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Reform Magazine | May 18, 2024

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Reviews October 2023 - Reform Magazine

Reviews October 2023

On the front line

20 Days in Mariupol
Directed by Mstyslav Chernov
Certificate 18, 94 minutes
Released 6 October

Some films are incredibly tough to watch, yet you know you need to watch them. This documentary is one of those. The experience of watching it clearly pales beside the actual experience of being in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol during the first 20 days of the attack and subsequent siege by Russian armed forces, and even more so beside the actual experience of being trapped there.

The Ukrainian-born video journalist Mstyslav Chernov has reported on conflicts around the globe since joining Associated Press in 2014. He and his regular collaborator, stills photographer Evgeniy Maloletka, piled into Maloletka’s van and headed for Mariupol before war was declared. They reasoned that its port status would make the city a likely target for what Chernov believed was the coming Russian invasion. Within an hour of the duo’s arrival, the first shell had fallen.

Chernov’s audiovisual record of events is presented in chronological order. His quietly spoken commentary holds the piece together, an oral diary of what unfolded during his time there. Television, the medium for which he was effectively working, has been described as illustrated radio, and that description has never been more apt than it is here. His moving images, already familiar to watchers of TV news, remain harrowing.

Hospitals operate without power or anaesthetics. Every day, buildings are destroyed by shelling. Dead bodies, whether bagged (from the hospital) or unbagged (from the streets), are unceremoniously dumped into mass, trench graves by traumatised workers. Finally, as Russian tanks move in, Chernov and Maloletka must get out of the city before being captured (which would have meant appearing on Russian TV to denounce their footage as lies – in line with official Kremlin statements).

If the effect of seeing a compilation of 20 days’ footage in one go is gruelling, you realise the importance of the job that people like Mstyslav and Evgeniy do. They accurately portray that job with all its dangers and hardships, even as it demonstrates the importance of truth-telling and storytelling.

Jeremy Clarke is a film critic.


Prisoners of war

Women Interned in World War Two Sumatra
Barbara Coombes
Pen and Sword History
ISBN 978-1-52678-775-0

Margaret Drybrugh and Shelagh Brown. Two names that are probably unfamiliar. This is their story and that of many other women who, for various reasons, were living in Singapore in 1942.

The book begins in the chaos of the evacuation from Singapore as the Japanese advanced on this city state, which many had thought to be impregnable. There was a belief that, while war was going on elsewhere, it would never affect those in Singapore. Suddenly people realised they would have to evacuate, by boat. Many were shipwrecked and many lives were lost. Many others were captured and interned in local camps.

The author then takes a step back in time and explains why Margaret and Shelagh had each come to be in Singapore. Much use is made of journals, letters and other personal writings, which give an authenticity to the descriptions of both people and events…

Linda Hounsome is a member of St Peter’s Jessopp Road LEP in Norwich


Advent already

An Advent Manifesto
Martyn Percy
Bible Reading Fellowship
ISBN 978-1-80039-094-2

These must be challenging times for the publishers of printed devotional materials – so much now appears online that it must take considerable nerve to commission a serious writer and commit to the whole production process. Thank God, though, that the Bible Reading Fellowship have done just that with this extraordinarily rich, deep, challenging yet readily accessible book.

In An Advent Manifesto, theologian Martyn Percy offers an invitation to listen, slowly and deliberately, to the prophecies of Isaiah and the nativity stories of Luke, and to reflect upon how the kingdom of God has and will arrive in the realities and choices, political and otherwise, which frame everyday life: ‘Everything about Jesus’ movements and travels has a political dimension … Advent is tuning in to the world turned the right way up.’..

Ian Fosten is Book Reviews Editor for Reform


This article was published in the October 2023 edition of Reform

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