One evening my mother and I sat down together and watched The Prisoner – no, not the series starring Patrick McGoohan, but a film from 1955 starring Alec Guinness and Jack Hawkins. Set in a post-War communist state whose government is systematically removing its citizens’ freedoms, Jack Hawkins plays a government interrogator whose task is to make the country’s Roman Catholic cardinal, formerly a hero of the wartime resistance, played by Alec Guinness, confess to treason in order to discredit the Church.

The film caused something of a stir when it was first released, and was banned from several international film festivals because of its shocking content – surely this kind of thing could never actually happen in reality, could it? 50 years later and what got to me about the film was exactly how reality has emerged to echo the film – throwing up parallels between the early lives of both Pope John Paul II and the current Pope Benedict, and the struggle by many Christians to keep the faith while religion was outlawed in so many countries behind the Iron Curtain.

This film, made in black and white, has none of the special effects that modern films have. Its depiction of ‘torture’ is almost entirely psychological – there’s no waterboarding or humiliation here – and yet it’s somehow more shocking for that. It’s all about words, and the power of twisting what people say, of repressing their freedom to think and speak their minds. It’s about faith and the human condition, and the strength that someone can get from their beliefs.

It’s a very very dark film, and it’s served with a very interesting twist. My mother first saw this film when she was 11, taken by mistake by her parents who thought that – because that nice Alec Guinness was in it – it would be a comfortable Ealing Comedy. She didn’t understand half of it at the time. Last year she came across it on DVD by accident and remembered the film vividly so bought it to watch again. We watched, and spent a couple of hours afterwards discussing it and agreed that there was a lot of ambiguity as to how much of what was confessed was the truth.

It’s a film I wholeheartedly recommend. I hope that it’s never re-made because I don’t believe modern film makers could do it justice.


I’m just back from a fortnight in Lanzarote with the family. They don’t get British TV there as they refuse to pay for satellite: I can’t say I blame them since we didn’t exactly spend a lot of time indoors. My parents have an impressive collection of DVDs, made by my mother copying poor quality videos of TV programmes from the 1990s, complete with dodgy colour and sound balance and pretty much unwatchable.

They also have a growing collection of pre-recorded DVDs, though as these reflect my mother’s somewhat dated tastes there is a limited selection that’s worth watching.

This is a brief review of what I watched.

First: the first two episodes of Jeeves and Wooster starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. More accurately, I dozed off in front of two episodes. I had never really got into Wodehouse, I didn’t watch these when they were originally on television and the fact that I fell asleep during BOTH episodes suggests that I’m still far from gripped by the storylines. However, from what I remember, both Fry and Laurie were excellent – as always – and it was the plots that were somewhat unremarkable.

Second: two early episodes of To the Manor Born starring Penelope Keith, Peter Bowles and Angela Thorne. I enjoyed watching these as a child, and they’ve aged well. Very enjoyable tucked up on the sofa with a rather nice glass of wine! These episodes had been freebies from the Daily Mail (so I have no idea where my mother got them from!) but I shall have to consider finding a box set for her.

I’ve decided I want to blog more. Rather than just thinking about doing it, I’m starting right now. I will be posting on this blog at least once a week for all of 2011. Or at least that’s the plan.

I know it won’t be easy, but it might be fun, inspiring, awesome and wonderful. Therefore I’m promising to make use of The DailyPost, and the community of other bloggers with similar goals, to help me along the way, including asking for help when I need it and encouraging others when I can.

If you already read my blog, which let’s face it is unlikely as you don’t even know it’s here, I hope you’ll encourage me with comments and likes, and good will along the way.

Promises promises

The Browne Report was published this week. And it’s really caused quite a stir amongst Liberal Democrat MPs, activists and the student population.

The report’s author, Lord Browne, advocates lifting the cap on the tuition fees universities can charge students, so they can charge more. He also advocates changing the earnings threshold at which graduates start repaying the fees, and introducing some kind of tiered repayment system so that those who earn more pay more.

The report was commissioned in 2009 by the Labour government with the support of the Conservatives in opposition. Its remit was quite narrow in that it seems to have focused on how students pay for university education, and not about what universities are for and how best to fund their work.

I’ll blog about my own views another time, but at the moment there is uproar because Lib Dem policy is to phase out tuition fees entirely, not to lift the current cap. Moreover, before the General Election every Lib Dem candidate signed the NUS pledge to vote against any proposed increases in tuition fees. Suddenly it looks as though an increase in tuition fees will become the policy of the coalition Government, and Lib Dem MPs don’t like it.

The Coalition Agreement makes allowance for the Lib Dems to abstain in such a situation: it was drawn up after the election and in the full knowledge that the Lib Dems had previously pledged to vote against. So why did the Lib Dem negotiating team not hold out to vote against, given that they had all signed the same pledge?

Personally I think that our candidates were well-intentioned but misguided in signing up to the NUS pledge. I have a problem with making promises I can’t be sure I can keep, and I have a problem with others making similar commitments. I’ve been let down too many times by good people making bad calls.

The problem now is that our parliamentarians DID sign up to this pledge and are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If they support whatever proposals come from the coalition government, they’ll be seen to be breaking their promises. If they vote against whatever proposals are put forward, they’re breaking the coalition agreement – another set of promises.

Meanwhile NUS – never regarded as fans of the Liberal Democrats but more generally as a vehicle for students to fast-track their way to office in the Labour Party – is having a field day, having played such a fabulous hand at the expense of the Liberal Democrats. Today their members were even held responsible for having hijacked the official party website.

Dear oh dear. I am reminded of these lyrics from the musical Chess. Having recently been to see a revival of the show, I think it should be required viewing for anyone seeking political office.

In which we are introduced

Well I guess I had to join in the fun at some point.    Though I’m not sure I really understand what all the fuss is about.

So here we go.

You can find more about me on Facebook atwww.facebook.com/nikki.thomson

or you can follow me on Twitter, where I’m @nikkithomson.

I will try to get around to blogging regularly, but I’m making no promises!