An unknown story that needed to be told

Film: A United Kingdom

Director: Amma Asante (Belle, 2014)

Writer: Guy Hibbert (Eye in the Sky): from the book Colour Bar by Susan Williams.

Starring: David Oyelowo (Selma, 2014), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl, 2014), Jack Davenport (Kingsman: The Secret Service, 2015).

Plot: Serente Kharma (Oyelowo) is the Prince of Bechuanaland (now Botswana). In 1948 he meets and falls in love with London office worker Ruth Williams (Pike). Their interracial relationship is opposed by both of their families. Their subsequent marriage provokes extreme reaction from both the British and South African governments. To be together, they must defy apartheid and imposed exile.

Asante, a female British director of Ghanian heritage, has said she wants “to make pieces of entertainment and art that mean something.” She succeeds with her latest film.

Neither I nor The Current Mrs Feeney knew anything about Serente Kharma’s story; I suspect most people who go to see the film will be equally ignorant about this pretty shameful piece of British colonial history.

The racism and intolerance of ‘the other’ that it highlights are, sadly, still topical (in fact, intolerance seems to be on the increase). I thought that, in one key scene where Kharma addresses his tribe on the impossibility of separating his duty to his people from his love for his wife, there were also uncanny echoes of the British crown’s abdication crisis in the 30s.

At least one reviewer had criticised the film’s portrayal of Ruth Williams as a rather silly and naive woman; that’s not what I saw. Pike presents a character who is much stronger and more politically aware than that.

Oyelowo, who could be described as having rehearsed for this role with his portrayal of Martin Luther King in Selma, is simply superb as a man who keeps his integrity and his dignity as he is battered by the competing forces of tradition and progress.

Some of the dialogue is undeniably cheesy. But overall, this is a well-crafted story that deserves, now of all times, to be told. I especially like the way Asante contrasts 1940s London – colours so muted as to be almost monotone – with a sunburnt Bechuanaland of searing ochres and oranges.

****

Cinema 2016: the films I’ve seen this year and what I thought of them.

The Wine List #37: Grechetto

imgp6932The Wine List is my retirement project to sample wine made from all of the main grape varieties in Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book.

The wine: Tesco Finest Grechetto 2016, Umbria, Italy.

Alc Vol: 12.5%

HJ says: “Ancient grape of central and s Italy, noted for the vitality and stylishness of its wine.”

Label says: “A crisp, refreshing wine with lovely ripe lemons and hints of stone fruit flavours. . .Serve as an aperitif or match with grilled chicken or seafood.”

We drank it with: 1) Brittany scallops in a Muscadet sauce. 2) roast chicken with roasted vegetables.

Verdict: Like many Italian whites I’ve tried, this would be better suited to a pleasant summer afternoon than a cold Welsh winter’s day. It was pleasant enough in an inoffensive way, but didn’t make any particular impression on the nose or tongue. Crisp and refreshing maybe, but we found the fruit flavours pretty muted. However; The Current Mrs Feeney didn’t like her scallops, so substituted a plate of smoked ham and tomatoes; she discovered that Grechetto + smoked ham = petrol flavours like an expensive Riesling. Who knew?

It’s about time to make time to see this film

Film: Arrival

Director: Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners 2010, Sicario 2013).

Writer: Eric Heisserer (based on a short story by Ted Chiang.).

Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker.

Plot: When mysterious spacecraft touch down across the globe, an elite team – led by expert linguist Louise Banks (Adams) – is brought together to investigate. Banks and her team, Including a brilliant physicist (Renner), race against time to find answers to why the aliens have arrived. To find them, she will take a chance that threatens her life, and possibly humanity.

CALLING this terrific film a sic-fi alien invasion thriller is doing it a huge injustice. Yes, it is all of that – with the threat of global war looming ever larger as the story progresses – but it is also a lot more.

Let’s deal with the aliens first: Always seen through a thick mist, they look like a cross between a giant squid and a jellyfish; when they talk, they sound like something that incorporates the songs of deep-ocean whales, and the roars of big cats.

So, seriously other-worldly. And yet it is the humans, struggling to interpret these alien beings and understand why they have arrived on Earth, who are the real focus of the film’s attention.

Adams (Nocturnal Animals; Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) is superb as the expert whose intuitive feel for other languages develops into something much more startling as the film moves towards its tense climax.

Renner (Captain America: Civil War) is also very good in his more understated role as the scientist trying to apply brain power in the middle of a growing military crisis.

Despite the abundance of military hardware on screen, what Villeneuve has produced is a philosophical musing about life, and how much we determine the shape of our own lives, as well as a meditation on our contact with, and understanding of, death.

Arrival plays, devastatingly at the end, with its audience’s understanding of time.

And while it is visually exciting, it is the power of language – its ability to bring us together or drive us apart – that lies at the heart of the story. Let’s hear it for the linguist as super hero!

Cinema 2016: the films I’ve seen this year and what I thought of them.

Trallong Common No.2

imgp6928Artist: Michael Howard

Medium: Oil, graphite, oil pastel.

I FIRST came across Michael Howard’s work when I wandered into a gallery in Crickhowell to pass the time while The Current Mrs Feeney and her sister were busy in a trinket shop downstairs.

There was an exhibition of his landscapes, and I was immediately struck by the strong use of colour and shape. I regretted not buying something, so I was pleased when a gallery in Swansea started to show some of his work recently. I bought this painting at the gallery’s winter show this week.

Trallong Common is in the Usk valley; it is a bit of a stretch to call that part of Swansea’s regional hinterland, but I liked the painting, so it is going into my collection anyway.

Michael is a graduate of Chelsea School of Art. He spent 20 years teaching. He left his last post as Head of Art at Rugby School in order to paint full time.

He describes his paintings as “an emotional response to what I experience and observe when walking in the hills around Brecon.”