A rundown of the week’s cultural moments, books, films, music and more by Tortoise Media, the slow news agency
By Matt d’Ancona
Welcome to the latest Creative Sensemaker from Tortoise Media.
What happens when four giants of the Black civil rights movement of the 1960s get together in a room and eat ice cream? Well, history records the ice cream – and not much else. On 25 February 1964, in Miami Beach, Florida, Cassius Clay (soon to become Muhammad Ali), Malcolm X, Sam Cooke and NFL superstar Jim Brown gathered in Malcolm’s hotel room, the night the young boxer defied the odds to win the world heavyweight championship.
Regina King has brought this extraordinary occasion to life in a dramatised version: One Night In Miami, her directorial debut based on the play of the same name (Prime Video, 15 January).
The film fizzes with a sense of history and the performances – Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X, Eli Goree as Clay, Aldis Hodge as Brown and Leslie Odom Jr as Cooke – are uniformly excellent. The first essential movie of 2021.
Here are this week’s recommendations:
(To buy any of these books, and browse further, click on the title to go to the Tortoise Book Store.)
Asylum Road by Olivia Sudjic
The story of a young engaged couple, Anya and Luke, Asylum Road is rich in characterisation and the interplay between borders and personal identity. It also has one of the most striking final acts in recent fiction, establishing Sudjic as the leading novelist of her generation.
The Art Of Fairness: The Power Of Decency In A World Turned Mean by David Bodanis
In the days leading up to Joe Biden’s inauguration, Bodanis’s book is an eminently readable primer on the uses of good behaviour. Assembling a mass of case studies, he argues that decent leadership is much more common than orthodoxy suggests: ‘It’s just often not noticed because more monstrous egos grab our attention.’
Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas
This eagerly anticipated prequel to The Hate U Give (2017) doesn’t disappoint. Turning the clock back 17 years, it is the story of Maverick Carter and a deeply nuanced journey through the crisis of masculinity facing young African-American men in a world of structural racism and competing loyalties.
Franco’s Map by Walter Ellis
Why didn’t General Franco join the Axis powers in 1940, seize Gibraltar from the British and establish a new Spanish empire in north Africa? This is the question that inspired Ellis’s excellent new historical thriller. Highly recommended.
WandaVision (Disney+, 15 January)
Set in the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame (2019), WandaVision finds the Scarlet Witch, Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), living with her android consort, Vision (Paul Bettany), in what appears to be 1950s suburbia. Which is odd enough, especially as (spoiler alert) Vision apparently died in Avengers: Infinity War (2018). Confused? You will be. But if it sounds like a surreal step too far, ask yourself this: when did Marvel Studios supremo, Kevin Feige, last fail?
Pieces Of A Woman (Netflix)
Vanessa Kirby delivers an Oscar-worthy performance in Kornél Mundruczó’s moving account of a couple torn apart by the loss of a newborn child, with Shia LaBeouf and Ellen Burstyn excelling as her rough-hewn husband and disappointed mother.
Detective Julien Baptiste (Tchéky Karyo) is retired in Amsterdam and recovering from a brain tumour, when he’s drawn back by the case of a missing sex worker, and meets Edward Stratton (Tom Hollander), the girl’s uncle. A near-psychotic version of Holmes and Watson follows, with Baptiste dealing with his own demons and Stratton’s role tantalisingly unclear. Prestige TV at its most prestigious.
Servant (Apple TV+, 15 January)
The first season of Servant has been an undoubted highlight of Apple’s streaming service. Who, exactly, is the spooky nanny, Leanne (Nell Tiger Free), come to work for Dorothy and Sean Turner (Lauren Ambrose and Toby Kebbell)? Who are the menacing cult members who follow her to invade the couple’s life? And why is Ron Weasley taking so many drugs (Rupert Grint as Dorothy’s brother Julian)? Sinister, with a comic edge, this is ideal lockdown viewing.
Welfare Jazz by Viagra Boys
The Stockholm-based quintet’s second album starts as it means to go on with ‘Ain’t Nice’, but there is plenty of satire and saxophone along the way to sugar the pill. The band’s sheer energy and wit make you believe you’ll dance again in 2021.
Songs For The Drunk And Broken Hearted by Passenger
The indie-folk darling expected his 13th studio album to be released last year, but revised the whole thing when the pandemic struck. Though the album’s connecting theme is heartache, Michael Rosenberg’s command of melody ensures this is more than hipster doom-in-the-ears.
Elgar by Sheku Kanneh-Mason, London Symphony Orchestra and Sir Simon Rattle
The winner of the BBC’s 2016 Young Musician competition takes on Elgar’s works for the cello – one of the great mountain ranges of this particular calling. The result is dazzling.
That’s all for now. Take care of yourselves – and each other.
Editor and Partner