Righteousness and humidity


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.


An imaginative tour de force


Lincoln In The Bardo is an extraordinary debut novel by acclaimed short-story writer George Saunders. It was inspired by newspaper reports about a grief-stricken Abraham Lincoln visiting a crypt alone one night in February 1862 to hold the corpse of his beloved son, Willie, who had died of typhoid fever, aged 11. The American President entered that dark, lonely place on the verge of a breakdown, barely able to cope with the incessant demands of leading a nation at war with itself. He leaves that crypt a changed man; charged with resolution and empathy, he is determined to win the bloody civil war and end slavery. This epiphany, according to the author, was down to the influence of lost souls lingering in a supernatural realm known, in Tibetan tradition, as the bardo. Saunders populates this realm with freakish characters that will live long in the memory. It’s is a remarkable feat of the imagination and, as a play for numerous voices, this novel will work brilliantly as an audio book.