The ever narrowing range of permitted opinion in England

Robert Henderson

On 14 May 2018 Jeremy Bedford-Turner  known as Jez Turner was convicted at Southwark Crown Court in London of inciting racial hatred during a speech he gave in 2015 outside Downing Street. He was sentenced to 12 months, six of which will be served in prison and the rest on licence.

In his speech   Mr Bedford-Turner attacked Jewish influence, most particularly, the  Met Police’s support for and enablement of  a  Jewish organisation  known as the Shomrim run by a charity called the Community Security Trust (CST). This  organisation   has astonishing  support from the Met Police including the use of police cars and the wearing of uniforms which look very similar to those worn by police officers.

Did Mr Bedford-Turner have a chance of acquittal?  He  had a jury trial so  that gave him some chance of an acquittal. Had it been a trial without a jury he would almost certainly have had  none. After decades of ever more ruthlessly enforced political correctness  judges in England all  subscribe to  the wonders of diversity multiracial game without thinking  and, consequently, it  is very difficult to imagine a judge sitting on his own daring to find a defendant accused of racism  not guilty.

But even with a jury the odds were heavily against a not guilty verdict. In the minds of jurors must be the fear of being called a racist, a fear  which has been so successfully inculcated in the general population that  it produces an automated reflex of panic and terror when faced with the possibility of the label being  stuck on them. Any juror faced with a case such as this must have it in the back of their minds  that to return a not guilty verdict would be to risk being called a racist. There is also the sheer shock factor of hearing politically incorrect views being unashamedly spoken. As it was the jury was out for less than two hours and returned a unanimous verdict of  guilty. (For the record there were two black women and one black man on the jury plus one other man who may have been a Turk.  The rest were white).

The Crown Prosecution Service  (CPS) initially  refused to prosecute Mr Bedford-Turner  because the case  did not meet their evidential standard for a prosecution.  The Campaign Against Anti-Semitism  (CAA)  then threatened the CPS with a judicial review of their decision not to prosecute. Faced with that the CPS caved in and prosecuted Mr Bedford-Turner. Running a judicial review is very expensive.  The fact that  the CAA managed to get the CPS  to prosecute  by starting the process to have a judicial review  effectively created two tiers of justice, one  for the rich and one  for the poor.

I  shall be writing a fuller account of the trial later but I can say unequivocally that the judge, David Tomlinson,  showed his bias against Mr Bedford-Turner  from the word go in both his actions and manner.

He began by refusing a request by Mr Bedford-Turner’s barrister to put  questions to prospective jurors to discover if any of them were members of the CAA or the  CST.  The judge’s explanation was that he valued the principle of  random selection. In a place such as London that is always likely to throw up a jury which through its diverse composition is likely to hinder any defendant charged with inciting racial hatred.

During this passage of the hearing the judge  also said with great distaste that it was shocking that such an organisation as the CAA needed to exist but that was the way of the world.

Tomlinson  also intervened on a number of occasions when Mr Bedford-Turner was being cross-examined. These  interventions were not to elucidate Mr Bedford-Turner’s  testimony for either the judge or the jury,   but were   attempts to contradict the defendant  using an aggressive tone and manner. This behaviour was highly questionable because in effect the judge  kept on  taking over the prosecution counsel’s cross-examination.  ( If I had been prosecution counsel I would have been more than a little put out  because Tomlinson’s interjections suggested that prosecution counsel was not making a good job of the cross-examination. )

The  other thing to note was the way both judge and prosecuting counsel accepted opinion as fact and were seemingly oblivious to what they were doing, namely,  enforcing the politically correct  view of the world. For example, prosecuting counsel thought nothing of citing a case DPP v Collins 2006 on the question of what is grossly offensive,  viz:

“It is for the trial court to determine as a question of fact whether a message is grossly offensive.  In making this determination the standards of an open and just multi-racial society are to be applied”

That may reasonably be translated as whatever political correctness  decrees.

The prosecution have to justify their position that the words are grossly offensive but they do not have to show anyone was grossly offended. This seems mad to the lay person,  but there are many crimes which rely on actions carried out before any harm is done, for example, preparations for committing terrorist acts and conspiracies. The real problem with this type of charge is that it allows a high degree of subjectivity in making the value judgement of what is grossly offensive.

Later in the proceedings the judge decided that although the educated classes would not be affected by  words written or spoken by Mr Beford-Turner and his ilk, the uneducated classes  might well be  prey to such blandishments . (I kid you not).

Little media coverage

The other striking thing about this trial is the paucity of media comment.  One might have thought the mainstream media would have jumped all over the matter  but the only mainstream press  with a representative attending the trial was the Press Association. Why? Well, I suspect it was because although the politically correct wanted the prosecution and a guilty verdict they did not want the politically incorrect nature of much of the evidence to come before the public’s eyes.

There was also a very curious incident on day one of the trial. The acoustics in the public gallery  were poor and I was unable to catch the name of the prosecuting counsel. After the hearing was adjourned for the day I asked the barrister in question what his name was explaining that I had not been able to catch it during the hearing. He refused to give me his name. This struck me as very odd indeed because the trial was not being held in camera so his name was public knowledge – it is Louis Malby QC. On the second day of the trial a Press Association journalist also refused to give me his name. Could it be that those involved with a trial which drove a coach and horses through the notion of free expression  are ashamed of being part of  it?

Where does all this leave us?

What has been made very clear in this trial (and that of the trial of Alison Chabloz) is that we have an elite  which is hell bent on squeezing the range of permitted opinion ever more tightly into a politically correct shape.

The reality is cases such as that of  Mr Bedford-Turner are show trials pure and simple. They are show trials because there is only one permissible  result, that is,  guilty.  The evidence is irrelevant.

The intention of the British  elite  – political, academic and the mainstream media – is to ruthlessly reduce what is permitted to be written or spoken until politically incorrect  ideas are, if not entirely eradicated , driven underground or held only by those without power. This was what Orwell envisaged with NewSpeak,  a  language so altered and stripped of important meaning that people could no longer rebel because they lacked the language with which to do it.

Free expression is essential to democracy and political freedom. Take it away and oppression soon fills the void. It also has a general cultural value

Britain and the West in general are rapidly losing that essential freedom. We desperately need to fight to save it.


Equal Pay  and political correctness

Robert Henderson

Calls for equal pay for women are often not calls for equal pay  for equal work.  Rather,  they are demands for  equal pay with men regardless of  whether the jobs women do are  the same,  the experience levels are the same, the natural ability is the same and the diligence and conscientiousness is the same.

The legal definition of equal work  under the Equality Act 2010  does not simply say there should be  equal pay if the woman is doing  a job identical with that of a man at the same employer. Instead it includes different types of work being judged as being   work of  equal value.  Here is the relevant section of the Act:

65Equal work

(1)For the purposes of this Chapter, A’s work is equal to that of B if it is—

(a)like B’s work,

(b)rated as equivalent to B’s work, or

(c)of equal value to B’s work.

(2)A’s work is like B’s work if—

(a)A’s work and B’s work are the same or broadly similar, and

(b)such differences as there are between their work are not of practical importance in relation to the terms of their work.

(3)So on a comparison of one person’s work with another’s for the purposes of subsection (2), it is necessary to have regard to—

(a)the frequency with which differences between their work occur in practice, and

(b)the nature and extent of the differences.

(4)A’s work is rated as equivalent to B’s work if a job evaluation study—

(a)gives an equal value to A’s job and B’s job in terms of the demands made on a worker, or

(b)would give an equal value to A’s job and B’s job in those terms were the evaluation not made on a sex-specific system.

Such evaluation introduces a considerable degree of subjectivity and can result in what most people would not think were  jobs of equal value  or difficulty being judged as of equal value or difficulty,  for example, a clerical assistant and a warehouse operative or   an occupational health nurse  and a production supervisor have been  judged to be equal  of equal status and value.  ( I remember some  years ago a senior person, a woman, within the Equalities body policing the system at the time giving an interview on the BBC in which she said that an example of jobs of equivalent value were a school carpenter and a school dinner lady, the  former  being a job requiring a long apprenticeship and the latter a few days experience at most. )

Is there really a pay gap between men and women?

The official UK figure for the average differential between full time male and female pay  is 9% according to the latest official figures. That is not surprising when the propensity for women to take time out from paid employment to have children, their greater role on average in caring for their children and their smaller representation in more senior jobs (a c consequence of less experience due to   child bearing and childcare) is taken into account.  To those factors can be added the dubious equivalence of work mentioned above. It is  conceivable that the pay differential is not a differential of remuneration for the same work but a differential based on ability and experience.

Types of working which make equal pay impossible

There are large sections of the working population in countries such as the UK  who are remunerated in ways which makes equal pay impossible. These are:

Self-employment,   which is a large and growing  part of the working age population in the UK.  The latest official figures are  4.8 million.

Piece work – A sizeable proportion of the population receive all or part of their income from piece work.

Commission –  A sizeable proportion of the population receive all or part of their income from commission.

Bonuses for meeting targets. These are found in both private enterprise employers and public service employers.

Loyalty and experience pay rises. Much of public sector employment includes  graduated increases based on the number of  years served. These serve as rewards for experience and loyalty. Some private businesses operate the same type of schemes.  Women on average will be less likely than men to get such increases  because  they will probably have some sort of break in their careers if they have children. But that does not mean women are being discriminated against. Rather, it is simply that they are not meeting the qualifying criteria.

These types of remuneration cover many  millions of people in the UK.  Is anyone seriously going to suggest making them illegal?

Differential Ability

But even where the  form of remuneration makes equal pay in principle possible,  there may be good reason not to give equal pay even to people employed to do the same job. These reasons are:

Not all workers are equally able .

Not all workers are  equally diligent.

Competence will grow with experience.

The value of a person may rest on their reputation. This is particularly true of people in show-business or modelling. It would plainly be absurd to, for example,  expect that actors and actresses  should  be paid the same   simply because   they are working on the same film.  A film is a commercial enterprise and the employment of a particular actor of  actresses can make a considerable difference to its commercial success. A similar argument applies to models.

The selection of someone to do a job

In the end the qualities  required do a job and their assessment of an applicant have to be  a matter of judgement by the employer who will be trying to satisfy themselves on these points:

Does the person have the any necessary  formal  qualifications for the job?

Is the person overqualified for the job?

Does the person have the right experience?

Does the person have good references from previous employers?

Does  the person seem to be someone who  gets along with people generally?

Does the employer feel they can get on with the person?

Does the  person seem to have initiative?

The consideration of these questions give rational grounds for differential pay before an applicant has even begun work.

Men and women are not interchangeable in the workplace

Clearly there are significant numbers of  jobs which women cannot do at all or as well as men on average  for reasons of bodily strength.  strength. It is true that the numbers of such jobs are considerably fewer  than they were 50 years ago, but there are still plenty of them, for example in construction, where the average woman would struggle to match the average man. To that type of job can be added work  such as police officers which require people  who can deal physically with violent offenders.

Then there are jobs which in principle  men or women could both do with equally facility  but which are favoured by one sex or another. Primary school teachers tend to  be  women; engineers tend to be men.

On the grounds of biology alone  the idea that men and women would naturally have  the same desire on average to gravitate in the same numbers  to the  sorts of jobs is  dubious. Most nurses are women and  for some years  most of those training to be doctors in the UK have been women.

To start from the most obvious difference, women have babies. Amongst mammals  it is overwhelmingly the female who  takes the main burden of rearing  the young.  It would be very odd indeed if homo sapiens was radically different in terms of a basic biological driver such as the maternal instinct.

Women  with children tend to work in jobs which fit around childcare. Many of those jobs are low skilled and even when skilled   are often  part-time. Either from choice or necessity women take these jobs  to attend to the care of their children.  As most women want children and have children this inevitably means that the average pay for women is going to be lower than that of  men.

Legislation banning discriminatory pay  in the UK has been around for since 1970 when the Equal Pay Act was passed.   Since that time there has been a huge amount of public urging  by politicians, the media and academia to get women to aspire to  traditionally male work. The idea of the working mother is no longer looked down upon,  at least in public discussion. More and more women have gone on to higher education until they now substantially outnumber men.  In addition the shape of the UK economy has changed considerably with manual jobs much reduced. All of these things would seem to bolster the idea of male and female pay equality.  Yet women still show a marked preference for traditional women’s jobs, part time working and taking career breaks to have children.

None of this means that no women will want to do jobs which are considered traditionally male jobs or that no men will want to do jobs considered traditionally female jobs. But it does mean that most women and most men will be drawn to jobs traditionally occupied by   women not because there are societal barriers against it but  as a result of biologically driven circumstances and motivations.   Once that is accepted the fact that on average  the pay of women is significantly less than that of men will  not mean that employers are often wilfully underpaying women but instead are simply reflecting  female choices.

The BBC and the Rivers of Blood speech at 50

Robert Henderson

The BBC recently broadcast Enoch Powell’s 1968 speech about immigration which is known popularly as the Rivers of Blood speech.  The speech is forthright in its treatment of mass non-white immigration and couched in terms which  prompted the onetime Labour minister  Lord Adonis  to attempt to have it banned by Ofcom  on the grounds that  “If a  contemporary politician made such a speech they would almost certainly be  arrested and charged with serious offences.” Ofcom refused to intervene but only because they did not act until material had been broadcast.

On the face of it this might seem a strange programme for the  assiduously politically correct  BBC to air because the . However, it served two purposes for them. First, the BBC likes to maintain the pretence that “all views are represented”. Programmes such  as this  allow them to say, see, we allow views across the political spectrum. Second, the shape of the programme allowed the BBC to have the last word on what Powell foretold.

The breaking up the speech into sections which were commented upon by commentators who were in the main unreserved critics of  Powell  – Simon Heffer, Powell’s biographer, was the token  Powell supporter and even  he attempted to put his support within a  politically correct envelope.

The interruptions to the speech  inevitably  diminished the force of the speech  but the great lack was a failure to  address much of Powell’s predictions. .For example, Powell’s forecasts for  the growth of black and Asian minorities in the UK were pretty accurate as the 2011 census shows, viz:

 “Amongst the 56 million residents in England and Wales, 86% were White, 8% were Asian/Asian British and  3% were Black/African/Caribbean/Black British.”

In his speech Powell made these predictions:

“In 15 or 20 years, on present trends, there will be in this country three and a half million Commonwealth immigrants and their descendants. That is not my figure. That is the official figure given to parliament by the spokesman of the Registrar General’s Office.

There is no comparable official figure for the year 2000, but it must be in the region of five to seven million, approximately one-tenth of the whole population, and approaching that of Greater London. Of course, it will not be evenly distributed from Margate to Aberystwyth and from Penzance to Aberdeen. Whole areas, towns and parts of towns across England will be occupied by sections of the immigrant and immigrant-descended population.”

Powell was also correct in predicting a  lack of integration and  the creation of de facto ghettos by immigrants and their descendants.

In addition Powell foresaw the effects of state enforcement of  censorship on anyone who spoke out against immigration and its effects  is only too visible today when thousands of people every year  find  themselves in criminal courts because they have said or written something  deemed to be  racially or religiously “hate speech”.  ( It is worth adding in passing that the constraints on what may be said about  race  and immigration have acted as a springboard for political correctness in general to flourish.)

When Powell spoke of the black man having the whip hand over the white man he was thinking of  how the 1968 Race Relations Act  would affect the existing relationship between the population of the UK.  He saw that those who were from  racial and ethnic minorities would have a new  form of privilege deriving from the fact that such people would be able to insist that they be served or employed  in a way the native white population would not be able to insist. For example, a native white Briton would  not normally  be able to cry racism if he was denied a   job because the vast majority of employers were (and are)  white.  Anyone who was black or Asian would have huge opportunity to make a claim of racism because most employers were (and are) white.

Here is Powell on  the disadvantaging of the native British:

“But while, to the immigrant, entry to this country was admission to privileges and opportunities eagerly sought, the impact upon the existing population was very different. For reasons which they could not comprehend, and in pursuance of a decision by default, on which they were never consulted, they found themselves made strangers in their own country.

They found their wives unable to obtain hospital beds in childbirth, their children unable to obtain school places, their homes and neighbourhoods changed beyond recognition, their plans and prospects for the future defeated; at work they found that employers hesitated to apply to the immigrant worker the standards of discipline and competence required of the native-born worker; they began to hear, as time went by, more and more voices which told them that they were now the unwanted. They now learn that a one-way privilege is to be established by act of parliament; a law which cannot, and is not intended to, operate to protect them or redress their grievances is to be enacted to give the stranger, the disgruntled and the agent-provocateur the power to pillory them for their private actions.”

In his speech Powell quoted the Labour minister John Stonehouse on the subject of communal privileges which minority groups were already demanding when Powell made the speech. Stonehouse had written this

“’The Sikh communities’ campaign to maintain customs inappropriate in Britain is much to be regretted. Working in Britain, particularly in the public services, they should be prepared to accept the terms and conditions of their employment. To claim special communal rights (or should one say rites?) leads to a dangerous fragmentation within society. This communalism is a canker; whether practised by one colour or another it is to be strongly condemned.’”

None of these issues were addressed  meaningfully or at all in the discussion breaks which interrupted the reading of the speech.

On Powell’s prediction of violent racial clashes  with “the Tiber foaming with much blood”,   it is true that  has not yet occurred in the sense of large scale fighting between the native population and the minority immigrants. However, there has been a series of  serious riots by non-whites since he Powell gave the speech, the most recent in 2011.  Moreover,  it is worth pointing out Powell put no time limit as to when   such violence might occur. Common sense  suggests that the larger the racial and ethnic minorities become the greater will be the racial tension  because the minorities will demand more and more privilege for their own group. It  is also worth noting that  non-white immigrants have brought a disproportionate amount of crime to the streets of Britain, much of it violent. That propensity for violence  could easily be harnessed to fight racial/ethnic disputes.

As for the general effect of   non-white immigration, it has undeniably resulted in a fractured and vastly less cohesive society.

The “Windrush Generation” – There should be plenty of evidence to show residence in the UK

Robert Henderson

Much is being made of  the plight of  immigrants  resident in the UK before the 1971 Immigration Act (commonly referred to as  the Windrush generation) who are  being required to provide evidence of their long-term residence in Britain to avoid being treated as aliens.

How difficult can it be to collect  such evidence ? Consider the many possibilities for doing so:

Educational records from nursery schools, primary schools, secondary schools,  universities and their ilk, evening classes and vocational training.

Medical records from GPs to hospitals.

Work records, especially those from public employments, substantial companies and  not-for-profit agencies such as charities.

Volunteer work.

Benefit records.

Tax records.

Vehicle records such those held by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency.

Utility bills such  as those for energy, water and the telephone. 

Bank and building society accounts.


Rent records


Hire purchase.

Credit card accounts.  

Police and CPS records ranging from reports of crimes in which the person is the victim, reports of crime which have led to the person being investigated as a suspect  but not convicted of a crime and criminal records acquired by the person. 

Reports in the media about the person.

Membership of clubs or other groups which have a formal membership requirement. 

If there is any difficulty in getting an organisation  the person thinks  is  holding the data they require,  there is a simple process which will force them supply it if it exists. This is known as a subject access request which is made under the Data Protection Act. A lawyer is not needed to do this so the cost is minimal, perhaps £10.

Anyone who has lived in the UK for most or all of the past 50 or 60 years really should not have that much difficulty providing multiple proofs of residence.

If these types of check are not made  and the word of the person involved is simply taken as all the  proof needed,  the regularisation of the status of genuine long-term residents without citizenship would be open to straightforward abuse. Anyone who was of the right age could simply claim that they had been in the UK over the relevant period and gain a permanent right to remain.

The Darkest Hour

Robert Henderson

Main Cast[

Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill

Kristin Scott Thomas as Clementine Churchill

Ben Mendelsohn as George VI

Lily James as Elizabeth Layton

Ronald Pickup as Neville Chamberlain

Stephen Dillane as Edward Wood, 3rd Viscount Halifax

Nicholas Jones as John Simon, 1st Viscount Simon

Samuel West as Anthony Eden

David Schofield as Clement Attlee

Director: Joe Wright.

This is a deeply  unsatisfactory film. It is very watchable but also infuriatingly blemished with ahistorical nonsenses .  In addition   although it gives a more positive picture overall  of Churchill’s personality  than does the other recent film portrayal of the man,  there is still much which does not fit readily  with what we know of Churchill  from contemporary newsreel, his writings and  the decisions he made. It also intrudes into the film a piece of political correctness so crude and clumsy that it takes one’s breath away.

The film covers the period  from  immediately before Churchill’s appointment as Prime Minister in 1940   and  the  weeks immediately following   his promotion  to that office.   Hitler is sweeping through  Europe. Most of the British Army is trapped in Dunkirk and  in danger of capture.   Although better equipped  militarily than in 1938 Britain is still short of planes and warships.    For appeasing politicians  like Halifax and the most senior military officers faced with this dire situation there are plenty of all too persuasive reasons to seek  terms with Hitler, not least because it looks as though most of the British Army will  be lost at Dunkirk.   Churchill  believes that   a large scale  evacuation  of the army can be achieved and insists on  overriding the doubters by  mobilising not only the Royal Navy but any private ship including  (some very small craft) to assist in the evacuation. He also orders a small  British garrison  under  Brigadier  Claude Nicholson in Calais to engage in what is effectively a suicide mission aimed at distracting the Germans from the evacuation from Dunkirk.

Amongst those who have their hands on the levers of power Churchill is alone in unequivocally wanting to fight on and is the only one who is resolutely opposed to having any truck with Hitler.  It is true that the film depicts Churchill at one point  wavering over the idea of seeking terms with Hitler and Mussolini  (there is no solid historical evidence for this)i, but whether  this  wavering was genuine or not, in the film  Churchill, boosted by the success of the Dunkirk evacuation, soon changes his mind and returns to his belief that Britain must fight on because  Hitler cannot be trusted.

Whatever the  emotional drivers  were which led Churchill to be implacably opposed to making peace with Hitler,   on purely rational grounds there were cast-iron reasons for taking such a  stand. Hitler had already shown by 1940 that treaties and promises made in speeches meant nothing to him. He had begun by moving into the Rhineland in 1934 despite this being forbidden by the Treaty of Versailes in 1919.  The Anschluss  which joined  Germany and Austria  occurred in 1938 despite this being forbidden by   the 1919 Treaty of Saint-Germain;  the Munich Agreement of 1938  which restricted Germany to the Sudetenland  was a dead letter after Hitler took possession of  all of Czechoslovakia  in 1939 and also in in 1939 Germany  overturned the 10-year non-aggression pact  between Germany and Poland signed in 1934 by invading Poland, an act which sounded  the starting gun for WW2. All of that happened before Churchill became PM.  In addition 1941  saw Germany break  the Molotov-Ribbentrop  Pact  ( signed in 1939)   by invading Russia.  The revisionist case that  Britain should have stood aside and allowed Hitler free rein  to attack Russia and thus retained both the Empire and global significance goes against all we know of Hitler’s mentality and actual behaviour . The best the UK could have hoped for was to be a vassal state of Nazi Germany and the worst would have been to be militarily occupied as Hitler broke whatever  Vichy-style  agreement he had made with the UK.

The jaw-droppingly clumsy piece of political correctness is a piece of pure fiction. It  involves Churchill suddenly deciding to travel on the underground, something he had only done once before during the 1926 general strike.  He enters a crowded carriage  where he is recognised and he  begins  canvassing opinion  from his fellow passengers  who  are all  white workingclass  people  (many verge dangerously close to being stage cockneys)  bar one, the   sole exception being  a black West Indian. Everyone is  gung-ho for fighting on.

After Churchill has finished canvassing opinion  he  begins to quote   Macaulay’s poem Horatius  (“Alone stood bold Horatius/ But constant still in mind/ Thrice thirty thousand foes before”). The West Indian  takes up quoting  the poem. Which he does flawlessly  Not impossible  but  improbable that a black West Indian  would  have been on an underground train  in 1940 and  lottery win  improbable that one would have been  in a random carriage supposedly chosen by Churchill and straightforwardly absurd that he would have been e able to faultlessly quote  MaCaulay .

This example of the obsession with the falsification of reality that is political correctness  comes from the same stable  which routinely  has blacks routinely playing  authority figures such as police chiefs, generals and judges in  American . ( Ironically  this discriminates against other non-Caucasian groups who are rarely given the same privileged status).

Does it matter that an historical drama plays fast and loose with the facts? I think it does because  in any society  human beings need to have a narrative about the place they  live in, how it got to be what it is.. This is especially so in a country  such as the UK whose elite have adopted a creed (political correctness) which runs contrary to reality.  Cicero had it correctly when he wrote that to  be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child and the thing about children is that they are very easily manipulated.

Following the fictitious underground scene Churchill goes to the House of Commons and makes his “We shall fight them on the beaches” speech, a speech which is represented as growing from his  putative experiences in the Underground carriage.  It is all rather cartoonish.

On top of this nonsense there is the unsatisfactory portrayal of Churchill’s general personality and habits.  Oldman,  with the aid of  considerable  make up has  a half-way decent   physical resemblance to Churchill  and impersonates the voice  well enough. Yet something is missing.  Oldman’s Churchill is portrayed, as he is the film Churchill,  as someone who  is  perpetually at war with other senior politicians and military men who frequently treat him as a ridiculous and dangerous adventurer at best and as contemptible at worst.  Admittedly this is early in the war when Churchill  had still to grow the reputation he had by 1945 and it is also true that many in his own party (the Tories) did not trust him , but  it is difficult to believe that he would have been treated so cavalierly when he was not only PM but also leading the country at a most difficult time.

The other problem with this Churchill characterisation is that he is portrayed as being weak at various points and in various ways.  Apart from the  supposed wavering over seeking terms with Hitler and Mussolini, the film has him engaging in a transatlantic  phone call with Roosevelt and is almost in tears whilst  begging unsuccessfully  for help. His wife reprimands him like a naughty boy.  Yet if one looks at Churchill in newsreel and still photos of the period  he comes across as a much tougher personality than that which is portrayed  and certainly not one given to panic.  Moreover, his behaviour both as soldier and war correspondent show him to  have been physically brave and his opposition to appeasing Hitler from an early stage, which alienated many in his party, showed he had moral courage.

On a more trivial level of misrepresentation  the film also depicts Churchill  as more or less perpetually lubricating himself with alcohol and satisfying  a monstrous cigar habit . Churchill did undoubtedly drink and smoke a great deal but it should be remembered that he lived to be 90  and carried the most colossal  responsibility during five years as prime minister despite the fact that he was  65 when he was appointed Prime Minister May 1940  and 70 when the war ended in May 1945. Consequently it is more than a little difficult to imagine him being so dependent on alcohol if not tobacco.

Oldman’s s role is so dominant  that the rest of the cast  are somewhat cast adrift. Kristin Scott Thomas as Clementine Churchill  has the most substantial role after Oldman and  being the fine actress she is makes the most of what little there  is.   Stephen Dillane  passes muster as Halifax, being waspishly aggressive, Ronald Pickup is a plausible Neville Chamberlain and  Samuel West as Anthony Eden  is through accident or design  appropriately s lightweight as a personality.   Lily James as Churchill’s personal  typist cum secretary  Elizabeth Layton has a fair amount of screen time  and was decorative but rather featureless. But in truth all these parts are too trivial to make much impression overall.

The surprise in terms of the substance of his role was   Ben Mendelsohn as George VI. He  has more screen time than one might imagine for a constitutional monarch, lending support and encouragement to Churchill .

Curiously,  Attlee is scarcely mentioned after the beginning of the film in which he makes a shrieking condemnation of  Chamberlain  utterly at odds  with  his known quiet ironical style .

There is one good thing to take from the film; the power of Churchill’s oratory came through.    Churchill had one of the most memorable  and distinctive of voices which was very compelling.  Add in his literary talent  and it still makes  for a heady brew.

I cannot in all conscience recommend the film but if you do go to see it bear in mind that it is predominantly  fiction not fact.

The threatening implications of cryptocurrencies

Robert Henderson

Cryptocurrencies  are  best thought of as fiat currencies without a country backing them.   A fiat  currency  is  one in which the money is not based on a valuable commodity like gold or silver but on something of little or no intrinsic  value such as paper money  or coins made with base metal.   It is  made legal tender by law.  Its market worth is based on confidence, both domestic and international.   That confidence is a reflection both of how the currency actually performs,  the regulatory regime which governs the currency  and the general standing of the issuing authority which is normally a nation state. Cryptocurrencies have no national  or supranational body  (such as the EU’s  ECB) which can be held to account if things go wrong  because they are created by private individuals or corporations  and are as yet largely unregulated by governments.  Consequently,    they lack the reassurance which a stable and well run advanced  country  can bring.

Crypto- currencies are created in various ways. The   most famous  Bitcoin is supposedly based on a limit of 21 million BitCoins which can either be “mined” using complicated software,  IT expertise and serious  energy usage or bought from exchanges with real-world currencies such as the Pound Sterling or the US Dollar. Other cryptocurrencies  currencies  such as   XRP, which is owned by Ripple , creates a set number of coins and then sells them.  Fractions of currency units such as Bicoin can be purchased.

But however a cryptocurrency is created it has the obvious disadvantage that  only those who initiated the currency truly know  how it is being run or will be run in the future . They may claim that only a certain number of currency units are being created or are available to be mined but no one knows if that is so now or will be  in the future.


To these potential drawbacks can be added  huge volatility. From a  $20,000 high in December it  is now at less than $8,000.  It might be argued that for example  gold is also volatile but the difference is that gold  always has an intrinsic value . There is no chance that gold would ever become worthless or seriously cheap  and consequently even if it has its ups and downs holding it can never be an unequivocal disaster.   Cryptocurrencies could all too  easily   become worthless very quickly.

The volatility is primarily  driven by “bubble mania” whereby people pile in to a market caught up by the frenzy of the moment ,  but another component is  surely the  number of cryptocurrencies which are appearing. Investors climb into  the cryptocurrency which looks  the best prospect for growth at  any moment.

Cryptocurrencies are also vulnerable to fraud and theft  throughhacking.  The  most recent admitted example affected the  Japanese exchange CoinCheck.

More banal  disadvantages  are the high transaction fees, long wait times and lengthy identity checks. There have also be practices which have shut out would be buyers and sellers  especially  at times when  serious  volatility occurs.

No one to make restitution if things go wrong

Potentially the greatest problem with cryptocurrencies is there is no person or institution which can be held responsible if things go wrong . They have largely operated without state interference although that is beginning to change. The head of the Bank for International Settlements, Agustín Carstens  recently warned  “If authorities do not act pre-emptively, cryptocurrencies could become more interconnected with the main financial system and become a threat to financial stability…” He also described Bitcoin as “little more than a   ponzi scheme”,

This type of concern  has led governments to begin  taking the first faltering steps to regulate  crypto currencies and banks have begun to stop the purchase of cryptocurrencies using credit cards  to purchase them.

States are also moving to investigate the possibilities for running their own cryptocurrencies . These  apart from the possibility  of inadvertently undermining a country’s economy in the same way that non-state cryptocurrencies might undermine it, also raises the possibility of  governments indulging in widespread surveillance of any cryptocurrency transaction made.

Governments could also act to damage competitor countries .  For example China is reputedly ideally placed to undermine Bitcoin because much of the computing power required to sustain  BitCoin is within China.

More broadly there are some important questions which remain to be answered. These are :

  1. What will be the relationship between real life currencies and cryptocurrencies? The danger is that if cryptocurrencies become a competitor to real life currencies they could undermine them.
  2. How can cryptocurrencies be put under state control other than by banning them? The answer is surely that it cannot be done  for two reasons. First,  even if the size of the  issued  currency is restricted, for example, the maximum number of Bitcoins,   there could be no restriction   on what the value of  a Bitcoin could reach.  Second, cryptocurrencies  are  designed  to be  universal. Whatever a government might want to do a successful cryptocurrency will still be available  because the blocking of websites relating to them is never going to be perfect.  For this reason a cryptocurrency owned by a state would also be problematic.
  3. How would cryptocurrencies affect international finance or trade?  There is obviously potential  for huge amounts of  money to be redirected. For example,  If  the  Pound  is used to buy cryptocurrencies  where do the Pounds go? Potentially anywhere in the world.  Because  it will probably be hoarded  that will  decrease the velocity of circulation of the money. That would hinder economies.
  4. Could a country be left with a severe deficit in real life currencies  and a large hoard of cryptocurrencies and be unable  to settle public debts or pay for public services because they cannot pay for those things with  cryptocurrencies?  A large advanced economy would probably not be at risk of that but many small  first world economies and  developing economies, even  China and India, might well get into a real mess.
  5. How will cryptocurrencies fit in with fractional reserve banking? This is the normal practice of banks (at least in the West) reserves equal to only a fraction of its deposit liabilities. The idea is based on the assumption that the reserves will be sufficient to meet any likely demands from depositors wishing to withdraw money  because only a fraction of deposits will ever be requested  over a short period of time.  If the demand for cryptocurrencies continues in its seemingly insatiable way the reserves which are now deemed sufficient could easily prove to be grossly inadequate.
  6. Will cryptocurrencies become as simple to use as a swipe card, credit card or even cash? Well, Bitcoin has been going for ten years and is still complicated to use  and effectively impossible to “mine” for the vast majority of  people. Nor is it of much use when it comes to making everyday purchases.  The number of opportunities to purchase with cryptocurrencies will doubtless  increase but their use in unlikely to be as easy as using a card or cash for quite some time. Moreover, unless the volatility problem is overcome living using just cryptocurrencies would be akin to living in a country with a very heavy dose of inflation. A person paid in a volatile cryptocurrency  might receive the equivalent of £100 on a Friday and find it worth £60  by the following week.
  7. If states allow cryptocurrencies to trade in their territory, the question arises will governments eventually have to protect deposits of cryptocurrencies as they do deposits of real life currencies  like the  Pound?  If they  do  exactly what would they be insuring? After all a  private cryptocurrency might simply drop to zero value.  Of course real life currencies can suffer serious devaluations but at least in the case of countries  such as the UK and the USA governments and central banks have some control over the currency. With a private, that is, non-state cryptocurrency , governments and central banks would probably have no meaningful control. In such circumstances insuring bank deposits of cryptocurrencies might be impossible because of the  potential cost.

The head of the Bank for International Settlements, Agustín Carstens  was not far wrong when he likened Bitcoin to a Ponzi scheme. It is not  a Ponzi  scheme as such,  but the fact that Bitcoin is still largely unregulated and there is no nation state or supranational agency behind it means that it and the increasing number of cryptocurrency competitors means that it is essentially resting on the same utterly  insubstantial foundations that eventually always catch up with the Ponzi scheme, the need to keep generating confidence to lure in more and more suckers.

Just on the facts cryptocurrencies bear an uncanny  likeness to snake oil. Governments need to get a grip.

The Death of Stalin

Robert Henderson

Directed by Armando Iannucci

Based on the comic book  Death of Stalin by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin

Main Cast

Jeffrey Tambor as Georgy Malenkov –Deputy General Secretary

Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev  – General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

Olga Kurylenko as Maria Yudina – pianist whose family has fallen foul of  the Soviet regime

Michael Palin as Vyacheslav Molotov – Foreign Minister

Simon Russell Beale as Lavrentiy Beria  – NKVD head

Paddy Considine as Comrade Andreyev – the head of the radio station

Andrea Riseborough as Svetlana Stalina  – Stalin’s daughter

Rupert Friend as Vasily Stalin – Stalin’s son

Jason Isaacs as  Marshall  Georgy Zhukov  – the leader of the Red Army

Adrian Mcloughlin as Joseph Stalin

Paul Whitehouse as Anastas Mikoyan  – Vice-Premier of the Council of Ministers

Paul Chahidi as Nikolai Bulganin  – deputy premier and minister of defence

Dermot Crowley as Lazar Kaganovich   – Minister of Labour

Running time

107 minutes[1]

If an entire  society can become a lunatic asylum Stalin’s  Russia was  that society.  Imagine a world in which the present  is  at the forefront of your mind all the time.  No one is  safe. The most slavish devotion to  the party line and Comrade Stalin did not guarantee your  safety for the party line might change from day to day or an informer  tell a lie about  you  or simply recount an unguarded remark  you made.   If  a person said as little as possible that might be taken as a  sign that  they were secretly disloyal; if they made a great display of loyalty it could be interpreted as a subterfuge to disguise their revisionist or worse counterrevolutionary  true self. Being a senior  member of the Party  did not make someone  any safer  than a peasant and indeed  probably  made you more vulnerable to being executed, for few were the  senior Bolsheviks  from the  revolutionary days  who died of old age. It was a madhouse in which rationality  and consistency were dangerous  traits  because the norm was  a trembling neurosis  focused only on the immediate present and its precarious nature.   Arthur Koestler’s novel Darkness at Noon captures the general atmosphere  of the  time and place well.

It is important to take this historical reality  on board before seeing the film because there is much in it which would otherwise  seem absurd. The reality of Russia under Stalin’s rule was every  bit as  chaotic as the film’s depiction of it. Pathological paranoia was the norm and never more fevered was it  than in the  last years of Stalin’s life.

The Death of Stalin   manages to be both funny and sinister. It is tragi-comedy with the emphasis heavily on the comedy.   Imagine The lives of others with jokes. The all pervasive  fear  is  brought home  as the film opens. It  begins with a  Mozart  recital  being broadcast by Radio Moscow.  The performance ends and the head of the radio station (Paddy Considine) has a call from  Comrade Stalin (Adrian Mcloughlin )who requests a  recording of the performance.   But the recital has not been recorded and panic breaks out as Considine frenziedly sets about arranging for the concert to be performed again despite the fact that many of the audience have left,  the pianist Maria Yudina (Olga Kurylenko  ), a  woman with a  grudge against Stalin because of what has happened to her family, is reluctant to perform a second time  and the  conductor faints and   injures himself so seriously he  cannot conduct the second recital and a new conductor has to be  hurriedly found from those who have just been sentenced to the Gulag or worse.  Superficially this is Keystone Cops but the palpable fear turns the scene serious.

Stalin receives the recording but  a note from Maria Yudina  has been slipped into the record sleeve. This  lambasts Stalin for what he has done to the country. Stalin laughs  but this brings on a  brain haemorrhage which renders him speechless and immobile.  Those close to Stalin call for the best doctors to  be   brought  to treat him from motives which include  fear that he may recover and they be found wanting in getting him medical help if they just leave him to die, fear of what will follow if he does die or in the case of his housekeeper  simply  genuine concern for him. But there is a problem:  because of the so-called doctors plot all  the best doctors have been executed, sent to the Gulag or exiled.   A few of the disgraced doctors are hurriedly brought back to Moscow  but Stalin dies. Then the fun starts as the Central Committee members begin to manoeuvre either for power themselves  or simply to keep themselves safe.

It is rare when a film with a decent sized cast has no duds.  This is one of the rarities. The film  has one of the great film monsters in the shape of the head of the  NKVD  Lavrentiy Beria (Philip Russell Beale ) and probably the most feared man in Russia  after Stalin.  Beale is a compelling  actor and here he has a coach and four  to drive as hard as he wants in the villain stakes.  Looking  like a  cross between Mr Toad and a  Humpty Dumpty  laced with venom,  he dominates the film. Throughout he is a buzzing manipulator moving from one senior member of the Central Committee to another, his mere presence being a threat.  His scheme is to use Malenkov as a shield behind which he can pitch for ultimate power himself. Eventually  Beria overreaches himself by becoming too directly threatening and suffers the same arbitrary  injustice  he has meted out to others, being shot immediately after a  “trial” and his body burnt where it lay.

The real Beria was  an  especially nasty  piece of work.  Sadists with real power   are bad news at any time and Beria was one of the worst.  Not only did he have people killed without conscience ,  he liked to torture them  mentally and physically.  Suppose that  a husband and wife were to be shot, Beria  would ensure that the wife was shot first in front of the husband. Beria also had a great appetite  for rape which he indulged by taking  wives and daughters of “factionalists”, “revisionists,  or “counterrevolutionaries ”, factionalists or any other woman who took his  fancy  and could be arrested as an enemy of the state or otherwise manipulated.

Steve Busceni as Krushchev  has  the meatiest part after that of  Beria and carries it well, as a man who if seriously tainted by the horrors of Stalin’s time    is  more realistic  about the realities of human nature than most of those  who served and survived Stalin.  He acts with the minter of labour   Lazar Kaganovich   (Dermot Crowley  )  to thwart Betria, most notably by countermanding Beria’s orders that trains shall not ruin to Moscow and that the Red Army be kept in barracks leaving the NKVD to control the streets.

Michael Palin is a marvellous Molotov, the great  Soviet   survivor who outlasted the purges of the 1930s and died at the fag end of Soviet Rule  aged  ninety-six,  a man who so completely bought into the need  to be subordinate that he pathetically applauds the imprisonment of his wife  as being the “right thing”. He is a man to whom things happen, a leaf blown in the wind. Jeffrey Tambor as Georgy Malenkov  is a  nonentity  who nonetheless  gets some delusions of authority from the fact  he is the deputy first secretary  and thus legally, if one could use such a term about the Soviet Union,  Stalin’s successor.

Andrea Riseborough as Svetlana Stalina  – Stalin’s daughter – manages to be both paranoid and strangely innocent;  Rupert Friend as Vasily Stalin – Stalin’s son – is a boorish drunken   incompetent  lacking any  distinction other than being Stalin’s son.

Isaacs’  Marshall Zhukhov (the head of the Soviet army)  is a splendidly swaggering  absurdity with his torso covered more by medals than the cloth of his uniform  who announces his presence with “Right, what’s a war hero got to do to get some lubrication around here?” But the bombastic  Zhukhov is the key to preventing Beria from   gaining power because it is only when he agrees to back the overthrow of Beria (providing all the other members of the Central Committee agree)  that the act can take place.

The moment which got the biggest laugh from the  cinema audience I was part of  was  a wind up of  Krushchev   by   Marshall Zhukov.  They are having a private conversation and Krushchev  suggests   that Zhukov  should  join him and other Soviet leaders in a bid to seize  power  and do for Beria. .  Zhukov responds with  “ I’m going to have to report this conversation, threatening to do harm or obstruct any member of the Presidium in the process of…”  Krushchev looks terrified  until Zhukov bursts a out laughing and says  with delight  “ look at your fucking face!”  But there are plenty of other genuinely funny moments including the chaos of the organisation of Stalin’s funeral which Beria has manoeuvred Khrushchev into organising with the intention of neutralising him while Beria attempts to seize power.

This is indubitably the film I have most enjoyed in 2017.  Don’t rob yourself of a treat by missing it.


Film review of Churchill


Brian Cox as Winston Churchill

Miranda Richardson as Clementine Churchill

John Slattery as Dwight D. Eisenhower

James Purefoy as King George VI

Julian Wadham as General  Bernard Montgomery

Danny Webb as  Field Marshall   Alan Brooke

Jonathan Aris as Air Chief Marshall  Trafford Leigh-Mallory

George Anton  Admiral Sir  Bertram Ramsay

Steven Cree as Group Captain James Stagg , a Royal Air Force meteorologist

Angela Costello as Kay Summersby chauffeur and later as personal secretary to Dwight D. Eisenhower

Richard Durden as Jan Smuts   South African general  turned politician

Ella Purnell as Helen Garrett (Churchill’s secretary)

Director:  Jonathan Teplitzky

Script by Alex von Tunzelmann

This was a disappointing film in terms of its general theatrical quality which veers towards the melodramatic ,   but even more because it is a travesty of Churchill’s character. That fine actor Brian Cox might have been made for the role of Churchill and with a script which reflected Churchill’s  personality , opinions  and behaviour   accurately I have no doubt that he  would have produced a great depiction of  the man. But here he  is  bound by a script which  makes  Churchill seem like a tempestuous child, and child who more often than not could be  side-lined  and insulted to his face despite being Prime Minister  in the midst of a most terrible and threatening  war.  It is difficult to think of any scene involving  characters with power and influence  which shows him as s being the dominant character, for example, he does not chair the meetings with Eisenhower and the other military men. In real life he did.

The film is set in the four days before D-Day and the execution of t   Operation Overlord, the invasion of  Normandy.    Churchill  is portrayed as being pathologically anxious that the  invasion should not be another  bloodbath like Gallipoli in the Great War, a failure for which Churchill had been widely  held wholly or largely responsible. As a consequence the film  has him interminably prevaricating over the   D-Day landings  and after the decision is made to  invade Churchill is shown   praying  for unfavourable weather  to stop the operation: “Please, please, please let it pour tomorrow. Let the heavens open and a deluge burst forth such as has never been seen in the English Channel. Let the sea churn into peaks and troughs and tidal waves!”

That passage encapsulates the tone of the film.  Churchill is not seen as being either in command or as  a figure of authority but as a man frightened for his reputation and perhaps his soul.   So strong a part of the film was the  obsession with the failure at Gallipoli I could not help wondering if this was in some part   a consequence of having an Australian director Jonathan Teplitzky.  Australians are frequently more than a little angry about Gallipoli even  today and blame the British for the loss of Australian lives there. Film scripts are not sacrosanct and  It would be interesting to know if the subject of Gallipoli loomed  as large in the initial script as  it did in the film.

The historian Andrew Roberts has unreservedly  slated the film for its many inaccuracies relating to Churchill’s state of mind leading up to the Normandy landings, viz: “The only problem with the movie–written by the historian Alex von Tunzelmann–is that it gets absolutely everything wrong. Never in the course of movie-making have so many specious errors been made in so long a film by so few writers.” Roberts attacks the film on the grounds that it wrongly shows Churchill as dithering over D-Day, being seriously at odds with his wife, at war with the generals and being bullying to his staff.

To  the lack of historical accuracy  about events  and Churchill’s state of mind can  be added  the portrayal of  his physical state .  Churchill in real life was far from the physically lumbering man obese to the point  almost of physical handicap that was depicted in the film.  He played polo into his fifties and rode to hounds into his seventies  (in 1944 he was seventy) . This physical misrepresentation   fed into the  picture the film painted of Churchill being a man who by that stage of the war at least was a spent force at best and a positive hindrance to the successful prosecution of the war.

The depiction of Churchill’s relationship with the military is also improbable.   He is shown displaying a chronic fault of  Hitler, namely, playing at being a military mastermind  by suggesting  different strategies  such as decoy operations to mislead the Germans, tactics which fed into the film’s  Gallipoli complex.   There are also some startling and incongruous in the circumstances language involving the military with  Montgomery  calling Churchill a ‘bastard’ to his face and casting aspersions on his commitment  to the Normandy landings  by accusing Churchill of  ‘doubt, dithering and treachery’. The PM  later  describes  Montgomery (not in Montgomery’s presence)  as a ‘Puffed-up little s**t.’  It all seems very unlikely, not least because it implies that  the military not  the politicians were the real government of the UK at that time.

In fact the film plays to that idea for there is a  strange  absence of other British  politicians in the film and or   indeed of any  civilians in position of authority and influence.  For example,    Churchill’s leading scientific advisor Frederick Lindemann   had a very close relationship with him and  the two met often  during the war.. It is a little odd that he did not appear at all because apart from his value as a scientific advisor Llindemann  had a real friendship with Churchill and at a time of great stress for Churchill it is probable that he ill would have welcomed having  Lindemann around.

Then there is Churchill’s relationship with his wife Clemmie.  She is  shown as  being very ready to criticise Churchill either directly through confrontation as when she scolds  him for his drinking and indirectly by  her general  behaviour towards him which includes her apologising for Churchill’s behaviour towards his staff .  She is also shown slapping him at one point for which there is no evidence.   There is also rather too much angst from  Clemmie  about how Churchill had neglected her and a feeling that somehow her life has been unfulfilling.  Churchill is shown playing up to this, at one point  saying ‘I would understand if you left me. I’d leave me if I could.’  Real?

Even if there had been any substance to this behaviour would Churchill’s wife  have been  raising it just before D-Day?  However, again the evidence for such behaviour  is lacking.  This element of  the filmic Clemmie’s   behaviour smells  suspiciously like an inappropriate and anachronistic  feminist implant designed to show that men behaved “badly”, that is, displayed politically incorrect behaviour, in 1944 and women spiritedly rebelled against such  treatment.   The fact that the scriptwriter Alex von Tunzelmann is female may have something to do with this , a suspicion strengthened by  her  being a Guardian columnist. It would be very interesting to see Tunzelmann justifying her script in terms of historical accuracy.

Is the film worth seeing?  Probably not for  as a pure piece of drama it fails. The action flits from scene to scene  in rather stilted  fashion which robs the film of cohesion and leaves the impression  that each scene is being ticked off as having covered a particular issue as a stamp collector might  congratulate themselves on having acquired a particular stamp to add to a set.  Nor apart from Churchill and just about  his wife is there much character development for the film has a substantial number of historically  important  characters but little time is  allotted to each.  These  supporting characters are,   as one can more or less take for granted in a film manned by British actors,  adroitly executed  in as far as their very limited roles  allow. Within the  confines of this  hindrance  of Julian Wadham’s  Montgomery stood out.

That should be enough  to say don’t waste your money. However Dunkirk is one of those films which has an importance  beyond its qualities as a film. Its effect is to turn Churchill from a war hero into an irresolute,  fearful and   incompetent. In fact the misrepresentation of  Churchill  is  so complete that it qualifies as character assassination . The danger is that it will colour the public’s view of the man.   Consequently, see it  so that you can afterwards refute its view of Churchill.    In short, it should be seen  for its faults not its virtues .



Film review of Dunkirk



Fionn Whitehead as Tommy, a British Army private

Mark Rylance as Mr Dawson, a mariner and Peter’s father

Tom Glynn-Carney as Peter, Mr Dawson’s son

Jack Lowden as Pilot Officer Collins, a Royal Air Force Spitfire pilot

Harry Styles as Alex, a private in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders

Aneurin Barnard as “Gibson”, a French soldier masquerading as a British Army private

James D’Arcy as Colonel Winnant

Barry Keoghan as George, a young man who helps to crew Dawson’s boat.

Kenneth Branagh as Commander Bolton the pier-master during the evacuation

Cillian Murphy as frightened soldier

Tom Hardy as Farrier, a Royal Air Force Spitfire pilot

Michael Caine appears in a spoken cameo role as Fortis Leader

Director Christopher Nolan

The year is 1940. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) has been sent to  Europe to help repel  the Germans. This fails and the BEF eventually make their way to Dunkirk, a French port  six miles from the Belgian border. Here they wait, more in hope than expectation, to be  evacuated back to Britain. But against the odds  between  27 May  and  4 June over 300 thousand, British,  colonial and French troops were evacuated, most by Royal Navy  (RN) ships but some by civilian boats, many  very small,  crewed  by  a mixture of RN personnel and civilians. (Small boats were useful  because they could get near enough to shore  for soldiers to wade out to them.  Larger boats had to either wait offshore to have soldiers ferried to them or they used a form of jetty called a mole to take people on board. )

The Germans did not press forward into Dunkirk with their army as might have been expected . Instead they attacked using  planes and submarines. Why they took this course is unclear but it was sanctioned by Hitler.  It may have been Goering persuading Hitler to allow the Luftwaffe to  gain the kudos of finishing off  the British forces.  it might have been Hitler believing  that once the British forces were out of continental Europe they would never come back. It could have been caution on the part of Hitler and his generals. Whatever the reason during the week the evacuation lasted the troops on Dunkirk beach  were  subject to bombing   and British vessels  engaged in the evacuation  were bombed and torpedoed. That is the bare bones of Dunkirk.

The brutal reality of  war has often  not been represented honestly or convincingly in films, but  the graphic opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan arguably changed that and most war films since have been much more unsparing of the audience’s squeamishness.   Indeed, modern film makers have taken to heart the American civil war general  William Sherman’s remark   “War is hell” and created Hell on the screen.   Christopher  Nolan does so here.   Consequently, the film scores very well  when it comes to the military action, giving  a graphic depiction of the multiplicity of ways of dying in action and the sheer violence and randomness  of the killing and wounding. The effect is  to  give a nihilistic quality to many of  the scenes. Whether someone lives or dies has  no particular purpose.

The aerial battles between three Spitfires providing cover to the  men on the beach and the ships taking them off   and their fights  with German fighters and bombers  are particularly compelling , perhaps because such warfare  has the shape  of single combat and the manoeuvres of planes flying fast but not at supersonic speed while  attacking with machine guns  rather than missiles  has an intimacy that the blind destruction of men on the ground absolutely lacks. The Spitfire pilot had to get close to his target and fire his guns in sustained bursts. .

All of this makes for a complicated story to tell. To address this fact Nolan has decided on an impressionistic  style rather than a straightforward chronological narrative. He does this by dividing  the film into three separate sections entitled   land, sea and air.

The  quick  flitting from one piece of action to another the film does not give great  opportunity for character development  but   Mark Rylance as Mr Dawson, the  civilian  skipper of a small boat, knits together the progress of the sea  story and as a representative of the “small ships”.

James D’Arcy as Colonel Winnant and Kenneth Branagh as Commander Bolton the pier-master during the evacuation represent  the  experience of senior officers  while Fionn Whitehead as Tommy and  Harry Styles as Alex  give a backbone  to the experience of the private soldier.

Spitfire pilots  Jack Lowden as Pilot Officer Collins  and Tom Hardy as Farrier do the same for the air action.

Rylance  oozed  calmness under fire and  brings what he always does to the screen,  an intensely sympathetic personality  while Hardy is coolness personified, with a courage which is anything but showy.  He is a man who is brave whilst doing what he does out of a sense of duty.

The one character that I found unconvincing  was  that  of Cillian Murphy,   who plays a frightened soldier  whose nerve has gone after having been in a ship which was torpedoed.   The Dawsons  pick him up on the  way to France and the soldier in a state of panic tries without success to get Dawson to turn about and head for England.  Somehow he never managed to make his mental anguish seem anything other than histrionic.

The film  has its historical  inaccuracies and omissions. Next to nothing is made of the French army’s resistance which hindered the German advance on Dunkirk and the considerable damage that occurred in Dunkirk is absent.  But neither is the British rear-guard action to allow most of the BEF to reach Dunkirk and be rescued . The   idea of the  film is to show the British experience at Dunkirk and in  the English Channel r ather than try to give  the complete picture of the action around and about Dunkirk and indeed within  Britain itself ,  where the families  of  both the stranded BEF men and of those who  had sailed their small boat  like the fictitious Mr Dawson  might have been included in the story.

Whether  the viewer finds  the limited scope of the film  satisfying or not it,  is nonetheless a legitimate dramatic  device to concentrate on the direct experience of those on the beach and the British forces by  sea and air  which facilitated the remarkable evacuation of some 190,000 British soldiers and  120,000  French ones. If the film had been expanded to take in the French and German warfare  relating to Dunkirk or the behaviour of the relatives and friends of the servicemen trapped in Dunkirk it would have been an entirely different film .

Dunkirk  has its limitation as a coherent  drama but taken as a whole it is an invigorating and exciting production. It gives a vivid idea of the immediacy  and multiplicity of danger which war brings and the sheer helplessness of humans caught in its coils. . That is reason enough to see it.   But there is also another reason .  The World Wars left their mark long after they were over  and not just in terms of the dead and wounded.  It left its mark on the survivors.  I  was born in 1947. The war loomed very large in my childhood and  even my early adult years. One regularly  met ordinary people who had done extraordinary things: landing on the beaches on D Day; serving  on the convoys to Russia;  flying  Spitfires and Hurricanes in the  Battle of Britain or  flying sortie after sortie with Bomber Command. The result  was a toughness in people generally but particularly in those who had seen  action, which is lacking today. It is a film which will speak especially to people who remember what the war was like and its aftermath.


To understand history one must understand the religious mind

Robert Henderson

“Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly;

Man got to sit and wonder ‘why, why, why?’

Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land;

Man got to tell himself he understand.” ( Kurt Vonnegut  Cat’s Cradle )

Trying to understand history  without understanding the religious  mind  is like teaching  someone the vocabulary of a language without explaining how the grammar works.  Nor is  the religious mind simply concerned with what are generally  called religions. Such minds  can be  and often are  attracted by secular  ideologies  such as Marxism, Fascism  or political correctness.  These are substitutes for what are normally called religions. Beneath  such formalised ideas  there is the natural human preference for the culture and people in which an individual has been raised.  Social animals need habits and humans being the social animal par excellence require very sophisticated ones.


The idea of memes comes from the evolutionary theorist Richard Dawkins. A meme is the mental equivalent of a gene. They  contain ideas.  Dawkins  introduced  the word  to the world in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene.   The meme,  like a gene,   is self-replicating and can undergo mutation. It affects  behaviour creates cultural.

There was nothing entirely novel about such an idea,  it having been discussed in Darwin’s time.  For example,   T. H. Huxley  believed that ‘The struggle for existence holds as much in the intellectual as in the physical world. A theory is a species of thinking, and its right to exist is coextensive with its power of resisting extinction by its rivals.’ (Huxley, T. H. “The coming of age of ‘The origin of species” (1880) Science. 1, 15-17.) But Dawkins gave the idea a new clarity and set it against the background of genetics.

Memes can form entire ideologies such as religions or  political theories like  Marxism or  they may be a stand-alone  social rule such as wear black to a funeral or don’t eat with your mouth open. Memes like genes can be beneficial, harmful or neutral in their effects.

It might be though that judging  a meme as objectively  good or bad is impossible,  but it is possible if the judgement is based upon  the evolved nature of a particular society.  For example, if a society is a warrior society, individuals with a penchant for violence can, other things being equal,  be valuable.  Conversely, a society in which non-violent behaviour is the norm the violent mentality will be a handicap to the individual who has it and a danger to the efficient functioning of the society.

The  problem of consciousness

We are in a prison of  self-consciousness amplified by high intelligence and  above all  language.  Both these things set humans apart from any other organism. These qualities  naturally lead to attempts to explain what humans   perceive to be reality, a reality which will often seem threatening, especially if the person is living in a society which has no science to explain natural phenomena such as volcanic eruptions, thunder and lightning,   plagues and  floods.

Imagine the existential context of a hunter gatherer band. It is not that its members are innately stupid or ignorant. Indeed, they will have a considerable repertoire of useful  and essential skills from understanding how to trap and kill animals,  where to gather berries and nuts, how to make tools and other artefacts. But their  world will be a constant source of wonder and bewilderment. They will have not have  any  idea of why  rivers flood, volcanoes roar as they belch lava  or the sun appears to die every day  and gradually burns  less brightly  as the year progresses before returning with regained vigour.  To these phenomena will be added the dangers and fears which result from  living amongst dangerous animals and in competition with other groups of humans who do not belong to their band or tribe.  Magic is  the only means these people  have of making sense of what they  experience and most importantly it is  an ostensible means of controlling reality.

Magic can take a wide variety of forms.  It will not necessarily involve a god because the belief may come simply from a belief that if X is done Y will follow.     Drawing  a scene of a successful hunt on  a cave wall supposedly  makes a successful hunt more probable; the casting of a spell supposedly  makes a woman fertile;   the drinking of a potion is said to cure   a  sick child; the sacrificing an animal or human  to the gods  is done to  ensure  a good harvest or victory over another tribe.

Of course the desired outcome of the magic will often not materialise, but  it will sometimes  by pure coincidence. Moreover, it is not always by mere chance. The Shaman of the band will probably have a knowledge of  plants which may indeed have a positive effect as a result of by  trial  and error over many generations –  indeed some animals self-medicate – and there is also the powerful placebo effect which when linked to ritual is likely to be heightened.  The performing of ritual will in itself will have a reassuring effect.

But even if failure to produce the desired result  of magic  occurs it will not automatically be taken as evidence of the futility of the magic but  more likely be  attributed to  the god’s disfavour or merely  to  the magic not being strong enough or the time unpropitious .

Magic  may be as the author of the Golden Bough James Frazer defined it,  “a spurious system of natural law as well as a fallacious guide of conduct; it is a false science as well as an abortive art”, but it is still a psychological comfort, not least because as with true science it provides rituals to follow as well as the belief that they are shaping reality.


Magic in the form of superstition  is very common even  in  advanced modern societies. More often than not  it has nothing to  do with formal  religion. Sportsmen in particular  are notoriously superstitious:  insisting on dressing in a certain sequence, using a favourite bat or racquet, taking the field in a team sport in a particular order and so on, but few humans are entirely untouched by it.

Looked at rationally such behaviour seems absurd to those who live in societies in which rational scientific  explanations can be given for most things and even where such an explanation cannot be given people will believe  that one exists but has yet to be discovered.  Yet  the grip of scientific rationality is only skin deep.  No matter how rational humans  think themselves the majority,  and probably the large majority , will still  use  such psychological tricks to  deal with the stress of  self-consciousness .

What this tells us  is that even  though  there is no  rational basis for believing such rituals will have the effect desired,  they  can undoubtedly provide an individual with psychological comfort and a sense that in some way the individual has exercised some sort of control over situations which do not lend themselves to any rational solution.

The step after magic and superstition

If magic  is what might be termed the innate human response to self-consciousness the next step is the creation of  formal religion This  will have holy texts and develop a sociology to encompass larger populations than the band or  tribe.  The population will have moved from a nomadic to a settled way of life.

Some like Hinduism will have multiple gods, others  such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism will have a single god. Buddhism,  at least in its purest form,  has no god.  But belief in the supernatural  is something all formal religions require including  Buddhism , because that faith even in its purest seemingly most rational form  requires the believer to accept the reality of   rebirth with the eventual end of nirvana.

Nor is magic dead within formal religions. Even  a sophisticated religion such as Catholicism  has some decidedly primitive aspects, for example, the doctrine of  transubstantiation  requires  a belief that the bread and wine given in the   Eucharist are   literally transformed into the blood and flesh of Christ.  Nor will all practices not compatible with a particular religion be ended by the religion’s putative dominance. The widespread belief in and persecution of people accused of being witches in   Europe in the early modern period is a classic example of this.

Religion as an organising principle

Larger settled populations  require more sophisticated social structures.   Religion has an innate  organising quality which aids the formation of such social structures.  This has routinely meant its has been used to justify  monarchical  power  either by the monarch wielding the religious authority themselves or by having a religious caste which either  justified the right of the monarch to rule  or which exercised  the monarchical authority itself.

The belief that the worship of God in a certain way was integral to the good order and fortune of a country and its people is strong in most religions. A failure to follow the “right” form of religion could mean disaster for a people.  Any misfortune could be ascribed to a failure of faith or of observance.  The Black Death was put down to precisely that while the destruction of the Spanish Armada to England in 1588, in which the weather played a significant  part,  was  attributed by  the Spanish to some lack in their society and as a sign of God’s favour by the English.

The potency of religion

It is important to understand that religious belief is not something simply imposed on people or just  a habit acquired through their upbringing.   The sufferings of those who have refused to deny their faith are truly extraordinary. The Inquisition did not simply condemn people out of hand. Those who had taken up a variety of Christianity other than Catholicism were frequently  excused from punishment if they recanted.  Faced with death by burning at the stake many chose that death rather than recanting. Some, like Archbishop Cranmer, recanted than went back on their recantation and  were  burnt. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs all too graphically bears witness to the sufferings borne over the centuries.

Religion and the  secular mind

To understand the religious mind is also to understand the mind of those  gripped by a secular  ideology,  for the  psychological and sociological outcomes are the same as those experienced by the religious. That is particularly true of totalitarian ideologies such as Marxism or political correctness which offer the promise of an eventual  future  state in which  the ideology is fully realised.

Marxists believe that the movement of the dialectic through history will inevitably lead to the state of  Communism.   That belief is psychologically the equivalent of going to Heaven for the Christian or  Paradise for the Muslim or Nirvana  for the Buddhist.  Something similar happens when the politically correct  encounter  human behaviour   which brutally contradicts  their view of the world. They  do not draw the obvious conclusion, namely, that   political correctness is a incompatible with  our  evolved  nature. Instead, they say it shows that that  more  time must be spent  in educating the politically incorrect  to believe  that the  mores of political correctness are the only way to behave and believe.

One of the most peculiar secular ideologies,  which has been around since the early 19th Century,   is the quasi-religious devotion to laissez faire economics which for its true believers, the neo-liberals,  means holding  rigidly to the idea that free markets and free trade  are a sure-fire means to greatly increase  general prosperity and  that it is rationally  the only  economic system to follow.  This might seem a very dry subject  to engage people emotionally. Yet  its believers  tend to become extremely agitated if a contrary view is put to them and more often than not refuse to offer any contrary argument or facts when faced with an opponent of  their  creed.    In short they display all the signs of the religious believer.

Why does it attract followers?  For the same reason any ideology is adopted. It offers itself as an algorithm to order the world.  It is sometimes hailed as a general libertarian good by its proponents  which could engage the emotions,  but few people who claim to be libertarians actually live their lives by the creed.  A much more plausible explanation,   at least for the true believers,  , is that these are people who find the idea of a neat mechanical ideology  which tells them just stand back and don’t interfere with the market   intellectually satisfying. In addition, like all ideologies, sacred or profane, laissez faire allows its followers to believe that action is being taken to control the world. Ironically,   intellectually and emotionally  it offers just what Marxism does, an  eventually utopia which comes about automatically when economic life takes on a certain shape.

The fact that humans are so susceptible to the lure of  ideologies and habit  must mean that this behavioural trait serves some vital  evolutionary purpose because otherwise it  would not  have persisted.  The purpose is to unite and order a society.

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