Film No 29 (2015) : Mona Lisa Smile

Mona Lisa SmileI can’t believe it has taken me so long to get around to seeing this film, which was released in 2013. It is just my kind of movie. Reminiscent of ‘Dead Poets Society‘, it features a strong-minded young art teacher who takes up a position at a women’s liberal arts college. It didn’t get great reviews and the majority of its award nominations were for ‘Best Original Song’! Talk about damned by faint praise.

Katherine Ann Watson (Julia Roberts) realises very early on that her students are capable and also, for the most part, privileged. Despite their potential to gain places at prestigious universities and pursue professional careers, these young women have their sights set firmly on one prize. Marriage. Finding the right chap, settling down and supporting him in his career, is the path for which Joan, Betty et al are destined. Frustrated, Katherine does her best to inspire the students in her care to think for themselves, defy convention and strike out for themselves. Through the medium of art, she encourages independence thought. Of course, her methods bring her into conflict with the powers-that-be at Wellesley.

The film features some engaging performances, not only from Roberts but also Kirsten Dunst, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Juliet Stevenson and Dominic West. I liked it, mainly because Katherine Ann Watson leads by example; her own love life is unconventional for the 1950s in which the film is set. What this reminded me is that most of the time talking about principles and ideals is unlikely to change hearts and minds – you can really only achieve that by doing stuff. It’s all very well saying you are a feminist, but change will only be effected by doing things differently, not by standing on our soap-boxes. I would definitely watch this film with an impressionable young woman.

Film No 10 (2015) : Pride

prideI remember 1984. I was a student at Uni, we were dancing to Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Wham. It was nothing like George Orwell had predicted. At least, not in Deptford. Big Brother wasn’t watching me and, even if he was, I was probably too drunk to notice. But whilst I was idling away my life, I was more or less oblivious to the political landscape around me, including the miner’s strike. The only time it ever impacted on me was when my dear Grandad was taken ill and in his dying days, ranted about how Scargill would bring the country to its knees. I’m rather ashamed to admit, I don’t think I even knew who Arthur Scargill was.

‘Pride’ depicts events in 1984, when how Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer) and his friend Mike Jackson (Joe Gilgun) founded a support group for the striking miners. Unambiguously, the group was called Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) and it did what it says on their collecting tin. The Group raised money to support the families of striking miners and made contact with a Welsh mining village, which benefitted from the LGSM’s fund-raising. With a wonderful British cast including Imelda Staunton, Dominic West and Bill Nighy, the film depicts the ways in which two apparently disparate groups of people united for a common cause. The LGSM understood persecution, so they understood the plight of the miners.

The film is vibrant and funny, shot through with contemporary music and fashion, blended beautifully with the harsh realities of prejudice and hardship. It brought back a flood of memories about those early Eighties, including the scary media coverage about a new epidemic. AIDS. I was saddened but not surprised to learn at the end of the film that some members of the LGSM were affected by the disease. It somehow made what was achieved in a short life, all the more poignant.