Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Shadows in the Sun and a Western Dragoon Wells Massacre and Wallander TV

After watching an episode of the original Wallander series last night between 9 and 10.30pm I decided to look in on the first of the three programmes about people who were bringing up or had close relationships with their grandchildren. Despite knowing that I could watch the programmes on the i player at a more convenient time I stayed engaged with the programmes until 1.30am. Although clearly staged and strongly edited the three one hour programmes about three different family situations were outstanding.

The focus of the first programme was Ian Batten who took his seven wide age range grandchildren on a day out at the seaside. Ian was presented as a successful clothes designer for men and women in the USA, Italy and Japan as well as the UK who became a parent in the sixties and who admitted as did his children as having a laid back liberal approach to parenthood as he has had to life. Now in his sixties, he lives with a girl a third of his age in a small flat and appears to only see his grandchildren from time to time, bringing them presents from his travels abroad. While aspects of his lifestyle do not fit in with the contemporary attitudes, the programme was noteworthy for the warm good feelings and relaxed approach of the children towards their father, although they admitted they had become stronger disciplinarians, setting clear boundaries for their children, who nevertheless appeared to have become creative individualists.

My reaction to the programme was that no one was harmed by the exposure and everyone came out well although I felt we were getting one slice of the story of Mt Batten. It is interesting that Mr Batten does not yet have a Wikipedia entry. However his children and grand children communicated themselves as intelligent, loving individuals whatever experience they had had to undergo in the past.

There were aspects of second programme which alarmed me considerably in terms of the impact upon the two grandchildren in question although it is to be hoped that the programme enabled the grandparents and grand children to sort out the understandable problems which have arisen from the great tragedy that had beset them. Val and Ron Little were required to take on the care of two of their seven grandchildren, after their mother was killed by their father, a paranoid schizophrenic, who was committed to a psychiatric institution, but is now released and seeking to have contact with his children.

The programme highlighted the strong emotions which the grand parents and grand children have about their predicament. The grand parents had been looking forward to developing their own lives in retirement as well a enjoying relationships with all their children and grand children and there was resentment at having to give this up to concentrate on the two children, especially when the eldest became a Bolshie teenager, particularly towards her grandmother, who was able to give as much as she got. However never far away from the day to day experience was the fact that the girl has lost her mother in such dreadful circumstances and grandmother her daughter. The daughter appeared to accept that her father had been ill and wanted to have a relationship with him while understandably the grandparents remained concerned about the extent of his recovery. I would have been surprised if the girl had not exhibited problems arising from her situation and my concern remains as to how she will view the exposure in later life. I would be surprised if the programme makers had not gone to great lengths to be certain that good and not harm came out for the two generations of participants. It was great TB+V but my reservations about this programme being shown remain.

The star performance of the evening, after that of Wallander and his daughter, was from Avril Pengilly a 78 year old who had given up her home to help look after two grandchildren of the daughter from her second marriage after her husband died several years before. While not hiding the sense of loss after the death of the love of her life and losing the independence of her own home Avril demonstrated the ability to become a valued member of her daughter‘s family and retained a separate life both within house and the local community where she had been a teacher and continued to play an active role. There were several great moments but for me it was that which occurred during the return to Clovelly where she had gone with her three children after her first marriage ended. She nearly fell flat on her face stumbling on the cobbled roadway. She had already fallen in the house and broken her arm. This time she managed to regain her balance. Having fallen over four times during the past two years and had a couple of near misses, I understand only too well that even with taking extra care most of the time it only takes one moment’s lack of attention and a fall can create major problems, especially as in my case, I live on my own. Yet as her daughter stated in the film, it is this refusing to accept that one has become old which prevents one from getting old old, or least that is what I keep telling myself

The Wallander episode was also excellent, in major part because of the development of the relationship between father and daughter after her relationship with a colleague at the station ends. The story involved an American World Food Organisation volunteer who is murdered after coming to the country to visit a photographer with whom she had has had contact Afghanistan or was it Iraq, after she has been expelled for alleging being involved in the disappearance of small national treasures. She is also found to be pregnant and the photographer who has a police record is the obvious suspect. The husband, an academic comes to identify the body and strikes up a relationship with Wallander. As a consequence of good work by his daughter in particular and information from the wrongly accused photographer the mystery is resolved with the husband the culprit having killed his wife when she found out he was behind the theft of the national artefacts.

I also viewed the previous episode shown while I was in London called the Tricksters which was about blackmail (what we do and who we do it with lives with us and for eternity) In this instance the culprit is the husband of one of the blackmail victims. It is during this episode that Wallander has an affair with a Doctor whose husband and adult children are away. He wants the relationship to continue but she sees it more as interlude. In the most recent episode he attempts to progress the relationship but she refuses. He and his daughters settle for each other‘s company one evening

I have also watched a western, the Dragoon Wells Massacre 1957. Dennis O’Keefe is an army captain who survives an Indian attack along with an Indian Trader and who then encounters a Sheriff transporting two gunmen being taken for trial and a stage coach on which his young girl friend has decided to go back East with someone else. They join forces in an attempt to get to a staging post to summon help, without realising that the Indians are friends of the Indian Trader who has 25 of the famous Winchester 45 repeating riffles and ammunition for them, as well as Whisky. While the group discover this treachery, they face increasing dangers as first the trading post has been destroyed and then the nearest fort and where the sole survivor is a child. The core of the film is the relationship which develops between the military officer captain and a worldly saloon entertainer and between his former girl friend and one of the gunmen, played by Barry Sullivan. Because of heroic actions and an understanding of the background and nature of the gunman’s killing the Sheriff lets him go as the end of the film and he rides off into the sunset with the girl. In the final words of the films the girl offers to accompany the gun man, “ for as long as you want me,” which in my book gives the film that touch of reality which made it of interest despite the familiarity of the story line.

A very different film is Shadows of the Sun 2009, not to be confused with another film with the same name set in Tuscany. This film also has some splendid photography and tells of the last days of a grandmother, played by Jean Simmons, with James Wilby, her son and his two children. The plot, in so far as the film needs a plot, because it is a story of old age, and relationships between generations in the mode of Merchant Ivory, is that the son has come to persuade his mother to sell the family home, a home in which his father’s ashes have been buried in the grounds and where his mother hopes that hers will lay alongside. His mother has already sold a collection of first editions in order to keep the property going and the son wants to sell the property so he can be closer to her ans she and he to his children who live separately with their mother..

The sub plot is the relationship between his mother and a young male traveller who earns his keep helping with the local fishing and doing odd jobs around the house. He also establishes a relationship with the son and then seduces the daughter. He saves the life of the son from drowning who has reacted on finding out that the closeness of his relationship with the young man has been overtaken by that with his older sister, During the film the son has encountered a group of Shakespearean actors rehearsing on the beach having taken a nearby property for the summer and they come and perform scenes for the grandmother before her death. The level of writing, characterization and acting is at a fine level and I liked the way the family appreciate what has happened between his daughter and the traveller advising her that she does not need to tell her mother unless she wants to. He respects and understands the importance of the event to his daughter and that she needs to work out her feelings

I am not surprised the film has been shown on TV and to DVD without a cinema release. It would not fit into the taste of the summer holiday thrill seeking young people or the weekend teenagers and dating young men and women. I was unclear if at the end if father remained at the home after the children returned to live with their mother in order to try and save it for the family or for it to be sold.

In the last of the three films about Grandparents what struck me most was the sense of continuity and looking out for each other that exists in the village. While the sad reality is that in all marriage one partner dies before the other, too often the choice is between living in isolation in the family hope and giving up independence and possessions to share a home with children, or to be restricted to the loss of most things and live in residential care among strangers. Growing old can be a sad and challenging experience

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