Andrew’s Columns


There once was a magazine called The Word, although I always called it Word, as that it what it was originally called. Had I never written a single word for Word, I would have been its most ardent admirer (and subscriber), and would have lamented its passing with the same moistened eyes. As it happens, I did write for it, but I looked forward to the new issue arriving every month for 114 consecutive months between February 2003 and August 2012 not just to see how my words looked on the hallowed page, but to read all the other words by all the other smart and witty people on all the other pages.

Records show that I began writing a regular page column for Word at the very end of 2004, initially about TV and called Telly Addict. (Not a bad name.) In November 2006, that column’s brief was expanded to include … everything. It was renamed Whatever to reflect this. Whatever ran until the end of 2010, when it stopped. I was sad about this, but pulled myself together and carried on writing reviews and features for my favourite magazine until its final issue, including the third before last cover story, about the Stone Roses. (My only other cover story was Elbow, both pictured.)

As the magazine did not reprint its articles or reviews on the website (which instead predominantly acted as a water cooler for the Word massive), I find I am sitting on an awful lot of my own published writing that I remain very proud of. With the passing of the years, some of it even takes on a socio-historical sheen. So, without rhyme or reason – and mainly because I chanced up a random column from 2010 about the disruption to life as we know it caused by an Icelandic volcano while clearing out my email’s “sent” folder this morning – I thought it might be fun, if not necessarily an actual public service, to reproduce some of these columns here.

I hope you enjoy them, and that they bring back some fond memories of an era when you could publish magazines and a loyal knot of the discerning would buy them.


An index of columns randomly posted so far:

June 2010 | Memories of the Great Volcano Inconvenience
November 2008 | The branding of everything
September 2008 | Unquestioning TV festival coverage
March 2007 | Health food packaged for idiots
June 2009 | The age of the overstatement
April 2009 | Choosing a daily newspaper
November 2010 | The death of the printed word
April 2010 | 3D or not 3D?
August 2008 | Barack Obama
January 2009 | Grey squirrels
July 2007 | Indie and the charts


Music 2013: Where are we now?


Ah, music. A whole calendar year without once stepping in front of the mic at 6 Music has seriously affected the equilibrium of my musical clearing house. Though I seem to have been jettisoned by the network, my DJ’s pigeonhole was not sealed up, so some new music still got through, thanks to an assortment of kindly pluggers and expectant artists and managers, all of whom were sending me records in good faith that I might play them on the radio. This was not to be. (My only success in this regard was composing a piece celebrating 80s indie for Front Row on Radio 4, which allowed me to play short bursts of classics like Candy Skin by the Fire Engines and Don’t Come Back by the Marine Girls on national radio, not to mention plug Cherry Red’s historic Scared To Get Happy compilation.) Still, it means I have heard some new music in 2013, although not much. As I have discovered to music’s cost, there’s nothing like having a radio show to focus, organise and refresh your musical tastes. (I still miss the good influence of Josie Long and it’s been two years now!)

My exile from 6 Music has nonetheless pushed me back into the real world, where albums must be purchased. This really concentrates the mind. It makes your purchases more conservative. You buy records by artists you already like – Arcade Fire, My Bloody Valentine, a resurgent David Bowie – although I’d lately lost my faith in Arctic Monkeys and hadn’t even sought out their new album AM for old times’ sake, but then I saw them storm it on Later and I put my money on the counter. So that’s how it works. I won’t order my Top 10 albums, as in earning a place here, they are all winners. I am on friendly terms with three of these artists. Luckily, they have all made records I like this year.

My Bloody Valentine m b v (m b v)
David Bowie The Next Day (ISO/Columbia)
Arcade Fire Reflektor (Sonovox)
Jon Hopkins Immunity (Domino)
Various Artists Scared To Get Happy (Cherry Red)
Kitchens Of Distinction Folly (3Loop)
Billy Bragg Tooth & Nail (Bragg Central)
Jim Bob What I Think About When I Think About You (The Ten Forty Sound)
Chris T-T and The Hoodrats The Bear (Xtra Mile)
Arctic Monkeys AM (Domino)


I accept that the modern music scene is based on tracks, but I shall continue to call them songs, as I pretty much hate the modern world. A few songs have filtered through and found purchase and these are them.

Rob St John and the Coven Choir Charcoal Black and the Bonny Grey/Shallow Brown (Song By Toad)
Steve Mason Fight Them Back (Double Six)*
Cud Louise
Daft Punk Get Lucky (Daft Life/Columbia)
Cloud Boat Wanderlust (Apollo)
This Many Boyfriends Tina Weymouth (Angular)
Low Plastic Cup (Sub Pop)*
The Wonder Stuff Get Up! (IRL)**

*These singles both came out at the very end of 2012, but I didn’t hear either until 2013, and I think they were on albums released in 2013, so fuck off.
**I think this one did, as well.

Twenty Twelve: Books


It’s a fair cop. I haven’t read many books this year. The blame for this we can lay squarely at the door of the New Yorker, which continues to hog my reading time. In fact, how I managed to read anything else this year remains a mystery. Word magazine commissioned me to review a couple of novels – prequels to Trainspotting and The Godfather, by Irvine Welsh and Ed Falco, respectively, neither of which was up to much – and I fear that without Kate Mossman slinging a paperback my way, 2013 may see even less in my book pile. (I did promise not to buy any new books in 2012 until I’d finished reading all of my unread books, and I broke that resolution three times.)

The 9/11 Wars Jason Burke (Allen Lane) This came out in hardback in 2010, but I used a voucher to buy it in early 2011, and I confess I’m still reading it, but after Burke’s definitive Al-Qaeda, I knew I’d love it, and I do.
Pity The Billionaire Thomas Franks (Harvill Secker)
Driving Jarvis Ham Jim Bob (The Friday Project)
The History of the NME Pat Long (Portico)
How Soon is Now?: The Madmen and Mavericks who made Independent Music 1975-2005 Richard King (Faber)
Keynes: Return of The Master Robert Skidelsky (Penguin) This came out in 2010, and I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s a great primer for the economist whose name has been most quoted since the crash, sometimes in vain, sometimes not.
The Road to Serfdom Friedrich Hayek (Routledge) And this came out in 1944, but I was moved to pick up a lovely old secondhand copy in order to try to understand right-wing thinkers. (Hayek is named as often as Friedman and Rand by free marketeers.) It’s hard going, and again, I can’t say I’ve finished it yet, but I’m afraid right-wing thinkers are still alien to me.
The Great Unwashed Gary and Warren Pleece (Escape Books)

That’s nine books. Must try harder. Well, I would try harder, but that would involve cancelling my subscription to the New Yorker. It’s not as if I’ve been playing computer games instead of reading. And I must mention the redesigned BFI Film Classics, which came out in August, and the BFI very kindly sent me. They now look as good as they read.

Microsoft Word - BFI and CR winner annoucement.doc

My favourite book of 2013, so far:
Bedsit Disco Queen Tracey Thorn (Virago) I’ll write about this honest, evocative memoir in February, when it’s actually published.

Twenty Twelve: TV

TA79grab TA81grabCMFcustard8TA78grabBorgenBakeSJ1TA77grabTA75grabTA82grab

Well, I’ve certainly put the hours in this year in terms of TV. My first full calendar year of writing and recording Telly Addict every week: that’s a lot of percentage in the Sky+ tank. Because I am now duty-bound to review all the exciting new stuff – and that means stuff I wouldn’t normally watch, like Red Or Black, TOWIE and The Apprentice – I find myself watching and analysing the first episode of everything, but not always bothering to watch the second episode. There are only so many hours in the day etc.

This, if you run a finger down my final list, accounts for the fact that Secret State, which I wasn’t sure about to start with, makes the list, and The Town, which I was sure about, doesn’t. I saw the former through to the bitter end, which means something, and I found myself unable to summon up the enthusiasm to see how The Town turned out, which also means something. My enthusiasm for The Great British Bake Off was entirely sincere: I couldn’t wait for the next episode. This is how I feel about the re-runs of Friday Night Lights: can’t wait. (Although the Guardian erroneously claimed that I judged The Bake Off to be “the best TV show of 2012”, when, in fact, it was simply my favourite.)

It seems obsessive and random to put these fantastic shows in any kind of qualitative order, so I’ll leave them in the order that they occurred to me. I’m not sure whether or not I ought to apologise for the proliferation of shows on Sky Atlantic. The channel has a deal with HBO; ergo, it’s where all the best imports turn up. Sorry (There, I apologised.) Oh, and by the way, I enjoyed some of the Olympics on the BBC, and Euro 2012, on the BBC and ITV, but found Gary Lineker a bit irksome on both.

The Great British Bake Off, BBC2
Line Of Duty, BBC2
Game of Thrones, Season 2, Sky Atlantic
Boardwalk Empire, Season 3, Sky Atlantic
Hunderby, Sky Atlantic
The Fear, C4
Homefront, ITV1
Fresh Meat, Series 2, C4
Friday Night Dinner, Series 2, C4
Michael Portillo’s Great Continental Railway Journeys, BBC2
Sherlock, Series 2, BBC1
Borgen, BBC4
The Bridge, BBC4
Homeland, Seasons 1-2, c4
Twenty Twelve, Series 2, BBC2
Chatsworth, BBC2
Inside Claridge’s, BBC2
The Thick Of It, Series 4, BBC4
Eastbound and Down, Season 3, FX
The Walking Dead, Season 3, FX
American Horror Story: Asylum, FX
Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy, E4
Friday Night Lights, Seasons 1-3, Sky Atlantic
Girls, Sky Atlantic
Mid Morning Matters with Alan Partidge, Sky Atlantic
The Newsroom, Sky Atlantic
Veep, Sky Atlantic
Secret State, C4
Top of the Pops, 1977, BBC4
Man About The House, Series 3-5, ITV3
Horror Europa with Mark Gatiss, BBC4
Loving Miss Hatto, BBC1
Downton Abbey, Series 3/Christmas Special, ITV1
Mrs Biggs, ITV1
Celebrity MasterChef, BBC2
Modern Family, Season 4, Sky1
Exposure: The Other Side of Jimmy Savile, ITV1
The Bletchley Circle, ITV1

Feel free to nominate shows you loved. I fell out with Downton during Series 2, but was surprised to find myself back onboard with Series 3. I also thought that Gates, on Sky Living, came out very well, but since I was one of its writers, I am unable to trust my own judgement. We must try Sky Living’s judgement, though, and it won’t be returning for a second series.

Twenty Twelve: Films


I think I’m ready to commit now. Here are my Top 20 films of 2012. From where I’m sitting – which is usually in a cinema, with a paid-for ticket in my hand, watching something subtitled, but not exclusively – it’s been a very good year: stimulating, surprising, modest and varied. (I’ve discounted reissues from the Top 20, although there are very few films I loved as much as Ordet and Le Quai des brumes.)

1 Once Upon A Time In Anatolia | Nuri Bilge Ceylan | Turkey/Bosnia and Herzegovina
2 Amour | Michael Haneke | Austria/France/Germany
3 Sightseers | Ben Wheatley | UK
4 Aurora | Christi Piui | Romania
5 The Kid With A Bike | Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne | Belgium/France/Italy
6 Marvel Avengers Assemble | Joss Whedon | US
7 Beasts Of The Southern Wild | Benh Zeitlin | US
8 The Master | Paul Thomas Anderson | US
9 The Hunt | Thomas Vinterberg | Denmark
10 Martha Marcy May Marlene | Sean Durkin | US

11 Carancho | Pablo Trapero | Argentina/Chile/France/South Korea
12 Headhunters | Morten Tyldum | Norway/Germany
13 Berberian Sound Studio | Peter Strickland | UK
14 The Queen Of Versailles | Lauren Greenfield | USA/Netherlands/UK/Denmark
15 A Royal Affair | Nikolaj Arcel | Denmark/Sweden/Czech Republic
16 Silent Souls | Aleksi Fedorchenko | Russia
17 Margin Call | JC Chandor | USA
18 The Descendants | Alexander Payne | US
19 A Simple Life | Ann Hui | Hong Kong
20 Tabu | Miguel Gomes | Portugal/Germany/Brazil/France

Now, I’m just doing the following for the record. It’s every new film I have seen this year, pretty much in order of theatrical release (although some I will have caught up with on DVD), and this includes reissues. I think it adds up to 121 films. I feel annoyed that I somehow missed Argo, and This Is Not A Film, and Ill Manors, but there are only so many hours in a day, and days in a week. I’ve been a real trainspotter about country of origin, but usually, the first country is the “nationality” of the film.

The Iron Lady | Phyllida Lloyd | UK/France
Margin Call | JC Chandor | USA
Shame | Steve McQueen | UK
War Horse | Steven Spielberg | USA
Haywire | Steven Soderbergh | USA/Ireland
Coriolanus | Ralph Fiennes | UK
J. Edgar | Clint Eastwood | USA
The Descendants | Alexander Payne | USA
The Grey | Joe Carnahan | USA
Carnage | Roman Polanski | France/Germany/Poland/Spain
Man On A Ledge | Asger Leth | USA
Martha Marcy May Marlene | Sean Durkin | USA
A Dangerous Method | David Cronenberg | UK/Germany/Canada/Switzerland
Girl Model | David Redmon, Ashley Sabin | USA/Russia/Japan/France
The Woman In Black | James Watkins | UK/Canada/Sweden
Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close | Stephen Daldry | USA
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel | John Madden | UK/USA/UAE
Rampart | Oren Moverman | USA
Carancho | Pablo Trapero | Argentina/Chile/France/South Korea
If Not Us, Who? | Andres Veiel | Germany
Michael | Markus Schleinzer | Austria
Bel Ami | Declan Donnellan, Nick Ormerod | UK/Italy
John Carter | Andrew Stanton | USA
Ordet | 1955, Carl Theodor Dreyer | Denmark
Trishna | Michael Winterbottom | UK
21 Jump Street | Phil Lord, Chris Miller | USA
Bill Cunningham New York | Richard Press | USA/France
Contraband | Baltasar Kormákur | USA/UK/France
In Darkness | Agnieszka Holland | Poland/Germany/Canada
Once Upon A Time In Anatolia | Nuri Bilge Ceylan | Turkey/Bosnia and Herzegovina
We Bought A Zoo | Cameron Crowe | USA
The Hunger Games | Gary Ross | USA
The Kid With A Bike | Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne | Belgium/France/Italy
Into The Abyss: A Tale Of Death, A Tale Of Life | Werner Herzog | USA/UK/Germany
A Cat In Paris | Jean-Loup Felicioli, Alain Gagnol | France/Netherlands/Switzerland/Belgium
Headhunters | Morten Tyldum | Norway/Germany
La Grande Illusion | 1937, Jean Renoir | France
Le Havre | Aki Kaurismäki | Finland/France/Germany
This Must Be The Place | Paolo Sorrentino | Italy/France/Ireland
Battleship | Peter Berg | USA
Blackthorn | Mateo Gil | Spain/USA/Bolivia/France
The Cabin In The Woods | Drew Goddard | USA
Elles | Malgorzata Szumowska | France/Poland/Germany
Marley | Kevin Macdonald | USA/UK
Marvel Avengers Assemble | USA
African Cats | Alastair Fothergill, Keith Scholey | USA
Albert Nobbs | Rodrigo García | UK/Ireland/France/USA
Damsels In Distress | Whit Stillman | USA
The Monk | Dominik Moll | Spain/France
American Reunion | John Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg | USA
Goodbye, First Love | France
Monsieur Lazhar | France
Le Quai des brumes | Marcel Carné | France
Cafe de Flore | Mia Hansen-Løve | France/Germany
Dark Shadows | Tim Burton | USA
The Raid | Gareth Evans | Indonesia/USA
Moonrise Kingdom | Wes Anderson | USA
Prometheus | Ridley Scott | USA/UK
The Angels’ Share | Ken Loach | UK/France/Belgium/Italy
Woody Allen: A Documentary | Robert B Weide | USA
Cosmopolis | David Cronenberg | Canada/France/Portugal/Italy
A Royal Affair | Nikolaj Arcel | Denmark/Sweden/Czech Republic
Rock Of Ages | Adam Shankman | USA
Killer Joe | William Friedkin | USA
Silent Souls | Aleksi Fedorchenko | Russia
Friends With Kids | Jennifer Westfeldt | USA
The King Of Devil’s Island | Marius Holst | Norway
Your Sister’s Sister | Lynn Shelton | USA
The Amazing Spider-Man | Marc Webb | USA
God Bless America | Bobcat Goldthwait | USA
The Hunter | Daniel Nettheim | Australia
You’ve Been Trumped | Antony Baxter | UK
Magic Mike | Steven Soderbergh | USA
Electrick Children | Rebecca Thomas | USA
The Giants | Bouli Lanners | Belgium
Nostalgia For The Light | Patricio Guzmán | France/Germany/Chile/Spain
Something From Nothing: The Art Of Rap | Ice-T/Andy Baybutt | UK/USA
The Dark Knight Rises | Christopher Nolan | USA/UK
In Your Hands | Lola Doillon | France
Swandown | Andrew Kötting | UK
Searching For Sugar Man | Malik Bendjelloul | Sweden/UK
El Bulli: Cooking In Progress | Gereon Wetzel | Germany
Dark Horse | Todd Solondz | USA
Ted | Seth MacFarlane | USA
Eames: The Architect And The Painter | Jason Cohn, Bill Jersey | USA
A Simple Life | Ann Hui | Hong Kong
Sound Of My Voice | Zal Batmanglij | USA
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry | Alison Klayman | USA
360 | Fernando Mereilles | UK/Austria/France/Brazil
The Bourne Legacy | Tony Gilroy | USA
Take This Waltz | Sarah Polley | Canada/Spain/Japan
The Imposter | Bart Layton | UK
The Watch | Akiva Schaffer | USA
Shadow Dancer | James Marsh | UK/Ireland
Berberian Sound Studio | Peter Strickland | UK
Anna Karenina | Joe Wright | UK
Lawless | John Hillcoat | USA
The Queen Of Versailles | Lauren Greenfield | USA/Netherlands/UK/Denmark
Tabu | Miguel Gomes | Portugal/Germany/Brazil/France
To Rome With Love | Woody Allen | USA/Italy/Spain
Killing Them Softly | Andrew Dominick | USA
Untouchable | Olivier Lakache, Eric Toledano | France
Barbara | Christian Petzold | Germany
Holy Motors | Leos Carax | France/Germany
Looper | Rian Johnson | USA/China
On The Road | Walter Salles | France/UK/USA/Brazil
Beasts Of The Southern Wild | Benh Zeitlin | USA
Grassroots | Stephen Gyllenhaal | USA
Ginger & Rosa | Sally Potter | UK/Denmark/Canada/Croatia
Elena | Andrey Zvyagintsev | Russia
Skyfall | Sam Mendes | UK/USA
Keep The Lights On | Ira Sachs | USA
Rust And Bone | Jacques Audiard | France/Belgium
The Master | Paul Thomas Anderson | USA
Alps | Giorgos Lanthimos | Greece
Aurora | Cristi Puiu | Romania/France/Switzerland/Germany
Great Expectations | Mike Newell | UK/USA
I, Anna | Barnaby Southcombe | UK/Germany/France
The Hunt | Thomas Vinterberg | Denmark
Amour | Michael Haneke | Austria/France/ Germany
Sightseers | Ben Wheatley | UK

A busy filmgoing year. Perhaps this is why I’ve spent so little of listening to new music – a fact that will be apparent when I do my Top 10 Albums of 2012 – and reading new books – ergo: my forthcoming Top 3 Books of 2012!

Looking forward to your own choices. Ideally, you won’t begin your comments with “I can’t believe you missed out …”

The power of love


Ah, that’s better. I’ve finally seen the two key films I needed to see before the end of 2012. They are Michael Haneke’s Amour, and Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers, and both predictably crash into my Top 10 films of the year, which I will publish next week. In the meantime, might I suggest some similarities between what are two alarmingly different films? I love it when circumstance and the vagaries of the release schedules do this, and wish I had the time to do this in more detail. First, the differences:

Amour is an Austrian/French/German co-production, in French, set in France, and written and directed by Haneke. The fictional story of an elderly couple coping with the physical deterioration of one of them, it is apparently based upon a number of Haneke’s own experiences, and stars two veterans of French cinema, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva. It is an austere chamber piece, shot largely in a Parisian apartment, which was built on a set.

Sightseers is a British production, in English, set in England, and co-written by its two stars, comedians Steve Oram and Alice Lowe, with Amy Jump (who also co-wrote Wheatley’s previous film, Kill List). The fictional story of a young couple exploring what is a relatively new relationship while caravanning across England, the characters were created and developed by Oram and Lowe in a stand-up act. It is a bleak comedy, shot on location.

What these two disparate films have obviously in common is that neither is comfortable viewing. Amour is slow, precise, claustrophobic and on the surface, tragic, as Riva’s character, a piano teacher, is reduced to a shell by a series of strokes. Her decline is difficult to watch at close quarters. Sightseers has a comedic, self-deprecating tone, and sometimes strays into farce, but it’s driven by a string of murders committed by the couple that take it into much darker waters. Nobody in the admittedly half-empty cinema I saw it in laughed once. Although perhaps they were smiling, as I was.

What they have in common, aside from the fact that I loved them both, is that they are about love, and the things love will make us do. In the case of Georges and Anne in Amour, who have been together for decades, their love forces them to face death, and to ask how far one would go for the other if the other was in a reduced state. Although the situation is sad, and depressing, the impact it has upon the couple’s devoted love is uplifting and, oddly, heartwarming. In both films, we hear an elderly woman moaning in pain. It opens Sightseers: it’s the infirm mother of Tina (Lowe), who is wailing in mourning of her dog, which was killed in an accident. Her pain is emotional. In Amour, we hear Anne moaning; the effect is just as unsettling and hypnotic. But her pain is physical and emotional. Tina and Chris (Oram) have only been “going out” for three months. Their love is new, and fresh, and thrilling. But it, too, is tested by how far one is prepared to go for the other.

I won’t go into plot details, obviously, but Sightseers builds through a series of grisly events to a point where Tina and Chris’s love has been strengthened, or so it appears. Amour begins with the ending and works in flashback, so we know the outcome of Georges and Anne’s ordeal, but it still shocks when it happens. You come out of both films with your faith in the power of love confirmed. (Sightseers actually goes literal and uses Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s The Power Of Love on its soundtrack, one of a number of pop tunes that either underlines or ironically undermines the action. Amour has no score, but classical music is key to the couple’s bond, just as, we might assume, 80s hits might be to the couple in Sightseers – Oram and Lowe were both teenagers in that decade.)

It goes without saying that Oram and Lowe, who conceived the project and their characters, bring a full-blooded sense of reality to two protagonists who might, in other circumstances, feel like Tarantino cartoons. No matter that Tina, for instance, has knitted herself some sexy underwear for the trip – including crotchless knickers – and Steve demands, “Mint me”, with his mouth agape when he requires an extra-strong mint of Tina; these comic creations live and breathe. Equally, although Trintignant and Riva are playing protagonists written from scratch by Haneke, their octogenarian skill and experience create an utterly believable autumn-years chemistry.

Although the apartment in Amour has been artificially created on a soundstage, it was modelled on an existing one, and it has been dressed impeccably, such that you could imagine Georges having sat in that same armchair for years and years. (The film actually opens in a theatre, where he and Anne enjoy what will turn out to be their last ever piano recital together, thereafter prisoners in their own home.) Sightseers makes a virtue of its locations, following Chris’s carefully-planned route from Redditch to Yorkshire, via such well-worn “quirky visitor attractions” as the Keswick Pencil Museum (it’s been used as a gag by many an observer of English life, but now, we actually see it!). It is as much an awestruck monument to England’s dark and mysterious past as The Wicker Man is of Celtic paganism. (Kill List, if you’ve seen it, draws more explicitly on pagan worship – as did Hot Fuzz, whose writer/director Edgar Wright is one of the key producers on Sightseers; both are made by Big Talk films.)

Terminal illness is not a new subject for drama. But Amour takes it to a new level, through the attitude of Georges, who rejects the hand-wringing of their mostly absent daughter (Isabelle Huppert), and refuses pity or sympathy, accepting the round-the-clock care his beloved wife needs with stoic patience. Seeing him sing to Anne, as part of her therapy, while she struggles to use her half-frozen mouth to join in, is one of the most moving things I’ve seen at the cinema this year. Sightseers doesn’t quite hit this pitch at any point, but Tina’s loyalty to Chris is no less touching. It may be played for laughs, but there’s a scene involving someone else’s digital camera that’s almost heartbreaking, thanks to Lowe’s brilliant reaction.

I’ve become a devoted admirer of Haneke’s work – Code Unknown, The Piano Teacher, Funny Games, Caché, The White Ribbon – but suspect that Amour might be his finest hour. I’m also a massive fan of Ben Wheatley’s films so far – Down Terrace, Kill List – and, even though he didn’t write this one, which skews the auteurist pitch a bit, it’s an incredible directorial achievement. The landscapes, in particular, seem to seethe with rage at certain points, while at others, they provide the primal peace and tranquility that Chris cannot get in the town. Down Terrace, made for almost no money, was physically closer to Amour, in that it was confined to rooms. Sightseers takes Wheatley out of himself, and offers a glimpse of a wider world. Meanwhile, Haneke has retreated indoors, back, perhaps, to the confinement of Funny Games. But that film’s trickiness has gone.

So, anyway, two amazing films. Go and see them both. If you’re lucky, four loud women won’t walk in during the final seconds of Sightseers, as they did last night. They thought they were walking in to see Great Expectations and – I heard them say – they assumed what we were watching was an advert.

Perhaps they were: an advert for love.

It’s not the end of the world


First: it looks like I’m getting two weeks off! So, this week’s Telly Addict, although not a review of the year, acts as an end-of-the-year, end-of-the-world edition. Under review are BBC Sports Personality of the Year, BBC1; the finale of Season Three of Boardwalk Empire, Sky Atlantic (no spoilers); The British Comedy Awards, C4; Richard E Grant’s Hotel Secrets, Sky Atlantic; Inside Claridge’s, BBC2; and Little Crackers, Sky1.


Secondly, I was also asked to promote The Great British Bake Off as my favourite TV show of 2012 (incorrectly billed as “the best TV programme of 2012″ in their more provocative headline). You can watch my little three-minute film here. Props to the Guardian website people for, once again, flagging this up on the main page. It’s reassuring to see that the commenters below the line have been instantaneous with their comfort and joy.

I watched this once. The presenters heads are completely up their own arses and it’s about the most tedious, poncy, self opinionated, piece of shit I have ever had the misfortune to view. Baking should be fun, with these arseholes it becomes a ritualised chore. More utter bilge from the increasingly bilge-producing BBC.


The middle-class fetishisation of food at a time of austerity – just what a PSB provider should be doing! What next … four celebrities in a big house with all the heating and electricity on talking about how warm and cosy they are?


FFS. We used to have telly like Kenneth Clarke’s Civilisation, Malcom Muggeridge, Face to Face, Not Only …But Also... Now we have endless cookery crap and people taking DNA tests live on air. Seriously- God help this country. It ain’t the Royals fault, either.


Corn syrup for undernourished brains.


Utter trash. Pointless competitions make for cheap nasty television. The smug presenters and contestants are horrible.

No names, obviously, as that would be playing into their evil hands. (I like the concept of “self opinionated” though.) So it’s “Goodwill to all men!” to those miserable fuckers, and “Merry Christmas!” to the rest of you. Thanks for viewing this year – in increasing numbers, so I’m told, since we moved to Tuesday mornings. Here’s to another year of me sitting at a slight angle and trying not to wear the same shirt two weeks’ running.

Republican party reptiles

I find myself unnaturally interested in American politics. I have been ever since Mad magazine introduced me, satirically, to President Carter in the 70s and I was forced to learn about his predecessors in order to understand the jokes. Clearly, around Presidential Election time, my interest swells. As a loyal and voracious subscriber to the New Yorker since 2005, I am fed information on a weekly basis about the comings and goings not just of the Democrats the left-leaning magazine explicitly supports, but also of the colourful Republicans and Tea Party luminaries who, since Obama’s election in 2008, have been jostling for position to take him down. (As you can see above, I attended the CNN Election Night party in November 2008, held in a church in London, and watched the early results come in with other political junkies – and some freeloaders – although we were, ironically I think, kicked out before the decisive states were called. They handed out partisan badges on the way in. )

I have been following the progress of this year’s Republican hopefuls with long-distance enthusiasm and bemusement, as they seem a particularly rum bunch. One of them will actually be challenging a frankly damaged Obama for his second term; it’s sometimes hard to believe that any of this shower could run a country, but then, look at George W. Bush, a man who wore his downhome ignorance on his sleeve and won two terms – or at least, got in twice.

We’ve lost Lutheran congresswoman and climate change denier Michelle Bachmann since the Iowa caucuses, which in terms of morbid entertainment value is a shame. (After all, she’s the Tea Party nutter of choice, post-Palin, accusing Obama of being “anti-American,” trying to get rid of energy-saving lightbulbs, gunning to get the minimum wage capped, and damning same-sex marriage from a pulpit where the Pope is considered the anti-Christ, if I’ve read the literature properly.)

Of the other column-inch-snaffling front runners, former restaurant tycoon, business lobbyist and Baptist talk radio show host Herman Cain also withdrew, before Christmas, after allegations of sexual misconduct, which is another blow for entertainment value, as he seemed not to have a clue what he would do if elected to office, other than cut tax to a basic 9% across the board. Doesn’t really matter, as he will never take office.

What’s frightening about these grinning, glad-handing, evangelical loons is that one of them could theoretically capitalise on the right-facing zeitgeist and beat Obama in November, taking office in 2013. After all, Republicans do get in. And the electorate does seem pretty disappointed with Obama, on both left and right, and especially in the middle, which is where elections are won and lost. Last week’s New Yorker provided profiles of both Ron Paul – the gurning 76-year-old Texan obstetrician and “white-haired, wide-eyed prophet” who seriously wants to ban Income Tax and end all foreign aid – and Newt Gingrich – “Mr Speaker”, political veteran, “swashbuckling geostrategist” and inveterate debate winner who shut down the federal government during the Cinton era over Medicare premiums, earned $1.6 million in consulting fees from Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored mortgage lender, and recently made reference to the “invented Palestinian people.” Of this loopy pair, it’s Gingrich who was seen as the biggest threat to Mitt Romney. (Good heavens, they have excellent names, the Republicans, you have to hand that to them.) But Rick Santorum almost caught up with Romney in Iowa. He’s the Fox News-friendly ex-senator and attorney with the goofy grin who was just eight votes behind Romeny in Iowa, and is an intelligent design fan, considers sodomy to be “antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family” and seems to think that liberal values are to blame for the Catholic child abuse scandal.

Mitt Romney is a Massachusetts Mormon and CEO of management buyout merchants Bain, who “kept a well-groomed appearance” at university during the campus upheavals of the 60s, according to a Boston Globe profile, seems to have built his reputation as a can-do kinda guy on his miraculous turnouaround of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 1988 and is not to the tastes of the more evangelical wing of his party because a) he’s a Mormom, and b) he used to be pro-choice, but switched to being pro-life in 2005. This reputation for u-turns dogs him; he certainly upped his far-right views during his 2008 run for Presidential nomination. He seems like a slick wheeler-dealer and kind of looks like a President.

Post-Bachmann, they’re all men of a certain age, which is boring, and they all seem to conform to the image of an American politician, from the relatively youthful John Huntsman, 51, to the 76-year-old Paul. In other words, they either look like James Brolin or John Mahoney, and all points inbetween. Rick Perry is the most Bush-like of the current crop, the grinning Governor of Texas, former Eagle Scout, USAF pilot and “hyper-masculine cowboy” who sets out his stall in a YouTube video, saying “there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military, and your kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas”; Gingrich is the most experienced in the ways of Washington, and Romney still seems fresh from his failed attempt to run in 2008. They would all strip the financial industry of what little in the way of regulation remains and “shrink” government, which is the Republican creed. If any of these reptiles gets in, taxes will be lowered, or scrapped, and Iran will either be ignored (if Ron Paul gets in: “no more foreign wars; no more foreign aid; not even very much foreign policy”, according to Nicholas Lemann in the New Yorker), or nuked (if any of the others get in).

I will continue to follow this dangerous soap opera closely. They’re in New Hampshire right now for tomorrow’s vote, with Huntsman – another Mormon, also a former Reagan staffer, Utah Governor and ambassador to China under Obama whose “moderate” views play well to more liberal-minded Republicans – endorsed by a number of key local publications. There’s still everything to play for.

For anyone not in the least bit interested in US politics – I fear we ignore these God-fearing, gun-toting, gay-bashing, healthcare-hating, people at our peril.

The Right Horrible Lady

The producers of The Iron Lady need not have spent a penny on publicity for their biopic of Margaret Thatcher. I’m actually sick of reading about it, and her, in the newspapers, and seeing it, and her, on the TV. Whether it’s right-wing commentators wailing about the impropriety of showing Thatcher, played by Meryl Streep, in her amnesiac dotage (“They should have waited until she’s dead!” they cry, which is surely just as disrespectful to the old dear), or left-wing commentators complaining that the film in some way deifies Thatcher (Michael White was on BBC Breakfast yesterday, saying, “It’s not a political film at all,” by which he meant it wasn’t left-wing.) I saw a preview of The Iron Lady a few weeks ago, and I’ve had time to ruminate. (The screening was delayed while we film critics waited for the BBC’s Nick Robinson to turn up – it was clearly a must-see for political journalists who don’t usually go and see films.)

I’m afraid think it’s a deeply underwhelming film, saved by the central performances. As I near the end of The Path To Power, Margaret Thatcher’s second memoir, I fancy myself as something of a Thatcher scholar – I’ve certainly been immersed in the fine detail of her, yes, path to power, and know something of the way her mind worked.

That we’re looking here at the work of talented writer Abi Morgan (The Hour, Shame, Sex Traffic) makes it all the more disappointing. But she and director Phyllida Lloyd set themselves an impossible task: to tell a major political figure’s life story in 105 minutes. It simply cannot be done in any meaningful way. Dramatically, I applaud the conceit of presenting the story in flashback from the dementia-encroached dotage of the octogenarian Lady Thatcher, where she conducts conversations with her long-dead husband Denis, played by Jim Broadbent. I could have watched 105 minutes of these two fine actors bouncing off each other as a devoted old couple, one of whom just happened to once run, and ruin, the country. But alas, the dotage is merely a device to frame endless reconstructions of the dramatic bullet-points of Thatcher’s career, from Grantham schoolgirl to ousted PM.

So, we get the Miners’ Strike, and the Falklands, and the “Special Relationship” with Ronald Reagan, and the Poll Tax riots, and so on, and so on, each one neatly condensed into one or two scenes – although Reagan only appears, dancing with her, in a montage, and we get nine years condensed into about a minute of newspaper headlines and newsreel. The bullet points are mostly ably enough presented, and the all-star cast means you never get bored (“Look, it’s Richard E Grant/Anthony Head/Roger Allam/Iain Glen/John Sessions!” “He must be playing Jim Prior/Michael Hesletine/Gordon Reece/John Nott/Francis Pym!”), but it’s all a bit history-by-numbers. BBC4 has made this kind of biopic its stock in trade, and yet, its own stab at Thatcher, The Long Walk To Finchley, with Andrea Riseborough, wisely concentrated on just one period of her life and stayed focussed. This, though, is essentially a film aimed at the international market – after all, Thatcher is a global icon, like it or not – and it leaves nothing to chance or subtlety. Because it has Meryl Streep in the central role, it has instant Hollywood appeal, and may yet win her a handbagful of awards. She’s hugely entertaining, although as Peter Bradshaw notes in the Guardian, it is not much more than a brilliant impersonation. She’s worked hard to get the voice and the mannerisms right, but Thatcher was an impenetrably poised and self-made public figure, so when you do a good impression, it’s of a kind of media construct anyway.

What The Iron Lady doesn’t do is explain why Thatcher was Thatcher. It makes a lot of capital out of the glass ceiling, which she comprehensively smashed, and has fun with shots of her as the only woman in the Commons, the only pair of high heels, the only blue hat etc. There’s no doubting the self-belief it took to put up with all that shit, and Thatcher can be objectively admired for becoming the first Western leader who wasn’t a man. But if the rather simplistic film is to be believed, she turned the bullying she experienced as a young, female MP on its head and simply bullied the men around her once in power. The more of her book I read, the more convinced I become that she was a megalomaniac, but one driven not by vanity, or revenge, but by pure dogma. Her hatred of socialism – or “statism”, “collectivism”, “federalism”, any  number of “ism”s – is in her bone marrow, and if she despises the men around her, it’s because they do not share her extremism, or are not prepared to see it through to fruition. She has no time for moderates, whatever their gender. She adored Denis, after all, and he was a man.

But hey, as Michael White said, it’s not a film about politics. It’s about an old lady looking back over her life – a life that just happened to involve selling off council houses and going to war in the South Atlantic and destroying the unions. I was deeply offended by the bit where her close friend and ally Airey Neave is killed by an INLA (Irish National Liberation Army) car bomb in 1979. Thatcher was, if I remember rightly from the book, in her Finchley constituency when she heard the news. In The Iron Lady, she is in the same underground car park at the Commons, the last person to speak to him before he drives off, and she is seen running up the ramp to where his car sits in flames, Hollywood style, not quite in slo-mo, but it may as well have been. It’s a disgrace to play with real events in this way; far more offensive than making a film about an old, demented lady before she’s dead, it uses the actual death of a man to make her life seem just that little bit more dramatic than it was. I’m surprised Morgan and Lloyd didn’t have Thatcher personally pulling Norman Tebbit’s wife from the wreckage in Brighton.

I think I understand Margaret Thatcher much better now than I did at the time, thanks to her book. (I was certainly too naive and ill-educated to understand her in 1979, when The Path To Power ends and The Downing Street Years begins.) This film, if anything, subtracts from that understanding. It recasts her as a fearful battleaxe and a quasi-feminist warrior, neither of which helps to explain why, under her Premiership, this country was transformed over 11 years into the I’m-all-right-Jack, shop-your-neighbour, free-market, property-obsessed, credit-addicted, money-motivated, privatised, sold-off-to-the-highest-bidder, de-unionised nation of on-our-bikes, aspirational, apparently middle class “entrepreneurs” in a society that we were told doesn’t exist, and where if you use still the bus after the age of 26 you should consider yourself a failure (a sentiment that she shared, even if it’s from a quote she never said). Every Prime Minister who’s succeeded her has been in thrall to her in some way. (Good lord, it was Gordon Brown who put forward the idea of a state funeral for her.) That kind of impact goes beyond party politics.

There is a film to be made about Margaret Thatcher, but it would have to be longer than 105 minutes. It took Thatcher two big books to complete her life story up to the mid-90s. These can no more be distilled into a single film than Hubris and Nemeis by Ian Kershaw, which only cover the life of a man who died aged 56. (This is why Downfall was so successful: it took place over ten days.)  Not that I’m comparing her to Hitler.

For a concise review of the film, here’s my Radio Times review.

2012: TV highlights

Apologies. No time for long blog entry as I’m really up against a scriptwriting deadline (something I’ve started, so I’ll finish). But the nice people at Celebrity Mastermind sent me these pics and they give me the chance to tell you that the series begins on BBC1 on Tuesday December 27 and I make my appearance on Thursday January 5. That’s it really. Make a note in your 2012 diary, Mum and Dad!