A triumph of will and talent over background and circumstance
THE Irish film director Neil Jordan is responsible for some of the cleverest movies of the past 20 years. He’s probably best known for Mona Lisa, The Crying Game, The End of the Affair and the film of the life of the Irish republican leader Michael Collins.
I still remember the shock of seeing his first film, Angel, starring Stephen Rea and about paramilitary killings in Northern Ireland.
I was living in Belfast and a visit to any of the very few cinemas that had not been lifted 20 feet off the ground by IRA explosives was always an attempt at escapism.
Neil Jordan’s film was exactly the opposite - a kind of rubbing the collective Ulster nose in the mess we were all in.
I got to meet Neil Jordan a few days ago for an interview for a new BBC programme called Hardtalk Extra. He’s promoting a novel set in the Ireland of his 1950s childhood, but his own story is as remarkable as any fiction.
He grew up in a country which in the 1950s did not make feature films at all. He lived in an intellectual, book-loving household in the most conservatively Catholic country in Europe, without a television anywhere in the house. Cinema-going was rationed to once every two weeks.
It doesn’t sound ideal training for a Hollywood movie director, but Neil Jordan admitted to me that the strict rationing made films seem extremely valuable, rather than just visual wallpaper. Jordan would debate long and hard about which film he was going to see.
HE SAYS his latest novel was written partly out of frustration with the film business. What he really wanted to do was make a movie in Italy about the Borgias - history’s most notorious dysfunctional family - but at the last minute, in classic Hollywood fashion, the money for such a lavish production fell through.
I like Neil Jordan’s story, not just because I enjoy his movies, but because of what he represents - the triumph of will and talent over history, background and circumstance.
Clever Irishmen born in the 1950s ended up as teachers and university professors, often as cheap labour exported to Britain and the United States. Jordan did his bit on British building sites, but he represents the Irish literary caste (Joyce, Shaw, Beckett), for whom the road to salvation often began with the boat to Liverpool.
Now, Neil Jordan lives back where he began, in the Dublin suburbs, a symbol of a new Ireland which has for years been forced to come to terms with violence, political instability, emigration and poverty.
Ireland now has to come to terms with prosperity, immigration and (let’s hope) peace. But I wonder if it can possibly be quite so creative?
A FRIEND has begun a bottled-water hate campaign. He seems hopeful of a nationwide boycott.
It happens to many of us - you go for an inexpensive meal, do not want to drink alcohol and don’t like fizzy, sweet kid’s stuff. So you ask for a jug of tap water.
Result? A stand-off with the waitress.
The lunch my friend was about to buy cost less than 10. The bottled water he was required to purchase cost nearly 3. The waitress told him that tap water could only be served to diners who had already ordered a drink ...
My friend was (uncharacteristically) lost for words. No-one expects restaurants to hand out food or drinks for free. But my friend admitted he’d have been happy to pay extra for the food provided the jug of free water had been placed on the table.
When it comes to complaining about service, most British people are as docile as spring lambs in an abattoir. But maybe it’s time to get uppity. Membership of the Provisional wing of the anti-bottled-water rebels, anyone?
CLEA Koff’s career and life history are in many ways as remarkable as Neil Jordan’s. She is in her early thirties, born of an American-Jewish father and Tanzanian mother, and as strikingly attractive as the actress Halle Berry.
Clea spends her time digging up dead bodies. She is a forensic anthropologist.
She pieces together the bones and the bodies of those killed in genocide and ethnic slaughter as part of the investigations into the deaths in the Rwanda genocide and in the Balkans. She is eloquent in her hope that through her work the dead will receive some kind of justice.
When she told me about her work recently, she spoke with all the curiosity of a great detective - or a great scientist - desperate to piece together the pieces of the puzzle to make sense of almost inexplicable evil.
Two things struck me: one, how normal she was. Hardly a compliment, I suppose, but meeting someone with a gruesome job, I confess I expected to meet someone who was slightly eccentric. Not a bit of it.
Second, I wonder if she is the last generation of women who will experience surprise that a woman is doing the job that she does.
Gavin Esler is a presenter on BBC2’s Newsnight.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 23 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 24 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 5 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 16 mph
Wind direction: North east