TWO things I was glad of on Sunday.
The fact the rain was torrential – and the fact I decided to put down my phone and ignore it completely for the duration of one of the films I am looking at for you this week.
The inclement weather meant I could justify staying bound up in my duvet as lunchtime fast approached with bed hair to complement the look. And The Red Turtle deserves every ounce of attention you can offer it and when you do return to your mobile device, groaning with social media alerts about what people have had for breakfast and doctored selfies smattered with cartoon animal features seeking empty validation, your disinterest will be tangible.
The Red Turtle is a triumph. Apart from a couple of shouts from the animated man – the hero of the piece – not one word is uttered in 80 minutes. Not one. There are sound effects – waves crash, gulls screech, crabs scuttle, the wind is caught in the bamboo boughs – and a beguiling score, however, this Oscar-nominated movie has universal appeal by not being rooted in a language or a culture. You will be rewarded for your attentiveness, swept along with the richness of the storytelling and moreover the themes.
We first meet our nameless Crusoe character struggling in billowing seas and we deduce he is the subject of a shipwreck. The relentless waters eventually give up their near-dead and he is deposited onto a shell-shaped island. Having explored its extremities and faced a fear or two, he is determined to escape it.
Setting sail, he is barely beyond the safe harbour of the reef when his sturdy handmade wooden raft is scattered like matchsticks by something unseen and he is forced to swim back to shore. And again. And again.
We then are introduced to the giant red turtle, who seems to be encouraging him to stay put on this providing paradise as his best option rather than face uncertainly at sea. Full of rage, however, he punishes the creature before his guilt and anguish take him over. And so the tale twists.
It is a soothing meditation about life and death standing shoulder to shoulder, existence, loneliness, legacy, companionship, nature as both a destructive and a restorative power, adapting to our surrounds, being grateful for what we have, finding that one true half that makes us whole.
For its silence, it is loud against its bedfellows in the animation category, largely populated by pixel-generated wide-eyed jabbering animals. It may therefore confound the little people in your life, particularly the surreal dream sequences. If you are ready to receive it, however, you will be captivated.
Could you name the democratically-elected president of Botswana and his significance? Before 11am on Sunday, I am ashamed to say I could not, but A United Kingdom put me right (more weekend history lessons for me – it is becoming a ‘thing’).
Ian Khama has stood sentinel over the country since 2008 with his late parents having safeguarded its future for him, their devotion to their people and, more Richter Scale-registering, one another the subject of the film.
Rosamund Pike and David Oyelowo star as Ruth Williams and Seretse Khama, who meet in London in 1947 while he is studying law there. They are falling hard for one another as they bop around to jazz favourites, long before he drops the bombshell that he is rightful heir to the throne in what was then Bechuanaland, effectively part of the British Empire since the 1880s.
“I understand perfectly” says Ruth, far from convincingly, when she believed she would need to enjoy it while it lasts. But he cannot live without her and she could never have known where he heart would take her, much to her father’s abject despair; the red dust of southern Africa, practising her best Queen Elizabeth wave as she went.
A shameful chapter in history is fully exposed by this film as the concept of apartheid is first needing to be explained, the ‘distaste’ of an interracial marriage being used in an attempt to tighten the grip of imperialism and satisfy political ambitions at Westminster. Roll in the possibility of precious minerals resting in the African soil and it is a heady mixture evoking all manner of emotion and aspiration among those with dishonourable intentions.
We have all been brought up to glorify Winston Churchill, however, dare I say it, his dealings in these matters were clearly not his finest hour.
No sentimentality or slush with the two heavyweight actors in the lead roles, you believe in them and their relationship, you will them on as they are kept apart and resist pressures from all sides and in your armchair, you will celebrate their legacy, explained over black and white pictures from the Khama family albums at the end.