Eastern Branch

The Eastern Branch welcomes enquiries from budding and new group organisers to our existing family of over 90 members in the Branch which covers Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Milton Keynes, Norfolk, Suffolk and the London post code areas of London E, N and NW.

 

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MEMBERS IMPORTANT NOTICE:

All Members, please advise the Membership Secretary if your email contact details have changed since you first joined the AGTO - this is most important for continued contact and Membership updates.

 

The Branch Committee

Joan Hanks, Directorand Branch Events

Catherine Skeggs, Chairman

Enid Pamment, Vice Chairman

Linda Nicholas, Treasurer

Maria Maltby - Secretary

Yvonne Hodson - Web Page and sub editor

Maureen Hardingham, Communications

Committee Members  -  Jackie Ames, Elizabeth Cauldwell, Graham Scrase

Tony Wright  -  Official Branch Photographer

 


 

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AGTO Magazine

Dear Members,

Just a reminder to send the details of your trips to Yvonne Hodson, AGTO magazine co-ordinator, Branch Webpage . Other members are really interested in your events and look forward to hearing from you. Send them to yhodson@gmail.com

THEATRE TIP

 

As I write, over 70s and those with an underlying health condition are being told to stay in their homes for 12 weeks starting shortly because of the severity of the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, everyone has just been told to work from home and keep going out to an absolute minimum.

 

You might wish to read the information on films to see with a view to getting the DVD to rent or buy or watching through other means!

 

 

ANNE FRANK: PARALLEL STORIES (cert. 15. 1 hr 35 mins)

 

We have recently commemorated Holocaust Memorial Day which in 2020 remembers the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birken.  Whether you contemplated the horrors of the genocide of the Jews and many others on the actual day or soon after, it is important to recognize that the life and writing of Anne Frank has parallel lines not only with the lives of survivors but also with what is happening in the world today.

Anne Frank: Parallel Stories is a documentary narrated by the actress, Helen Mirren, sitting in a reconstruction of Anne’s ‘Secret Room’ in the small set of rooms at the top of a house in Amsterdam where she and her family with others hid for two years.  Mirren, using words from Anne’s Diary tells us about the young Anne Frank, with photos to illustrate, and explains what happened to her.  This is linked to a young girl who visits the sites where Anne lived and died. Travelling from the Netherlands, she is on a quest to discover the real Anne and find out about others of Anne’s age. Obviously, she visits the secret attic room where Anne spent her years in hiding with her sister Margot, mother and father Otto (the only one to survive).  They shared the living quarters with a couple and their teenage son, Peter.  Living with them, too, was a single man, Fritz.  The film also gives a voice to survivors who are of the same age group as Anne, who would have been 90 years old this year.  These witnesses to the Shoah are some of the very last of the survivors.

Anne was given a diary on her 13th birthday.  She started writing in the diary on 12 June 1942.  Anne considered the diary her friend who she called Kitty.  Anne continued writing her diary even when the family went into hiding after German troops occupied the Netherlands and began rounding up Jewish people for deportation.  Hitler’s stated aim was not just to kill Jews in Germany, but to exterminate all Jewish people throughout the world.  75% of Jews in the Netherlands were deported and killed.  In the diary Anne comments on the situation around her as well as putting her internal feelings into her writing. There are some lovely tender moments such as describing her first kiss with Peter.

The Nazis designated camps to exterminate Jews and they also set up transit camps.  On 3 September 1944 all those living in the attic rooms were sent to Auschwitz, then the two sisters were sent on to Bergen Belsen where first Margot and then Anne died of typhus in February 1945. The Soviets arrived to free Auschwitz on 27 January 1945. When taken away, Anne’s diary was left on the floor and later passed to Otto Frank who decided to share his daughter’s writing with the world.

While Helen Mirren narrates, some of the witnesses of the holocaust talk about their experiences.  This is probably one of the last times we shall hear the first-hand experiences of survivors as they are all late 80s or in their 90s.  Many of the survivors remained silent for fear of not being believed, but the full extent off the genocide was revealed during the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961.  Over 100 witnesses gave evidence.  Anne said, “I want to go on living after my death.” And her diary ensures she does indeed remain with us. This film is one way of remembering the suffering and terrible deaths of Anne and all the others who perished in World War 2.  We hear from the survivors and others about being deported and life in the death camps.  Some talk of the rise of racism, including anti-Semitism, today.

Not by choice, Anne Frank has become an icon of the Shoar.   How can we ensure that the terrible events that took place will never happen again?  The survivors with parallel stories to Anne’s hope that they can pass the baton on to young ones today and keep the spirit of human courage alive, remember the past and work for peace everywhere.

RATING ****

 

Another film about World War two is QUEZON’S GAME (cert.12A 2 hrs. 7 mins).  This is very closely based on the true story of how the Philippine President gave sanctuary to some 1,200 European Jews.  Most people in this country are not really aware of this happening and so would be ready to be enthralled by the tale.  Unfortunately, it comes across as rather dull.  There is a lot of dialogue, much of it stilted, and very little action.

The film begins with the exiled Philippine President, Manuel Quezon (Raymond Bagatsing), sitting in New York in 1944 watching the Nazi camps being liberated by the allies.  We then go back to 1938. The US govern the Philippines and control its borders.  The president is asked by one of his poker companions to give sanctuary to German and Austrian Jews who have been refused entry to the US and to Canada.  Quezon has two US allies.  He is friendly with Colonel Dwight Eisenhower (David Blanco), who later became US President and the high Commissioner, Paul McNutt (James Paoleli) and together they devise a plan to bring 10,000 Jewish refugees to the Philippines.

In spite of resistance from his Vice-President and some of the Americans in charge, he is supported by the people and his wife, Aurora (Rachel Alejandro).  She is very concerned about the President’s illness:  he suffers from tuberculosis (which would later kill him). However, the Nazis finally agree. Visas are given to 1,200 Jews to enter the county in 1939.  The rest were not brought in because of the invasion of the Philippines by the Japanese.

Bagatsing is suitably attractive and charismatic as the President and there is good chemistry between him and Rachel Alejandro as his wife. Unfortunately, what could have been an exciting story told in a dramatic way, is reduced to very little movement and much too much talk so we are left with a somewhat dull, unconvincing melodrama

Rating *** 

LITTLE WOMEN (cert. U. 2 hrs. 35 mins): A book which has changed the lives of many young girls, films made over the years with wonderful casts…how can you improve on this?  Well, Greta Gerwig has directed a minor masterpiece here.  Her interpretation of Little Women is told from a feminist viewpoint.  Not using a linear approach, Gerwig starts near the end and moves back and forwards to show different parts of the lives of the four March sisters and their mother living in 1800s in Massachusetts, New England.

In flashback we get to know the sisters.  The main focus of our attention is on Jo (wonderfully played by Saoirse Ronan), who is completely focused on a future career as a writer; then there is practical Meg (an unusually subdued Emma Watson); proud pretty Amy (Florence Pugh) and sickly Beth (Eliza Scanlen).  All are under the wing of Marmee (Laura Dern) a mother that all girls would wish for.   She struggles to bring up her daughters alone while her husband is fighting in the Civil War.  We see various incidents from their lives often showing up Jo as impetuous and Amy as petulant and somewhat spoiled while poor Beth suffers from illness but a beautifully generous heart.  The girls, along with all young women around them, are encouraged to marry wealthy husbands, but Meg falls for a poor teacher and devotes her life to him and then to her children while Jo vows never to marry.  Their aunt, Aunt March (Meryl Streep) wants this for Jo, who insists that she just wants to be a famous writer. Laurie (Timothee Chalamet), the boy next door is very attracted to Jo, but Amy is secretly in love with him.

Jo moves to New York, which is where the film begins.  We see her meeting Professor Bhaaer (Louis Garrel).  And then the timeline goes back to earlier days.  While I generally prefer a movie to start at the beginning and work its way through the story until it gets to the end, I can see a lot of merit in the way that Greta Gerwig has approached the subject matter.  It all makes sense and we can follow what is taking place and when very easily.

While giving us a modern, feminist slant on Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel, Gerwig has kept the very essence of the book – the importance of family and home.  She adds to this by interpreting the lives of the girls as moving not just toward independence for women, but also finding and doing what each young woman really wants in order to feel fulfilled.  Only Beth, the youngest, wants to remain the same – to stay at home and play the piano.

Along with most competent direction by Gerwig (who gave us the excellent Lady Bird which also focused on mother/daughter relationships and female friends), the film has beautiful production qualities, so that the accompanying music, costumes and great cinematography (from Yorick Le Saux) help to give the film a feeling of the times.

And, of course, the performances are just right From Meryl Streep’s tiny but exactly right Aunt to Florence Pugh as Amy – showing more than a difficult young girl in Gerwig;’s version – we see her as a rounded person.  There is a different side to Emma Watson on view here; Meg is down to earth and a homebody who marries for love. Saoirse Ronan once again shows what a competent performer she is.  Her Jo has the right mix of being a tomboy and sensitivity so that we can completely believe in her character as a budding author.  And there is a nice tender Marmee from the always reliable Laura Dern.

RATING ****

 

Certainly worthy of all its Oscar wins is PARASITE (cert. 15 2 hrs. 12 mins.). It has already won lots of awards.  Does it deserve them? Decidedly yes.  A film in Korean with unknown (to a European audience) actors, dealing with upper and lower classes in Seoul.  So, what is so appealing about this? Just to say it is one of the most brilliant films I have seen in a long time.  Director Bong Joon Ho has crafted a film so intricately that each piece fits together into a magnificent whole.

The Kim family live in squalor in the basement of a house in Seoul.  Although the family work at folding boxes for pizzas, they earn almost nothing between them.  They hold their mobile phones up at the ceiling to get on to the WiFi of the people above and suffer from men urinating in the street above them. When   the teenage son, Ki-woo (Choi Woo Shik), gets the opportunity to tutor Da-hye (Jung Ziso), the daughter of the very wealthy Park family, their luck begins to change.  Soon Ki-woo is introducing the other members of his family into the Park family’s employment. His father, Kim Ki-woo (Choi Woo Shik) as chauffeur for Mr Park, his sister (Park So Dam) as the art tutor for the young Park family son and his mother (Chang Hyae Jin) as the new housekeeper.  Ki-woo pretends they are acquaintances. Mr Park (Lee Sun Kuen) is a businessman and out all day, so his rather naïve wife (Cho Yeo Jeung) is left to run the household.  This is the main part of the story, but then the film develops in quite unsuspected ways to include the story of the sacked housekeeper, Moongwang (Lee Jung Eun). What starts out as a distinct comedy, becomes a thriller with a very exciting finale.

Bong has constructed his film meticulously with the dialogue (albeit in Korean with English subtitles) expressing the individual views of the two families and always moving the narrative forward.   Visually it is stunning too, with contrasting designs of the rich and poor living quarters. It’s a unique concept, juxtaposing wealth and poverty. Acting by the cast is of a uniformly high standard and deserves its own award for ensemble acting.

I originally wrote, “the film should get awards for the director and some of the actors.” So far the film  has become the first South Korean film to win the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.  It also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film and the BAFTA Award for Best Film Not in the English Language, and became the first non-English-language film to win the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.     The movie also won four major awards at the 92nd Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film. It became the first South Korean film to receive Academy Award recognition, as well as the first film in a language other than English to win Best Picture. 

The film seems to have everything – relationship, class divide, wealth divide, humour and violence.  Alongside the highlighting of social issues, the film is constantly entertaining.  It would certainly benefit from more than one visit.

 

SORRY WE MISSED YOU (cert.15 1 hr. 41 mins.)

Following his wonderful I, Daniel Blake, you would think that director Ken Loach had already covered the woes of the poorly employed and unemployed. But you would be wrong! Sorry We Missed You is a searing condemnation of those on low or zero hours or, as in Ricky's case, so-called 'self-employed.'

Ricky (Kris Hitchin), having lost his job as a labourer in the building trade in Newcastle, is struggling to find work. Persuaded to work as a self-employed parcel delivery man, he joins the PDF (Parcel Delivery Fast) as part of a franchise. The always unsympathetic boss of the depot, the loud-mouthed Maloney (Ross Brewster) explains that Ricky is responsible for buying or leasing his own van and looking after it. He also has responsibility for his own tracker and the parcels and contents he delivers. In addition, he has to meet delivery time targets. Failing on any of these will incur fines. In spite of the fact that his wife, Abby (Debbie Honeywood) needs their car to get from job to job as a home carer, Ricky insists they sell it to buy a van for his new work.

Meanwhile their son Seb, a bright boy who is not keen on school, skips lessons to hang out with a group of lads who are into graffiti When he gets in trouble with the police, Ricky is forced to take some time off his delivery work to rush to the police station. Matters deteriorate for poor Ricky from there. Things are not much better for Abby, who finds it hard to get to all her clients and see to them in the short time she has been given for each one. She has to cope with some very stressful situations at work as well as at home.

It's a sad film in that it deals with an underclass who are willing to work hard but find themselves thwarted when they desperately try to just survive. However, screenwriter, Paul Laverty, manages to insert some humour into a few of the family scenes.

The acting, under Loach's direction, is as usual in his films, absolutely superb. Ken Hitchin beautifully portrays a man gradually falling under the burden of caring for his family. His wife, as inhabited by Debbie Honeywood, shows us how one can be torn apart by trying to do the best for a husband, while also caring for their children and holding down a demanding job. The smaller parts are also well characterized. The two children, Rhys Stone and Katie Proctor give lovely performances and the bully of a boss is well depicted by Ross Brewster in a telling cameo part.

Not exactly a date movie but one of the best films of the past year.

RATING *****

 

1917 (cert.15 1 hr.59 mins.)

Director, Sam Mendes has crafted a film which, in this tale of two young British soldiers racing across enemy territory, sweeps across huge areas of devastated land, dead horses, deserted farmhouses and decomposing bodies.  It is hard not to feel an immediacy and involvement in what is happening on the screen in front of you.

Lance corporals Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George McKay) are sent on a vital mission to the front line, where the British troops, believing that the Germans have retreated, are about to embark on a big push.  But reconnaissance has disclosed that it is in fact a trap in which the men of the advancing division will face certain death. One of those men is Blake’s elder brother, which is why General Erinmore (Colin Firth) has cynically selected him to carry a message through no-man’s land to call off the proposed advance.   All other communication has broken down and it is a race against time.  A two-hour race in fact.

Because, like a theatre piece, the action of the story is played in real time and appears, through clever camera work and editing and extensive rehearsal of long takes, to be filmed in one continuous shot.  The effect is one of being alongside the two young men on their mission – we are literally with the young heroes every step of the way – no cutaways, no visual relief from what they are experiencing.  You need to see it on a cinema screen with clear sound to appreciate watching the two soldiers crossing the land where at any moment they can be shot at or meet some environmental hazard. The experience is completely engrossing.  The large audience I was with was absolutely silent and hardly moving.

Acting throughout is superb with many well-known actors, including Benedict Cumberbatch, Andrew Scott, Daniel Mays, Richard Madden and Colin Firth, leaving their egos behind and taking really tiny parts, presumably because they want to work with Sam Mendes. There is only one female role in the film – Claire Duburq in her first film role - as a terrified young French woman hiding out with someone else’s baby in the ruins of her war destroyed village. And the two young soldiers, played by George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman, are determined – in spite of being really scared - to succeed in their mission to get a message warning of imminent danger to another area where hundreds of soldiers, including the brother of one of them, are waiting to attack. They have to be warned against going forward into a trap set by the Germans in this terrible First World War.

And Sam Mendes, with his extraordinary filming alongside cinematographer Roger Deakins, has made it seem like one long take.  This is unmissable.

Rating:    *****

 

FOR SAMA (cert.18 1 hr. 40 mins.)

 

As bombs fall around the hospital where she is working, Waad al-Kateab grabs her daughter and hands her to someone else as she moves to a safer place during yet another bombing in Aleppo, Syria. When she gets to the safe spot, she cries out, "Where's my girl? Who's got my girl?" Luckily, she finds her.

In For Sama, Waad narrates the political and her personal story over 8 years of fighting in Aleppo. This is a love letter to her daughter, Sama, who is born while Waad is working in the hospital, alongside her colleague, Dr Hamza who she later marries. In spite of the dangers and many, including very young children, being injured and killed,Waad and her husband choose to stay in East Aleppo while buildings and Aleppo itself is being destroyed.

There are a lot of very harrowing scenes, but we can only admire Waad's determination to keep filming so that people far away will see and understand what is happening as those living in Aleppo remain under siege.  Some scenes of the bloodied bodies of injured victims and of children dying are almost too terrible to watch.  Almost as awful is seeing children playing in the bombed sites and even on a bus which has been blown up.  The only life they know is one of terror and destruction. Directors Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts have made a remarkable film.

Rating:    *****

 

As for plays:

 

Friday 27 March 2020
DAVID IRELAND’S AWARD-WINNING PLAY CYPRUS AVENUE, DIRECTED BY ROYAL COURT THEATRE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR VICKY FEATHERSTONE, STARRING STEPHEN REA, , AVAILABLE TO WATCH FOR A MONTH FOR WORLD THEATRE DAY

As previously announced the Royal Court Theatre and The Space will make Cyprus Avenue, the film adaptation, available to watch for free today (World Theatre Day) on their website, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages for one month.

BalletBoyz’ new dance show Deluxe will air on BBC Four for the BBC Culture in Quarantine festival and the production will also be available to view online from Friday 27 March at 7.30pm to launch Sadler’s Wells Facebook Premieres. Following Government advice on Monday 16 March and to protect the safety of audiences, artists and workforce, BalletBoyz cancelled the remaining performances of its 20th anniversary UK Spring Tour but is now able to share the production with audiences watching from home. Deluxe will have its TV premiere on BBC Four and will be available on iPlayer - further details to be announced in due course. Co-producers Sadler’s Wells, where the live show was due to be performed in London this week, will also host Deluxe on its Facebook page this Friday at 7.30pm as the first video of the new Sadler’s Wells Facebook Premieres series where it will be available to watch for one week only.  

Deluxe features three new works choreographed by an all-female team: Ripple, the UK debut of renowned shanghai-based choreographer Xie Xin with music by electronic composer Jiang Shaofeng; Bradley 4:18 by Punchdrunk choreographer Maxine Doyle in a collaboration with Mercury Prize-nominated jazz musician Cassie Kinoshi and inspired by the Kate Tempest track Pictures On A Screen; plus The Intro, a short opening film by emerging choreographer Sarah Golding set to music by SEED Ensemble.

Carlie Newman