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Goldie's Fab Four #25
My Highlights and Recommendations
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This star-studded epic about the ‘architect of the A-bomb’ J Robert Oppenheimer is an hour too long, but if - like me - you are drawn by the hype, there’s plenty to enjoy.
Oppenheimer was the physicist who oversaw the Manhattan Project, credited with designing the first nuclear weapons. Their detonation at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 brought World War Two to a close.
Director and screenwriter Christopher Nolan doesn’t shy away from the fact that many observers thought the conflict would have ended shortly afterwards anyway, without the need for such a drastic intervention.
Nor does he evade the reality of the horrific firestorms engineered by Oppenheimer and his colleagues which indiscriminately killed thousands of innocent civilians.
The heart of the film, though, is the battle for the scientist’s reputation in the post-war years, when anyone suspected of Communist sympathies was at risk of losing their livelihood - even if they had previously been regarded as a war hero.
Nolan coaxes a fine performance out of Cillian Murphy, who portrays Oppenheimer as a complicated, compromised individual. He’s an egotistical womaniser, willing to pursue a deadly path to help his nation’s interests but tormented by the likely consequences of his actions.
There’s a Mozart/Salieri vibe going on as he clashes with Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr) a former shoe salesman with political ambitions who headed up the atomic agency overseeing Oppenheimer’s work. Part of the movie’s problem is that Strauss isn’t fleshed out in anything like the detail of Oppenheimer, which makes the last section something of a slog.
This certainly isn’t the masterpiece it’s been hailed in some quarters, but audiophiles will relish Nolan’s brilliant use of sound, and a cast that includes Emily Blunt, Matt Damon and Florence Pugh ensure that it certainly doesn’t, er, bomb.
The Sixth Commandment
Timothy Spall’s incredibly moving performance in the first episode of this true crime four parter has “BAFTA winner” written all over it. He plays Peter Farquhar, a university lecturer torn between his Christian faith and his homosexuality. Peter falls in love with one of his young students Ben (Eanna Hardwicke) and is astonished to find his affection returned. To say any more would be to spoil the sly twists of Sarah Phelps story telling. Suffice to say, having watched two episodes, this is shaping up to be a genuine telly masterpiece.
Ruth Miller has long been fascinated by the possibilities of punk rock. During lockdown she founded the brilliant Punk Girl Diaries fanzine, celebrating the legacy of the feminist icons of the late 70s and early 80s. Now she’s gone one better, encouraging women in her home town of Leicester to get up and form bands themselves, even if they’ve never played music before. The result is the rather excellent Unglamorous sampler. I interviewed Ruth on my latest Brum Radio show, and you can download the album here. ‘Free To Roam’ by Dada Women is a great place to start - strong, direct lyrics and brilliant guitar. Think Patti Smith. Au Pairs or Poison Girls.
Where do you go when you’re in strange town with a couple of hours to kill, and you have to get on with some work. The other day, I found myself in Blackpool (a VERY strange town) and hunkered down in the central library. It had wi-fi, some beautiful stained glass windows and a friendly welcome for a visitor like me who just needed a quiet space in which to write. Pubs are sometimes noisy and distracting. Cafes are understandably annoyed if you try to while away an afternoon on their premises for the price of a capuccino. Libraries, on the other hand, are designed for study, and I took full advantage. I was in good company. On a rain sodden afternoon there was a constant flow of locals carrying out research, or just enjoying access to books and the internet. More than 800 libraries have closed since 2010, but they provide an irreplaceable ‘third space’ for citizens of all backgrounds. The should be cherished.