Film Review:

1917

 

The madness and futility of the First World War has been the inspiration for many fine films, beginning in 1930 with Lewis Milestone’s version of the Erich Maria Remarque novel, ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’, which was a daring story for its time, in that it showed the horrors of war from the perspective of German infantrymen.

In Sam Mendes’s ‘1917’, it is the British with whom we sympathise, but in other ways, the themes are similar - incompetent and ego-driven officers, and troops who are treated as cannon fodder. Mendes, however, also gives us officers doing their best in impossible circumstances.

This film is based on a story told to Mendes by his grandfather, Alfred, to whom the film is dedicated. In that respect, it is a very personal project.

But what makes ‘1917’ unique is the way it is filmed as a continuous shot or, at least, the illusion of one. We literally follow the two lance corporals, Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay), on their mission to cross no man’s land and reach the Devonshire battalion in order to warn the colonel that they are heading into a German trap and they should call off their attack. For Corporal Blake, this mission is deeply personal – his brother is a lieutenant with the Devons.

We follow Blake and Schofield as they weave their way through the British trenches and then cross the battlefield, avoiding bomb craters filled with water and rotting bodies. Eventually they reach the abandoned German trenches, where a nasty surprise awaits them.

There are heart-stopping incidents along the way, as well as a poignant encounter with a young French woman who is caring for an orphaned baby, a scene which reminds us humanity can exist in the hell that is the Western Front. Possibly the most moving moment of the entire film is the scene involving the hymn ‘Poor Wayfaring Stranger’. It brought tears to my eyes.

‘1917’ does not have leading men in the traditional sense. The two protagonists are little known* actors; their very anonymity makes the viewer’s identification with them much stronger. There are some ‘name’ actors in the film – an almost unrecognisable Colin Firth as the general who sends the boys on their mission, Andrew Scott (Moriarty from ‘Sherlock’) as a world-weary lieutenant who couldn’t give a damn, and the ubiquitous Benedict Cumberbatch in a brief but nuanced performance as the frazzled colonel in charge of the Devons.

‘1917’ is a moving story of the horrors of war. It has already won a Golden Globe for Best Drama and you can expect an Academy Award to follow for the film and its director.


*George MacKay plays a tortured Ned Kelly in 'The True History of Ned Kelly' (2019)  alongside Essie Davis and Russell Crowe.

Deborah O’Brien

26 January 2020

 


fbook icon 60First Impressions


Have I ever bought a book on the basis of its cover? Absolutely. In fact, a gorgeous cover will always grab me. Erin Morgenstern’s THE NIGHT CIRCUS is just one such instance - I couldn’t resist its silhouetted Victorian figures, silver stars and embossed lettering. It turned out that the cover captured the spirit of the book brilliantly and I've never regretted that impulse buy.

Another example is Alan Bennett’s THE UNCOMMON READER. I fell for this little book the minute I saw its white and gold dust jacket emblazoned with a raised gold crown (yes, I do like tactile covers). Admittedly, my purchase was influenced by the author's name. But, most of all, I loved the title.

Which leads me to the real subject of this article – just how important are titles in ‘hooking’ a potential reader? Those of you who are regular visitors to my blog will know that I’ve discussed this in an earlier article, and I still feel the same way. A great title is paramount.

As a writer, I can’t settle into my manuscript until I have the perfect name for it.  During the first few weeks in the gestation of MR CHEN'S EMPORIUM, the book was known by another name, a perfectly acceptable one, but unspectacular nonetheless. When the right title came to me, I knew instantly that it was ‘the one’. And after the title was firmly in place, gracing the first page and the footer, I felt free to get on with the story.

In the case of THE JADE WIDOW, I had the name months before I started writing the book. Actually, I suspect that was one reason why the writing went so smoothly. As for my forthcoming novel, A PLACE OF HER OWN, I have a confession to make. Over the past three years there has been a series of working titles, none of which ever fully satisfied me. At one stage my husband asked, ‘What are you calling it this week?’ Finally I resorted to dubbing it ‘Number 3’. Oh dear.

So I went back to basics. What is my book about, I asked myself. The answer came easily. It’s about finding a safe place, a refuge, a bolthole. And suddenly I knew the word ‘place’ had to be in the title because it has so many levels of meaning.

First and foremost, there’s the physical sense of the word. A real location. For my female protagonist, Angie Wallace, it's a charming Victorian house with high gables, fancy bargeboards and dormer windows, surrounded by rolling lawns and a lavender garden. She has a very personal investment in this place, having renovated it herself.  And she has developed a special bond with one of its nineteenth-century inhabitants, a young woman by the name of Amy Duncan Chen, who suffered the sudden loss of her husband, just as Angie did more than a century later.

Then there are the psychological connotations of the word 'place', the sense of ‘being in a good place’ emotionally, or its converse, being 'all over the place'. Angie Wallace experiences both states of mind but I won't say any more for fear of giving away too much.

A PLACE OF HER OWN will be released by Random House Australia on May 1. By the way, you don't need to have read MR CHEN to pick up the story. Although this book features characters from the modern-day thread of MR CHEN'S EMPORIUM, it's most definitely a stand-alone novel. 

Deborah O’Brien

January 2014


fbook icon 60Christmas At My Place

 

Christmas tiny tree

As as a child, I couldn't wait for Christmas to come; now I wish December had five weeks, instead of four. If there really was an extra week, I might find the time to cook some of those wonderful baked goods, jams and chutneys, featured in the Christmas issues of the 'Australian Women's Weekly' and 'Better Homes and Gardens'. 

This year I have a pretty good excuse for the dearth of handmade delicacies - I'm deep into the edit of A PLACE OF HER OWN with the dreaded deadline looming just before Christmas. So if I don't send out Christmas cards this year, I hope my friends will understand. 

But the one thing I always make time for is decorating the house. My family calls me 'Mrs Christmas' - I have a cupboard full of ornaments and Christmas bric-a-brac collected over the years, many of them handcrafted by talented friends. You can see some of their work in last year's pics. And here are some glimpses of Christmas at our place in 2013.

Christmas tree 2013

 Christmas stairs

Christmas flowers

Wishing you all a joyful Christmas and a happy, healthy and fulfilling 2014!

Deborah



  fbook icon 60About a Dog

 

Angel beach 

My kelpie dog, Angel, is almost eight months old. In human terms, I suppose you'd call it toddlerhood. One minute she's well behaved, sitting and lying down on command; the next she's ripping out plants and tearing the flyscreen on the back door into shreds. Yes, I know things will get better. Other kelpie owners assure me that it's simply a matter of maturation. I'll keep you posted.

In the meantime, here's her life so far - in pictures.

Angel PWK4227

DOB Angel 32

 

DOB Angel 42

Angel20131101 3

Angel20131119 2

Deborah O’Brien

November 27, 2013

 


What’s Next ? 'A Place of Her Own' 

 DOB MCE 00

Writing a novel is a solitary, deeply personal process. You sit at your laptop for months, tapping out the story. Even when you shut down your computer at night, the book continues to fill your thoughts and inhabit your dreams. Its characters become as close to you as your dearest friends. And speaking of friends, you don't see much of them because you only have time for the imaginary ones. In effect, you’ve become a hermit hidden away in your writing cave, obsessed by the make-believe world you're building word by word, sentence by sentence.

So it’s a relief when you finish the final draft and hand it over to your publisher. Yet it’s also extremely daunting. You wait with bated breath for the feedback. You check your emails incessantly. When the much anticipated response arrives in your inbox, your heart rate escalates towards tachycardia. Then you exhale with relief when the message says, ‘I couldn’t put it down’.

But even though the book has passed its first test, that doesn’t mean it won’t need improving. There will be structural revisions to complete, plotholes and psychological gaps to fill, inconsistencies to remedy, lazy language to polish. That’s the stage we’re at with my next novel, A PLACE OF HER OWN.

The ‘her’ in the title refers to the two female protagonists, Angie Wallace and Diana Goodmann. And the ‘place’ they are seeking is a safe haven  - in both a physical and a psychological sense. I started writing this book immediately after I finished MR CHEN’S EMPORIUM – that was in 2010 and I’ve been working on it, periodically, ever since. Those of you who’ve read my books will know I tend to write ‘heartwarming’ stories, and there are certainly many heartwarming elements in this novel, but also some dark moments. Very dark. 

The story is set in modern-day Millbrooke and focuses on Angie and her ambivalent relationship with Richard Scott. In MR CHEN’S EMPORIUM he was a rather mysterious character. Many readers told me they’d like to know more about him. Well, you'll find out all his secrets in A PLACE OF HER OWN. Technically it’s a modern-day sequel to MR CHEN, the final book in the 'Emporium trilogy', but the story stands on its own with its contemporary setting and themes.

The ladies referred to in the title, Angie and Diana, are both ‘women of a certain age’, however in all other respects they are very different people. Angie has established herself as a valued member of the local community. Diana arrives in town like a lone gunslinger on a mission. Her target? None other than Richard Scott.  It’s a long story full of twists and turns.

A PLACE OF HER OWN will be released in May 2014. 

Deborah O’Brien

November 2013


fbook icon 60The Amazing Mr Carroll

 Alice mad Hatter

All my life I’ve been intrigued by Lewis Carroll’s Victorian masterpieces: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. As a little girl, I found the books irresistible, even though there were parts that terrified me. Being the kind of child who liked order and stability, I couldn’t cope with a chaotic world where rules changed by the minute, if they even existed at all. Reading Alice was like watching a scary movie – you would put your hands over your eyes and then take a quick peek anyway because you couldn’t help yourself. Perhaps that’s why the storyline and characters have lived in my subconscious ever since.

Cropped Alice 04

As an adult I’ve come back to Carroll’s work unencumbered by the fear factor that plagued my childhood reading of it. I’ve discovered the delightful word play and the amazing levels of meaning embedded in the text.

When I was writing the first draft of THE JADE WIDOW, it struck me that my two female protagonists were facing a similar dilemma to Carroll’s Alice - the search for identity in a changing world. For Alice, the journey is a fantastical one; for Amy and Eliza it’s a life journey with serious choices to be made. Who and what do they want to be? Which path will they choose? Where will it lead? What happens if they break the rules? Or can they change them to suit themselves?

My childhood copy of Alice in Wonderland was a 1904 edition, passed down from one generation of my mother’s family to the next and now residing with me. Although the cover is battered and a few of the colour plates have been ripped out, it’s basically intact. You can see some of the pages here.

Cropped Alice 07

When I was in Year 6, our teacher announced that she was staging a musical version of Alice in Wonderland and sought candidates for the leading roles. At that point in my young life I secretly dreamed of being an actress, so naturally enough I wanted to play the heroine. Sadly it wasn’t to be. I could act reasonably well, but I was hopeless at singing and dancing. The starring role went to my best friend, who happened to be a beautiful ballet dancer. What part was I given? The Mad Hatter? The Doormouse? The Cheshire Cat? None of the above. I played a shellfish in the lobster quadrille, where I performed a very clumsy soft-shoe shuffle. 

Deborah O’Brien

November 2013