Roger Barrington

Review of Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru at the WMC by Roger Barrington

(4.5 / 5)


It may seem a little incongruous to have a review about the Welsh National Eisteddfod  in English, but, I’m afraid that my best endeavours, (strike that – my lack of endeavour) fifty years ago, meant that I just managed to avoid being unclassified for my O’Level Welsh language examination.

In fact, I think the last time that I attended an Eisteddfod, I was actually taking part in it! I came third, (out of three) in the piano competition. I recall the adjudicator, a Mrs Ogwen Thomas  if my nightmarish memory serves me correctly,, summed up my playing by saying that it took her a while to recognise the piece I was playing.  So, there ended my budding concert recital career!

Being Welsh, you are always aware, when being out of your native country, of being The Other. Having lived two-thirds of my life to date outside of Wales, I have exploited that, both to my advantage and disadvantage.  So, I looked forward to attending the Welsh National Eisteddfod, which, this year is being held at and around the WMC in Cardiff, with great anticipation.

I was also a little apprehensive due to my concern about missing out on most of the activities, due to my lack of understanding Welsh.

My fears were allayed due to the presence of a desk in the foyer, that has free instant translators into English. However, this only works in The Pavilion, (Donald Gordon Theatre), but as all the major action occurs here, this is not a huge problem. And the instant translation works well.

In the three hours I sat here, I watched a huge diversity of competitions – vocal, recitation, instrument duo, instrument solo and dance. Of course, music transcends the difficulties of language, so I found this to be the most enjoyable events.

The talent on display was, at times, breathtaking. In the instrumental duo, I watched two cute little ten year old girl harpists in competition against two Royal College of Music student duos – twice their age! Naturally, they came third, but to be pitted against two highly accomplished duos from the RCM, and not be embarrassed, is an outstanding achievement – especially as one of the girls lives in Lampeter and the other in Cardiff, making practicing together a little awkward.

In the Blue Ribband event for under 16’s events, I saw four wonderful young musicians. Naturally I was drawn to the pianist, a twelve year old girl from Pontyclun, who played Scarlatti and then Bartok. Two vastly different pieces, and her maturity not only in technique, but also expression was awe-inspiring. A brilliant alto saxophonist, and a cellist who again played contrasting pieces, together with a talented trombonist completed the finalists. At the time of writing, I do not know who won this competition, but it was certainly going to be a tough decision by the team of adjudicators.

Monologues are translated into Welsh as well, so you can understand fully what is being said.

Added to all this, there are a number of other venues to visit, both inside and outside the venue.

There are a vast number of stalls present again, providing a real festive environment.

I took a look at the Welsh Books Council stall, and despite my intention not to add to my already burgeoning book collection, I came away with “The Hill of Dreams” by Welsh author Arthur Machen. The opening line goes, “There was a glow in the sky as if great furnace doors were opened”. Well, I can equate the glow to the Eisteddfod and the doors blown wide open, are those to my Welsh soul.

I invite you to rekindle your sense of Welsh identity, because, one thing that is clearly apparent is that the future of our culture is in assured hands.

Tickets, (remarkably good value for money), can be obtained at

NB. There is an abundance of events you can attend free.

Review of “Whitney” seen at Chapter by Roger Barrington



(3.5 / 5)


On a warm Tuesday evening on 3rd May 1988, a colleague of mine and I spent a couple of hours in the company of Larry Wansey. Wansey at this time, was Operation Director of the Dallas Cowboys, but had taken time out to act as Security Director for Whitney Houston’s Moment of Truth World Tour. When researching for this review, I had no idea other than the Cowboys connection, of the man I was talking to.

A celebrated undercover operative for the FBI, he was involved in the Patty Hearst 1974 kidnapping by the Symbionese Liberation Army. Later, at the time of 9/11 he was Managing Director of Corporate Security for American Airlines, and was heavily involved in the investigation of that tragic event. I remember him as a very affable man with a good sense of humour.

Why did this conversation take place? Well at this time, I was employed in the In-house security team at the InterContinental Hotel at Hyde Park Corner, and Whitney was not only using this as her base for her 8 night stint at the Wembley Arena, but for her Paris gig as well. She stayed about a fortnight at the hotel and Larry wished to discuss security arrangements for her stay, although I seemed to recall, we talked mostly about other things.

Incidentally, at this time, my ultimate Boss was Stephen Mulligan, who lived in a suite in the hotel with his family, including 3-year old Carey Mulligan. But that is nothing to do with this film, so I shall return to my review.

Shortly into her stay, I bumped into Whitney and Larry, in a lift. Taken aback, I entered rigorously chewing gum for which I gave the excuse that I was making my most recent attempt to quit smoking. Larry had introduced me, so Whitney enquired, how long had I managed to go without a cigarette, and checking my watch, I informed her, about 19 minutes. She shrieked with laughter and a few days later, when I was on duty at a press conference she was doing, she recognised me and with a smile asked if I had still managed to quit smoking to which I responded with a sigh. There ended my short conversation relationship with this American icon – totally forgettable for her but the opposite for me.

What emerges from Kevin Macdonald’s worthy but flawed documentary of the life and death of this iconic American pop star, is her sense of humour – which I think is shown above within my own experience. She loved life and it is all the more sorrowful, that her rapid decline and ultimate death was fueled by a combination of drink and drugs and being surrounded by people, both friends and family who brought this on.

I say flawed, because I think this kind of documentary can only go so far on trying to identify the real Whitney. “All the music. All the stories. All the answers” is the movie’s tagline and it doesn’t really merit any of these assertions. A couple next to me were complaining that there wasn’t enough of her singing so left half-way through. Certainly, all the answers was not provided. It is rather like reading an autobiographical book, where the author naturally only writes about what he/she wishes to know about. Likewise here, people interviewed are selective on what they tell you. Her husband Bobby Brown, flatly refused to talk about her drug abuse.

There is reference to their child Bobbi Kristina Brown on record of having said that she wished to kill her mother. ‘Whitney was probably a good mother at first” we are told, but with the tragic 2015 death of Bobbi Kristina in an uncanny similar way to her mother, this topic is left tantalisingly unfulfilled.

Glaswegian Macdonald is a skilful documentary filmmaker. He won an Oscar in this category in 2000, for “One Day in September” that chartered the hostage taking of the Israeli athletes by militant Palestinian group Black September in 1972. He asks searching questions to a wide range of people associated with Whitney. To get an idea of her early life, he interviews Cissy Houston, her mother. Cissy, (who I also met because she was doing a duet with her daughter, and also came across as a friendly person), is a former singer of note. After a successful career as a backup singer to her niece, Dionne Warwick, (there is only 7 years age difference between them), Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin she is part of a soul dynasty. In addition to her family connection with Dione, she is also aunt to singer Dee Dee Warwick and a cousin to famous opera diva Leontyne Price. From Cissy we learn about Whitney’s gospel singing  upbringing and the way her young life was largely protected from the harsher environment that existed in Newark, New Jersey at that time.

Brother Gary provides insightful comments and there is much attention brought to the Svengali type presence of lesbian and possible lover of Whitney, Robyn Crawford. But there is nothing particularly new here.

Probably the coup of this investigative work is the reference to Whitney being molested by her cousin Dee Dee Warwick.

Macdonald provides an historical aspect as Whitney’s life develops with archival film, using the Newark Riots pf 1967 and images of Ronald Reagan to provide a couple of examples. You do wonder whether this adds to the film, or gets in the way, and, at best, is only moderately entertaining.

This is the third documentary of the life of Whitney. It is a highly watchable film that probably goes as far as it can do at this time, only 6 years after her death. Maybe the definitive documentary on this singer has yet to be completed, and perhaps the passage of time, when others are more forthcoming to reveal material, will make this possible.

“Whitney” is currently showing at Chapter. For schedule and booking tickets, please visit,


Roger Barrington

Review of “Twelfth Night” performed at Hatherop Castle by Roger Barrington


(3.5 / 5)


The Venue – Hatherop Castle


Cotswold Arcadians 2018 Shakespeare production, performed outdoors in the gorgeous surroundings of Hatherop Castle, is The Bard’s exquisite  comedy, “Twelfth Night or What you Will”.

This tale of mistaken identity, cross-dressing and humiliation is regarded, by many, (including myself), as Shakespeare’s finest comedy.

Viola has been rescued from a storm at sea and lands on Illyria. She believes that her twin brother Sebastian has not survived the ordeal and has drowned. Disguising herself as a young man, she enters the service of Duke Orsino.  The Duke belives himsellf to be in love with the highly desirable countess Olivia, and uses Viola, (now known as Cesario to act as a go-between to aid his courtship. Olivia, much impressed with Cesario, fulls in love with him.  Cesario, in the meantime fulls in love with Orsino. Still with me? The matters are brought to their conclusion when Sebastian enters the confused threesome’s world and all is happily resolved.

Sub-plots involve some of Shakeseare’s most famous creations. Sir Toby Belch, (Countess Olivia’s kinsman), who is fervent i n his desire to live the heady time of “cakes and ale”, typical of the twelve days of Christmastide to its utmost. His silly friend, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Olivia’s fool Feste, (although he disputes his role himself), Maria, (Olivia’s gentlewoman companion), and Flavia, (a servant in Olvia’s household). combine to humiliate Malvolio, (steward to Olivia), because he is a prig and pompous fellow, full of his own self-importance. “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.” (Act II, Scene v), read out by Malvolio from a letter written by Maria, and thereafter used as his creed.

One of The Bard’s themes in this play is to bring attention to the controversial law regarding no female performers at this time being allowed on stage. Therefore, young boys tended to play women parts and this led to inevitable problems relating to sexual exploitation, homosexuality and prostitution.

Since 1991, Cotswold Arcadians have produced an annual Shakespeare production, which has been performed at Hatherop Castle for the past fifteen years or so. The Company has acquired a respected reputation within the amateur theatrical world, and has been recognised by the Royal Shakespeare Company, in its Open Stages project as a Company worthy of assistance, and this has been shown through members taking parts in workshops at Straford-upon-Avon.

Director Geoff Butterworth has set the plot in the 1920’s, the Jazz Age era. This is exemplified by period costume and a live band playing 1920’s hits. This isn’t the first time that I have seen a Shakespearean play adapted in this way. Back in 1992, I enjoyed David Thacker’s, “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” which did exactly the same thing. It work’s well, although I felt that the frivolous nature of flappers and The Jazz age is a little at odds with the Yuletide setting of “Twelfth Night”. The hot summer evening didn’t help either, but, I would much prefer viewing in this climate outdoors, than a cold January night in a deep beak winter.

The grass stage lies between two temporary stands in a traverse style.  On either side of the space there are two primitive doors, one of which has a raised balcony . The four-piece band is placed just off-stage.

The quality of acting is of a good standard and in some instances reaches a height that would grace a West End stage.

Samantha Swinford as Viola/Cesario, after a nervous start, grows into her role and is particularly  good at displaying masculine gait and characteristics. I watched the first night of this production, and based upon her improvement as the play progressed, I believe that she will do full justice to this demanding role.

Olivia, (Lizzie Leach) and Maria, (Heidi Price), both possess fine voices for Shakespeare and are equally impressive.

Fabia, (Caz Shaw) delivers her lines with a deadpan voice, if she added a rural Berkshire accent, with her appearance, you could take her for a youthful Pam Ayres.

On the male side, I warmed to Tony Free’s, Sir Andrew Aguecheek. It is easy, (and indeed I have witnessed it in a RSC production), to overplay this part, and it must be tempting to do it, but in this case the balance is spot-on. Some of the best scenes are reserved for his interaction with cronies, Sir Toby Belch, (Dave Kilmister), and Feste, John Salter), both of whom are also very good.

Jonathan Vickers, as the humiliated and somewhat tragic  Malvolio is excellent, both in his early pomposity and latterly as the affronted victim.

There are no weakness in the remainder of the cast who collectively pull off a highly accomplished performance.

Veteran director Geoff Butterworth keeps the action rolling along at a good pace and shows nicely judged delicate touches. I feel that he should reconsider the opening scene whereby Viola’s voice is largely rendered inaudible due to sound effects of the tempest. I feel that Viola’s voice should be amplified somewhat whilst the effects moderated to get a balanced result. I also felt that the actors’ voices were louder after the interval, and as it being an outdoor production, this greatly added to the enjoyment. The actors’ delivery of both prose and iambic pentameter are conscientiously delivered.

I am not sure whether the live band worked that well. It seemed to me to be an odd variety of instruments and may have been improved by just a soloist or duo. Piped music may even work better. To have a live band is ambitious, but you need it to work well, and to depict the Jazz era more realistically, I feel the playing needs more zest.

These issues aside, this is a worth presentation of one of Shakespeare’s best loved plays and together with its idyllic outdoor setting marks an enjoyable evening’s entertainment in the Cotswold, on a warm summer’s evening.

The performance runs for about 160 minutes including a 15-minute interval. It continues to run until July 28th.

Continue reading Review of “Twelfth Night” performed at Hatherop Castle by Roger Barrington

Review of “The Bookshop” by Roger Barrington


(4.5 / 5)

“The Bookshop” directed by Catalan feminist auteur Isabel Coixet, is a faithful adaptation of British writer Penelope Fitzgerald’s 1978 Booker Prize nominated novel.

Set in a small Suffolk coastal town in 1959, as with all Fitzgerald’s novels, it is drawn from her own experience, as she worked in a bookshop in that country for a time in the 1950’s.

The plot is about awfully nice Florence Green, (Emily Mortimer) as a widowed middle-aged woman who decides to open up a secondhand bookshop in fictionalised Hardborough and concerns her battle with the local bigwigs General and Mrs  Gamart who want to convert the property into an Arts Centre. Also encountering opposition due to small-town small mindedness and ignorant philistinism she garners support from recluse Edmund Brundish, (Bill Nighy) and 13-year old Christine, whom she employs as her assistant. Into the mix comes loquacious rakish BBC man Milo North who Christine perceptively recognises is not a nice man.

The tension arises out of the burgeoning friendship that develops between our heroine and Brundish in opposition to the Machiavellian ruthfulness of the appalling Gamarts.

Isabel Coixet is a multi-award winning Catalan director, who first came to my notice with the superb, “My Life without me”. (2003). She continues to make highly acclaimed film, “Elergy” (2008) and “Endless Night” (2015) and a dominant theme throughout her dozen or so other feature movies is that the central character is a woman who takes control of her life.

Emily Mortimer is ideally cast as Florence Green, the brave and pioneering but vulnerable woman who doesn’t look for confrontation, but will take it on if she has to.


Bill Nighy who plays her ally Edmund Brundish is in usual scene-stealing form. Has there been a British actor since Denholm Elliott ho constantly manages to achieve this? All the best scenes in the film feature him.



American Patricia Clarkson is a regular feature in Coixet’s films and this is their third collaboration. This underrated actress manages the clipped British accent nicely and subtly provides us with a nasty determined character who is determined to get her way within the small community she resides in, as she always does.


Thirteen-year old actress, (at the time of filming), Honor Kneafsey as bookshop assistant Christine provides a mature performance of the precocious but charming adolescent. A couple of years on, she is already a veteran of nineteen films and looks a rare talent, even though her middle class speaking voice seems a little out of sorts with Christine’s working class antecedents.


Coixet’s Suffolk doesn’t look authentic. In fact, exterior shots were filmed on location in Northern Ireland, whilst interior sets were in Spain.

However, this isn’t really a problem, as Suffolk isn’t key to the story. As I mentioned earlier, it is where author Penelope Fitzgerald resided for a time in the 1950’s whilst she worked in a secondhand bookshop. But the location could be anywhere, and not only in the UK, where closed communities exist.

“The Bookshop” is a story about courage and determination. We  learn late into the film that during WW1, Edmund was an aviator, so he is the ideal person to recognise Florence’s qualities. By contrast, General Gamart, (Reg Wilson) a veteran of the same conflict but who served in The Suffolk Regiment, comes across as the worst kind of army officer of this period, who stoops to levels of deceit to cowardly succumb to his wife’s demands.

This film is also about small town bigotry, in terms of it’s consolidated opposition to a person who doesn’t conform to their small minded way of thinking. If you are brought up in a small town or village, you may appreciate what I am writing.

The time setting of the book and film is significant. The last year of the 1950’s, a period when Britain was coming to grips with the austerity of and aftermath of  WW2, marks a time with the 1960’s, just around the corner,  a decade that transformed society. Also, Arts Centres, that sprung up after 1945, were becoming the trendy venues of the 1960’s and 1970’s, thereby marking a total contrast to the traditional British secondhand bookshop – an institution that in our era of online bookselling and e-books is slowly succumbing to its eventual inevitable demise.

It didn’t pass me by, that I was watching this film at Chapter, an arts centre in Cardiff. I pondered whether I had to give one thing up – secondhand bookshops or arts centres, which choice would I make, coming down in favour of the former. A difficult decision because i love both, but books have always featured strongly in my life. I have always lived in places where books take over the place. Even in the modest flat I live in now, I have upwards of two and a half thousand books. I will never be able to read all of them before I, (hopefully), gain admittance to that great library in the sky, but that doesn’t stop my sense of anticipation when I enter a secondhand bookshop to explore its contents. “You are never alone in a bookshop” is the closing line of this film, and if you feel as I do, then you will identify closely with this.

The satisfying climax works perfectly, but I don’t wish to give the game away by saying more here.

This film will divide the majority of viewers, into those who love it, and those who loathe it. The start is a little sluggish, but if you accept what it is trying to achieve on its own terms, then you will find this an utterly absorbing and memorable film.

Country: U.K., Spain, Germany

Language: English

Running time: 113 minutes

Certificate: PG

Continue reading Review of “The Bookshop” by Roger Barrington

Review of “The Magic Flute” performed by RWCMD at The Sherman Theatre by Roger Barrington



(4 / 5)


Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” which recently finished its short run at The Sherman Theatre in Cardiff, is an accomplished and often very funny interpretation presented by The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

Prince Tamino, (tenor Huw Ynyr) is rescued from a serpent by Three Ladies, attendants on the Queen of the Night, (soprano Bernice Chitiul). She promises Tamino the hand of her daughter Pamina, (soprano – Lucy Mellors), if he can rescue her from the hands of the evil Sarastro, (bass – Blaise Malaba), who has kidnapped her. Together with the Royal Birdcatcher Papageno, (baritone – Dragos Ionel), they go off on search of the unfortunate Pamina. They have been granted two magical instruments to accompany them on their dangerous journey. Tamino is given a flute, personified onstage by Andrew Martin, and Papageno bells in the shape of xylophonist James Harris.

The remainder of the action depicts the rescue attempt and the trials and tribulations forced upon Tamino and Papageno to effect the rescue.

Mozart was a Freemason, and symbolism and ritual are shown in this opera in a thinly veiled allegoric way. Masonic themes such as good vs. evil, enlightenment vs. ignorance, and the virtues of knowledge, justice, wisdom and truth are all here. The mysterious worship of Isis and Osiris,  Egyptian Gods concerned with the Afterlife, and a libretto by  Emanuel Schikaneder is full of symbols and rituals associated with Freemasonry. The number three which has a strong association with Freemasonry features strongly as well. Witness the Three Lady attendants of the Queen of the Night, the Three Boys in their flying machines that guide our two heroes in the rescue attempt and the serpent that is cut into three pieces are just some of the references to this number in the opera.

Director Martin  Constandine has an impressive c.v. having previously worked with The Royal Opera House, RSC, English National Opera, WNO and a host of other influential companies. On the basis of what is on display in this production, you can clearly see why this is the case.

In his version, Sarastro is the leader of a totalitarian cult, (suitably named The Brotherhood), whose subjects are brainwashed on a daily basis to render them zombie-like in their passivity.

Masonic symbols abound although chevrons are, I believe, more associated with The Illuminati.

In one highly comic scene, the clones are transformed from their usual catatonic state into a dance troupe doing the twist upon reacting to the magical effects of the bells.

Chad Healy’s busy set design works well. At the opening to Act 2, the curtain opens to a number of girls in a typing pool and then in the upper back section a scene of a clone receiving their daily dose of “medication” contrasts brilliantly.

Huw Ynyr has a very pleasant tenor voice. He also sings with great clarity. This version is in English written by Jeremy Sams.


Likewise Lucy Mellors has a very fine soprano voice.  Her aria after Tamino refuses to speak to her, (one of the trials he must pass in order to gain admission to The Brotherhood), Tamino, see, these tears flow for you alone, beloved is sung with great sincerity and intensity.



Dragos Ionel’s Papageno, has a resonable baritone voice, but he excels in his comedic  acting.



Blaise Malaba as Sarasto looked the part as the arch-baddie commanding an ominous presence on stage. His bass singing may  lack a little power in the deepest range, but in other respects he is excellent.


Bernice Chitiul as Queen of the Night rendered a performance of the highest order. It didn’t surprise me when reading the programme notes that she has performed at London’s  Wigmore Hall. Her two arias, both technically difficult showed her ability as being able to master the coloratura skill required.




The Three Boys and The Three Lady Attendant offer admirable support.

The orchestra of the RWCMD under the baton of Gareth Jones, play Mozart’s score with the lightness and fluency required and complement the singing perfectly.

There are many future stars in the world of opera on view in this production, and one hopes that it will tour in the future so that audiences can enjoy to-notch opera at a very reasonable price.


Roger Barrington


Review “The Young Karl Marx” at Chapter Cinema 1 by Roger Barrington

Directed by Raoul Peck August Diehl as Karl Marx Stefan Konarske as Friedrich Engels






(4 / 5)


This year marks the the bicentennial anniversary of the birth of Karl Mark, and to mark it, Haitian director Raoul Peck has made a film to commemorate this auspicious event.

When many of us think of Marx, (and I count myself among them), we have some abstract idea of a granite type entity, largely due to his tomb at Highgate Cemetery or his enormous and unfinished Magnus Opus, “Das Kapital”. Unfinished because Marx believed that the subject matter was in a permanent state of evolution. This film introduces us to the human side of Marx.

We are introduced to Marx’s family – his wife Jenny von Westphalen, (Vicky Krieps),  who came from an aristocratic Prussian family, and gave everything up to be with Marx and support his political and philosophical agendas.

In contrast, Friedrich Engels was the son of a wealthy Manchester textile manufacturer, and witnessed the hardships of the workers at first hand. which he wrote about in “The Condition of the Working Class in England” (1845), a work that Marx greatly admired. Engels had a lifelong romantic relationship with Mary Burns, (  Hannah Steele), of which little is known, other than she probably introduced Engels to inside information about the suffering of the working class on which he wrote about.

The two couples juxtaposed represent a kind of counterbalance when you take into consideration their backgrounds. Marx and his family live in poverty, finding it difficult to stay in one country for a length of time due to his radical political ideas.

There is,unavoidably, quite a lot of political and philosophical dialogue in this film. The stunning opening scene which shows a group of peasants, anxiously gathering up dead wood from the forest ground, before being the recipients of a baton charged hussars patrol, leads to a voiceover on Marx’s ideas about class struggles. “To gather green wood, one must rip it violently from the living tree. Yet gathering dead wood removes nothing from the property. Only what is already separated is removed from the property. Despite this essential difference, you call both acts theft and punish them as such. Montesquieu names two kinds of corruption: One when the people do not observe the laws. The other when the laws corrupt them. You have erased the difference between theft and gathering. But you are wrong to believe it is in your interest. The people see the punishment, but not the crime. And, as they do not see a crime…when they are punished, you should fear them, for they will take revenge.”

Marx fiery personality shows him to be an inspiring orator but intellectual bully and in contrast to the more gentler Wilhelm Weitling, the tailor/political activist who as ultimately edged out of The League of the Just, the political Utopian organisation that reorganised into the Communist League under Marx and Emngel’s influence.

In a way, the film is a buddy movie between Marx and Engels. It shows that Marx couldn’t have advanced into the powerhouse he is today without Engel’s assistance – especially his financial help.



The period covered is relatively small, from 1843 to 1848, when Marx and Engels published what is believed by many to be the most influential literary work of the nineteenth century – “The Communist Manifesto”. It’s immortal first line, ” A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Tsar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies”.

Karl Marx is vividly brought to life by German actor, August Diehl and his countryman Stefan Konarske portrays Engels as a quieter, more sensitive but equally determined brother in arms. Good support is provided by Luxembourg actress Vicky Krieps as Jenny and British actress Hannah Steele as Mary.

Director  Raoul Peck, working with a pan-European cast and crew, manages to make the film look more lavish than it should do, and the sincerity of the work is unquestionable. You can’t help to be inspired by the energy and commitment shown by these young radicals of a century and a half ago, and it made me wonder whether we will see their like again in the future. Everything today seems so anodyne and people are afraid to speak their minds either due to retribution or fear of political correctness. So nothing much changes and the beneficiaries of this maintenance of the status quo is the bourgeoisie that should remind us that the class struggle is still present and as vital now as it was during Marx and Engels time.

“The Young Karl Marx” is an earnest didactic film, that has enough human interest within it to make it accessible and enjoyable to many cinema-goers.

I shall finish off by quoting Wilhelm Weitling in a line taken directly from the film. “Critique devours everything that exists. And when nothing is left, it devours itself”. On that note, I had better end.

Country: France, Germany Gelgium

Language: German, French, English with English subtitles where needed.

Duration: 118 minutes

It plays at Chapter in Cardiff until 5th July.

Roger Barrington




Review “Jeune Femme” aka “Montparnasse Bienvenue” watched at Chapter Cinema 1 by Roger Barrington

Directed by Léonor Serraille Laetitia Dosch as Paula






(4.5 / 5)


Leonor Serraille’s terrific debut film, “Jeune Femme” also known as “Montparnasse Bienvenue” was shown at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival where it won the Camera D’Or award for best first feature.

The titles is a little incongruous in either of its two version. At 31, Paula, the heroine of the story is hardly a young girl. Montparnasse Bienvenue is the name of one of the busiest Metro stations in the Paris underground where a number of lines converge. However, nothing of note in the film happens here.

Maybe “Jeune Girl” is a reflection of Paula’s sometimes immature actions. And Montparnasse Bienvenue(Montparnasse Welcome (you) can be considered ironic, because there is little in terms of cinematography that is particularly welcoming in this film. In fact, for a film made in Paris, the director manages to make it look like any other inner city, with its functionality and ugliness. This represents Paula’s impression of the French capital which she dislikes. “I think Paris is a city that doesn’t like people” .  Or possibly, “Montparnasse Bienvenue” with its confusing convergence of metro lines represents how complicated are everyday life is in the 21st century.

The film starts in a ferocious manner where we see Paula headbutting an apartment door in response to her requests for entry being disregarded.

Having injured her head, she attends hospital, and in a rare lengthy scene, we learn that she was trying to gain entry into her lover of ten year’s flat who has obviously wanted to end the relationship. Returning after this event to the flat she notices her ex-lover’s cat and decides to catnap it. Clutching this white furry ball to her chest, we witness Paula’s attempt to rebuild her life and the encounters she has along the way.


In a way, it is an anti-existential film. For Paula lives in the moment paying total disregard for consequences of her actions. Seeking a place to lay her head, (and the cat’s), she calls upon a friend who is prepared to put her up. However, the heavily pregnant friend makes a cutting remark about the cat, prompting Paula to ask whether she thinks she will make a fit mother. So, she and cat get promptly kicked out.

There is a very clever scene at Montparnasse Cemetery, where Paula finds an open tomb to shelter her cat from the rain. I don’t think it is a coincidence that at this cemetery you have buried John-Paul Sarte and his lover Simone de Beauvoir, probably the two greatest existentialists of the twentieth century. So living in the moment, she finds an open tomb a useful place to satisfy her needs at that time, whereas Sarte and de Beauvoir were useless remains – a remnant of the past.

She meets a girl who mistakes her for an old friend due to Paula’s heterochromia iridis – different coloured eyes. Excited by this, the girl takes her home to stay but Paula doesn’t think to tell her that in fact she wasn’t that friend, and this is only learned later on.



Looking for work, she takes on a job as a home help and childminder for a dance company director. At first, the little girl is serious and guarded, so with Paula being her inimitable self, it almost seems like role reversal. But gradually  the girl takes to Paula and they establish a relationship which appears to open up a new world for the strictly brought up child. Whether the reason is that the mother is jealous of Paula’s easygoing relationship with her daughter, or something else, she decides to look for a replacement.

Paula also takes a ship in a Knicker Bar section of a department store. It is only a temporary job, (but that isn’t going to phase Paula). and she takes to it well. She establishes a friendly relationship with an Afro French security guard for the mall whether the store is located. He is a steady guy who you think might act as a rudder for Paula’s spontaneous lifestyle.

Eventually we are introduced to Paula’s ex Joachim, (Grégoire Monsaingeon), who is a professor and intellectual, in contrast to Paula, who by her own admission states that she is not very clever. Joachim is older than Paula and it would seem that she may be attracted to older men due to her father being missing in her life. Joachim  now wants to get back together with Paula, and this desire is intensified when he learns that Paula is pregnant with his child. He comes across as being a supercilious and condescending man who comes close to sexually assaulting Paula when she turns down his advances.

Paula is estranged from her mother – we don’t know the reason other than her mother complains that she is always leaving. She literally pushes her away and when Paula breaks into her mother’s home, there is a poignant scene when she is clinging on to the banister with both arms and legs as her mother tries to push her out.  However, there does seem to be some acceptance after this on the part of the mother, but we don’t know how long this will last.

Along the way, the director provides some social comment. At the knicker bar where Paula works, each girl has to be dress uniformly and provide a branded look in their personal appearance. Therefore they walk around the store like mindless clones. During a lunch break when she is talking to her friend, Ousmane, the security guy, she is reminded in her ear-piece that breaks are for only 30 minutes not 35, reminding us of the “Big Brother” environment that often plagues the modern workplace. Ousmane has a degree in economics but is working in security. Maybe this is down to his ethnic origin.



The film is a triumph for Laetitia Dosch as Paula. She is in every scene of the movie and gives a totally uninhibited and honest portrayal of a woman who just gets on with her life and deals with problematic situations as they arise without guarding against them.

Through the skill of director   Léonor Serraille, we view the movie in the moment also. It is very unusual in that way – it immerses you into Paula’s lifestyle which typifies modern living – especially in the great metropoles of the world. I’m tempted to say that it is a film about alienation and isolation – there is an early references to Barentsburg, a settlement on the Norwegian island of Svalbard, (formerly Spitzbergen) and located north of the Artic Circle. You can’t get much more isolated than that.  Alienation and isolation are a factor, but I think  this film is more a testament of Paula’s ability to overcome her difficulties and it leaves a surprisingly uplifting effect on you.

This movie won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if you like offbeat comedy-drama, in the classic French New Wave style, then I can recommend it unreservedly.

“Jeune Femme” has finished its short run at Chapter Cinema 1, but can still be found at selected locations in the U.K.

County: France

Language: French with English subtitles

Duration: 97 minutes

Cert. 15 for mild nudity and occasional strong language and sexual threat.


Roger Barrington