Has 'Fantastic Beasts' lost its magic after JK Rowling's transphobic remarks?

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

Plus, a rundown of the books, films, music and more by Tortoise Media, the slow news agency

Friday 8 April 2022 By Matt d’Ancona

Welcome to the latest Creative Sensemaker from Tortoise Media.

On 26 June, a full quarter-century will have passed since the publication of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone – a tale of wizardry, coming of age and good versus evil, launching a seven-book series that has sold more than 500 million copies.

The eight-film franchise that followed has taken $7.7b at the box office, while the first two Fantastic Beasts prequel movies have already clocked up close to $1.5b. 

Tomorrow, the third instalment of the prequel series – Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore – opens across the land, starring Eddie Redmayne as magizoologist Newt Scamander, Jude Law as Dumbledore, and Mads Mikkelsen as the wicked Grindelwald. 

Set in the 1930s, the third movie – directed once more by David Yates – retains a sense of fun (enjoy Redmayne chiding his companions for not ‘dancing properly’ as he tries to keep an army of deadly lobster-like manticores at bay). But there is a darker theme in Grindelwald’s devious plan to go to war to annihilate the world’s Muggle (non-magical) population. Since Dumbledore is prevented by a blood-oath from taking action against his former lover, it falls to Newt and his amiable gang to confront the magical forces of proto-fascism.

Just another popcorn outing for a billion-dollar franchise, on the face of it. Yet this is the first Rowling-inspired movie since the author intervened dramatically in the fraught debate on gender, trans rights, and the reality of biological sex. 

Yet with her support for Maya Forstater, the consultant who lost her job over gender-critical posts on social media, followed by an even more controversial online essay about her personal experience of abuse and fears for women and girls in June 2020, Rowling provoked a backlash of extraordinary scope, scale, and poison. She was – and is – vilified as ‘transphobic’, bigoted and a traitor to the values of inclusivity that her own work was thought to embody.

Nevertheless – to coin a phrase – she persisted; and continues to do so. Tomorrow, the 11th film inspired by those stories opens in thousands of cinemas all over the world. All power to her elbow. 

Here are this week’s recommendations:

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


Gentleman Jack, season two (BBC One, 10 April)
Based on the diaries of Anne Lister (1791-1840), the first season of Gentleman Jack breathed fresh life into the often prim genre of historical drama with its sheer brio, confidence, and wit. For the second season, we return to Yorkshire in 1834, to find the androgynous Anne Lister (Suranne Jones) planning her future with Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle), who is in York following their private marriage ceremony. And she is all business, plotting the estate management, rewriting of wills and practical arrangements that will underpin their life together at Shibden Hall. Still hoping to sabotage it all is Walker’s permanently shocked aunt (also called Ann), played by Stephanie Cole as a northern Lady Bracknell (‘The Alps?!’). Meanwhile, here comes Lister’s former lover, Isabella ‘Tib’ Norcliffe, wonderfully played by Joanna Scanlan, unimpressed by Ann Walker (‘Isn’t she a bit insipid for you?’) and minded to unsettle the newlyweds. Through it all swaggers the magnificent Jones, whose determination to live life on her own terms is matched by moments of perfectly rendered fragility and doubt. An absolute treat.

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


Companion Piece by Ali Smith 
In recent literary fiction, there have been few achievements to match Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet, which began with Autumn in 2016 and concluded with Summer four years later. Companion Piece, as its title suggests, may be enjoyed as a coda to these four novels – although it is not necessary to have read them to relish Smith’s trademark wit, wordplay, mischievous plotlines and intertwining of the fiercely contemporary with the universal. The story is set during lockdown, but never feels constrained by its setting. ‘I didn’t care what season it was. I didn’t even care what day of the week. Everything was mulch of a mulchness to me right then’: grouchy, puckish, magnificent.  


Wet Leg by Wet Leg (8 April)
‘I went to school and I got the big D’: if there has ever been a sillier or funnier way of describing the business of getting a degree, I have yet to hear it. Wet Leg’s debut single ‘Chaise Longue’ promised great things and their eponymous album does not disappoint. Quite the opposite, in fact: a decade since they met at Isle of Wight College, Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers have truly captured lightning in these 12 tracks. In songs like ‘I Don’t Want To Go Out’ and ‘Angelica’ (‘Angelica, she brought her ray-gun to the party / Angelica obliterated everybody’), they recall the energy of The Slits combined with the lyrical magic of early Squeeze or classic Pulp. For a band that began life on a Ferris wheel, they have come a long way, and the sarky confidence that fills this album suggests they are only getting started. Think Thelma And Louise in a blender with The B-52’s. No, The Go-Go’s scripted by Rosie Holt. No… oh, just listen to it. An instant classic. (For UK tour dates this month, check out the band’s website).

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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