Television

Around the World in 80 Days

Sacha Ismail on Around the World in 80 Days (BBC1, all episodes on iPlayer) I read it a long time ago, but I remember finding Jules Vernes’ Around the World in Eighty Days distinctly underwhelming. Did I miss something? A new television adaptation, co-produced by French, Italian and German public broadcasters and currently showing on BBC1, shares the 1872 novel’s basic premise. A rich Englishman, Phileas Fogg, circumnavigates the world for a bet of £20,000 (over £2m in today’s money). The series is very enjoyable and politically surprising. As far as I can tell, the series’ creator Ashley...

The Dreyfus-deniers of the French far right

The Dreyfus Affair, which began in 1894, is a cause célèbre that refuses to go away. The framing of Captain Alfred Dreyfus on espionage charges split public opinion in France into pro and anti Dreyfusard camps. What gave the case added resonance and placed it high on the list of historic miscarriages of justice was the overwhelming stench of anti semitism surrounding the entire episode. France was recovering from the Franco-Prussian war (1870-71) and the German annexation of Alsace and Lorraine. Ultra-nationalists in particular were out for revanche (revenge) against Germany to win back the...

The counter-revolution has been televised

I have never been a fan of Halloween horror movies like Nightmare On Elm Street and would rather watch anything else when 31 October comes around. However, this year I sat through Four Hours at the Capitol, a documentary account of the 6 January assault on the United States Congress which provided far scarier viewing than anything Freddie Kruger come up with. The film graphically documents the attempt to overthrow a democratically elected government by storming the building holding its legislative branch. A misguided belief that such an event could never happen in the USA provides a partial...

Kino Eye: Where the power is

The difference between “power” and “elected office” (letter in Solidarity 600) is well illustrated by the 1982 TV drama A Very British Coup, based on a novel by former Labour MP Chris Mullin. Harry Perkins (Ray McNally), Labour MP for Sheffield Central and a former steelworker, leads Labour to a landslide victory. The new Prime Minister promises sweeping changes which includes nuclear disarmament and neutrality. The whole British establishment is in shock. Plots against Perkins are set in motion, including fake reports of looming financial disaster, press speculation about his state of health...

Women's Fightback: Batman and “heroes don’t do that”

The internet is alive with debate on Batman’s sex life, specifically cunnilingus and the caped crusader. Justin Halpern and Patrick Schumacher, co-creators of HBO Max’s adult animated series Harley Quinn, shared why a scene of Batman performing oral sex on Catwoman got removed. “It’s incredibly gratifying and free to be using characters that are considered villains because you just have so much more leeway,” they said. “A perfect example of that is in this third season ofHarley [when] we had a moment where Batman was going down on Catwoman. And DC was like, ‘You can’t do that. You absolutely...

Spy stories from the fall of Stalinism

Deutschland ‘89 (currently available on All Four) is the last series in a trilogy following Martin Rauch through the 1980s. He is an East German border guard who has been coerced into becoming a spy for the HVA, the external wing of the Stasi. Each of the three series is concerned with a major crisis of the East German state: 1983 with NATO’s stationing of nuclear missiles in West Germany; 1986 with the desperate need for foreign currency that leads the GDR into supplying arms to the South African apartheid government and pimping its citizens as guinea pigs for West German Pharma companies to...

Kino Eye: Days of Hope

As far as I know there is no film about the events around Black Friday in 1921 (see Solidarity 588) but Episode Two of Ken Loach’s four-part TV drama Days of Hope — covering the period from the First World War to the 1926 General Strike — admirably fills the gap. It was broadcast by the BBC in 1975, with a script by long-time Loach collaborator Jim Allen. It sees Ben (Paul Copley), a British soldier, desert the army after serving in Ireland. He befriends a group of Durham miners who are locked out for refusing to accept a pay cut. The miners receive food aid from fellow workers around the...

Three decades after "It's a Sin"

The excellent It’s A Sin, brilliantly reviewed in Solidarity 580 here, has propelled queer pop star Olly Alexander — Ritchie — into greater fame. The deeply moving 2017 documentary Olly Alexander: Growing Up Gay (directed by Vicki Cooper, available on BBC iPlayer) has got greater coverage. The documentary looks into the experiences — mental health difficulties, and bullying — of young gay people today, growing up three or four decades after the people of It’s A Sin. The contrast between Olly and Richie is perhaps starker even than the unimaginably different contexts. Where Richie was secretive...

Blaming all of humanity

David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet, the critically acclaimed late 2020 documentary, is a powerful watch. Awe-inspiring natural beauty, captured on film, is interwoven with his signature emotive narration, plus a personal touch from this infamous presenter. It’s no surprise that this environmental call-to-arms caused ripples. This “witness statement” tracks a lifetime studying nature: and its continual destruction and decline. Humans increasingly dominate and destroy the natural world, consuming more and more of the earth which supports us. The great disaster he focusses on is...

It's a Sin: AIDS and the 1980s

The main characters in It’s A Sin (Channel Four), Russell T Davies’ five-part drama about the AIDS crisis in Britain through the eighties into the early nineties, are roughly my age. It describes, therefore, an experience I lived through (minor spoilers here). I remember vividly the first rumours of a disease killing gay men in America, the first time I heard the term "AIDS" (I was sitting in a freezing cold kitchen in Manchester). I remember the growing sense of dread; I remember - this must have been in 1984 - calculating (god knows on the basis of what) that I had a 1/50 chance of dying as...

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