Lady Macbeth

Dir: William Oldroyd, with Florence Pugh and Naomi Ackie

The setting is somewhere on the Catherine Cookson/Wuthering Heights axis and the plot requires indulgence, but I didn’t care because it was so well filmed and directed. Katherine opens the film as a vulnerable bride all in white and ends it as a monster in black. Our sympathies are initially with her: married off to an ineffectual man, under the command of her brutal father-in-law, forbidden to go out of doors and confined to stays, crinolines and interiors. Doors play their own role. An indifference to suffering or deliberate unkindness is the norm: we see the discomfort of being laced into stays or having your waist-length hair combed in the days before conditioner. The only moment of pure feeling is when Katherine holds the little boy’s hand for a moment after she has recalled outdoor walks with her mother. (The sex is vigorous, but obsessive rather than loving.)

It was interesting how “victimhood” shifted as the film progressed. Initially it led the viewer to sympathise with the oppression of women in general, but as Katherine became more daring and powerful you focussed more on Anna, who bore the double cross of female and servant.

The (part) colour-blind casting was interesting. I’m used to it in the theatre, but film and television tends to be “more realistic”. (Huh! Try casting an actor with rickets and bad teeth for your costume dramas then.)  It suggested other currents in relationships and power.

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Woodpecker

I saw a great spotted woodpecker on the ornamental plum this morning – a first. It was only there for a moment then flew off. A nice start to the day.

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Foxgloves

So pleasing to the eye. Every so often a bloom quivers and a bee reverses out.

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Two bird tales

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On Thursday I went to Leighton Moss and spent most of my time trying to spot the ever-present but invisible reed warblers. I was also entertained by a pheasant duel in the undergrowth, their feinting movements as choreographed as eighteenth-century gentlemen’s. A female pheasant – perhaps the subject of their quarrel – was close by.

On the way home I saw a much less entertaining sight: a cygnet killed by a pair of aggressive dogs. For a dreadful moment I thought the whole brood – resting in the field beside the canal with both parents – would be killed. In the end one of the parents drew the most vicious dog away and was attacked and chased in the water. Fortunately it survived, and the family – now eight cygnets rather than nine – are still sailing up and down the canal. The irresponsible dog-owner – she was walking four of the brutes – got a great deal of abuse, most of it from a pair of canalside drinkers who were perhaps making the most of the novelty of not being the prime target of moral outrage. Their lack of inhibition in berating her (and pushing her into the canal to control her dog – oh, how naughty!) reflected the hostility and horror of the politer onlookers.

I think the most shocking aspect was the speed with which the dogs set on the cygnets. There seemed to be no sizing-up, no calculation – just straight for the kill. None of the squaring up of the evenly matched male pheasants.

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The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan (1978)

L’Étranger written by an affectless, acned adolescent? It does teenage indifference and self-pity very well – that sense of bewilderment, self-centredness without self-awareness, making new discoveries but not really understanding them. It’s an unsettling story, beginning with the death of the mean-minded father whose idea of a garden is cement interspersed with a few tulips. The decline and death of the mother leaves their four children alone in a solitary house in an abandoned part of town. They encase her body in cement so that they are not taken into care. As her body slowly purifies during the hot summer days, so their behaviour and relationships decay. They form their own warped version of a family and, free of adult guidance and censure, they can act as they please . . . but it does not lead to a Rousseau-like state of nature or Eden but to something more like that cement garden.

Yes, rather grim but I was gripped by it.

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Slow afternoon in the garden

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I spent some time in the garden this afternoon looking like a war correspondent, with binoculars and a zoom lens at the ready, to find out where the blackbird nest is. I didn’t find it – outwitted by the blackbirds.

There are a couple of older duckling groups on the canal; perhaps sticking close to mother gives them an edge in the survival stakes.

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And I’m wondering how many years it will be before the calla lily becomes a clump.

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Their Finest

Dir: Lone Scherfig, with Gemma Arterton and Bill Nighy

A film set in WWII about making a morale-boosting film of the retreat from Dunkirk. Judging from the rest of the audience in the cinema, it’s a big hit with the under-90s. And me. It was a funny, poignant and charming film with some amusing dialogue and a real sense of the danger – and opportunities – of wartime. It was affectionately ironic about the real WWII Ministry of Information films and didn’t hesitate to use the same irony and knowingness itself: casting Bill Nighy as a self-regarding has-been was such a cliché and very funny.

As usual with modern films about the past, there was a feminist subtext . . . but they didn’t use a bludgeon.

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