Shaken Not Stirred

Whishaw and Craig as Q and 007

Skyfall

If there’s one brand, one film franchise, one name even, that sums up the very best of British creativity and industry (and which holds no relation to anyone of a royal title or an olympian) it is Bond. James Bond. Oh the images are filling my mind and I’m making no attempt to close the flood gates; martinis, Aston Martins, sophisticated black suits. Femme fatales, incredible dresses, guns, blood, Judi Dench, gadgets, the unmistakable theme tune. Fast cars, crazy billionaires, sharks and the hairiest escapes known to man.

It is perhaps serendipitous that I first began writing this post weeks (alright, two and a bit weeks) before the amusement of the Queen’s film cameo at the opening ceremony, where Bond deservedly made the entrance of the century to the roars of 80,000 people. Serendipitous as I had the unplanned pleasure of attending The Barbican’s current exhibition “Designing 007: 50 Years Of Bond Style”. It was, quite easily, the very best I have ever attended.

It was one of those afternoons that wasn’t mapped out and jam-packed with events; my family and I were to see the double bill of the plays “South Downs” and “The Browning Version” at the Harold Pinter Theatre and then take it from there. On exiting someone suggested a leisurely stroll from the West End, down Fleet Street and up to EC2 would offer the perfect opportunity to walk off the false sense of tiredness that descends in the heat of the theatre. It was clearly meant to be as my brother, utilising the wonderful invention that is the mobile phone, booked tickets enough for the four of us as we stood outside the stage door and no sooner had the crowds descended to queue for cabs than we were marching off into the distance.

Now, I am a Bond fan in the way that one whiff of a royal engagement gives way to a nation of crown lovers. I’m not a hardcore Bond brainbox but I’ve always enjoyed the slick Britishness (now I’m really not making sense) of the films and delight in the intricacies of the costume design in particular. Having not watched anything Bond related for a considerable amount of time therefore, the section of my brain reserved for the very best things in life was immediately saturated with the world of espionage the moment I stepped through the double doors into the first stage of the exhibition.

The Barbican had clearly made use of someone trained in the art of creating a practical, memorable and ultimately enjoyable memorabilia exhibit fit for public consumption. The level of detail exercised across the entire display was so scrupulous that upon exiting the final of the three stages of the spectacle (which was held across three floors of The Barbican requiring tickets to be retained and stamped on entry into each new level) I glanced down at my ticket only to smile at the numbers “007”; made up of the three consecutive stamps I had received.

My personal favourite of the outfits on show was Eva Green’s glorious evening dress, worn for her role as Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale. In contrast, I was appalled to discover that the ragged black dress donned by Olga Kurylenko as Bond’s accomplice Camille Montes in Quantum of Solace was in fact couture Prada and worth several thousands of pounds! On that note, was I the only one underwhelmed by Sévérine, Skyfall’s obligatory Bond girl? Without giving too much away, I like to think that her character was written without any real solidity to enforce the strong theme of the character relationship between Bond and M. Judi Dench triumphed, as did Ben Whishaw as Q who shall be returning to grace our screens in series 2 of The Hour TONIGHT on BBC2 at 9pm. I thoroughly recommend both The Hour (series 1 of which I wrote about here) and Skyfall – both are rich in glamour, espionage and good old-fashioned wit.

Ben Whishaw as Q

Q

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Women Of The World…

We Can Do It!

First posted February 15th - February 28th 1942

For the past three years, this poster has been the view I have awoken to every morning. Staring me in the face was a strong-willed woman – urging me to get up, get a move on and get out there into the world. I don’t mind saying that this poster has inspired me hugely and encouraged me daily to make a difference in the world, just as the women of Great Britain did during the Second World War. Just think of all those young girls who dropped everything to join the land army and or work in munitions factories; consolidating their efforts to give Britain a fighting chance. If they could have had such an effect, then so can we. The poster also affirms my strong belief in feminism, but it’s probably best if I leave my views on that particular subject for another post altogether! To see a visualisation of inspirational women take a look at Bollykeck’s post on the same topic.

Last Wednesday was International Women’s Day. The byline on their website reads “connecting girls, inspiring futures”. I can think of no better plan, especially as this includes providing “a common day for globally recognising and applauding women’s achievements as well as for observing and highlighting gender inequalities and issues”. I am inspired by so many women; dead and alive, fictional and real, family members, friends, teachers, writers, actors and politicians to name but a few. They all possess different qualities which I aspire to one day have myself, yet are united only because they all share the same gender. Here are the chosen few, known to all:

The Queen is the ultimate model of poise, grace, patience and hard work. She always projects positivity and never, ever, shows any degree of being tired, bored or uninterested by the people she meets or the places she visits.

Helena Bonham Carter (who has portrayed two Queens in her time!) is fearless with her fashion choices as well as being a versatile and captivating actor. Transforming from the teenage girl in Howard’s End to the kindly Mrs Bucket in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to the chilling and terrifying Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter series proves her acting capabilities.

Caitlin Moran wrote an extremely good book last year. It’s called “How to be a Woman”. I’m confident that many of you will have read it. In it she professes on paper everything we have all being thinking about feminism for the last few years but have been too self-conscious to say out loud. Moran is also a journalist for The Times and her weekly column in the Times Saturday Magazine has been my weekend luncheon companion for the past six years.

Emma Watson cropped her beautiful locks short to celebrate the end of an eleven year contract by which she had agreed not to tan her skin or alter her hair whilst appearing in the Harry Potter series. The result was that she inspired many girls to do the same and take the short-hair plunge. I was in such a “GO EMMA!” mood about it that I wrote a post at the time.

Victoria Coren, as well as being a top-class journalist and presenter with a degree from Oxford is also a World Poker Champion and a member of Team PokerStars Pro, with lifetime winnings of $1.5 million. I finished her autobiography “For Richer, For Poorer – Confessions of a Player” in January and found it engaging, witty and refreshingly honest. Coren is a quirky individual who deflects negativity and instead focuses on what matters to her. I think she is incredibly cool.

Bel Rowley (The Hour) was played brilliantly, last Summer, by Romola Garai. Bel is a fifties feminist and a woman who holds a strong journalistic role at the BBC’s Lime Grove Studios in the middle of the Suez Canal crisis. Despite her ability to perform her role extremely well, she is subject to subtly sexist marks. When inquiring after Prime Minister Eden’s health, one of his Press Advisers replies “Such maternal instincts. I do think you are rather wasted in news”. She later slights his intelligence by saying to her Editor, in the adviser (Angus’) presence, “Auribus teneo lupum”, and then snapping to Angus “Look it up”. The Latin translates into English as “Take the wolf by the ears”.

Morgan Le Fay, the villain of the Legend of King Arthur of Camelot is one of the oldest records of a feminist. True, we have little or no evidence as to whether she actually existed, but she is portrayed in the printed word and on-screen as a woman who will not rest until her right to ascend to the throne of Camelot is acknowledged.

Jenny Mellor (An Education) decides against marrying a much older man who can give her all the riches she could ever want in favour of studying to gain a place at Oxford and make her own way in the world. The character of the early 1960s schoolgirl Jenny, played to perfection by Carey Mulligan, doesn’t fall into the trap of giving up on her education to be married in her teens simply because she has had a good offer of marriage and in doing so proves to herself, and everybody else, that she can be independent.

Which women inspire you and why?

Bowing Out Gracefully – August Inspiration

This Was My Summer

This Was My Summer

Well it appears that this is it. Tomorrow we wave goodbye to August and with it the last remnants of the Summer. Without wanting to launch into a lengthy post about the transition from Summer to Autumn again (but if for some reason you are inclined towards that sort of blogging take a look at my last post) I simply want to talk about the things that for me, have made Summer, Summer…

First and foremost I have enjoyed the sun. No, we haven’t had much, but what we have had I’ve walked in, swum in and ultimately, revelled in. Summer wouldn’t be Summer without sun – something which Rosalind touched on saying that the element of the Summer she would miss most was reading outside in the sun. Summer is the time of the year when I myself read the most – a combination of longer holiday time and feeling relaxed and in the mood to sit and read and read until I’ve had my fill. When you’ve really got into a book, time is irrelevant – that’s why Summer holidays are the best time for them! But it’s not just books – being able to read the paper over a leisurely breakfast or lounge on the sofa flicking through the September editions of magazines is yet another, thoroughly enjoyable and leisurely pursuit.

So far I’ve finished How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran (but I’m sure you’ll be hearing my opinion of that in a future post) and With Your Crooked Heart by Helen Dunmore. I’m currently wading into the first chapters of Roger Deakin’s Waterlog and am already finding it highly enjoyable – both his excellent descriptions and manner of storytelling are extremely compelling and next in line is Laurie Lee’s Cider With Rosie. Another book I’m looking forward to settling down with is supermodel Alek Wek’s autobiography. Having read interviews with her in which she described her incredible journey from her native Sudan to the UK where she has become an international supermodel and one of the most recognisable faces in fashion. I found the book whilst perusing in the sale section of my local independent bookshop for just £1.99. A bargain if I ever saw one! I’ll be sure to let you know my thoughts once I’ve finished it.

How To Be A Woman

Continuing the cultural theme I’ve seen no less than two amateur dramatic productions whilst on holiday and have thoroughly enjoyed them both. There’s nothing like the excitement of watching enthusiastic performers burst into an infectious song as the lights go down and the sheer amount of time and energy that go into such performances is unbelievable. In my opinion live theatre can never be overrated – be it in the West End or a Church hall. I had the pleasure of attending one such production last night and even now I’m still singing the repeated two lines of the title song! As regards to events happening further afield I’ve been keeping up with all the goings on at the Edinburgh Literary Festival (follow them here on Twitter and try taking part in their daily #UnboundEd challenge) and have promised myself that one day I will be there – definitely as a paying spectator but one can dream of frequenting it as an author/writer!

The BBC have produced some excellent television over the past month or two including The Hour (lengthier post about that here) and Page Eight. I was delighted to read (in The Guardian I think) that The Hour has been recommissioned for a second six-part series next year in which Ben Whishaw, Romola Garai and Dominic West will all reappear. You can read all about it yourselves on the BBC Press Office site .

Freddie and Bel - The Hour

In other news I got to have a play with a Canon 500d the other day and was instantly hooked. I’m really hoping to acquire a DSLR in the near future so if anyone has any suggestions I’d be really grateful if you could leave a comment. I marked the end of Summer with the purchase of a knitted aran cardigan from an independent woollen jumper shop. It’s made from plum coloured aran wool with lots of cable knit pattern and I absolutely cannot wait to wear it. Oh and in case anyone was wondering, I checked with the shop-seller where the garments were all made and she told me that they are all sent from the factory in Leicester where they are made, a fact which I later double checked on the website. New, unworn, ethically made, guilt free clothes. Why can’t they all be like that?

The Hour Is Upon Us

Bel in Blue

Romola Garai As Bel Rowley

In the words of William Shakespeare:

“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

This line from Macbeth, or The Scottish Play to any actors out there, may seem sorrowful and somewhat pessimistic, but there is an element of truth in hidden within it – that in the grand scale of human existence a single life represents an actor upon a stage, who in his hour in the limelight is known and applauded by his contemporaries, but is soon forgotten once he has departed from view. The old adage, “Out of sight, out of mind” appears to ring true, but there is also a moral in there, or more than one depending on how you look at it. The message about making the most of your life is the more obvious of the two, which, for me, was reinforced on stumbling across this quote from Charles Darwin: “A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life”. Reading it I felt immediately humbled and instantly regretted every moment I had ever wasted because I would never be able to reclaim it.

Hector, Bel and Freddie

Hector (West), Freddie (Whishaw) and Bel (Garai)

The second, however, can be interpreted as Shakespeare’s way of reminding us that if we want to be remembered we should live our lives in a manner that enables us to make a difference – however big or small. That could mean anything from painstakingly researching and discovering a drug that cures a serious disease to campaigning for women’s rights in countries which have oppressive regimes. We shouldn’t sit back and relax and let everyone else get on with it whilst we watch and comment on their progress – we should be a part of it. Don’t think I’m preaching – I’m not suggesting that everyone resigns from their jobs and jumps straight on a plane to East Africa to help aid workers (although that would be an extremely admirable thing to do) – because it isn’t or everyone and I accept that.

It doesn’t mean that you can’t help someone, somewhere though. Even just donating unwanted household items to a good cause or buying Christmas cards whereby all of the proceeds go to charity can improve someone’s quality of life. If anyone ever asks me what I think the meaning of life is I say this: “to make a difference”. World affairs are in a very bad state indeed at the minute – from the violence in Libya to the East African famine and the terrible Norwegian shootings and bombing. The human race needs to pull together – we all need each other to get through this.

The Shakespeare quote seemed a perfect way for me to describe the way I don’t want the fortunes of the current BBC Drama series ‘The Hour’  to pan out. It may seem rather dramatic for me to have to quote Shakespeare to make known that I don’t want ‘The Hour’ to be a one series wonder, but considering the state of television at the moment and how momentous an occasion it is when a well thought out series with a quick, witty script and a strong cast comes along (not to mention highly commendable costuming skills), I think I’m allowed to go a bit over the top.

Romola Garai as Bel Rowley

Romola Garai as Bel Rowley

Although I may seem to be stating the obvious by saying it, the series feels really very British. From the superbly convincing backdrop of the BBC Lime Grove studios to the witty exchanges between the characters and the 1950s silhouette of London being the centre of everything – the theatre, engagement parties, government rulings, mysterious murders – you name it, it was happening in London in the fifties.

Having a cast who can merge together to form something both appealing and believable whilst maintaining the strength of the characters they are playing is a huge part of succesful drama. Romola Garai and Ben Whishaw demonstrate this to perfection with their portrayals of producer Bel Rowley and reporter Freddie Lyon – best friends, confidantes and soulmates. Neither of them could continue without the other, a fact which, deep down, they both know. Nevertheless, Bel’s attraction to ‘The Hour’ frontman Hector Madden (played superbly  by Dominic West) – a Cambridge graduate from a distinguished family with just the right amount of charm – leaves Freddie confused at what she sees in him and sad that she does not feel the same way about him as he does about her. Their relationship has a certain ambiguity which leaves the viewer thinking “Will they, won’t they?” at the end of each episode and willing them to address the unclear-ness of it.

'The Hour' Team

'The Hour' Team

Aside from inter-character relations the scenery, props and dialogue can be lingered over with both a forlorn feeling that back then the world seemed so much more exciting, but also a wave of gladness that in 2011 a woman can become a television producer without having to be told by a government official that her “maternal instincts” mean she’s “wasted in news” and that on trying to decode a crossword we would be able to google “brightstone”. For me, the costumes were an instant lure to show and I haven’t at all been disappointed – you only need to look at the images of the cast I selected for this post to appreciate the attention to detail in them.

I am not a person who watches much television, always being either too busy to or non-plussed by the shoddy array of programmes that are being shown at prime viewing time, but when something like ‘The Hour’ comes along it reminds us all that the BBC do have the ability to create decent dramas that people will actually want to watch, rather than them being something to sit in front of because there’s nothing else on. Sherlock was one of these (and thankfully still is after the first series was repeated on the BBC over the past three works and a second series has been filmed to be broadcast in 2012), as was the political comedy/drama The Thick Of It. The only time of the year when we seem to have a case of there being too much watchable television around is Christmas. Surely if the BBC can do it then they can do it all year round?

'The Hour' Full Cast

'The Hour' Full Cast