Dunkirk veteran saluted

160606JackDanbyHelmet.jpg
Jack Danby shows the bullet hole in his D-Day helmet

Christopher Nolan’s movie Dunkirk tells the story of the British Army’s miraculous escape from the advancing German army from three perspectives: Land, Sea and Air. In weaving together three different timelines, Nolan successfully depicts the chaos of what was a colossal military defeat; the viewer is plunged right into the middle of the action where the fear and tension is amplified by Hans Zimmer’s intense musical score.
This movie is timely as, more than 75 years after the rescue that entered British folklore, so few Dunkirk veterans remain. One who has passed away is Jack Danby, of Selby. He survived Dunkirk and, four years later, returned to France in the first wave of D-Day where he was nearly killed; while trying to rescue a wounded comrade, a German bullet passed through his helmet inflicting a flesh wound.
Watching Dunkirk brought home to me the bravery of men like Jack. After the war, Jack was headmaster of four different schools in the East Riding where, after experiencing the horror of Dunkirk and D-Day, his motivation was to help build a better post-war world. His distinguished service included 12 years as the first head of Etton Pasture boarding school for disabled children; his pioneering work there was recognised by the award of an MBE in 1965.

Righteousness and humidity

170719Beguiled

Yankee Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) is found wounded in the Virginia woods by schoolgirl Amy (Oona Laurence) and brought to Miss Martha Farnsworth’s Seminary for Young Ladies. Prim and proper Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) tends to McBurney’s leg wound in the name of Christian charity and, as he recovers, they all vie for his affections by dressing to impress and offering gifts and banquets in their isolated mansion with its candles and Doric columns. The enemy soldier, using sly charm, disrupts their genteel routine of French lessons, prayer, sewing and music until matters come to a shocking head. McBurney fled the gunpowder and shot of a Civil War battlefield only to discover southern hospitality can also be deadly with its righteousness and humidity. Writer-director Sofia Coppola channels southern gothic in her screen adaptation of Thomas Cullinan’s 1966 novel. It made me want to revisit Don Siegel’s 1971 film starring Clint Eastwood as the wounded Yankee.

Postcards of protest

170705AloneInBerlin

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” This quote, attributed to the 18th century statesman Edmund Burke, came to mind after I watched Alone In Berlin at York City Screen today. Brendan Gleeson plays a Berlin factory worker who defies the Nazi regime after his son is killed in combat by secretly casting scores of hand-written postcards across the city. He naively hopes those finding them will pass them on and the anti-Hitler messages will eventually clog up the Nazi war machine like so many grains of sand. He is aided in this act of subversion by his grieving wife played by Emma Thompson. Daniel Brühl plays the professional detective who gets on the wrong side of his SS boss while trying to track down the furtive scribe. The film is based on the true story of Otto and Elise Hampel. Their defiance of Hitler inspired the novelist Hans Fallada to write a fictional account in 1947 which was published in 2009 under the English title Alone In Berlin.

Churchill’s black dog

170611Churchill

Winston Churchill has entered British folklore as the statesman who saved Great Britain in its darkest hour when the country stood alone against Nazi Germany.
But Churchill was not the invincible warlord that he liked to portray to the British public with his “V for Victory” salute, morale-boosting oratory, homburg hat and trademark cigar.
He suffered from depression, dubbed his “black dog”, which he self-medicated by consuming prodigious amounts of alcohol.
Brian Cox brings out this private vulnerability in Churchill, a movie depicting the Prime Minister during the final days before the Allied invasion of Normandy.
Churchill tries to persuade General Dwight Eisenhower, the American Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, to call off D-Day because he fears the amphibious assault will end in disaster as it did at Gallipoli during the First World War. As First Lord of the Admiralty, Churchill felt responsible for Gallipoli and the ghost of its failure still haunted him 30 years later.
Cox puts in a bravura performance as Churchill; Miranda Richardson also impresses as his formidable wife, Clementine. However the film is flawed mainly due to a screenplay that condenses Churchill’s concerns about D-Day into the final hours before its launch.

Speedy Morph

170607MorphLordCROPa
Pic: aardman.com

Pioneer stop-go animator Peter Lord demonstrated dexterity bordering on the subliminal when fashioning a Morph out of a ball of Plasticine while giving a Festival of Ideas lecture in York.
This festival version of his popular comic character, known to millions of TV viewers, attracted bids from the audience, thereby raising £600 for charity.
Lord, who studied at the University of York, is co-founder and creative director of Aardman, the award-winning animation studio in Bristol known for Wallace & Gromit, Shaun The Sheep, Creature Comforts and Chicken Run as well as Morph.
Aardman started as a two-man venture in 1972 and now employs hundreds of people, a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of creative talent. Lord told the packed audience at Bootham School this evening (June 7) that the studio’s success was his proudest achievement.

Emotional rollercoaster

170529Frantz2

The film Frantz explores that fraught emotional landscape… the immediate aftermath of the Great War.
Anna, a young German woman, is mourning the loss of her fiancé, Frantz, killed on the Western Front fighting the French. She lovingly tends his grave in the picturesque churchyard of her home town even though his corpse remains on the battlefield in an unmarked grave – the fate of so many soldiers.
The town’s residents, still trying to come to terms with Germany’s catastrophic defeat, are piqued when a mysterious visitor starts visiting Frantz’s grave.
Anna eventually gets to know Adrien, a battle-scarred veteran of the French army, who reveals that he knew her fiancé. Their fledgling friendship sets in motion a chain of events that took this filmgoer on an emotional rollercoaster at York City Screen this evening.
Director François Ozon has created a sumptuous period drama and Paula Beer excels as its main protagonist, Anna, ably supported by Pierre Niney as Adrien.

Slapstick turns dark

170518Mindhorn

Mindhorn is a playful British comedy that pokes fun at celebrity, TV cop shows, and the Isle of Man.
Richard Thorncroft (Julian Barratt) is a washed-up actor who makes a cack-handed attempt to revive his showbiz career when police ask him to help them catch a crazed criminal.
Thorncroft became a celebrity in the 1980s playing a TV detective called Mindhord. His unique selling point (USP) was a bionic eye that could see through lies, which he used to thwart Manx criminals.
Now, 30 years later, a psychopath is terrorising the Isle of Man; the criminal believes Mindhorn is real and wants to negotiate with his hero.
Mighty Boosh stalwart Barratt plays the title role with gusto and there are plenty of visual gags to savour. However, the slapstick takes a darker tone when Thorncroft is cocooned in the Mindhorn costume, which is in danger of obliterating his identity.
Mindhorn is a comic creation worthy of entering a hall of fame alongside Alan Partridge and David Brent.