top of page
  • David Parkinson

Parky At the Pictures (21/6/2024)

Updated: Jun 23

(Reviews of Green Border; Sorcery; Strike: An Uncivil War; and Visions, Dreams and Magic: The Unmade Films of Michael Powell)


GREEN BORDER.


Trained at the FAMU film school in Prague and mentored by compatriots Krzysztof Zanussi and Andrzej Wajda, Agnieszka Holland has been making remarkable films for almost half a century. While in exile from Poland, she produced two compelling films about the Second World War, Angry Harvest (1985) and Europa Europa (1991), that revealed her insight into the plight of the fugitive and the cruelty of the persecutor. The same discernment and compassion informed her third Holocaust film, In Darkness (2011), and they are also in evidence in Green Border, an Oscar-nominated thriller about the ongoing migrant crisis that Holland has scripted with Maciej Pisuk and Gabriela Łazarkiewicz-Sieczko and directed in collaboration with Kamila Tarabura and Katarzyna Warzecha.


In the autumn of 2021, a Syrian family flees the town of Harasta after losing everything in the fight against ISIS. Nursing mother Amina (Dalia Naous) is travelling with husband Bashir (Jalal Altawil), children Nur (Taim Ajjan) and Ghalia (Talia Ajjan), and her father-in-law (Mohamad Al Rashi), who is able to speak English to Leila (Behi Djanati Atai), an Afghan refugee they meet on a plane to Belarus. She joins them in a minibus that has been paid for by Bashir's brother to take them into Poland so that they can join him in Sweden. However, they are held up by border soldiers who demand $300 and force them to crawl under a razor wire fence into Poland.


Following a night in the forest, Grandpa rolls out his prayer mat and chides Bashir for smoking and trying to get a phone signal. Amina chides Nur for failing to bring the powerpack to charge the phone, while Ghalia teases him for having to wear a woman's jumper after they are caught in a downpour. After drinkng rainwater from leaves, they move through the trees with caution. But they are betrayed when Leila approaches a Polish farmer for water and a kindly patrol loads them on to a truck filled with other captured migrants.


Reaching the Belarusian border in the middle of the night, the captives are goaded through the wire, with phones and flasks being smashed by the soldiers for sport. Wandering into a makeshift camp, the group falls foul of some brutal Belarusian troops, who steal Leila's purse when she tries to buy water and beat Grandpa and Nur when they attempt to defend her. A man warns Bashir to hide his phone, but they are interrupted by troops on quad bikes who round them up and drive them back over the border so they become Poland's problem again.


One of the Polish guards, Janek (Tomasz Włosok), reassures his pregnant wife, Kasia (Malwina Buss), that he is not involved in the mistreatment of migrants. His commanding officer insists that the migrants are `live bullets' in a war being waged by Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko. He demonises them as paedophiles and potential terrorists who are under orders to corrupt Polish society. When Kasia is criticised by a woman at a shop till, she proclaims her pride in her husband, even though we see him chasing a fugitive who had been hiding in the woodland house he is renovating with his father.


Sisters Marta (Monika Frajczyk) and Zuku (Jasmina Polak) are part of a group that offers medical treatment and legal advice to migrants. They also get them to sign power of attorney documents and record testimonies. However, when a doctor realises that a pregnant woman needs an ambulance, the activists tell the people to disperse, as the paramedics will come with a border patrol who will arrest those not actively seeking asylum in Poland. Leila wants to stay, as her brother served with Polish troops in Kabul.


Bashir's family wants to reach Sweden, however, and they are aghast when they are bundled into another truck and taken to the Belarusian fence. Leila makes a bolt into the forest and Nur gets left behind, despite the pleas of his parents. A heavily pregnant Somalian woman (Joely Mbundu), who had an ultrasound from the activists, is lifted up and tossed over the fence by the Polish soldiers and she lands with a sickening thud. But the troops are unconcerned and head off for a boozy night at the renovation site, with Janek losing an arm wrestle with Ola (Marta Stalmierska). However, Kasia sees footage of him at the wire and is bitterly disappointed in him.


Psychologist Julia (Maja Ostaszewska) lives on the edge of the forest with her dogs (she's the woman who had lectured Kasia in the grocery shop). Having been fined for refusing to turn back at a roadblock, she hears cries for help in the night and finds Leila in a swamp. Nur drowns beside her and she is distraught in hospital after Julia calls Marta and Zuku for help. But they are powerless to prevent Polish soldiers from removing Leila from the hospital (knocking off her glasses in the process) and Julia tries to focus on her pandemic Zoom calls with patients like Bogdan (Maciej Stuhr), an addict who despairs because the government of right-wing president Andrzej Duda has sanctioned a fascist rally in Warsaw.


Having lost her husband to Covid, the asthmatic Julia volunteers to help the activists, but Zuku thinks she's a flasky do-gooder. They help send Leila's message to Bashir's brother and he breaks the bad news about Nur, while the family is trapped in a corridor between the borders. When Belarussian troops come to move them on, Grandpa refuses to get in the truck and Bashir watches helplessly as his father is subjected to a savage kicking.


Tired of `tourists' sheltering in the empty house, Janek padlocks the door. On pushback patrol that night, he finds a dead woman on the Polish side and risks the ire of a Belarusian patrol to roll it on to their side of the wire. Returning home, he stops the car to scream in frustration. Nearby, Julia spends her days cooking soup for the sisters and Maciek (Piotr Stramowski) to take to the stranded. They get a call about a party in the exclusion zone and Zuku is wary about entering, as the government will use any excuse to clamp down on voluntary groups. They find Moroccan twentysomething Ahmed (Aboubakr Bensaihi), who has been left behind by his companions because of a leg injury. Zuku insists they leave him for the patrol to find, but Julia drives off in her own car to rescue him.


She fails to find Ahmed and is arrested for being in the zone. Her sick mother arranges a lawyer and she is released, with Zuku apologising for thinking she was a fair-weather liberal. However, Julia loses a friend when Baska (Agata Kulesza) declines to lend her a car (after Julia's was vandalised by the soldiers) and snootily opposes her activism. Undaunted, they go into the woods and find three African boys and Julia stays with them overnight so that she can smuggle them to stay with Bogdan after hiding them in her car while it was being towed back to town by a supportive mechanic. Zuku gets herself arrested for speeding while creating a diversion, but she is soon released.


While the African lads get on well with Bogdan's teenage children over rap tunes, Bashir's family flee from a combined harvester after sleeping in a wheatfield. They reach the town where they are to be collected and a mother and small child give Ghalia a sandwich. A van driver hides them behind the parcels he has to deliver and Janek pretends he hasn't seen them when he and Ola pull them over on the main road. Feeling better about himself, he climbs into bed beside Kasia, who has decided to name their child after Robert Lewandowski's second daughter.


An epilogue takes us to the border on 26 February 2022, where Poles welcome fleeing Ukrainians with open arms. Zuku bumps into Janek and recognises him. But he denies ever having been on the Belarusian frontier. Cats, dogs, and birds are carefully shepherded on to buses with their owners in stark contrast to the treatment of those seeking sanctuary from Africa and Asia. Captions reveal that over two million crossed from Ukraine during the first two weeks after the Russian invasion, while 30,000 have perished trying to reach Europe since 2014.


Little needs to be said about the socio-political aspects of this noble film, as their rights and wrongs are so evident and familiar. The Lukashenko policy of weaponising migrants might come as a shock to some, as might the sadistic brutality that is meted out to the unfortunates being used as pawns in a power game. But while the travails of the Harasta family hit hard, they are carefully juxtaposed with the efforts of those seeking to ameliorate their suffering. And caught in the middle is Janek, the father-to-be who perhaps buckles a bit too conveniently when forced to make a choice between duty and conscience.


He's well played by Tomasz Włosok, but the screenplay might have lingered longer on his relationships with Kasia and Ola, who is very much one of the boys and who is quick to taunt Janek when she senses weakness. Similarly, the sisterly tensions between Marta and Zuku are underdeveloped, while their associates are little more than sketchy ciphers. The same goes for Bogdan, who turns out to be a bourgeois liberal, whose kids speak French and whose wife readily shelters three Muslim strangers while plans are made for their futures. But the weakest part of the scenario is the virtual disappearance of the Syrians in the second half of a 152-minute film that had been solely focussed on them up to that point. This means we see nothing of the trauma they must feel after the shattering loss of Nur and Grandpa, although it's obvious from Amina's body language as they await the van that she is a broken woman.


It's also frustrating that Leila's fate is also left uncertain, although this shows how easily people can slip through the cracks in this treacherous part of the world. Optimistic in the face of each setback, she is admirably played by Behi Djanati Atai, particularly in the mid-air sequence in which she and Mohamad Al Rashi's grandfather converse in English and set the scene for the hellishness of the trap that Lukashenko has set for those who accept his offer to use Minsk Airport as a stepping stone in their journey to the West.


Maja Ostaszewska expertly captures the quiet fury of a woman whose life has been turned upside down by illness, with her husband dying of Covid and her mother being terminally ill. Her run-ins with Jasmina Polak's spiky Zuku are well enacted, but the missions into the woods to help Ahmed and the African trio have an awkward `white saviour' feel, while the shift from gritty social realism to getaway suspense undeniably jars.


Nevertheless, Holland's humanism shines through, as she conveys the vulnerability and courage of the migrants without patronising them. She's ably abetted in this regard by Tomasz Naumiuk's vigorous, handheld monochrome imagery, which is edited by Pavel Hrdlicka with a keen sense of the abrupt switches in tempo that fugitives endure, as they repeatedly lay low or flee. Roman Dymny's sound mix also adds to the immediacy of the refugee plight, with birdsong and barking dogs contrasting as starkly as the Babelian cacophony of voices raised in fury and fear. Frédéric Vercheval's score is also sparingly, but effectively used.


Considering the fact that this humanitarian crisis has now been going on over a decade, it's dismaying that so few potent films have been made about it. Indeed, in addition to such documentaries as Gianfranco Rosi's Fire At Sea (2016) and Ai Weiwei's Human Flow (2017), only Hasan Fazili's Midnight Traveller (2019) and Matteo Garrone's Io capitano (2023) have successfully dramatised the mix of excitement and optimism and danger and despair that migrants feel in transit. One can only hope that this sincere treatise and the nightly headlines will inspire other film-makers to make their own contributions to a situation that requires education as much as empathy if hearts and minds are to be turned away from ignorance and prejudice.


SORCERY


A graduate of the Catholic University of Chile, Santiago-born Christopher Murray started out making acclaimed shorts like De Papel y Fuga (2004), Julián (2005), Habitando Fuera (2005), and Quedar (2006). Having directed a number of music videos, he teamed with Paul Carrera on the feature, Manuel de Ribera (2009), which follows a man sailing from a fisherman's cove in southern Chile in order to claim an island he feels is part of his inheritance.


When not making such documentaries as Propaganda (2014), God (2019), and Oasis (2024), Murray went solo with The Blind Christ (2016), which accompanies a mechanic with a messianic complex across the desert as he seeks to use his divine powers to heal a childhood friend injured in an accident. Now, the 39 year-old has turned to an historical incident for Sorcery, which he has co-scripted with Pablo Paredes and is set in 1880 on the atmospheric island of Chiloé.


Thirteen year-old Rosa Rain (Valentina Véliz Caileo) works as a maid to a family of German settlers. While Stefan (Sebastian Hülk) is saying grace, Rosa notices that all the sheep in his field have died overnight and she sees a braid of twisted twigs and vines round the neck of one of the animals. She fetches her foreman father, Juan (Francisco Núñez), who is mauled to death when Stefan blames him for the loss and unleashes his dogs, with wife Agnes (Annick Durán) and young sons, Franz (Iker Echevers) and Thorsten (Matías Bannister), looking on.


They come to the simple grave that Rosa digs for her father and she is dismayed when Agnes refuses to let her mark the spot with a cross because, while she has converted to Christianity, Juan remains a heathen Huilliche. Quitting her job, Rosa walks into the village of Quicavi to demand that Mayor Acevedo (Daniel Muñoz) charges Stefan with murder. But the mainlander (who curses the day he was sent to this island at the edge of the world) shrugs and claims to be powerless, as dogs can't go to jail.


Taking pity on Rosa, the local priest (Sergio Sauville) billets her with Mateo Coñuecar (Daniel Antivilo), fisherman of few words who tells Rosa to sleep with his pigs. After she proves good at gutting fish, he becomes better disposed towards her and accompanies her on a visit to her father's grave. He stops her from planting the cross and informs her that Juan will not be in heaven, as Huilliche souls reside in the sea. Wishing to join him, Rosa wades into the waves, but Mateo rescues her and agrees to consult with the members of La Recta Provincia, a resistance group within the indigenous community whose members possess special powers.


A few days later, Agnes discovers that her children are missing and finds two large dogs lying on their beds. Stefan leads a search of the island, although he believes Mateo is behind the disappearances. He persuades the mayor into arresting Mateo and some of his neighbours and Rosa is taken in by Aurora Quinchen (Neddiel Muñoz Millalonco), the local woman she had seen emerging naked from a cave in the woods pulling a long rope made of the same knotted grasses that she had spotted around the necks of the sheep.


She evades Rosa's questions about being a witch. But, after watching the mayor torture Mateo by tying him face down in the incoming tide in an effort to discover the whereabouts of the missing boys, Rosa decides to renounce Christianity and asks Aurora to perform a ritual to reverse her baptism. This entails wading into the sea and being washed clean in a fountain that cascades down some rugged rocks. She also ventures into the cavern and seemingly sees the monsters that were reputed to dwell within in order to guard the Recta Provincia's prized treasures of a water-filled bowl that made secrets known and an ancient book of magic.


A second ritual involving the wearing of a garment made of skin is interrupted by Stefan, who accuses Aurora of having killed his sons. He has the mayor throw them in jail with Mateo, who has misgivings that Rosa has returned to her roots, as she will be persecuted for being associated with La Recta Provincia. The mayor is keen to resolve the matter swiftly in the hope that his superiors will promote him and deliver him from Chiloé. But, when his pregnant wife, Catalina (Manuela Oyarzún), falls ill and her belly becomes discoloured, he asks Mateo for help. Reluctantly, he takes Rosa with him to the mayor's house and she draws out the evil and safely delivers the child.


Stefan and Agnes pay their respects and present the mayor with a carved sheep toy as a gift for the child. They make it clear that they expect Acevedo to do his duty and there is consternation in the courtroom when he reneges on his deal with Rosa and Mateo and declares that the ritual coat was made of human skin and that all the jailed Huilliche are to face the firing squad when it arrives from the city.


Having been badly beaten by Stefan prior to his arrest, Mateo succumbs to his injuries in his cell. Using her skill with a knife, Rosa removes his skin and Aurora completes the ritual that had been disrupted by the German. Rosa's spirit enters a large dog, who breaks into the mayor's home and snarls at the foot of Catalina's bed, as she clings to her baby. Shortly afterwards, the frightened mayor frees Rosa and her fellow prisoners and the story ends with Rosa leading a ritual, having become a key figure in La Recta Provincia.


Shades of Carlos Reygadas and Lisandro Alonso can be detected in this intriguing fact-based blend of folk horror and anti-colonial parable. Murray and editor Paloma López impose a precise pace on Rose's spiritual reverse, as she (re)discovers the secrets of her heritage and the perfidy of foreigners claiming that their belief and legal systems are superior to those of her own culture. Remaining facially impassive, but hinting at the turmoil blazing behind her expressive eyes, Valentina Véliz Caileo excels as the innocent laying herself open to experience. But she is also commendably supported by the gruff and grizzled Daniel Antivilo, the measured and mysterious Neddiel Muñoz Millalonco, and by the world-weary Daniel Muñoz, whose blames both the locals and the Germans for his accursed lot.


Favouring earthy tones and the play of candle flames and the light off the ocean, cinematographer Mario Secco restricts his camera movements to produce meticulous compositions that frame the characters against the evocative landscape or Bernardita Baeza's spartan interiors. The CGI birds whose swooping suggests the mustering of the forces of Huilliche resistance aren't particularly well rendered, while Leonardo Heiblum's scratchy string score occasionally feels a little laboured. But, as Rose is betrayed by both Church and State in her pursuit of justice, Murray ably judges the balance between the corporeal and the supernatural. Yet, despite opening with a caption taken from the 1881 witchcraft trial (`For the Chilean and German settlers who arrived, this island is the end of the world. For those of us who have been here forever, it is the beginning.'), he opts not to delve too deeply into the testimony or the superstitions recorded in works like Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia (1979).


Ultimately, after starting with such stately assurance, Murray and Paredes rather rush the denouement. Their characterisation is also a touch prosaic, with everyone behaving exactly as one would expect them to do within a narrative short of suspense and surprises. But the biggest frustration for many will be the fact that no British distributor had picked up Murray's previous fictional features, as they appear to share themes and settings that would make this unsettling magic realist fairytale feel less like an isolated cry of indigenous rage that echoes down through Chile's subsequent history.


STRIKE: AN UNCIVIL WAR.


Documentarist Daniel Gordon built his reputation on such sporting stories as The Game of Their Lives (2002), which recalled North Korea's exploits at the 1966 World Cup; 9.79* (2012), an examination of the doping scandal that cost Ben Johnson the 100m gold medal at the 1988 Olympics. and All By Himself (2017), a dissertation on the wasted talent of George Best. However, Gordon also demonstrated investigative grit in Crossing the Line (2006), which profiled James Joseph Dresnok, the American soldier who defected to North Korea in 1962; and Hillsborough (2014), which exposed the blame game played by South Yorkshire Police in seeking to pass the buck for the tragedy that cost the lives of 97 Liverpool supporters.


Gordon has written two books on Sheffield Wednesday and his affinity for the people of an industrial heartland that was betrayed by Tory idealism during the mid-1980s Miners' Strike is readily evident in Strike: An Uncivil War. The recent winner of the Audience Award at Sheffield DocFest, this arrives in cinemas in time to mark the 40th anniversary of the Battle of Orgreave on 18 June 1984.


Don and Jackie Keating remember hearing the news on 1 March that Cortonwood Colliery had been earmarked for closure and Ian Mitchell recalls the feeling that a domino effect would follow and that the entire industry and the communities it sustained would be under threat, as their dignity and sense of purpose were removed.


Welsh miners Tyrone O'Sullivan and Michael Burchell, Scots Jim Tierney and William MacLaughlin, Geordies Norman Strike and Beau Liddle, and Yorkshireman Kevin Horne relive working in cramped spaces in ultimate darkness and extremes of heat and cold. They describe hideous decapitations and severed fingers being sent to the surface in crisp packets with almost grim nostalgia. But they also reflect on the camaraderie among workers and families, as team work was key to survival.


Agnes Currie concurs that the closeness was unique and Kent miner Gary Cox claims the fear that communities would collapse if the pits closed was very real. Consequently, support for Cortonwood was strong at the nearby Silverwood pit and George Wilson remains proud of the solidarity. BBC reporter Nick Jones remembers covering the early days, as Kent, South Wales, Durham, and Scotland came out in the hope of repeating the defeat of Edward Heath's Conservative government in 1972 and 1974.


We flashback to February 1972, as journalist Granville Williams recalls that this was a strike over pay. Arthur Scargill led a picket of the Saltly coking plant and forced the police into closing the gates. As power cuts bit, this victory caused Heath to capitulate and he was forced out of office when a snap election in January 1974 backfired during the fuel crisis. Members of the cabinet, including Margaret Thatcher, had long memories and plans were initiated for a confrontation the moment she came to power in May 1979.


Human Rights Lawyer Matt Foot reveals the drawing up of a new public order manual in 1983, which created (without recourse to Parliament) a paramilitary police force along the lines of those used in colonies like Hong Kong. Writers Gerry Northam and Morag Livingstone denounce the secrecy and the mindset behind such a tactic, which was not only undemocratic, but also illegal. Running alongside this repressive strategy was a deliberate stockpiling of coal so that the unions couldn't hold the country to ransom, as they had in the early 1970s.


Now leader of the National Union of Mineworkers, Scargill accused Iain MacGregor and the National Coal Board of having a hit list of pits in March 1984. He denied the claims that 20 pits would close, let alone the 75 targeted in document subsequently made available. But Scargill opted not to ballot his members and NUM staffer Hilary Cave admits the start of the strike was messy, with Nottinghamshire miners like Peter Short, Stephen Whyles, and Mick Betts being reluctant to lose their generous piece work rates. However, they blamed the Tories for pushing the ballot in order to discredit Scargill and divide the workforce, as Scottish miner Craig Waddington recalls.


When Nottinghamshire voted against a strike, the NUM membership branded them scabs, with Don Keating admitting that he never spoke to his brother-in-law again. Some, including Gordon Hindson, responded to picket line arguments and this so infuriated Thatcher that she leant on police constables to clamp down flying pickets - while all the time insisting that she was not getting involved in the dispute. Nottinghamshire's Charles McLachlan introduced roadblocks on his patch and had cars stopped and sometimes vandalised in direct response to Downing Street's dictat.


Police officer Tony Munday insists he was defending the rights of those who wanted to go to work. But Scargill recognised that this was becoming a losing battle and switched tactics to force the shut down of the British Steel plant at Scunthorpe by restricting coke supplies from Orgreave. Determined not to suffer Heath's fate, Thatcher went on the offensive to ensure the plant remained operative.


Scot Patrick McCarroll remembers thinking how odd it was that the police were letting cars and coaches through and directing miners into a large field on a lovely summer morning. Many were in shorts and t-shirts and expecting to have a bit of fun after travelling from all parts of the country. Games of football and cricket broke out, as the mood was so relaxed. But it soon became apparent that a 6000-strong not so thin blue line was forming around the perimeter.


As this was the 104th day of the strike, the NUM was acutely aware of the importance of holding sway. Nottinghamshire miner Stefan Wynsocki remembers Scargill trying to co-ordinate his numbers to front up to the police, while cop Robert White recalls how quickly things escalated after a long shield unit was deployed at 7:58am and promptly started an ominously rhythmic thud of wood on perspex.


As the two side lined up and pushed into each other, the police broke ranks around 8:12 to allow mounted officers to charge into the field and the line closed up again. In retaliation, the miners started throwing stones and Munday and White admit to feeling endangered (as they were in ordinary uniforms) and cheering when the horses went in again at 8:28. The miners, however, swear they had been peacefully assembled and were only giving tit-for-tat after having been attacked first. Following that, the short shield and the baton were deployed in a charge that resulted in hundreds being beaten about the head and others being arrested.


Foot declares that these tactics were straight out of the secret dossier and had been illegally used because they had been undemocratically awarded. As these scenes developed at one end of the field, an attempt was made to stop lorries leaving with coke from the other exit. However, this bid was also met with police violence, as Assistant Chief Constable Anthony Clement co-ordinated a mounted charge and boasted about it to TV crews later.


The push and charge policy continued, with the miners being herded into an increasingly smaller space. Some ran down an embankment on to railway lines to get away, while those driven into the streets tried to hide in gardens and sheds while the phalanx passed. Several miners describe how they were struck and detained, with the consensus being that the police knew they could do what they liked and no one would stop them. Those who made it back to their vehicles drove away in silence, while 95 were arrested on charges ranging from unlawful assembly to violent disorder.


Munday is shown his typed statement and he claims much of it has been changed. He also recalls orders being given for all statements to contain incriminating language that didn't reflect what he had witnessed. At Rotherham Police Station, defence lawyer Gareth Peirce was appalled by what she witnessed. She was also dismayed that Chief Constable Peter Wright pushed for riot for around 25 men, which carried a life sentence. According to Livingtsone, these decisions had been taken in conjunction with the authorities. But to cap things off, BBC news bulletins followed the South Yorkshire version of events and claimed the police had valiantly resisted rioting miners.


Bail conditions prevented the 95 from picketing, but they also had to put up with Thatcher branding them `the enemy within'. Keating, who had served in Northern Ireland and was a part-time fire fighter, was wounded by the accusation, when all he was trying to do was keep his job. But she wasn't finished. She used the police to protect those driven back to work and Nick Jones regrets that his reports were so shaped by figures provided to him by the Tories that they came to be government propaganda.


Heather Wood from Easington recalls how massed police units came to keep pickets away from the colliery. But money worries persuaded some to return. Stephen Whyles recalls getting a police escort from his front door to the waiting coach and being told there were baseball bats in the overhead racks if they were attacked. As his father was a senior union official, his decision was seen as a defection, with his father responding to a Radio Times question about whether he'd accept his son attending his funeral, he replied: `I'd rather go to his.'


Liz French recalls going to the continent and America to fund raise for the families, but times were hard and Wood admits that she was kept going by tea and sympathy from the local priests. Families were divided and the Keatings recall the psychological strain that the long endgame brought. But Nick Jones knew that Thatcher would never allowed the Coal Board to negotiate, as she wanted to break Scargill and trade union power. He wanted to fight on, but as 1985 dawned NUM delegates called for a vote that Scargill opposed.


BBC News announced the strike was over on 3 March and many felt bitter at the way things ended. They marched back behind their gala banners, with brass bands playing. But the sense of defeat was palpable and the loathing of the non-strikers and the scabs remained. For some, the failure to prevail proved too much and they took their own lives. In Whitehall, a party was thrown at the Home Office for those who had helped break the strike. Thatcher was guest of honour!


When the trial of the 14 Orgreave men facing riot charges took place in May 1985, defence barrister Ed Rees recalls how afraid his clients were, as the prospective sentences were so severe. But he and Peirce were allowed access to South Yorkshire video footage that disproved Clement's calculated lie about the sky being black with missiles. They also saw police statements that contained verbatim passages that suggested collusion in their preparation. Clement then let slip about the manual.


The flawed prosecution case led the trial to be abandoned at Sheffield Crown Court and there were celebrations. But no investigation was ever conducted into Wright and Clement's handling of the Orgreave incident. Moreover, within a decade of the strike, only 15 of the 170 pits that had employed 185,000 people remained open. Over 11,000 had been arrested during the strike, with 8000 being charged at a cost of £55 million in policing costs (about £150 million today). In 2016, the Tories ruled out an inquiry into the policing of Orgreave, even though it had been revealed that South Yorkshire officers who had been at Hillsborough and had participated in the attempted cover-up had also been involved in strategising the operation and the response.


We see footage of pit buildings being demolished, as ex-miners speak of villages that had previously been tight knit being riven by drink, drugs, and deprivation. Some of the veterans return to Orgreave for a look around. They make the odd joke, but the scene falls flat, as they're simply being there without discussing recollections or emotions excludes the audience from the experience. More impactful is Tyrone O'Sullivan's pride in having been both a miner and a socialist and his dates in a closing caption leave a sense of sadness that he fought such a good fight on the losing side of what should never have been a battle at all.


Many will remember Mike Figgis's The Battle of Orgreave (2001), which captured the re-enactment staged by artist Jeremy Deller and historical orchestrator, Howard Giles. There were several former miners among the 800 corralled for the event, as well as a few ex-policemen. But it pales beside the actual footage recorded on the day, which makes clear just how blatantly Thatcher's police poodles falsified evidence to do her bidding. She actually gets off relatively lightly in this account, while there is little in-depth analysis of Scargill's tactics and legacy. But this is still a documentary of great purpose, poise, and potency and the timing of its release before the General Election should ensure that many Blue Wall Brexiteers find their way back to the Labour fold.


Although expertly edited by Kevin Konak to ensure that the archive material complements the revelations of the talking heads, the film rather mischievously fails to show any ITN newsdesk clips to give the impression that the BBC alone towed the Conservative Party line when it came to the interpretation of images and statistics. Did ITV or the newly launched Channel 4 report the strike any differently and, if so, how? The lack of rigour in fact-checking government data is deplorable, but it does feel a bit too easy to bash the Beeb alone here, especially as Gordon has a former reporter's humble mea culpa. More might also have been made of the coverage of the various BBC and commercial local radio stations that were broadcasting in the main mining regions at the time. It would also be fascinating to know what contribution prompted a thanks in the credits to Sir John Redwood, who was in charge of 10 Downing Street's policy unit during the strike.


Another minor quibble concerns the decision not to repeat the names of the speakers after they are first identified, as none of the miners will be familiar faces and many viewers would doubtlessly find it helpful to be reminded at least once of who's who and from where, as what they have to say is often revealing and moving, particularly when they reflect on the decimation of the communities that had kept the home fires burning since the Industrial Revolution. The use of coal and other fossil fuels is more problematic in our more eco-aware times. But that shouldn't lessen the human interest or politically cautionary aspects of this measured, incisive, and highly commendable project.


VISIONS, DREAMS AND MAGIC: THE UNMADE FILMS OF MICHAEL POWELL.


`For every one film I made,' Michael Powell wrote in his second volume of autobiography, Million Dollar Movie, `there were ten that got away.' A few of the projects that never reached the screen are recalled in Nic Wassell's documentary, Visions, Dreams and Magic: The Unmade Films of Michael Powell, which is currently available on the BFI Player.


Scholar Ian Christie recalls how Powell slipped out of fashion following the ending of his partnership with Emeric Pressburger and the calamitous reception of Peeping Tom (1960). Yet, as BFI curator James Bell notes, while Powell remained as creative and ambitious as ever, he was at the mercy of a British film industry that was no longer able to provide unquestioning backing, as it had been when The Archers had been in their pomp at Rank during the war and in its immediate aftermath.


In truth, Powell had been on a disappointing trot prior to Peeping Tom, with the likes of his penultimate collaboration with Pressburger, Ill Met By Moonlight (1957), being as critically dismissed as such solo outings as Honeymoon (1958). He started shooting The Queen's Guards (1961) before the furore broke over his cine-killer picture, but he was already a pariah by the time it was released to little fanfare.


Oscar-winning editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, who is Powell's widow remembers finding boxes of unrealised projects in the garage of her new husband's cottage at Avening and brought them out of the damp to protect them. Boxes of such material was donated to the BFI and these contain insights into up to 100 projects on which Powell worked during the last three decades of his life.


Chief among them was his adaptation of William Shakespeare's The Tempest. Schoonmaker highlights the importance of magic to Powell, from his time with Irish director Rex Ingram in Nice in the 1920s (he was an acquaintance of Aleister Crowley) through to the fun he had devising little tricks and gimmicks in A Matter of Life and Death (1945).


Christie and Bell concur that the play appealed to Powell's sense of fantasy. However, he also wanted to root the story in a Renaissance context and had Prospero encounter Galileo before political wranglings in the Milan of the Sforzas led to him taking a boat into exile with his daughter, Miranda. After stalling initially over funding, the project was revived after Powell and Mason discussed the play while making Age of Consent (1969), with which it has points of overlap. Mia Farrow was interested in playing Ariel, while Powell hoped that Peter Ustinov would agree to be Caliban. Topol and Frankie Howerd were also mentioned.


Cartoonist Gerald Scarfe produced sketches for the look of the visuals, with inspiration coming from Hieronymous Bosch's `The Garden of Earthly Delights' (1490-1510) and Francisco Goya's `The Colossus' (1808). But, while correspondence in the archive reveals Powell's plans, his failure to raise sufficient funding prompted him to abandon what he had hoped would be a summation of his ideas. Christie reminds us that Derek Jarman felt he had inherited Powell's enthusiasm when he came to make his own version of The Tempest (1979), with Heathcote Williams and Toyah Wilcox.


Convinced that traditional cinema was dying, Powell contemplated making films of varying lengths for television that brought together great artists in unique collaboration. Perhaps the best known of these Powell's Tales was a Dylan Thomas take on The Odyssey with music by Igor Stravinsky. If this idea was ahead of its time in the 1950s, he hoped TV executives a decade on would be more receptive to Thirteen Ways to Kill a Poet (1970). Among those approached to direct episodes were David Bowie, Anthony Burgess, David Cronenberg, Kenneth Anger, and Martin Scorsese. The latter helped revive the idea in the 1980s, as he planned to do a profile of comedian Ernie Kovacs, while Francis Ford Coppola was down for Pablo Neruda, while Paul Schrader was keen to John Berryman (who had jumped to his death off Washington Avenue Bridge in 1972). Powell himself wrote about Edgar Allan Poe and his detective, Auguste Dupin. Noting how differently Powell and Alfred Hitchcock viewed the potential of television, Bell compares the treatment to the way Ken Russell approached the lives of the composers for BBC series like Monitor.


Another project in which Powell invested much time and effort was a fantasy based on The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin. He worked with the novelist on a screenplay and workshopped scenes with students when he became artist in residence at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. A short entitled Picture Business shows Powell teaching and hoping that he could find the money to make the film, as a time when big-budget fantasies were becoming more of a possibility during the early blockbuster era. In addition to sounding out Clint Eastwood about playing Ged the magician (a role Bell claims Powell identified with), he also contacted George Lucas's Industrial Light & Magic about handling the special effects.


A very different project from the late 1950s was an adaptation of William Sanson's The Loving Eye and the BFI holds photos that Powell took of Paul Scofield and Moira Shearer in and around Kensington. The money people felt the romance was too tame, so Powell moved on to a collaboration with Leo Marks, who had just been frustrated by news breaking of John Huston's Freud (1962) after toiling on a script on the topic of his own.


The Graham Greene play, The Living Room, was another project that failed to reach a soundstage. The scriptwriting process wasn't always easy, as Schoonmaker recalls when the novelist changed a single word after Powell had suggested a rewrite. Production designer Hein Heckroth had produced watercolours for the sets and Schoonmaker chuckles in revealing that a Nazi had been thrown overboard on the ship taking `enemy aliens' to Australia.


Bell interestingly suggests that Powell's uncompromising artistry caused him problems once the more diplomatic Pressburger was no longer there to smooth things over. His ability to charm executives was also missed, but he continued to write, even though Christie notes that he came to realise that his ideas would never come to fruition. Fondly remembering her husband's love of life, Schoonmaker poignantly states that Powell never stopped hoping and asked her to include the word `optimist' on his gravestone.


In closing, Bell alludes to the areas across the arts that Powell and Pressburger have influenced. More convincingly, he laments the fact that British cinema has allowed itself to be straitjacketed by naturalism. He opines that modern film-makers should take another look at the Powell canon and see how they could shake things up a bit. Good luck with that!


More educational than entertaining, this is a tantalising introduction to Powell's unmade projects, as it only hints at the numerous schemes that failed to get off the drawing board. No doubt someone will get their hands on the pertinent material in the archive and get a nice book or PhD out of it. The three speakers are perfunctorily photographed, but speak with insight and clarity and, in Schoonmaker's case, with an abiding affection that is truly touching to watch.




10 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Parky At the Pictures (12/7/2024)

(Reviews of Hundreds of Beavers; A House in Jerusalem; Bushman; and Heart of an Oak) HUNDREDS OF BEAVERS. If Guy Maddin and Dom Joly conspired to create a live-action Elmer Fudd cartoon, it might look

Parky At the Pictures (5/7/2024)

(Reviews of What Remains; A Greyhound of a Girl; and Younger) WHAT REMAINS. In the 1990s, a patient at an institution for the criminally insane claimed to have committed more than 30 murders over the

Parky At the Pictures (28/6/2024)

(Reviews of Next Sohee; You Burn Me; Eternal You; and Inspector Sun and the Curse of the Black Widow) NEXT SOHEE. Having completed the shorts, The Wind Blows to the Hope (2006), A Man Under the Influe

Commentaires


bottom of page