Television

Three decades after "It's a Sin"

The excellent It’s A Sin, brilliantly reviewed in Solidarity 580 here, has propelled queer pop star Olly Alexander — Ritchie — into greater fame. The deeply moving 2017 documentary Olly Alexander: Growing Up Gay (directed by Vicki Cooper, available on BBC iPlayer) has got greater coverage. The documentary looks into the experiences — mental health difficulties, and bullying — of young gay people today, growing up three or four decades after the people of It’s A Sin. The contrast between Olly and Richie is perhaps starker even than the unimaginably different contexts. Where Richie was secretive...

Blaming all of humanity

David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet, the critically acclaimed late 2020 documentary, is a powerful watch. Awe-inspiring natural beauty, captured on film, is interwoven with his signature emotive narration, plus a personal touch from this infamous presenter. It’s no surprise that this environmental call-to-arms caused ripples. This “witness statement” tracks a lifetime studying nature: and its continual destruction and decline. Humans increasingly dominate and destroy the natural world, consuming more and more of the earth which supports us. The great disaster he focusses on is...

It's a Sin: AIDS and the 1980s

The main characters in It’s A Sin (Channel Four), Russell T Davies’ five-part drama about the AIDS crisis in Britain through the eighties into the early nineties, are roughly my age. It describes, therefore, an experience I lived through (minor spoilers here). I remember vividly the first rumours of a disease killing gay men in America, the first time I heard the term "AIDS" (I was sitting in a freezing cold kitchen in Manchester). I remember the growing sense of dread; I remember - this must have been in 1984 - calculating (god knows on the basis of what) that I had a 1/50 chance of dying as...

John Brown through different eyes

Many in the Abolitionist movement to destroy US slavery were originally pacifists, militantly anti-slavery but hoping to convince slaveowners to abandon the institution. Many of the growing number of black Americans who joined the movement opposed such ideas, and events would severely test even those Abolitionists most committed to non-violence. When the Civil War finally came in 1861, the vast majority backed the Northern war effort. Abolitionist leader John Brown, the subject of recent seven-part TV series The Good Lord Bird, was frankly opposed to non-violence. He devoted himself to...

"Love jihad": why Hindu fascists are attacking Netflix

The Hindu nationalist far right in India and beyond is waging a campaign against Netflix for showing the BBC TV series A Suitable Boy (adapted from Vikram Seth’s novel, set in India in the 1950s). Their objection is to a romantic relationship between a Hindu woman and a Muslim man (though it's clear they object to other aspects of it too). They have minimally dressed up their bigotry by saying they are offended by the lovers kissing by a Hindu temple. Members of the ruling Hindu nationalist BJP party are calling for the Indian government to investigate Netflix – and in fact the Modi regime has...

How transport workers beat the colour bar

This story of colour bars in the UK railway and bus industries begins after the Second World War, when Britain had a labour shortage and people moved to Britain in increasing numbers from Caribbean countries and elsewhere. The National Union of Railwaymen (NUR, predecessor of the RMT) declared in 1948 that: “we have no objection to the employment of coloured men in the railway industry” and that “coloured men had been satisfactorily employed on the railways over a long period”. But although the top of the union was getting it right, in some areas the grassroots was not. In 1950, white workers...

Kino Eye: Labour conformity

Rebecca Lawrence’s article on the Labour Connected conference in Solidarity 564 set me thinking about a film which might capture that sense of conformity and dullness described in her report. Instead of a film, I would recommend two BBC dramas by Dennis Potter: Stand up, Nigel Barton and Vote, vote, vote for Nigel Barton. Both were broadcast in 1965 as part of the Wednesday Play series. We follow Nigel Barton, from his youth in a mining village to Oxford University where, unsurprisingly, he struggles to fit in. Later, Barton stands as the Labour candidate in a safe Tory seat, where he comes...

Kino Eye

Kino Eye is a new column which will offer suggestions for film or TV viewing which are related to articles in Solidarity. The term "Kino Eye" is borrowed from the early Soviet documentary filmmaker Dziga Vertov, whose best-known film is Man with a Movie Camera (1929). Suggestions for viewing from readers are welcome. In Solidarity 562 I recommended two interesting, and very different, films from Bosnia, Walter Defends Sarajevo and Grbavica. Although not about Sarajevo, another film from that region also worth seeing is Tito and Me (Goran Marković, 1992), the comic story of a chubby young...

Manctopia? Remaking Manchester for capital

The population of city centre Manchester is set to double in the next five years. 105 complexes of flats are planned. Already tower blocks, usually of little architectural merit, are being built on any available land regardless of the effects on the local environment. Where the land is not free, historic buildings are often demolished or left to rot until they become impossible to save. Until the 1990s, few people lived in the city centre. Now it is becoming “Manc-hattan”. A number of traditionally working-class areas on the fringes of the city centre are being redeveloped as part of a plan to...

Resonances from the 70s

Mrs America is a mini-series charting the battles in the 1970s between the rising feminist movement in the United States and its enemies over the Equal Rights Amendment (an amendment to the Constitution which still hasn’t been ratified by enough states to become law). It shows us well-known figures from the American women’s movement at that time, like Gloria Steinem (played by Rose Byrne) and Betty Friedan (Tracey Ullman), but focuses also on the woman who set out to defeat them, Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett). Steinem herself, and others, have criticised the series for overstating this...

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