BOOK REVIEW: ‘Hush Hush’ by Michelle Quigley

51iHrSVY9sLAnother book review, I’m afraid! I’ll try and review some more films soon!

 

Blurb: ‘Why do I have to stand here and pretend that everything is alright, when the truth is I want to curl myself up into a ball and die somewhere?’

Molly is a normal sixteen-year-old working as a factory girl in Derry, Northern Ireland, until one night her world is turned upside down. After experiencing a brutal attack, she is left mentally and physically broken, slowly withdrawing from her family and community, suffering in silence. She tries in vain to keep her increasing despair to herself, but life has more surprises and heartache in store. As her family battle to conceal a dreadful secret and expected allies shun her, Hitler steps up his invasion of Europe. With the outbreak of war an even greater strain is placed upon her family when her brother enlists in the army. Will she ever manage to make amends with him again? And with gossip rife among the community, will her secret remain hidden forever?

Hush Hush will draw you into Molly’s struggles and desires and leave you hoping that maybe, just maybe, there is someone out there who can help turn her life around.

 

This was a gripping read that I should have put down more often than I did. Molly is a sympathetic heroine and the characters and scenarios were, for the most part, very credibly drawn. There was also a really lovely love interest (I want one!), and for me the romance was a very satisfying part of the plot.

To begin with I found some of the writing a little awkward, but I suspect it was mostly due to the differences in Northern Irish dialect and phrasing since I got used to it and stopped noticing it quite quickly.  The Northern Irish and Irish settings were vividly drawn and made me want to go and explore them! The historical angle was also fascinating, especially the glimpse at the culture of the period.

In many ways this book could be described as a fable about lying, and the consequences of lying. All the way through runs this huge ‘if only’. If only she had told the truth… But this pent up frustration makes the climax of the novel all the more poignant.

The only thing that really annoyed me was what some reviewers have called the plot ‘twist’ at the end. Quigley carefully leaves the identity of the attacker up in the air for the majority of the book, making it a mystery. Is it one of two possible candidates – or someone else entirely? It’s an effective technique, only I suspected that while we were supposed to assume it was one suspect, it might turn out to be someone else.

My issue was that if it was this other person, some of the scenes in the novel were implausible, because it was not credible to me that the first person narrator could think about certain things without thinking related thoughts that would give away the identity of the rapist. Essentially, by including such scenes, Quigley should have been ‘proving’ that a particular person wasn’t the rapist – but I had a feeling this might prove not to be the case and I was irritated when my suspicions proved correct.

As a Catholic I was also a little frustrated by the fact that at one point, in a time of need, Molly decides to pray the rosary every day. When she plunges further into despair and darkness, we are never told whether or not she is doing it. In fact, the whole subject is never mentioned again. I would have liked to known more.

However, these two small niggles don’t change the fact that overall HUSH HUSH was a gripping, satisfying read, with a strong, life-affirming message, and I would recommend it, especially to Catholics and all those committed to the cause of life.

 

Please note, the rape is fairly discreetly described, but I would strongly caution anyone who has suffered a sexual assault.

I received a free copy of this book in return for an honest review.

REVIEW: Amish Grace (2010)

amish_grace_posterUK Rating: None

Release Date: 28th March 2010

Running Time: 88 minutes

Director: Gregg Champion

Genre:  Biography, Drama

Starring: Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Tammy Blanchard, Matt Letscher

SYNOPSIS: A grieving Amish mother struggles to forgive the woman whose husband killed her daughter and four other schoolchildren in this movie inspired by the true-life events that unfolded in a Nickel Mines schoolhouse on October 2, 2006.

This is the first of a pair of linked reviews about ‘Amish Grace’ and ‘Hacksaw Ridge’. If you happen to know of both of the films, you’ll think it an odd pairing indeed, but read on!

First, in this review, ‘Amish Grace’. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting that much from this film. I feared it would either be appallingly sentimental and/or unbearable to watch because of the central tragedy that occurs. I was very favourably surprised.

There is plenty of hugging and praying (as one can well imagine) but it doesn’t tip over into cloying sentimentalism. But I was particularly impressed by the way they handled the shooting itself, which I was dreading. It is portrayed with extraordinary discretion and sensitivity. There is no Hollywood-style blow-by-blow recreation of the events inside the school. In fact, once the killer has entered the schoolhouse, the camera never goes inside again. There is no blood. There is nothing graphic at all. Everything is shown entirely through the reactions of those outside, the 991 call, the frightened—then grief-stricken—parents. It is very well done, and extremely moving, but totally non-graphic. Considering that the only real fictional aspect of this film is the insertion of an invented family as the main characters, this can only be a good thing.

This film is a compelling look at the consequences—and difficulties—of forgiveness and of not-forgiving. My main criticism would be that the main Amish character, the bereaved mother, Ida, reacts too consistently in the way a non-Amish person would be likely to react. This is somewhat ‘explained away’ in the film by the fact that her sister has left the faith and is living in the modern world, and that she has been coming somewhat under her influence.

But it’s clear enough that Ida’s attitude really has a more practical explanation: the film makers felt it necessary for her to react in such a way in order for the (exclusively non-Amish) viewers to identify with her plight and thus be invested in her spiritual and emotional journey. So although the inaccuracy chafes slightly, it’s a justifiable inaccuracy. After all, even many Christians may find the Amish’s ability to react so instantly to the tragedy with such forgiveness awe-inspiring—and perhaps even hard to comprehend.

Overall: A surprisingly uplifting story about an outstanding real life example of grace, forgiveness, and the authentic living out of the Christian faith, suitable for all but the youngest and/or most sensitive of viewers. One for the shelf.

This has not been classified for UK release and can be bought on Amazon. In terms of on-screen violence, this could be a U. However, due to the subject matter, obviously it would really classify as a PG (or higher depending on your children’s sensitivity).

Sex/Violence/Profanity: Pretty much none of any of the three. Subject matter deals with a vicious shooting attack that caused the deaths of five girls and injured five others.

REVIEW: Silence

silence_2016_filmUK Rating: 15

Release Date: 1st January 2017

Running Time: 161 minutes

Director: Martin Scorsese

Genre:  Period

Starring:  Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson

(This review contains Spoilers)

Scorsese’s ‘Silence’ is a ‘Marmite movie’. You love it or you hate it. Tim Hanley, writing for the Catholic Herald, describes it as, “the most profound piece of Catholic art produced in recent years”, whilst Monica Miller in Crisis magazine considers that although, “This movie seriously examines Christian themes and ideas” it is not in fact a Christian film. I would have to agree with the latter statement. ‘Silence’ is that most dangerous of things, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

It is not the main character’s apostasy itself that is so problematic. None of us know if we would stand or fall. This beautifully filmed and acted piece could easily have been a sensitive portrayal of human weakness. But it’s not. Rodrigues isn’t shown as apostatising from simple weakness, unable to bear the emotional torment or to withstand the voice of the devil (so loud and clear through the coaxing authorities). Instead, he hears—or thinks he hears—the voice of Jesus telling him that apostasy is okay. Clearly Our Lord forgot to mention that in the Bible.

Rodrigues lives out his life spiritually dead, only, the film hints, it’s all okay really, because deep, deep down, he still believes—even though he obediently writes books ‘disproving’ the Christian faith. Even though he never again gives even the tiniest public sign of his faith. Even though he apostatises over and over again. Even though he appears to refuse absolution to someone begging on their knees. This is all okay, because he’s doing it to save the lives of the Japanese believers. Their lives, note. He—and the film—seem to have forgotten the existence of souls.

So what is the final message of ‘Silence’? That staying alive and avoiding suffering are far more important than keeping the faith. That the importance of our mortal life here far outweighs that of our eternal destiny.

This film is poison. Beautiful, well-acted, compelling… and spiritual cyanide.

Overall: I suggest you avoid. With a barge pole. Preferably a blessed one.

Sex/Violence/Nudity: No sexual content. Scenes of torture and execution, quite graphic. No graphic nudity.

RISEN: Out Now in the UK

This is not actually a review since I haven’t seen RISEN yet, but I wanted to make people in the UK aware that this new film about the Resurrection is coming out tomorrow. It looks quite promising, as far as one can judge from a trailer!

It is only showing once a day at my local cinema which means it will probably only be on for one single week–so everyone who wants to see it needs to go at once!

The US have loads of Christian films but most of them never come out here due to lack of market, so it would be great if everyone supported this one. Hopefully it would encourage future releases.

Fun fact: The cast met Pope Francis during a General Audience at the Vatican.

More information below. Do share this to your friends.

Risen

  • Release date: 18/03/2016
  • Rating: 12A
  • Running time: 107 mins

Synopsis: Peter Firth stars as Pontius Pilate in this unofficial follow-up to The Passion of the Christ.


In 33AD, Christ has already resurrected from his death on the crucifix. Now, in order to quell an imminent uprising, a member of the Roman army, Clavius, is charged by Roman prefect Pontius Pilate to locate the missing body of Jesus. It is Pilate’s job to not only locate the corpse of Christ but to arrest those disciples who snatched his body. The mission becomes a learning experience for Pilate as his discovers who Jesus really was… Kevin Reynolds (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Waterworld) returns to the director’s chair after an absence of ten years with this unique take on the Greatest Story Ever Told.

Spooks star Peter Firth takes on the role of Pontius Pilate, with Tom Felton (Harry Potter) as Lucius and Joseph Fiennes as Clavius.

REVIEW: The Revenant (2016)

The_Revenant_2015_film_posterUK Rating: 15

Release Date: 15th January 2016

Running Time: 156 minutes

Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Genre: Thriller, drama, action

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy

 

So this one was a big disappointment, I’m afraid. Of the most frustrating kind: the ‘could have been so good’ kind. When I first saw the trailer I thought it looked so utterly miserable I had no intention to see it, but I kept hearing good reviews and always the reviews seemed to hint that actually there was redemption at the end, rather than it being about straight up revenge, the way the trailer suggested. Well, I’m a sucker for a redemption plotline, and so is my friend, so we decided to give it a chance.

Most of the film is excellent, with a great soundtrack. It’s a gritty survival tale with great performances. Probably a little too graphic for some people’s taste, but realistic rather than gratuitous in its portrayal of wounds and violence. It is also a hugely more realistic portrayal of the ‘wild west’ than most westerns. There was a time when the Native Americans were always the villains in westerns, now for a long time, they’ve almost always been portrayed as the good guys, or at least the oppressed. Which is fair enough and an improvement on the former representation, but still rather incomplete. ‘Revenant’ tells it much more true to life. Some Native American tribes are peaceful, others are busy slaughtering every other tribe or white person they can lay their hands on. Some of the white people are peaceful, some are quite happy to kill a Native American simply for being a Native American. It all makes for grim viewing, but it’s definitely more accurate than most westerns.

The film falls apart at the end, at least for the Christian viewer who’s been promised redemption. (I can’t completely avoid spoilers, so stop reading if you definitely plan to see it, regardless of what I say.)

There is, at the end, a tiny shred of redemption. But it’s just that. A tiny, feeble shred. In practical terms, it comes too late to make any difference whatsoever to the physical outcome. It’s probably fractionally better for one character’s soul than the alternative, but just barely. It’s a huge damp squib, and makes one feel like reporting the film to the Office of Fair Trading for false advertising (that’s a joke, but you get the idea!).

If this isn’t bad enough, the very, very final moments are hugely unsatisfactory as an ending. My friend and I both felt while watching the film (despite what the trailer implied) that we were really watching a film about the strength of the human spirit, and the human will to survive. It felt more like this was driving the main character than the need for revenge. This is perhaps a failure on the film’s part, though I’d be interested to know how it came across other people. At the close of the film, however, it takes great delight in making it abundantly clear that despite what it felt like throughout, the protagonist’s struggle really was just about revenge, not about the triumph of the human spirit. And so it ends. I can’t be more specific without huge spoilers.

There is also an ambiguity raised during the final encounter between the two main characters relating to a pivotal moment earlier in the film, and the lack of clarity one is left with is an additional annoying niggle.

Overall: So close: but no cigar. It could have been a great film, but the ending ruins it, ironically, beyond all redemption.

 

Sex/Violence/Profanity/etc: A sexual assault followed by an implied castration. Brief nudity. Frequent strong violence. Violence realistic rather than gratuitous, but graphic at times. Some disturbing images. Frequent rough, crude and profane language.

Have you seen this film? What did you think?

REVIEW: Child 44 (2015)

Child 44 posterUK Rating: 15

Release Date: 17th April 2015

Running Time: 137 minutes

Director: Daniel Espinosa

Producer: Ridley Scott

Genre: Thriller, drama, romance

Starring: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Vincent Cassel, Paddy Considine

“There is no murder in paradise.”

This is a hard film to review without giving spoilers that would really reduce the impact of the film, so I’ll try not to be very specific about the plot. It’s being billed as a serial child killer thriller set in Stalinist Russia (how unpleasant, you may think, but the trailer intrigued me). Sure enough, I found the serial-killer angle wasn’t half so important as the one-line description would imply. Which is probably why it is so good (at least in my opinion – the crime genre leaves me fairly cold, as a rule). This is far more a film about two people trying to survive in Stalinist-era Russia, their journey as people, and as a couple, than it is a serial killer thriller, though that plot strand does provide considerable forward momentum, especially in the second half.

Rather than try to give a spoiler-free summary of the plot, may I suggest you just scroll down and watch the trailer, then carry on reading (if you’re still interested)! (Though the trailer does simplify the plot considerably, focussing primarily on the child killer strand.)

It was only gradually at the beginning of this film that I realised Leo, the main protagonist, was not, as I had vaguely assumed from the trailer, an army officer, he is in fact MGB (Ministry of State Security). Think KGB or secret police. An unlikely hero, then. However, we quickly come to see that he is about as decent as anyone doing that job in Stalinist Russia can hope to remain – he seeks to bring his prisoners in alive and goes ballistic when a fellow officer summarily executes two people (though he, not the other officer, is reprimanded!). Later in the film, other revelations and events also brought home to me that he hadn’t necessarily had much choice when it came to his job – to refuse such a position would probably have led to him being denounced as an enemy of the state. However, we are given no information about how he arrived in the role and he seems content in his comfortable life at the beginning of the film (though like the vast majority of characters, his ‘loyalty’ to the state seems little more than the attitude that has to be presented in order to survive – not too surprisingly in Leo’s case, since his parents died in the state-imposed famine in the Ukraine, although he was then adopted by a Russian army officer.)

Choice is a major theme in this film, and the choices the characters face are wrenchingly hard. Over and over, people must choose between say, a friend, and their own family. Sometimes even between their family and their own life. It is through these choices that we see our unlikely hero, Leo, and our heroine, his wife Raisa, grow, both in themselves, and together. This growth makes it an enjoyable film from a Christian perspective, although the religious and spiritual silence of the era, is, to the believer, deafening. Almost every character is totally absorbed with simple survival – there is no space for ideals. ‘You know what people get around here when they demand the truth?’ Raisa warns Leo. The fact that some characters choose to try to do what is right, regardless, is one of the most satisfying elements of the film.

Despite it becoming clear from very near the beginning of the film that Leo’s and Raisa’s marriage is not the idyllic thing he believes it to be, characters display strong marital fidelity in the film, and as I’ve already mentioned, the way they grow together left this viewer very happy. Certainly one of the most heart-breaking scenes for me was when Raisa finally tells Leo the truth about their marriage. Which may sound odd in a film about child murders, but as I said, that is only one strand of the plot.

The film has quite a long running time (137 mins) but I was gripped throughout. It was one of those films where you genuinely did not know how it would end (happy or sad?). People expecting a straight-up serial killer thriller will probably be disappointed. So, from a few things I’ve read online, will fans of the book, at least with the ending. Having not read the book, the twist that is left out (or at any rate, left non-explicit) sounds bizarre and one I’m perfectly happy to have been spared – but fans will probably disagree.

The UK rating is 15 and the list of warnings is fairly unpleasant (strong violence, strong language, sex, child murder theme), but I was actually pleasantly surprised by how restrained the film was. The one sex scene is largely shielded by a bed’s foot board and certainly the child murders are never shown on screen and details/photos of the bodies are not shown too close up – some things we really do not need to see. See below for a more detailed description.

Christian reviewers will no doubt be indignant at, and moved by, the persecution of a man who was in a homosexual relationship – the hard choice he is offered is 15 years in a gulag (a likely death sentence) or writing a list of every man in the town he knows to have had sex with another man. But they may also roll their eyes slightly when they reflect that out of every far more numerous group persecuted under Stalinist rule (Christians, Jews, Muslims and many ethnic groups, to name a few) it’s the plight of those committing homosexual acts, surprise surprise, that gets the attention. Sigh.

There are a few moments when it’s not entirely clear how something specifically happened, for example when at one point the secret police turn up, but it’s always broadly possible to understand (someone was overheard, recognised, etc.). Although I would normally have preferred more clarity, I could not but appreciate that the not-knowing placed the audience in exactly the same position as the protagonists – who also do not know, which on reflection I think was very effective. The fight scene in a muddy ditch was unequivocally a flaw, though. I mean, seriously? How are you supposed to tell who is doing what to whom?

The film has, surprisingly, or at any rate disturbingly, been banned from theatrical release in Russia, although it will be made available to purchase on DVD or online. Apparently they’re keen to present the Communist era in a favourable light, just at the moment, and this is definitely one of those films where you leave the cinema just thanking God that you weren’t born in that place and at that time.

Overall: An atmospheric and character-driven thriller. I really liked this film, and am sorry to see it getting poor reviews elsewhere. I’ll be looking for an excuse to see it again, and I suspect that it is one for my shelf.

Sex/Violence/Profanity/etc: One sex scene, fairly discreet. An implied scene of off stage rape/sexual assault/torture (what actually happens is never revealed). An attempted assault, possibly would-be sexual. Theme of child murder, images of naked murdered children, not shown that close up. Multiple scenes of adult violence including several executions/shootings, stabbings and violent struggles – however, few graphic wounds are shown, with the exception of a severe head injury. One suicide, one attempted suicide. Shot of a mangled body from a distance. Scene of a mentally disturbed man simulating torture on himself. Two torture scenes, brief and without bloody violence. Considerable and continual atmosphere of threat. I honestly don’t recall much of the language, but according to the British Film Classification Board some of it is strong. Theme about men in homosexual relationships – the activities are condemned, but the men are also cruelly persecuted.

Have you seen this film? What did you think?

REVIEW: Lore (2012)

Lore poster by Source. Licensed under Fair use via WikipediaUK Rating: 15

Release Date: 12th October 2012

Running Time: 109 minutes

Director: Cate Shortland

Genre:  Drama, romance, thriller, war film

Starring: Saskia Rosendahl, Kai-Peter MalinaNele Trebs

Made in German, but by an Australian director, Lore is a very good film, but not a very enjoyable one. Yes, it’s one of those. The titular protagonist, Hannelore (Lore), who could be a poster girl for the League of German Maidens (female equivalent of the Hitler Youth), is left holding the baby (literally) when her Nazi parents abandon them. Not just the baby, but her younger sister and even younger twin brothers. Her mother tells her to take them to her Grandmother’s in Hamburg, a distance of five hundred miles, before walking away down the road to surrender to the Americans. When they can no longer stay where they are and are forced to attempt the journey, they discover that no trains are running. They must go on foot, trading their few belongings for food – or for breastfeeding, since, making their plight even worse, the baby is not yet weaned.

Help and protection comes from an unlikely source – a young Jewish refugee, Thomas. The children’s desperation is made clear by the fact that they stick with him – for the obvious reason to do with life-long indoctrination, and for another that I cannot mention without spoilers. Lore is also struggling, in the midst of this, with her awakening sexuality, leading to an even more complicated relationship with Thomas.

This is a grim film. It paints a very believable picture of the grief, confusion, and above all, denial, that many Germans felt at Hitler’s death and Germany’s occupation. In one scene, Germans are saying to one another that the photos of the dead in the concentration camps posted by the Americans on the walls of every town are fake, that the people are actors, it’s all staged. Lore is, in a way, lucky, because, for reasons I won’t disclose, she knows for certain that this is not the case. As, one suspects, do those speaking, deep down.

The only refugee to give any help to the children, at least for free, is a woman wearing a cross around her neck, a tiny flash of humanity in an otherwise unflinching portrayal of how fear makes people look out for number one. The ending is satisfying from a Christian perspective, in that a main character appears to be coming to terms with the fact that their whole life is built on lies, and to be rejecting those lies. The film is also a powerful reminder that the enemy are people too, who can suffer, and hope, and be afraid, however misguided they are.

It is not a perfect film. It’s one of those films where the characters don’t speak much. This creates an eerie, mysterious atmosphere, but is basically taken to an unrealistic degree, and results in the viewer not feeling they really know the characters. This, in turn, blunts the emotional impact of many of the events. There are also a couple of irritating inclarities or inconsistencies, such as a pivotal scene when one character seems to need papers, but others somehow get by without.

Overall: Definitely one to watch, so long as you’re not expecting a war film with lots of bangs and explosions and running around. This is a war film all right, but its power is in its unremitting portrayal of the reality of war (or its aftermath), not in action scenes. The auditorium was full when I saw this (at a local film society) and the audience was completely silent throughout. People hardly twitched or coughed. Engrossing, albeit uncomfortable, viewing. However – not one for sensitive viewers (see below).

Sex/Violence/Profanity/etc.: A scene of lower body female nudity from the front, upper body female nudity from behind, a bare breast (during breastfeeding), several scenes of a man fondling a woman (one during rape), a scene of masturbation/fondling (the borders between the two are blurred). Two women are shown with blood-streaked thighs after (implied) rape, one of the women is dead. Another women is shown being raped, not so graphically. There are several scenes of the macabre (ants crawling on bloody skin) or of graphic wounds. A scene of a man who has committed suicide. Two murders (one by gunshot, one through bludgeoning with a rock). Photographs of concentration camp victims. Scenes of theft, sometimes with violence. The film is in German and subtitled – I do not recall any swear words in the translation, it’s possible there were some. It’s a rather engrossing film and hard to remember! Apologies if I’ve forgotten anything, but this should give you a pretty good idea the sort of thing to expect.

Have you seen this film? What did you think?