Dr. Love Actually.

Film Some time today, Neil tweeted me a link to a rangey interview with US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy which wanders about across a range of topics including, oddly his favourite film, which a press release told them was E.T. Sadly, it isn't:
"It is a movie I like a lot, but it’s not my favorite movie. There are two movies I wrote down. I’m going to give you two. It’s a bit of a dodge, but I’ll give you two. And one of them is a recent movie that came out, “The Martian,” with Matt Damon, our local Boston hero. And the other is an older movie with Hugh Grant, called “Love Actually.”"
Oh dear. I'll give him The Martian. It was one of my favourite films of last year is sure to be looked at fondly for years to come. But, ugh. He continues:
"I’ll go on to further embarrass myself and admit that it’s one of the very few movies I actually own. I’m just digging a hole here."
Yes, yes, you are.  But go on.
"The reason I enjoy it so much is that it’s about love, as well. Love is the oldest medicine that we have. We focus so much on new drugs and new therapeutics and sometimes in an effort to bring in the new, we forget about the old. That’s true with technology, it’s true with medicine, it’s true with so much else."
Which doesn't say anything about the actual film. He could have said exactly the same about When Harry Met Sally and retained some credibility.
"We fixate on Facebook and forget the importance of face-to-face conversation. We text people and forget the importance of hearing their voice. But when it comes to healing, love is a powerful source of healing. As powerful as our medicines are, when a patient doesn’t have a source of love in their life, it makes it difficult to heal. These old medicines, of which love is the most important, are very powerful."
Yes, yes it is. But it doesn't say what you specifically like Love Actually. I find that rather telling. If only the interviewer had pressed him further. Instead they segway into police brutality.

Bye, Bye BHS, Goodbye.

Commerce Of all the shops that have gone into receivership recently, BHS is oddly one of the names which I've no particular affection for.

There are some brands like Woolworths, C&A and Borders which were part of life's landscape, whereas BHS was just always sort of there.

I've no loving anecdotes or stories. I bought the green jumper I wore to the first Liverpool Twestival there. I'd always try to get in a few days before Christmas to see if any of the generic presents had been reduced enough to make them worth buying.

They used to have a festive shop in the old Clayton Square which one year was completely sold out so all of the shelves were filled with pillows for sale.  Hundreds and hundreds of pillows.

I also had a discussion with a manager about soup recently, which I recounted in a tweetstorm.

Presumably there'll be the usual closing down sale with customers shouting at employees who're about to lose their jobs because the products are either sold out or not as cheap as they judge they should be.

Department stores are particularly difficult when they shutter because there'll be legacy employees who've been there for years and invested a lot of years into the business and will now find themselves having to find work elsewhere in a dwindling retail market.  Hopefully Marks & Spencers or John Lewis will recognise their worth.

Goodness knows what'll happen to the actual shops.  The location on Lord Street in Liverpool is huge and spread across two buildings and in a prime location.  We don't have a Waitrose yet, but this is in an awkward position.

Bye, Bye BHS, Goodbye.

Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.

Journalism Following on from my nostalgia burst the other day regarding The North-West Enquirer on the occasion of The New Day closing comes news that someone else is having a go at publishing a paper for the whole of the North West.

As Roy Greenslade explains:
 "From 20 June, the Carlisle-based CN Group will distribute a title called 24 - The North’s National across a swathe of the north west region, running south from the Scottish border county of Dumfries and Galloway to Preston, Lancashire.

"Some 95% of the editorial content for the 40-page paper will be drawn from the Press Association, which issued the press release announcing the launch. The cover price for the Monday-to-Friday title has been set at 40p."
Does this mean that it'll simply be republishing wire copy in much the same way as some of The Guardian seems to recently in the news section or will the Press Association be preparing copy specially for its innards?  Will it be tailored for the local audience or simply feature national and international news?

Plenty of PA's work is showcased through their twitter feed and Snap.PA.  Will this be a paper version of that?


A Midsummer Night's Dream.

TV There's a rather brilliant example of someone being put in their place in the Q&A with Russell T Davies and Maxine Peake conducted by Clemency Burton-Hill at the Hay festival ahead of last night's broadcast of A Midsummer Night's Dream on BBC One (available here). Early in the session, Russell repeated the explanation for some of the cuts to the text he's made for this new adaptation, specifically the references by the female lovers Helena and Hermia to killing themselves or being killed should they not receive the love affair they want. It's the Elizabethan equivalent of saying, "I'd just die if ..." in modern parlance but given the context of the production and who some of the target audience were, Davies decided that it was best to leave it out, because he was putting his name to it and he wouldn't put his name to something which jokes about women's suicide.

Near the end of the session an older woman pipes up: "You've taken out references to women killing themselves for love, so what's your ending to Romeo and Juliet?" There are laughs in the audience, quite a lot of the audience actually, except then Russell does an interesting thing. He doesn't laugh. The attitude he selects is furious, or at least furious within this otherwise polite event: "I find that question really trite, because I did a really serious thing in taking those lines out because the play is not about suicide. That's a fleeting referential ..." he interrupts himself so he can address the audience member directly then, "... they're fleeting, they're just character beats, they're not important, they don't change the plot, they don't become the plot, they're not important in any place. Romeo and Juliet is entirely about that moment and therefore of course I'd keep that the same and I'm disappointed in the question frankly because I think I did a very proper thing and you made light of it."

Just before the broadcast, I tweeted about how I'm a bit of a Shakespeare purist, about how the text is all and if you don't have the text, you don't have the play and that to cut it would be cultural vandalism. If you're cutting because you think by removing text and/or changing words you're making it accessible, you're cheating because you don't have the talent to take the text as is and make it as readable and understandable as it can be, as it was presumably four hundred years ago and can be with the right director, good cast in a decent venue.  I also added that it's absolutely fine if what you're producing is an adaptation, notably if you're shifting the text out of its source context and into a different arena. As Russell himself says elsewhere in the Q&A, however nice the poetry, there's no point within a dynamic television adaptation of having long descriptions of actions or introductions designed for the Globe's bare stage if you can simply show it.

Which is why, despite my purism, I agree with Russell on his reasons for cutting those lines and tutting along with him at that woman's attitude. His superb adaptation of the play with its many deviations from the text, is his adaptation of the play. He's not trying to pass the thing off as a sympathetic version of the text, it's clearly a re-imagining and re-interpretation with a very lucid set of logical decisions on how to cut the text and although in an ideal world there would have been more of it, the BBC having given him a longer timeslot to play about with, I had absolutely no problems with the choices he made. With the plays being four hundred years old there are a few things which can give one pause, even this genius couldn't foresee how social attitudes would change. Taming of the Shrew and A Merchant of Venice are not favourites of mine for just this reason. The former promotes domestic violence and the latter's racist.

Perhaps it helps that I've seen a lot of different versions of most of his plays now so despite my purism, I'm more relaxed about how it can be tossed about outside the theatre.  It is true that earlier screen versions are more protective of the text.  Russell cuts "How now, spirit! whither wander you?" and the ensuing scene which is pretty sacred ground, because as he says, it's perfectly obvious who these two are, where they're going and what they're doing.  The business with the Indian boy is gone too.  Yet both (I think!) are in the Michael Hoffman directed Hollywood version from 1999 which is only about half an hour longer.  The cuts here are sympathetic enough that I don't think were were too short changed on the whole, combined with the imagery everything in this version of the story was perfectly lucid, especially, and here we arrive at the reason I'm writing this review in the first place if you're a Doctor Who fan.

Hello, and welcome because if it's good enough for the parish circular to be writing behind the scenes articles about this production, it's probably right that I should include it in my promise to review all screen Doctor Who.  As Doctor Who Magazine explained and as the credits underscore, this was essentially filmed within an extra production block at the end of the ninth series of Doctor Who.  Same set designers, costumers, special effects team, cast by Andy Pryor and with music by Murray Gold.  We also have an explanation for why Who could afford the Trap Street from Face The Raven - they ammortised the cost with Dream because here it was again.  Is it also the same street which appeared in The Husbands of River Song, I wonder?  I really do have to get around to watching the season nine boxed set.  I just have another four and a half seasons worth of Gilmore Girls to get through first.

Anyway, yes, this felt very much like, if not a Doctor Who spin-off, something set in the same universe.  Apart from the totalitarian regime, there's the manifestation of Theseus and Hippolyta whose bondage would be just the sort of mystery the Time Lord would become involved in, entirely unhappy that someone would be treated this way, with a scratching one the sides of his brain about the consequences of setting her free, something his companion would end up doing anyway before the story's out.  The woodland folk are notionally the monsters until he discovers that they have in mind a rescue mission and regime change, he'd be all for it (whilst simultaneously using the TARDIS to discover exactly how their science works so as not to contradict Clarke's Law and actually have magic in the Whoniverse).  I'm glossing yet it's notable that Russell decided to take his adaptation in this direction.

Plus almost every cast member has previously appeared in Who, either on television or for Big Finish or in the case of Matt Lucas, both.  There's Wilf, Dr Constantine, Nardole, Hydroflax, Jo Nakashima, Moran and Gobernar.  Even Kate Kennedy, the revelation of the night and I think of the best Helenas I've seen, was in this month's main range release opposite Colin Baker (as Heather Treadstone).  It can't be long before Maxine Peake turns up in Who and if Romola isn't free, Peake would be extraordinary playing the Doctor, assuming she doesn't mind putting her career on hold for three or four years to commute to or live in Cardiff for nine or ten months in the year.  Yes, that's never going to happen.  Side note: John Hannah had a weird six months consisting of this and his guest spots on Agents of SHIELD.  The man is never out of work, even if the majority of that work is in bit-parts which are way beneath him.

Having such a strong cast also aids Davies's textual brevity endeavours.  The Rude Mechanical scenes are shorter with the dialogue becoming something heard far off by the forest residents, the main rehearsal scene reduced to its most important points before Bottom goes donkey.  But because it's Lucas and Wilson and Cribbins and Elaine Paige (in a stormer of a Shakespearean introduction) we're immediately drawn to them and want to be in their company, helped markedly by the decision to make them very much friends, Lucas's Bottom a popular figure who just wants to do his best for the company and production rather than the ignorant, arrogant person who's so often illogically at odds with them.  Davies doesn't have room however to explain the oddity that two of them are initially cast at Pyramus's parents but represent wall and moon in the final production.  It's just something which happened in rehearsal probably.

As for the other departures?  I'm angrier with the press for revealing them ahead of time.  One must always be cautious of the surprisingly gay trope, or whatever you call the moment which sometimes occurs in drama when characters formerly presumed to be straight decide to experiment for shock value at the end of an episode.  Russell is playing with our expectations, preconceived gender notions and provides a perfectly reasonable rational for such.  Yet the papers, full of mock outrage or at least mild surprise decided this was the aspect they'd focus on after the preview screening and so the film lost a little of its power on first viewing because of the expectation of what was to happen at the end, what was such a beautiful moment.

In the end, this version of A Midsummer Night's Dream wasn't just about what was removed but what was added.  Something which never quite sits well is how in most productions, because it's in the text, Demetrius's infatuation with Helena is as manufactured a facade as the results of the potion Owen throws about in Torchwood's Everything Changes.  In some versions, both he and Helena are infected which still doesn't feel right.  Here Davies smartly takes a moment to have the love spell removed after which Demetrius finds that he still love Helena as much as she loves him.  It's a small thing and it shows the level of thought Russell has put into this production and I wonder how many subsequent production might copy it.  Even if some theatrical traditions were broken with last night, perhaps there'll be some which are newly made.

My Favourite Film of 1944.

Film My first viewing of Olivier's Henry V, or rather the opening section of Henry V to be more accurate was during those English film viewing sessions I've mentioned before. The teacher utilised the stunning scenes set in the recreation of an Elizabethan theatre to give us a flavour of what it must have been like to see the in original production (as the director himself intended), this being many years before the opening of the recreation of the Globe on the South Bank.

A few years later, one of the school assemblies was dedicated to a public speaking competition which that year involved a select group of students reading Once More Unto The Breach from memory. Somehow, through no fault of my own, I was roped in as an alternate in case one of the main participants decided they were going to be ill that day. There were two problems with this (1) there would have to be some acting involved and (2) I have absolutely no ability to remember poetry.

Oddly, I wasn't that afraid of getting up front of the school despite having spent most of my school career being bullied and this being just the sort thing which would give those shits a vast amount of material. Being a closet extrovert, in primary school I'd also been chosen to appear in plays during assemblies and although I don't remember being any good, I do remember getting into trouble improvising around a script for an adaptation of Pandora's Box and embarrassed the girl who was playing my wife, "My love". She didn't like that much. We were ten.

Plus on reaching sixth form, one my prefect duties was to provide the bible reading during assemblies, something I'd end up doing for days on end, partly because there wasn't anyone else foolish enough to do it, but also because it meant I didn't have to sit with the aforementioned bullies during the hymn singing and prayers. The last thing you want to do with people you actively hate is worship a deity with them.

Sidebar: I was no more religious then than I am now. I dabbled in my first year of secondary school, attending bible study and the like but was never really convinced. But there was nevertheless something quite thrilling about standing up in front of fellows, sounding out "Today's reading is taken from such and such a gospel" (it was always such and such a gospel) "chapter five, verse three to twenty-seven" and then heading off into the Good News Bible.

Assemblies including this competition took place in the main school hall, a giant box of a room with a balcony, a main stage which included an organ and a lot of dust.  When you gave a reading in there, from a lectern at the side of the stage, you really felt like you could command the audience.  Pity that the rest of the time you had to sit on that stage in full view of everyone waiting for it to end.

So I was fine with the standing up in front of people bit and the reading flowery language bit, but could I remember that damn speech? Here's what I remember now. I'm free-typing this so apologies if the metre isn't correct:

Once more unto the breach dear friends, once
Or build the wall up with our English dead
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man as
Modest stillness and humility.
But when the blasts of war blow in our ears
And imitate the actions of a tiger.
Stiffen the sinew, conjure up the blood.
Disguise fair nature with heart favoured rage
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect.
Let is pry through portage of the head like a brass canon.
On, on, you noblest English, who's dah dah dee dum
Something, something past change.

And yeah, that's where it all enters a mist as potent as that which hovers over the Agincourt battlefield in most post conflict renderings. Here's the full version. As you can see I shortened and garbled it with all lackluster charm of the goons who helped the printing bootleggers to turn out the pirated copy of Hamlet we now call the Bad Quarto.

Anyway, I hatched the expected plan of having a copy of the speech to hand should I end up being called upon, entirely happy to read the thing instead since there was no practical reason why I should win the thing anyway and if anyone did decide to say anything afterwards I'd could at least ban them from the Computer Club, of which I was the senior prefect (not really) (I had no power).

The morning arrives and luckily all of the other participants were in attendance.  Which isn't to say I wasn't still made to sit with them on the front row even though there was no possibility I was going to be called upon to actually speak.  Presumably it was in case one of the others fell off the stage (this was a posh school) or were taken ill on the short walk up the stairs.

I barely remember the actual competition.  Now that I type this, I seem to recalling having a duel role as prompt and so followed the speech through each time rather than looked at the stage.  Out the corner of my eye I did see a lot of gesticulation, arms being waved aloft the air.  I think one of my classmates even had a prop sword.

I don't remember who won.  I expect it wasn't Shakespeare.