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 60The World of the Book

DOB Styled 2

After I gave my mother one of my manuscripts to read, I couldn’t wait for her reaction. A few days later she phoned me.

  ‘Did you like it?’ I asked anxiously.

  ‘I loved it,’ she replied.

  What a relief.

  Then she added, ‘But there’s something that’s been worrying me about your story.’

  Oh dear. Was there a huge plot hole I hadn’t spotted? Or had I used too many swear words?

  ‘It’s about Amanda,’ Mum continued.

  Amanda was my female protagonist, the lynchpin of the narrative. If there were problems with her, then it would mean a major rewrite. I started to feel sick.

  ‘It’s the shirt that she wears to meet Justin,’ said my mum.

  I wasn’t sure where this was heading. Had I made a continuity blunder by changing the colour of the shirt during the course of the scene? No problem. That was a mistake which could easily be fixed.

  ‘What about the shirt?’ I asked.

  ‘Well, she’s going to a reunion with a man she hasn’t seen in more than thirty years. And it’s a long car trip. Won’t that linen shirt be badly creased by the time she gets there?’

  I started to laugh, though not in a raucous way because I didn’t want to offend my mother. Then, as gently as I could, I said, ‘Mum, Amanda is a character in a book. She’s not real. And neither is the shirt. I made them both up.’

  Afterwards, I realised my mother’s comment was one of the greatest compliments a writer could ever receive. Mum had entered so completely into the world I’d created that she reacted to Amanda as if she were a real person. And I really shouldn’t have laughed because, as a writer, I often become immersed in the story to the extent that it feels more real than my real life.

  Have you ever been to a movie and identified so much with a character that when you walked out of the cinema, you felt you actually were the person from the film – just for a few moments? When I’m writing a character, he or she can linger in my pysche after the laptop has been shut down for the day. Sometimes characters will keep me awake at night as they jostle for attention inside my head. And occasionally they will insinuate themselves into my dreams, having found an unlocked door into my subconscious. But don’t worry. On a rational level, I do know my characters are inventions. After all, I told my mother that very thing.

  Yet, in the right side of my brain, the place where creative ideas originate and grow, it’s a different story altogether!

Deborah O'Brien

May 2012


 


fbook icon 60Frosty Tales

P6252262 

When I began planting my country garden, I had visions of French lavender hedges and geraniums in pots. By the end of summer that dream had become a reality. Then, one autumn morning, I discovered something very strange. Overnight the geraniums had turned brown and the lavender was drooping. Thinking that the plants needed watering, I gave them a generous soaking. For good measure, I trimmed off the worst of the drooping lavender stalks and removed the dead geranium flowers. 

The next morning, I checked my garden, expecting a recovery. Instead, the lavender looked worse than ever. The remaining flower heads had begun to wilt, as though they were grieving for their lost companions. And the geraniums were barely recognisable. As I touched the leaves, they turned to dust in my fingers. What had happened, I wondered, to cause such havoc?

You guessed it. The culprit was that stealthy morning visitor – the dreaded frost! As a coastal gardener, I'd never experienced one before.  Even now, when I know how destructive they can be, there are winter mornings when I find myself gazing out the living room window and marvelling at the white fields, glistening as if they’ve been dusted with crystallized sugar. But, believe me, the dark side of frost far outweighs its transitory visual delights.

So, how does a gardener fight back? You can monitor the weather forecasts and cover your plants in the afternoon or evening in anticipation of a frost. You can get up early and try to hose off the icy crystals – that is, if your hose isn’t frozen. You can accept the losses and plant suitable things next time. Or you can abandon the idea of a garden altogether and watch luxuriant weeds filling the space. (Wouldn’t you know it? Weeds are frost-hardy.)

What did I do? Something I should have done in the first place. I walked around town and checked out what was thriving in other people’s gardens. I even pinched some cuttings from a rock-rose in the garden of our old courthouse (ten cuttings; one survived to grow into a lush shrub from which I now plan to take more cuttings).

Then I visited the local nursery and sought expert advice. What I learned was this. Choose the right plants for your climate. Even then, protect them for the first few winters and allow your plants to acclimatise. Don’t remove frost-damaged tips until the frost danger has passed for the season – like a scab over a cut, they protect the ends of the stems. And don’t expect geraniums to survive the winter. Then again, they might surprise you in the spring with a burst of new growth.

Since then, I’ve accumulated plants that seem to do well in our harsh climate (hot, dry summers and bitter winters) – rock roses, of course, buddleia (summer lilacs) and real roses. Owing to the low humidity, my country roses don’t seem to have the fungal problems which afflict their city cousins.

Writers are fond of using the weather as a metaphor. Sometimes it works brilliantly; at other times it seems like a cheap trick. I have to confess I’ve incorporated a frost or two into my novel, MR CHEN’S EMPORIUM. Having read this article, you’ll know it isn’t merely a stylistic device I've thrown into the book to impress the reader. My feelings about the frost are real and visceral. So are those of my female protagonist, Angie Wallace, who hates frosts with a passion, even comparing them to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, creeping up to suck the life out of the little plants she holds so dear.

Angie’s right. The icy onslaught is likely to cause serious damage, and recovery can be a slow process. It may not happen this season, or even the next. And just when you start to bloom again, there may be setbacks. But slowly you will build frost-hardiness. And one day you may find that you have grown in ways you never imagined possible.

Deborah O'Brien

April, 2012

 My Blog fbook icon 60Cropped Media DOB

 

 

 

 


 

View all the articles by date from the most recent here.

View all the articles by theme here including my film reviews and Home in the Highlands articles.

 


 

LATEST BLOG ARTICLES

The 'Camille Dupré Songbook   May 2020Charles Trenet portrait

The 1930s and '40s songs which became the soundtrack for the story.

 

 

 

Researching 'Camille Dupre'   May 202oDeb Sunflowers 1992 800 width

Creating a balance between historical authenticity and well-paced storytelling.

 

 

 

My Top Three Tips for Aspiring Authors   March 2020DOB Styled 2

Getting started on your writing journey.

 

 

 

Writing and Art   March 2020Florals in urn 420

I've never known whether I was an artist or a writer but both have come together in my books.

 

 

 

The Five Books That Have Influenced Me Most      March 2020Image result for alice's adventures in wonderland

Here are five books that I read before I was twenty but have stayed with me all my life.

 

 

 

My Top Five Films about Politics    Feb 2020The Ides of March Poster.jpg

Why politics makes the perfect subject matter for thrillers and comedies alike.

 

 

 

Film Review: '1917'     Jan 20201917 2019 Film Poster

An immersive film about the horrors of trench warfare

fbook icon 60 BLOG ARTICLES BY DATE

 

The 'Camille Dupré' Songbook   May 2020

Researching 'Camille Dupré'  May 2020

My Top Three Tips for Aspiring Authors   March 2020

Writing and Art  March 2020

The Five Books That Have Influenced Me Most   March 2020

My Top Five Films about Politics   Feb 2020

Film Review: '1917'   Jan 2020

Home in the Highlands: Autumn  May 2018

Home in the Highlands: The Flying Carpet  July 2018

Home in the Highlands: A Tale of Two Chandeliers  April 2018

Home in the Highlands: The Secret Garden  April 2018

Home in the Highlands: Finding the Dream Home  March 2018

Book Review: 'Lake Hill' by Margareta Osborn   June 2017

Film Review: 'Their Finest'  April 2017

Film Review: 'Alone in Berlin   March 2017

 My Top Six Tips for Writing Historical Fiction   Feb 2017

'The Princess Diarist', Carrie Fisher   Dec 2016

'The Rarest Thing' Playlist   Nov 2016

 Book Review: 'Daintree' by Annie Seaton   Nov 2016

 Interview with Annie Seaton   Nov 2016

 Crafting Characters   Oct 2016

 Welcome to 'The Rarest Thing' Blog Tour    Oct 2016

TV Review: Reality Big Guns  Aug 2016

Five Things I Love about Writing Fiction  Aug 2016

Deborah's Yummy Chocolate Mousse   July 2016

A Gallipoli Story: Finding Uncle Arthur   April 2016

A World Without Downton: The 'Downton Abbey' Finale  April 16

What is 'The Rarest Thing'?   April 2016

Film Review: 'Brooklyn'   Feb 2016

Molly Grows Up   Feb 2016

Film Review: 'The Revenant'   Jan 2016

Book Review: 'Kakadu Sunset' by Annie Seaton Jan 16

Q&A with Annie Seaton   Jan 2016

 

2015

 

Meet Mrs Christmas   Dec 2015

Film Review: 'The Dressmaker'   Dec 2015

'The Trivia Man' Trivia Quiz  Nov 2015

The Nerd as Hero: Reclaiming the Label   July 2015
(Guest Blog for Dark Matter Zine at their website)

Another Bookish Trivia Quiz   July 2015

A Bookish Trivia Quiz   June 2015

The Trivia Man Blog Tour   June 2015

Launching 'The Trivia Man'  June 2015

A Gallipoli Story: The Lost Shearer   April 2015

Meet the Cast of 'The Trivia Man'   April 2015

What Makes a Good Tagline?   March 2015

Quiz Kid?    Feb 2015

Film Review: 'Birdman'  Jan 2015

Film Review: 'The Water Diviner'   Jan 2015

 

2014

 

The Trivia Man Is Coming  Dec 2014

My Christmas Dec 2014

Zucchini and Herb Frittata  Nov 2014

Trivia Isn't Trivial  Nov 2014

Lost and Found    Oct 2014

Film Review: 'Magic in the Moonlight'  Sept 2014

The Cutting Room Floor  Sept 2014

Film Review: 'The 100-Foot Journey'  Aug 2014

Rose Scott Women Writers' Festival  Aug 2014

Film Review: 'Jersey Boys'   July 2014

Emporium Trilogy Quiz (with answers)   June 2014

Film Review: 'The Fault in Our Stars'   June 2014

An Aspiring Author's Guide to Book Jargon   June 2014

The Beatles and Me   June 2014

Book Giveaway Winners   May 2014

Film Review: 'The Grand Budapest Hotel'  May 2014

Launching 'A Place of Her Own'  May 2014

Free Bookmarks to Download   March 2014

Film Review: 'The Monuments Men'  March 2014

Film Review: 'Twelve Years a Slave'  Feb 2014

My Top Ten Romantic Comedies   Feb 2014

Film Review: 'Saving Mr. Banks'    Feb 2014

Four Stories about Platonic Love   Feb 2014

Five Books about Unrequited Love  Jan 2014

First Impressions  Jan 2014 

 

2013

 

Christmas at My Place  Dec 2013

About a Dog  November 2013

What's Next? 'A Place of Her Own'  Nov 2013

The Amazing Mr Carroll  November 2013

Film Review: 'About Time'  October 2013

The Jade Widow@Mr Chen's Emporium  Oct 2013

Ode to Spring   September 2013

When a Platypus's Fancy Turns to Love   Sept 2013

How Big Is Your Book?   September 2013

Fairytale Turrets and Other Fantasies  August 2013 

A Winter's Tale  August 2013

'He Who Would Valiant Be'  August 2013

Country Dog  July 2013

Spot the Anachronism!  July 2013

Puppy Proof?  July 2013 

A World Without Books: 'Fahrenheit 451'  June 2013

A Bonzer Aussie Dog  June 2013

Review: Hope's Road  June 2013

Puppy Love  May 2013

Attack of the Anachronisms  May 2013

When Winter Comes Early  May 2013

The Victorian Art of Scrapbooking  April 2013

In Search of the Emporium  April 2013

Elegant Architecture  April 2013

A Country Sunday  March 2013

Adverbs and Chocolate  Feb 2013

Introducing THE JADE WIDOW  Jan 2013

The Colour Lilac  Jan 2013

 

2012

 

Christmas Dec 2012

Alpacas versus Llamas  Dec 2012

The Jade Widow  Nov 2012

Angie's Westerns  Nov 2012

Recreational Sewing in Cesarine  Oct 2012 

Inspirations for 'Mr Chen's Emporium'  Sept 2012 

An Aladdin's Cave   Sept 2012 

Anatomy of a Gold Rush Town  Sept 2012 

Amy Duncan and her Books  Sept 2012

Old-fashioned Heroes  Sept 2012

Happy Endings?  Sept 2012

Why Is a Book Like a TARDIS?  Sept 2012

An Emporium by Any Other Name  Aug 2012

Never Write When You're Hungry  July 2012

The Case of the Missing Monotremes  June 2012

The World of the Book  May, 2012

Frosty Tales  April 2012

Tales of the Emporium  March 2012

Country Ways  Feb 2012

Life with a Platypus  Feb 2012


 

 
 
 
 
 
 

 


 

fbook icon 60Tales of the Emporium

Items  from Emporium

When I was a little girl, suburban shopping malls were a new and rare phenomenon, and the city was still the heart of the retail world. During the school holidays my grandmother used to take me to visit the big department stores like Anthony Hordern’s, Mark Foy’s, Grace Bros at Broadway, Farmers and David Jones. She was an inveterate shopper. So are my mother and I – it’s in the blood.

I must have been about eight when I first heard the word ‘emporium’.

‘Let’s go to the Palace Emporium,’ my grandmother announced as we emerged from the dark railway tunnel at Museum into the dappled sunlight of Elizabeth Street. It turned out that the Palace Emporium was the old name for the magnificent six-storeyed Anthony Horderns’ building, which occupied much of the block bounded by Pitt, George and Goulburn Streets.

Built in 1905, the Emporium was four years younger than my grandmother, aDOB Arcades 09 girl born and raised in the Central West of New South Wales. At the age of twenty-one, with her mother dead from the pneumonic flu and her father a distant memory (having deserted his wife and three daughters many years earlier), she took the decision to move to the city. She had left her formal education behind at age thirteen, but made up for it by reading everything she could get her hands on. She was also a talented seamstress, able to put together a stylish outfit in no time.

I can just picture my grandmother in her cloche hat and fox-fur stole, alighting from the train at Central, her suitcase in one hand and Gladstone bag in the other. If she had walked up George Street or even caught a cab, she couldn't have missed the Palace Emporium looming into view on the right. Even a country girl would have recognised the famous building, familiar to everyone from the picture on the cover of the Anthony Horderns’ mail-order catalogue.

DOB Arcades 12Decades later, I too found myself gazing at the same edifice, a little girl gripping her grandmother’s hand. True to its name, the exterior looked like a palace, complete with a castellated tower and parapets topped by a series of Grecian urns, like jewels on a crown. Being a child, I had no idea that the business was in decline, nor that the term ‘white elephant’ had been used to describe the premises. (And even if I had heard those words, I wouldn’t have understood the significance of the metaphor.) All I saw was a fairytale castle. Sadly there would be no happy-ever-after for the Anthony Horderns' building, but nobody knew that then.DOB Arcades 13

Once inside the store, I discovered embossed metal ceilings, heavy columns, vast spaces and an array of goods meticulously laid out on tables. I might be confusing it with somewhere else, but in my mind’s eye I can still see an old-fashioned docketing system using a pulley and wires, which seemed to spirit away the money and promptly deliver a receipt, as if by magic. Back then, department stores had lifts with operators who would recite the names of the goods on every floor. I could have ridden up and down in those lifts for hours, just listening to the fascinating inventory.

Ever since those days, I’ve loved the word ‘emporium’, though as a small child, I never imagined I would write a novel with an emporium as its centrepiece … or a novel of any kind, for that matter. My own emporium isn’t grand like Anthony Horderns’. It’s just a single-storeyed building of modest size on the main street of a fictional country town.

However, inside its blood-red front doors, the heroine Amy Duncan finds a different world, ‘a storehouse of possibilities’, as she calls it. For someone who loves to shop, it’s filled with covetable items – silks, furniture, porcelain and jade. For a young woman intrigued by its owner, there is far more to Mr Chen’s Emporium than the merchandise. Above all, it is a place where a love story, prohibited by the prejudices of nineteenth-century society, can blossom unchallenged, until …

Read more about MR CHEN'S EMPORIUM here.

DOB MCE 10

The magnificently restored arcades in the photographs above are in Melbourne, not Sydney. Apart from the wonderful Queen Victoria Building and the Strand Arcade, it is a tragedy that Sydney retains very little of its 19th century shopping history. 

Deborah O’Brien

March, 2012