Reviews – March 2020
Tramps like us
Directed by Scott Graham
Certificate tbc, 77 minutes
Released 13 March
Finnie (Mark Stanley) hates his job in a fish factory in Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire. He and his wife Katie (Amy Manson) have Springsteen’s legend ‘Born to Run’ tattooed on his chest and her ankle, but as he says to her: ‘We never did run very far, did we?’ This is a story about regret and longing, being born somewhere unremarkable and not getting out. And it’s also about family and relationships.
Finnie’s older son Kid (Anders Hayward) has just got his girlfriend Kelly (Marli Siu) pregnant, isn’t talking to her and has been dumped by her. Kid throws a wobbly at work, in the same plant as Finnie, and loses his job. When Finnie comes in from work and Katie gives him the come on, he just wants to escape into the shower because he stinks of fish. His broken-down car won’t start. Out of nowhere, he borrows Kid’s car keys and takes his son’s car out for a spot of illegal nighttime street racing, something he used to do when younger. At the local leisure centre where she works, Kelly gets into the car thinking Kid is driving…
The Scottish writer director Scott Graham brings his trademark intensity to this low budget drama, extracting consistently fantastic and very believable performances from his cast. Once Finnie gets into his son’s car, things suddenly rev into incredible driving and racing sequences, a headlit wonderland well above the speed limit, culminating in a magnificent, full throttle race along a harbour’s edge where huge waves spray over a warehouse wall to crash down onto the windscreen, momentarily obliterating our vision.
Is this just a joyride though? Or will anyone run? Is there a road to freedom, or do they all lead to the entrapment of their small town existence? After taking place mostly in the dark, the final scenes in daylight suggest that something is worth salvaging. The pedal-to-the-floor lifestyle is exhilarating while it lasts but there’s something bigger out there beyond that.
Jeremy Clarke is a film critic
Green Bible wisdom
Saying Yes to Life
This book was commissioned by the Archbishop of Canterbury as his Lent book for 2020. Ruth Valerio is a theologian and environmentalist working for the charity Tearfund as Global Advocacy and Influencing Director. She has been involved in global development for many years and uses a wide range of information in her book, as she investigates the current environmental situation.
Cleverly, Valerio uses the days of creation (Genesis) to consider seven themes: light; water; land; the seasons; other creatures; humankind; Sabbath rest and resurrection hope. She relates these themes to environmental, ethical and social concerns, including key factors of present environmental debates. The book provides one chapter each week, to be read when preparing for Easter. It could be used equally by Lent groups or by individuals.
Following each chapter, questions are provided which relate closely to the section’s theme. For most chapters, there are video links – to an interview with an environmental expert, for example – which makes the book particularly valuable for study groups.
Valerio’s personal anecdotes demonstrate her broad experience. They are non-sentimental and always relevant. The book also offers examples from others around the world who are concerned about creation, highlighting the practical action they’ve taken to address those concerns. This kept my interest, and informed me further about the range of environmental protection activities being undertaken. The examples also challenged any apathy I had due to lack of awareness of, or insight into, the needs of others.
Prayers, at the end of each chapter, serve as a conclusion to Valerio’s explanations. Her use of the scriptures is superb. Many texts are included in full, which makes the book truly user friendly.
The book’s extensive bibliography includes a long list of websites, and there are 18 pages of notes, all adding great value. Resources based on Valerio’s book are available from www.churchofengland.org/livelent. Saying Yes to Life makes a significant contribution to popular Christian environmental studies. Intelligently crafted, it will continue to be relevant long after Lent 2020.
Tony Shepherd studies theology at St John’s College, Durham
On Christians in war
One Word of Truth: The Cold War Memoir of Michael Bourdeaux and Keston College
Darton, Longman and Todd
This is book needed to be written but I would not recommend it to many. It covers the the different responses of Christians to Cold War challenges. Events have moved on considerably, yet it is important that lessons are learned and remembered. On the other hand, the author goes into a level of detail that at times is tedious.
The book is a memoir of the life of an Anglican priest and of the college he founded. Surprising events, in which he sees the hand of God, led Michael Bourdeaux to learn Russian, study in the country for a year, and then take up the cause of persecuted Christians in Russia and in other countries in the Soviet bloc. Bourdeaux sees himself as a researcher, a recorder of facts, and declares himself uninvolved in politics. However, because facts were disputed in that situation, and because Russian Christians were divided in their response, there is, in my view, a clear political element to the work of the college and its founder. This is to be seen in his heavy criticism of Russian Orthodox Church leadership and also of the ecumenical position adopted by both the World Council of Churches and the British Council of Churches at that time.
This is a book for historians but it has contemporary relevance. There are still places where Christians have to decide how to respond to governments that restrict them. We also have to decide how best to exercise our calling to support those fellow Christians. These are not straightforward decisions.
John Waller is a retired church minister living in Hythe, Kent
The cricketing bishop’s story
David Sheppard: Batting for the poor
The cover’s photograph says it all: a bright-eyed David Sheppard, dog-collared and determined, bat in hand, preparing to face fast bowler Ray Lindwall. And then the clever title intrudes. This was someone who could have been one of the greatest English batsmen but instead became a Church leader who arguably changed the priorities of Anglicanism by his application of a deep, personal faith in a creative, justice-requiring, hope-sustaining, open-hearted, inclusive God.
Andrew Bradstock, a former United Reformed Church Secretary for Church and Society, has written a clear and thorough account. It is the product of meticulous archival research and personal reminiscences. Especially effective is the final chapter, in which, ‘warts and all’, he shows how Sheppard’s instincts and praxis evolved.
As an ordinand, and then a curate in Islington, Sheppard used his fame to speak frequently about the faith which had transformed him, while scoring many more runs in test matches than his time for practice warranted! Then he was called to the Mayflower Centre in Canning Town, which he described as ’like a second conversion, conversion to Christ in the city’. He later wrote: ‘There is a divine bias to the disadvantaged and the Church needs to be much more faithful in reflecting it.’ This is still as true now as then.
The book’s latter half spells out in detail Sheppard’s time in Liverpool, where he went after six years as Suffragan Bishop of Woolwich. These were the years of partnership with Liverpool’s Catholic Archbishop Derek Worlock, a personal and political pairing: ‘Like fish and chips, better together and always in the newspapers!’ Bradstock sums it up: ‘Over those 22 years, he would help bring lasting change in the region while redefining the Church’s role in the public square.’
The book also focuses on Grace, Sheppard’s wife, whose struggles with agoraphobia and cancer are dealt with most sensitively, as is her contribution to what her husband achieved. This is a splendid biography of a most remarkable man of God.
Peter Brain is a minister who served in Liverpool, and as United Reformed Church Secretary for Church and Society
The radicals’ story
The Journey to the Mayflower: God’s outlaws and the invention of freedom
Hodder and Stoughton
£20 (hardback) £14 from www.urcshop.co.uk
Look elsewhere for definitive histories of the Mayflower voyage and the establishment of Plymouth Colony and Massachusetts. Stephen Tomkins has chosen instead to tell the unlikely, disquieting, disturbing story of the soft underbelly of Tudor Protestant dissent. He journeys from the shadowy world of the Marian underground church, to the Elizabethan separatists Robert Browne, Henry Barrow, Thomas Wolsey and their successors under James I, who were holed up in grinding exile.
This is a story of abject failure: of Elizabethan Puritans to budge the Queen from her defiant Erastianism, of the separatists to convince the wider (especially Dutch) Reformed world of the justice of their cause, and of their Jacobean successors to sway James’ regime towards any kind of toleration. All that was left was yet more exodus – the promised land across the Atlantic. This is indeed the journey ‘to’ the ironically named Speedwell (which leaked and limped back to England) and the Mayflower. There was nowhere left to go.
Cussed, argumentative, querulous, these radicals engaged in excommunication and belligerent theological pamphlet warfare. Their congregational life included more than a few examples of what we would call bullying and sexual harassment. Yet their commitment was extraordinary. Position, power and wealth were forsaken for the ideal of the ‘true’, ‘pure’ church. They endured the foulest of London prisons and were subject to interrogation, maltreatment and, in three cases, judicial execution.
Tomkins threads together the story through the paradox that the ‘… most illiberal ideal of purity led eventually to the conception of religious freedom’ because a ‘pure’ church is necessarily voluntary, which includes the freedom to leave. He traces variations on that theme in the writings of Browne, Barrow, Smyth, Helwys and Robinson. From such unpromising soil grew Congregationalism, the Baptists, and (with many more twists and turns) US Protestantism. All United Reformed Church members should read this book, if only not to recognise ourselves in the mirror it holds up.
Tomkins tells the story compellingly, wearing a good deal of learning with a beguiling lightness of touch. The book would therefore benefit from a proper bibliography and more extensive footnotes.
David Cornick is a retired church minister living in Cambridge
This article was published in the March 2020 edition of Reform