Arts review


Still life

I didn’t go and see the Coen brothers’ remake of True Grit this week because I couldn’t get excited about it and don’t like westerns anyhow.


Neither here nor there

Conviction is yet another film based on ‘an inspirational true story’ because, I’m assuming, Hollywood has now run out of made-up stories.


Single vision

There’s been much grumbling in the shires about Radio 3’s 12-day Mozart marathon.

Production values

In the absence of any operas to attend, I’ve been reading the most recent defence of ‘director’s opera’, a book with the characteristic title Unsettling Opera, by the American academic David J. Levin.


Hit Liszt

Damian Thompson highlights the gems among the prolific and pilloried composer’s nine million notes


Child abuse

Christmas approaches. And kitchens and playrooms across the land resound with the joyous tinkle of little Josephs and Marys rehearsing their roles in the Nativity play.


Plain speaking

Thank heavens for radio, and its ability to survive the depredations of new technology (even the botched introduction of DAB). Channel Four’s much-hyped adaptation of William Boyd’s novel, Any Human Heart, is just so lazy, letting the images do all the work, without bothering to create a coherent or dramatic script. A radio dramatisation of the book would have had to work much harder to ensure that the characters were brought to life. No fancy costumes or fabulously elegant settings to tell us where we are, and in what decade. No tricksy graphics at the beginning, either. Just plain words, carefully crafted to lead the listener through the narrative.


Rewarding rubbish

If you went on holiday to Italy this year, you may have come back with a plate, a mug or a jug — an item or two of the painted pottery still handmade (at least sometimes) by craftsmen and women, mostly in Umbria, but also in the Marche, and which you can see in the shops in Siena and Florence and in other places in Tuscany.

Hard times

Courtroom dramas filled the schedules this week, with Jimmy McGovern writing a series for the BBC called Accused (BBC1, Monday).


Mangled Mozart

Don Giovanni is an opera which gives plenty of scope for alternative interpretations, as has been very clearly demonstrated in the past 30 or so years, since directors took over as the determining force in productions.


Deathly dull

By the time a film franchise arrives at its seventh and penultimate instalment, you probably know if it is something you enjoy or not, or at least I would hope so.


Small blessings

As I pointed out last week, one of the chief attractions of the Treasures from Budapest show at the Royal Academy is the inclusion of two rooms of Old Master drawings.


A good life

As she prepares for the role of Mrs Malaprop, Penelope Keith talks to Lloyd Evans, who finds her decisive, cheerful, pragmatic and modest, with a tendency to break into fits of unexpected giggles


Dramatic moments

Two dramas, two very different plots and personnel. One was political, the other intensely personal. Both were new, commissioned for radio, and defiantly worth paying the licence fee for.

Rallying cry

Britain’s Trillion Pound Horror Story (Channel 4, Thursday) was unquestionably the most important programme that will appear on British television this year.


Trouble ahead

This is, I should confess, not a film I meant to see. I meant to see Harry Potter, but turned up for the screening in the right place at the wrong time — a week early, I’m such a schmuck — and had to take what was showing, which was You Again, with the tag line: ‘What doesn’t kill you...will marry your brother.’ Instantly, I doubted the veracity of this — I can’t put my finger on what made me doubtful, I just felt it in my bones, and called my brother. ‘Jon,’ I said, ‘if I had athlete’s foot and it didn’t kill me, would you marry it?’ ‘No,’ he said. ‘And I’m already married to Mary, as you know.’ I do know this, just as I know that, if you can’t trust a film’s tag line, there may be trouble ahead.

Fashionable folk

I have never felt greatly inclined to grow a beard myself. (Not that I could ever manage the full naval Prince Michael of Kent. A rather precious goatee would probably be the limit of my facial hair-growing powers, and the contumely and derision it would surely attract from all right-thinking people obviously rule that out.)


Curing amnesia

As Iraq fades from view so does our outrage at the crimes it provoked. Three monologues by Judith Thompson may cure our amnesia. Forgetting atrocities is an essential preliminary to repeating them.

Double diamond

Emanuel Gat’s Winter Variations is not just another male duet. It is also an intense dance piece which captivates viewers from the opening sequence with its unique interplay of movement, music and enthralling performance.


Fresh and feisty

Harry Becker (1865–1928) is one of those artists too often dismissed as being of regional interest only, who feature but rarely in the art chronicles of the period.


All over the shop

I’m writing this near Ludlow, a town which has miraculously kept its centre.


Moments of magic

The talk is that we’ve yet to experience the cuts that will have to be implemented to balance the nation’s books, but on the quiet, in suburban backstreets, behind closed doors, along cultural throughways and byways not often visited we know that they’re already happening, big time.


Life’s losers

Mike Leigh’s latest film feels cruel and is uncomfortable to watch which isn’t necessarily a bad thing — you can’t expect cinema to offer only comfort and warmth, my dears; cinema is not like the lobby of a country-house hotel — but it does make it a rather horrible experience.


The accidental pianist

James Rhodes is being hailed as one of Britain’s most exciting new musicians, and has just signed a six-album deal. Here, he describes his journey from psychiatric hospital to concert hall


Friends indeed

Jarrow playwright Peter Flannery’s superb television serial Our Friends in the North started life as an RSC production in Stratford…