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 Case of the Missing Monotremes* 

 

20120618-PWK-065Some years ago, when we bought our little country cottage, we discovered at least two platypuses visiting our stretch of the creek. As a house-warming present, my husband bought me a stone platypus he’d found in the local nursery. In turn, I gave him a duck-billed doorstop. Soon I had acquired a vast collection of platypuses, indoor and out: stuffed toys, glass, silver, pewter, ceramic and china ornaments, a thimble, a bottle stopper, Christmas decorations, fridge magnets, coasters, mugs, plates, prints – you name it, we had it. Some of them were my own purchases; others were gifts from visiting family and friends. A ten-year-old house guest was so fascinated by the collection that she actually counted them and came up with a total of thirty-eight. And that was just inside! Then she gave every single one its own name.

Now let me tell you a story about the platypuses in my garden. One night we arrived late at our cottage after a long drive from the city. As I walked along the path leading to the front door, I had a feeling something was different. My husband shone his torch around, but everything seemed to be okay. It wasn’t until the next morning when I was hosing the garden that I noticed the resin platypus which normally resides in the bird bath, was no longer there. Curious. Then I looked for the doorstop platypus. You guessed it. He was gone too. So was a large monotreme made of stone, measuring at least twice the size of the real animal. (I had discovered him at the local markets. He was so heavy I could barely lift him. In the end I had to phone my husband to come and lug him back to the car.) A couple of smaller platypuses had gone missing as well. Then I checked my other garden ornaments – a wooden birdhouse, several birdbaths, a stone wombat, a weather vane, a selection of ceramic pots. Not to mention a French-style metal table and chairs. Everything was in its place, except for the platypuses. Curiouser and curiouser.DOB Country 21

After considering the items which had been taken, and those left behind, together with the fact that the incident had taken place during the school holidays, we came to the conclusion that the culprits were children. But how could a child have carried that big platypus home? It would have taken at least three children to haul him any distance, and surely someone would have seen them doing it.

So where had those platypuses gone? In my imagination I pictured them gracing someone else’s garden. And whenever I went for a stroll, I peered over front fences, looking for my animals. Then I realised that no thief in their right mind, even a childish one, would display them openly. And no parent worth his or her salt would fail to ask questions about a collection of stone platypuses that had suddenly appeared in their garden.

It took me a long time to recover from the loss of my monotremes. In fact, I remained outraged for weeks. So much so that I even considered penning a letter to the local newspaper, warning about petty crimes being the predictor of future criminality and advocating zero tolerance in these so-called ‘minor’ matters. Although I drafted the letter on my laptop, for some reason I never actually sent it.

DOB Country 22Over the next few months I set about replacing the absent animals. But even when a replacement looked like the original, it lacked the sentimental value. For a long time I felt sad. Not just because my platypuses were gone, but because I was heartsick at the thought of children blithely stealing someone else’s property.

When spring arrived, my husband decided to do some tidying in the wild part of the garden where we grow native shrubs – wattles, bottlebrush and banksias, among others.

‘I’ve found your platypuses!’ he shouted. ‘Come out and have a look.’

As he’s a person renowned for kidding others, I thought he was just winding me up and so I ignored him and continued working at my laptop.

‘It’s true,’ he called out. ‘They’re all here. Under a bush.’

I dragged myself away from the manuscript I was working on, put on my shoes and went outside. There, under a banksia bush and half hidden in a layer of leaf mulch, was a circle of platypuses. They hadn’t been stolen after all! They’d been living at ‘Platypus Glen’ the entire time. Whether children had moved them there, or they had somehow migrated by magic, I didn’t know. But whatever had happened, they looked quite content in their hiding place. So content they might have been having a tea party. The big, heavy platypus was there too. Only a few metres from his former home.DOB Country 23

Since I had already replaced each and every one of them with new versions, I decided to leave the ‘Originals’ where they were, enjoying each other’s company in the shade of the banksia. A circle of friends. It’s odd really. Because platypuses are known as solitary creatures. But not my monotremes – they like a party! 

*Monotremes are egg-laying mammals. There are only two kinds of monotreme in the world – the echidna (spiny anteater) and the platypus, and both are native to Australia. You can see pictures we’ve taken of these fascinating creatures in the slideshows.


DOB MCE 20

Deborah O'Brien

June 2012

 


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

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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

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fbook icon 60 BLOG ARTICLES BY DATE

 

Déja Vu: Lessons from the Spanish Flu Pandemic   June 2021

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