The submarine is one of man’s greatest, and most deadly, inventions. In The Deadly Trade: The Complete History of Submarine Warfare from Archimedes to the Present, Iain Ballantyne takes us from the theory of the underwater warship, through Jules Vern to the U-Boot and today’s Intercontinental Ballistic Submarine. Where Ballantyne’s superior work excels is to look at the development of the submarine through the eyes of the men who took them to war and who, mostly, never came home.
Antony Beevor turns his gaze on one of the most audacious and wasteful Operations in the Second World War, Operation Market Garden. With a pace and anger I’ve not read before, Beevor brings his resolute style to a tale of heroes and ultimate, wasteful sacrifice.
Tom Fox returns to action in Jack Grimwood’s Nightfall Berlin. Having survived Moscow, Fox is sent to East Berlin to escort home a British defector who has express a desire to return home. For some reason, everyone is in agreement for this. There is a memoir. What the memoir contains could derail everything in the thawing environment of the mid-80’s. For Fox, nothing so simple as bringing an old man home is in his future.
The image of the Suffragette is one that has been honed for a century so that a very specific image is presented. It is one of proper women, the ideal of the Englishwoman, fighting for her rights, in the right way. This is not how it was and in her biography of Kitty Marion, Fern Riddell shows us that Mrs Banks had some far more interesting friends and how the Pankhursts made sure they were hidden in the shadows of history.
The final few months of The Great War have rarely got the focus of those that proceeded them. The final offensive that finally silenced the guns and ended the slaughter was one in great contrast to the static game of inches of the years before. In The Last Battle, histoian Peter Hart superbly manages to show us the great scope of Foch's great offensive while putting us in the mud with the men tasked with marching to the "green fields beyond".
Lynne Ramsey returns with a brutal, difficult film that has a very genuine heart. Joaquin Phoenix is Joe. Joe recovers girls who have been trafficked. When Joe takes on a job to recover the daughter of a New York senator, things take a dark and violent turn. While not an easy watch, the heart Ramsay and Phoenix instil make this a remarkable film.
After 60 years languishing in the Russian State Military Archive, Heinrich Gerlach's novel of his experiences in Stalingrad is finally published. Uncompromising and oppressive, Breakout at Stalingrad is a remarkable testament to the horror war and the affect on the men caught up in it.
Paul Thomas Anderson returns with Daniel Day-Lewis (in what is possibly his final role) as Reynolds Woodcock. Reynolds is a dressmaker in 1950's London whose latest muse, Alma (a sumptuous Vicky Krieps), gets deeper under his skin than he expects or believes is possible. Phantom Thread is an astonishing acheivement by all involved.
Michael Longhurst's production of Peter Shaffer's Amadeus returns to the National Theatre. With Lucian Msamati as Salieri, Adam Gillen as Mozart and an incredible Flreu de Bray as Cavalieri, it is an ambitious, barnstorming and utterly, utterly wonderful production.
Robert Harris' Cicero Trilogy is brought to the stage by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Imperium Parts One and Two. In six plays, we see the rise and fall of Cicero and the last days of the Roman Republic. Robert McCabe is masterful as the Roman orator and the cast bring the fractious world to vivid life before us. The RSC has created a masterful adaptation of Harris' superb novels.
Rian Johnson got the chance to make a Star Wars film. Then The Last Jedi came out and ever since there has been a huge fan debate about it. Not a debate had in good humour either. In my mind, The Last Jedi is the most original Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back, but…
Half a year late, but I finally get round to writing about Battle Scars. Which is odd as it is a podcast that pops to mind regularly. Thom Tran’s chats with veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are funny, moving and, more often than not, a little shocking. Battle Scars is a podcast of the highest quality that, I hope, these few (delayed) words will hopefully get you tuning (downloading/streaming/whatever) in and have these amazing experiences stay with you. In a good, uplifting, way.
America City by Chris Beckett, set on an environmentally challenged Earth a 100 years hence, is speculative fiction at the highest level and rather uncomfortable reading. To celebrate it's release and that it has been chosen as Simon Mayo's choice for the next Radio 2 Book Club, I am giving away a signed copy. Full details in the post.
Rarely does adaptation work well. Most of the time you hope for the best and accept OK. With Hap and Leonard though, Joe R Lansdale's novels live and breathe on the small screen. This is a look at how that transfer works so well, from the eyes of a fan on a couch in leafy Surrey, a long way away from East Texas.
Clare Mulley's latest book, The Women Who Flew For Hitler, is a fascinating look at two remarkable and complicated women, Melitta von Stauffenberg and Hanna Reitch. As test pilots for the Third Reich, they were at the forefront of aviation and tumultuous times. The book is an intimate and honest biography and Clare has kindly taken some time to answer a few of my questions about it.
With the welcome announcement of Bond 25, I default into worry at where we stand with our current Bond run. Daniel Craig, should he return, deserves a great Bond send off. But the corner EON has painted themselves into post SPECTRE means the wicket is rather sticky.
Finally get around to getting to Paris, on my final day in the City of Lights, I ventured to The Louvre. Surrounded by incredible art and yet heart broken at how it was displayed, I found myself with an odd feeling to go with my old friend disapointment, a strong desire to return. If only to say hello onc again to La Bella Nani.
A love letter to the finest TV Show on air at the moment, Hap and Leonard. No spoilers contained within, just an attempt to spread the joy of proper television and two towering performances from Michael Keneth Williams and James Purefoy.
With the recent publication of Daughter of Eden, 2013 Arthur C. Clarke Award winner Chris Beckett completed his trilogy of novels set on the sunless planet Eden and the The Family that inhabits it. The trilogy is wonderful and to celebrate the novels, Chris very kindly put up with me and answered my Eden related questions. I hope you enjoy our chat.
Looking back at one of my favourite actresses in film history, Gene Tierney and one of her finest perfomances in Leave Her to Heaven.