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Andy Millward (Tiptree, Essex, UK)

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Falstaff: Chimes at Midnight [Definitive Restored Version DVD] [1965]
Falstaff: Chimes at Midnight [Definitive Restored Version DVD] [1965]
Dvd ~ Orson Welles
Price: £12.99

4.0 out of 5 stars The genius of Welles, 6 Jun. 2016
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You have to hand it to Orson Welles – he had the power to shock and surprise right to the end of his life. Granted he made some shocking movies along the way – even the mighty fail occasionally – but there are very few filmmakers credited with the greatest film of all time. After Citizen Kane, which itself attracted much controversy due to its satire on William Randolph Hearst, his career was marked by conflict with his financiers, including the permanent hacking by the studio of his masterpiece The Magnificent Ambersons.

True, he made some astonishing films along the way (I love A Touch Of Evil), but by 1965 almost everyone thought his movie career was washed up, and indeed this illustrious actor, director and producer went on to spend this twilight years making sherry commercials, which is how I remember him in the 70s. Certainly no studio was going to give him unlimited budget and unfettered artistic control ever again, despite his evident genius.

I’ve never seen Chimes at Midnight, a Spanish-Swiss coproduction in English since Hollywood would not touch Welles with a barge pole, before now. Perhaps I assumed it to be just another vehicle for Welles to earn a small living well within his capabilities by hacking Shakespeare, but it was Simon Callow who recently put me right during an excellent talk on Welles, about whom he has written three volumes of biography. Au contraire, it seems not only did Welles consider this film his masterpiece, but Callow himself found this an achingly moving film, sadly neglected and only recently restored to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

Certainly Welles attracted a fine international cast of classical actors, with John Gielgud as Henry IV, Ralph Richardson narrating, Margaret Rutherford as a sharp-tongued Mistress Quickly, Fernando Rey as Worcester (albeit dubbed), Jeanne Moreau as Doll Tearsheet, Andrew Faulds as Westmoreland, Keith Baxter as Prince Hal and Norman Rodway as Hotspur, to name but a few. He also scored a hit by bringing in French cinematographer Edmond Richard to film in monochrome with glorious contrast, which seems so right in many ways.

The essence of this movie is to fillet dialogue from the historical plays of our illustrious bard (Henry IV parts 1 and 2, Henry V, Merry Wives of Windsor, Richard II), chronologically rearranged and stitched together to tell the story of the tragicomic anti-hero Falstaff, a much loved character whose role and reputation have been re-evaluated on stage in recent years by a succession of very fine actors, and who also appears in at least three operas!

Apart from possessing something close to the figure for Falstaff, Welles demonstrates that his is a worthy addition to the names interpreting this inspired character. Falstaff is a rogue and a knight, more given to wenching, drinking sack and getting up to mischief. He is a coward, for whom fighting for his king is a duty but only to be served without endangering his own life.

However, Falstaff talks up his own bravado, none more so than when Hal, who thinks Falstaff is dead, kills the valiant Hotspur in battle, only for Fat Jack later to claim they fought on and that he struck the fatal blow. The knockabout comedy contrasts sharply with the sober realities of life in court, where Hal knows from his father only too well that he must give up associating with a fat rogue and assume the serious mantle of monarchy.

The film emphasises both the comedy and the pathos of Falstaff’s role, albeit in a more traditional setting than typically employed in stage productions. Most noticeable is how Welles plays up the farce of Falstaff’s band and followers (Pistol, Shallow, Bardolph), but underplays Falstaff in a way that demonstrates the underlying tragedy of the role. The effect is electric later in the film, notably the coronation scene where Falstaff seeks out the newly crowned Henry V, only to be told, “I know thee not, old man.” Falstaff looks back uncomprehendingly, but we can see this to be the end of Falstaff’s life in more ways than one.

The contrast between jovial scenes in the Boar’s Head Tavern and the more formal affairs of state is marked with the Battle of Shrewsbury.According to Callow, when the cameraman suffered a seizure, Welles picked up the camera himself and carried on filming with an intensity rarely mirrored in any movie. These scenes are truly startling and innovative, even now. It is frenzied, vicious, barbaric – remembering there was no CGI to depict the horrors of battle in the way that Game of Thrones has achieved, for example.

This is an astonishing achievement, one for which Welles was justly proud – but it is to the shame of the movie industry that he had to beg, borrow and steal what he could to finance this epic, as he did throughout his entire career. Who knows what Welles might have made, had he not earned a reputation as a dangerous maverick?

(c) Andy Millward, 2016

Repulsion [DVD] [1965]
Repulsion [DVD] [1965]
Dvd ~ Catherine Deneuve
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Lives long in the memory, 6 Jun. 2016
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This review is from: Repulsion [DVD] [1965] (DVD)
You know when you see a film called Repulsion that it’s not going to be wine and roses, nor an altogether pleasant viewing experience, all the more so when the director is Roman Polanski. Whatever his notoriety, Polanski has the knack more than almost any other director (with the possible exception of David Lynch) of taking audiences out of their comfort zone. Not necessarily horror films, but capable of doing something to your head, unsettling you, making you feel ill at ease.

Sure he’s also made narratives in other styles too (Chinatown, The Pianist, Tess and many more) Not all of his movies have been great, but when he is on song Polanski is little short of genius. I first experienced this at about 11 or 12, alone in the house and watching Rosemary’s Baby on TV, after which I was terrified to go upstairs alone. The same was true when I first saw The Tenant a few years later, but the movie that struck me as the apogee of Polanski’s art was Repulsion, made in 1965 and his first English language movie.

Usually described as a psychological horror film, visually influenced by early surrealist cinema, but in essence describes the descent into madness and hallucination of Carol Ledoux (Catherine Deneuve), a young Belgian woman living with her elder sister in London. It is most certainly NOT helped by the strapline dreamed up by a studio marketeer:

“The nightmare world of a virgin’s dreams becomes the screen’s shocking reality.”

While this may have attracted entirely the wrong sort of audience, the film itself offers no compromises, but leaves its own thesis with ambiguous hints but no definitive rationale for Carol’s behaviour. From Wikipedia:

"It explores the repulsion Carol feels about human sexuality and the repulsion her suitors experience when they pursue her. The movie vaguely suggests that her father may have sexually abused her as a child, which is the basis of her neuroses and breakdown. Other critics have noted Carol’s repeated usage of items related to her sister’s boyfriend Michael, as well as noting that his presence greatly provokes Carol at the beginning of the film. The film also approaches the theme of boundary breaking, with Tamar McDonald stating that she saw Carol as refusing to conform to the expected 'path of femininity'"

At the time, Repulsion was very unusual in having a female killer, though both killings are to fight off the unwanted advances of a man. In 1965 the film was almost unique in its study of the psychology of a person driven to those lengths – alongside Hitchcock‘s Spellbound and Psycho, and Michael Powell‘s Peeping Tom – though an industry of this style of psychological analysis has grown into its own sub-genre.

No doubt the film could be psychoanalysed at length, but to Joe Public the impact is disturbing, all the more so because of the ambiguity. We see the impact of her hallucinations complete with Freudian imagery, bizarre dreams, weird tricks being played with the space, her increasingly frenzied and murderous reaction to men, even the skinned rabbit she leaves to decay – but never at any point can we truly feel her emotions are clear and fully defined. She says almost nothing.

Of course, for this to work we have to begin with a credible scenario before this appalling transformation, and so it is. Carol works as a manicurist at the same salon as her sister; it bores her and makes her want to escape. She is intensely shy, uneasy in crowds, does not invite admirers and hates the sound of her sister Helen’s sexual adventures. Even in this relatively steady state, everything is not well with Carol: we see her tics and gestures, sweeping imaginary detritus from her clothes, but the real issues arise when Helen and Michael go on holiday to Italy and she is left alone in the flat.

Worth saying at this point that although the cinematography was primarily done to match the low budget, a single camera shot in black and white is very effective at conveying the claustrophobia of the flat and the sharp relief of sequences shot in very low light. The effect is edgy and menacing – contrasting strongly with the external shots of London in the swinging 60s, with cool and funky music. Shots of road digging and a minor car accident are there – and even a trio with a banjoist and two players of the spoons making two appearances.

Much of the film is recorded in silence as the camera slowly follows her around in close-up, pruriently perusing items in her eyeline, noting what she ignores, looking deep into her expressionless face, noting the fear in her eyes when men come close or talk to her. They don’t understand, and certainly don’t know the horror of the dreams where she is raped by an unseen male figure.

Included but not commented upon is Carol sitting at a bench over a big crack in the concrete, as if she identifies with it. This metaphor continues as the walls of the flat crack in her hallucination, observed by Carol though she takes no action. The walls expand and the hall wall ripples like putty and a forest of arms and hands protrude through to touch her face, to hold her breasts, to take advantage of her. Everywhere she looks there is torture.

Another common theme is the sound from another flat of a pianist practising (badly) – which metaphor is also used in The Tenant. This is a parallel London where every sight and sound betrays menace and danger – you never know what will turn against you, and we are looking from Carol’s point of view.

But then Helen and Michael return and the horror is discovered… the camera lingers on the effects in the living room, then settled on the family photo. We see the little blonde girl, her face turned to her left and looking daggers at her father. Rarely can a film have ended on such a haunting image. The past from which her traumas arise you can only imagine – and imagination is what drives fear. The true horror of Repulsion is not that which happens, not the sheer wanton blood lust but the fear and neuroses from the past that we all recognise – that which goes to our deepest and most distant memories.

Repulsion is a film that lives long in the memory, one that inspired a generation of horror films.

(c) Andy Millward, 2016

We Need To Talk About [Blu-ray]
We Need To Talk About [Blu-ray]
Dvd ~ Movie
Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: £11.06

4.0 out of 5 stars Why did Swinton not win an Oscar?, 6 Jun. 2016
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Eva: Why?
Kevin: I used to think I knew. Now I’m not so sure.

I’ve just caught up with Lynne Ramsay‘s We Need To Talk About Kevin, five years after the film was released to a storm of controversy. I’ve not read Lionel Shriver‘s stellar nover of the same name, the one that dared to broach the taboo subject everyone would sooner have ignored and won awards. Alas, I’ve not read the book, so can’t discuss the parallels – that can be left to others.

That the film was ignored by the Academy is one of the great scandals of recent Oscars, but it is undeniably uncomfortable viewing. There but for the grace of god… they must have thought to themselves. The timing is all the more poignant now, given the recent publication of A Mother’s Reckoning, Sue Klebold‘s book about coming to terms with the actions of her son Dylan, one of the two shooters in the Columbine school massacre in 1999. Worth starting with a quote from Ms Klebold:

“A day does not pass that I do not feel a sense of overwhelming guilt – both for the myriad of ways I failed Dylan and for the destruction that he left in his wake.”

This is an emotional analysis of a mother’s breakdown after her son commits an appalling massacre at the local school – but also of her husband and daughter, of the way in which she is viciously treated by the community after the event, and of her guilt over the failed relationship with Kevin that she blames for the tragedy. Where blame lies is the moot point, though Ramsay wisely leaves the viewer to decide. I shall return to this point.

For the most part, John C Reilly‘s husband/dad Franklin Plaskett is a peripheral figure, adopting the “Hey, Kev” approach to parenting, giving presents including the professional bow and arrow set later used for appalling and wanton destruction – including his own death; the film is really a study of Kevin (Ezra Miller in his 23-year old guise) and mum Eva Khatchadourian, at one time a travel writer but later associated totally with the actions of her son.

It’s no surprise the marriage is on the rocks, since they are truly from Mars and Venus, respectively: he has no appreciation or sympathy in respect of her problems with Kevin. She might have had difficulty forming a relationship with her son, who cries incessantly through infancy and later fails to toilet train simply to spite her. Eva tries her hardest to form a grown-up relationship with Kevin, but senses from the start that there is something dark within him she cannot understand or manage.

Kevin has his own views about his boring middle class existence and the subtext that gaining notoriety gave him something he never had before – attention:

“It’s like this: you wake and watch TV, get in your car and listen to the radio you go to your little jobs or little school, but you don’t hear about that on the 6 o’clock news, why? ‘Cause nothing is really happening, and you go home and watch some more TV and maybe it’s a fun night and you go out and watch a movie. I mean it’s got so bad that half the people on TV, inside the TV, they’re watching TV. What are these people watching, people like me?”

And to put it even more succinctly: “I am the context.”

After the event Eva turns the other cheek while townsfolk take malicious revenge by splattering her run-down house and her car with red paint, by ostracising her, by breaking the eggs in her supermarket trolley, by telling her to her face what an evil bitch she is and even slapping her face in public – but they can’t do worse than the torture she gives herself. Interestingly, Ramsay makes Eva the most sympathetic character in the film, with undoubted blame attached to husband Franklin for shaping Kevin’s destiny – though by then he is not there to atone.

‘Why does she not ask for help?’ asks a friend. Most obvious answer that she does not trust anyone to help, but since she blames Eva first and last she would not consider herself worth helping. Maybe, like Ms Klebold, she should write a book to describe her experiences, but to take that step she would have to get past the denial and isolation stage, through anger, depression and finally accept the terrible and tragic trauma that cursed her life.

At this point, let me say that Tilda Swinton is not merely superlative but stupendous as Eva. Whatever she is doing in the here and now to try to keep up appearances, her face conveys the torture of her existence. She visibly crumbles before your eyes, a woman whose life has ground to a halt and who is haunted by circumstances. It is a towering performance, one offering depth and weight. I found it emotionally affecting without any need for histrionics. If this is not at least the equal of Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in Iron Lady (for which she won Best Actress), I’m a monkey’s uncle.

For Swinton’s role to be at its most haunting, the three guises of Kevin must be credible. Between them, Rocky Duer, Jasper Newell and Ezra Miller do a brilliant job. Through Eva’s eyes they are almost the devil incarnate – you could almost see Kevin as Damien in the Omen. Miller is an actor with true presence, and the quality that Simon Hoggart used to apply to politicians, namely gravitas – “the ability to be taken seriously.” His Kevin and the punishment he applies to Eva is key to the film. You don’t and don’t need to see the massacre itself to understand its impact – and the fact that she did not end with an arrow through her heart is solely because Kevin wants only to prolong the punishment.

From my perspective, it’s a tragedy this opportunity has not been used to confront the gun debate (of the almost daily massacres in the US, how many employ a bow and arrows? And how many guns?), though you can see quite easily why this was not done. Having the film crowded out by the gun lobby would have negated Shriver’s point. It’s a sad world when the need for open debate is taboo, but for these purposes let’s consider the bow and arrow to be a metaphor for guns – easy to obtain and easy to use that side of the pond.

That apart, this is a film that is more relevant than it has ever been, given the frequency of massacres and the fact that some are at least starting to think what is the real underlying cause. Merely the availability of the means of mass murder is not enough – there has to be a psychological cause, and Shriver is suggesting you could spot it all along in Kevin’s case. Is that true of other instances, Dylan Klebold in particular?

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, as they say, but is not reasonable to think Eva could have done anything to prevent this – other than kill her son? She does break his arm at one point, though he rescues her by hiding this knowledge – both being quite sure he could use it against her at some point in the future. He leaves traps for her all the time, such as the computer virus that zaps her laptop. At what point could she justifiably think some action needed to be taken: discussing it with her husband failed, so what else could she do? What would any of us do, given that the enormity of what happened was impossible to predict – would any mother truly believe her son capable of random acts of slaughter?

On that note, time to close. But this is a film everyone should see at least once in a lifetime, at least for the debate it provokes and the breathtaking acting technique demonstrated by Ms Swinton. Would that I could award her an Oscar retrospectively…

(c) Andy Millward, 2016

Retiring to France (Retiring Abroad)
Retiring to France (Retiring Abroad)
by Victoria Pybus
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Practical, but not geared to integration in French culture and communities, 6 Jun. 2016
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This is a book that covers every base in a deeply practical way. Relevant information is provided on all manner of topics, though what is most lacking is any but a bullet point list about the sensibilities of French culture and the acclimatising to life on the other side of the Channel. How you become part of the community and understand the French way of life is ultimately the most important lesson of all - the rest you can easily work out. For example, and contrary to the views of some expats interviewed, learning the language is absolutely essential - just as we expect anyone living in the UK to learn English.

Incidentally, I'd be interested to see a chapter looking ahead to the potential impact of the EU referendum, though that will play out soon enough. Whether there is a negative impact for those living in France in the event of a leave vote remains to be seen, but it can't help.

Oak Finish Light Wood Ready Made Picture Frame, 30 x 40 cm
Oak Finish Light Wood Ready Made Picture Frame, 30 x 40 cm
Offered by Ulisia enterprise
Price: £11.18

4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent frame, fiddly to use, 28 April 2016
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Good quality product, albeit slightly fiddly for this user by virtue of protective layers on both sides of the Perspex "glass" and the small metal prongs that have to be unbent then rebent to hold the picture and the covering in place, thus damaging my fingernails. Hoping this is one technology that improves in future, though I can't fault the finished effect.

Door or Wall Mounted Iron and Ironing Board Holder Rack with Chrome Finish
Door or Wall Mounted Iron and Ironing Board Holder Rack with Chrome Finish
Offered by Doorweb
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Where to put the cord?, 21 April 2016
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Very little to this product but it works, holding up my ironing board and iron efficiently and with minimal footprint. Only real problem is where to put the cord, which presently dangles in a rough coil around the top of the iron.

Sunwukin IP68 Waterproof Protective Case for iPhone 6s/ iPhone 6 (4.7 inch) [Grid Series] With Built-in Clear Screen Protector Shockproof Snowproof Dirtpoof Design (Grass Blue/Teal)
Sunwukin IP68 Waterproof Protective Case for iPhone 6s/ iPhone 6 (4.7 inch) [Grid Series] With Built-in Clear Screen Protector Shockproof Snowproof Dirtpoof Design (Grass Blue/Teal)
Offered by SunwukinDirect
Price: £79.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Do you trust the waterproofing?, 21 April 2016
This product appears to be lightweight but reasonably rugged and well-constructed, and therefore fit for purpose. The only thing I'm not sure I trust is its waterproof capability - it's one thing to try it out in water while empty, but I have no intention of conducting experiments in submersion with my valuable iPhone 6S, only wiping off splashes! That apart, my only real issues are that the touch screen is much less responsive when the case is fitted, and the whole package is notably bulkier. Suck it and see - it may be the right product for you. Supplied free of charge for review.

The Hundred Foot Journey [DVD]
The Hundred Foot Journey [DVD]
Dvd ~ Lasse Hallström
Price: £5.00

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Amuse-bouche, 7 April 2016
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Ever smelled a fresh sea urchin? I wonder how many did after seeing The Hundred Foot Journey!

The recipe for movies is not too dissimilar to great restaurant dishes: get the key ingredients right and you’ve got it made. In this case, Indian culture (all the rage following Slumdog Millionaire and the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movies), French landscape and culture, food, plus the ubiquitous talents of, respectively, Om Puri and Helen Mirren. Stir into the mix a splash of comic timing, a soupçon of cod philosophy, a sprinkling of romance and a garnish of heartwarming happiness and you’re left with a box office hit.

That Lasse Hallström‘s movie, adapted by Steven Knight from the novel by Richard C Morais, has an array of high-flying executive producers such as Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, and is distributed by the Walt Disney Studios, tells you something – probably that the project ticked all the boxes for the chosen demographic, by virtue of its cutesy charm, ravishing cinematography (food and scenery) and happy ending.

Since too much saccharin, even set against against a light touch of drama in a plot that would not overstretch a five year old, let me start with the downside. I’m afraid we’re back in A Year In Provence territory here, whereby the locals speak in heavyyyy cod Freeeench ac-sonts laced with common French words and phrases, as welcome as if they were blacking up and speaking in a Deep South draaaaawl, y’all. If anything, I’m reminded of the infamous Inspector Clouseau, which I’m quite sure would horrify the producers.

THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY, Charlotte Le Bon (second from left), Helen Mirren (in gray), Clement




Frankly, it does the production no favours at all, and does not help the much-loved Ms Mirren one iota. There are two ways of doing this well: let the actors speak in French and be subtitled, such that the Indian family either had to learn French to survive (which is what would happen in reality); or substitute straight English voices, much as other films set in foreign-speaking locations have applied with some success.

Here, Mirren would have sounded far better with just a snobbish voice, Mirren plays a snooty and snobby Michelin-starred restauranteur whose nose is put out of joint when Puri’s Kadam family escape a Mumbai restaurant fire and find themselves in rural France en route to England, establish a restaurant bang opposite – the hundred feet of the title.

Lucky for Mr Puri – he only has to speak naturally, much as he has done in all of his British movies to date (eg. East is East, The Parole Officer.) He plays the bullish and stubborn father of the family trying hard to make a success of their relocation, despite losing his wife in the fire – and ignoring the pleas of his children not to open Maison Mumbai, the only Indian restaurant in many kilometres, in the sleepy and very traditional village of Saint-Antonin. In short, plenty of scope for culture clashes before the satisfactory denouement.

The jewel in the Kadam crown is second son Hassan (Manish Dayal), a talented chef able to transcend national boundaries whose winsome and coquettish love interest Marguerite (Charlotte le Bon) works in the restaurant owned by Mirren’s Madame Mallory – a move worthy of the Montagues and Capulets.

After some rejections and further obstacles, Hassan finds himself working for Mme Mallory, winning her a second Michelin star with some fusion cuisine to titivate the tastebuds, before departing for a spell working in the gastronomic science labs of Paris. This being movieland, he returns to the loving arms of Marguerite to run the Mallory restaurant, and everyone lives happily ever after.

A couple of minor subplots and a few instances of vandalism by the French notwithstanding, that’s pretty much it. Not a huge plot, but then you will spend much more time drinking in the atmosphere with your eyes. A slight film, say my movie buff friends, and they are not wrong. A mild divertissement before the main course, an amuse-bouche? Maybe even a slightly frothy soufflé on the side, but not really a truly satisfying and memorable dining experience. No Michelin Stars – but then many of the greatest restaurants have none at all!

Copyright Andy Millward, 2016

Kusun® 10 Years Warranty Modern Pull Out Spray Kitchen Sink Tap Spring Swivel Rinse Spout Shower Taps Hot and Cold Mixer,Faucet For Kitchen/Bathroom KT081C
Kusun® 10 Years Warranty Modern Pull Out Spray Kitchen Sink Tap Spring Swivel Rinse Spout Shower Taps Hot and Cold Mixer,Faucet For Kitchen/Bathroom KT081C
Price: £129.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Meet the alien..., 6 April 2016
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After having to return the first tap unit on the grounds that it was too tall to fit under my cupboards, this was second choice, and probably the more stylish of the two - while more solid and functional than elegant to look at. It was easily fitted by my handyman and works fine - if you can handle the head snaking out like the alien in the movies. A good buy

For a Friend: The Best of Bronski Beat, The Communards & Jimmy Somerville
For a Friend: The Best of Bronski Beat, The Communards & Jimmy Somerville
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Shivers down the spine, 26 Mar. 2016
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I remember first hearing Smalltown Boy, recorded live in a Radio 1 session with the first verse sung in haunting a cappella falsetto by Jimmy Somerville, then later the Bronski Beat version of Ain't Necessarily So. There was no doubt I was hooked on that voice from the start - and BB were certainly not the same force without it.

The diminutive Glaswegian went on to score many hits in a splendid career, certainly worthy of a major retrospective, and you can hardly argue about the completeness of this collection. It covers the best of Somerville's Bronski Beat and Communards years, as well as his subsequent solo career. Sound quality is consistently good without being superlative. The accompanying booklet provides some background and song listings (but not lyrics), so only real omission is more information about Somerville, the man - though arguably his inspirations and issues are voiced in his songs, notably the revival of soul classics.

Some of the material caught me by surprise. I had forgotten just how brilliant Breadline Britain was - it sent a shiver down my spine. Also the deliciously witty duet with Sarah Jane Morris (who I recently saw performing with guitar virtuoso Antonio Forcione) on Harold Melvin's Don't Leave Me This Way - witty since Morris sang the male part in contralto and Somerville the female part in falsetto.

Not all songs reach the highlights, but you would not expect every track on a two-CD collection to be utterly sparkling. Still worth the money though!

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