Category Archives: Film

Belle and Sébastien

Feeling enthusiastic about Cécile Aubry’s Belle and Sébastien (newly translated by Gregory Norminton), and with the Resident IT Consultant claiming he’d watched it on television as a child (something he rarely admits to), I set about finding out why I only recognised it as a classic book title, but had no recollection of reading the book or being offered it as small screen entertainment.

It made me want to weep. First, because this mid-1960s French children’s novel shows up as a recent film; not even the 1967 television series. Second, because someone has changed the plot so much that they might as well have written a new script about a boy and his dog. And I can find no trace of the book having existed in Swedish translation. I could be wrong, but they are only enthusing about the 2013 film…

Cécile Aubry and Helen Stephens, Belle and Sébastien

This is a lovely book, with illustrations by Helen Stephens done with a real 1960s vibe. Maybe, just maybe, the story is set before the 1964 mentioned in the book, but there are no nazis or fleeing jews and Sébastien’s adopted grandfather does not want to kill the dog Belle. Any nastiness comes from the villagers in this southern Alps French community. That is what the book is about; a boy finding a dog to love, and the ignorant, and scared, villagers wanting to kill the dog they believe is dangerous.

I was thinking that this kind of group unpleasantness would be hard to have in a modern book, and that it clearly shows the passage of time. It works here, though. The period feel is similar to that of I Am David, except this is set almost exclusively in a quiet backwater where the Mayor and the Doctor are the men people listen to.

Sébastien was born in the mountains and his mother died giving birth, so the local gamekeeper brings him up, alongside his own grandchildren. Belle, the dog, was born at the same time, and ends up escaping into the wild when both are six years old. It’s as if they were meant for each other. It’s an easy love to understand. They ‘just’ have to win over the mistrustful villagers who don’t want their children eaten by this ‘beast.’

Really lovely story, which again goes to prove you can have lots of different tales about a boy and his dog.


Working on it

There was a photo from Kes – alternately of the Barry Hines novel A Kestrel for a Knave – in the Guardian recently. I have already forgotten what the article was about. But when I saw it, it suddenly hit me why I never liked Kes.

I know one is not supposed to say that. It was a set book at university, and I dutifully read it, understood little enough and disliked it. Not only because of its lack of a happy ending, but more that I couldn’t comprehend how a family could be like that. I understand now that I was very lucky not to know how families can be, but I didn’t then.

In fact, the trouble for me was class. I knew about class, I suppose, but class in Sweden doesn’t manifest itself in the same way, and it had never been anything I thought a lot about. I never felt it was all that obvious. True, some of us had less money and smaller homes, but [I thought] we were mostly all the same.

What’s more, with the help of the BBC, I knew for a fact that in England everyone had stepped out of an Agatha Christie/Enid Blyton book. And Kes didn’t fit the bill. There was no chintz and no good manners. I just didn’t know what to do with what I found in Kes.

The easiest thing was to dislike it.

I had read – older – Swedish working class novels. Mostly because I had to and less because I wanted to. And I must have assumed that things were tough in those books because it had happened some time ago, i.e. it wasn’t life as we knew it ‘now.’ But whatever was in them, it always felt as if it was closer to my own life than not.


We simply had no idea how out of touch we were.

The Swedish ladies of Manchester used to meet roughly once a month, usually on a Friday evening, at each other’s houses. There would be a lot of noise, because when 15 to 25 ladies have something to say, you can hear it. We would eat sandwiches – the classy, Scandi sort, obviously – and cake. Lots of cake. And there was coffee with that, until the day I joined and quietly asked for tea. There were moans, because Swedes drink coffee.

Within a few months most people drank tea.

Anyway. At some point a few younger, more recent arrivals joined us. I had been at the younger end until then, with our oldest member having arrived in England the day after Prince Charles was born… So, these were younger still, and several of them were married to Swedes, which meant less mixing of traditions.

Basically, we were doing what had been natural a few decades earlier. The newcomers couldn’t possibly come to gatherings on a Friday! And they asked what to bring, and when told ‘nothing’ asked if they couldn’t at least bring wine. Wine with cake? Perish the thought.

But the Fridays were a problem.

It seems that they had to sit at home with their families every Friday evening, enjoying some Fredagsmys. Except we didn’t know what this was. It took me a long time to realise that it was the modern equivalent to eating special food in front of the television on a Saturday evening, as we did in my time.

So OK, I got it then. But how were we to know? After all, when most of us were still in Sweden, we went to school or worked on a Saturday morning, and any happy frolics had to wait until after that.

Apparently – and I have undertaken A Lot Of Research – these days they eat crisps, and/or tacos and watch bad television, en famille. Mother-of-witch and I ate either some tinned mushroom goo, or prawns in white goo, on toast or with crusty white bread, and maybe shared a 33ml bottle of fizzy drink between the two of us. There might have been a few sweets. We watched the ‘latest’ BBC children’s half hour instalment of whatever they had, followed by Hylands Hörna, which was the show everyone watched on a Saturday.

Hence, our newcomers knew what they really couldn’t do. It was just that us oldies had few inklings of how things had moved on.

Spend with Harry

Back in autumn 2001 we were quite pleased with our Hermione doll for Daughter for Christmas. We were in London, and had a little look in Harrods, and found Hermione and bought her. I’d say she was a successful gift, but that maybe Daughter was just that little bit too old to really play with the doll. And maybe Hermione wasn’t intended to be played with. What do I know?

Anyway, I seem to recall the doll cost a little over £20, which as a parental purchase was OK.

On the other hand, I do agree with journalist Alice O’Keeffe, who wrote in the Guardian about her seven-year-old son who thought long and hard about spending nine weeks’ pocket money on a small chocolate frog (£4.50). But I agree less with Alice’s thoughts on the general commercialisation of Harry Potter merchandise.

If you go to a gift shop after a Harry Potter tour of some kind, you have to expect it to be too expensive, especially at the level of a child’s pocket money. And if you do go into the shop, especially with a fairly young child, you need to have done the adult thing first, which is to either bite the bullet and let the child have something overpriced that you pay for, or to talk to them about this and how you really can’t afford, or tolerate, this price level, and you’re not going to stop, or buy.

You are the adult. It’s your job as a parent to teach your small human what is all right, and what isn’t. In the end it’s up to you to decide whether to go somewhere like this at all.

I don’t feel it’s fair to blame J K Rowling for the £4.50 frog.

And to some extent I reckon the merchandise has been produced for somewhat older fans. In my own friends and family circle the immediate customers for these kinds of items that I can think of are on the ‘wrong’ side of 30. And they can afford wands and broomsticks, school uniforms and yes, the chocolate frog.

With this in mind, I was intrigued to learn that my old neighbourhood has a Harry Potter shop. Stockport now boasts a shop called Hoot, and what’s more, it’s a charity shop. No, I can’t quite get my head round that, either.

But it seems that anyone can open a shop and source the same products you would go to Harrods for. So if you require a wand, downtown Stockport might well be the place for you. It’s just a bit annoying that this happened after I moved away, and it wasn’t there when The New Librarian and Pizzabella were regular visitors at Bookwitch Towers.

And if shopping at Hoot is too expensive, you can always make your own wand, or buy a [used] striped school tie in a normal charity shop. It’s what we did, and I am a witch, after all.

Ferryman goes to Hollywood

‘I bought her a cookie,’ said Daughter when informed about Claire McFall’s new film deal for her Ferryman books. This – the cookie incident – happened during our interview with Claire in August.

Claire McFall

And now Hollywood wants to make her books into films for both the western world and for China, where I imagine there could be ‘a few’ fans wanting to see the film version of their favourite Scottish novel.

I’m not surprised by this, and I’m sure neither are you, as I’ve been busy telling you about Claire and her romantic Ferryman since then.

Successes like this are far too rare, and I’m just very pleased for her. Besides, it’s not every YA author who ends up as a page three girl, even if it was in the Guardian. Much more respectable, and the photo was by Murdo Macleod, which is a bit of an honour.

Although I’m grateful I didn’t know Tristan was a Leonardo DiCaprio sort of boy [when I read the book]. In my mind he was much more handsome!

The film of the book

Why do newspapers insist on illustrating an article about a book with a still from the film?

Is it because no one thinks about basics like book covers, or is it that much sexier to have a photo of one or several actors? Are readers (of the newspaper, not the book) deemed to be so shallow that they can only be interested in something straight out of Hollywood?

The second half of 2017 offered quite a few written pieces on the much awaited Book of Dust, and invariably I found myself staring at the film still of Lyra* on Yorek’s back. OK, a small girl riding an armoured bear is striking, but so are many of the book covers of the His Dark Materials books.

With Harry Potter you even have two covers for each original Potter book, adult and child version. And with seven books, that’s a good many choices. But you are offered countless film stills when you google Harry Potter, and if you try Hermione Granger it’s pure Emma Watson.

Even the seasonal The Railway Children offers film pictures before you finally come to a few book covers.

So I suppose it makes sense that someone needing an illustration for an article does a search for whatever it is and finds an attractive photo of real people, rather than a painted or drawn book cover.

And then of course, they put the film still on the book as a new fresh cover, and the movie aspect of the book just grows and grows.

J K Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

(Book cover by Thomas Taylor)

* I take this back. The Retired Children’s Librarian sent me a cutting from Expressen (Swedish tabloid). It was a review of La Belle Sauvage. This was illustrated by high-rise buildings under attack from massive waves, straight out of the film The Day After Tomorrow…

That’s the question

How to explain the Carry On films to a young person? It didn’t go well. I’m just hoping it won’t be necessary to actually watch one in order to educate Daughter further. They are older even than those bands she thought were old and that the parents would know in the pub quiz book. (1980s pop…) As if.

On Christmas Eve morning we went out for elevenses. Or rather, Daughter drove her elderly people to somewhere nice – even if the place had run out of fruit loaf – yesterday morning, and the Resident IT Consultant discovered what it’s like to be a passenger with opinions on whether the driver has seen that other car over there, or not. You know, when you go ‘arghhhhhhh’ from the back seat. That’s never popular. (And she drove just fine.)

Back home again, whenever we had a quiet moment the quiz books came out. You learn a lot and you forget even more.

As you can’t ever have too many quizzes, we watched the Christmas University Challenge. This would have been easier had we known it was on over two hours earlier in Scotland… But what a great team Frank Cottrell Boyce was on! He wasn’t captain, but he seemed to know more than the rest. And they introduced him as a children’s author, which warmed my heart.

While we waited for Paxman & Co to turn up, we watched A Muppet Christmas Carol. It had been a long time. So long that Daughter was amazed that she didn’t freak out [more] in the past. It is a little scary in places, and I had not realised that the ghost of Christmas future was a dementor. Unless it’s the other way round.

As for the presents, I gave the Resident IT Consultant a nice book about railway stations which I really wanted to read. He gave me what I’d asked for, which was Philip Pullman on essay writing and an old Terry Pratchett novel. A Moomin mug and a Bookwitch mug completed the booky gifts.

There was a new mouse, too. This scares me somewhat.