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Reviews November 2023 - Reform Magazine

Reviews November 2023

The way of lawlessness

Killers of the Flower Moon
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Certificate 15, 206 minutes
Released 20 October

This film is adapted from David Grann’s book of the same name about the real life Osage Indian Murders of the 1920s. Demobbed after the First World War, Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) returns to Osage County, Oklahoma, where his successful cattle rancher uncle William Hale (Robert De Niro) gets him a job as a driver. Among Ernest’s regular fares is an Osage Indian named Mollie (Lily Gladstone), a woman of few words who tells him he uses too many. The pair fall in love and marry. Coincidentally, his uncle has urged Ernest to marry her so that her wealth can enter his family.

As Native Americans, the Osage had been granted land rights long before oil was discovered on their lands, and now they are rich. This has brought with it all manner of less than honest men who want those riches for themselves, and employ everything from legal chicanery to murder to acquire them. William Hale may initially appear a friend to the Osage people, but as we get to know him, it appears that he is simply after their money and will stop at nothing to get it.

Ernest is easily led, a Catholic who sees no contradiction between attending Mass on Sunday morning and committing robbery or murder at night. Hale is a more slippery customer. Once the Bureau of Investigation (the forerunner of the FBI) get involved in the form of Agent Tom White (Jesse Plemons), it seems only a matter of time before the pair go to prison.

Interrupted by brief if brutal bursts of violence, this is in essence a study of three people – one rich and devious, one who goes along with his ways, sometimes without realising it, and one law-abiding.

All three lead actors are astonishing, yet since it’s arguably much easier to portray villains large or small than it is honest folk, a special mention should go to Gladstone, whose portrayal of the wronged yet spiritually centred Mollie may be one of the most moving screen performances you’ll see this year. Scorsese, meanwhile, remains among the greatest living American directors; his touch here is as sure as it’s ever been.

Jeremy Clarke is a film critic.


Papal pleas

I am asking in the name of God
Pope Francis
ISBN: 978-0-281-08997-0

Published for the tenth anniversary of his election, this short volume sets out Pope Francis’s understanding of the key challenges that face the post-Covid world. Inspired by a speech made in 2021, the book showcases his main themes. A reader who hopes to understand more of this Pope, and today’s Roman Catholic Church, will be well rewarded.

The ten sections (not prayers exactly, but more like bluntly stated pleas), include calls to eradicate a culture of abuse, protect our ‘common home’, fight fake news, stop war, welcome refugees, enable the greater participation of women, allow poor countries to develop, and provide universal access to health services. Pope Francis is determined that faith must engage with the world as it really is: we ‘cannot stand by with our arms folded’….

Susan Durber is World Council of Churches President from Europe


On wings of song

First Flight Feathers
Gillian Warson and Janet Wootton
Sacristy Press
ISBN: 978-1-78959-285-6

This book is a collection of 91 varied contributions to the periodical Worship Live over more than 20 years. It covers a wide variety of subject areas – church seasons, social issues and politics, personal experience – and of styles: poems, prayers, reflections, telling a Bible story from a different perspective. Most contributions are hymns, some with new tunes printed with them, almost all to metres which would allow a familiar tune to be used.

In this collection each author only gets one submission, which brings greater variety. I doubt that everyone will love everything in this book, but I would be surprised if there was not something which sparks thought, surprise or inspiration. URC writers are well represented, and there are gems here. There is a wonderful Easter hymn from the much-missed Alan Gaunt, poetic hymn-writing at its best. A Pentecost hymn from Dominic Grant reflects on the work of the Spirit in us. A helpful hymn by Anne Sardeson has the refrain, ‘our neighbour’s keeper’…

Ruth Whitehead is Minister of the Landsker Pastorate – five United Reformed churches in Pembrokeshire


Christianity in Congo

Mission Impossible?
RR Hall
The Choir Press
ISBN: 978-1-78963-349-8

Reg Hall was born in 1939, the son of missionaries, in what was then the Belgian Congo. This book tells the story of the Congo Balolo Mission (CBM) from its creation in 1889, into independence in 1960 and up to 2003 when Shirley Marks, the final CBM missionary, left Congo. It includes maps and photos and is packed with detail. It will be of particular interest to those interested in global Christianity and the ways in which mission is shaped by context.

The book goes some way to setting these stories in the wider context of empire, and reassessments of missionary work and its legacies. Hall offers a chapter reflecting upon missionaries’ complicity with brutal exploitation under King Leopold II of Belgium. Leopold effectively enslaved the nation, funded by investors in Britain and America. CBM missionaries eventually helped highlight the atrocities, but it took time for their stories to be shared…

Neil Thorogood is Minister of Thornbury URC and Trinity-Henleaze URC in Bristol


Carol stories

Deck the Hall
Andrew Gant
Hodder and Stoughton
ISBN: 978-1-399-80749-4

Andrew Gant is a composer, conductor and lecturer, and has led choirs for national and royal occasions. He is an excellent communicator who can satisfy the most ardent music buff and still be entertaining to the reader who knows nothing about music but likes a good tune.

Here he presents the origins and evolution of 27 well-known carols. He explains how words often appeared on broadsheets with no specific tune, but with the assumption that singers would find a folk tune locally to use or adapt. He introduces his readers to Sabine Baring-Gould, Cecil Sharp, Lucy Broadwood and others who collected words and tunes from around Britain, Europe and the US. Thanks to them our present-day carol anthologies are broad and not limited to the child-control material favoured by some Victorian hymn writers. Other carols have a clearly documented beginning. ‘Silent Night’ was written for guitar accompaniment. Neither mice nor rotten organ bellows featured in its genesis – although they do make for a charming story!…

Ian Fosten is Book Reviews Editor for Reform


This article was published in the November 2023 edition of Reform

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