February 2nd, 2012

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Hollywood or bust for Black British actors?

David Harewood
Photo credit: http://www.metro.co.uk/lifestyle/832074-david-harewoods-emotional-return-from-personal-tragedy

There is a brilliant feature on this topic on the Channel 4 News website. Follow the link to read the story:

Selected highlights:

Young black actors should head for America if they want to make it, according to acclaimed National Theatre star David Harewood - who says opportunities here are thin on the ground.

- Head for Hollywood if you've got ambition, is David Harewood's advice, as he warned that young Black actors would struggle to find roles in Britain to match their talent.
- He's not the only one. Stars like Adrian Lester, Chiwetel Ejifor and Marianne Jean-Baptiste have won prominent roles in the United States after experiencing plenty of frustration back here.
- Last night, Harewood criticised the "lack of authoritative, strong black characters" on British television - but across the Altantic, there's a far wider range of roles, beyond the old stereotyped images of gangland violence, or grinding poverty.

This makes for very depressing reading for Black British actors. But I am hoping that by someone as high profile as David Harewood saying this, this will get those in power at the top to listen and to try and change things for the better.
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War Horse, directed by Steven Spielberg

Photo credit: http://www.nam.ac.uk/microsites/war-horse/1889/blog/win-tickets-to-the-uk-premiere-of-war-horse/

I saw this at an Odeon with a very good friend on Sunday (29 January).

War Horse, despite having Benedict Cumberbatch in it, was NOT a film I was rushing to see as I love the National Theatre's stage production truly, madly, deeply. I saw it a few times at the National, and I saw it last Summer with a friend in the West End. It is still the one theatre production that I recommend to everyone who asks me for a recommendation for something to see when they are visiting London. The magic of the stage production is 90% down to the amazing puppet horses (see image below). Spielberg was using real horses so what made War Horse special on the stage was going to be absent from the film.

Topthorn (left) and Joey (right), the stars of the show, War Horse, National Theatre
Photo credit: http://performingarts.about.com/od/Costumes/ig/The-Puppets-of-War-Horse/The-Illusion-of-Life.htm

However, Spielberg is one of my favourite film Directors and he is, basically, a genius. He is also brilliant at taking stories and making them into films that have universal appeal, including children and young people. I knew War Horse would be safe in his hands. So I went along to the film with a sense of anticipation (in a good way).

The film blew me away. I have not read the book so I am only comparing it with the stage version. The film tugs at your heart-strings - Spielberg always does that; in fact, this is a given in a Spielberg film.

The story is told very powerfully in a simple and linear way. There are many episodes in Joey's story and they are all told with love and clearly delineated. There are ups and downs, highs and lows, triumphs and disasters. The story starts in England in peacetime and crosses over to France in wartime. We see countryside and town, upper, middle and working class, military and civilian, English and French, and we see friendships crossing all kinds of divides of nationality, race, class and even species! Through all of this, we are with Joey every step of the way.

For me, the most powerful segments of the film, were the scenes on the battlefields and in the trenches of World War I. I have seen many war films over the years, and they do affect me deeply, but I will say that, for me, the scenes in this film are the most powerful and impactful I have seen, and they are truly harrowing and horrifying. They felt (looked and sounded) very real. They are, for me, amongst the best war scenes I have ever seen on a big screen, and they pull no punches. They really convey the full horror of being a soldier in the midst of the First World War.

But it is not all war and doom and gloom. There are some lovely, beautiful and touching scenes with Albert and Joey and Emilie and Joey which is all about the special bond that a child can have with an animal, and the deep love and respect that can grow up between them. There is also an incredibly touching and moving scene, when a British soldier and a German soldier are working together to cut Joey free from the wire; that scene affected me very powerfully and was quite beautiful.

We all know that I am a sucker for a man in uniform, most especially a British Army Officer. Benedict's role in this film is very fleeting - this film is Albert and Joey's story. What I will say is that Benedict nails this part (when doesn't he nail a part?!). He has the accent right down to a tee but, more than that, he has the attitude right down to a tee. He conveys in the way he stands and walks and in his voice real authority, with just the right touch of arrogance and self-confidence. He comes across as someone who is supremely confident, both in himself, and in his role and standing in society, and in the actions he is carrying out on behalf of King and Country. Totally believable!

Photo credit: http://www.benedictcumberbatch.co.uk/Warhorsemovie/war-horse-stills/

If at all possible, do go and see this on a big screen, not on DVD at home. The film is much richer when seen on a big screen (it was designed to be seen on a big screen) and the Dolby surround sound really adds to the effect. Many films nowadays do not need to be seen on the big screen, but this one does!

To summarise, I loved War Horse the film, and it comes highly highly highly recommended. Get on down to your cinema now!

And please don't ask me to choose between the stage and the film versions; they are both real gems; perfect and flawless in their own unique way.
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February is LGBT History Month

Photo credit: http://www.lgbtdevelopment.org.uk/consortium2/node/38

Cut and pasted from the Time Out Website:

February is LGBT History Month

Each February, London buzzes with events celebrating the history of its lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans communities. From Westminster to Watford, politics to performance, there's something for everyone.

Follow the link to the Time Out pick of the London events:

Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans History Month takes place every year in February. It celebrates the lives and achievements of the LGBT community.

The LGBT History Month Website is here:
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Great Expectations, BBC, December 2011

Photo credit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00mp1q5

I have just finished watching this. It was mesmerising. I have tens of programmes backed up on my Sky Plus but I chose to watch Part 1 of this yesterday. Having seen Part 1, I could not wait to see Parts 2 and 3, and so I polished off the whole three episodes in under a day. Take it from me, this is very unusual for me! The reason being, at the end of each episode I just wanted to press play immediately on the next episode. I wanted to know what happened next!

A very good friend of mine told me that one of the three key tests of any adaptation is whether the adaptation makes you want to return to the original. Now I have seen countless Dickens adaptations on film and TV over the years, including the classic David Lean films, but not a single one of them has made me try out reading a Dickens novel. My personal favourite as far as Victorian novellists go is, and always will be, Thomas Hardy.

Anyway, for the first time in the history of Raks Patel, this adaptation made me want to go back and read Dickens. Ironically, I am not going to start with Great Expectations, which has been done to death, but with Edwin Drood, because it was the last of Dickens's novels, was unfinished, and is supposed to be very dark (I like dark!). Also, I have no familiarity with it whatsoever as I have never seen any adaptations of it (I stupidly missed the BBC adaptation that has just aired) so I can come to it fresh with my own imagination and a blank slate. I will tell you what I think when I have read it.

What did I like about this adaptation? First and foremost, powerful storytelling. A strong narrative push right the way through, great cliffhangers, and they always left you wanting more. Secondly, the most amazing actors, all at the top of their game. I do have to give a special shout out to David Suchet as Jaggers and Gillian Anderson as Miss Haversham; both stood out amongst a rich and vast array of the best of British acting talent. And I have already given a special mention to Oscar Kennedy as Young Pip who was truly outstanding. You felt sympathy and empathy for all the characters and you cared about what happened to them. There was no black and white; there was every shade of gray - I like it when plays and programmes show that moral choices and dilemmas are not simple and straightforward; there is not a simple right and wrong answer/decision; every choice is multi-layered. The sense of time, place, and the spirit of the age, was powerfully captured in something that was not (I assume) big budget, especially when compared to a Hollywood film. The adaptation just had a real Dickensian look and feel to it which was spot on. I loved it! I am not one to get excited by landscapes or costumes, but they were both rich, atmospheric, and helped with the characterisation.

Highly recommended.

More information about the adaptation can be found here:

If you missed it, and want to watch it, it is now available on DVD here:

Dickens 2012
Celebrating the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens

Dickens 2012 is an international celebration of the life and work of Charles Dickens to mark the bicentenary of his birth, which falls on 7 February 2012.

Although a writer from the Victorian era, Dickens’s work transcends his time, language and culture. He remains a massive contemporary influence throughout the world and his writings continue to inspire film, TV, art, literature, artists and academia.

Follow the link for all the details on Dickens 2012: