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Robert Jay QC - He wears a beard and he is the star!

Maybe it’s just me but in my moments when I am not being a daytime HR Consultant or writing this blog, I am spending more of my time watching the exquisite ‘cat and mouse’ drama that we best know as the Leveson Inquiry.

For some this might sound as exciting as watching the proverbial paint dry but I am quite drawn to it. Maybe it has something to do with my time as an Internal Auditor investigating a range of malpractices and abuses, my interest in TV and Film court cases (I kind of grew up on ITV’s ‘Crown Court’) or my special interest on how to interview people.

The real ‘star’ of the Inquiry is Robert Jay QC  who has already been inducted in the ‘Beard Hall of Fame’ by the previously unknown Beard Liberation Army (I kid you not). Jay as lead inquisitor (sorry, senior counsel to the inquiry) gets the prime picks of people to question- Rupert and James Murdoch, Alistair Campbell, Rebecca Brookes and yesterday and today (24-25th May) Adam Smith, one of the Culture Secretary’s political advisers.

Yesterday was a master class in forensic investigation from Jay in his questioning of Smith who tried to play a straight bat throughout but Jay got the better of him. Jay’s approach is not that of what you might call the Jeremy Paxman school of interviewing (although Jay also questioned him) where you are aggressive towards the interviewee in the hope that they will blurt out something they don’t mean to say. Rather, he has a understated kind of style, engaging but always in control of his brief and ready to point out any inconsistencies or falsehoods.

Witness his examination of the young Adam Smith who in his initial evidence tried to argue that his boss (Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt MP) had no opinion of the News International bid to secure the remaining shares of BSKYB. But after a 15 minute period of taking Smith through the evidence exhibits, Jay pointed out the memo that Hunt had written to the Prime Minister which championed the BSKYB bid. With some lovely dexterity, Jay put it to Smith that this showed that Hunt was in fact in favour of the bid, which after some prompting he accepted, only for Jay to point out that this was the opposite of what he had said 15 minutes before.

Jay is very good- he has a wonderful way when trying to establish why a text message was sent or what the meaning of it was, to just say “Can you help me with that please, Mr….?). The tendency is to want Jay and others to ask the obvious killer question when evidence given does not match up and although it may take time, Jay gets there. And in the process we are entertained hugely…

Dear Arthur, love John - A Bank Holiday Delight: That's an Order Wilson!

Bank Holidays in this country can be rather miserable- at least weather wise – but on this Bank Holiday Monday (7th) it was brightened up with a wonderfully funny and poignant Radio 4 comedy recounting the off stage relationship between ‘Dad’s Army’ stalwarts John Le Mesurier  and  Arthur Lowe-Dear Arthur, love John

Now, I am in no doubt that ‘Dad’s Army’ is among the finest pieces of TV Gold that this country has produced ever- the TV series that ran for 9 years, 9 series and 80 episodes still has a large place in the heart of audiences some 40 years after it was made. Often regarded as being a rather gentle comedy, it nether the less reflected in a very real way the true national character of our country – then and now.

‘Dear Arthur, love John’ is based on letters that John Le Mesurier (‘Sgt Wilson’) wrote to Arthur Lowe ('Capt Mainwaring') after the series ended and his memories of the off screen relationships of the main cast allows the audience to eavesdrop on the actors as they reflected on their lives and the making of the series.

It starts with the first read through above a Chiswick pub in 1968 as the amiable Le Mesurier ( an affecting Anton Lesser) is keen to work through his personal agonies (his wife had gone off with his best pal and comedy genius Tony Hancock) and gets to meet his new acting colleagues. He is met by some stuffy sourness from the likes of Arthur Lowe (a suitably pompous Robert Daws) and John Laurie (Kenny Ireland – no less good) who think the writing is not up to their standard. Over a period of time, Le Mesurier becomes best chums with James Beck (Spiv 'Walker') and the play explores in the main the ‘chalk and cheese’ chemistry between Lowe and Le Mesurier.

Roy Smiles incisive play makes all the right points that the ‘Dads’ Army’ writing team of Jimmy Perry and David Croft developed its characters on the actors themselves, without them knowing it bar Le Mesurier. So Mainwaring is the pompous Arthur Lowe thinking the country is going to the dogs, Wilson is the laconic, laid back Le Mesurier who just wants an easy life and Frazer is the John Laurie moaning about everything ("It will be a disaster mark my words Captain!") and very much the dour coffin maker.

Smiles also plays up the growing fondness between the two lead characters which despite their radically different views and personalities compliment each other. In the end, Le Mesurier in his letters clearly talks for the cast when he says that the time together on the series was his( theirs and ours) most happiest, and that part of the great fondness and attraction of ‘Dad’s Army’ is that it showed Britain at its very, very best fighting an enemy it understood it had to beat and the country will probably never repeat that togetherness.

My only mild criticism is when Smiles overdoes his hand by trying to recreate the last lines from the last episode rather than allow the play to end on the final correspondence between Le Mesurier and Lowe. But this is a minor irritation of a marvellously funny and poignant comedy drama that long stays in the memory. Bravo! 

Faith, Fishing and Blunt ...

OK- let’s talk movies. Most film fans worth their salt have a Friday afternoon date with the ‘Kermode and Mayo’ (“Hello to Jason Isaacs”) show on Radio 5 Live, hosted by DJ Simon Mayo and Film Critic and arch ranter Mark Kermode. Now in his review of the brilliant ‘Tinker Tailor, Solider Spy’, Kermode argued that the film was not about spying but actually about men hiding secrets from each other, which got short shrift from Simon Mayo who was having none of that.

Now, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a bit like that. Although the title suggests that the movie is about salmon fishing in the Yemen and admittedly there is a lot of that in the film itself, at its heart though, it is really about Faith. Faith in a project, faith in a relationship, faith in yourself and others.

The film based on Paul Torday’s debut 2007 novel of the same name and adapted by ‘The Full Monty’ & ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ screenwriter Simon Beaufoy, centres around two main characters- Fisheries expert Fred Jones (Ewan McGregor) and consultant Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt). Jones is a man simply going through the motions in his life, working in a dull pedestrian job, trapped in a tepid marriage, neglected by a complacent wife. Chetwode-Talbot is involved with an Army officer about to be deployed in the middle east when, acting on the instructions of a very wealthy Yemeni sheikh (Amr Waked) she convinces Jones to help her client realise his ambition to introduce salmon fishing in the Yemen desert.

This mad scheme gets a huge boost when a weasely spin doctor (think a female Alistair Campbell) played by Kristin Scott-Thomas demands a positive middle east news story – so the salmon fishing project gets big political support and we get transported to the Yemen (OK – actually Morocco) where Jones attempts to explain the difficulty of introducing said salmon into the desert, but he gradually gets won over and starts to warm to the idea and gets closer to Chetwode-Talbot.

The film is a quirky and very funny meditation on faith and a satire on government news management that perhaps suffers from trying to combine the two. Kristin Scott-Thomas, as in most of her films, threatens to run away with the acting honours but for me her character is too loud and obvious as someone keen to distract people and the media away from the war in Afghanistan. But it’s the quiet moments between Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt that draw you in. They are both very likable characters, both flawed to varying degrees and you do want to see more of them. At a key stage of the film, they are both in Yemen and they see a group of Yeminis getting ready to pray and both of them say that they don’t know anyone who now goes to church- that’s the intro to the idea of faith and it carries on in the story.

Does Jones share the faith of the sheikh that unless you truely believe in something it won't happen? Doe he believe that he and Chetwode-Talbot have a future together, does she believe enough in herself and him and what about her Army boyfriend?

The film has already been a big success and you can see why – it is quite a gentle and likeable piece of film making, ably directed by Lasse Hallstrom and it is consistently funny but moving too. McGregor is always worth watching, but for me, it is Emily Blunt who steals the show. There is just something about her that keeps you interested and there is always something going on behind those eyes of her. She impressed in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ alongside Meryl Streep (no mere feat), she was especially sweet in ‘The Jane Austen Book Club’, and played a remarkable young Queen in  ‘The Young Victoria’. She continues to impress and is one British actress set to dominate in the coming years. More please.