A Woman Talking

It’s been a while since we met, so I hope you’re all doing OK. I had a good weekend visiting my daughter, granddaughter and grandson-to-be (he was a bit quiet though he did kick once or twice) and on Sunday going to the newly-exploded Phoenix cinema and arts centre. This, as its name suggests, has had many incarnations, and the latest is a transformation from a modest two-screen cinema to a four-screen place with a massive cafe. It must have cost a fortune and I hope they haven’t overextended themselves. We went to see ‘Women Talking,’


a stunning film about a Mennonite community of women holding a council of war to decide whether they should stay and forgive the serial rapist who has caused so much harm among them, whether they should fight, or whether they must leave. Fight, flight or submit – these are the choices we all face in a dangerous situation. Unable to take minutes, they enlist the services of August (Ben Wishaw) a sympathetic man who unlike the women has been taught to read and write. August left the community to attend university but came back, it’s not entirely clear why.

In this film the dialogue is the action. Women talk, that’s all; they clash and support each other, fracture and come together, shout and cry and laugh. Some, like ‘Scarface’ Janz (Frances McDormand) refuse to engage; others (Salome, played by Clare Foy) want revenge. Everyone, from teenage girls to elderly grandmothers, plays a part as they sit on hay bales in the barn, deciding the fate of the community. Through a series of brief flashbacks, mimicking the mental flashbacks associated with trauma, we get a picture of the horror that has been visited on them. Some of their stories move the empathic August to tears. I won’t give away the denouement, just to say that I was gripped through every one of its ninety-odd minutes, and all the while behind them sits the vast American landscape, full of possibilities. It’s unimaginable to us to have so much space – everywhere we go there are established communities, many of which are likely to be found in the Domesday book. America seems like a blank sheet, though we know that of course it isn’t.

I’ve seen a few films lately with strong female leads: Women Talking, Empire of Light and Tar, and while I loved them all there are cultural tendencies that worry me. There was controversy about Tar because it showed a powerful woman abusing that power. ‘Why couldn’t they make her better?’ cried some viewers. But I was entirely on board with what they’d done, because if we don’t have complex characters like Lydia Tar a picture emerges of men as abusers and rapists and women as victims, though we know that the vast majority of men are not like that. I worry about what this is doing to boys and young men: don’t they need better role models? But perhaps there are loads of good role models in films I don’t watch, like the Marvel series, for example. I wouldn’t know.

Another thing that really bothers me the increasing willingness to alter texts when they no longer conform to modern principles. The main example before us is that of Roald Dahl, whose works are currently being altered by Puffin books to remove such words as ‘mad’ or ‘fat.’


Yes, in many ways he was a repellent man with some dodgy attitudes, but is this the answer? A five-minute scroll of Tik-tok would likely cause more harm to children than the entirety of Dahl’s oeuvre. This is Bowdlerism by another name, and I agree with Phillip Pullman


rather than altering the stories we should just let them go out of print. Read other things. There are plenty of good children’s books out there – let’s explore them and let the dodgy stuff fade away. Mind you, as far as marketing goes Puffin have played a blinder – not only have they drawn attention to the new editions, they’ve put the uncensored ones on sale as ‘Classic Editions’, no doubt at an inflated price. Now that’s having it both ways.


Kirk out

A Likely Lass?

I’m one of the Likely Lads today. Why? Because I haven’t seen the last episode of Happy Valley. I was too tired last night to do it justice and seeing that it’s going to be the juiciest, most jaw-dropping final episode of any drama ever, I want to be fully awake to watch.

Remember that episode of The Likely Lads where they hadn’t seen the footie results?


They spent the whole day avoiding spoilers only for someone to tell them the moment they got in the door and prepared to watch Match of the Day (or whatever it was). In the same way, I have to spend the whole day without seeing any spoilers. So, no social media, no news and if I run into one of my friends I’m going to have to stick my fingers in my ears and go la la la if they start talking about it.

The day did not begin well. You’d think you were safe enough with Radio 4’s Thought for the Day but no: it opened with ‘Good morning. Last night’s final episode of Happy Valley…’ I screamed ‘No! No no no no!’ and we turned it off.


So, should any of you be tempted to post spoilers here, be warned: I shall not read comments until I’ve watched it. This is going to take some discipline, as I normally slice up periods of work with scrolling on social media and reading blog comments. But today I shall be mostly… avoiding the results.

Kirk out

Broad Thoughts from Home…

It’s warmer here today in blogland – BBC weather says 8 degrees but it feels more like 12. I’ve entered a short story into the Bristol Short Story Prize (they have 50 free entries a month and I’ve nabbed one of those) and now I’m sitting here trying to think what it is that I’m thinking. I’m a bit miffed today because I keep putting on weight despite exercising loads and not eating much: by ‘loads’ I mean 5-10k on the exercise bike, a walk and yoga in the mornings, and by ‘not much’ I mean fruit and yoghurt for breakfast, salad or soup for lunch and a cooked meal in the evening (typically pasta and veg or something similar.) So judge for yourselves. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong but I suspect it’s my tendency to get older with each passing year. I should probably do something about that…

I’m looking forward to watching ‘Nolly’ tonight.


This much-trailed series stars Helena Bonham-Carter and features Noele Gordon, aka Meg Richardson of ‘Crossroads’ fame. I never thought much about Noele except as a fairly bad actor but apparently there was a lot more to her; according to the divine Helena (heard on ‘Woman’s Hour’ yesterday)


she was a producer, a pioneer and a powerful woman in her own right, which was probably why she was summarily sacked at the age of 61. Bonham-Carter talks about women coming into their prime in their 60’s and as a 65-year-old I whole-heartedly agree. With child-rearing behind us and a lifetime of accumulated wisdom, it’s time to kick arse (I can’t help spelling that the British way) and I look forward to doing so.

Another powerful older woman I enjoy is Joanna Lumley. Though I (probably wrongly) thought of her as a bit of a pin-up in her youth, I have admired her since she was in Ab Fab, and OH and I have very much enjoyed her and Roger Allam in ‘Conversations from a Long Marriage’.


This is brilliant, so catch up with it if you haven’t already done so. Lumley got in trouble for saying a few weeks ago that women should be tougher and that her generation had to put up with a lot more harassment than we do nowadays. This is undoubtedly true, but it caused a meltdown on social media (obvs); however the Guardian has a much more balanced view


which broadly I agree with. I note that street harassment is liable soon to be punishable by up to 2 years in jail; and while I would welcome a reduction in the sort of crap I had to endure just walking down the street, I’m not sure this is the way to go. What we need is a change of culture – above all online: I was shocked to find out how many young girls are harassed by being sent completely unsolicited obscene images or texts.


So there we are – broad thoughts from home.

Kirk out