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The author’s real name is Carolyn Heilbrun, the detective Kate Fansler


Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren) of Prime Suspect fame

Friends and readers,

An interim blog: this is me thinking out a few semi-conclusions I’ve come to after a couple of months of reading books about women detectives (history, literary criticism, culture, feminist) and reading and rereading a few such books by men and women. As I’ve written on my Sylvia I blog, I seem to be going through something of a transition after living in this world without Jim for some 9 plus years. Part of this is I am liking books I used to not be able to read, and able to accept optimism and at least sympathize with (understand in a new way from an outward transactional POV) some conventional transactional pro-social-ambition perspectives.

To get to the point here, I find that I can’t resist reading and watching new kinds of material in the detective, mystery-thriller, spy genre kind, which I’ve come back to seeing as closely allied to the gothic. Not that I altogether rejected books with women detectives at the center: my first Internet pseudonym was Sylvia Drake, a minor character in Dorothy Sayer’s Gaudy night, and my gravatar for my political blog is a small picture of Harriet Walter as Harriet Vane looking thoughtful.


From Strong Poison: she is supposed the murderer and this is in prison, she is talking to Lord Peter Wimsey (Edward Petherbridge)

The reading came out of my preparing for my coming The Heroine’s Journey course this winter. As you can see, if you go over the look, there is no example among my four slender book choices of a female detective novel. That’s because I couldn’t think of one slender enough for such a short course until I came upon Amanda Cross’s (aka Carolyn Heilbrun’s) Death in a Tenured Position. Most recent and older female detective novels are average size, say 350 pages (Gaudy Night is about this size) because often many combine a “novel of manners” (or domestic romance) with the detective formula. But I found it to be a central category because since surfacing in novels in the 1860s, the type has multiplied in appearances until say today there may be several TV shows featuring a female detective available all at once.

Although I’ve found dictionary-type books with lists and essays on women writers and their detective novels (Great Women Mystery Writers, ed Kathleen Gregory Klein, truly excellent; By a Woman’s Hand by Jean Swanson and Dean James, 200 short entries which have the merit of naming the author as well as the detective and offering enough information to give the reader a gist of what type of mystery fiction this is), it has been very hard to find any essay-like books treating just the category of female detective fiction by women writers. The nature of the material (influences, who’s writing what, movies as a group-creation) has led to many male writers putting female detectives at the center of their series, and many female writers putting male detectives, and these mixed gender creations (so to speak) are often superb in all sorts of ways.

One of my felicitous reading and watching experiences this past year was Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders (both book and film), which features a private detective, Atticus Pund (spelt without accents) in a 1950s novel as part of an investigation into a parallel murder today by the old trope amateur sleuth, Sue Ryland in (presumably) 2021 — for its witticism, self-reflexive uses of the core fantasies, styles and yes multi-gender empathies.


Sue Rylands (Leslie Manville) is also intended to appeal to older unmarried career women (the spinster trope transformed & modernized at last)

But as there is a real, findable, and demonstable fault-line and difference between male and female writing, and films made by mostly men or mostly women, and visual art, and music too, and one of my aims as a teacher and writer is to keep women’s literature alive and make it more respected; I’ve been after just the books by women albeit in a multi-gender context. I’ve also tried to stick to films where the central author originally (or continuously) is a woman, and evidence shows women directing, producing, doing set design. The qualification here is all of these are shaped by the kind of detection mystery genre the book/film is written in. I’ve followed Andrew Marr centrally here; Julian Symons’s Bloody Murders is also indispensable.

I’ve come to a few tentative conclusions.

I agree in part with Kathleen Klein’s brilliant analysis (The Woman Detective: Gender and Genre) of the depiction of female detectives mostly in books, but equally by men and women that often these may easily be read and are in fact intended (when conscious) as anti-feminist (meaning the movement for independence and equality) portrayals from a male (in some eras on TV lascivious) POV.

This POV is on display in right now in the incessant arguments and brutal put-downs of Miss Eliza Scarlet (the ever patient Kate Phillips has played many an wholly abject woman, from Jane Seymour in the recent Wolf Hall, to Tolstoy’s hero Andrei’s long-suffering wife, the 2016 serial by Andrew Davies) by “The Duke” Inspector Wellington (the pugnacious, overtly insulting professional police detective played by Stuart Martin, doubtless chosen for his resemblance to the matinee idol type, Richard Armitage) who reiterates constantly a woman cannot be both a real or natural or happy woman and a detective; who needs strong men around her to protect her. Injury was added to insult in the most recent episode (Season 3, Episode 2) where a story was concocted whereby a mean and bullying ex-friend, Amanda Acaster, who repeatedly humiliated and nowadays derides her, is also used to criticize adversely Eliza’s character: Eliza is supposed now to have felt for Amanda trying to have a career using the same manipulative amoral tactics she did when the two were young. She is not charged though her measures were what encouraged a gang of thieves to use her restaurant as a front.  But look she surpasses Eliza in the Victoria sponge cake line. The costuming of the program shows some knowledge of the illustrations for such stories in the 1870s/90s, the music is very good, and lines are witty (though usually at Eliza’s expense) and I’d call the presentation stylish. I have spent this much time on it as it’s contemporary and its perniciousness extends to endorsing bullying and mocking non-macho males (Andrew Gower as a homosexual man controlled by his mother).

In many of these detective stories especially the hard-boiled type, and since the 1990s, the woman simply takes on male characteristics, and when she doesn’t and displays genuine female psychology, set of values, life experiences, and is as competent as the males and not just by intuition, by the end of a given book or series, we are to see she has not lived a fulfilled life, which must include marriage and motherhood. This is how Prime Suspect finally ends. In medias res, the female detective of whatever type is often allowed genuine common women’s lives characteristics and we see themes and archetypes familiar in women’s literature, e.g., recent film instance of the mother-daughter rivalry paradigm in Annika where the older heroine is divorced and lives with her teenage older daughter. There is now a line of disguised lesbian socially-conscious fiction, e.g., Val McDermid, seen in film recently featuring Karen Pirie played by Lauren Lyle, of Outlander provenance, dressed in unemphatically non-binary ways

But I don’t agree wholly with Klein (or others who write from her vantage). At the same time, the way out is not to trivialize and pretend to treat as playful amusement “the lady investigator” and her now many daughters, grand-daughters and great-grand-daughters, all the while lightly coming to the same conclusion as Klein, with some face-saving and genuinely rescuing qualifications. This is the vein taken by Patricia Craig and Mary Cadogan in their The Lady Investigates: Women Detectives and Spies in Fiction: a very informative as well as insightful book; it covers amateur and private detectives as well as the spy genre, which Klein does not. Nor is it to ignore this aspect of the genre altogether: Lucy Worsley in her Art of Murder manages this, at the same time as she (curiously) denies that the mass audience for this kind of thing understands it as fantasy (that most murders are not solved, and when solved not by brilliant ratiocinative nor super-scientific techniques, but rather information from people involved) but out of a thirst for violence and fascination with death (this does ally it to the gothic).

What we need to remember is the history of the genre: it first emerges in the later 19th century when women could get jobs and income on their own, go to college as woman (usually women’s colleges). The whole larger genre of detective fiction develops its characteristics when you first have men hired in visible numbers and a real police force. So there were male models for male detectives but no female models for female detectives. This changes (Miss Scarlet and the Duke is quite a startling throw-back) post-World War II when women held on to their array of male jobs and began to be hired, however slowly, and to be promoted to managerial positions in institutions, including the police (Lynda LaPlante modelled Jane Tennison on an actual woman detective).

I suggest that the woman detective was an popular substitute for the “new woman” so distinguished by feminist literary scholars of the 1890s (which never achieved much popularity or was not lasting); she becomes liberated and a real woman as women in our western societies begin at any rate to achieve the right and education for financial and some real sexual independence. We see this in Horowitz’s Sue Rylands and I hope to show other women detectives from the post World War II era.

So as a follow-on from this framework, I hope from time to time to write blogs here when the writer is a male and the portrait less than really feminocentric; on detective fiction found in both books and films; and on Reveries under the Sign of Austen (when the writer is female and the work genuinely l’ecriture-femme, which includes for me a genuinely anti-violence, anti-war and pro-woman political POV, which by the way I do think Prime Suspect was and is: Gray Cavender and Nancy C Jurik’s Justice Provocateur: Jane Tennison and Policing in Prime Suspect. The victims in these shows are often women tortured by male violence, young children, including boys destroyed and warped by male pedasty, immigrants, mostly women working menial jobs desperately, and yes prostitutes too, and women who murder (including one semi-accidental infanticide) too.

First up for Austen Reveries will be Amanda Cross’s Death in a Tenured Position and, for this blog, the older masterpiece, Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time (Inspector Alan Grant investigates the character of Richard III)


Of course Josephine Tey was a pseudonym; the author’s real name was Elizabeth Mackintosh, and the photo is of Jennifer Morag Henderson who wrote an excellent biography

Ellen

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Beatrice (Kate Jennings Grant) and Benedick (Rick Holmes) as TV news anchors

Readers and friends,

As many local people (DC, Maryland and Virginia) know, the Shakespeare Theater Company’s production of Much Ado About Nothing (now running until Dec 11th) has been getting rave reviews. Some acknowledge you have to suspend your common sense when it comes to matching words to the action, or consistency in what happens right before us; the reviewer’s reply:  “So to Shakespeare purists I say: Reason not the need.” Supported by a strong case (I agree a number of the center actors are very good), we are to turn ourselves over to those who want to give a party


Intermittently the stage revolves and we find ourselves at a ball (this is the last scene of the play)

I don’t like being called a Shakespeare purist:  to me that means I want to see Shakespeare’s play for real at some level, a production that does justice to his text and genius. I think rather that we need not dismiss Shakespeare at all, that the production does present a coherent enough reading of the play, its transformations witty  & some appropriate. I admit as the play opened, my first reaction was to feel appalled: for a start, the characters were not following the original play’s script. I could barely hear Shakespeare’s language, there were flashing lights everywhere, lots of noise and neon. How did the production win me over until by the end I was enjoying it and had participated in genuine grief and happiness from the play?

We were in SNN (Shakespeare News Network) and hearing of episodes in Shakespeare’s other plays retold in reductive or caricatured funny ways; these punctuated the action, and they became more hilarious and more daring as the play went on. Some of the funniest had Shakespeare’s other characters’ lines as tweets. The two central stories gradually unfold, and as far as I could tell, most of Shakespeare’s best lines were kept: perhaps Kate Jennings Grant as Beatrice was too loud, too aggressive; she was (I felt) overdoing the assertion, but she was matched by Rick Holmes as Benedick undermining her. What they were doing (and I’ve seen this in other productions of MAAN) was trying to cover over, blend together two disparate stories: Hero and Claudius come near tragedy, and far from iconoclastic, and subversive of anything, they are over-the-top conventional. So the actors (Nicole King and Paul Deo, Jr) were made to speak what they had similarly loudly and with accompanying comic and romantic business also dressed absurdly:


Hero (King), Beatrice and Leonato (Edward Gero)

The theme of Shakespeare’s play is the danger of gossip, of rumor, of misinformation, and it’s from that angle the news-show as entertainment fit its themes. I found myself amused by the ingenuity of the appropriation’s details. We were worked through the farce of Benedict being fooled into thinking that Beatrice loves him and Beatrice vice-versa, with them listening from behind going into all kinds of conniption fits. Then the actors were working so hard, meant so well and at moments winked past their costumes and the action to signal to the audience. Beatrice ends in a garbage bin; when she emerges hurls a piece of pizza across the stage, she looked pointedly at us to applaud her. That sort of thing. Then we see the videotaping of two characters dressed up to resemble Hero and another man. A kind of falsification of evidence we are familiar with. As in all productions, one is then pushed into the pathos of Hero and made to feel the cruelty of the way the men humiliate Hero and her father, never giving either a chance to explain or justify themselves, and become emotionally involved:


Margaret (Dina Thomas) to the side; Benedick as in all productions ends on the side of the women

Then back to farce with the intervention of Dogberry (Dave Quay), Verges (David Bishins) and two unnamed cops as an incompetent surveillance team and secret service; at moments it all felt inspired as we moved back to hear more of what was going on in other of Shakespeare’s plays (everyone dead on the stage in Hamlet, the war in Egypt not going so well &c&c). In the better productions I’ve seen this interlude of Shakespeare’s play is not downplayed but used centrally as it was here:

I’m not going to make it better than it was. Like this summer’s DC production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream, this was a frolicking, rollicking version of one of our national ritual plays meant to rouse us out of ourselves — and here, however lightly, skimmingly, to comment on our own world that has such ridiculous TV shows:  it won’t bear philosophical or political scrutiny. I wished too that Gero had been given more space and time to convey Shakespeare’s old man’s grief (I remember when he was doing the heroes of Shakespeare’s plays), but it is a kind of compliment to this play if it were not such a trek for me to get there, I’d see it twice so as to take in what was happening. I wished I were closer to the stage to hear what was said or we had surtitles.

I’d like to end on the idea that were it filmed as Kate Hamil’s dancing Sense and Sensibility has been, I’d go to see it in a theater or (better yet) stream it up close to me on my computer in my home. At the same time, as with Hamil’s staged production, a lot was done that was fun that only works in a live theater. Each time I go to a play since the pandemic entered this later stage, I am reminded that wonderful as it is to watch them from London on my computer, much is lost without the lived real presences and its accompanying sense of risk taken.

Ellen

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A Whole Lot of Humbug (New York Times)

Dear friends and readers,

This NBC review of two new movies for the Christmas market is superb and ironic; at moments nearly scathing: Anibundel offers a sort of history of Dickens’s story in commercial terms (how many sold), a concise synopsis, and then these two new rewrites (?): Scrooge and Spirited, the animated one with a stellar cast (including Olivia Coleman and Jessie Buckley).

The irony of “Christmas Carol” reboots in the age of billionaires is “too bad neither “Scrooge” nor “Spirited” knows how:

https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/netflix-christmas-carol-reboot-spirited-misses-elon-musk-irony-rcna59889

Egbert says the ide of Spirited is there is a spirit industry in the business of redeeming a new miser each year; Metacritic finds Spirited a “whole lot of Christmas fun”


Scrooge, the animated one, is [more than] “slightly off key (another NYTimes review)

As Anibundel says, today’s super-rich are not finding redemption by being charitable …. I add they are not seeking redemption even …

FWIW, it seems from her description these contemporary versions have not made Scrooge into a miser. To make the “trick” work the very rich old man must both be a miser, seen as socially isolated, finamentally alone and somehow embittered.  Central to the assumptions of the modern versions of Dickens’s tale is it is terrible to be alone; to keep Christmas is to be with others in a kindly spirit.


Opening scene of 1951 movie

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FWIW, my feeling is Dickens’s story would have to be so changed to speak to people today that it would really take the sort of thing a brilliant sequel or post-text once in a long while does. Some new character or perspective not in the original, or some minor character. The new character or perspective is Mary Reilly (Valerie Martin) out of RLS’s Jekyll and Hyde. The minor characters. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Stoppard) out of Hamlet.


Donna Reed as the unmarried Mary in It’s a Wonderful Life

A minor character ignored is the woman Scrooge loved as a young woman and who rejected him, and is seen fleetingly working in a poorhouse. Why has no one thought to re-write a post-text centering on her? Give her a memorable name? Remember her in the last scenes of memory of in the presence of Christmas present? … Probably not, and this morning I cannot locate my DVD of the 1951 movie and this moment is nowhere on the Net. Only the absurd picture of George Bailey’s wife, unmarried, an old maid librarian (a fate worse than death in It’s A Wonderful Life); Scrooge’s ex- grown old finds worthy fulfilling self-sacrificing (of course) charity to be performed.

See my review of the British 1951 movie, A Christmas Carol, with the imitable Alistair Sim, where the film-makers and audience could still respond to Dickens’s ghost tale.


Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey

I’ve written many reviews of Christmas movies meant for the Christmas market and others which have become Christmas movies over the years. But as a reboot, It’s a Wonderful Life deserved a blog of its own.


Roubaix in A Christmas Tale (a recent favorite with me)

Ellen

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From the campaign to place a plaque in Westminster Abbey for Anthony Trollope

Friends and readers,

A briefer blog than usual (as to space): October 21, 2022, Kate Howe interviewed, the present Chairman of the London Trollope Society

Dominic Edwardes very perceptive on Trollope’s long fiction; he tells of Trollope’s place among his peers, his reputation then and now, his life, the mission of the Trollope Society to keep his books in print and read by as many people as the Society and internet can reach; Dominic also confides how he (DE) he came to read and love Victorian novels, then as among the best of them, Anthony Trollope, Dominic’s first introduction to the Society (he went to an event which he thought would be in costume and it turned out no such thing, so he was the only one there in costume) & what the Society is doing now: yearly dinner, lectures, trips, and a vast growing website where you find recorded information on Trollope’s fiction, on the illustrations to them, on editions, from many talks given at the every-other-week online general reading group, and information about other more local reading groups and lectures.

As prelude or preface to the interview, she includes a cornucopia of beautiful and effective illustrations from the fiction of the era — the sort of thing you find in the original illustrations to Trollope’s novels.


“Oh, George, if you knew all … ” (Francis Arthur Fraser, illustration for Trollope’s Golden Lion of Granpere, not included in Howe’s set, but the same sort of thing)

Posted by Ellen

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John-Alexander Sakelos as Peter Quince, Jacob Ming-Trent as Bottom, John Floyd as Flute, Sabrina Lynn Sawyer as Snug

Friends and readers,

The summer is more than half over and I’ve not recommended any summer movies. I have urged as a perfect summer book the treat of an ironic romance, shadowing the gothic at its edges off-stage of Valerie Martin’s Italian Fever, and tonight add (in haste, lest you miss it) the unmeaning (in the best sense) broad farcical fun at the National Building Museum of a Folger production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. A high compliment I can pay it is I felt at moments like I was back in New York City in the Central Park theater watching a Shakespeare play, for this MND like to many Central Park Shakespeare plays was doused in a feeling of local culture (African-American city style) and sentiment (here DC).  How happy those nights were for me in the 1970s in NYC under the stars.  This one had a little of that wondrous starlight at moments, and was also (not unrelated) a community event:


Danaya Esperanza as Puck at the top; Rotimi Aghablaka and Nubia M Monks as Oberon/Theseus and Titania/Hippolyta on top; the four lovers on either side

I agree with Peter Marks it’s another savagely cut-down Shakespeare, and was done very broadly (precious little nuance was felt, so no sense of intimacy). Still, those central moments for the lovers in the forest, the players’ practicing and production, with the frame of Theseus/Hippolyta as Oberon/Titania(only it is he who falls in love with an ass) was enough. The best lines survived and then some.

Peter Marks omitted what was the fun: filled in was a lot of African-American and recent rock music, Jacob Ming-Trent mimicked a lot of African-American slang phrases and pop culture allusion as well as the culture itself (this Bottom rode an invisible motorcycle) as did the players to some extent and the framing of the noble and squabbling faery lover. Our Athenian pairs were left to be their usual selves. The dance and music performed by everyone immersed us. The faeries’ outfits were magical fantastical:


The same actors played the players as the faeries

I liked some of the costumes as outlandish bizzare: for example, Snug as Thisbe in the play


The red wigged braided hair is Thisbe; the other extravagant lady is Helena (Renea S. Brown)

I suggest that you do not expect a lot of serious philosophic feeling about dreams and/or love despite what is interestingly (in the program notes for the production) claimed by Michele Osterow; what we are given rather is elusiveness and self-conscious self-reflexive ironic highjinks, e.g., Lilli Hokama as Hermia may be little but she is fierce, and tosses Hunter Ringsmith up to the sky.  My favorite moments came with Kathryn Zoerb as Moon and Brit Herring as Wall (for whom, alas, I can find no photos). The director was Victor Malana Maog; Alexandra Beller, choreographer; and Tony Cisek (long time Folger person) did the production design.

When I could still see to drive at night and could come to night-time productions, pre-pandemic at the Folger itself, they had another of these Midsummer Night’s Dreams, this one a movie with more sweet sadness and melancholy, elements missing here. But we are (I am) aging and in this at-risk-world of ours, don’t miss out on this gaiety (however vigorous — think robust).

The stage and auditorium as a whole set up in a playhouse space:


Behind the scenes pre production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream stage play.

Ellen

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Nearly the last shot of the show: Sam (Honeysuckle Weeks) and Foyle (Michael Kitchen) beginning to say goodbye, to end their professional relationship

Dear friends and readers,

It has come time for me to write my last blog for now on this magnificent series (see the lst 2 seasons; Seasons 3 & 4; and Seasons 5 & 6). In real time this wonderful project of summarizing, understanding and evaluating episodes has lasted five months. I would feel very sad were I not sure I shall re-watch the whole once again soon, and all the features too.

As I began 7:1 “High Castle,” I felt that the classic or central formula for Foyle, that he is the good man, the constant in an often bad world was no longer the paradigm; he was being forced to compromise too much. I put it down to the change in genre. Series 1-6 was (I’m following Andrew Marr’s brilliant distinguishing) the detective story where it was a pattern of finding out what happened criminally usually by a detached sleuth (here we had three, for beyond Sam and Foyle, Sergeant Paul Milner (Anthony Howell). While there was a use of M15 and M16 and some spy elements in 1-6, they were secondary, not centrally structurally; in Series 7-8 Foyle has been commandeered into working for the spy agencies himself, yes as a police officer, but taking on behaviors and assumptions that belong to the spy genre.


Hilda Piece (Ellie Haddington) becomes a central character; she often lies, is devious (personally ambitious), protects hideous people

Thus the episodes for 7 & 8 are the result of initiations and complicities with harmful evil (even) conduct) on the justification that ends justifies means — just what Foyle had been rejecting for 6 different sets of adventures. To put it simply, Foyle is asked to do something where he is lied to about what he is finding things out for — it is just so deceitful or dishonorable. They do not avoid nationalism, the way the first six seasons miraculously often managed to; there is knee-jerk anti-communism now and again. But these are, as it were, minor excresences, because Foyle is either able to remained uninvolved or himself undermine just those parts of the assignments that are so pernicious (and are, for example, in much of LeCarr anathema endured). Time and again Foyle also either refuses to enact harmful deeds or exposes them. Further, the stories themselves of these last two series are further or wider ranging in political and philosophical matter than were the first four seasons, touching on more troubling issues, with the programs sometimes giving a more truthful or accurate explanation for political events and history (for example, the founding of Israel).

I also realized I had not mentioned (though I was aware of this, how could one not be) that one paradigm at the center of all the seasons was that of the evolving father-daughter relationship between Sam and Foyle! Here they are when they first meet: how much younger Honeysuckle Weeks looks in Season 1:


Foyle confounded when confronted by Sam who has been told she is to work for Mr Foyle


Sam irresistibly round-faced (signifying youth), fresh, buoyant, all hope when they first meet — she can hardly wait to fulfill her job; she is the spot of sunshine in the series, all heart …

Anthony Horowitz keeps repeating that part of the steadying foundation for the series are conventional or classic values: and what we have is a girl with a boy’s name, dressing boyishly, seeking approval from a male authority figure, learning from him, imitating him. Foyle is to her someone stable, reasonable, offering her place where she can act in the world (as opposed to her vicar father who wanted her to come home and stay there). Foyle is her ally; provides her with important work, a role model, who, together with Milner (someone crippled by the war whom Foyle rescues too, but not as a parent, rather almost a rival), makes her part of a team. She intuits constructive feedback and over the course of the first 6 seasons she is learning, often on her own initiative, and, with her woman’s intuition and ethic of caring, she helps him solve cases and provide compassion and care for those they meet. An interesting difference in these last two seasons, is how Weeks is dressed differently: far more mannish; how much older and leaner she is made to look. She is now married to Adam Wainright who does not try to dominate and keep her to himself, allows her space and time. She transfers the skills she became so expert at with Foyle to help Adam in his career.


Above Sam has made friends with both the young women who becomes a victim, and a young woman who we find is complicit with thief — she is shepherding them to a dance for fun (6:2, “Killing Time”)

This is a man’s program — so female friendships develop between Sam and another young woman her age she can identify with now and again but are not central to the development of the character. That is much more often found in women’s writing and films. Further most of the time the girls are seen in relationship to the men they are with. Not always. But the first two seasons had many young men finding themselves, good and flawed, as sub-stories; this was still true of seasons 3 & 4. The girl’s and women’s stories are only glimpsed, to the side until Seasons 5 & 6 when the themes of home-coming, of women’s war work, and aftermath come to the fore. Throughout Horowitz is remarkably free of misogyny — maybe the influence of his wife, Jill Green, whom he says he worked closely with, and was the producer or one of the producers throughout. And while Foyle has an important relationship with his son, Andrew (Julian Ovenden), it is not developed in the intimate thorough way it is with Sam — and we feel saddened for him when it’s clear she is moving out of his life to become a mother, wife, and partner to Adam, Labor MP. They have been at the core of all the series.


Here they are mid-career (5:2, “Broken Souls”)

As in the case of Seasons 5 & 6, I won’t put the summaries in chronological order as the immediate moment no longer matters so much; it’s the general era of the new “cold” war Horowitz is dramatizing, critiquing, exposing. I know I am short-changing Sam’s relationship with Adam (now played by Daniel Weyman) this way as their courtship, young love, earliest marriage and now facing the world as a family is evolved over time. So too Foyle with other new recurring characters, for example, Arthur Valentine (Tim McMullan) who Foyle at first regards with suspicion as an amoral man who obeys orders regardless, but learns is to be trusted; like Hilda Pierce, Valentine means well, and unlike her, does not lie or seem complicit with the worst people (he has a lower rank), and importantly, we learn, is a homosexual whom Foyle treats with respect and loyalty.


Valentine confiding in Foyle (8:3, “Elise”)

One of the deeper pleasures of these series is the recurring character; some stay the same, but the major ones evolve, and are ambiguous. Foyle’s last near love (he experiences a few across the series), Elizabeth Addis (Hermione Guilford) first appears (we discover) in season 8 as a member of the M15 there to watch and report back on Foyle; he thinks they are developing a relationship for real; she changes and wants to be friends, perhaps lovers. The last moment of the series leaves ambiguous whether after Foyle discovers how she was using him, he could find it in himself to trust her again and have some company in life …

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Season 7, Episode 1, “The Eternity Ring:”

So I returned to Foyle’s War tonight, and found this episode & season very different in mood, feel and the kind of people Foyle gets involved with from the six previous: Dated August 1946.


The group of scientists waiting to see the denotating of the test atomic bomb

It opens night-time, 2 sets of trucks, New Mexico, July 16th, 1946, with a group of scientists, among them, Dr Michael Fraser (ands in for John Von Neuman – Stephen Boxer) and Dr Max Hoffman (Klaus Fuchs who was involved with the Soviets – Ken Bones) watching from a remarkably close shed the detonating of the first atomic bomb
We then have another opening scene, again the dead of night, a Mr Gorin (Dylan Charles) taking secret documents from some huge building, there is another man spying on him. He may be doing that for Fraser, or maybe the pro-Soviet Chambers.

A darker focus on Foyle’s face (Michael Kitchen is 3 years older and looks it). We see him getting off a plane, he has been to the US for a year and is coming home; he meets an ordinary ex-flyer, Frank Shaw (Joe Duttine), coming home for the first time in 6 years. He was a POW in Japan, had malaria, is dreading coming home to Ruthie (Jennifer Hennessey) and his son, now 16 and home-coming is rocky. They were bombed out of Hastings, His son works as a bartender to all hours, and his wife works She does not want to give up her job. Later in the episode when he turns up to be rehired as a police man he is sneered at and dismissed as useless.

Foyle has to leave Shaw because he is immediately (in effect) arrested and taken to a National Security secret service place and intensely pressured into becoming a policeman investigating “an eternity ring” of (dire tones) communists. References are made to the suicide of Howard Paige, the whole ambience is one of hostility and coercion, a fat faced sneering Arthur Valentine (Tim McMullan) and team seemingly headed by Hilda Pierce (Ellie Haddington) where they move to a chief, William Chambers (Nicholas Jones). He is blackmailed into joining them at MI5 by a photo of Sam apparently giving secret papers to a soviet agent outside the Victorian theater.

After several insidious twists and turns it emerges that the Eternity Ring is a complete fiction, the photo was a fake, putting Sam photographed outside the theater where she had been seeing Henry V with a man superimposed. Miss Pierce suspected Chambers was a mole and she was tricking him into revealing himself; he escapes to Russia, and she gets his job. Along the way they bully, lie, destroy people. He is told there is a new war, with the Soviets, the name Stalin is used as a talisman for evil that need not be explained. Sam to them is guilty by association; she married a politician, and she and Adam lived at Sevenoaks where there were communists – for 3 months. Just the sort of association that led to blacklisting in the US

Foyle is drawn into the same unscrupulous behavior investigating people. He seeks out Sam without telling her what he suspects; she happens to be working for Dr Fraser and his wife, Helen (Kate Duchene), sick (actually unknown to her dying of cancer from exposure to radiation), where he is invited to dinner. She’s one of the rare characters in this episode (like Sam, or Foyle) who shows genuine capacity for being cordial to others and wanting to help them – because she’s a woman? Doesn’t have to take things so seriously? Ouch. Foyle also meets Hoffman.


Sam and Adam in one of their happy — spontanenous feel — moments at home …

He goes to lunch with Sam and discovers she is not happy even if now happily married to Adam Wainright (semi-warm moments there when they succeed in this or that; we see they are struggling to get food through rationing, living in a poorer area). Wainright played by different actor (Daniel Weyman replaces Max Brown – they look alike): 3 real years have gone by. We are told she is herself a pro-Churchill person (“we ought to give him a chance” now the war is over?) but since Adam was invited to join labor, she has to support them (the National Health and other things aimed at are brought up with tones of disbelief); she does not seem to mind since Adam genuinely wants to do good. She and he need the money she makes, but the next thing that happens is she is fired. Why? She is accused of being in cahoots with Foyle who Fraser now thinks has come to spy on him. This is not done out of principle we learn by the end of the episode.

Sam is indignant and seeks out Foyle and very different from their earlier relationship she demands to know how he could have targeted her this way. He tells of the photo or shows it to her and she says that never happened. She calms down and two agree to investigate together as they used to. This is the first semi-warm moment in the episode apart from the Shaws first encounter together. Their investigation leads them to one of the places these anonymous spies we see were holing out, a room contaminated with radiation out of a thermos (It’s suggested). This is a room where a Fraser operative has been. Both she and Foyle are captured by a swat team and treated as criminals themselves. When it’s finally seen they are not, they have to be de-contaminated making her late for an appt with a labor committee Adam is trying to persuade to let him run for office in a hitherto Tory area.

The interview goes badly because Adam’s wife is not there. Again the whole attitude of mind has nothing to do with ideology – men running for office need wives by their side. Glenvil Harris is apparently Adam’s mentor? (Jeremy Swift). Sam comes late, dressed oddly but paradoxically makes a good impression because she is truthteller – this is one of several moments in the episode, unusual, where the episode of unconvincing. It is a parallel of Foyle having to get past the suspicions of him by those he is supposedly working for. Another place is when Foyle suggests to Fraser he tell MI5 what he’s been up to and Fraser basically agrees he should with the implication he will. Of course he won’t—they’d laugh at his idea of a brotherhood of scientists and feeling that the Russians are not bad people, just have some bad political leaders.
Shaw is getting into bad fights with his wife; his son insults him for having been away for so long; the wife’s mother tells him this is not his home (it was hers) and to get out Shaw follows the young man to a “gentleman’s club” we had earlier seen Valentine sneak into. It turns out this is a club for gay men and Shaw becomes incensed and beats Valentine up as Valentine comes out and sneers at him. Shaw of course hates homosexuals automatically. He thinks his son is doing a unworthy job in every way. He is taken into custody and we see Ruthie show up and forgive him by hugging him and taking him back to where they are living. Another semi-warm moment.

We see Hoffman suspected; we see him pass information to someone, but only at the end of the episode does Foyle accuse Fraser (apparently) rightly of sharing information with the Soviets (or “others”) He says he is doing this to prevent an atomic war holocaust, so the playing field is leveled for all combatants. We see Fraser and Hoffman go into the Arnwell Atomic Research center where Fraser takes a specimen of U233 – and only later realize this is what they were doing. This is an episode which takes at least 3 watchings.

The fundamental problem with this episode and the whole season and next is Foyle is presented as disliking these spies and their operation but is drawn into joining them. At the end of the episode when we see him at long last heading back to Hastings, Hilda comes by and lures, pressures him into her limousine, and tries to persuade him to work for MI5 (and her). He caves in too quickly: she promises to do what she can for Frank, it appears Sam can be hired as his driver again (so replication of the companion relationship, two people, older man, daughter-like girl, working together). But if he is out of sympathy with much of their thinking, how can he join? He is reminded by Hilda he wanted to join the Security group early in the war, and asked if he is really going to spend his life fishing and nothing else.
It appears this is the only place he can go to now – the world has changed not for the better. So what was he war for? And look at the weapon for the next war …
Spy stories are quite different from mysteries: they are nationalistic, about loyalty and betrayal not just to whom the people work for but to one another so amoral. It is much harder for Foyle to be our secure moral compass in this world – he is said to have hounded Paige to his death – he denies it the verb. There’s a 4 minute introduction to these two new seasons by Anthony Horowitz: he apparently feels the older world mystery is not suited to serious presentations of issues in our world today – only spy stories will do. Foyle’s 1st season was done in 2000; it’s now 2013.

Series 8: Episode 1: “High castle”


Foyle entering Monowitz Slave Labor Camp

Series 8 tells a story which allows the extrapolation out to the hideous capitalist enterprise I.G. Farben, investigation of whom necessitates Foyle’s visit to the slave labor camp of Monowitz. What Foyle unravels is the collusion of the UK and US govts who permitted “businessmen” who of course (I write this ironically) care more about profits to be made by selling gas and now other radioactive products to Nazi Germany which enabled them to fuel their planes and carry bombs that killed millions of people. There is a veil connecting these Nazis and US businessmen to the present Soviet Union in order to satisfy the propaganda still so alive in 2010, but it’s just a distraction to please the US backers.

We see Michael Kitchen filmed in what’s left of these fantastically cruel ugly places. The horrific conditions these slave Jews lived in are made emphatic by talk.
The episode opens with petty thieves/thugs trying to steal the 2000 pounds of whiskey said to be aboard a ship and one of them discovering this fuel is so much poison that he dies of it. This whiskey is bottled as High Castle.
The big businessmen exhibit not the least remorse. Horowitz in the feature that goes with this acknowledges a complaint by US viewers that the US guys seem mostly to be bad guys – in fact Horowitz’s target is capitalism and arms manufacturers, which to be sure where heavily US men.
The Nurembourg trials are going on and we learn that beyond the very top people, the Nazi s who profited so much from the war got off with light sentences. The UK M15 care only about information they can get from these moral horrors. Two of them are killed but our sympathies are kept from arousing for them in their utterly selfish hard mean dense personalities.

Its context Is also the forced coercion of women back to no jobs after the WW2 when men came home and asked for their jobs back. Adam is now a labor MP asked by one of his constituents to help her keep her job. She has been offered a job on a production line for half the pay; the returning man is profoundly physically maimed. Her union is run by men; all the MPs are men. They say it’s women’s job now to have babies. Sam is herself pregnant but not ready to spend all her time at home in the nursery Adam is preparing for her. How awful are jobs as companions to and readers for those who despise you.

Across this episode we meet a number of women who are tyrannized over by men or utterly dependent on them: from the wife of the US murderer running Global American Oil (Standard), to the wife of the scholar who went to Germany to bring back a bribe of diamonds to pay for her medical care in the US for a cancer. Sam is treated in the rudest way by this American’s Nazi-sympathizing old man. At the close when Sam has been rescued by Valentine (Tim McMullan as this closet homosexual is gradually shown to be a decent man) she apologizes to Adam for not caring enough for the potential baby; she said she had no right to endanger herself. She does uncover vital information which enables Foyle to stop these businessmen from continuing their practices to dealing with the Saudi Arabians and Soviet Union, not to omit the Shah of Iran (it supports this man to buy and sell oil with him for armaments). Adam apologizes back because he was trying to help a young woman whom he found he could do nothing for (the very unions are all male) and himself pressuring Sam to stay ‘home.” What’s important beyond the characters and story we care so much about (Sam) is we see this larger deeply exploitation of and bullying/threat of women context.

A terrifying Soviet spy named Leskov does a great deal of the killing. He is never caught.

Foyle’s son has now vanished – that is a loss. I can see we are expected to realize he Is attracted to and himself an attraction for a lone older women, Elizabeth Addis, who works in university and for MI5 (as a casual plant they can call upon) – the smidgen of loyalty felt to a good person seems to me not to go far enough.
I hope I left nothing out that mattered. This season I am driven not to tell the particulars of each story but their larger meaning against the backdrop of the dregs of WW2 and the “cold war. Jokes by a new regular at the Nuremberg trials to Foyle how he is still bothering himself with bodies in libraries stabbed in the back. At least three of these German ex-officials in Hitler’s Germany are murdered in the way of Agatha Christie deaths.

Series 8: Episode 2: “Trespass”


Sam with the desperately poor father and his seriously sick son

I found Trespass remarkable in its candor over the way Israel was being created in 1946/7 – analysing the events in such a way as we can see the origins of the situation today. Some of the matter takes us right back to the 2nd episode of the 1st season about Nazism in British society and among British politicians. Trespass opens with the bombing of the King David Hotel In 1946 by the Jewish terrorist Stern gang (with others). Foyle’s woman friend from the previous episode, Prof Addis, is supervising a class where Daniel Woolf a student is explaining the Balfour proposal was not intended to create a Jewish state but perpetuate British control of that area in the middle east which was a key to reach India, to do trade over oil, to use the Suez canal. What happens during the course of the 90 minutes is we slowly (very slowly) discover the British foreign secretary is playing a double game, and himself sending off bombs to ships to stop Jews from crossing to Palestine; and using MI5 as a clever disguise. A conference is to be held for Arabs and Jews to try to come to a solution, and both the local gov’t and MP (Adam Wainright) to prevent this conference from exploding in violence, which has been precipitated by one of these fascist groups (still around, still anti-semitic after all these years of hideous war & slave labor and extermination camps), which we are shown attract people who are poor and so tired and disappointed after the war is over as their lives are not improved at all. The labor gov’t is still working on producing the National health, and housing and still rationing food.

One set of characters is there to show us how desperate life was: a man with a boy who is very ill cannot get him any care because he lacks the money to pay for a doctor or hospital help; he is tempted to join the Nazi group that night and leaves his son with a kindly aging Polish couple. They are blown up by this Nazi group’s march and his son rescued from death by police. Sam secures for him a doctor’s help with his son.

The most interesting sub-story is that of the young woman who calls herself Lea Fischer and comes to stay with a Jewish family on the excuse she is going to go to a college course. In fact she has come because her father, Jewish, was killed when British brutal soldiers burst on their home in Palestine. She is part of a terrorist group who want to blow up the National Conference because they see it as not favoring Jews. She spends a day with this couple’s son, he grows to trust her and he thinks they are in love; what she does is sneak in a bomb to his equipment as a sound engineer for the conference. He is almost blown to bits – only prevented by Foyle and Sam and M15 discovering this aim at the last moment. She is play by a wonderful actress I recognized from Indian Summers – there too a understandably angry victim who in IS does not take revenge but sacrifices herself and ends up in jail for 9 years. One actress and another actor I recognized as having parts in Outlander! In similar roles archetypally speaking.


Amber Rose Revah as “Lee Fischer”

Again Sam and Adam are not having enough time together. At the very end of the episode we discover that Dr Addis did not find a room for Foyle to enable him to escape the far from friendly spying on him his colleagues and the disguised ruthless people do but for herself to keep an eye on him for the sake of thse colleagues. Again Hilda Pierce is the person who behaves in this distinctly untrustworthy manner. Hilda Pierce’s amorality washes over Dr Addis as Foyle realizes Addis’s friendship for him is part of the spy racket. She is feeling bad about this but she does not stop.

This one is so complicated – what is shown us are the origins of the realities of our colonialist and war-ridden world today. Several of the actors who are in MI5 who we started with and distrusted rightly are now turning into understandable men of compromised integrity.

To read about Season 7, Episodes 2, “The Cage,” and 3, “Sunflowers,” and Series 8, Episodes 3, “Elise.” All in comments.


Sam must leave this career and cross over to her husband …

Ellen

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Mandy Deans (Charlotte Riley) and Gabe Kelly (Obi Abili) dancing as the sole interracial couple


Fred Dawson (Joseph Mawle) comes home to find his wife, Rose (Natasha Little) and son, Danny, have developed close, and loving relationship with a German POW, Joseph Schultz (lent to them as a farm worker)

Dear friends and readers,

I spent this afternoon watching two episodes of Foyle’s War with a friend: “Broken Souls” (S5, Ep 2), about the excruciating emotional pain and damage done to people by the war as they come home from that war and attempt to adjust to what has happened during the years gone and as they learn to have to live with the memories of beloved people killed, often in horrific ways; and “Killing Time” (S6, Ep 2), the fierce unrelenting and open racism of US white people in the army towards their fellow black people fighting equally in the war but discriminated against by humiliating and ostracizing practices towards them, threats, beating, excluding them, as well as how in Britain done more discreetly, equal refusals to accept black people as equal human beings. These are just two of six extraordinary exposures and intelligent dramatizations of social problems in society then and now as exacerbated by the violence and cruelty of often senseless and hate-filled war behavior all around everyone.

This is a different slant than the previous four seasons where the emphasis was more criminal behavior occasioned or allowed by war behavior, often on the British side (see my blog on Seasons 1 & 2, May to Oct 1940; and on Seasons 3 & 4, February 1941 to March 1943). The comedy is different too — more class-based, as in (in “Broken Souls”) two elderly once aristocrats, having to do the housework for themselves, but keeping up humane values: Phyllida Law and Graham Crowdon, Sir John and Lady Muriel Sackville, as the kindly couple who take in a traumatized young evacuee who flees his father in London, returns to them. When the boy’s father accuses them of (in effect) not feeling the war, Sir John remarks that their only son was killed (and the camera shows us his photo in the room).


Ironing

The series is often remembered for its brilliance, the seriousness with which the film-makers studied and present real history, the main character of Foyle (Michael Kitchen’s impeccable performances as a morally just and good man), and the emotional power and still extant interest in social problems the separate stories dramatized with clarity and forceful humane inferences. It is also remembered for the puzzling several attempts to cancel it, just after the ending of Season 4, where we are given a story that seems to provide closure for the series; and again the third concluding episodes of 5 (see below) and 6 (ditto). This is not the first time a reasonably popular series has been cancelled, usually on the insistence (falsifying grounds), the ratings were just not high enough (examples include the 1975-1978 Poldark, The Bletchey Circle (2012, 2014), and 2015-16 Indian Summers).

But in some of these there is evidence to show the people in charge wanted to exert their power to change the way the station was operating, were embarrassed by the shows’ content (women-centered, women’s romance); in the case of Foyle’s War I think various people directly and indirectly involved did not like the critical attitude Horowitz in his scripts took towards what was done in the name of the war, and his decidedly anti-fascist and nationalistic stances, his revealing how capitalistic practices (gains for individuals involved in war businesses) caused unnecessary death and suffering. As opposed to other shows, Foyle’s War is incessantly against the idea the ends justify the means; Foyle, let us recall, is a non-compromiser. I can’t prove that beyond retelling the stories, bringing out their uniqueness in these regards.


Sam (Honeysuckle Weekes) from Season 6 (2010)

Today I became aware in conversation with my friend that the second four seasons (5 & 6, so cancelled that 3 years went by before 7 & 8 appeared) have often not been re-aired or screened, with their explosive material thus forgotten or never seen, so decided I would go on to summarize and present them here. In these episodes since the lives of Foyle’s two assistants, Sam Stewart (Honesuckle Weekes) and Paul Milner (Anthony Howell) moved on with time and changed more than the solitary older Foyle’s and war circumstances changed too, Milner’s role was diminished and then dropped, and Sam was seen even more involved in the community of Hastings where her good heart and emotionally moral nature again supported Foyle’s judgements from a spontaneous involved POV, now mostly dressed in civilian clothes.

As in the two previous times, in order to keep the blog a little shorter, I will put the second of set (here three of six episodes) in the comments, separating them out there so the reader can read what he or she is interested in. But this time I am myself going to rearrange or re-order the episodes so three whose content today remain as relevant to us as ever come on the blog itself, with the others (not less searing and poignant or comic than the others) requiring clicking to reach. As Horowitz was forced into moving more quickly in time (or simple did, because he destroyed episodes, possibly over anger at the reactions to them) so the closer relationship of what literally happens inside an episode to what was happening just then in the war is somewhat lost and less time-bound.

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Tommy Duggan (Sam Spruell), the conscientious objector who at the end accepts responsibility for Mandy and Gabe’s baby rather than let the child go to an orphanage

Season 6, Episode 2: Killing Time, June 1945:

The story concerns Mandy Davis (Charlotte Riley) who unwed has given birth to a mulatto child whose father we learn is Gabe Kelley, a black American (Obi Abili). She lives in the boarding house owned by Adam Wainright (Max Brown) who has hired Sam (Honeysuckle Weekes) to be cook, housekeeper and whatever else is needed. Many is desperately unhappy, and hasn’t enough money to buy milk for the child, much less pay rent regularly. We see how cruel her mother Mrs Dean (Gillian Bedford) is to her. She had been going out with Tommy Duggan, a boxer (Sam Spruell), who a conscientious objector, had been sent to farm in Scotland, and who when he returns find himself spurned by everyone but one friend-boss, a manager of boxers who gives him a place to stay for free for now, and who had dreamed of marrying Mandy. Tommy is deeply hurt in several ways all at once.

Sam befriends Mandy, loves the baby great-heartedly, and offers to go with Mandy to a local dance, Ludy will come. To the dance Gabe comes with three black friends, and at first they are badly ostracized but slowly as he asks Mandy to dance and she agrees, the British at least return to the dance floor. We see how the two love one another and long to be a family with their baby.

Meanwhile the murder & violence mystery story is proceeding. Twice we see a rich businessman stopped, fooled by a woman and then robbed by her and an accomplice male – in the wood One of them is on the town council which has been pressured by the local American army captain, Wesker (Adam Jones) to practice segregation in the town. Foyle votes against this: isn’t protection and better lives what we fought for? But he is over-ruled. We see the harsh ways the white American army men treat the black, but there is a especially mean bully, Sergeant Calhoun (John Sharion) who incites others against Gabe hating him for going out with a white girl, who he also terrifies with horrifying stories of lynching and torture black men who so much as look at a white girl are subject to in the states. Many talks with Sam asking why should the color of Gabe’s skin matter. She is fearful for him.

Well, Foyle finds Gabe lying on the ground that night having been beaten by the whites, they form a congenial acquaintance. Then Gabe goes to Captain or Colonel Wesker to request permission to marry Mandy, and at first refusing, Wesker seems to agree.

Foyle still goes fishing (he had shown some of his tackle to Gabe who appeared to understand what he was seeing). Foyle brings fish to Sam, who says he must come to dinner. He arrives, meets Lucy, and a Mr Hains, a man with one arm who is bitter about the war; also sees Many and Gabe openly a pair. This partly happens as Adam had tried to tell Many she must leave since she’s not paying, she had begged him to stay, and Sam protested this, so to make up for bad behavior, Adam is hosting the dinner beyond the fish.

Then one night Calhoun offers to pay Tommy for boxing. The episode had begun with a violent scene of boxing where a white and black man are in the ring; at first the white is winning, but then the black begins to win and beats the white; but as he is about to be given the prize, Calhoun jumped into the ring and gave the win to the white Well, the black men come in (oddly allowed by Calhoun) and soon they white guys are beating the blacks, and Gabe flees to the wood, and when he returns is told Many has been murdered. This is the story he tells Foyle, for Foyle has been called in earlier to view the body, and hear Wesker say obviously Kelly did it, and behave as if Foyle has no jurisdiction; Foyle insisted he has and begins to investigate. At one point Calhoun gets into Gabe’s cell and threatens to kill Gabe’s baby daughter; next thing Foyle is told Gabe confessed, and Gabe will not retract. There’s a scene where Wesker shows how bitter he is – he wishes the war would have gone on for at home he is nobody and here he was respected.

Sam has taken the baby to Mrs Dean who will not take her granddaughter I – her name is Catherine. She goes to Tommy who insists the baby has nothing to do with him either. Meanwhile the social services have come to demand the baby – this happens in Caryl Philips’s novel, Crossing the River: a child of a black man and white woman is taken from her after he is forced back to the US without her.

Tommy has been feeling very bad: he was a genuine conscientious objector because of the fate of his parents after WW1; he was willing to marry Mandy if she’d give up the baby. Foyle watches him very angry at Calhoun for refusing to pay the fee he agreed to.


Sam as housekeeper for Adam Wainright (Max Brown)

There’s a scene where Adam and Sam think if they were a couple, they could take Catherine in – but they are not (yet).

So the key here is that there is payroll robbery the night Mandy was killed – the same night of the boxing match. Foyle has figured out Mr Hains is a Mr Cole, and Lucy his wife, and they are doing the robberies. The new DC not very useful but he does see the prosthetic arm being used as a bat and takes it to Foyle and the serial number reveals it’s owned by a Mr Cole – who is Hains, as Foyle surmises, because he gave wrong answers when Foyle asked him about D-day. Cole was not there he was at Alamein. Through Cole, Foyle learns that it was Calhoun who threatened them into robbing the payroll, then through Calhoun (once he is accused of the murder) that the plot to have a payroll robbery as a distraction was thought up by Wesley who was having Mandy over that night to get her to bed with him in return for really allowing her a Visa to the states. Wesley gets angry at Mandy for refusing to go back to bed, she says she overheard the plot, and he strangled her.

The last scene of the murder-violent robbery mysteries is Foyle walking up to Wesker playing basketball and accusing him of the murder from all the evidence and affadavits he now has. Wesker admits it – as do just about all the criminals in the Foyle series. Wesker is your ambitious American, is brought up in these final moments. It was his ambition that drove him.


Sam as joyous and cherishing baby

We switch to a scene where Gabe is being urged by his black friends to get into the truck to be shipped home. He stands there and drives up Foyle and Sam with the baby. Sam gives the baby Catherine into his arms and says he will return to bring her back to the US. The orphanage people are there to take Catherine back, but Tommy turns up and says he will take care of Catherine – with the older man who has given him space and the man’s wife – until such time as Gabe returns. He is actually a good-hearted man, and the Coles not bad people.

I came near tears in several of the scenes with Gabe, and I worried intensely for Many and him.

I feel I was that moved because of all the horrible racism I’ve seen in the US since Trump became POTUS, last week the Buffalo slaughter was just so painful to read about Apparently there was segregation forced on some towns during WW2 by the American white army men; there were outbreaks of racial violence in the UK after the US army arrived; conscientious objectors were vilified by ordinary people. The terrible stories of lynching and what happened to black people in the 1940s and still today wouldn’t have pleased a US audience, nor the nailing of ambition and greed as central problems in life beyond racism. US and UK soldiers said to be killing time while they waited either to be disbanded when the war truly over – or sent back to the US It’s also a possibly killing time – time when characters are killed.

Horowitz didn’t write this one; David Kane did. Horowitz also didn’t direct; David Richards did. But this is a Horowitz story in content, feel, mood.

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Foyle playing chess with Dr Novak (Nicholas Woodeson)

Season 5, Episode 2: Broken Souls, October 1944:

This was the saddest of all the stories thus far; its central themes are the criss-cross of people coming home from the war and finding that those living w/o them for45 years say have found new friends, new associates. The example is a working class or agricultural farmer , Fred Dawson (Joseph Mawle) come home from having been a POW, crippled in his legs (frost bite from having been badly treated), to find Rose, his wife Natasha Little) has developed a tender friendship with a German POW, Johann, (Jonathan Forbes) and his son Danny is very fond of this German man. Fred is nasty to Johann, refusing to give him a meal, a place, cannot accept the man’s apology that we are the same, and the man returns to the German POW place. Johann so lonely flees, perhaps back to the farm.

Alas, another man deeply troubled, the head Doctor Josef Novak, in the nearby mental clinic happens by and hears Johann speak German. Novak has tried to kill himself, tried to take on the blame of the murder of a Dr Worth (Jessie Birdsall) who was about to go to Edinburgh for a promotion; he plays chess with Foyle regularly; it emerges the murderer was another lower level doctor, Iain Campbell (Nicholas Woodson) having an affair with a Peter Phelps (Alexander Gilmore) patient’s wife, Joy (Sally Leonard); Worth found out, blackmailed Campbell and was about to expose him anyway. Novak thought it was the pathetic patient, Peter because he was seen with blood all over his hands crying over the body. That was a scene cruelly set up by Campbell who sent the man to a kind of prison. Novak goes into a rage because all the war he has been carrying the burden his family was sent to a ghetto (Lubin, terrible place) and then a concentration slave-death camp and he happened not to be there, and that night at the movie-house he hears of the camp’s discovery and the probable deaths of his whole family so horribly.

Novak feels terrible; he is seen by Tommy Crooks (Danny Worters). Everyone suspected the murderer was Fred Dawson, but it wasn’t. And the penultimate scene is of them coming together: she has accepted him all along, and now he must accept how she survived with the help of Johann for 4 years. Who’s Tommy Crooks?

There are people who’ve lost beloved relatives, an elderly man and women, a Sir John and Lady Muriel Sackville, now w/o servants (Graham Crowden and Phillipa Lawe) and their one son, who took in 3 evacuees find one of them returns, a troubled working class boy, Tommy, from London, trying to escape a rough crude father and loving the countryside, which father comes looking for him, very angry: when at the end the father finally gets access, the boy asks, why do you want me, and the reply is, because you’re mind Not good enough, the father breaks down and says he is desperately lonely since his wife, the boy’s mother was killed in a bombing raid, and needs Tommy. Then the boy agrees.

The only pair we feel little for are Campbell and the truly faithless wife, Sally who abdicates responsibility for her husband allowing impersonal people to remove him from the scene to where he’s the least trouble. They as types could be found in any sleuthing story.

I’ve unraveled the relationships but this is not the order in which we see the people nor the order in which Foyle slowly uncovers who did what, what are the deepest feelings of those involved. We begin Dawson come home and painful scenes; move to with Novak, in the clinic (where we meet some of the clinic characters) and then come to the restaurant to play chess with anyone who is usually Foyle. We then see Tommy racing around the countryside, seeking the kind people and lovely place he had been in for a few months.

Foyle is quietly central all throughout with Milner (Anthony Howell) guessing things and doing the bidding of finding information. Again Sam (Honeysuckle Weekes) carries the comedy – as at the end when she and sergeant win some football bet and are at first dismayed that Foyle wants to give the whole of the 100 pounds to a Jewish refugee fund. He relents with a smile, to say let’s keep and with rations see what we can eat. She helps find Tommy for thought that uncle Vicar (who we don’t see in this episode) she knows the Sackvilles. And so it goes on for 90 minutes with beautiful scenery to boot.

Michael Kitchen, Foyle seems to take on him, within him the world of profound loss and at the end some gentle hope that he comes across in most, many of the characters. A class bias is going on – – for as presented Foyle as boss seems a more serious person, or higher rank and the others somehow not quite his status, but we should remember that he is not high status, a policeman is middle class – early on we met a genteel upper middle woman who loved him (Amanda Root) and rejected him because her father could not approve of her lowering herself and so married a man of her own class, not a bad sort, but she never loved him as she once did Foyle.

I don’t have a Companion for this episode and there is “making of” or information notes, but Wikipedia does say the concentration camp Novak’s family (all but his daughter who it turns out in the last chess game did survive), Mjdanek was notorious; so too Lubin a horrifying place. German POWs were billeted near Hastings. The movie the doctor meant to see on the night he killed Johann, Going My Way, was playing in 1944; he saw instead an Abbot and Costello and news report,which can be located as by BBC correspondent Alexander Werth. Finally the fictional article Dr Worth used where he told the case of Peter Phelps about trauma in war existed (Oct 1944, Journal of Medical Science). Foyle can be seen reading real newspapers.

One of many peculiarly fine programs. The people attempting to cancel this program should have been shamed.

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Foyle and Hilda Pierce, “Special Operations, a ruthless spy type (Ellie Haddington) who becomes a regular in the 7th & 8th seasons as “cold war” politics and post-colonial themes take over

Season 5, Episode 3: All Clear, May 1945:

I found myself moved to tears by the end of this one. Again the theme was the people coming home, and instead of a naïve celebratory stance, we see how hard the war has been on everyone, and how difficult it is to re-integrate. The calendar is used: we mark the days in May to the announcement by Churchill that Germany has surrendered, with which announcement the series and season ends. This is where we have the biggest jump in time until now: 5:2 was April 1944 (D Day June 1944), so it was in this actual year that Horowitz discarded a number of scripts intended slowly to bring us to the end of the war.

One story repeats a motif from 5:2: a soldier, Edward Hylton, comes home to intuit that his wife, Janice, has changed; we learn over the course of 100 minutes she has had a baby by the hotel manager, Martin Longmate, now looking to run for public office. It’s living with her mother; Longmate wanted her to abort it, but she has not, and this story of alienation, an obdurate husband, ends with him overhearing the truth and (apparently) forgiving her and taking in the baby – but we do not stay for how he manages to re-integrate as a carpenter.

As the episode opens a celebration is being planned, and the American officer we met in Invasion is back, Keiffer, unable to renew the fishing friendship he had with Foyle. What we gradually learn is he is hounding Mark Griffiths, a member of the committee who made a mistake in calculations which resulted I the drowning deaths of many soldiers (an event both Griffiths and Keiffer have nightmares about), it’s been hushed up. Through several different contacts, most notably (once again) Hilda Pierce, this spy intelligence agent Foyle learns of this hushed up incident. Foyle can do nothing as Griffiths killed himself so no one can be tried in court.

Still the reason Foyle chases this one down (with help from Milner) is that Griffiths was seeing a psychiatrist who is murdered during the episode. The murder victim is Dr Henry Zeigler, an Austrian, who was doctor for Janice as well as Milner’s now wife, Edith, expecting a baby. It’s Edith’s recognition of Janice that alerts Edward, her husband, to something significant that Janice is hiding.

The depth of feeling in all these is created by the script and the actors so we do not feel this is a circus of improbable distress at all.

Meanwhile while on the one hand, Milner is waiting for a letter to transfer him to a promotion elsewhere (which come at episode’s end) and Foyle has put in for retirement, Sam is looking for another job – and finds herself up against interviews demanding hypocrisies of all sorts. She finds a volunteer position (so unpaid) by a charity organization where we see how hopeless such impersonal attempt to help people find jobs, or places; among those turning up is Andrew, Foyle’s son.

One of the deepest moments in the episode is when Julian Overden turns up as Foyle’s is fishing alone. I cannot account for how Michael Kitchen’s face conveys so much relief after pain. Andrew re-starts his relationship with Sam (Honeysuckle Weeks) who is no easy turn over; Foyle reminds his son, Andrew, how he has hurt her. Their scenes, Sam and Andrew, are done in that third person with the pair of them referring to themselves in the third person the way we’ve seen Foyle do on several occasions with women attracted to him.

Glad to say the shit Martin Longmate, clearly from conversations against the labor transformative goals including Bevin’s heath care is nailed – though the references by Foyle to Longmate being hanged should be bothering – – this viewer is glad Longmate who hurt Janice, was going to take on Sam In the same spirit will be stopped. Foyle says what a shame, you are prefer for a politician.

Again class-based comedy comes out of the sergeant and other police officers going off for mild celebrations. Very moving Churchill’s speech heard over the radio. Quiet diurnal: people can’t sleep because they don’t hear bombs coming over. Milner’s wife wants to name a boy Winston as in Winston Milner; he’s relieved it’s a girl but now she’s Clementine Winston. Sam is for voting for Churchill – he’s pulled us through, hasn’t he?

Quiet diurnal: people can’t sleep because they don’t hear bombs coming over. Milner’s wife wants to name a boy Winston as in Winston Milner; he’s relieved it’s a girl but now she’s Clementine Winston. Sam is for voting for Churchill – he’s pulled us through, hasn’t he? E.M.

The episode ends with the furniture of the old office taken away and Foyle left alone to turn around and leave


Horowitz’s success was partly due to his wife, Jill Green, as also producer, a central part of the film-making team

The disk does return us to better times. A 12 minute making of Foyle abut the secret map making activities behind 5:1, and some real people testifying to how it was done. The Imperial war Museum head now talking for the first time. And reasonable commentary in words from Weeks and Milner about how much the series has meant to them and what they did otherwise (Weeks participated in marathon runs). Another thing to mention about the disk for 5:3 — intrusive trailer at the beginning and no trailer at the end ruining your feeling about the ending you’ve just experienced. As Horowitz thought he was going out, he at least got respect and silence for the program he had just made and the viewer just watched.

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To read about Season 5, Episode 1, Plan of Attack, April 1944, in comments; Season 6, Episode 1, The Russian House, June 1945, in comments; Season 6, Episode 3, The Hide, February, 1945, in comments.


Kitchener as Foyle and Weekes as Sam, 2013 — 7th and 8th season (this will be my last blog on Foyle’s War)

Ellen

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Rosa Parks, with Martin Luther King in the background


James Baldwin (see I am not your Negro)

“Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” — George Orwell

“Why of all the multitudinous groups of people in this country do you have to single out Negroes and give them this separate treatment?” — Thurgood Marshall, arguing in Brown vs the Board of Education.

Dear friends and readers,

For the past couple of years, beginning around the time the pandemic quarantine began (March 2020) I’ve been taking courses in Black history at the two colleges for retired people where I also teach: OLLI at AU and OLLI at Mason.  These included: “The History of Reconstruction;” “Racism in America Civil to Post World Wars,” “Teaching Black history in Virginia;” “Black History;” “The Life and Poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks,” August Wilson’s American Century Cycle. I’ve made an effort to watch Black films, .g. Spike Lee’s Malcolm X and Do the Right Thing); King Richard (very recently), on Richard Williams and his two tennis-champion daughters, Venus and Serena).

I’ve gone to museum exhibits, The Warmth of Other Suns (adapted from Isabel Wilkerson’s book), made a real effort to teach Black authors (Caryl Philips and Toni Morrison) and Black History myself.

I discovered a history of cruel devastation inflicted on people of color whose ancestry was in Africa, not only during enslavement, but for over a hundred years thereafter, with 1965 an important gain but not enough to offset hundreds of years of money and labor exploitation, imprisonment, humiliation, periodic massacres as part of a reign of terror (lynching just one aspect of this), to say nothing of their renewal in the 1990s with the movement to mass incarcerate Black men and the continued casual killing of Black people by police in the streets.

I had when a teacher of undergraduates regularly taught James Baldwin, once tried Richard Wright’s Native Son and once Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn (very painful experiences), as well as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun.

Lincoln’s birthday. In NYC when I was growing up, we got the day off in school and other places and lots of ceremonies remembered him. Heather Cox Richardson (2/12) shows the logic that Lincoln used to show how dangerous and pernicious the right to and legal practice of enslaving others is. I know from my own reading one term where I taught a course for American University called American Literary Masterpieces that Lincoln’s speeches all show a man repeatedly arguing for the equality of man (alas he does not mention women) and against enslavement of people. It’s unmistakable – whatever historians say about the delay of the Emancipation Proclamation. I felt I could not teach a course in American literature of the 19th century without some real grasp of who Lincoln was. It was that class where I read with students Frederick Douglas’s autobiography, told of slave narratives and we read Uncle Tom’s Cabin (as one of the units).

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So from this long complicated history of egregious injustice, from all these heart-rending and uplifting stories (because Black nonetheless have made astonishing advances in the few years of liberal outlook (say 1960 to 1980s in custom, in law 1965 until the present Supreme court began to gut all the civil rights legislation that had been passed since the 1960s), what can I offer to add to public memory.

One sobering pattern: repeatedly throughout Black history in the US when a great and good Black man rises to prominence and begins to do wide-spread good he is murdered in his later 30s (true of Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, David Walker; see also demonstrations/protests; my blogs on LiveJournal under racism in America). John Lewis almost was.

One heartening one:


Henry Ossawa Tanner — The Banjo Lesson

The history of the initiation and growth of Black education in the US, the slow creation of colleges so that what one saw briefly in reconstruction for a very few people slowly slowly grows to have a network and buildings and libraries and places of order and safety of which today Howard University is a kind of crown jewel. – though recently they too have wiped out, gotten rid of their classic department – no more Latin and Greek study. It is through hard study, her education, going to Howard University (itself infected by class and racism), as teacher at a historically black college, and then editor in a publishing company.

Students who are freshman are sometimes so puzzled as to why learning this text is going to lead somewhere – why memorizing this or that formula matters – experience teaches them if they have not had parents who were able to. Also Civil Rights (1866 Gates mentions) acts which while ignored or undermined were put on the books and when we come to obey the law matter.

Focus on Oberlin College, founded in 1833 as a communitarian settlement, admitted more Black students than all other American colleges combined before 1865. It was coeducational and early in its history had financial troubles under pressure white males only but they held out. One private preparatory school for Black children supplied 1/3rd of the Black student body. They had some extraordinary individuals even in the early years; a weakening between 1880 and 1948 when Black and white students made to eat separately and segregated housing. Again and again in the history by Gates you see Oberlin active for good for enabling Black people to become professional, to be trained, to later seek places for some power. Oberlin is now the base for the Toni Morrison society

In the perspective I’m outlining the importance of Affirmative action can be seen.

After emancipation, 1865 Freedman’s Bureau, Freedman’s Aid societies, Northern missionary groups establish schools. The most enduring ones have been Fisk University, 1865, Morehouse College and Howard University 1867, Hampton University 1868. Since I have to go fast I fast forward to the important conflict between those I’ll call appeasers, Booker T Washington and not just aspirationalists but aware that being taught to be more than skilled people in trade jobs was crucial for Black people to build a society– among these an important voice. W.E.Dubois, famous for Souls of Black Folks. Which I have read. He sounds like a hard Emerson. What shall be in the curriculum intensely important. One needs Black physicians for a start. Black people conflicted themselves over their goals and how to go about it early on. As Malcolm X and MLK did. By 1890s should you include Black people and achievements in international expositions. Black journalism promoted by liberal whites (previously abolitionists)

In popular history a great deal is made of the star – star athlete, singers, musicians, fighting in these wars too. There are so many in different walks of life I’ll confine myself to one: Sadie Tanner Mosell Alexander, 1898-1989; she earned a Ph.D in economy at the University of Pa, dissertation was Standard of Living Among one Hundred Negro Migrant families in Philadelphia. She went to law school, serves in National Urban League, ACLU, hired by Truman for committees, for Kennedy and for Carter. History of wonderful paintings – early Henry Osssawa Tanner The Banjo Lesson.

The central importance of the church for African-American people – and its leaders. Rev William Barber comes to mind

Two individuals lost from memory, whom you may not have heard of.


1875-1950

Carter G. Woodson, 1926, a historian, determined to write The Negro in History. He was one of the moving people behind the successful creation of the NAACP. From his achievements:

In January 1916, Woodson began publication of the scholarly Journal of Negro History. It has never missed an issue, despite the Great Depression, loss of support from foundations, and two World Wars. In 2002, it was renamed the Journal of African American History and continues to be published by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). Woodson published The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861. His other books followed: A Century of Negro Migration (1918) and The History of the Negro Church (1927). His work The Negro in Our History has been reprinted in numerous editions and was revised by Charles H. Wesley after Woodson’s death in 1950. Woodson described the purpose of the ASNLH as the “scientific study” of the “neglected aspects of Negro life and history” by training a new generation of Black people in historical research and methodology. Believing that history belonged to everybody, not just the historians, Woodson sought to engage Black civic leaders, high school teachers, clergymen, women’s groups and fraternal associations in his project to improve the understanding of African-American history.

He served as Academic Dean of the West Virginia Collegiate Institute, now West Virginia State University, from 1920 to 1922.[26] By 1922, Woodson’s experience of academic politics and intrigue had left him so disenchanted with university life that he vowed never to work in academia again. He continued to write publish and lecture nationwide. He studied many aspects of African-American history. For instance, in 1924, he published the first survey of free Black slaveowners in the United States in 1830.

And David Walker (1796-1830) — one of those murdered in his later 30s. His centrally important was was An Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World. Read his life and work in wikipedia; here is a central section of An Appeal:


Freedom’s Journal, first newspaper owned and operated by Black people in the US

In his Appeal Walker implored the black community to take action against slavery and discrimination. “What gives unity to Walker’s polemic,” historian Paul Goodman has argued, “is the argument for racial equality and the active part to be taken by black people in achieving it.” Literary scholar Chris Apap has echoed these sentiments. The Appeal, Apap has asserted, rejected the notion that the black community should do nothing more than pray for its liberation. Apap has drawn particular attention to a passage of the Appeal in which Walker encourages blacks to “[n]ever make an attempt to gain freedom or natural right, from under our cruel oppressors and murderers, until you see your ways clear; when that hour arrives and you move, be not afraid or dismayed.” Apap has interpreted Walker’s words as a play on the Biblical injunction to “be not afraid or dismayed.” As he points out, “‘be not afraid or dismayed’ is a direct quote from 2 Chronicles 20.15, where the Israelites are told to ‘be not afraid or dismayed’ because God would fight the battle for them and save them from their enemies without their having to lift a finger.”[33] In the Bible, all the Israelites are expected to do is pray, but Walker asserts that the black community must “move.” Apap insists that in prompting his readers to “move”, Walker rejected the notion that the blacks should “sit idly by and wait for God to fight their battles — they must (and implicit in Walker’s language is the assumption that they will) take action and move to claim what is rightfully and morally theirs.”

[W]e colored people of these United States are the most degraded, wretched, and abject set of beings that ever lived since the world began, and I pray God, that none like us ever may live until time shall be no more. They tell us of the Israelites in Egypt, the Helots in Sparta, and of the Roman slaves …whose sufferings under those ancient and heathen nations, were, in comparison with ours, under this enlightened and Christian nation, no more than a cypher. Or in other words, those heathen nations of antiquity had but little more among them than the name and form of slavery; while wretchedness and endless miseries were reserved, apparently in a phial, to be poured out upon our fathers, ourselves, and our children by Christian Americans.


The Frontispiece

— Walker’s Appeal, page 1 (lightly edited)
Walker’s Appeal argued that blacks had to assume responsibility for themselves if they wanted to overcome oppression. According to historian Peter Hinks, Walker believed that the “key to the uplift of the race was a zealous commitment to the tenets of individual moral improvement: education, temperance, protestant religious practice, regular work habits, and self-regulation.”

Of course I hope you don’t need to be taught about A Philip Randolph (he succeeded in unionizing the Pullman Porters, organized the March on Washington) and Ida Wells (What didn’t this courageous woman do — she openly exposed and fought against lynching).


A Philip Randolph — one of my father’s heroes


A strong book — so too Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, about a group of Black people who migrated from the south to the north and the hardships and fierce discrimination that ceaselessly they encountered

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Just now around the US there is going on an apparently successful attempt to stop people of color, poor people, aging people from voting, with gerrymandering especially aimed “with surgical precision” as one judge wrote, to prevent Black people from achieving Black representation in all forms of government, especially when the representative is a person of color (non-white, of any type). Numerous states, among them Virginia (where I live) the teaching of Black history is outlawed; a hotline is set up for any parent anywhere to report on any teacher said to teach anything divisive; any thing that can be labelled “Critical Race Theory.” The teaching of Black history as part of US history has only begun in the last few years (I certainly learned almost nothing) is to be stopped. Why? Not because what has been taught is false, or because it might make some white child uncomfortable. The point is, as Orwell suggested, to control the future by erasing the past, and in this case perpetuate a male white Protestant supremacy.

All should know that a law was passed in 1672 in Virginia that “any person [who was] a slave who resisted a white person could be [casually] killed. Absolutely legal in the colony of Virginia. The only qualification was that the colony could compensate the owner for the loss of his property (when this would seem appropriate it’s not clear from the wording of the law). Why? to see the continuity with today.

So I want to write in opposition and thought I’d write this one time for specifically for Black History Month.  My problem is I know so little and have over the course of my life done so little politically — except vote and write blogs and teach. It is only in the last 20 years I’ve begun to learn and to teach Black history and think, read and write about colonialism.

Gwendolyn Brooks’s was the first African-American to win the Nobel Prize for literature. So where better to end for now.  I don’t know if “To Prisoners,” is her best poem (see my foremother poet blog) but you can (if you know how to do this) download an exquisitely moving video where you hear four wrongfully convicted Black ex-convicts who are now poets or ordinary citizens reading this poem aloud so beautifully and movingly. They tell you how they interpret its words. The interviewer is Anna Deavere Smith, playwright and activist. Here she also interviews John McCain who recites a poem aloud that he wrote and memorized and shared with a prison mate next door to him. The doing of this helped him stay alive:


Opening image: a prison hall

https://www.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/pia18.ela.brooksprisoners/brooks-to-prisoners/

To Prisoners

I call for you cultivation of strength in the dark.
Dark gardening
in the vertigo cold.
in the hot paralysis.
Under the wolves and coyotes of particular silences.
Where it is dry.
Where it is dry.
I call for you
cultivation of victory Over
long blows that you want to give and blows you are going to get.
Over
what wants to crumble you down, to sicken
you. I call for you
cultivation of strength to heal and enhance
in the non-cheering dark,
in the many many mornings-after;
in the chalk and choke.

Ray Charles is very old in this video (imagine what he went through) and to my mind there is something ironic and heart-breaking to watch and hear him sing his own lyrics to this poignant tune:

Ellen

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David Nicholls’ Us — Douglas (Tom Hollander) and Connie (Saskia Reeves) in the present time summer of the novel as shown in the spectacular travel scenes of the movie (2015)

Gentle reader, Us, the book, works like Austen’s Emma; near the end a sudden unexpected revelation (if I’m reading aright, which I might not be as the information is delivered ambiguously) makes what we have been assuming all along sufficiently a blunder so a second reading uncovers clues we had not recognized. In order to explicate the book, and suggest why it is superior to the movie, Us, I tell this revelation in my 4th paragraph. For those not planning to read the book, this transformative information is left out of Us, the movie, so it won’t matter to you, except as you learn upfront you have been fobbed off with a far more superficial or at its end shallow experience (that hardly makes sense) or, aka, you are missing out …

Dear friends and readers,

Mid-summer is here and I’ve yet to record even one summer movie or book! The last time I wrote a blog on “summer movies” seems to be in 2018 (includes a summer adaptation of Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night Dream) and before that, 2015 (Mr Holmes — if this be not a summer movie ….). The specific criteria might be that the summer film gives sensual pleasure (be partly a travelogue), that the catastrophic calamities of what’s called (somewhat absurdly) “the third world” not be visited on our characters, and immediate deaths and long-range historical dire events be for the duration of the film excluded. I called last summer’s movies, “Uplift” because as a group they were so earnest.

But, it will be said by those who’ve seen the movie or read the book, a death occurs in Us, Douglas and Connie’s first-born child, a daughter they name Jane, born prematurely, dies not long afterwards of sepsis; and there’s no denying that our hero, Douglas Petersen (Tom Hollander and Iain de Castecker in the film) undergoes strong trauma caused by his wife, Connie (Saskia Reeves and Gina Bamhill).


Us — Douglas (Iain de Caestecker) and Connie (Gina Bramhill) some 25 or so years ago in the movie

The story is initiated when Connie tells Douglas one night (after some 25 years of apparently contented enough marriage) she “thinks our marriage has run its course … ” and thinks (again the hesitating word) she “wants to leave” him. She just can’t explain herself further. She wants to be free; she’s tired of her life with him. Albie is leaving for college/university in the fall. It’s a good time to do this is implied. The rest of the book and film is an extended set of Douglas’s memories leading up to how this 25th summer he and Connie are so unadmittedly (is there such a word?) estranged and strangers that the statement, her desire is wholly unexpected. These memories are interwoven with one last summer tour together with their son, Albie (Tom Taylor) in which Douglas attempts to win his wife over again to get her to stay with him for the rest of their lives. This then (the action of the story) becomes a tour in which he finds he must mend a broken relationship with his son, because it’s clearly the dysfunctional elephant in the room of the marriage that has been helping tear himself and Connie apart.


The trio in a museum (the Louvre?), Albie (Tom Taylor) closest to us (and clearly bored)

What then makes it qualify as a summer book and movie? The deeply sensuous enjoyment of visiting with film-makers in charge, the actors, camera crew, and all those active together to make a film, experiencing many glorious and famous places across six different countries, and several major European cities. 162 sets worth, not excluding filming on trains and in train stations. The continual laughter – yes laughter, for the book is irresistibly funny as Douglas and (no omitting this) Nicholls continually deliciously sends up, brings out the absurdities of our daily life’s arrangements, and shows a extraordinary facility with sheer language – he emits cornucopias of wit — as some of the jokes are out of sheer language, or marvelous intuitive reductive send-ups of what we actually see in pictures, hear in music, how we dress, talk eat, drink, sleep is not left out. I’m a very jaded reader and it is so hard or rare for me to laugh, but I find myself not only laughing and beginning to giggle and stay laughing aloud for extended passages, but on my re-reading the book (I like it so much and feel it has riches not revealed the first time round, or probably only after several times and then repeatable) I laugh all over again.

Yes, the ending of the book has a dark unexpected revelation (omitted from the film) that it’s possible that what motivated Connie that first night the film begins was her lover previous to Douglas, one Angelo, whom on a second reading one realizes is mentioned far more than we had realized throughout the book, her “ex” from whom she said was on the rebound, deigned to show up and offer to renew the relationship. This suggests to Douglas (and us), she had indeed taken Douglas as some kind of super-superior husband material — kind, money-earning, responsible, loyal, hard working, very intelligent, well educated — whom she could spend a comfortable life with (just taking a part time job in a non-profit art museum) and bring up a son to enter the upper middle class through very good schooling. A fun tame-able convenience she could lead, having so much better social skills and daring ways. Not because she loved him deeply the way he had her. He knows the only way he can hold onto his son’s regard is to let him go live a life with no room for his father in it. Abie is Connie’s son. It’s only then and only briefly – but sincerely – in the book Douglas considers killing himself. Connie in the film 20 years later is not character I was much in sympathy with; she seemed shallow rather than “with it,” after all, what was she doing all these 25 years when she stopped painting. Douglas would have had her carry on. In the book there are hidden aspects of her discontentment and lack of inspiration that at least imply a thinking mind and heart, not just a pillow mother who enters into conventional life with child-like zest.

But Douglas pulls back; he tells us of the routine he builds up after Connie is gone, and then or nonetheless, in the book he types Freya’s name into his computer’s search engine. In the movie he turns up in a museum (the museums and a use of relevant old master paintings are a repeated motif of the film) and there she is, sitting, gazing at the picture waiting for him. Both book and movie offer the possibility of a partner for Douglas who actually sympathizes with and understands his socially awkward ways and high serious values. A woman newly divorced (flat left herself suddenly for a younger woman), Freya (Sofie Grabol), whom he met in Florence and spent the most pleasant congenial compatible day he’d spent in a long time — without fooling himself or being asked to be other than he is.


Freya and Douglas exchanging notes on this strange breakfast — cake and/or cheese slices with coffee

It should be obvious that as with the other summer movies I’ve urged readers here not to miss, my deepest pleasure in reading came from a depth of emotion that is carried so lightly and spoke home to me about myself and others. Nicholls’s crisp lucid analyses bring us recognition (not everyone is humble enough to enjoy this), and the kind of quiet or undirected ethical teaching and insight that have lost status of late (so Booker Prize books have turned into fashionable games too). But they are on offer especially in the book. I’ve discovered reviewers (Mark Lawson of The Guardian on the book in 2014) regularly condescend to Nicholls (there must be something suspect in a novelist and screenplay writers whose works sell so widely). Alex Robins of the New York Times is especially above this movie (Nicholls “wrings a certain amount of comedy out of Douglas’s hopeless squareness”). Rebecca Nicolson (again The Guardian) is similarly disdainful. I say especially in the book because (alas) Nicholls himself rewrites the book into a film where he endorses laughing at and rejecting Douglas for at least half the movie because he knows in social life the person who is all heart openly, is despised.

For myself I bond with, identify or maybe just am especially drawn to the personality type other laugh at, the kind of person so serious and earnest about life and his feelings for others and what they are doing together (as a worthy task to be done to the best of our abilities), and it’s that terrain Douglas inhabits. In book and film What his wife and son continually, sometimes unconsciously but often consciously do is exclude Douglas. Connie colludes in this; she precipitates the deepest crisis of the movie when she sides wholly with her son in an incident in a restaurant where Albie, rightly incensed at the obnoxious treatment by men full of themselves (fancy suits) of a waitress, carries this too far by going over to the table and provoking a physical encounter; Douglas seeking to calm things and appalled at Albie’s aggression, apologizes for this. Connie treats this as betrayal like that of Brutus to Caesar. The boy, awash with money he’s ever provided with, flees leaving behind a letter saying he will not get into contact with them for a long time to come.

Both then, but especially Douglas, become hysterically worried about the boy – he might be in danger — and Douglas’s psychological state becomes so revved up he begins an impossible quest to find the boy, apologize and bring him back home — to Connie (who, pragmatic woman, has returned home). The quest has its own traumas (losing all his stuff and being w/o money and a working cell phone at one point); it’s killing on his feet, but also exhilarating experiences. His son’s behavior when he finally catches up to him turns from utter rejection to comradeship when he sees all he means to his father and his father has a serious heart attack.


Douglas in Florence, soaking his blistered feet

It’s important to insist this sequence is not just a (ho hum) clichéd rehash of the character on the edge. Douglas has been hurt repeatedly — the person whose generous hearted gifts are not just turned back, but accepted on sufferance. To say he is underappreciated does not get to it. One typical incident: they blame him for not being adventurous in eating, and he goes with them to a restaurant where Albie knowingly orders him very hot spicy soup, and then hands him a very hot overcooked meat on a stick — and Douglas is driven wild with burning sensation in his mouth. He sees wife and son laughing at the table, ignoring whatever he has gone through in a bathroom to cope. If he shows an inability to understand mindless fun (with legos, at a quiz over celebrity items that pass as knowledge) he has given his all, to put it in philistine terms, pre-paid for all this with hard-earned large sums of money.

Given a chance, Douglas is liberal; his looking askance at an art major comes from his worry his son won’t be able to make a living out of strange photographs. I note that while the film ends with an exhibition of Albie’s art, implying Douglas was over-cautious, not trusting to his son’s special abilities, the book has no such scene. When Douglas discovered Albie is homosexual, there is not a second’s pause in his acceptance of his son’s sexual orientation. Matt Cain (The Independent) who wrote the film and book are heart-breaking and joyous has it right. Candace Carty-Williams of The Guardian in a short notice about the film said by film’s end she could not control her tears

At the book’s end for three pages, our usual narrator, Douglas, vanishes, and Nicholls as narrator or author retells Albie’s story from a very different point of view, and instead of the over-indulged upper class white male, naively self-confident (if he is only let be!) becomes an unconventional young man who had an unusual relationship with an artistic mother, who finally frees himself of an over-bearing well-meaning father (he sees this). Connie’s story is retold too as that of the frustrated artist who somehow (as a woman?) held back for 24 years now wants to fulfill herself before it’s too late, and resisting her husband’s pleas, separates herself from him, goes to London, and lo and behold begins to paint and not only that reconnects with this lover (now afterward for sure); she loves this man’s bohemian nature (all the pictures in the room Douglas saw in the first days of their relationship were of Angelo) and finds happiness with him “just in time.” (So as with Austen’s Emma, which contains very different stories of the characters besides Emma that Emma can never see, so here.) Nicholls says these might have made better stories than his own, that is, Douglas is a surrogate for him. We then trace Douglas’s anguish (as I outlined above), leading to near suicide, but holding out, to type in Freya’s name, with the words of the next unwritten chapter “dentist Copenhagen” (her profession and where she lives). For my part I disagree with Nicholls’ sudden startling turnabout and reversal, for it is Douglas’s story of ordinariness, of everyday failures, of the enemies of his promise (he has not been able to become that great scientist he dreamt of over his fruit flies either), of trying so hard and meaning so well, earnest seriousness, of ethical giving that can provide us with strength to carry on.

Several summers ago I saw a 2015 Far from the Madding Crowd (Hardy’s book adapted) with Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba and just loved it (though I never wrote a blog) and tonight have discovered Nicholls wrote the screenplay for that too. It’s the one time I have been able to appreciate Hardy.


Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene

Ellen

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Frances McDormand as our thoughtful Fern – she recites a Shakespeare sonnet by heart, and at other moments shows herself to be well-read (Nomadland)


The owner, boss, chief of the glass-making factory who permitted American Factory to be made

Dear friends and readers,

This might be labelled now for something somewhat different. Most of the contemporary movies and plays I review on this blog take a liberal, sometimes radical, left-wing, anti-racist, social humanist stance: these are the kinds of stories I enjoy. Theatre I look for something profoundly (if possible) exploratory of the human spirit, especially in distress, on the edge of not coping (Uncle Vanya: scroll down). For tonight I’ve a film to recommend as mesmerizing, whose not-so-hidden agenda is libertarian enabled by sleights-of-hand. Nomadland, scripted & directed by Chloe Zhao, featuring Frances McDormand, based on a book of the same title by Jessica Bruder, resembles Mudbound, in being a movie made by, coming from material by women, and much be-prized. I had been sleepy and the experience projected woke me up.

But then I recommend that the next night as contrast you watch on Netflix, American Factory (made partly because of the Obamas’ presence, also an independent film, directed by Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert). You will discover what is the true context for Nomadland and how what is presented are desperate self-induced romantic delusions, which people tell themselves as in: they have made a good choice in their apparent willingness to flee inside their van-homes from a ruthless asocial society to wander about deserts, snow belt, and forests. (There are those who refuse to consider they will end up with this kind of job as a life choice.)

At the center of the Nomadland is a widow, or should I say wife whose husband has died a hard death of cancer: asked her status, Fern says she is married, only her husband is dead. His death has not parted her from him. Her memories, the decades she spent living with him in the way he wanted (in factory jobs), in a house he preferred (tract house), situated in a place he liked (at the edge of a desert), surround her mind, keep her company. To be fair, this emphatic inward shaping is not brought forth at first: what we are immediately confronted with is a factory sign which tells us the factory is shut down, and intertitles inform us that upon that factory closing the community vanished. No jobs, no way for the people to stay and to survive. She appears to be living a subsistence life, near destitute, in an old “ratty” van; caging the lowest sorts of jobs (a packer at an Amazon warehouse, a cleaner in a campsite, a cook and washer-up in a huge fast food place (turns out to be a sort of Disneyland store-as-mall called Drug Wall), at which she works for as long as they need her, and then is either fired or she quits. She has made enough money to live for say weeks on end in her van traveling about the west in the midst of spectacular scenery (beautifully photographed of course — never dingy, never just grey, when it rains it rains impressively). We see her looking at her pictures remembering happy moments – I’ve seen this in many films centering on older women.


The life of Fern and Dave presented as if they were on a perpetual sunny picnic (see the review it appears in)

Only gradually do we see the hardships of such a life, but they do not seem to bother our heroine. What if she urinates or defecates in a bucket – she can empty it the next day. What if her van lacks heat: she has plenty of blankets. She has a TV, radio. Once a tire goes, and she is almost stranded: but a woman she has the nerve to ask help from relents and they become close friends for a while — until it’s time for the friend to move on, probably to a hospital for she is dying of untreated cancer. Once when she is told to move on, this is not a place to park overnight, her car stalls. Turns out to fix the car she needs $2300 and she is told the car is worth $5000 — but it is she says her home. (She has told someone she is not homeless, only houseless.) She doesn’t have it, and on the phone, her sister refuses her, so we see her somehow take a long journey by bus and foot to that sister living in a beautifully appointed middle class home. The sister would clearly keep her, and the sister’s friends sort of accept her, but Fern will not stay; she gets the money in an envelope and promises to pay it back, and return to her truck. We see her disappoint herself and a small dog by refusing to take the poor creature into her truck with her. She stiffens herself and walks away.

There are some “feel-good” compensations. She travels to real life gurus about whom people like herself gather and learn how to survive from, as well as in groups celebrate together their existence

She attends several such events during the movie. Enjoys dances. Becomes friends with a man she is clearly compatible with, one Dave (David Straitharn) who she travels with for a while: they take hard jobs together; then his 30+ year old son shows up, and asks his father to return home with him and see a grandchild. Dave confides to Fern he’s been a lousy father and seems unwilling to go with his son, asks Fern to come with him, or later on; the son (miraculously) seems to hold nothing against the father and when she does take Dave up on the invitation, we find ourselves in another beautiful middle class home, the food just gorgeous and originally cooked; she is told she is welcome to stay. But she foregoes this. As with her sister, she says she cannot. It’s not her? When the movie is over, we are told the charismatic leader whom she returns to more than once (and he has his tale of hard grief) and many of the people she meets are real “nomads” like herself.

The movie was just showered with awards. Rotten tomatoes gave it a rating of 98%. Most reviews give high praise with little qualification: Ebert’s reviewer just “loved it”:. Ditto as “the critic’s pick” for the NY Times. I began to wonder what was wrong with this film? My mind was very tired by the time I came to it at 11 pm (nowadays you can watch films into the wee hours w/o worrying about how you are to get home, or the movie theater’s hours). But then I found what I was troubled by expressed by Richard Brody of the New Yorker: A nostalgic portrait of itinerate America, he calls the film. He noticed all the characters were presented in a simplified way and kept at a distance from us through Fern’s mind. Read what he has to say. Here’s how I’d put it

The way the subsistence existence of these people is presented is that this is their choice — as Fern chose to live with that husband and not stay with her sister (who complains she could have and she left a hole in their family). They seem to want to live this way, and indeed the real people say this – but real people in social life do not like to present themselves as impoverished and near destitute, especially at the end of their lives. Ask about the company they work for and they will often excuse its hard behavior to them, identify with the company that is gouging them. Fern clearly chooses this because in front of us she has a new right now (romantic) offer from Dave who could go live with his son, who (as I say) seems to have forgiven his father for a boy- and young manhood of total neglect and be living in very nice middle class circumstances — as do Frances’s sister and relatives. Amazon looks a horrible place to work, so too the kitchens of a restaurant stop on some big highway, or as someone who is the cleaner of a campsite for RVs — but our Fern needs only work there for as long as she needs to get together enough money to go out on the road again.

Who needs Biden’s infrastructure or plan to make good jobs, bring industry back when we can spend weeks in the mountain moon light? There are a couple of lines now and again by someone very old who implies he or she was given no chance for anything else once the job was up. Could save nothing. I remembered Willie Loman of The Death of a Salesman; Arthur Miller has him say in anguish, am I to be thrown away after a lifetime of hard work? We are confronted with a refrigerator engineered to last as long as it takes to pay for it. I remembered Grapes of Wrath where the people go on strike; where they are relieved when for a short time they can go inside a gov’t run camp and live better (if there are rules to abide by).

I don’t say there isn’t enough here to show you what the economic reality is. But all but one or two people who if they offer no help, look very sorry over Fern’s plight and tell Fern of a bed in a near by church — of course she is not bothered, remember she is houseless, not homeless. A friend recognized in this movie “an American spirit, a sort of go it on our own mentality in opposition to going along with a government plan for everyone, though it also avoids being very political. These people have a sense of pride that doesn’t want to take charity.” He did remark he had never seen Wall Drug from the harsh point of view we were shown it in this film (a hot kitchen, a place where garbage mounts up).

Brody notices all the things the film leaves out: practicalities: how do they pay their taxes? He says the film omits in the case of Dave’s brief stay in a hospital how before a hospital will perform a procedure on you you must sign a document accepting any and all related charges. I wondered also where they kept any money they might have? do they vote, ever? In the large scheme what is left out is the salary structure and price of goods in a society that disabled them from ending up with savings or pension. Of course the people are on a spiritual quest now. Right.

When I was identifying with the heroine as a woman who choses to be alone rather than re-marry or get a new partner, there is a huge difference between me and this woman. I own a house, have widow’s annuity (2/3s of my late husband’s federal gov’t pension), my social security, and both my parents’ savings — I can afford to say no to someone like Dave — who himself is apparently going to live of the charity of a son he was a lousy father too. Maybe it’s foolish and useless to complain about this kind of (in effect) libertarian propaganda, but maybe not. It is not my mentality to live liminally continually, oh no, and not (I submit) most people’s.


Miss Pettigrew before putting on attractive clothes …

I am wondering if Frances McDormand makes a specialty of portraying white working class type women. The last movie I saw her in, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, she was a very violent woman and very angry and working class essentially — what I remember best about the film is the continual profanity and anger and abysmal poverty — cars loaded down with guns in the back. Mississippi Burning was a whitewash (pun intended). It was years ago I saw her in witty comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, again a person with low expectations, so very appealing in a very non-feminist film.


Workers

Earlier this spring I saw a documentary, American Factory, recently about a Chinese company — huge corporation — who came to the US and took over an empty US factory that had failed the capitalist demands of high profits — very like the what the factory in Nomadland. did When it closes, almost everyone in the town is unemployed. I recommend it because it exposes the workings of capitalism from the inside of the work day, from the point of view of American and Chinese workers, the long hard hours (Chinese will endure hardly any time off and long periods away from their children), the required worship of a boss, high efficiency demands, no vacation for long periods, demands of utter loyalty and pretend obedience rituals. What people in the class said was they were amazed the company allowed the camera in — the answer was it was supposedly fair — showed “both sides.” Well it did show how the boss regarded his profit, but it made clear how his company (very like Amazon) thwarted an attempt to unionize (forced meetings, constant propaganda against it, threats made good to fire people). The real thrust was to expose the ruthless stealing of people’s very lives so one man or several can make huge sums. What enabled the making of it was the Obamas backed it. Here is an excellent review by Peter Bradshaw (from The Guardian), e.g.,

the workforce realised that to show their gratitude they were expected to conform to the Chinese culture of regimentation and submission, uncomplainingly working six or seven-day weeks, pushing up productivity at all costs and declining to make a fuss about decadent and lazy American indulgences such as lunch breaks and safety precautions …

He found this “solution” for a stable life “discomforting and desperately sad.”

Sheelah Kolhatkar places the film against the backdrop of our political polarization as US society is confronted, as the New Yorker puts it, with challenges of a global economy, i.e, mass unemployment, menial jobs, or the harsh regimen of non-unionized corporate work.

So here is your alternative. Get yourself a van, try to live in the most minimum way possible, take jobs as you need them (the way the boss hires you) and call it liberty. Only a romantic movie like this can persuade anyone you will not soon get into hard trouble. How many popular and be-prized books quietly urge the same alternatives dressed up as this Nomadland. How rare to get a real look at the factory or capitalist life increasingly inflicted on US people?

Ellen

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