Wednesday, 2 February 2011


LAST MONDAY, The Sun in an editorial entitled 'War on anarchy' warned: 'Anarchists, prostitutes and assorted nutters hope to wreck the Royal Wedding on April 29th'. Shortly the Oscars will be awarded and Colin Firth is widely tipped to win one for Best Actor for his role in 'The King's Speech' as the soon to be George VI. Also nominated for Best Actor is Javier Bardem, who played the part of a gangmaster on the streets of Barcelona in the film 'Biutiful'. The blurb in the Manchester Cornerhouse's program describes his 'stunning central performance' that 'tells the compelling story of one man's struggle to find spiritual redemption in morally bankrupt Barcelona.'

It is curious that both The Sun of Murdoch and anarchist critics, like Professor Chris Knight, should have such an obsession about Royalty, which I suppose is itself very British. The Spanish film is focused on serious social issues like bent coppers, Senegalese street people selling drugs on the Ramblas, and Chinese illegal immigrants being used as cheap labour on Catalan building sites. In 'The King's Speech' Colin Firth grapples with his own stammering and his fear of public speaking as the abdication of his more articulate brother Edward VIII looms in 1937, just at the time the Spanish Civil War is at its height. Coincidentally, Colin Firth's next role is reported to be that of George Orwell in 'Homage to Catalonia' and Javier Bardem in 'Biutiful' is the son of an anti-Francoist who just 'couldn't keep his trap shut' and fled into exile in Mexico. Perhaps typically 'The King's Speech' is psychological and cultural, while 'Biutiful' is very Spanish in dealing with social issues.

Last Saturday, the critics on Radio Four's 'Saturday Review' declared that 'Biutiful' shows the Barcelona that the tourists don't see in a very gritty light. My partner thought that on this showing Javier Bardem should get the Oscar for Best Actor - he got the Cannes Best Actor award; but Nigel Andrews in the FT called it 'two hours of bloated messianic attitudinising'. In 1963 I wrote a piece on the shanty towns in Barcelona for World Labour News - journal of the Syndicalist Workers' Federation - that later appeared in the newspaper of the Spanish Youth Federation (FIJL) as 'Donde las touristas nunca fui': 'Where the tourists never go'.

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