I have had a good half-term, dear Reader. During the business of academic life, it’s almost impossible to reserve the time to go to see the latest films. And there have been some stunningly good films out there passing me by, not least Selma, The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game. You’ve guessed it, James has been to the movies! In their own ways, the films were remarkable triumphs for Cinema, highlighting in each the role of a central male character to the cascade of events happening around them, over which they have only a modicum of control. In Selma, we see 3 weeks in the life of Martin Luther King, as portrayed by British actor David Oyelewo, in his campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. In The Theory of Everything, we witness the the story of Stephen (for which Eddie Redmayne has just won the Oscar for best Actor) and his wife Jane’s life, from first meeting in Cambridge in 1964, with Stephen’s subsequent academic successes and his increasing disability. In the Imitation Game, we see three different periods of Alan Turing’s life, as portrayed by Alex Lawther (when at Sherborne) and Benedict Cumberbatch (in adult life), from introvert but brilliant schoolboy to dismissive, difficult, brilliant and plain odd scientist placed at Bletchley Park to crack the German’s Enigma code, interwoven throughout by Turing’s interrogation about a break-in after the war and his homoselual realtionships with others.
It’s fair to say that women play central roles in all three films, so it was not just a festival of celebrating manhood. But what stuck me about all three films were their very obvious relevance to 2015, not least Hollywood’s decision to leave Selma out completely from any of the Oscar nominations. Now is clearly not a good time across the pond to seek to celebrate Good black men – as the opening speech last night by Neil Patrick Harris made clear at the Oscar’s ceremony “Tonight we celebrate Hollywood’s best and whitest, sorry… brightest”. Celebrating Stephen Hawking’s life was indeed a triumph not just by Redmayne, but by the film itself, leaving us clearly in awe of both Hawking and his wife Jane, played by Felicity Jones, an almost never-ending testament of love and challenge as these two grow up together, producing three children and (almost) a unifying Theory for everything. Having seen previous films on Hawking, including Benedict Cumberbatch playing the lead role for a BBC production, I feel I sort of know the story but somehow Redmayne’s portrayal of the Professor, including some very good humour brought it all very much up to date.
Whilst all three of these films highlight the lives of some of the most famous men of the last 60 years, they also remind us of the incredible struggle and conflict they had to face in pursuing hunches and realising dreams. None of the three had an ideal life, and perhaps of Stephen Hawking still with us, a life that none of us could begin to comprehend the difficulties therein. Certainly all three knew how to be very difficult men to live with, and for Turing certainly a very clear understanding that he found it very difficult to communicate effectively with others, whether in agreement or not.
I leave the best line though to the film about Turing’s life, spoken by a number of characters through the film, from boyhood friend Christopher and fellow code breaker, Joan Clarke (Keira Knightly) and by Turing himself – “Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine” . If ever there was a mantra that we need to embed in the psyche of schools it is this one.
As evidence of that – https://jameswilding.wordpress.com/2012/02/09/normalising-the-extraordinary/ and of course, so many more past pupils of both genders who have gone on to make their way into adult life, professional and personal, and become remarkable people in their own right.