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
Friday 4 February 2022 By Matt d’Ancona
Welcome to the latest Creative Sensemaker from Tortoise Media.
Warning: includes some spoilers
Ghosts are everywhere, if only we look: they are not supernatural beings, but the spectral figures of the bereaved; those whose own identity is so crushed by the loss of a loved one that they become little more than grief-stricken vessels for the memory of the dead.
This is how we encounter Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) at the beginning of The Souvenir: Part II (selected cinemas, 4 February), in which she is mourning the loss of her lover Anthony (Tom Burke) – found at the end of the first movie dying from a heroin overdose in the loos of the Wallace Collection. She is bed-ridden, translucent, fussed over by her desperate parents (Tilda Swinton, the actor’s real-life mother, and James Spencer Ashworth).
The question is whether Julie’s aspirations to be a film-maker – a subplot in the first movie – can survive her bereavement and become the engine of some sort of recovered agency. Both parts of The Souvenir draw heavily on the youthful experiences of director Joanna Hogg, who made her diaries, photos and cassettes of the time available to the cast, and designed Julie’s flat as a precise replica of her own Knightsbridge home in the 1980s.
To watch The Souvenir Part II and witness Julie’s emergence as a creative talent – faltering but determined – is also to consider afresh the first movie (released in 2019). Seductive, erudite and enigmatic, Burke dominated the screen as Anthony and enraptured Julie – ultimately, to toxic effect. His absence in the second movie is palpable from the start, and drives Julie to play gumshoe in search of the truth about his plunge into the abyss. But it is also, in the most painful sense imaginable, liberating – she is now free to be precisely the kind of director she wants to be.
Because her films are often set in the milieu of the bohemian upper middle-class, Hogg is sometimes accused – quite unfairly – of being no more than the cinematic chronicler of privileged aesthetes. The comedian Stewart Lee once described her 2010 movie, Archipelago, as ‘an art film about middle class people on a disappointing holiday’.
Which is true enough, as far as it goes. But Archipelago was really about the corrosive repressions of English convention; the rage, shame and despair that batter against the frame of the oil painting. The Souvenir movies are only about class to the extent that they confront its dysfunctions, delusions and persistence without fear or sentiment.
Their shared title is drawn from a 1778 painting in the Wallace Collection of the same name, by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, in which a girl – also called Julie – carves her lover’s initial into a tree. Julie tells Anthony that she looks sad. ‘I think she looks determined,’ he replies. ‘And very much in love’. About this, at least, he proves absolutely right.
What next? At the Q&A with Hogg and Swinton Byrne that I attended, the director said that she is already considering a third instalment – though her lead performer, still only 24, will need to be a bit older before they can embark upon The Souvenir: Part III. For now, enjoy the second movie, which only strengthens Hogg’s status as one of the very best directors of the age.
Here are this week’s recommendations:
This Is Going To Hurt (BBC One, 8 February; then all episodes on iPlayer)
Set in the obstetrics and gynaecology department of a London hospital, Adam Kay’s adaptation of his best-selling diaries is unsparing in its portrayal of the human cost, burning exhaustion and ethical dilemmas facing an NHS doctor. Ben Whishaw is tremendous as Kay, frequently breaking the fourth wall to deliver wry asides to the viewer. Directed by Lucy Forbes, the show packs a powerful comic punch, in addition to its considerable dramatic impact. It is also more than a one-man show: Alex Jennings is great as the consultant, Mr Lockhart (‘Oh, and Adam – stop being shit’), as is Ambika Mod as junior doctor, Shruti. The impressive consequence is that This Is Going To Hurt is both draining and exhilarating to watch.
Love Marriage by Monica Ali
‘In the Ghorami household sex was never mentioned.’ So begins Monica Ali’s fifth novel, and her first since Untold Story 11 years ago. Since the triumph of her first book, the Booker-shortlisted Brick Lane in 2003, she has – much to her credit – resisted the promptings of critics to stick to one genre or setting, and has instead spread her wings, exploring her range as a writer.
Love Marriage, a tale of interlocking families in London, is an exceptional novel: funny, wise and full of human foible. Behind every arras of familial calm lurk secrets. Infidelity, sexual or otherwise, crops up when you least expect it. The struggles of a geriatric ward form a powerful counterpoint to the apparently frictionless domestic lives of the main characters. The entanglement of comedy and heartache is beautifully pitched, and the portrayal of personality worthy of a Dickens for the digital age. One of my very favourite writers delivers the goods yet again.
Jon Savage’s 1977-1979 – Symbols Clashing Everywhere by various artists
Jon Savage is probably best-known as the author of England’s Dreaming (1991), still the finest account of the punk revolution of the late 1970s. Here, in the latest of Ace Records’ excellent series of curated CD compilations, he offers 46 of the best tracks from that era: not only punk, but dub, Euro disco, post-punk, and unclassifiable gems. What makes this collection special are not only familiar and classic tracks, but forgotten treasures. A superb sonic gateway to one of the great periods in UK music and culture.
That’s all for now. Enjoy the weekend and take care of yourselves.
Editor and Partner