Some of The Good Oil’s writers and readers offer their “big and small screen” picks for the summer season – viewing they think will engage your mind and nourish your spirit.
BY The Good Oil
Each was asked to choose something from the “big screen” or “small screen” that they would recommend to others. It could be a recent release or a classic; the main criterion was that it engaged the mind or nourished the spirit. Enjoy!
Victoria and Abdul (2017) – recommended by Elizabeth Brennan SGS
While the film Victoria and Abdul is what I would call “lightweight”, there was something in the story that made me reflect on the need for relationships and the richness they provide in one’s life. Victoria, the Queen, widowed at 42 when her beloved Albert dies suddenly, lives for another 40 years. Twice during that time she develops close relationships with servant companions: the Scotsman John Brown, and then in her mid-70s with Abdul, the common-born Indian and a Muslim.
The relationship with Abdul, unconventional as it is, rejuvenates Victoria, spikes her curiosity about a world unfamiliar to her, confirms her life-long commitment to stamp out prejudice and affirms her desire to do some serious study. (Yes, Victoria did indeed learn to read and write Urdu!)
In my own life, relationships sustained over a lifetime have nourished, supported, challenged, comforted in times of sadness, offered an understanding heart, nourished the spirit, engaged my mind and given deep contentment. Victoria, I believe, was looking for a relationship that would drive her beyond the superficial to the meaningful. Surely, that is what we are all searching for in our friendships.
The Fundamentals of Caring (Netflix, 2016) – recommended by Moira Byrne Garton
The Fundamentals of Caring is a tender dramatic comedy available on Netflix. Based on a novel by Jonathan Evison, it was written and directed by Rob Burnett, best known for his work on the television series Ed. Ben (played by lovable and popular actor Paul Rudd) applies to be a care support worker for Trevor (Craig Roberts), teenage son of single mother Elsa (Jennifer Ehle). Trevor has muscular dystrophy, intelligence and a sardonic sense of humour.
As Ben helps look after Trevor for the summer, they discuss aspirations and decide to take a road trip. On the road they meet Dot (Selena Gomez) and others. Yet Ben’s encouragement to Trevor to leap into new life experiences is as much about Ben’s desire to avoid aspects of his own life.
It’s a tears-and-laughter story, fast becoming a family favourite.
The Innocents (2016) – recommended by Garry Everett
Set in 1945 Poland, this is a movie which speaks to contemporary concerns about Christian faith. Director Anne Fontaine explores, on the surface, the tragic though common experience of war – the rape of innocent women. In this case the women are Benedictine nuns.
Below the surface run very powerful themes which confront the viewer in surprisingly relevant ways. Each nun is forced to plumb her faith: How could God love me now? How can the convent protect its ‘good name’? What is best for the new babies – should they just be allowed to die? Who am I as a nun? What is faith after all this?
The conclusion brings relief to the tensions building in the story’s unfolding. A Good Samaritan and the “God of Surprises” shine through the winter and the war, and the final scenes forecast a future of hope and peace.
Challenging! Edifying! Sustaining! Inspiring!
Viceroy’s House (2017) – recommended by Mary McDonald SGS
The palatial Viceroy’s House was home to Lord and Lady Mountbatten who lived on the top floor and conducted the affairs of state while the 500 servants lived below. Lord Mountbatten was tasked with the withdrawal of British rule, the transition to Indian self-governance and the establishment of the Muslim state of Pakistan.
These political decisions resulted in 14 million people being displaced, and a million deaths as a result of sectarian violence, starvation and disease. Co-writer and Director, Gurinder Chadha’s grandmother, was one of those politically displaced persons.
I found the film informative and challenging. It portrayed the opulence of British rule, and while seemingly trying to respect those affected by decisions, expediency won out. Seventy years later we see so much of this political displacement in today’s world – Rohingya refugees, asylum seekers, boat people.
Loving Vincent (2017) – recommended by Alice Priest
Loving Vincent is a really unique and remarkable film. They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, so a world-first film made up of some 65,000 hand-painted frames, by 125 artists appropriating Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings and thus his life, is something of a masterpiece of story-telling in itself.
We all know about the madness, the ear lopping, and the tragic death, but the fine brush strokes of this film ultimately paint a very human and intriguingly fresh portrait of the great artist.
I loved Loving Vincent for its visual innovation and for its clear reminder that the privilege of living one’s vocation can be both the life and death of us.
Snowden (2016) – recommended by Joanna Thyer
There are many films that touch the heart and spirit and not all of them are overtly “spiritual”. One of the films that touched me over the past year was the unlikely film Snowden. Well-crafted by director Oliver Stone, the movie evoked feelings of the loneliness of the person who takes a moral stand against the prevailing immoral, clinical rationalisation of corporate and international interests.
I am not a political person as such, but I do believe in human rights, and there was something touching about the simple ethics of Edward Snowden, this former CIA employee and tech wiz, who exposed to the world the spying that governments do on everyday citizens and countries.
He clearly became uncomfortable with the breach on human rights, and chose to no longer take part in it. His bravery lies in the fact that he knew that taking a stand would jeopardise his life and his future freedom.
Call Me Francis (Netflix, 2015) – recommended by Beth Doherty
This year I took the plunge and subscribed to Netflix, and at the risk of sounding pious, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the quality of the religious content. A particular standout is the Spanish-language portrayal of Pope Francis, Call Me Francis. It’s a four-part series that looks at Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s journey from before entering the priesthood, to his election to the papacy in 2013.
This series is not for the faint of heart. It shows unflinching portrayal of the Dirty War in Argentina, where Pope Francis assisted possibly hundreds to safety from a brutal dictatorship in which an estimated 75,000 disappeared or underwent torture. It shows his ongoing journey of redemption, his heart for the poor, his affections, his falling in love and his deep desolations. This epic also seems to be remarkably accurate, based on the many biographical accounts that have emerged since he has become pope. In this series, you are given a very human and real portrait of a radical figure.
84 Charing Cross Road (1987) – recommended by Helen Anderson SGS
Although it is some time since it was first produced, the realism and tenderness depicted in 84 Charing Cross Road makes it a film well worth watching. It is based on the actual exchange of letters, written over many years, between Helene Hanff and Frank Doel.
Hanff was an American writer and Doel was the manager of a bookshop located at 84 Charing Cross Road in England. Hanff is ardent in her search for a range of literary works and Doel is most gracious in his responses to her requests. The initial interchanges provide a gentle insight into a world recovering from the shattering impact of war.
This film conveys how courtesy, humour, honesty and generosity can foster connections that endure. Most importantly it is a fitting acknowledgement of the friendship that developed between Helene and Frank and a celebration of their mutual regard for the written word.
Lion (2016) – recommended by John Muskovits
Juxtaposed against the backdrop of a global refugee crisis is the inspirational story of an illiterate five-year-old who becomes lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometres from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Tasmania. Twenty-five years later, he sets out to find his family.
Saroo Brierley recounts: “Accidently I boarded a train… and I didn’t realise it would take me to a journey unknown”.
One reason why this film and book have inspired so many is that Saroo’s journey resonates with our own in the spirit of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. We all board our own trains which take us to journeys unknown. The book and film provide hope and empower us to know that we can make a difference.
People who like Lion will have their spirit similarly nourished by the film Wonder. Both echo John O’Donohue’s Anam Cara: “May you be able to journey to that place in your soul where there is great love, warmth, and forgiveness”.
War Room (2015) – recommended by Naomi Currie
Tony Jordon (T.C. Stallings) is a high-flying pharmaceutical representative; his wife Elizabeth, (Priscilla Shirer), a successful real estate agent, and together with ten-year-old Dannielle, they enjoy a beautiful home and company cars. However, when Tony meets a younger woman, and his employers uncover years of abnormities in Tony’s reports, the Jordons are forced to confront their growing estrangement from both each other and their daughter.
With the help of simultaneously hilarious and heart-warming Miss Clara (Karen Abercrombie), Elizabeth, and ultimately Tony, discover fighting life’s battles requires strategy, prayer, and most of all, faith in a loving and almighty God.
This powerful Kendrick Brothers’ production is a well-crafted and acted blend of both comedic and serious moments, and challenges all of us, whether adults or children, to “pray on our knees” and claim the promises of God for our family, friends and nation.
Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017) – recommended by Moya Weissenfeld SGS
The recent film Goodbye Christopher Robin tells the story of Christopher Robin Milne, known to his family and Nanny as Billie. The father’s return from WWI leaves him psychologically damaged, so Billie is helped by his Nanny to be quiet and considerate. Circumstances leave the father and Billie alone together for several days, which were the happiest of Billie’s life. During these days the stories of Winnie the Pooh and his friends unfolded, as the father and son wandered through the nearby woods. The subsequent immense success of the stories robbed Billie of his anonymity and the joy of his childhood, losses which affected him for years.
The beauty, sadness, fragility, of life were all elements which contributed to the beauty and depth of this film. I strongly recommend it.
Hidden Figures (2017) – recommended by Leonie Keaney
Set at the NASA space centre in 1962, Hidden Figures tells the true story of three brilliant women of colour who became significant players in the first US mission into space. The dramatic tale of America’s space race is a Cold War story depicted with wonderful authenticity in the settings and sensibilities of that age where segregation laws prevailed and ‘Whites Only’ areas applied to buses, bars, toilets and more.
Discriminated against because they were female and black, the three women – mathematician, computer scientist and engineer – eventually become indispensable to the project, because they are better than anyone else.
An historical drama, this film resonates in 2017 where there has been a shift in attitudes to men and power, epitomised by the #MeToo movement, tilting the world on its axis a little. The hidden figures of this story did the same, emerging, against all odds, as leaders in space science, computer technology and women’s education. Must see.
The Last Post (2017) – recommended by Margaret-Mary Flynn
The Last Post is a BBC period drama set in a Royal Military Police outpost in Yemen around the time of the Aden Crisis. Britain is dismantling its empire, but the process of withdrawal leads to an unstable and dangerously disaffected population. A wonderful cast make this compelling viewing, as soldiers and their wives and families become entangled in the conflict between the rigid and myopic system of colonial rule and the gritty reality of terrorist insurgency, and maverick journalism.
In characters such as the commanding officer, Major Harry Markham, the drama becomes a battle between human dignity and moral bankruptcy. In others it is about personal honour versus loyalty to duty. The fate of Markham’s young son, George, triggers the crisis. Each character grows in stature as they find the courage to act with love and truth, to be decent. It’s no accident that the two most impressive are Mary Markham, George’s mother, and the young newcomer, Honour, both of whom stand for faith, hope and love. And the two least impressive are the nameless visiting British government minister and the insurgency leader, Starfish, willing to pay any dirty price to dominate. Utterly enthralling viewing.
The Shack (2017) – recommended by Marie Lynch
Based on William Paul Young’s New York Times’ best-selling book, The Shack is uplifting and joyous, despite the central tragedy. It opens with the narrator, Willie, sharing the early upbringing of the central character, Mack. To his neighbours, Mack’s father was a kind, church-going man. At home he was a violent drunk.
Now an adult, we meet Mack again in a slough of despair. “The Great Sadness”, as it is called in the film, has visited their family in the form of a camping trip turned nightmare. The beloved youngest child is abducted. Lost in sorrow, Mack receives a surprising invitation to return to the shack – the place where Missy’s blood-stained dress was found. It is signed “Papa” – the children’s name for God.
Meeting God in some unusual guises Mack’s life is forever changed. This God is “especially fond” of us. This is a film of love, humour, compassion, forgiveness and transformation. I loved it.
Anne with an E (Netflix, 2017) – recommended by Pat O’Gorman
Fancy a hit of nostalgia with a bit of a twist? Then go no further than Anne with an E. Scanning Netflix in search of a little boost of positivity, warmth and meaning in life, I came across this reworked version of the familiar, beloved and warm-hearted classic Anne of Green Gables. As a child and as a teacher, I loved getting lost in the wondrous world of Avonlea with Anne Shirley, Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, Gilbert Blythe, Diana Barry and company. Nostalgia evokes a particular sense of time or place, bringing forth memories of blissful moments that we felt would last forever – real food for the soul.
This adaptation of the classic tale while still set in the stunning landscape of Prince Edward Island, is darker, bleaker and moodier. The complex, central character, Anne, offers a boldly stylish, exuberant, emotionally resonant spin on the starkness and sometimes tragic reality of human life. The strong-willed orphan is resilient, overcoming the improbable to transform the lives of those she encounters. Anne with an E offers hope for all of us who continue to seek love and acceptance while finding our place in the world.