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Spotlight: BBC’s Call The Midwife

Something different to start off the new year; not a book, but a television show – Call The Midwife. For those in the UK or with access to BBC iPlayer, the first eight series are all available now, and Series 9 has just begun. For everyone else, the first seven series are on Netflix and presumably they’ll get the rest in due course.

The show tells the story of a group of nurses and midwives in a very poor area of London through the 1950s and 1960s. Around half the (very talented) cast are Protestant nuns of the medical order of St Raymond Nonnatus (don’t worry, the religion isn’t shoved down anyone’s throats); the rest are a diverse body of young nurses from all walks of life. It’s based around the memoirs of Nurse Jenny Lee, one of the main characters for the first couple of series, and most of the stories are true.

As you can guess this means the show has to be accompanied by warnings. There’s a lot of childbirth (obviously), and it’s real, not the usual sanitised television version. There’s blood and gore, kept to a minimum with camera angles. There are sad stories, with birth defects and complications. There are other medical cases not related to birth. There are stories concerning death and disease, abortion, prostitution, addiction, poverty, racism, mental illness, rape and abuse, and many don’t have happy endings.

You’re likely wondering why I’m recommending it, given all that (and given that I emphatically don’t do small children unless they have fur and four legs). Despite the sometimes grim content, it’s still overall a wholesome, hopeful show. More stories end happily than badly, particularly in the later series as medical science advances over time. The characters are fantastically portrayed (I will fight to the death for Shelagh) and most of the non-medical stories are sweet and with just the right amount of humour. Even when the main plot of an episode ends in sadness, it still often makes you smile. It’s gentle rather than grim, while still not shying away from the facts; real without being edgy. A great many authors could take notes – this is what real mature storytelling is.

It’s historically accurate, too. My parents grew up in this era and while they were far better off than the people of the borough of Poplar they’ve confirmed a lot of it, as have many reviewers. Those who read my fics may see some of my inspiration for certain backstories. A lot of it highlights just how fortunate we are in the modern era, and how far science has come in a relatively short space of time, and I appreciate the sense of wonder they bring to things I’ve never bothered to think about.

Also, the romance (yes, there’s romance). Again, authors should take notes. There are examples of bad romance tropes, abuse and unhealthy relationships, and they’re all reserved for patients who are only around for an episode or two; and all are called out and speculated about and discussed by the nuns and nurses. They’re not dismissed as acceptable, though often there’s an acknowledgement that it cannot be changed – yet. And the romance stories concerning the main cast are all sweet and believable and feelgood, even the ones that end badly, without being sappy or naive.

They try to be as inclusive as the setting allows, but Series 1 takes place in 1957 and at the time of writing Series 9 has just begun in 1965. Homosexuality is illegal, transgenderism is unheard of and racism and misogyny are rife. They introduce characters of colour to the main cast as soon as it’s plausible for them to do so, and there is one onscreen gay relationship, mainly dealing with the struggles of having to keep it a secret.

The soundtrack is great as well, by the by. There was a lot of fantastic music around at the time.

If your mental health can cope with the dark and sad moments, I encourage you to give it a try (maybe keep some cartoons or animal videos on standby for after the worst moments, if you need to, or watch with your furbaby if you have one). It’s overall a wholesome, sweet series, and there’s a sense of gentle optimism and strength that I think everyone can use more of these days.


A brief note – no more attempts at a schedule because life kicks my teeth in every time I try. I’ll do a spotlight whenever I have something to recommend. I’m still mulling over ideas for a new series, and there’s whatever we end up doing about Harry Potter. Time will tell.

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2020 in loten

 

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Happy holidays

Happy winter-festival-of-your-choice, everyone. Hopefully the new year will yield some actual content again, I know this hiatus has lasted a while – I had some health issues, my mother had some health issues, my niece had some health issues, the Christmas Retail Monster ate all my time and energy…. but fingers crossed that everything is sorted out and beginning to calm down now. Let’s hope that 2020 is less crazy for everyone, I think we could all use a bit of a break. Take care and hopefully I’ll see you all soon.

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2019 in loten

 

Deniability is no longer plausible. Stand with trans people.

I should apologise for not having written recently; there are lots of things I want to talk about (and frankly should have talked about), but my depression’s been really getting to me and I’ve barely had the energy to be functional a lot of the time.

That said, I’m a bit late to the party on this one, but I think I/we need to weigh in because we’ve discussed the subject here before (there’s been a spike in hits to a certain chapter of the Silkworm review, as there often is when something like this happens). As I don’t use Twitter, I’ll be commenting on the brouhaha here instead.

Joanne Rowling is a transphobic asshole, click through to see it in her own words. She’s not even trying to hide it any more. No more “oops how does the internet work, what is a like button teehee” shenanigans. No more “but Cormoran Strike is transphobic, that doesn’t mean she necessarily agrees with him” excuses.

Let’s unpack this just a little bit. She’s literally going out of her way to perform wokeness on as many other axes of bigotry as possible, before getting to the punchline of “trans women? nope, not them”. Unlike everyone else, she seems to say, trans people deserve special condemnation and transphobes are the real victims.

(A helpful bit of context in case it isn’t clear what she’s commenting on there.)

I can’t say I’m surprised. This isn’t news; everyone who’s more than vaguely aware of the things Rowling says on Twitter should already know this (as friend of the blog Ana Mardoll has already pointed out), but she said the quiet part out loud this time so more people are noticing. Good.

(This made me laugh, admittedly. Image of a fanzine titled “Harry Potter and the Problematic Author”)

I’m not going to tell anyone they shouldn’t read her writing or can’t continue to be fans of Harry Potter, if they get something out of it. Goodness knows my life wouldn’t be the same if not for those books; Harry Potter fandom is the reason I met the person I love most in the world, and I can’t imagine who I’d be if I hadn’t. Go ahead and employ death of the author to your heart’s content and make something better out of them (but maybe give someone else your money).

But that fondness is not an excuse to ignore transphobia, or any other form of bigotry. I realise it can be hard to be a fan of problematic things while still acknowledging those problems, but the alternative is denial and apologetics. You can like things without them being perfect, and you can like things without that necessarily being a referendum on your character. Nearly everything is problematic in some way, after all. But we cannot deny the existence of bigotry just to make ourselves feel better.

And the natural consequence of that sort of denial is extrapolating it. If we train ourselves to think that a certain work of fiction we like can’t possibly contain bigotry because we’d feel uncomfortable liking it if it did, what then happens if we come across a similar example of bigotry in real life? The easiest way to resolve that cognitive dissonance is to refuse to see the real life example also, and that tends to be what people do.

So it is likewise important to acknowledge when a person has shitty beliefs, and that those beliefs might come out in their work.

I’ll say this as nicely as I possibly can: fuck off, J.K. Rowling.

There is a serious problem with transphobia (and specifically the TERF variety which parasitises and exploits feminist rhetoric) in the world right now, and it’s especially virulent in Britain for some reason. This is not to say it’s not a problem elsewhere, of course, but we can’t ignore the trend. Pay attention.

And if you know a trans person, for fuck’s sake let them know you support them.

[I don’t have anything else to add except to repeat: fuck off, J K Rowling.]

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2019 in mitchell

 

The Discworld City Watch TV series may be a crushing disappointment.

I’m still technically on hiatus, but I want to talk about this and frankly don’t know anyone personally who would care, so you lot get to listen instead.

Tor recently posted about the latest casting news for the City Watch series that’s been promised for several years now. The character descriptions are… very telling, and not in a good way.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2019 in loten

 

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Temporary Hiatus

There’s been a lot of stuff happening offline for me recently. I’m fine, there’s no need to worry, but right now I’m not really able to express myself very coherently, and the remaining spotlights I have lined up will be longer posts that need more effort than I can put in at the moment. I’ve not been reading much either so no new gems have presented themselves to provide a quick post.

I had a couple of non-spotlight posts slowly ticking over in the back of my head as well but those too need more brainpower than I have available right now.

No idea how long this is going to last. Hopefully by the end of next month life will be more stable and so will I, but I’ve learned my lesson about promising anything specific.

See you when I see you, and thanks for sticking with me.

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2019 in loten

 

No spotlight this month

No spotlight this month, I just don’t have the motivation at the moment.

 
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Posted by on July 27, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

Monthly Spotlight: Good Omens

I wasn’t going to do this. I mentioned this book way back during the Terry Pratchett spotlight, and that was going to be it, even though it’s one of my favourite books of all time. It’s not as if it needs my recommending it, I’m sure 99% of you have already read it anyway. But then the TV adaptation was released a month ago, and here we are because it’s amazing and I love it.

So what did I say about it in the past?

My favourite non-Discworld work is without question Good Omens, co-written with Neil Gaiman, which almost got a full post to itself. Whilst I do enjoy Mr Gaiman’s works, he’s probably not going to feature here again, but Good Omens is a work of genius. I can’t really talk about it too much without giving away the plot, but the short version is that an angel and a demon team up to try and stop the Apocalypse because they quite like Earth. Featuring the Antichrist, the Four Horsemen, dire prophecies and all the old classics, and I guarantee none of them are what you’d expect.

A television series is currently in development, hopefully coming out on Amazon later this year. I am very excited about this. There’s also a very good BBC radio adaptation.

Well, that’s all very true. Let’s go a little further now. Just in case there somehow is anyone reading this who hasn’t read it, I’m not going to go into too much detail about the plot.

[Before Loten gets too far into a plot overview, I think it’s also worth doing a quick thematic one. Good Omens has a few things at its core: a silly comedy of errors, a well-deserved parody of Christian eschatology, a fundamentally humanistic message, and (depending on your goggles) a story about deep friendship or gay romance. None of these things are particularly surprising if you know anything about the authors, really, but it’s worth pointing them out nonetheless. I do think the humanism is an important aspect of the story and one I don’t see discussed as much; it’s also not a religion-antagonistic humanism, so even if you’re not an atheist, give the story a chance, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.]

Our joint protagonists are the demon Crowley and the angel Aziraphale. They both live on Earth and follow the orders of their respective superiors, tempting and blessing humans at various points, ostensibly opposing one another and trying to win souls to their side. In reality they first met in the Garden of Eden, they’ve known one another for six thousand years or so, they realised a long time ago that they have more in common with one another – and with humanity – than with their fellows, and would much rather be left alone to enjoy life.

Then Crowley is handed the baby Antichrist and ordered to kick off the end of the world. Both Heaven and Hell are very keen that this should happen because they want to fight each other and are of course each convinced that their side will win. Crowley and Aziraphale would really rather not, thank you, and decide to help bring up the Son of Satan with a more balanced view of the world in the hope that he’ll decide not to destroy it when he comes into his power.

Of course it doesn’t work the way they planned – human error is a far stronger force than any divine power – and eleven years later they find themselves racing to try and avert the apocalypse with no idea of what’s going on and with their own teams trying to stop them. The rest of the cast include the Four Horsemen, the descendant of the last witch in England (who foresaw all this), the last witch-finders in England, a few people in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the Antichrist himself.

It’s a fantastic book. It’s funny the whole way through, the drama moves at a good pace and the characters are wonderful. And the recent Amazon Prime adaptation is easily the best TV adaptation I’ve ever seen.

It ought to be, really, since it was written by Neil Gaiman and co-produced by him and Rob Wilkins on behalf of Terry Pratchett. Getting Good Omens to the screen was one of Pratchett’s last requests and nobody’s been allowed to mess with it too much, and it’s obvious that everyone involved loved what they were doing. (I’ve seen a few reviews complaining that it’s too faithful to the book, which confuses me since to my mind the point of adapting a book is to transfer the book to the shiny screen, not to retell it in the process.)

There are some additions, particularly Aziraphale’s superiors in Heaven, who were taken from the sequel that was sadly never written. There’s additional material covering more of Crowley and Aziraphale’s history and an ending dealing with the consequences of their defiance. Sadly some things were cut – the Other Four Horsemen just didn’t have time to ride out, and the Antichrist himself has reduced screen time apparently because of the regulations around child actors. Almost all the jokes made it in, even if some of them wouldn’t be noticeable to someone who hadn’t read the book.

[I do think there were a few things that didn’t quite work well in adaptation, and some of the things that were cut (like the bikers) really were an unfortunate loss because that was one of my favourite moments in the book, but it’s still damn good and one of the best book adaptations I’ve seen in a long time. I do think that people unfamiliar with the source material might struggle to understand (or just miss) some things, or be confused why some jokes or plotlines are getting focus relative to others. Also, YMMV as to whether all of the jokes land: in order to preserve the wordplay and jokes that only work verbally, they chose to have the series be narrated by the Voice of God. That allowed them to get a lot of things in that couldn’t have worked otherwise, but it can feel a bit pedantic at times (I didn’t mind it at all the first time through, but it can grate a little on repeat viewing).]

The casting is absolutely superb. David Tennant is Crowley, completely. I wasn’t sure about Michael Sheen as Aziraphale when it was announced but the first trailer sold me immediately. Ned Dennehy as Hastur nearly stole the show [he absolutely did for me] and almost everyone else was spot on, with some cameos that probably escaped most non-British viewers.

[There are some other things worth discussing about the casting, too. They clearly went out of their way to have a diverse cast both in terms of race and gender, which I did find occasionally jarring, but usually in a good way; it was just such a pleasant surprise to see how committed they were to it. I don’t want to go into too much detail here, but this might be worth discussing further in the comments. Anathema being American was the one we found strangest, but it’s not as though it actually harmed anything.]

And, of course, the show is its own fanfiction. (I wish I could take credit for this line, I can’t remember who said it because I’ve read quite a lot of reviews for this show by now.) It’s really about the relationship between Crowley and Aziraphale, with the apocalypse happening in the background.

The vast majority of the fandom ships them to some extent. Not always sexually, but you know, fandoms gonna fan. The official stance of the writers has always been, more or less, “Well, we didn’t actually intend it that way when we wrote them, but we can see why.” (One reason I love both authors is that they’ve never lashed out or mocked their fans for having different headcanons.) Gaiman decided to lean hard into it and Tennant and Sheen happily played along.

Tor’s review says it all (beware spoilers if you haven’t watched it yet): https://www.tor.com/2019/06/04/the-good-omens-miniseries-is-a-love-story-and-i-will-never-recover-from-it/

I could go on for pages about this, I have a lot of FEELINGS, but I’ll refrain. If you haven’t read the book yet, do it now. If you haven’t seen the show yet it is absolutely worth finally taking that free trial Amazon keeps waving in your face – it will be coming to DVD eventually but it’s more than good enough to justify seeing it as soon as possible. It makes me very happy and I’ve already rewatched it more than once. [So have I.]

As a final addendum, there’s inevitably been some backlash from a lot of very angry Christians who missed the point completely (watched with some bewilderment by a lot of other Christians who possess basic comprehension). Bless their little cotton socks, the group who started a petition to cancel it must be feeling a little silly now after approximately half the population of the internet pointed out that none of the 20,000 frothing balls of blind outrage who signed it had spotted that the petition was aimed at Netflix, rather than Amazon Prime.

Netflix very nicely promised not to make any more.

Amazon offered to cancel Stranger Things if Netflix cancelled Good Omens.

Neil Gaiman just enjoyed watching it happen, as did a lot of other people.

Now go watch the show again.

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2019 in loten

 

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