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.
Here’s what Peter Ackroyd has to say about the subterranean capital city in his minor classic, London Under: ‘It is the home of the devil and of holy water. The underworld moves the imagination to awe and to horror. It is in part a human world, made from the activities of many generations, but it is also primeval and inhuman. It repels clarity and thought. It may offer safety for some, but it does not offer solace. London is built upon darkness.’
It was precisely this darkness that made the first season of Temple (Sky) so intriguing. Created by Mark O’Rowe, the series confronted us with a Faustian dilemma: what would happen to a distinguished cardiac surgeon (Mark Strong), compelled to treat criminals and fugitives for cash in an illegal underground clinic so that he could also care, off the books, for Beth (Catherine McCormack), his terminally ill and officially dead wife?
In daily life, Daniel Milton is a grand medical authority, striding the brightly-lit corridors of his hospital, and a supposedly attentive father to his daughter, Eve. Yet, underground – beneath Temple tube station – he is caught in a world of lawlessness, criminality, and bedlam.
In its second season (Sky Max; Now), Milton’s situation becomes more rather than less complex, his wife’s recovery overshadowed by the fact that it owes so much to the research of his lover (and Beth’s friend), Anna, brilliantly played by Carice van Houten. His prospects of escape from working in the underground clinic are also radically reduced by the arrival on the scene of the crime boss, Gubby – Rhys Ifans at his most sinuously lethal.
As excellent as the cast is, it is Strong who makes the show what it is. He is, quite simply, one of the greatest actors of his generation, whose apparently impassive features can transform a scene with the merest flicker of anger or sorrow.
Temple’s additional secret sauce is the success with which it scratches at the insecurities of the 21st-century middle-class professional. A character such as Milton’s is supposed to be immune from the hazards, bloodshed and volatility of the criminal underworld, but misfortune still comes knocking in various guises and he is plunged into a world for which he is ill-prepared.
In this respect, Temple is a fine addition to a genre that was launched by Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad, the saga of the milquetoast teacher who resorts to cooking meth to pay for his cancer treatment. In both of these shows, there is a contemporary theme and a universal warning. First: that nobody is secure in the modern world, and that the house of cards upon which bourgeois routine and safety are built may be swept away at any moment.
The warning is that the devil has all the best tunes. Just like Walter White in Breaking Bad, Milton is horribly drawn to the limitless possibilities and reckless freedoms of the lawless existence. When, after a lifetime of playing by the rules, do the better angels of our nature start to sound boring?
As Ackroyd notes, darkness is to be found beneath even the greatest monuments; and it is infectious. In spite of what we tell ourselves, humanity is ineluctably drawn to the other side of the tracks, to the violation of social mores, and to the glittering rewards that often accompany such a choice. There are many temples in a great city, and not all are consecrated to the gods.
Here are this week’s recommendations:
Last Night In Soho (general release, 29 October)
Nostalgia is a hell of a drug – and it can take a terrible toll. The power of Edgar Wright’s latest movie dwells in his ostentatiously ambivalent attitude to the past – dramatised in the paranormal night-time journeys made by young fashion student Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) from contemporary London to the swinging city of the mid 1960s – which she experiences through the eyes of aspiring singer, Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy). Initially, the neon surrealism of Eloise’s visits, the terrific music and the attentions of nightclub promoter Jack (Matt Smith) amount to an exhilarating escapism. But – as so often with Wright – there is a twist, achieved with clear nods to Hitchcock and Italian giallo thrillers. Real menace lurks in this night-time world, not least in its toxic masculinity and the pressures of the male gaze. Invigorating, unsettling and subtle, Last Night In Soho shows that the director of Shaun Of The Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007) and Baby Driver (2017) is just getting warmed up.
An Editor’s Burial: Journals And Journalism From The New Yorker And Other Magazines – edited by David Brendel
You absolutely don’t need to have seen Wes Anderson’s new movie The French Dispatch to enjoy this collection of classic journalism – though it will certainly enrich your understanding of the film and its inspirations if you have, or intend to. As Anderson reflects in an introductory interview, he had long wanted to make a movie that paid homage to the greats of The New Yorker, the magazine that has been one of his fixations since high school. So here is a terrific selection of writings on post-war France by (for instance) Lillian Ross, S.N. Behrman, Janet Flanner, James Baldwin, A.J. Liebling and others that capture both an era and an ethos, encapsulated by, though not limited to, the pages of the great weekly founded by Harold Ross in 1925.
Bittersweet by Jah Wobble & Son
Since more or less reinventing modern bass playing as a founder member of Public Image Ltd – he left the band in 1980 – Jah Wobble (aka John Wardle) has remained constantly innovative and eclectic in style, never forgetting his post-punk and reggae roots, but exploring Chinese music, English folk, ambient music and jazz with equal passion. This collection on the Felt website is modestly described as ‘production music’, but, as ever, Wobble is experimenting with form and content, from jazz and hip-hop to soulful guitar music. A secret national treasure, whose music deserves to be much more widely celebrated.
That's all for now. Enjoy the weekend and take care of yourselves.
Editor and Partner