The Class ( Film 4 on 19 May) another brilliant French film which reflects on the changing nature of French society, and the impact of new communities from ex-colonies in Africa. Based on a book written by a French teacher François Bégaudeau – who plays the teacher in the film – it is about his experiences working in a tough school in an inner city and racially mixed Paris suburb. It’s a powerful film because it’s based on Bégaudeau’s own experiences, although I think many teachers in this country could identify with him. The film is shot in a documentary style with all the of the action taking place within the walls of the school, which adds to the tension and makes this a riveting film to watch.
to see The Stars are Made of Concrete, a play written by Michelle Ashton. It begins with news footage of the junior hospital doctors on a demonstration: the main character Bev (Zoe Mathews) has become one of the thousands of workers who have lost their job in the public services over the last few years without anyone noticing. Like many people, and even though she has a son who is unemployed, she doesn’t realise how difficult it is to get work, and even more importantly claim the benefits for which she has paid into the system over her working life. One of the funniest but also bleakest episodes is Bev’s experiences at the local Job Centre. Carol, the JC adviser, played by the very funny Jo Dakin, has her own problems: her mother is constantly on the phone to her at work while her life there is so boring that she flirts with the clients. Bev’s son, Adam (Jarreau Benjamin), is also Carol’s client, and is subject to her whims in order to make sure he gets his benefit every week. Carol has little to offer him except work trials which never lead to a job. It is no wonder that Adam has been unemployed for 8 years when employers can use him as free labour. But Adam, unlike Bev, is determined not to be downcast by his circumstances and finds happiness with Sinead, a single parent, who treats him as an adult. It is Adam and Sinead who finally make Bev realise that being unemployed is not a death sentence, and that happiness is about being with the person who loves you. For more details of performances see
Spain in Our Hearts – Americans in the Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 by Adam Hochschild. I knew that Americans had taken part in the SCW because an American friend was archivist of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade archive. This book puts into context the amazing contribution that they made: 2,800 took part and 750 died there which, as Adam comments, was “A far higher death rate than the US military suffered in any of its twentieth century wars.” Also, unlike the SCW veterans in this country, the Lincoln Brigade veterans brought back from Spain a heightened political conscientiousness which led to them to supporting the anti-Vietnam War campaign in the 60s, as well as many other progressive issues.
Adam also explains why Communism was such a powerful influence in the USA in the 30s, which again fuelled some people’s commitment to the Spanish cause. Today the Left usually opposes government military intervention in wars (eg Syria being the latest), but there are people in this country who are journeying to fight in the many wars going on in the Middle East, driven by ideas of religion and nationalism rather than Communism and Anarchism. One thing I didn’t know was how Texaco (in the USA) covertly broke US law and sold fuel to Franco.“Spain in Our Hearts” is a fascinating book which looks back at an era that is hard to imagine today, an era when people actually believed they could change not just national, but world politics. Unfortunately it costs £25, so try borrowing it your local library ( if you still have one!)