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.
'Where’s 007?’ The question posed by M (Ralph Fiennes) early in the first act of No Time To Die is one that the world has been asking since early 2016, when the 25th James Bond film first entered development.
The movie’s release has been repeatedly postponed: first from November 2019 to February 2020; then to April 2020. Once COVID-19 struck, Daniel Craig’s fifth and final outing as Bond was pushed back to November 2020; and then again to April 2021; and then, finally, to today.
Second only to the roll-out of the vaccine, the film’s prospective opening came to be seen as symbolic of at least partial emancipation from the pandemic’s grip. And so, I will admit, it did indeed seem at a special 12am performance at my local movie house last night. Britain might be running out of petrol, food, labour and international credibility. But, by God, we can still turn out a first-class Bond movie, and – with a series of almost non-stop action sequences and a plotline full of surprises – No Time To Die really is that.
After five films, it’s hard to believe quite how controversial a choice Craig was as Pierce Brosnan’s replacement. Blonde, relatively slight and best known for cerebral roles in movies such as Love Is The Devil: Study For A Portrait Of Francis Bacon (1998), Sylvia (2003) and Enduring Love (2004), Craig was a respected actor, but not one naturally associated with Martinis, tuxedos and supercharged Aston Martins. But scepticism about his casting quickly yielded place to noisy acclaim.
What has made his run so unique is its narrative integrity. Craig’s 007 has been unashamedly cruel in keeping with the spirit of Ian Fleming’s original novels. ‘It doesn’t bother you? Killing those people?’ his lover Vesper Lynd asks him in Casino Royale. Bond’s reply is pitiless: ‘Well, I wouldn’t be very good at my job if it did.’
At the same time, Craig was explicitly determined to play Bond as a flawed and vulnerable character, a lost soul searching for the normality from which he was torn in childhood. Skyfall, in particular, explored the closeness of his relationship with Judi Dench’s M, and her role as a surrogate parent. Far from clinging to his profession, his 007 tried to resign from the service in pursuit of a regular life in the very first movie, went underground in Skyfall after he was shot (by Moneypenny, accidentally), and left MI6 once again at the end of Spectre. Craig’s Bond was both scorpion and frog, desperate to make it to the other side of the river, doomed always, by his patriotism and his addiction to the chase, to end up stinging himself.
What did Craig’s Bond stand for? In No Time To Die, M offers an answer, quoting Jack London: ‘The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.’ That’s a fine tribute to the character and to the actor who has (I’ll dare to say) played him with most distinction. Goodbye, Mr Bond. We’ll be seeing you soon.
Here are this week’s recommendations:
The Green Knight (general release, Prime Video)
First of all let us celebrate the magnificence of Dev Patel. Wasn’t it only yesterday that he was playing Anwar Kharral in Skins (2007 to 2008) and lighting up the big screen in Slumdog Millionaire (2008)? Now a fully-fledged movie star, Patel excels as Gawain in David Lowery’s compelling adaptation of the Middle English Arthurian poem. Having accepted the Green Knight’s challenge and decapitated him before King Arthur, Gawain must keep his side of the bargain and present himself a year hence for similar treatment in the depths of a far forest. En route, he meets a saint, a scavenger, a terrifically spooky family of giants, and a talking fox. Take it on its own terms, and enjoy.
Matrix by Lauren Groff
Medieval religious communities have often been the setting of terrific modern fiction: think of Sylvia Townsend Warner’s The Corner That Held Them (1948) or Umberto Eco’s The Name Of The Rose (1980). Lauren Groff’s fourth novel is a fine addition to this genre, exploring the life, art and sexuality of the historical poet Marie de France (c.1160 to 1215) with a vividness, humanity and turn of phrase that are often dazzling. Exiled from court by Eleanor of Aquitaine, Marie is packed off to become prioress in a remote English convent: ‘This place of her living death… Gray soul, gray sky, gray earth of March, grayish whitish abbey.’ There, she seeks solace at night, composing sensual poems that are secretly intended for Eleanor’s eyes (‘The life of the abbey is the dream. The set of poems she is writing is the world.’) The level of detail with which Groff describes daily life in the 12th century is extraordinary, as is the sense of urgency, human authenticity and implacable love that she brings to the tale.
And Then Life Was Beautiful by Nao
Three years after her magnificent second album, Saturn, the east London singer returns with this wonderfully accomplished and upbeat studio release – 13 tracks that merge into a single lush sequence of soul, R&B, and Afrobeat. Principally inspired by her experience of motherhood, the album explores vulnerability and resilience. Her trademark compassion is leavened by a sometimes scathing wit. On ‘Glad That You’re Gone’, she openly scorns an ex: ‘Got my mouth grinning and I know that it’s wrong/ I can’t help smiling either way/ You’ve bounced, it’s blessed, I’m celebrating.’ With a production team that boasts LOXE, Grades, D’Mile and Sarz, ATLWB is supremely accomplished both in a technical sense and as an ambient musical experience.
That’s all for now. Enjoy the weekend and take care of yourselves.
Editor and Partner