Reviews – July/August 2021
Creator of the Moomins
Directed by Zaida Bergroth
Certificate 12, 103 minutes
Released 9 July
The Swedish-speaking Finnish writer and artist Tove Jansson is best known as the creator of the Moomins, a friendly family of trolls who live in Moominvalley, who appeared in her own books, newspaper strips and plays for children. The Moomins later spawned numerous animated movies, TV shows, and more. Tove also painted pictures, wrote novels, and worked as an illustrator.
Set in the period from the end of the Second World War up to her signing a contract for a Moomin cartoon strip for the Evening News, this drama focuses on both Jansson’s turbulent personal life, and her creation and development of the Moomins during that time.
Born into a family of artists who take pity on all non-artists, Tove (Alma Pöysti) is a free-spirited type at odds with her conventional sculptor father Viktor (Robert Enckell). She eschews his advice in dealing with sources of arts funding, which means that he gets awarded grants for playing their game, while she doesn’t. Her rejection of accepted social rules extends into her personal life.
She initiates a physical relationship with the married MP Atos Wirtanen (Shanti Roney), which culminates in his divorce. Meanwhile, she is drawn into a relationship with married theatre director Vivica Bandler (Krista Kosonen), unaware that she is also chasing numerous other women. Eventually, Tove meets Tuulikki Pietilä (Joanna Haartti), the partner with whom she will share the rest of her life.
While all this is going on, Tove puts much of her day-to-day effort into her painting, considering this her serious work, while her drawing and writing the Moomins is simply something she does to unwind. Yet it’s the Moomins that take off, including a play about them written for Vivica.
Screenwriter Eeva Putro depicts Jansson as a post-war woman openly living an unconventional lifestyle, regardless of what others might think of her choices. Pöysti plays Jansson with a sparkle in her eye, someone who takes delight in both the world around her and her own imagination. A beguiling introduction to the life of the woman who gave the world the Moomins.
Jeremy Clarke is a film critic. His work is available at jeremycprocessing.com
Constance: Pioneer, pastor, preacher
Edited by Janet Wootton
United Reformed Church
£7.99 (Get a 15% discount with the coupon code ‘Reform’ at www.urcshop.co.uk)
Pioneering has become the in-vogue specialism of those in Christian ministry who find themselves at the edge of something progressive and risky. The ordination of Constance Coltman in 1917, the first of a woman in a mainstream Christian denomination (Congregational Union of England and Wales), at a service presided over by a minister who would eventually become a Roman Catholic priest, was of itself progressive and risky, to say the least!
This book gathers materials from the centenary of her ordination in 2017. The editor, Janet Wootton, assembles new writings, including two noteworthy essays, poetry, hymnody, liturgy, four sermons, an after-dinner speech and testimonials, as well as photographs. This all adds up to an anthology which challenges the present, and reminds us of the still challenging circumstances faced by women in the church. Particularly powerful are the testimonies of women in ministry in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Europe, throwing into relief the ever-present influence of patriarchy.
In one of the essays, Kirsty Thorpe speaks of ‘concealed obstacles’ that women in ministry face, while Ellen Nachali Mulenga, reflecting on Zambian experience, reminds readers: ‘Behind each woman stands the Lord himself’. Fleur Houston’s Congregational Lecture, ‘Constance Coltman: Pioneer for today’, concludes with a reflection on the place of power for women’s emancipation and feminist thought, reminding us that power is paradoxical, being ‘liberating as well as oppressive’. The oppressive exercise of power by patriarchal values and structures has engendered a climate where we may deduce that women of the church must all be pioneers, whether ordained or lay.
This is a celebratory book, with brave testimonials speaking from the hearts of pioneering women now and from the past. Although honouring the groundbreaking and influential ministry of Constance Coltman, the reader is made aware of those who face gender injustice in the present day, much to the Church’s shame.
Cecil White is a United Reformed Church minister serving churches in Essex.
Bible for newbies
The Bible: A story that makes sense of life
Hodder and Stoughton
This highly acclaimed book (there are four pages of positive reviews before the title page) is presented as a response to casual conversations the author had with a recovery driver and fellow parent on the school touchline who asked: ‘What’s the Bible got to do with me?’
Ollerton sets out to answer the question by showing how to make sense of the Bible, and how the Bible makes sense of us. The idea is for Christians to read this book, and then buy a copy for a friend who is also asking such questions. Based on the publicity, I ordered a copy over the telephone, and I have to say it did not match my expectations. Nevertheless, it is a good read for established Christians.
The prologue and lengthy introduction are not an easy read, and lost between them is the vital page for any newcomers to the Bible: how to look up the books, chapters and verses. Within these, it becomes apparent that Ollerton assumes there are six basic needs common to everyone and he then works through the Bible, dividing it up into six parts to match these. Each of the six sections is divided into seven genuinely bite-size chapters, which conclude with a short Bible reading and points for reflection.
At this point, it is easy to dismiss this as yet another Lent course, but this would do this book a disservice. Yes, it does fit a six-week pattern, but it is definitely for any season and equally suitable for small groups or private devotions. It is a pity that the discussion questions for each section are at the back of the book, along with an epilogue and a short list of resources for further study, rather than following each section.
Ollerton appears to be targeting young professionals (25–40) who are serious enquirers, but all ages who engage easily with reading Christian literature will enjoy, grow and be challenged by this book. However, I would not recommend it to any casual enquirer who happens to ask the question it seeks to answer.
Sue Hardy is a retired speech and language therapist now living in Suffolk
A spiritual journey into nature
On the Marsh: A year surrounded by wildness and wet
Simon and Schuster
After more than 30 years as a sports and wildlife reporter for The Times newspaper, Simon Barnes’ career came to an abrupt and unwelcome end. Experiencing something of a life vacuum, he was helping tag gannets on Alderney on the first day of the Wimbledon tennis fortnight when a revelation came to him.
On a rock in the middle of the English Channel, and surrounded by these massive birds, he writes: ‘I felt as if I was sitting in the vaults of heaven surrounded by angels … It was like being slapped in the face by beauty and wonder and glory, and I was unable to avoid the message … Enough! Time to move on.’
Moving on took the shape of buying several acres of marshland behind the family’s home in Norfolk in order to save it from development or intensive farming. This book is the story of one year spent experiencing that marsh come alive with a profusion of birds, plants, animals and insects.
On the Marsh is not an overtly religious book and yet, unquestionably, as the year unfolds and is seen particularly through the eyes and shared delight of Simon’s teenage son Eddie who has Down’s syndrome, this is the story of a deep and gentle spiritual journey. Echoing the creation story in Genesis, it is an account of connections being made, and delight taken in the world and in our relationship with it.
Unhurriedly watching the circling flight of marsh harriers in evening light, or waiting out past Eddie’s bedtime simply because the busy feel of the marsh at night was too precious to miss, the reader is not simply drawn into the words on the page but into sharing such moments – being blessed by them, even.
Ian Fosten is book reviews editor for Reform
When church is not home
God Is Not a White Man: And other revelations
Hodder and Stoughton
Chine McDonald has written her compelling second book at a time when the murder of George Floyd has made so many of us wake up and pay attention to the urgent need for racial justice in our world.
The theologically minded may read this title and think: Well, this is old news. But the new context in which McDonald writes is important, and brings a perspective that once read, cannot be unread. Not only does she remind us that Jesus was not white, she describes how this globally recognised vision of a white Jesus shapes our entire theology and practice, allowing our white privilege to distort the very thing that should be kept pure.
The book takes us through the personal challenges McDonald has faced as a black woman navigating white spaces all her life. Particularly hard to read were her experiences of being part of white churches where, she says: ‘Church does not feel like home.’ She writes of black people’s experience in white majority churches: ‘Church is a place where we brace ourselves, feel judgment or othering, rather than experience the freedom that comes with exhaling because we can be who God made us to be.’
McDonald calls us all to do better; for Christians to stand together and be the change the world needs to see. She writes with power and with hope, which will leave you challenged and inspired.
This is a must read for all those committed to leading or being part of a church that is truly inclusive and reflective of the love of God. This book will open your eyes a little wider, and build in you a desire to participate in a new vision for our Church. A vision that perhaps is long overdue, one where church can feel like home to all of us and not just some.
Kerry McMenamin is Elder at Christ Church United Reformed Church, Petts Wood
This article was published in the July/August 2021 edition of Reform