Creative Sensemaker: What to read, watch and listen to this weekend

Group of young men dressed in bright summer clothes walking in the centre of New York street laughing and talking

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 the prospect of at least another month of restrictions fills you with gloom, go and see In the Heights (general release, 18 June) this weekend. In fact, go and see it anyway. Adapted from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-winning Broadway musical of the same name, the movie, directed by Jon M Chu, is a glorious visual, sonic and sensual bombardment that is utterly celebratory without being remotely naive.

Set in Washington Heights, the quarter of Upper Manhattan that swelters in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge, this is an epic song and dance movie. As in Hamilton, the governing aesthetic is drawn from hip-hop, but the film also raids the larders of Old Hollywood, magic realism, Bollywood and a string of New York classics, from West Side Story to Do The Right Thing.

And while it presents America as a raucous block party rather than a riot-torn republic on its knees, the plot makes plenty of space for social issues: the plight of undocumented children, the threat of gentrification, and the tensions implicit in the multi-culturalism that Miranda has done so much to champion. The dreamscape in which it is set is firmly rooted in reality. Do go and see it.

Tortoise’s next Creative Sensemaker Live is on Friday 25 June, at 1pm BST, and will ask: is classical music boring and elitist? Among the speakers will be the chief executive of the English National Opera, Stuart Murphy. You can book your place here.

Here are this week’s recommendations:

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The Father (general release)
Even if, like me, you hoped that Chadwick Boseman would be awarded a posthumous Best Actor Oscar this year, you’ll finally understand, when you see Florian Zeller’s The Father, why the Academy chose Anthony Hopkins. The actor explores dementia as a journey through long corridors of fear, in which nothing is stable. It’s the performance of a lifetime.

Katla (Netflix)
This Icelandic drama mystery imagines the violent upheaval of a community by a volcanic eruption, and adds an edge of sci-fi dystopia as characters, missing for a year, rise from the ashes. Baltasar Kormákur – who directed Everest (2015) – has a talent for extracting psychological unease from turbulent geography, and presents a world of deep weirdness in which one is nonetheless quickly invested in the fate of the characters. Recommended.

Book cover
Book cover


Assembly by Natasha Brown 
Fragmentary, elusive and interior, the prose in Brown’s debut novella aspires to match precisely the moment-by-moment experience of a Black British woman negotiating her way through the shoals of class, racial bias, and social expectation. Beguiling and beautifully written, this is the work of an author with a bright future.

Seven Ways To Change The World: How To Fix The Most Pressing Problems We Face by Gordon Brown 
There are plenty of books being published that aspire to the task that Gordon Brown sets himself. But this is the real deal: a manual for tackling the great challenges of our era, from global health and climate change to educational inequality and financial instability. (You can watch Gordon Brown in conversation with Tortoise co-founder, James Harding, here).

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Back Of My Mind by H.E.R (18 June)
‘Things that feel too honest, or too vulnerable, or too emotional, or too, you know, aggressive... It’s like a peek into my soul.’ Thus does H.E.R describe the inspiration of her new album (the latest single, ‘We Made It’, is already online here). Still only 23, she picked up two Grammys earlier this year, and an Oscar® for Best Original Song (‘Fight For You’ from Judas And The Black Messiah). Back Of My Mind will surely seal her reputation as a truly global star. 

Bach-Beethoven by Andrew von Oeyen
Of German and Dutch origin, US-born von Oeyen is one of the most accomplished and celebrated pianists on the concert circuit today, and this album is, in effect, a very personal lockdown journal: ‘If Bach served as my first musical mooring in confinement, I returned to Beethoven for second-wave pandemic relief.’ His interpretation of Bach is markedly different to, say, Glenn Gould’s, with no attempt to emulate the sound of the harpsichord, and his approach to Beethoven is one of fearless attack. A terrific achievement.
Don’t forget to send in your own recommendations to

That’s all for now. Have a great week.

Best wishes,

Matt d’Ancona
Editor and Partner
Tortoise Media


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