Talent Drain

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So, I continue to deal with my recently acquired addiction for Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey/Stephen Maturin novels.  I am currently on Book 5, “Desolation Island”.  To think that there are 20 of these books and to realise that I am not yet a quarter of way in on my journey, I despair.  There are piles of books on my desk which I am supposed to finish before the year is out.  Nonetheless, I keep downloading these quaintly written nautical tales onto my Kindle, much like Maturin toying with a bottle of Laudanum tincture, trying to convince himself that he is keeping his opioid addiction at abeyance.

It was an amusing discovery that I recognised the name of the man whose essay on Patrick O’Brian was inserted at the end of Book 2, “Post Captain” (HarperCollins edition).  William Waldegrave was a member of Conservative cabinet throughout the 90’s, the decade I spent studying, working and loitering with undefinable intent in and around London.  He served Thatcher and Major governments and, although he somewhat failed to reach the kind of prominence in political sphere he had obviously pined for in that grotesque cutthroat time and place that were the twilight days of Thatcher era, I couldn’t help but take note at that time of his impressive pedigree and CV: Eton, Oxford, Harvard on Kennedy Scholarship and a fellow of All Souls at 25.  After a time at Think-Tank, he was elected MP in 1979 in the flow of Thatcher revolution and defeated in 1997 in the ebb of Blair’s Cool Britania.

Compared to “Just William”, who was but one of the teeming talents on the government bench at that time, it cannot be just my middle age nostalgia which sheds unkind light on the current bunch of politicos, some of whom seem to have left the quarterdeck overnight in the continuing Brexit fiasco.

Some blame soundbite news reporting in this media age for the rise of loudmouths, absence of substance, and unthinking populism.  I am sure they have some points.  But I think there is another cause for this vacuity: Finance.

I think Finance lured away and devoured the talented youths in the 80’s and 90’s with promises of wealth and early retirement, leaving if not the void then certainly a level of draught in other areas of worthy human endeavours, such as science, medicine, art and politics.

As we all know, this decades-long trend came to a sad end in 2007~2008, leaving many with not so much wealth but hunger for wealth and not so much early retirement but early onset of job insecurity.  In the meantime, those few, who have made their bundles in time, secluded themselves in gated communities across the developed world and hibernate in yachts in the Mediterranean, trying to cut their ties and engagements with the “real” world, seeing them as liabilities, rather than assets, in direct dichotomy to the ancient Rome’s “cursus honorum” values.

Somewhere between George H. Bush (a veritable WWII hero) and Bill Clinton (a Vietnam draft dodger), the idea and ideal of politics as noble service, obligation of preeminent citizen, waned and were replaced by the public’s general acceptance that it is nothing but slimy trade plied by professionals of dubious morality and smooth talk.  Politicians became commodity, to be traded for money by the rich seeking influence.

I hope and think, without too much optimism, maybe, that the tide has turned, though.  The dearth of talents and character in politics is at its nadir and things can only improve from this Trumpian nightmare with its orange hue.  Fingers crossed.

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Why They Hate Poms

Screen Shot 2018-04-19 at 7.54.40 AMWhen in England, I buy a copy of the Spectator. It is a nice change from the cynical earnestness of the Economist, which stinks with the whiff of undergrads trying on the cover of political correctness, not to eradicate their prejudices but to hide them behind it.  I much prefer to take biases neat.

Although I thought I had guarded myself against the undiluted toryism, this article succeeded in making me guffaw with its arrogance and pomposity.

I can see that it is of great national interest to UK that the heir to the throne should succeed, as a matter of course, as the head of the Commonwealth.  But the position should be earned, or appear to be earned, at least.

Whilst the Queen, and his family, including the Prince himself, have done much to merit the honour, her UK government has really let them down.  Unless they suffer from collective amnesia (which is not impossible, given the changing demography in that country), New Zealanders recall the sharp economic downturn caused by UK’s entry into EC in 1973, which marked the beginning of a new era for the Kiwis in their economic policy independence.

Of course, UK government was making the best choice for themselves as they saw it at the time.  It is unfair to fault them for that.  But it is a broad brush approach in its extreme to ignore all that has happened in the meantime and to harken back to the past imperial glory to justify the hereditary succession for the head of an international organisation.

It is a valid policy objective for the UK government in its post-Brexit uncertainty.  A little humility, however, might prove prudent in moving kings and queens on the board.

The Oldest Prostitute in the Neighbourhood

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 And of course, most prominently, there’s our old sparring partner Oleg Deripaska, the prince of Russian aluminium. When he listed his master company Rusal in Hong Kong in 2010, I observed that it ‘set a new benchmark for just how risk-laden a stock can be and still gain access to public markets’ and that the only analytical tool with which to address such an impenetrable offering ‘must surely be a very long bargepole’. When he listed his new master company EN+ (by now the majority owner of Rusal) on the London Stock Exchange last November, I suggested that ‘the City shouldn’t be doing business with anyone so close to Putin’s Kremlin’, particularly when the £1 billion proceeds of the float were flowing back as debt repayments to Russian banks that were already subject to US and EU sanctions following Russian aggression against Ukraine. I gather MI6 made the same point, but to no avail.

「がんばれイギリス」映画たち

名優ゲイリー・オールドマンがついにアカデミー主演男優賞を手にした映画「Darkest Hour」(邦題「ウィンストン・チャーチル/ヒトラーから世界を救った男」)が日本公開とのこと。私はこの映画はまだ未見なのですが、いやはや昨年、2017年のイギリス映画界は、私が個人的に「がんばれイギリス」映画と呼ぶ作品が目白押しでした。

オールドマンのチャーチルに先駆けて発表されたのが、題名そのままの「Churchill」。オールドマンとちがって、あまり特殊メイクしなくてもチャーチルに似ている渋い俳優ブライアン・コックスが、ノルマンディー上陸作戦を目前に逡巡・懊悩するチャーチルを演じていました。

話題になった作品では、第二次世界大戦の冒頭、怒涛のドイツ軍に責め立てられて北フランスの港町ダンケルクに孤立したイギリス軍救出のためにイギリス国民が立ち上がった史実を題材に、クリストファー・ノーランが監督・脚本した「ダンケルク」がありました。

また大英帝国最後のインド総督、マウントバッテン卿を主人公にした「Viceroy’s House」では、「パディントン」では優しいパパ役でうっていたヒュー・ボネヴィルが、「貴族的で見栄っ張り」といわれたマウントバッテン卿を演じています。

近年、インドの政治家であり元国連事務次長でもあったシャシ・タルール氏などが先鋒となって、イギリスのインド植民地支配に対する弾劾・補償要求の声が高まっていた背景がありましたので、こうしたイギリス側からの視点による、下世話に要約すれば「全部オレたちのせいにするなよ〜」的な作品の登場は興味深い。これを脇からサポートするかのようだったのが、大御所ジュディ・デンチが演じるところのヴィクトリア女王が一人のインド人青年との友情を育む物語、「Victoria & Abdul」。

とりもなおさずこれらの作品は、EU脱退を決めた2016年の国民投票の結果を受けて、世情不安にかられているイギリス人の心に訴える内容です。意地悪に言えば、映画製作者側のあざとい目論見が透けて見える気がしますが、うがった見方はさておき、厳然たる事実として今を生きるイギリス人たちに、彼らのアイデンティティーとその礎となる歴史・伝統を再確認したいという渇望がリアルに存在するということの証左でしょう。

歴史と伝統の再確認ということでいえば、イギリス王室を題材にした作品もここのところ飽和状態。アカデミー作品賞まで取った「英国王のスピーチ」(2010年)以来、王室を題材にした大小さまざまな映画やテレビ・ドラマが発表されましたが、そのトレンドも2016年から始まったドラマ・シリーズ「ザ・クラウン」で頂点に達した観があります。若き王女エリザベスが父王の突然の崩御によって女王の地位についてからの様々なドラマを描いたシリーズは、いままでタブー視されていたエディンバラ公フィリップとの夫婦仲のいざこざなどにも分け入り大ヒット中。主役のエリザベス役をフレッシュなクレア・フォイから、安定感のあるオリヴィア・コールマンに替えた続編新シリーズが今年始まります。

この王室マニアも高齢のエリザベス女王のあとの王室の存続、ひいてはイギリスの国体のありかたに対するイギリス国民の漠然とした不安が遠因となっているであろうことは想像に難くありません。

ここから映画オタクな話になりますが、イギリスの国情を反映した映画作品といえば、大昔の作品に「ゼンダ城の虜」(The Prisoner of Zenda)という1937年の作品があります。

ルリタニアという架空の王国を旅するイギリス人紳士ラッセンディルは、当地の新国王ルドルフ五世にうりふたつのソックリさん。ふがいなくも戴冠式前夜に泥酔して誘拐されてしまう国王の身代わりで式にのぞみ、王国の転覆と王位をねらう国王の異母弟一味をやっつけるというのがあらすじ。最後はすっかりラッセンディルに惚れてしまう国王の許嫁フラヴィア王女に涙ながらにわかれを告げ、ラッセンディルは帰国の途につきます。それを見送る国王の親友、フリッツ(デヴィッド・ニーヴン...いい役者です)の最後のセリフが「運命は常に正しい人物を王としない。」これは映画発表の直前、アメリカ人ウォリス・シンプソン夫人との不倫愛に耽って、英国の王位を投げ捨てたエドワード8世へのあてつけとして当時から話題になりました。

「ゼンダ城の虜」が発表された1937年以降、イギリス映画界は第二次世界大戦のプロパギャンダ映画の百花繚乱となります。名戦闘機スピットファイアの開発に取材した「The First of the Few」(1942年)。後に「アラビアのロレンス」などで名を馳せるデヴィッド・リーンが二つの大戦間のイギリス庶民の生活を描いた「This Happy Breed」(1944年)。ノエル・カワードが監督・脚本・主演した「In Which Serve」(1942年)。ローレンス・オリヴィエとヴィヴィアン・リー夫妻は、独裁者フィリップ2世率いる大国スペインに立ち向かうイギリスを描いた「Fire Over England」(1937年)と、独裁者ナポレオンに立ち向かうネルソン提督を描いた「That Hamilton Woman」(1941年)の二作で共演して、スター・カップルとしての地位を不動のものにします。

しかし往時の「がんばれイギリス」映画と昨今のそれを比較する時、対独戦争への勝利という目的がはっきりしていた当時の悲壮ながら真摯な時代情景と、Brexit後の漠然とした不安に満ちた今、心のよりどころを求める人々の心象風景の反映が際だった対照をなしていて、「いやはやこの国もタイヘンな時期を迎えたな...」と感慨をあらたにするのです。

“A quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing”

It seems to be a fashionable trend, especially amongst my left-leaning friends, to jeer at the latest western military action in Syria as the cynical attempt at statesmanship by desperate politicians.

But I cast my mind back a few years and wonder if David “You Decide” Cameron had had some semblance of leadership to act on Obama’s urging in 2013, instead of throwing the matter carelessly to the headless chickens in the Commons, there might have never been a refugee crisis of the proportion we have been forced to witness, resulting in the nationalist tendencies across Europe, culminating in the Brexiteers’ victory in 2016.

“How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing.” (Neville Chamberlain, 27 September 1938)