Creative Sensemaker: What to read, watch and listen to this weekend
A rundown of the 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.
‘If ever there was a case of the right book at the right time, this book was it. Funny, frivolous, and sweepingly romantic, it was the perfect antidote to the long war years of hardship and austerity, providing an undernourished public with its favourite ingredients: love, childhood and the English upper classes.’ This is what Nancy Mitford’s biographer, Selina Hastings, wrote of her 1945 novel The Pursuit Of Love, now adapted by Emily Mortimer into a three-part series (BBC One, 9 May; all episodes on iPlayer), serving as an unlikely replacement for Line Of Duty in our Sunday night viewing schedule.
Set between the wars, the tale of Linda Radlett, her eccentric, aristocratic family and her restless quest for romance is beautifully rendered by a cast led by Lily James, Dominic West, Andrew Scott, and Emily Beecham.
For a debut director, Mortimer is impressively unconstrained by the usual rules of television dramatisation. This is much more than an upmarket version of Downton Abbey. Listen out, in particular, for the imaginative use of modern music (I spotted The Who, T.Rex, Le Tigre, and Marianne Faithfull) – a highlight being Andrew Scott’s outrageous, dream-like arrival at a dull debutante ball to the strains of ‘Dandy In The Underworld’.
Written in three months, Mitford’s original novel is a barely concealed account of the early life of her family. Now remembered only dimly, as a sort of fascist prototype for the Kardashians, the Mitford clan was indeed a diverse bunch of oddballs, artists and maniacs, ranging from deranged followers of Hitler to committed communists.
But it was Nancy who truly immortalised the family as its novelist-chronicler, spotting the apparently unquenchable English taste for snobbery and social categorisation. We kid ourselves that we live in a ‘classless society’, but – 76 years after the publication of The Pursuit Of Love – we are as addicted as ever to such classifications and their tribal meaning.
Do not be deceived into thinking that this is all aristo-jinks, hunting capers, and bright young things. There is a profound strain of stringency and darkness in The Pursuit Of Love, elevating it from a great comic novel to a 20th-century masterpiece, describing a world that is both long vanished and still etched deep in the English imagination. All this is perfectly captured in Mortimer’s adaptation. Miss it at your peril.
Here are this week’s recommendations:
Jupiter’s Legacy (Netflix, 7 May)
Based on the graphic novels launched in 2013, Mark Millar’s Jupiter’s Legacy takes as its starting point the dilemmas facing first-generation superheroes as their children grow up. As with all that Millar does (he is the writer responsible for the Kingsman and Kick-Ass franchises, among much else), a dark sense of humour mingles with the imaginative power of a juggernaut. And you don’t have to know about comic books to relish the worlds that he creates.
Monster (Netflix, 7 May)
In this adaptation of Walter Dean Myers’s 1999 novel, Steve, a son of Harlem prospering in his studies, finds his hopes pole-axed when he is charged with felony murder. Powerful and full of acutely observed subtleties.
Books Do Furnish A Life: Reading And Writing Science by Richard Dawkins
This excellent collection of writings, interviews and philosophical reflections shows why Dawkins is considered one of the world’s most prominent public intellectuals. Don’t forget to book your spot at the Tortoise ThinkIn on 20 May, at which I’ll be in conversation with him.
The Frontiers Of Knowledge: What We Now Know About Science, History And The Mind by AC Grayling
The essence of science is a humility about what we know and an enthusiasm to extend its parameters. In his latest book, the prolific philosopher tackles the question of knowledge and its limits, with an eclecticism that is remarkable, covering literature, neuroscience, psychology, and AI.
Don’t miss Grayling in conversation with Tortoise cofounder, James Harding, on 12 May at 6.30pm BST.
Rabbit! Rabbit! Oh Wait Squirrel by Rattletooth
More than just another post-punk gang, Rattletooth is one of the most talented alternative rock bands to emerge in recent years. This is a very good debut album. We’ll be watching – and listening – with interest.
Blessed, I Guess by Lil Poppa (7 May)
Teased by the track ‘A.M. Flights’, featuring New York rapper Toosii, Lil Poppa’s debut is one of the albums of the spring. Born Calvin Cambridge in Jacksonville, Florida, he learnt his craft singing in church, but left the pews behind at the age of 14 to pursue his hip-hop recording career.
That’s all for now – take care of yourselves, and each other.
Editor and Partner