Wednesday 26 October 2022

Film Review: Emily

 Zero and I went to see the new film Emily, about Emily Bronte. The opening scene shows Emily's death bed, and her older sister Charlotte asking her from where she got the inspiration for her novel Wuthering Heights. The film then takes up that theme of a search for the inspiration, not so much for the novel, as for the inspiration that lay in Emily's own life. And it does this by reading into Emily's life episodes from the novel, and adding a bit of fictionalising that is not present in the novel. At the time of seeing the film I had no familiarity at all with Wuthering Heights, and my efforts at reading Anne Bronte some years ago did not go anywhere. Charlotte Bronte, however, has been thoroughly read over the years. As a result of my unfamiliarity with Wuthering Heights, though, I came out of the film completely baffled by it.

As I post, I am now about one third of the way through Wuthering Heights, and so it becomes possible to have a more intelligent appreciation of the film. If you have not read Wuthering Heights, much of this film will pass you by. One interesting aspect of the film is the way in which, by reading episodes of Wuthering Heights into the relationship between Emily and her brother Branwell, it suggests that the novel's portrayal of the relationship between Cathy and Heathcliff takes inspiration from that in real life between Emily and Branwell. I suspect that the film makes rather more of this idea than is really there (some of the transference from fiction to life is almost as literal as to be direct quotation), but a comparison of the two relationships is probably worth a master's dissertation for someone. More easily, one can think that the account of Mr Earnshaw's dissipated life in Wuthering Heights drew in part on Emily's experience of her brother's alcohol and drug addiction.

A first element of pure fictionalising in the film is Emily's romantic affair with the curate of the parish, of which her father is the incumbent. A second element is the scene with Branwell, where he and Emily are shown on the moors acclaiming in favour of "freedom in thought", and having those words inscribed on their forearms. The romance in particular is portrayed in somewhat soap operatic way, and lacks real conviction.  And whilst Haworth probably has a tattoo parlour now, I suspect it did not have one in the Bronte's time! Both scenes represent a reading of a theme from the 21st century back into the 19th century in a way that is rather false to the situation of the Bronte family. The film makers might delight in expressing this in terms of making the story attractive to a younger audience, but that is a thin disguise for the falsity involved.

Alongside the more or less blatant fictionalising, there are other ways in which the film attempts to be very realistic. Scenes inside the parsonage at Howarth do look as if they have been filmed in a way that accurately reflects the rooms of the house itself (though it is too long since our visit to Haworth for me to be able to judge that definitively). Branwell's employment on a local railway station is true to life. There is also an attempt to represent the proximity of the moors to the parsonage.  It is easy to recognise that the placing of Wuthering Heights on the moors of Yorkshire draws on Emily's experience of the moors above Haworth; but it's portrayal in Emily is, frankly, embarrassing.

At one point during a "Questions and Answers" at the Toronto International Film Festival 2022, where Emily premiered, there is a question about the cinematography. It occurs at about 14:38 in this Youtube clip: Emily Q & A: TIFF 2022. I have no idea who the cinematrographers referenced in Frances O'Connor's response are, but it was particularly the scenes (supposedly) shot on the moors that left me unconvinced. Even a gently waving tree branch at one point was not enough to drive the possibility from my mind that the scene had been shot in a studio with effects for the backdrop. I certainly do not think anyone would roll down the side of the moor above Haworth as Emily and Branwell are shown doing in the film without coming to grief very quickly on the rough ground. I was highly amused by the scene showing Ellen Nussey jumping down from a stile, which did not show either the stile or the ground onto which Ellen jumped ..... see above about the thoughts of shooting in studio. Filming took place in Yorkshire and, I believe, at least in part in Haworth, in April/May 2021. Perhaps therein lies the clue to its problem in portraying the moors effectively, as this is a rather short filming timescale to capture the different moods of the moors live. Thunder and storms can perhaps readily and fairly be taken from Wuthering Heights into the film, but they appeared to me as badly chosen from a special effects CD that might be used in theatre; and, at one point, as if there were a screen of "rain" played between the camera and the actors. In two scenes, the parsonage window is opened and delightful bird song heard .... again, it sounded too much like a badly chosen track from an effects CD, as I suspect the Yorkshire moors would more typically host the harsher sound of crows or jackdaws. 

There is one point on which the film touches but which it does not in my view fully develop, and that is the relationship between the three Bronte sisters. There are points where Emily's aloofness from her sisters and the resulting drama is portrayed (eg the mask scene) but I want to explore this more fully in reading a biography of the sisters.

Even now that I have gained a greater awareness of the film's intentions through reading Wuthering Heights, I think I am still finding the film to be rather unsatsifying. Which seems to contrast with other reviews ....

Wednesday 12 October 2022

Pope Francis on the anniversary of the opening of Second Vatican Council

On the memorial of St John XXIII, Pope Francis reflected on the 60th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.

This is the first way to look at the Church: from above. Indeed, the Church needs first to be viewed from on high, with God’s eyes, eyes full of love. Let us ask ourselves if we, in the Church, start with God and his loving gaze upon us. We are always tempted to start from ourselves rather than from God, to put our own agendas before the Gospel, to let ourselves be caught up in the winds of worldliness in order to chase after the fashions of the moment or to turn our back on the time that Providence has granted us, in order to retrace our steps. Yet let us be careful: both the “progressivism” that lines up behind the world and the “traditionalism” – or “looking backwards” – that longs for a bygone world are not evidence of love, but of infidelity. They are forms of a Pelagian selfishness that puts our own tastes and plans above the love that pleases God, the simple, humble and faithful love that Jesus asked of Peter.

Speaking of the Council, Pope Francis said: 

It led her to return, like Peter in the Gospel, to Galilee, to the sources of her first love; to rediscover God’s holiness in her own poverty (cf. Lumen Gentium, 8c; chapter 5). Each one of us also has his or her own Galilee, the Galilee of our first love, and certainly today we are all called to return to our own Galilee in order to hear the voice of the Lord: “Follow me”. And there, to find once more in the gaze of the crucified and risen Lord a joy that had faded; to focus upon Jesus. To rediscover our joy, for a Church that has lost its joy has lost its love. 

I like that reference to "the Galilee of our first love", a phrase that Pope Francis has used before. The Holy Father indicates a second way to look at the Church:

This is the second way of looking at the Church that we learn from the Council: looking around. In other words, being in the world with others without ever feeling superior to others, being servants of that higher realm which is the Kingdom of God (cf. Lumen Gentium, 5); bringing the good news of the Gospel into people’s lives and languages (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, 36), sharing their joys and hopes (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 1). Being in the midst of the people, not above the people, which is the bad sin of clericalism that kills the sheep rather than guiding them or helping them grow. 

And there is a third way to look at the Church:

Do you love me? The Lord then says: “Feed my sheep”. He does not mean just some of the sheep, but all of them, for he loves them all, affectionately referring to them as “mine”. The Good Shepherd looks out and wants his flock to be united, under the guidance of the Pastors he has given them. He wants us – and this is the third way of looking at the Church – to see the whole, all of us together. The Council reminds us that the Church is a communion in the image of the Trinity (cf. Lumen Gentium, 4.13). The devil, on the other hand, wants to sow the darnel of division. Let us not give in to his enticements or to the temptation of polarization. How often, in the wake of the Council, did Christians prefer to choose sides in the Church, not realizing that they were breaking their Mother’s heart! How many times did they prefer to cheer on their own party rather than being servants of all? To be progressive or conservative rather than being brothers and sisters? To be on the “right” or “left”, rather than with Jesus? To present themselves as “guardians of the truth” or “pioneers of innovation” rather than seeing themselves as humble and grateful children of Holy Mother Church. All of us are children of God, all brothers and sisters in the Church, all of us making up the Church, all of us. That is how the Lord wants us to be. We are his sheep, his flock, and we can only be so together and as one. Let us overcome all polarization and preserve our communion. May all of us increasingly “be one”, as Jesus prayed before sacrificing his life for us (cf. Jn 17:21). And may Mary, Mother of the Church, help us in this. May the yearning for unity grow within us, the desire to commit ourselves to full communion among all those who believe in Christ. 

 I have always felt that living a Catholic life in the light of the Council is to have a deep sense of the Church, a sense that to live a Catholic life is to live an ecclesial life. This makes it at once also the living of a Catholic life that has a Marian character. I think Pope Francis indicates this by choosing in his homily to speak of the ways in which we can look at the Church. Whilst in the course of things we might prefer some ecclesiastical initiatives rather than others, I do not think it is possible to live a genuinely Catholic life and remain in a state of semi-permanent contestation with ecclesial authority, be that from a "progressive" stance or from a "traditionalist" stance.

Almighty ever-living God, 
who chose blessed John the Twenty-Third to preside over your whole people
and benefit them by word and example, 
keep safe, we pray, by his intercession, 
the shepherds of your Church 
along with the flocks entrusted to their care, 
and direct them in the way of eternal salvation.

Saturday 8 October 2022

All the Cathedrals (14): Ripon

During a recent visit to the North East of England, we were able to visit Ripon in North Yorkshire. Geographically, Ripon is just a short drive west of junction 50 of the A1 (M). The cathedral can be described as being both old (the first Church on the site, now the crypt of the cathedral building, dates from the 7th Century) and new (it was only in 1836 that it became the cathedral church of the then newly established Anglican diocese of Ripon). The location of the cathedral is quite central to the town of Ripon. It is adjacent to the branch of a major supermarket, and a narrow road leads from the west door up a gentle sloping hill to the town's market square. A history of the cathedral building, relating the various buildings and rebuildings of the church, can be found on the cathedral website: History timeline. An account of the life of St Wilfrid, responsible for building the first significant church on the cathedral site, the crypt of which still survives, can also be found on the website: St Wilfrid.

A visit to Ripon Cathedral today is deceptive, as what is visible now is the outcome of significant restorative work undertaken after the church was designated as a cathedral. Nothing remains of the shrine of St Wilfrid, which originally existed where the high altar now stands, at the east end of the choir - it was destroyed, and the relics of St Wilfrid discarded, at the time of the reformation in the 16th Century. One can gain the impression that the cathedral retains statues that in other cathedrals might have been destroyed either at the reformation or during a later intrusion of Parliamentary forces during the civil war - but all of those statues date from a Victorian restoration, and the reredos behind the high altar to 1926. The present cathedral does still include structures from the buildings earlier days - the crypt from the 7th Century and the choir screen from medieval times (though the statues are Victorian), for example. The outcome is a structure that appears coherent and unified, despite the several accidents and reconstructions it has experienced over the centuries.

A photograph of the reredos behind the high altar can be seen on flickr: Reredos. It was designed as a First World War memorial, and dedicated in 1922. At the centre of the reredos is a figure of the Virgin Mary and Child; the other figures show saints and Anglo-Saxon historical figures, contemporary to St Wilfrid. Above the reredos, the risen Christ is depicted as a young man, reflecting the youth of those who died in the First World War; On the right is St George and the left St Michael the archangel. The gilding, and its width across the full width of the altar, attracts the eye as you stand in the choir - or as you look through the choir screen, as in this photo on flickr: Reredos through choir screen.

The choir screen separates the main part of the nave from the choir, and dates from the 15th Century. It is thick enough to house a doorway that leads down to the crypt. The original statues in its niches were destroyed at the time of the reformation and/or the visit of Parliamentarian forces. The statues that are now there date from 1947. The stone statues have been painted with the intention that they would convey a sense of how they might have looked at the time the choir screen was first constructed. They feature eight carved and painted kings and bishops who played a part in the history of the cathedral, with another 24 statues of angels in niches above. A full account of the statues, and photographs, can be found here: Choir screen figures.

The stained glass windows in the cathedral are extensive, though I found it difficult to "read" them during our visit. That is, I suspect, something that is of the nature of Victorian stained glass (the original windows were destroyed in the 15/17the Centuries). The windows at the eastern and western ends of the cathedral are particularly impressive. The cathedral bookshop had a small booklet, including photographs, that explained the main features of the stained glass - it is worth purchasing it to inform your visit!

The presence in the cathedral of some more contemporary representations, such as one of the pieta and a chapel with a representation of the actions of the Holy Spirit, are a sign of a cathedral that is still "living", so to speak, rather than of it being a cathedral that is just a historic building. Perhaps we should be positive about that, though I did not find these more contemporary representations to my own taste. Raising a more fundamental question of principle was the fact that, at the time of our visit, the walls along the length of the nave were occupied by paintings/photographs from the Great North Art Show. In other words, the space was functioning as a significant display gallery. I came away with the impression that the nave of the cathedral functions somewhat as an events venue, while it is the choir that retains the dedication to worship more usually associated with a church building.

A final thought: Ripon Cathedral has a very "square" architecture, shown in the shapes of its towers and in the flat eastern wall with its great window. This contrasts, for example, with any expectation that a visitor might have of a semi-circular apse at the eastern end of the church.