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

A screenshot of a scene from the TV series 'After Life' featuring Ricky Gervais as Tony Johnson sat on a bench in a graveyard. To his left in the foreground is a dog, which Tony is looking at, and to the right is the gravestone of his wife, Lisa

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.

Twenty-one years since he transformed British television comedy with the first series of The Office, Ricky Gervais has just released the third and final season of After Life on Netflix – a streaming service that did not even exist when he performed his unbelievable dance as the Slough regional manager of Wernham Hogg, David Brent. 
It’s a series in which Gervais addresses his biggest and most simple theme yet: death and bereavement. His character, Tony Johnson, is a man wrecked by the loss of his wife Lisa (Kerry Godliman, seen in flashback videos), barely going through the motions of working as a reporter at the Tambury Gazette, and frequently suicidal.
What makes the series work – and perhaps accounts for the 100 million views it has already accrued – is its honesty. The bereaved are expected to behave as broken saints, pious and grateful in their interactions with those who offer them a steady stream of unsolicited ‘thoughts and prayers’.  
In practice, they are often full of unresolved fury, raging at the world and at those (including themselves) who have had the temerity to survive, at the clocks that, to borrow Auden’s image, refuse to stop.
Tony, for all his evident decency, often lashes out at those who care about him most; mean, capricious and abrupt in his misery. When the prospect of new love arrives in his relationship with his father’s care home nurse, Emma (Ashley Jensen), he cannot help but sabotage his own chance of happiness. After Life captures the disinhibitions of grief, and their self-destructive consequences, and it is this fragile romance that forms the heart of this final season.
Best of all, the show is not remotely mawkish or aphoristic. Tony’s conversations in the graveyard where Lisa is buried with Anne (Penelope Wilton), who is also widowed, could have been the undoing of After Life – but have turned out to be one of its high points; precisely because neither character seeks to rationalise their way glibly out of the pain they feel, or to deny its durability. The question is not how to outlive grief, but how to live with it, how to laugh about it as well as to weep.
Here are this week’s recommendations:

Movie poster for new film 'Boiling Point'. The poster features a screenshot from the movie of main character 'Andy Jones' played by Stephen Graham who is bathed in orange kitchen light. He is in a chef's uniform and is leaning forward slightly and looking to the left. He has a concerned expression on his face. At the top of the poster there is big bold white text that reads: 'Stephen Graham' then underneath that 'Boiling Point' then underneath that 'A Film by Philip Barantini'. In the bottom right hand corner is a white logo that reads 'lift-off global network Manchester 2019 official selection' and at the bottom of the image are credits such as writer, director, producer etc. plus a link to the official Boiling Point Facebook page which is


Boiling Point (selected cinemas; view on demand)
While audiences have grown comparatively used to movies that appear to have been shot in one take – Birdman (2014) and 1917 (2019) being obvious instances – a handful of films really are one-shot creations. Philip Barantini’s Boiling Point sits in the latter category and, as such, is a remarkable technical achievement: following the employees and patrons of a Dalston restaurant for 96 minutes without a single edit. 
The cast is terrific – especially Vinette Robinson as long-suffering second-in-command, Carly, and Jason Flemyng as celebrity chef, Alastair Skye, who is also an investor in the restaurant. But the film’s engine is the preternatural talent of Stephen Graham who plays Andy Jones, the restaurant’s chef who – afflicted by marital problems, drinking too much and failing visibly to run a tight kitchen – falls to pieces before our very eyes. The script is brutally effective; the pace relentless and adrenaline-soaked. Not to be missed.


Scary Monsters by Michelle de Kretser 
Even in its structure, Michelle de Kretser’s seventh novel is a study in dislocation and unease: it has two front covers, which means that you can flip the book over to decide which of its two novella sections you read first. Lili is set in Montpellier in the 1980s and recounts the yearning of a young Asian Australian assistant at a high school to live up to the high feminist principles of her idol, Simone de Beauvoir. ‘I had the boring version of Johnny Rotten’s problem,’ she recalls. ‘I knew what I wanted but I didn’t know how to get it.’ 

The monsters of racism, ageism and misogyny loom in a more chilling form in Lyle – a dystopian vision of a near-future Australia, socially lacerated by climate change, pandemics, and bigotry. Islam has been banned, repatriation is commonplace and euthanasia legislation is imperilling the old and infirm. What unites the two sections is a vivid preoccupation with identity, the status of migrants and the perils of authoritarianism, petty or otherwise. The writing is fabulous – a case study in contemporary fiction that engages with the nuance and crannies of political reality through the lens of human vulnerability.

Book cover for 'Scary Monsters' by Michelle de Kretser which on the right hand side features a black and green polarised image of half of a woman's face looking straight to camera, and on the right hand side is what looks like ripped cream coloured paper with black text in a black outlined box that reads 'Scary Monsters Michelle de Kretser'
Album cover for 'The Boy Named If' by Elvis Costello & The Imposters which features a drawing of a book and on the front cover is an abstract painting of someones face who has only one eye. The background of the book cover is blue and bordered with paintings of yellow flowers. Someone has painted' The Boy Named If' over the persons face and their eye pokes through the letter 'O' in 'Boy'. The drawing of the book is against a plain red background and at the top, just above the book, there is big bold blue text that reads 'Elvis Costello & The Imposters' and at the bottom just underneath the book reads 'The Boy Named If'


The Boy Named If by Elvis Costello & The Imposters 
Listen to the razor-sharp lyrics and sheer attack of the first single from Costello’s latest album – ‘Farewell, OK’ – and you could be forgiven for thinking that we are back in the classic New Wave era of This Year’s Model (1978) or Armed Forces (1979). But for all the verve and grit that The Boy Named If definitely boasts, it is not anything as gauche as a ‘back to basics’ LP from the great singer-songwriter. 
At 67, Elvis Costello is still experimenting, fusing genres, expanding his musical range. There is nobody quite like him; long may he reign.

That’s all for now. Enjoy the weekend and take care of yourselves.

Best wishes,

Matt d’Ancona
Editor and Partner
Tortoise Media

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