizabeth Layton and Ben Mendelsohn is also perfect as the beleaguered and skeptical King George VI. In a meeting with Lord Halifax he asks: “Why have I been forced to send for Churchill? His record is a catastrophe.”

Their first formal, awkward meeting as Winston is invited to Buckingham Palace is acting at its best.

It is only after watching interviews with the key players that I discovered Ben is about as Australian as they come!

The film unfolds against a back drop of fear and panic running rife through the houses of Parliament, invoked by Hitler’s ruthless invasion of Europe, as well as personal and professional enmity from politicians in his own party, who attempt to thwart Winston at every turn.

The older, wiser, portly, but nonetheless still sprightly Winston is surrounded by enemies, both domestically and abroad; fighting battles on all fronts…

The magnitude of his task makes for jaw dropping viewing.

We begin to understand the impossible poison chalice that Winston Churchill had been given when the opposition party declared on 9th May 1940 that Neville Chamberlain had lost the confidence of the House and that they would support a new leader in coalition.

A shadowy House of Commons is in uproar as Chamberlain is ousted, and the camera comes to rest momentarily on an empty front bench seat, save for a Royal Naval Yacht Club cap.

Kingsley Woods leans over and asks Antony Eden, “Where’s Winston?” to which Eden’s sardonic reply comes, “ensuring his fingerprints are not on the murder weapon.”

That is the start of a fantastic screen play by Anthony McCarten, witty, clever and original (obviously littered with many of Winston’s own words throughout), and it more than does justice to the man and the events he is crucially caught up in.

The Conservatives make it obvious they want the Foreign Secretary, Viscount Halifax for the role, also the choice of King George VI, who did not warm to Winston at first. They regarded him as impetuous and his military failure at Gallipoli had followed him like a bad smell into his role as Prime Minister.

The knives were sharpened, gleaming and out on display.

One comment of a passing politician can be heard saying: “He has a hundred ideas a day, but only four of them are any good, the other 96 are useless.” Even his ally, the French Prime Minister referred to him as ‘delusional’ after their first meeting.

Gary Oldman’s superb portrayal showed us a man who was under no illusions about the unimaginable difficulties that lay ahead, yet who still relished the challenge and rose to his calling. He became the leader he was born to be, just when the nation (and in a wider sense, Western Europe), needed him most.

Winston chooses his War Cabinet, who grudgingly admit ‘he was right about Hitler’ which includes his enemies Chamberlain, Halifax and Labour leader Clement Attlee, who Churchill describes in derogatory terms, as ‘a sheep in sheep’s clothing’, so that he can keep them close and gain all perspectives.

This is admirable on his part, but they rarely agree with him and actively plot to get him removed by a vote of no confidence and replaced by Lord Halifax, using Winston’s unwillingness to negotiate a peace treaty with Hitler as their reason.

Darkest Hour highlights Winston’s heart-rending dilemma: there are over 300,000 British soldiers (plus allied soldiers) stranded in Dunkirk, surrounded by Hitler’s military forces in control of France, with only 4,000 men stationed nearby at Calais who can possibly draw fire from the Nazi’s long enough for the evacuation to take place at Dunkirk.

Survival is the victory Churchill hopes for, so that he can bolster and regroup the nation’s war efforts to avoid the same fate of invasion that has just taken place in Western Europe.

Winston knows it will take a miracle even to get 10,000 men out alive. He gives the order for Brigadier Claude Nicholson and his brave men at Calais to make a heroic ‘last stand’ for the greater good, knowing he is effectively signing their death warrants. A decision that proves unpopular in his War Cabinet and that affects him very deeply.

Sadly, that is the nature of leadership; especially during war time, impossible decisions had to be made.

If he can’t get the men out of Dunkirk he knows that our island faces almost certain subjugation and possibly annihilation, and is being pressured to negotiate peace before the outcome of Dunkirk has unfolded. On top of that he has the memory of his past failures haunting him.

The tension is palpable, as much as any fast paced thriller, probably all the more because we know it really happened. Having recently seen Dunkirk (another spectacular film), it put those closely linked events into context for me.

It sent shivers down my spine watching Winston determining the best course of action, and of how the outcome could have been very, very different.

Even though it’s a heavy subject matter, with scenes of desperate news coming from Europe and shouty, strategic meetings taking place in atmospheric, oppressive, smoke filled underground War Rooms; they are interspersed with light and comic moments.

Such as when (and this is most likely fictional), Winston’s first ‘V for Victory’ sign is captured on a newspaper front page the wrong way round, so Miss Layton educates Winston to turn his fingers round the other way to ensure he is not swearing, and Winston being told his response was required to the Lord Privy Seal, whilst he is seated on the toilet at No. 10. We hear his dry remark as he flushes, “I am sealed in the privy, I can only deal with one shit at a time.”

In another scene when he is at lunch with the King at the palace, he asks Winston about his relationship with his parents, and gets the candid response that his mother was beautiful and glamorous and had many admirers, and that his father was like God. Busy elsewhere.

This is not mentioned in the film, but luckily Winston was very close to his nanny growing up, who to all intents and purposes was a surrogate mother to him. I wrote about my visit to his ancestral and birth home, Blenheim Palace.

The scene in which Winston makes his first radio address to the nation highlights his perfectionist approach to his writing and speaking and his attempt to buoy the nation in the face of tyranny and terror.

Another funny yet serious moment comes when Winston is in what is thought to be his toilet in the War Rooms, which is in fact a private phone booth, as he calls on US President Franklin D Roosevelt to ask for delivery of the aircraft that the British have brought from them with money they had lent to the British for their purchase!

Although sympathetic to Churchill’s plight, FDR tells him that due to their Neutrality Act the aircraft cannot be transported to British coastal waters, but that they can be pulled by horses across the border to Canada.

Whilst the audience are likely thinking WTF? Winston seemingly goes into a trance as Franklin calls his name down the line, while he is having a flash of inspiration.

It is when he emerges that he orders a broadcast requesting all fishing boats, yachts and pleasure craft over 30 foot long be dispatched from the south coast to assist the Navy with evacuating our stranded army at Dunkirk.

This clip from Anthony Nolan’s brilliant film Dunkirk depicts Winston’s ‘Operation Dynamo’ in action:

In the end hundreds of civilian craft answered the call and nearly all the British forces were thankfully rescued from the beaches at Dunkirk.

Churchill had already made the decision not to negotiate with Hitler on the courage of his convictions, a leap of faith in the nation and what he knew of dictators from history and their insatiable appetite for power.

I can understand to some extent that Lord Halifax wanted to save lives and explore peace, but I think his ideology was misguided in that particular situation. Had he been Prime Minister, and had the War Cabinet ultimately gone down that path it would have been more devastating long term than the losses we sustained during the war years.

It would perhaps be like living a scenario similar to Robert Harris’s chilling novel, Fatherland.

How can you measure, or put a price on human freedom?

Before making his decision, literally during his darkest hour, as pressure mounted from Chamberlain and Halifax to negotiate and all seemed lost for our forces in France, a depressed and lonely Winston sits on his bed, when in bursts Clementine announcing that he has a visitor.

You sense it’s an important visitor, and when he gives a curmudgeonly grimace and asks who it is, she tells him matter-of-factly, “The King.”

“Which King?” Winston scrunches up his face in confusion. He genuinely looks shocked as the tall, well-groomed George VI enters the room.

It is a beautifully crafted scene in which the two men find common ground, portrayed as the beginning of their friendship. George is angry at having to consider fleeing to Canada, something the Royal Family, to their credit, did not do.

He offers Winston his full support in his defence of the realm and seeing his increasing leaning towards entering so called ‘peace talks’ gives him the same advice that Winston had previously given him: to listen to the mood of the people.

I’m sure the scene where Winston slips out of his official car and takes the District Line to Westminster is also fictional, but its dramatic effect works well in the context of the film.

He chats to shocked and nervous passengers on the underground, who show him respect and admiration, something very rare for any politician to experience in this day and age. He puts to them the choice of fighting the Nazi’s or surrendering, and they all give him their support to fight.

With his mind made up once again on defeating Hitler ‘whatever the cost’ he strides through parliament and gathers politicians for a chat before addressing the house. He tells them him his mind, and the mind of the people he has spoken with, asking if they wish to see Swastika flags flying above Buckingham Palace and Windsor, to which they resolutely respond they do not.

Credit: Jack English / Focus Features

The mood has changed to defiance, and then we see the spine tingling scene in the commons where Winston gives his ‘never surrender’ speech on 4th June 1940. Even his enemy Chamberlain, takes his white handkerchief and pats his forehead at the end as a signal to his party to back Winston.

We see that he has navigated the nation through its darkest hour to what we know will eventually be ‘their finest hour’ speech.

Here is the actual full ‘We shall never surrender speech’:

Was Winston Churchill a perfect man?

No. Not by a long shot. He had his fair share of foibles, but he proved to be the perfect flawed man for the job of rousing the nation, instilling its will to attain victory and building its belief that it could defeat an evil force that threatened its shores, its way of life, and no less than civilisation itself.

Much the same as we face now on a smaller, but no less insidious scale, in fundamental Islamic terrorist groups.

Interviews with the writer, director and cast give an interesting insight into why and how Darkest Hour was made:

This film gets five stars all-round from me; it’s a stunning fictional portrayal of a great man during a momentous historic event, that makes you appreciate so very much that we didn’t end up living under the grip of the Gestapo.

I will no doubt watch Darkest Hour time and again in the future, especially when I need reminding of how good we’ve got it compared to previous generations.

Not everyone is a fan of the film itself, Mark Kermode gives his views:

Darkest Hour filled me with gratitude and admiration for Winston Churchill and his courage and unwavering leadership, and also to the many men and women who bravely fought for the freedoms that we take for granted today. Winston took on the burden of delivering us from unspeakable tyranny.

Although this is not a traditional Valentine’s Day post, it embodies the love that is expressed through service and duty. Jesus reminds us:

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

I have total respect for my grandparents’ generation. My paternal Australian grandfather flew spitfires for the RAAF in Burma and my maternal grandfather was part of the Home Guard in the UK. My daughter’s paternal and multilingual great grandfather was secretly operating in Norway during WWII and was awarded the Freedom of Norway by the King of Norway for his services.

We must never take our freedom for granted, and should do what we can to assist other people and nations being persecuted by tyrants, who are going through their own darkest hours around the world.

Even with Brexit looming I feel we should do our best to keep our long standing friendship with our European allies alive; as bonds that were forged in the fire of adversity could potentially be eroded through nationalist sentiments and a hard line approach by the current Conservative government.

Thankfully, being an island nation worked in our favour during WWII, but as poet John Donne so eloquently espoused in his prose, and Gary Oldman so touchingly portrayed; no man is an island.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
~ John Donne

Mozart, Music, Lust, Murder: Movie Review of Interlude in Prague

“Prague contains all the people who love my music.” ~ Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Interlude in Prague)

For someone who has “period drama queen” stamped on her forehead you can imagine I was foaming at the mouth in anticipation of seeing the period thriller Interlude in Prague.

The movie was filmed on location and follows Mozart’s brief time in the city as he was writing his immortal opera based on the infamous and inveterate seducer Don Juan: Don Giovanni.

Having missed its release at the cinema I duly bought the DVD and waited for a quiet evening to indulge in my penchant…

I visited Prague for a long weekend many moons ago, so the cinematography brought back a nostalgic longing. The screen filled with panoramic scenery: vibrant pinky sunsets over the city’s ancient spires, the Charles Bridge at dawn and the cobbled streets of the old city.

Not since Miloš Forman’s brilliant film Amadeus (adapted by Peter Shaffer from his stage play) has a movie been made about Mozart.  Hardly surprising, that’s a tough act to follow!

Tom Hulce’s performance of Mozart in Amadeus was the one that was seared into my mind. How would I react to someone else playing the beloved maestro?

However,  I thought the Welsh actor Aneurin Barnard did an incredible job. I had already become a fan of his from his part as the unfortunate Richard III in the television adaptation of Phillipa Gregory’s The White Princess.

Compared to Hulce’s performance Barnard’s Mozart has more depth, is more relatable; not as jocular and altogether less flamboyant and hysterical (his baby son has just died and Constanze has retreated to a spa to recover).

Barnard looks like Wolfgang and he portrays a thoughtful, but nonetheless jovial maestro; who comes across as a deeply caring person and passionate about his music.

His passion extends to his beautiful new soprano for the role of Cherubino in Figaro; the young and ambitious Zuzanna Lubtak (Morfydd Clark).

Interlude in Prague (directed by John Stephenson), was wise to focus only on one aspect of the maestro’s iconic and turbulent life: his brief time in Prague in 1787.

Many aspects of the film were historically accurate; they filmed the exterior theatre scenes at the Estates Theatre where Mozart actually premiered Don Giovanni in October 1787. In Mozart’s day it was known as the Nostitz Theatre, built in around two years for the aristocrat František Antonín Count Nostitz Rieneck. It is the only surviving theatre in the world where Mozart performed.

The concerts were given by candlelight, the internal workings of the theatre were 18th century, and in rehearsals and the composing scenes Mozart played on an authentic clavichord. The costumes were a sumptuous delight to my aesthetic eye.

Mozart’s last minute completion of his opera is shown at the end of the film in a scene in which the maestro, quill in hand, feverishly completes his autograph score. Constanze immediately hands it to the copyists who then pass the sheets with barely dried ink to the theatre director who distributes it to the orchestra with no time left for rehearsal. They must sight read for the world premiere of Don Giovanni with Mozart conducting.

Interview with the director and members of the cast:

It is December 1786 and soprano Josefa Duchek, (Samantha Barks) is on stage singing an aria from Le Nozze di Figaro.  Whilst her heavenly voice rings out into the hushed auditorium another, less pure act is being committed in a dressing room.  We do not see the participants but we know that the haughty and lecherous Baron Saloka (James Purefoy) is sowing his philandering seeds…

Josefa is the toast of Prague and afterwards in her dressing room, the licentious and predatory Baron Saloka is visiting her with lustful motives. Thwarted on this occasion by the sheer number of fans clamouring outside the door, Josefa’s relief is palpable.

When Mozart arrives and begins composing at his friend Josefa’s residence he tells her about a “diabolically wicked character for one of your operas”.

The plot of the movie cleverly parallels that of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni. The Baron Saloka is the unrepentant rake – but will he be punished?

The baron reluctantly agrees to offer Mozart his patronage at the behest of the enthusiastic aristocracy, who want nothing more than for the great maestro to conduct the final performance of the Marriage of Figaro and to write his next opera in their city.

Baron Saloka has more than what he states is a “professional” interest in the talented Zuzanna Lubtak, but she has lost her heart to Mozart. Although Mozart clearly adores his wife, he is unable to resist Zuzanna’s innocent charm and pure voice as they rehearse her parts in Figaro.

I really loved the scene where she sings ‘Voi che sapete’ to Mozart. If you know the aria and its meaning it has a poignant effect.

There is no clip of this from the film, so here is a wonderful performance (with the words), by Cecilia Bartoli:

The baron’s flagrant abuse of power and position is entirely befitting the dark D minor key of the opening bars of the Overture to Don Giovanni. He preys on servants and nobility alike, assured of their silence out of fear.  Unhindered in his quest for carnal pleasure, his vanity and promiscuity drive him to commit murder.

“Don Giovanni is beginning to frighten me.” ~ Mozart

He even has a scheming manservant like Don Giovanni’s Leporello. The baron is also in league with an envoy from the Archbishop of Salzburg, allied in their hatred for “the loathsome little peacock” who they aim to disgrace for his relationship with Zuzanna.

I do not wish to spoil the plot other than to say if you like thrillers, or Mozart, or period drama, or even all three, Interlude in Prague is a must watch.

There is a tragic scene in a graveyard where Mozart is transfixed on a large, foreboding dark stone statue wearing a helmet – standing before him as the character of the Commendatore.

My only disappointment was that they didn’t feature my favourite aria from Don Giovanni, ‘La ci darem la mano’.

Interlude in Prague mirror’s Mozart’s life in a wonderful blend of fact and fiction, written and created by Brian Ashby.  In addition to the setting, the story, the costumes and music, the actors are all brilliant. Purefoy’s Baron Saloka made my skin crawl…

A special featurette from behind the scenes of Interlude in Prague:

To write a story around Mozart’s time in Prague and the events that inspired his writing of a darker Don Giovanni than the one he originally imagined, makes for an engaging premise. I wish I had thought of it!

In the 230 years since its world premiere in Prague, Don Giovanni continues to serve as an entertaining yet enduring cautionary tale, being one of the most popular and widely performed operas to this day.

Don Juan and the statue of the commander by Alexander-Evariste Fragonard

I’ll bid you adieu with a vintage recording of Don Giovanni:

A Helpful Lesson in the World of Energy

“We have been all wrong! What we have called matter is energy, whose vibration has been lowered as to be perceptible to the senses.” ~ Albert Einstein

It’s a rather plaintive opening to this week’s post. A series of recent events and stressful situations has caused me to feel overwhelmed, anxious, antsy and all in all, emotionally battered. With nasty old thought patterns rearing their ugly heads, my energy channels almost reached overload and I was feeling lost. I couldn’t see a way out and I wasn’t able to deal effectively with what life was throwing at me.

The trouble is, when you act unconsciously you are usually unaware of it at the time the behaviour occurs, and so a downward cycle can hinder us in balancing our energy and removing blockages that, if left buried and unexpressed or unreleased, can cause physical illness as well as emotional distress.


I was lucky to have the help and support of a close friend and very special lady who is helping me in many areas of my life.

Kim was able to help me release this heavy, negative energy, restore my energy flow and emotional equilibrium.  The technique she used was new to me, (although similar in some respects to other energy healing therapies I have come across), known as EmoTrance, or EMO – Energy in Motion.

What is EmoTrance/EMO?

It’s all energy

Quantum Physics asserts that everything in the universe is pure energy at the sub atomic level. Our planet, nature, our bodies, and our thoughts exist in space and time, and have a certain vibration.


The founder of EMO, Dr. Silvia Hartmann, explains how the metaphor of water is used in EmoTrance energy healing work:

After a thorough session I was feeling restored to my usual energetic self. I had some significant releases and it felt good to let go of the thoughts, feelings and energy that most definitely wasn’t helping me. As I discovered, it’s all about the flow. Blockages are bad with a capital B. Just think of drains, smells, stagnant pools and disease. My nose is crinkling already! It’s all about balance. Energy can’t be balanced if it does not flow through a system. Any system.


Walking along a sandy beach watching and listening to the regular, rhythmic sound of waves rolling onto the shore and pulling back a layer of sand or pebbles, you can fully appreciate the eternal flow of our planet. Even the unused particles of dead plants and animals get recycled into the cosmic energy field. Nature does not waste energy.


This will be an ongoing process for me as I work through my challenges. I had another realisation straight after the session, as I thought about what Kim and I had explored and its relation to a movie I had recently seen with my family, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. You may be wondering what the blazes has the Warner Bros. prequel spin-off to Harry Potter got to do with imbalances in energy?

All will be revealed post haste!

The main character in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is Newt Scamander, a wizard and magizoologist who wrote a book by the same name that was referenced in Harry Potter. JK Rowling wrote her first screenplay for the film. I thought she did a great job. She has imagined a whole new magical world that exists before Harry Potter that fans can get absorbed in.

The film is set in 1920’s New York as Newt becomes embroiled in the secret magical community just as they are battling a mysterious, powerful enemy whose spate of grisly murders are threatening to expose them to No-Maj’s (the equivalent of Muggles in Harry’s universe).

We learn that Newt, who is played by the young, quintessentially British, Oscar winning actor, Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl, The Theory of Everything), was expelled from Hogwarts and is very much an expert and lover of fantastic beasts across the world. He is making a new home for them in the wilds of Arizona where they can live safely and he can study them further. He plans to write a book about them someday…

An Obscurus in real life

Without giving away too much of the plot (in case you haven’t seen the film), I had a surge of insight about the dark, swirling entity in the movie, referred to as an obscurus.

I was especially taken with the concept of an obscurus; a malignant, uncontrollable energy form that arises in young magical children, who out of persecution and fear have suppressed their abilities and wizard identities to deny who they truly are. The obscurus eventually takes on a life force of its own, consumes and eventually kills its disturbed wizard hosts and creators. Obscuruses are destructive, malevolent and seemingly impossible to destroy.

Newt manages to capture and suspend one such entity from a dying girl with the purpose of understanding it more fully. When he comes across the source of the baleful one on the rampage in New York, the film takes a darker turn.

Through the action Rowling cleverly illustrates how unresolved anger, repression and negative emotions manifest in a fictional world.

But to me, the realm of fantasy doesn’t seem that far removed from reality. What happens to us energetically when we bury strong or unresolved emotions and transparent beliefs, is not so different to the lethal effect of the obscurus. It is an unconscious act of self-harm.

The light aspects of a person’s archetypes and their equivalent positive thoughts can become obscured by an overload to the energy centers (chakras, meridians, etc.) when a person suffers prolonged stress, or emotions triggered from a traumatic event or incident in childhood.


Left unchecked and unnoticed stagnant energy festers and can cause all sorts of physical ailments. As complex, integrated beings, our thoughts and emotions are intricately entwined with our physical bodies.

Our bodies and thoughts have been proven by physics to be nothing but energy forms, and these energy forms are either working for us or against us. I found the parallels between the field of energy healing and the Fantastic Beasts film helpful in visualising what trapped negative energy might look like, and the damage it can wreak on mind, body and soul, let alone a movie set!

Don’t feed your obscurus as I did; study it and be aware of it, and take time to top up your energy reserves if you feel depleted. I find it’s sorely needed at this time of year!

HBO’s Popular New Drama ‘Westworld’ and its Provocative Plot 🚂🛤🌵🐎🎬

“These violent delights have violent ends.” ~ Peter Abernathy

Like millions of other viewers over the past few weeks, I’ve been gripped by HBO’s latest drama ‘Westworld’, based on the eponymous 1973 film by writer and director Michael Crichton.

Trailer for the original film with Yul Brynner:

The current Westworld airing on HBO differs in plot and characterisations compared to its earlier, less sophisticated film version, but the premise is basically the same: for an exorbitant sum guests can enter a futuristic wild west theme park where there are no rules, to live out their wildest fantasies.

In Westworld they can maim, kill, rape and plunder at will and without consequences. The murdered and brutally raped inhabitants of Westworld are the creations of Dr. Robert Ford (played chillingly by Anthony Hopkins), co-founder of the park, and are designed to be indistinguishable from humans. Their technology has created highly sophisticated organic robots, programmed with certain memories and narratives that serve the human guests.

These humanoids are referred to by the park’s creators and programmers as ‘hosts’.

Dolores Abernathy

In the first episode we are acquainted with the pretty, sweet-natured Dolores Abernathy, (Evan Rachel Wood), and her loving rancher father. Dolores was the very first host made for Westworld; always youthful and unspoilt, thanks to her constant repairs and ‘upgrades’ after each episode of rough treatment she suffers at the hands of the park’s guests.

We see her going through the same motions at the start of each day, but how each day goes depends on her interactions with the human guests in the park. Her mutual affection for fellow host Teddy, (played by the handsome James Marsden), draws you in to the one beautiful aspect of her world. At first, despite the violence she witnesses on a daily basis and the rapes that she has endured, she does not appear to recall these harrowing incidents.

Or does she?

As glitches are becoming apparent in some of the hosts’ programming they are promptly questioned and either returned with adjustments or taken out of service.

Despite the staff’s efforts to curtail these glitches they only seem to become more widespread and frequent. Trouble is brewing in Westworld…

One of the most harrowing scenes for me was in episode 3 when Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton), who is currently the madam of the brothel, awakens during her repairs. She sees strange men in hazmat suits hovering over her, gets up and runs off with the wound in her stomach still unrepaired, staggering around the factory in confusion. To make matters worse she stumbles upon the naked, lifeless bodies of her fellow hosts that were also slaughtered in Westworld as they are being hosed down.

It seems she cannot compute what is happening as it is so alien to her normal world. When back in operation within Westworld she begins to draw the hazmat men on pieces of paper to try and make sense of it.

Maeve also has other distressing memories of being scalped and being killed in other settings away from her current role. It’s not easy viewing.

Although you know she and her fellow machines are not human – Dr. Ford makes a big point of telling Bernard not to forget that they are ‘not real’, you start to feel for them as though they were.

In episode 3 Robert Ford tells Bernard (his chief programmer), the story of his original business partner Arnold, who helped him to create Westworld some thirty years prior. Arnold perished in the park under mysterious circumstances, and we learn from the rather cold and detached Ford that Arnold became too attached to the park and obsessed with being able to help the hosts experience consciousness in a similar way that a human being would.

Rather cruel when you witness the atrocities they go through every day. The internal monologue he tried to imbue them with did not appear to succeed, until now perhaps… I’m sure his motives and fate will become clearer as the series progresses.


But with errant hosts and even innocent Dolores showing signs of cognition and questioning of her reality, you just know that, along the lines of the original film, the ‘hosts’ are going to rebel against their treatment sooner or later!

The hosts are unable to hurt or kill any of the human guests, but I’m not sure this will remain the case for long. And you can’t help thinking that the guests deserve whatever retribution is forthcoming from the hosts.

Newcomer William (unlike his friend, seasoned park visitor Logan), seems to be the only decent guest in the park who wants to stay true to himself and uphold his values. The park is billed as a place where guests can explore their deepest, darkest desires whilst acting in their chosen story lines and scenarios, and in most cases the free reign to do as they please in Westworld, with no repercussion, brings out the very worst in them!

The most enigmatic human guest in the park is the ‘man in black’ (played to perfection by Ed Harris), a veteran of 30 years in Westworld. In the first few episodes he comes across as pretty ruthless, but now I’m starting to suspect there is more to him than meets the eye and his agenda clearly goes beyond personal gratification. He does not act as a friend to the hosts, but could he really be on their side?

Behind the scenes look at Westworld:

It’s brutal, tender, intelligent, character driven and thought provoking; a great mix of sci-fi and good old western mixed into a mind-bending thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Artificial intelligence going wrong isn’t a new idea in films, although I think the original 1973 film must have been quite ground-breaking in its day, but the moral questions it raises are very pertinent to society.

I think that was the genius of Michael Crichton. He makes you think.

Is it okay to act in a way that you never normally would, in a setting that allows depraved fantasies of every kind to be played out?

Even though these interactions are with robots, they look and react like humans, and surely it begs the question that if you indulge in your absolute worst behaviour, it is going to affect you on some level.

There has been debate over whether the prevalence of violent video games adversely affects players and therefore makes them more prone to acts of violence. Imagine being immersed in a real world and acting in the same manner…

The insidious premise behind the park is pandering to the wealthy and morally corrupt guests of Westworld. If you wouldn’t do it to a real person, why do it to a robot that may possibly develop the senses to experience pain and suffering?

It’s a pretty compelling drama, and no doubt the lack of ethics at the heart of the park will ultimately cause the hosts to exact a bloody revenge!

I’m going to end with the opening credits, which are also brilliant and eerily congruent with the theme of artificial intelligence, violence and suspense:

“You can’t play God without being acquainted with the devil.” ~ Dr. Robert Ford

Film Review: Star Wars – The Force Awakens (spoiler-free)

On Saturday afternoon my brood and I were transported to a galaxy far, far away…

With 3D glasses perched firmly on our faces, popcorn at the ready, the familiar yellow words began slanting across the screen and John Williams’s magnificent music score surrounded us. This movie was part of their Christmas treat and expectations were high.

Chewie and Han Solo

All I can say is that JJ Abrahams had the force with him when he made this movie. To have the pressure of making the sequel to the movies that hold such a special place in the hearts of millions of fans must have been both an exciting and terrifying prospect.

By now you’ve probably seen a few reviews about this film, so I doubt I’ll say anything that you’ve haven’t already read. However, it’s my honest opinion, adding to the chorus of high praise.

It’s very rare that the hype of a film actually lives up to its own hyperbole, but in this case; in my humble opinion, it most certainly does. My eighteen year old son (who absolutely loved Star Wars and watched the first six films numerous times growing up), turned to me and said, “Mum, that was sick!” For anyone with a teenager you’ll know that’s the highest praise he could bestow on it.

For me personally, it was like stepping back briefly into my childhood. Episode’s IV-VI are so deeply embedded in my early memories that paradoxically, The Force Awakens felt familiar and also different.

The official trailer:

What I really loved about it was the two main characters, (played by Daisy Ridley and John Boyega) are both unknown actors portraying unsung heroes. You see Rey (Daisy Ridley) scavenging for old space ship parts on the arid planet of Jakku, and you sense that she is more than her circumstances suggest. Her encounter with the fleeing droid BB-8, carrying a very important map, and the AWOL Storm Trooper Finn, brings the might of the dark side to her desert home.

The edge of our seats were definitely getting more wear and tear than normal!

The film unfolds with strong focus on the characters and their stories, and the cinematography is very faithful to the themes and style of the first three films that George Lucas made. It has a true sense of reality, thankfully no overkill of CGI that can often overtake the actual people in a film.

As you would expect, you cannot have light without dark, and the darkness is infiltrating the galaxy in the form of Darth Vader wannabe Kylo Ren, commander of the ruthless and shadowy First Order under the supremely evil leader Snoke, (played by the master of scary voices, Andy Serkis).

It always boils down to the eternal battle between good and evil, and only the Jedi can bring balance to the Force.

The special effects are amazing as you would expect, but they are more a part of the film than the central focus. The chases are breath-taking, the plot twists and turns dramatically as the film progresses and the appearances of the ageing lovable rogue Han Solo, General Leia Organa, the walking carpet Chewbacca and the fastest rust-bucket in the galaxy, the Millenium Falcon, are nothing short of brilliant. I think the new, comical but loyal droid, BB-8 will become as iconic as R2-D2 and C-3PO.


It left me hungry for more, to find out exactly what happened to Luke and how things went bad for Darth Vader’s children in the thirty years after they defeated the Empire at the end of episode VI. I expect those questions will be answered in good time in the next two episodes. The family saga will continue…

So I’ve deliberately kept this post short, because I don’t want to give away any major plot points if you haven’t yet seen the film.

Even my thirteen year old son was impressed, which is no mean feat. So it’s five thumbs up from me and my sons. If you enjoyed the original films I think you’ll be satisfied that this long awaited sequel hits the spots that other sequels just can’t reach.  Its legendary characters have made pure movie magic once again.

Star Wars The Force Awakens has smashed box office records for an opening weekend, (having already made around $238 Million on its first three days of screening in the US and $517 Million globally), which is hardly surprising – it’s a great film that’s part of one of the most beloved and iconic film brands in the world. Star Wars has ignited many imaginations over generations and holds a place of true affection for countless individuals as it reminds us of the hero’s journey.  All our journeys.

We may not be fighting the First Order or the evil Empire, but we face our own struggles in our daily lives, and boy does it feel good to get involved for just a couple of hours with characters who have bigger problems than most of us. Life and death issues…the threat of annihilation…

We emerged from screen five like proper space cadets; mute from having our minds blown away…

If Master Yoda had seen the film, I’m pretty sure he’d say something like: see it you must. Depends upon it, your life does.

Film Review: Macbeth

“Stars, hide your fires; Let not light see my black and deep desires.” ~ William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Macbeth

This latest film joins the ranks of earlier TV and movie adaptations, providing a realistic, gritty and modern version with a dark touch of the supernatural, which is bound to be popular.

It’s probably no coincidence that Shakespeare penned The Tragedy of Macbeth during the reign of King James I of England (formerly King James VI of Scotland), between 1599 and 1606 with characters based on real people from Holinshead’s Chronicles.

Whilst not exactly a verse for verse reproduction (as films of plays rarely are), I think it’s true to the spirit of the play. A look behind the scenes with director Justin Kerzel and his two stars:

This Film 4 production of Macbeth is an assault on the senses. It’s not just that what you see is so brutal and visceral; it’s the intensity with which it is portrayed that is so startling.

Michael Fassbender as the tortured Macbeth and Marion Cotillard as his scheming wife are in a league of their own. Worthy of mention is David Thewlis as the King of Scotland, Sean Harris as Macduff (the Thane of Fife) and Paddy Considine as Banquo.

The combination of acting talent, amazing costumes, stunning locations, a pared back text, powerful, evocative soundtrack and visual artistry make it a worthwhile watch.

To sum up Macbeth the film in a few words, I would say it’s totally mesmerising, disturbing and compelling.


The cinematography is as epic as the on-location highland scenery of Scotland; misty mountain moors place you at the burial of the Macbeths’ child at the start. It is cold, windy and inhospitable.

Tragedy starts it all off, and tragedy certainly ends it.

We see Macbeth (the Thane of Glamis), with Banquo and his depleted army by his side, fighting for King Duncan of Scotland against Macdonwald and his group of Scottish, Irish and Nordic rebels.

Every gory detail, every scream and pained expression is framed in slow motion; including the urgency of Macbeth to reach the traitors. In the midst of the bloody battle he sees through the mayhem and smoke, three female figures and one child. They are standing where Macdonwald was. The moment seems to last forever. Then the fighting proceeds at full pelt again and Macbeth eventually emerges weary but victorious.

Theodore Chasseriau - Macbeth and Banquo meet the witches.

Theodore Chasseriau – Macbeth and Banquo meet the witches.

As he and Banquo respectfully place their dead into a pit the witches approach them. It is the fateful moment when you just know that double double, toil and trouble will haunt Macbeth ’till the end of his days. The sinister prophecy is spoken by the ‘weird sisters’. They finish with, “All hail Macbeth,” before disappearing back into the fog.

At this point echoes of “all hail Caesar” are in my mind, and you know it’s not going to end well.

It is with these words playing in his mind that he returns to his wife and village. Soon after he is rewarded by a grateful King Duncan who bestows on him the title Thane of Cawdor as foretold by the witches, and his thoughts turns to the crown.

The spellbinding 1979 performance by Judi Dench of Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy after she hears of Macbeth’s strange and prophetic visitation:

Macbeth is persuaded by Lady Macbeth (whilst they engage in carnal pleasure), to do away with Duncan as he sleeps in his tent at their home. Sexually sated and consumed with a deadly purpose, Macbeth walks menacingly towards the king’s tent.

Torrential rain is falling and while Duncan’s body guards lay slumped in a wine induced stupor he commits regicide in a frenzied dagger attack.  Lady Macbeth later places the bloody daggers into the hands of the sleeping guards to deflect blame from her husband. Gruesome as this murder is, it’s not the most horrifying scene in the film.

The rain may have washed the king’s blood off his hands, but it’s now ingrained in his soul, the poison has already begun its inevitable journey to Macbeth’s heart. You see the glint of unbridled ambition burn in his eyes. The acting is just chilling.

A little water has not ‘cleared them of their deeds’ as Lady Macbeth suggested it would in the aftermath of Duncan’s murder, in an attempt to assuage them of guilt.

Once the ‘gold round’ is on his head Macbeth slides further into paranoia and hunger for total power. You see that he is cursed as he ponders the witches words, the fact that he has no heir and has won the royal line for Banquo’s seed. Macbeth tells his wife whilst pointing a dagger at her empty womb, “Full of scorpions is my mind”.

And so his henchmen hunt down and strike down the unfortunate loyal Banquo in an act of utter betrayal that is only slightly lessened by the fact that his son, Fleance escapes the steel blade of his father’s slayers. Distasteful as it is, it’s still not the worst scene in the film.

The weirdness of the banquet seals Macbeth’s fate. The sight of his murdered friend Banquo at the table confounds and confuses Macbeth, now racked with guilt over his treachery, causing him to react strangely and lose face among his people. Macduff begins to smell a rat and leaves.

Another visit to the witches leaves Macbeth confident of his victory, killing off his last remnants of kindness and moral rectitude. He is now dead inside and willing to stop at nothing to crush his enemies.

I’m not sure I can articulate the horrors that Macbeth goes on to commit; the grief etched on Marion Cotillard’s face show us his wife cannot believe that he is capable of it either. The latter part of the movie has some pretty haunting scenes, which prove too much even for Lady Macbeth.

In her sleep she is dreaming she’s back at the chapel of their old village with her dead child. She is tired of the power struggles and the monster her husband has become, a path that she herself pushed him onto. It makes for a poignant scene.

Here are her words taken from the text in what is Act 5 Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s play:

Yet here’s a spot.

Out, damned spot! out, I say! – One: two: why, then, ’tis time to do’t. – Hell is murky! – Fie, my lord, fie! A soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account? – Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him.

The thane of Fife had a wife: where is she now? – What, will these hands ne’er be clean? – No more o’that, my lord, no more o’ that: you mar all with this starting.

Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, oh, oh!

Wash your hands, put on your nightgown; look not so pale. – I tell you yet again, Banquo’s buried; he cannot come o

To bed, to bed!

There’s knocking at the gate: come, come, come, come, give me your hand. What’s done cannot be undone. – To bed, to bed, to bed!

And thus, she never wakes up. Meanwhile an inconsolable Macduff and Malcolm (the elder son of Duncan), return from England to Dunsinane to wreak revenge on Macbeth for their murdered loved ones.

Fire now rages beyond the walls of Dunsinane and Macbeth goes defiant into battle once more. In one on one combat he has his sword at Macduff’s throat – believing he cannot be harmed by a man born to a woman – when Macduff splutters that he was untimely ripped from his mother’s belly.

Macbeth seems only now to fully comprehend the evil empty promises that the witches have instilled in his mind and the hatred he felt for Macduff evaporates into the red smoke that fills the screen, as the camera hones in on their darkened bodies and grubby, agonised faces, the outer sign of their troubled souls.

Macbeth then allows Macduff to strike him down on the battlefield. The final scene shows a courageous Fleance pulling Macbeth’s sword from the scorched earth and running into the distance like a child warrior.

This film is a very human tale of seduction, deceit, quest for political power and betrayal. My sympathy for Macbeth only returned at the very end; a broken, pitiable figure when he recognises the tyrant he has become and what it has cost him.

It’s gut churning action and powerful soliloquys from beginning to end. All in all, a gripping film, even if the turn of events are hard to watch at times. I emerged from the cinema into a cold rainy night somewhat traumatised!

A must see for Shakespeare connoisseurs and Bardolaters alike…

“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,

To the last syllable of recorded time;

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.” ~ William Shakespeare, Macbeth

Film Review: Still Alice (Guest Blog by Beth Britton)

I should begin this blog by giving a very sizable ‘spoiler’ alert! If you haven’t yet seen Still Alice, then you may want to save this blog to read after you’ve watched the film, and by way of encouragement to view this multi award-winning movie, I would highly recommend it, albeit with a few caveats that I am going to explore in a moment.

Still Alice

Still Alice, based on the novel by Lisa Genova, has wowed critics and collected a series of gongs for its portrayal of how the world of 50-year-old Professor Alice Howland is affected by a diagnosis of younger-onset (early-onset) Alzheimer’s Disease. Alice is married with three children, and has built up a career as a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard and is a world-renowned linguistics expert. Such is the devastation Alice feels at her diagnosis that she admits to her husband that she would have rather been diagnosed with cancer, an admission that isn’t uncommon.

Cancer v dementia

The comparisons between cancer and dementia are stark. In the UK, the government invests eight times more in cancer research than dementia research. When a person is diagnosed with cancer, a uniform package of post-diagnostic care and support wraps around the individual. When a person is diagnosed with dementia they may get some support, they may not, but there isn’t a uniform model of post-diagnostic support and it’s often subject to a postcode lottery. Particularly notable in relation to a younger person like Alice being diagnosed is that specialised younger-onset post-diagnostic services are even harder to find.

Even the stigma attached to cancer is less than dementia, and most significantly of all many cancers, if diagnosed early enough and treated, are curable, whereas no matter which form of dementia you are diagnosed with, it’s terminal. This reality has made dementia the most feared disease in people over 50, and in the UK, dementia is now the leading cause of death amongst women.

Diagnosis and beyond

What Still Alice shows brilliantly is the pain of diagnosis, and the way in which the layers of the diagnosed individual’s life are stripped away. Julianne Moore’s performance is extremely compelling, and I applaud her for the huge amount of research that she obviously put into depicting Alice to make the struggles that the character has so believable, so emotional and so heart-breaking.

Still Alice - beach

If anything, though, there is almost too much loss and trauma in Still Alice. Specifically, what disappointed me about the film was the apparent lack of support given to Alice and her family, making the prospect of living well almost impossible. A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease given to a person of Alice’s age is obviously personally devastating given the implications on the career she has so studiously built up, but two factors made this diagnosis painful beyond belief.

Heart-breaking moments

Firstly, Alice’s Alzheimer’s is one of the rare types of younger-onset Alzheimer’s that is familial, so there is a 50/50 chance Alice’s three children will also have the gene, and if they do, they are certain to go on to develop the same form of Alzheimer’s as their mother. Learning that was, for me, the first really heart-breaking moment of the film. I was expecting Alice and her family to be offered counselling, but we only ever see Alice interacting with her neurologist.

The second particularly painful realisation is that the form of Alzheimer’s Alice has is likely to progress rapidly, and even allowing for the artistic licence of the film-making world there is no doubt that Alice deteriorates at an alarming rate. Given her and her family’s comfortable lifestyle and connections, not to mention the fact that they are articulate and capable of asking for help or searching for examples of good practice, I was really surprised to see almost no support mechanisms to help Alice as she lives with her dementia.

A missed opportunity to show living well

I would have expected someone to advise Alice and her family on coping mechanisms, and specifically someone to work with Alice to help her live as independently and actively as possible. Clearly she comes to rely very heavily on her mobile phone and we see her using a computer and Skype, but there is no other technology that is obvious to the audience.

Even more simple than that I would have expected some signage around the home and their beach house to help Alice navigate her way around. Instead, she is left to panic when she can’t remember where the toilet is, resulting in her eventually wetting herself, a highly poignant and very upsetting moment in the film.

Combined pictorial and word signs, plus pathways to important places like the toilet – signified by footsteps or lights – can really help a person with dementia to remain independent for longer in their own home and avoid embarrassing and upsetting accidents. Likewise, prompts in the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom can help a person with dementia to complete daily tasks, and in relation to the bathroom, mirrors are often removed to avoid the person with dementia feeling distressed or confused by reflections.

Still Alice - ratings

Alice’s husband

Given Julianne Moore’s phenomenal performance it is easy to overlook some of the other characters in the film but one particular character drew me in. Alice’s husband, John, is a formidable figure who, like his wife, has a successful career. When Alice first discusses her concerns about her brain, he completely dismisses them, and questions her neurologist when Alice’s diagnosis is confirmed.

From that moment on, however, he is obviously caught in two worlds, much like so many other partners of people who are living with dementia. On the one hand he wants to be her husband and reassure and protect Alice, but he also feels a need to continue his successful career and to provide financial support. There is a particularly tender moment between Alice and John when he is supporting her to get dressed – a scene that so many family carers will recognise.

In the end it seems he almost admits defeat, and when younger daughter Lydia moves back home to look after her mother, her father poignantly breaks down and praises Lydia’s ability to put her career on hold to care for her mother, suggesting it is a commitment he could not make.

Highs and lows

The most uplifting moment of the film arguably comes when Alice stands up in an Alzheimer’s Association conference and talks candidly about her experiences of living with dementia. I have been fortunate to see many people who are living with dementia in the UK do likewise and the effect on audiences is really beyond words – it’s almost as if you can see people’s perceptions changing before your eyes.

For me, the darkest moment of the movie is when Alice, fairly soon after her diagnosis, makes a film leaving herself instructions on how to end her life. When she later discovers that film she tries to enact the instructions and is disturbed, leaving the audience to ponder the long-debated arguments over euthanasia and the right of a person with a terminal illness to end their own life.

In conclusion

What Still Alice has done brilliantly is to break down stereotypes – dementia isn’t just something older people develop, which Alice’s diagnosis clearly shows. It also depicts the struggles between intellect, articulation and the degeneration associated with dementia very accurately. It shows the turmoil that family relationships go through when a loved one is diagnosed with dementia and, particularly notably for younger people, it shows how the loss of your job and career strips away so much of how the person sees themselves and experiences their life.

Still Alice - Maria Shriver quoteThat said, (call me greedy), but I’m left wanting more. I wanted to climb into the screen and gently help to guide Alice, giving her support and some hope, enabling her to find the strategies that could have made her day to day life easier, helping her and her family to find the things to do that create special moments, and giving Alice and her loved ones some ideas around the opportunities to live well.

Currently there isn’t a cure for Alice’s Alzheimer’s, but the real achievement for me is to make the life of a lady who has had such a rich and rewarding 50 years prior to her dementia diagnosis as rich and rewarding as possible in her last years with Alzheimer’s. If Still Alice had managed to do that, it would have been a film that left me with more hope than sadness for the future of everyone diagnosed with dementia.

Beth Britton is a Freelance Campaigner and Consultant, Writer and Blogger specialising in issues affecting older people, health and social care and specifically dementia. Beth’s dad had vascular dementia for approximately the last 19 years of his life. She aims to provide support and advice to those faced with similar situations, inform and educate health and care professionals and the wider population, promote debate and create improvements in dementia care. Her work has been described as “Terrific,” “Amazing. REAL story of dementia,” “Insightful, heartfelt and truthful,” “Moving and inspiring.”

Movie Review: Why I Love The English Patient

“We are the real countries, not the boundaries drawn on maps with the names of powerful men.”

There are many reasons why Michael Ondaatje’s literary novel, The English Patient, dramatised in 1996 by award winning screen writer and director Anthony Minghella, is my favourite film. It’s just breath-taking on so many levels.

TunisiaThe geography of the film’s narrative is every bit as epic as the geography of its location: North Africa. The cinematography is mesmerising, as we see the opening scenes of the brush strokes on paper, and look down from the Tiger Moth over endless Sahara sand dunes, and then we hear that exotic music, by Gabriel Yared with the haunting voice of Márta Sebestyén.

The sweeping shots of the desert and the contours of the dunes are reminiscent of the female form, which adds to the sensory aspects of the film. Also, I never knew what a suprasternal notch was beforehand!

The characters are making maps of the desert, but they are also mapping each other’s souls.

Although it’s brutal in many aspects, both visually and in the writing, with the patient’s horribly burnt body and its theme of war and betrayal, the film is also deeply sensual, portraying beauty as well as pain in the all-consuming love the characters feel as they are embroiled in the carnage.

The hauntingly beautiful soundtrack (Harry Rabinowitz, As Far As Florence):

Egypt during the Second World War is the backdrop for the intense fictional love story of cartographer and aviator, Count László de Almásy and the feisty married English woman, Katharine Clifton, which gives a unique context to their story in history. Then there’s the acting. Ralph Fiennes is at his finest! The chemistry between Ralph and Kristin Scott Thomas, who play the doomed lovers, is palpable. Everything about this film is perfect. The music, the setting, the script, the casting, the way it unfolds on screen…

In fact, there’s more than one love story going on. There’s also the Canadian nurse (Hana), who cares for László in his last days, setting them up in the partly destroyed and deserted Italian villa San Girolamo. She gradually coaxes his poignant memories from him, which is how we learn of his love for Katharine. But Juliette Binoche, who plays Hana, has lost everyone she cared about earlier in the war and believes she is cursed. As she cares for the English patient whilst coming to terms with her own emotional scars, she falls in love with the courageous and dignified Indian bomb disposal expert, Kirpal Singh (Kip), played by Naveen Andrews. The scene where they meet for the first time is pure genius.

Then there’s David Caravaggio (Willem Dafoe), the bitter and traumatised allied thief turned spy, looking for vengeance against the man who handed aerial maps to the German’s, leading to his subsequent capture and torture. Their coming together at the villa changes them all, irrevocably.

The_English_Patient_PosterThe film is beautifully shot, mostly through the patient’s flashbacks, starting at the tragic end and then taking you to the beginning of their story, when Katharine and her husband Geoffrey arrive in the desert to join the group for their map making expedition. You can see from László’s expression as he watches Katharine when she stands before them reading Herodotus, telling the party of the Royal Geographical Society explorers the story of Candaules and Gyges; that it’s love at first sight.

The tension and social differences between them leaps out from the screen. His following her in the market and the purchase of the thimble, the discovery of the cave of swimmers at Gilf Kebir, the first time they make love. Its intensity is visceral.

As well as the passionate love affair at the centre of the story it’s also about forgiveness and the power of the human spirit under almost unbearable circumstances.  All around them, as war is breaking out and lives are being destroyed, everyday human emotions are magnified and motivations heightened.

Laszlo and HanaIt’s an emotional experience to see how the lives of the four central characters are changed by their interactions with each other, and the redemption that Hana feels from her kindness towards the English patient. Perhaps the most moving of all, is the closure and passing for the central character himself (loosely based on the real László Almásy), as we understand his torment and the reason for his seemingly reprehensible actions.

I hope I have given you a flavour of the film, and if you haven’t seen it I don’t want to spoil every delicious nuance and lingering stare. Needless to say, I picked out some of my favourite scenes to whet your appetite!

Candaules tells Gyges…

Shall I play Bach?

Let me tell you about winds:

Happy Christmas:

The Thimble:

I’ll always go back to that church:

Katherine’s letter:

It’s a total triumph, and in my humble opinion Anthony Minghella’s best picture. It won 9 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress, and grossed over $200 million at the box office.

The English Patient is an emotional rollercoaster that hooks you from the start and spits you out at the end, broken and sobbing (well, it did me anyway)… It’s best to have a stash of chocolates, a comfy sofa, and a box of tissues at the ready.

I never get bored of watching The English Patient, and have seen it many times, now I really must read the actual book that it was based on!

“She had always wanted words, she loved them; grew up on them. Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape.” ~ Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

Auditioning, Acting and Parallel Parking – Random Experiences of a Child Actor and his Mum!

My youngest son, William Chapman, who is now 12, has been attending the Jackie Palmer Stage School in High Wycombe since he was about 4 years old. He has learnt a great deal in his time there, and whilst he doesn’t enjoy singing and dancing so much now he’s a teenager, he is passionate about acting and drama.

rsz_wills_and_daniel2 (2)

At Madame Tussauds with Daniel Craig, aka James Bond.

Over the years he has attended many auditions, and I have a few stories to tell there…

The most notable one was when he went for the part of Alfie in ‘May Contain Nuts’ the ITV two part drama adaptation of John O’Farrell’s satirical book. I remember Emily was only about four months old at the time, and because it was in West London I drove rather than taking the mainline train to Marylebone (which is what we always do for central London locations). This was a mistake. I was running late, (as usual), and I couldn’t find anywhere to park. I was worried that Will might miss his slot so I parked on double yellow lines, thinking we’d only be a few minutes.

Mostly, it’s a whole lot of travelling for ten minutes in with the casting director – if you are lucky; but this day it was a bit more involved so we were there longer than usual. I was mainly concerned with making sure my infant daughter didn’t bawl the place out!

may_contain_nutsWilliam was only about 5 then, and unburdened by the nerves he can sometimes suffer from these days. He seemed to relax and thoroughly enjoy himself. We left and went back into the road, and walked to where I parked the car; only there was no car. With my car gone, and the kids in tears, I ran back into the casting agency and became somewhat hysterical. They were brilliant; they called Westminster Council and established where my car had been taken, then called me a taxi to get there. I had to walk along the most massive underground car park in Mayfair carrying a baby in a car seat with a 5 and 9 year old wailing and moaning beside me. I duly paid the £250 to get my car back and drove home. As you can image the air was somewhat blue inside my mind!

There is a happy ending though, despite my drama they cast Wills as Alfie, it was his first TV drama role.

When I look at him sitting in the car seat he looks so young and blond! Here he is in part 1 with his pretend family:  mum Shirley Henderson, dad, Darren Boyd, and siblings Bebe Cave and Andrew Byrne:

I also remember another more recent occasion when I took Will, Max and Ruby (who was also only a few months old at the time), up to central London for an audition. We visited Hamleys on our way back but while we were inside the store it began to snow. Heavily. When we struggled through the throngs of Christmas shoppers and emerged onto Regent Street we were faced with blizzard conditions and rush hour. By the time our train pulled into High Wycombe station the whole country had virtually ground to a halt under the white onslaught, and nobody could get their cars out of the station car park. I had visions of us sleeping over night in a freezing car, or making a kind of arctic expedition on foot, which I didn’t relish with a cold and hungry baby. I think it was about midnight by the time we eventually got home with a little help from our family.

He’s done some varied work over the years: radio, commercials, children’s TV, Panto (Snow White) at the Swan Theatre, filming & photo shoots for Oxford University Press, Breathless and May Contain Nuts on ITV and BBC Learning.

Being a proud mum I couldn’t resist showing off his efforts as the young Edward Jenner for BBC Learning:

I finally persuaded him to write a brief account of his recent filming as an ‘extra’ (tribal kid), on the Warner Bros. summer blockbuster for 2015, Pan.

RAF-Cardington01-fullWorking as an extra in Pan is amazing; it’s such an awesome experience! But it’s hard work though, ten hour days plus one hour journeys each way to the studios. It was very tiring. I normally had a 6.45am start at the rendezvous, where we travelled by minibus to Cardington Studios in Bedfordshire.

Luckily we always had a warm welcome and a warm breakfast to wake us up. Costume fitting and makeup took about an hour, but it was good to admire all the costumes.

pan_wordsearch (2)Arrgghh! Tutoring! This was next in my day. Tutoring could be fun though, and so it was a lot more enjoyable than school. One time we did a huge planned court case which was really interesting. Sometimes we didn’t go on set but on this day we did.

Once on set we were sheltering from the pirates under the ship’s floorboards and we had to be terrified! Our chief gets shot by Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman), so remember to look out for that scene if you watch the movie.

After lunch we just did more tutoring then we went back on set for a retake of the earlier scene, but we were lucky enough to meet and say hi to Hugh Jackman! We gave him a high five, awesome right?

Well, that’s my day as an extra.

movie clapper boardIt was great to collect him at the end of a busy day, and hear him enthuse about a multitude of impressions such as: exploding mud, the energy of being on set, watching the actors practising their sword fighting skills, the delicious meals they had for lunch, meeting other young actors from a few other stage schools, including Levi Miller who plays Peter Pan.

It has been a wonderful experience for him.  For most of June and some of July he was filming (about 15 days), so I’m hoping it won’t be a case of blink and you’ll miss him when I get to see it! It’s due for release on 26th June 2015, I can’t wait…

Okay folks, I guess that’s a wrap!