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Entertainment

Milk (2008) Dir Gus Van Sant, Valkerie (2009) Dir Bryan Singer, Dean Spanley (2008) Dir Toa Fraser Reel, Vue, and Hull Screen

When I left the cinema after seeing The Wrestler I assumed I had seen THE performance of the year, if not the decade by Mickey Rourke. No question. Rourke’s performance soared to the existential heights even eclipsing Michael Fassbender, Sam Riley and James Nesbitt in Hunger, Control and Bloody Sunday respectively. Rourke’s power allied to sensitivity and pathos are astounding.

But having seen Sean Penn in the wonderful Milk, all bets are off and I don‘t believe you can get as much as a cigarette paper between these two great performances as Penn plays Harvey Milk, doyen of the US Gay Rights Movement and bete noir of the American Bible Belt activists who tried to use law and the Constitution to overturn pragmatic and sensible equal rights legislation.

In 1977, Milk became the first openly gay elected official in US history, but a long running but repressed feud with a fellow San Francisco Supervisor ended with Milk and the Mayor being slain just a year on from his historic poll victory.

I had no idea of the back-story and was absolutely flabbergasted that a recall referendum (by the way, what a cracking idea, bring it to the UK!) had nearly been passed which would have seen gay teachers, or fellow pedagogues who stood shoulder to shoulder with their colleagues, summarily sacked in a chilling echo of ’Thirties Nazi Germany.

Harvey Milk’s struggle for basic human rights is a fantastic example of why politics matters. Not party, partisan slanging matches about which particular group gets to ride the gravy train, but people standing together for what is right and persuading the ambivalent who hold the real power, by the strength of their argument which Milk and his supporters did by defeating the recall.

Before we in the UK get all smug and say such intolerance couldn’t come here, think about the lamentable Clause 28, introduced by the Tories, which made it AGAINST THE LAW for a teacher, or any other local government worker, to treat gay and lesbian citizens as having equal worth.

What did that say to the many gay pupils that I taught about what their country thought of them. An absolute disgrace. No one was ever charged, let alone convicted under Clause 28. It’s purpose was to bully and subvert a significant minority of British Citizens into feeling worthless.

But, as psychologists studies show time after time, the way we express hatred to others really reflects how we feel about ourselves.

Milk is a great movie, with an important message and Sean Penn has delivered a veritable tour de force in the lead role, ably supported by Josh Brolin as his mentally damaged assassin.

Valkerie explores just how bad things can get when themes of bigotry and intolerance present in Milk, are given free reign.

It is 1944, and the German Resistance to Hitler within the Wermacht and the Civil Service realises that if the Furher isn’t stopped, then Germany and those countries around her will face the abyss.

The narrative is well known. Count von Stauffenburg, controversially played by Tom Cruise uses his access to Hitler to plant a bomb during a tactical briefing, the idea being to seize power, marginalise the SS and talk to the Allies about ending the War. But events conspired against the plotters.

The film has a good pace and tells a cracking story, but like Defiance it just failed to take off from the ordinary, but given the competition at the Box Office over the last six weeks or so, perhaps I’m being a little harsh as the cast, with the obvious exception of the talent less Bill Nighy, delivered a believable performance about unbelievable, but true events.

Dean of the Cathedral Spanley (Sam Neill) has a bizarre secret past in Alan Sharp’s adaptation of Lord Durnsay’s Edwardian novel, and the temptation of a rare vintage wine tempts the venerable Dean to elaborate to Fisk senior (Peter O’Toole) and his son who have a typically repressed relationship despite appalling family tragedy.

Upper lips become un stiffened and the ending, unlike Slumdog Millionaire really delivers the feel good factor.

O’Toole is simply magnificent and this performance complements Venus perfectly to produce a funny, offbeat and well observed little gem of a picture.

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About dermotrathbone

Writer and co author "Through Red Lenses". Activist Unite the Union, Save Our NHS Hull. Fan of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Hull FC, Munster and Ireland Rugby. Views are mine alone and may not reflect the organisations concerned.

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