Tuesday 29 March 2022

Film Review: The Phantom of the Open

Yesterday evening, we went to see the film The Phantom of the Open. It is one of those films that has the descriptor "based on a true story" and, though the film portrays Maurice Flitcroft in a very endearing way, the true story, at least as presented on Wikipedia (here), suggests a somewhat different character.

When it was shown at the London Film Festival in October 2021, the Festival described the film as follows:

At the age of 46, happy-go-lucky crane operator and all-round lovable family man Maurice Flitcroft (Mark Rylance) feels it’s time to try his hand at something new. Deciding on a whim that golf is his new calling, the budding sportsman sets his sights on mastering the game. But Maurice is not a man to do things by halves, and in a turn of events that you just couldn’t make up, he secures a coveted spot in the qualifying round of the 1976 British Open. With the enduring support of his loving wife and disco-dancing sons, Maurice borrows some books, buys the clobber and gets hold of a set of clubs. There’s only one problem; he has never played a round in his life. Adapted by Simon Farnaby from his book ‘The Phantom of The Open: Maurice Flitcroft, the World’s Worst Golfer’ (co-written by Scott Murray), Craig Roberts’ film is a heartfelt celebration of an eternal optimist who never let his sporting inadequacies stand in the way of his dreams. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. All hail the underdog!

The title sequence to the film offers a beautiful account of how Maurice and Jean Flitcroft meet, with Maurice observing to Jean about the son she already has out of wedlock that "he has a father now" (as the film observes, this was a much bigger thing at that time than it would be now); the couple buying a terraced house in Barrow in Furness; and showing the children growing up. It was so lovely to watch that I completely missed the names in the title sequence.

There are a couple of subtleties in this family story that those who were young in the 1970's and 1980's might spot. The eldest son goes to university and gains a degree, later being employed in senior management at the Vickers shipyard where his father worked as a crane operator. For many working class families at the time, young students at university were the first from their families to have the chance of higher education, so this echoes with those of us for whom that was the case. The threat of redundancies is also shown overhanging the shipyard, though Maurice is described by Wikipedia as retiring from the yard rather than being made redundant as the film portrays. Again, in the industrial areas of the north of England, job losses were a major feature of the 1970's and early 1980's. 

Most of the humour revolves around Maurice's attempts at playing golf and trying to get a foothold in the golfing environment. Neither are very successful. A highlight is perhaps Maurice's conversation with a young Seve Ballesteros in the locker room before his first appearance in qualifying for the Open, which ends with him observing that his golf is much better than his (very makeshift) Spanish.

Through the course of the film, there is a very interesting portrayal of a relationship between husband and wife, and of their relationship with their children. The behaviours, with their ups and downs, are reflective of working class life, though perhaps a little stereotyped. It is these relationships that provide the very moving points in the film, and give a positive view of a family life even when it is lived in difficult times. The older son, Michael, as he has risen in the Vickers shipyard, has distanced himself from his father because of the ridicule surrounding him and potentially adverse effect for his career. But at a key moment at the end of a commercial pitch to Japanese investors, when his boss jumps in to deny that Michael is related to Maurice Flitcroft because he thinks it will cause an adverse outcome, Michael owns up. He then uses the plane ticket provided for a visit to America to join his other family members there... a very moving reconciliation of a prodigal son.

The nostalgia is provided with great care throughout the film. Manual typewriters (not a computer in sight), lunchtime sandwiches at work, old fashioned telephones (not the slightest hint of a mobile phone), smoking, television sets of the time, home furnishings and fashion very much of the time.

There are excellent performances from Mark Rylance and Sally Hawkins, and their twins are portrayed very well by Christian and Jonah Lees. Altogether a film that is very well worth seeing.

Friday 25 March 2022

Consecration of Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary

This afternoon we joined the congregation at the Cathedral of the Holy Family, the cathedral of the Ukrainian Greek Eparchy in London, for the prayer of consecration of the entire human family, and particularly Ukraine and Russia, to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Cathedral was pleasantly full, with a congregation made up of both parishioners of the Cathedral and people like ourselves who had come for the particular occasion. The ceremony was presided over by the Bishop; representatives from the Church of England and the Ukrainian embassy were present.

There were two points about the service that struck me. The first was the three-fold prostration and signing of themselves with the sign of the Cross undertaken by the faithful as they came in to the Church. The Roman Rite single genuflection appears very half-hearted in comparison. The second was the way in which the whole service (with the exception of the homily) was essentially sung, or at least said in a style of chant. So, where the Roman Rite might have prayed the prayer of consecration by saying it, here it was prayed in a style of chant, using just two tones in reflection of the sentence structure.

Therefore, Mother of God and our Mother, to your Immaculate Heart we solemnly entrust and consecrate ourselves, the Church and all humanity, especially Russia and Ukraine.  Accept this act that we carry out with confidence and love.  Grant that war may end and peace spread throughout the world.  The “Fiat” that arose from your heart opened the doors of history to the Prince of Peace.  We trust that, through your heart, peace will dawn once more.  To you we consecrate the future of the whole human family, the needs and expectations of every people, the anxieties and hopes of the world.

Through your intercession, may God’s mercy be poured out on the earth and the gentle rhythm of peace return to mark our days.  Our Lady of the “Fiat”, on whom the Holy Spirit descended, restore among us the harmony that comes from God.  May you, our “living fountain of hope”, water the dryness of our hearts.  In your womb Jesus took flesh; help us to foster the growth of communion.  You once trod the streets of our world; lead us now on the paths of peace.  Amen.

Writing to the Bishops throughout the world to invite them to join with him in making the act of consecration, Pope Francis wrote:

This Act of Consecration is meant to be a gesture of the universal Church, which in this dramatic moment lifts up to God, through his Mother and ours, the cry of pain of all those who suffer and implore an end to the violence, and to entrust the future of our human family to the Queen of Peace. I ask you to join in this Act by inviting the priests, religious and faithful to assemble in their churches and places of prayer on 25 March, so that God’s Holy People may raise a heartfelt and choral plea to Mary our Mother. I am sending you the text of the prayer of consecration, so that all of us can recite it throughout that day, in fraternal union.

The full text of the prayer of consecration can be found at the Holy See website: here. The ceremony from St Peter's Basilica can be watched on Youtube - the act of consecration occurs from 1:35:00, having been preceded by a penitential service with individual confessions.

Thursday 17 March 2022

The Holy See and the war in Ukraine

It is clear that very extensive damage is being caused to cities in the Ukraine, with significant consequent deaths and harm to essentially civilian populations. Pope Francis' words at the end of the Angelus on 13th March expressed his anguish at this aspect of the war:

Brothers and sisters, we have just prayed to the Virgin Mary. This weekend, the city that bears her name, Mariupol, has become a city martyred by the ruinous war that is devastating Ukraine. Faced with the barbarism of the killing of children, and of innocent and defenceless citizens, there are no strategic reasons that hold up: the only thing to be done is to cease the unacceptable armed aggression before the city is reduced to a cemetery. With an aching heart I add my voice to that of the common people, who implore the end of the war. In the name of God, listen to the cry of those who suffer, and put an end to the bombings and the attacks! Let there be real and decisive focus on the negotiations, and let the humanitarian corridors be effective and safe. In the name of God, I ask you: stop this massacre! 

I would like once again to urge the welcoming of the many refugees, in whom Christ is present, and to give thanks for the great network of solidarity that has formed. I ask all diocesan and religious communities to increase their moments of prayer for peace. God is only the God of peace, he is not the God of war, and those who support violence profane his name. Now let us pray in silence for those who suffer, and that God may convert hearts to a steadfast will for peace.

Cardinal Krajewski, the Papal Almoner, has visited Poland and Ukraine in an expression of the closeness of the Holy See to those affected by the Russian invastion. The following is from a Vatican News report of 9th March , Cardinal Krajewski in Lviv:

“I am situated in Lviv, [but] for security reasons we can’t say exactly where,” says the Cardinal. “This is where the large amounts of aid from the European community arrive via Poland. Everything is unloaded in large warehouses, and from here the trucks leave for Kyiv, for Odessa, for the south of the country.” The good news, says Cardinal Krajewski with satisfaction, is that “all this aid is still reaching its destination, despite the bombings.”

This has been confirmed by the bishops of Kiev, Odessa, and Karkhiv, and the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, with whom Cardinal Krajewski has been in contact. The Pope’s support has been particularly practical in this regard, he says: “Here they have difficulty in finding fuel and therefore, through the Elemosineria [the Office of Papal Charities], the Holy Father has paid for many of the journeys of the trucks that bring humanitarian aid into Ukraine.”

 Cardinal Michael Czerny, the acting Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Development made a similar visit to Hungary and Ukraine. A report dated 10th March: Meeting the Refugees brings the War to our Hearts:

Cardinal Michael Czerny, the Prefect ad interim of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development has spent the last few days in Hungary, bringing the Holy Father’s closeness to the thousands of Ukrainian refugees who have fled across the borders in search of safety. 
During these days, the Cardinal has met with volunteer aid workers, Church and civil authorities, and has been in concrete, personal contact with the traumatic experience of many Ukrainians who have left their homeland amid the war. 
He also visited the Ukrainian city of Berehove, a city close to the border with Hungary and spared by the bombings, which is a gathering point for thousands of refugees on the move.

And from a report of a meeting of Cardinal Czerny with leaders of different Christian denominations in Berehove, collaborating in the care of refugees:

“We are all poor in the face of this challenge of war,” begins Cardinal Czerny, after being asked by those present to thank the Pope for his visit and “for having made the bell of the small Ukraine ring in the Vatican.” 

And, as the war in Ukraine began, there was Pope Francis visit to the embassy of the Russian Federation to the Holy See, reported here by Reuters.

[There have also been the interventions of the Secretary of State, Cardinal Parolin, that can be found in coverage at Vatican News.]

Sunday 6 March 2022

Long live Ukraine!

Yesterday lunchtime, Zero and I joined the rally in Trafalgar Square in support of the people of Ukraine. The rally, and others like it, have been organized by a Ukrainian group London Euromaidan. Yesterday's rally was one of several taking place in the UK, and taking place again today.

At one point, Zero observed how good it was that we were able to take part in this rally without fear of arrest, as would almost certainly have happened had we been instead in Moscow demonstrating in support of Ukraine. At one level, our participation was a political and social sign to other people of our opposition to the action of President Putin and a sign of our support for the people of Ukraine. At another level, though, it had an ethical significance. The making of a public gesture, and the effort that that may involve, also represents a statement of one's own soul in saying, in this instance, a clear "No" to the action of Russian forces in Ukraine. It is a statement that we do not consent to President Putin's war in Ukraine. This is the underlying ethical principle of the political principle of freedom of expression.

The Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain joined the Eparch of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in London and Archbishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church in London to lead prayers at the beginning of the rally. Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti's presence was appreciated by those organizing the rally - his profile indicates both why Archbishop Gugerotti would wish to take part and why his participation would be appreciated. Archbishop Gugerotti is an expert in the Eastern Churches and previously Nuncio to both  Belarus and Ukraine. A report of Archbishop Gugerotti's attendance at the rally is on the website of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales: "We are all Ukrainians".

Our parish priest has suggested that we pray the prayer to St Michael the Archangel for the people of Ukraine, and it is being said publicly at the end of each of the weekday Masses. As events unfold in the Ukraine it appears more and more an appropriate choice of prayer.