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Set in 1953/54, this film stars Julia Roberts as Katherine Watson, a graduate student from California, who takes a position teaching Art History at Wellesley College, Massachusetts.  The females under her tutorage are surprised by her subversive attitude (by their standards), and her progressive beliefs, as they all think that they are destined to be wives, mothers and nothing more.  The faculty are unhappy about her teaching methods, with the exception of Italian tutor Bill Dunbar (Dominic West), a charismatic but irresponsible man who has a reputation for sleeping with his students, especially Giselle (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who is clearly still stuck on him.  The main characters apart from Katherine and Bill are four students, namely Giselle; Joan (Julia Stiles), an intelligent young woman with a yearning to study Law, but who believes that a woman cannot have a career and marriage; Betty (Kirsten Dunst), a particularly spiteful young lady, who is a product of her overbearing mother; and Connie (Ginnifer Goodwin), a sweet-natured girl, who despairs of ever finding a man who loves her.

This film caught my eye purely because Dominic West is in it; as one of my favourite actors, he never disappoints, and as expected, was great here – as indeed was the whole cast.  All four of the main student characters were perfectly played, and I particularly liked Goodwin’s Connie.  Dunst was also outstanding as Betty, even if I could not stand her character for most of the film (nonetheless, her actions are understandable, if not excusable).  I’ve seen some reviews which suggested that Julia Roberts was not well-cast as Katherine Watson, but I beg to differ.  I enjoyed her in this more rounded and human role than some that she played earlier in her career, and enjoyed her chemistry with Dominic West.  Marcia Gay Harden and Juliet Stevenson were wonderful in supporting roles, as Katherine’s housemates, respectively another tutor, and the school nurse (who is fired for providing the students with contraception).

The film was inspiring too – there were some funny moments, and a surprising amount of tear-inducing scenes (I had to watch the last few scenes through my tears).  It was thought-provoking and emotionally satisfying, and I thoroughly enjoyed it from the first scene to the last.  Very highly recommended.

Year of release: 2003

Director: Mike Newell

Producers: Joe Roth, Richard Baratta, Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, Paul Schiff, Deborah Schindler

Writers: Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal

Main cast: Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ginnifer Goodwin, Dominic West, Juliet Stevenson, Marcia Gay Harden

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Adapted from ER Braithwaite’s book about his own experiences, this is the story of an intelligent and well-educated young black man, who having fought for Britain in WWII, is faced with racism when he tries to find work after the war.  He ends up as a teacher in a rough London school, where his pupils have no respect for adults and no interest in learning, because they don’t expect to be able to do anything with their lives.  Despite the difficulties he initially faces, he perseveres, and teaches the children that to earn respect from others, they must first respect themselves.

Ansu Kabia was wonderful in the lead role, bringing a dignity to the part that has long been lacking in the schoolroom where he attempts to prepare his students for adulthood.  Matthew Kelly was also great, although maybe slightly underused, as the liberal headmaster, who does not believe in discipline, and I loved Nicola Reynolds as ‘Clinty’ – a no-nonsense teacher with a great sense of humour.  Paul Kemp played a good part as a racist school teacher, who lacks any respect for his pupils, but who is also affected by Rick Braithwaite’s intelligence and dignity.

I loved the scenery – it was very clean and spare, and the cast cleverly incorporated the scene changes into the action.  The story had many funny moments, and a few uncomfortable ones, when the audience sees the racism shown to Rick by others.  The ending left me with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.  Overall, a great show, well worth seeing if you get the opportunity.

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Adapted from a Thomas Middleton play written in 1605, Director Sean Foley has based this comedy in 1950s London, which is a perfect setting for a filthy, hilarious comedy about sex and money, with plenty of innuendo, and double (and single) entendres.

Dick Follywit decides to con his rich uncle Bounteous Peersucker out of his fortune by playing a Lord, a prostitute and an actor, while in a parallel storyline, Mr Penitent Brothel is madly in love with Mrs Littledick, but her husband’s paranoia about her fidelity prevents them from being together.  Tying both stories together is prostitute Truly Kidman, who poses as a nun in order to become friends with Mrs Littledick and help her meet Mr Brothel in secret.

The action was fast and snappy, and the stage looked wonderful – colourful, glamorous and seedy, and the musical numbers, sung by jazz singer Linda John-Pierre (what an amazing voice!) were wonderful.

The cast were all terrific in their performances, and it’s hard not to imagine that they were having as wonderful a time as the audience.  Richard Goulding and John Hopkins (both of whom were so good in Titus Andronicus, this season, also at the Swan Theatre) could not have been better as respectively, Dick Follywit and Penitent Brothel.  Ian Redford was a joy as Sir Bounteous Peersucker, and the two main female roles, Mrs Littledick and Truly Kidman, played by Ellie Beaven and Sarah Ridgeway, were excellent.  The smaller supporting characters also added to the fun (the audience loved Richard Durden’s portrayal of doddery butler Spunky).

There were lots of scene changes, which were seamlessly done, and as well as lots (LOTS!) of very funny lines, there was also plenty of cleverly done physical comedy.  The whole audience seemed to love this show, and honestly, I think it would be hard not to be drawn in and have a good time.  I came out with a huge smile on my face, with my only regret being that I did not have tickets for subsequent performances!  This play should be mandatory viewing for anyone who needs a good belly laugh.  Simply wonderful.

(For more information about the Royal Shakespeare Company, or this production, please click here.)

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Click here for my review of the English Touring Theatre’s production of this play in 2015.

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This book – set in the 1950s and 1960s, is a charming coming-of-age story.  It tells the story of (and is narrated by) Tara Jupp, a young girl who grows up in the shadow of her older sister Lucy’s beauty.  However, Tara has one thing that Lucy doesn’t have, and that is a fabulous singing voice.  When she is discovered by the record making husband of an old friend, Tara is spirited from her home in Cornwall, to the bright lights of London, where she is transformed into Cherry Merrywell, the city’s latest singing sensation.  Tara attends glamorous parties, meets exciting men (falling in love with two of them), and experiences the effect of fame…but will she be able to keep hold of who she really is, or will Tara Jupp be lost forever to Cherry Merrywell?

I was looking forward to reading this book, as I had thoroughly enjoyed Eva Rice’s previous novel, The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets.  In fact, some of the characters from that book are also in this one (but this novel is not a sequel, and you do not have to have read the previous book prior to reading this one).  I was glad that I read it – I enjoyed the story a lot.

Tara was an endearing and loveable narrator, and I felt that the author really captured all the pain, pleasure and confusion of being a teenager.  I also liked the frustrating but impossible-not-to-like Lucy; and Clover, Tara’s mentor in London.

The feel of the 1960s came through well, and there was a lovely nod to the Rolling Stones, who of course broke onto the scene in spectacular fashion in 1962.

The story flowed beautifully, and although the book came in at over 500 pages, it did not feel like a particularly long novel (and there was no sense of ploughing through it, which I sometimes get with books of that length, if they don’t hold my attention). There were a couple of places where I felt it could have done with a bit of editing – Tara’s age in relation to Lucy seemed to jump about a bit (unless it was me getting confused), and at one point a character was telling a story from his childhood which he said happened when he was three, but in the very next paragraph, it was happening when he was five!  However, I should perhaps mention that my copy of the book was a proof copy, and it may well be that these slight errors are not in the finished copy.

Overall, this was a delightful and sweet story of a young girl’s adolescence, lived in extraordinary circumstances.  I would recommend it, and I look forward to reading more of Eva Rice’s novels in the future.

(I would like to thank the author for sending me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

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This is the first book in a new series by Craig Russell, who has had success with his series about Detective Jan Fabel, set in Hamburg.  However, here the setting is 1950s Glasgow, and the eponymous character is an enquiry agent with some distinctly dodgy methods, and who gets most of his work from the ‘Three Kings’; a triumvirate of gangsters, who between them are behind most of the crime in the city.

When up and coming gangster Tam McGahern is murdered, his twin brother Frankie asks Lennox to find out who’s behind it.  But then Frankie himself ends up dead and Lennox finds himself in the frame for the murder.  As he gets drawn into investigating the matter, he finds himself in ever more dangerous situations, never knowing who he can trust and who is not to be believed – and he discovers that things are far more complicated than he could have imagined…

Glasgow and its underworld is certainly brought into vivid focus here, and I felt able to easily imagine the atmosphere of the city.  The story itself moves along at a rapid pace and never allows time for the reader to become bored.  There are also plenty of twists and turns, at times so many so that the story became a little tied up in itself.

Lennox himself is not actually a particularly nice or likeable character; however, he is the nearest thing to a hero to be found in this novel, which is populated by criminals of all persuasions, with varying degrees of ruthlessness.  The book is narrated by Lennox himself, which means that the reader only gets to know what he knows, as he finds it out.  Unfortunately, it also meant that for me anyway, I did at times find his character jarring.  He had a habit of saying something, and then adding a little quip on the end, apparently to demonstrate how witty or ironic he was being.  The other problem was that a lot of the characters were very stereotyped, especially the criminals (and there aren’t many characters who aren’t criminals).

Nonetheless, this book is plot driven more than character driven, and the fast moving story, together with the problems which Lennox faces – which just keep piling up on top of each other – mean that it is never less than an entertaining read. 

So would I read another book in this series?  Possibly, but I wouldn’t rush out to get hold of a copy.  I have read one book in the Jan Fabel series and I definitely preferred that one.  If you like your crime stories cosy and funny, this probably isn’t the book for you – but if you like a more bleak and violent setting, you might want to give this one a try.

(Autor’s website can be found here.)

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This novel is told through the eyes of David Church, a young boy (the novel covers four years, from when he is 9 to when he is 13), living in Tennessee in the 1950s. David makes friends with a boy called Malcolm – but David is white and Malcolm is black, and it is a dangerous place and time for a white boy and a black boy to be friends. David’s father tells him that if Malcolm ever sets foot inside their house, he will shoot him.  His father expects David to obey him, but David finds himself questioning his father’s beliefs, and the events that he sees going on around him.

Set in a Southern state in the 1950s, and narrated by a child, comparisons with To Kill a Mockingbird are inevitable.  I personally don’t believe that this book is as good as TKAM (which is one of my all time favourite books) – but it is certainly a good read, aimed at younger readers.  Hopefully it would open up the subject for discussion.

As it is narrated by a child, a certain naivety is to be expected, and certain events are therefore somewhat simplified.  However, the book very ably portrays David’s distaste (and later disgust) with his father’s views.  The writing flows easily and the story moves on at a rapid pace, and I felt that the author did a good job of getting into the mindset of a young boy.

I did feel that Malcolm was not really explored as a person, although he is one of the main characters.  I would also like to have seen more of David’s Uncle Lucas, who does not share the father’s racist views; Lucas was one of the better fleshed out characters, despite being on the periphery of the story.  The one character who was most fully rounded was probably that of Franklin Church – David’s father.

The Ku Klux Klan also appear in the book, and indeed a couple of the scenes filled me with a genuine sense of unease.  There are a couple of genuinely upsetting parts of the story, which might be worth bearing in mind for younger readers.  Overall though, I would certainly recommend this book – as mentioned earlier, it’s aimed at young adults, but I think it’s a worthwhile read for adults of all ages.

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Mildred Lathbury is an ‘excellent woman’ This book is set in the 1950s, when an unmarried woman in her early 30s, like Mildred is considered middle-aged, and forever destined to be a spinster. She is a woman upon whom so many depend – particularly at her local church, where she is always called on to help out at bazaars, fetes, jumble sales and the like – due to her sensible nature and charitable mind. However, Mildred’s life is shaken up when she gets new neighbours in the form of the impetuous anthropologist Helena Napier, and her dashing husband Rockingham ‘Rocky’ Napier. The Napiers have a volatile relationship, but Mildred tries to keep from becoming involved – but it is so difficult when both of them rely on her for advice and help…

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this book. Certainly, it is amusing, with many wry observations on parochial life. Mildred – who is the narrator – is a likeable person, but I found myself getting frustrated at the fact that she was so obviously an intelligent and attractive woman, but she couldn’t see it for herself, because she had resigned herself to life on her own, thinking that she must not be interesting enough for anybody to marry. Maybe this was part of the point of the book.

However, it was certainly well written, and the characters were vividly brought to life. (I got the impression that if you ever met one of the characters, you would know them instantly.) Mildred herself was by far the easiest character to warm to, and as the book is told from her own self-deprecating point of view, perhaps this is only to be expected.

This is not a laugh-out-loud book, but it certainly made me smile on numerous occasions, especially when Mildred pointed out the ridiculousness of certain situations, which would normally seem so important.

Overall, I enjoyed the writing, and as this is the first book I have ever read by Barbara Pym, I would certainly be interested in reading more by this author.

(For more information on the author, please click here.)

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