Damian Thompson

Magnetic north | 10 November 2016

Years ago, when I met a famous concert pianist, I was surprised when he greeted me in a northern accent. A soft one, mind you, but completely intact. I’d assumed that, by the time a conductor or soloist reached a certain level of fame, the northern vowels would have been erased by Received Pronunciation or

Arts feature

Death by television

Forty years ago this month a film appeared, so prescient I wonder if its author, Paddy Chayefsky, saw the 2016 American presidential election campaign in a crystal ball. It was called Network and it foretold the rise of Donald Trump. The plot is King Lear appears on Newsnight: a newsman run mad. The protagonist is


Angry bird

Dynastic affairs and international relations were once a seamless continuum. Royal weddings accompanied peace treaties. An heirless realm was vulnerable to invasion. Botched successions led to war. This is the political context of King Lear but Deborah Warner sets the play in modern times, which muddles everything. Britain in the Dark Ages is represented by


Brief encounters

When Mozart was commissioned to write an opera for the coronation of Emperor Leopold II, he produced La clemenza di Tito: a hymn to the benevolence of a Roman despot. When Matt Rogers and Sally O’Reilly were commissioned by the Inner Temple, they came up with an opera in which the protagonist is a law


Crown jewels

Nairobi. February 1952. Laughing children brandishing sticks are driving an indignant bustle of ostriches up a rudimentary 1950s-Africa semi-bush runway towards the camera, when — WHOOSH! — right over their heads skims the exact BOAC aircraft in which the actual soon-to-be Queen Elizabeth flew to Kenya, as painstakingly rebuilt by the world’s top aircraft restorers


Order, order | 10 November 2016

The catalogue to Pallant House Gallery’s latest exhibition features a favourite anecdote. It is 1924 and a competition is being held to find the woman with the most pleasing vital statistics. As a paradigm, the judges choose the Venus de Milo. Thousands of women queue up to find out whether their measurements — not only


Tongue twister

Arrival is a big budget sci-fi film with a smaller, more pensive, cleverer film trying to get out, which has to be an improvement on a dumb film with an even dumber film trying to get out, as in the manner of Interstellar, say. So we have that to be thankful for, at least. The


Country music | 10 November 2016

There was something unexpectedly moving about hearing not just one but several renditions of the somewhat naive and rose-tinted but always heartfelt ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ when I switched on the radio after several days’ absence. America has been so much in our thoughts these past few weeks, but a distasteful, shameful version of itself. It