High Rise (Home and elsewhere) based on the J G Ballard novel of the same name which was written in the 70s. Tom Hiddleston plays Richard Laing, a new occupant in a soaring modernist tower block. Not sure if there is a play on his name, R.D.Laing was a radical psychiatrist of the 70s who believed that it was normal to be insane given modern society. By the 70s tower block living, at least for the working classes was seen as a disaster, so this film mirrors C21st century living. The poor have been chucked out of the blocks, they have been gentrified and are now luxury living for the monied, although all is not happy in this Garden of Eden. The infrastructure starts to fall apart – reflecting the dissolute lifestyle of many of the residents – and there is plenty of sex, drugs and bad behaviour. The film looks like the 70s with the clothes, hairdos and furniture but it’s just another reactionary way of life for the women whose lives mirror the Valley of the Dolls. Tensions start to rise between the classes; not working class versus middle class, more Camerons vs Blairs. It’s hard to feel sorry for anyone as utopia turns into dystopia but the women do get revenge on some of the most violent characters. Love the soundtrack particularly Portishead remaking Abba’s SOS.
to see some political drama. It is 30 years since a group of new age travellers were attacked by the police in what was dubbed as The Battle of the Beanfield. It took place at Stonehenge and the police decided to enforce an injuction to stop the annual free festival. Following from the Miners’ Strike – and particularly the events at Orgreave – it showed the way in which the state was clamping down on attempts to create free spaces where people could live an alternative lifestyle, even if just for the weekend. None of us who were involved with the Miners’ Strike were surprised at the violence that the police meted out to the travellers but they also arrested over 500 people which was unprecedented in terms of mass arrests. In this new play Beanfield the writers have used documentary footage as well as live action to recreate the events. An incredible attempt with only six actors! It’s important to remember this history as we are seeing similar events being played out across the country as groups of activists such as the Free Education for All challenge university authorities on issues including privatisation and the living wage. The play may be about events 30 years ago but, as Kierkegaard said; “Life must be lived forwards but can only be understood backwards.” See it at Home at
Stalin Ate My Homework by Alexei Sayle (2010). I didn’t read this when it first came out because, knowing people who were Communists, I cringed at the idea of another revelatory autobiography by,the celebrity son of Communists, criticising or making fun of essentially decent people. But it’s not that bad and for me it’s Alexei’s parents who make this a touching and intimate story of a privileged child brought up by idealistic parents. I had heard about his mother, Molly, because she was very involved with supporting my favourite bookshop, News from Nowhere, in Liverpool. But Molly and her husband Joe were important people, more so than Alexei, as part of a local, national and international movement that really did want to make life better for everyone. It was a movement that was flawed; the Communist Party was not one I would join, it was seriously undemocratic, driven by the corrupt establishment of the Soviet Union… I could go on. But within the CP were wonderful people such as Molly and Joe who did much more to make a difference to this country. For me the book comes alive when Alexei talks about his parents; his father’s commitment to his trade union and Molly’s involvement in the campaign against the war in Vietnam and setting up Unity Theatre in Liverpool. It’s hard being a child of leftwing parents; how can you rebel?? Alexei trying to be different from his parents is what makes this book so funny – an affectionate and funny insight into a world that has completely and utterly changed.