Wasn’t AA meant to be about helping people?

The hatchet-faced woman who shouted at me pulled out her lipstick and sat reapplying it during the meeting. The pretty young girl next to her took out a nail file and sat filing her nails, as people shared. She was wearing see-through, skin-tight, skin-coloured leggings and a pair of six-inch wedged boots. I sat opposite them in the church hall and brooded. This used to be a support group but after 20 years of going it no longer feels like I am getting support. Lately, I feel worse when I come out. The woman with the stern face screeched at me at another meeting recently when I tried to speak

As gripping as an Agatha Christie thriller: Shooting Hedda Gabler, at the Rose Theatre, reviewed

The unlovely Rose Theatre in Kingston is a modest three-storey eyesore. The concrete foyer looks like an exercise area on a North Sea oil platform, and the auditorium itself is a whitewashed rotunda that resembles the chapel in a newly built prison. Yet this cheerless, functional space is perfect for a mischievous new satire, Shooting Hedda Gabler, about recent developments in the acting trade. The central character, Hedda (Antonia Thomas), is a washed-up American starlet who wants to gain artistic credibility by taking the lead in a pretentious film version of Hedda directed by Henrik, a tyrannical Norwegian auteur. ‘There is no script,’ he announces on the opening day. But

A thoroughly modern 18th-century heroine: The Future Future, by Adam Thirlwell, reviewed

Adam Thirlwell’s latest novel begins in revolutionary France and chronicles the travails of its embattled celebrity heroine, Celine, who is being subjected to a campaign of malicious gossip about her sex life. She resolves to cultivate a coterie of influential writers to wrest back control of the narrative – cue earnest meditations on power, misogyny and the ability of the written word to shape reality. Meanwhile, she finds solace in female company, reflecting: In a society made of words and images and circulating and recirculating, all devoted to disinformation, it was very difficult to find any personal safety, and one minuscule form might just be this intense form of friendship

The chief characteristic so far has been nervousness: Chivalry reviewed

Chivalry – written by and starring Sarah Solemani and Steve Coogan – is a comedy drama about post-#MeToo Hollywood life. It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that the show’s chief characteristic so far has been nervousness. Somewhere inside it, you feel, lurks an impulse to really let rip. But if so, Thursday’s first two episodes successfully resisted it. Now and again, we did get some jokes that might just frighten the admittedly neurotic horses of the new Moral Majority. The overall effect, though, was of a game of How Far Can You Go? in which the contestants’ answer was a firm ‘not very’. Still, even this level of unorthodoxy seemed unlikely

A cut above TV’s usual #MeToo fare: BBC1’s Rules of the Game reviewed

As you may have noticed, it’s something of a golden age for TV shows about how invisible middle-aged women are — except perhaps, in all those TV shows about how invisible middle-aged women are. At first sight, Rules of the Game — a crime drama set in a northern sportswear company — seemed a fairly standard example. The company in question, Fly Dynamic, has a management style that some might consider a little sleazy, run as it is by a group of men who’ve never met a 16-year-old girl they didn’t want to ply with booze and drugs. Meanwhile their neglected wives amuse themselves as best they can with cheese

Peng Shuai and the limits of China’s #MeToo movement

China’s #MeToo movement has taken a step closer to the centre of power in Beijing, after sexual abuse allegations by a top Chinese tennis star were made against a man who until recently was one of Xi Jinping’s closest henchman at the pinnacle of Communist party rule. The tennis star, Peng Shuai, made the allegations against Zhang Gaoli, who until 2018 was vice-president and a member of the seven-strong Standing Committee of the Party’s Politburo, the country’s highest ruling group. Peng alleged in a post on her Weibo social media account that Zhang had assaulted her at the beginning of an affair that lasted from 2012 to 2017. The post

What if Clinton had come clean?

What if Bill Clinton had told the truth? Would America’s sexual and political history be different? The thought occurs because of the new TV drama Impeachment (being shown in Britain on BBC2) about the Monica Lewinsky affair. Somewhat unfairly to both main parties, it is part of the American Crime Story series. Previous subjects have included O.J. Simpson and Andrew Cunanan, who killed Gianni Versace. It’s a bit rich putting Bill Clinton in the same bracket as these murder cases. Nonetheless, the result is intriguing, not just because of the magnificent acting and production — and not only because in the quarter of a century since the world’s most famous

In praise of chastity

New York It’s party time in the Bagel, or at least private party time. Yours truly is an extra man nowadays as my wife and I have been separated by pandemic restrictions for six months. Alexandra is in London, quarantining after visiting two little blond things in Austria for my fourth grandchild Theodora’s first birthday. I am doing dinner parties non-stop in the Bagel, as if I were a gaywalker back in the 1970s. Actually, I’ve been seeing a lot of old friends who have thrown dinners for Lita and George Livanos. We have mostly been the same crowd, as New York society types have gone the way of wooden

The politicisation of Sarah Everard’s death

A woman called Jenny Jones, now elevated to Baroness Moonbeam, or something, in the House of Lords has proposed a 6 p.m. curfew for all men everywhere. This would prevent men from killing women on the streets. Mrs Moonbeam is a member of the Green party and presumably agrees with their manifesto which insists that men who identify as women are women and there’s an end to it. In which case all I would need to do is don a wig and take to the streets — and upon being apprehended by a policeman simply explain that my name was Loretta and I’d just popped out to do a spot

Michaela Coel’s dazzling finale reminds me of Philip Roth: I May Destroy You reviewed

It might seem a bit of a stretch to see deep similarities between Michaela Coel (young, female, black and currently very fashionable indeed) and the late Philip Roth (increasingly discredited as an embodiment of all those phallocentric white guys who once ruled American fiction merely because they were great writers). Nonetheless, this week’s television made it hard not to. On Tuesday night, as an adaptation of Roth’s The Plot Against America began on Sky Atlantic, Coel’s I May Destroy You was serving up a dazzling final episode that confirmed how Rothian the series has been. For one thing, the main character Arabella, played by Coel herself, was — like many

Too much photocopying but stick with it: The Assistant reviewed

First, the latest digital film release: The Assistant, starring Julia Garner in a slowly, slowly, catchy, catchy tale that won’t grab you from the off — I kept thinking: is anything actually going to happen? — but you must stick with it, you must. This is a film of quiet, cumulative power, which has much to say about serial sexual predators in the Harvey Weinstein mould, and how they get away with it. Or did. (Am hoping, praying, we can use the past tense now.) Garner plays Jane, who works for a Hollywood movie mogul, and events take place over the course of a single day. She gets into the

Why Hachette were wrong to drop Woody Allen’s memoir

Even amid plague, economic apocalypse, and the cancellation of 2020, dumb stuff keeps happening. Besides, loads of us will now beeline for any column not about coronavirus. Key words: Hachette, Woody Allen. See also: Douglas Murray. This isn’t the first time we’ve agreed on something. American publishing has hardly covered itself in glory regarding Woody Allen’s Apropos of Nothing, which my New York editor read on the memoir’s submission last year. ‘It was really good,’ she emailed me. ‘We took an easier way out, that is for sure. Not to be repeated!’ The easy way out, which nearly the entire industry took, was not to bid on the book. Hachette

Out of tune with the times

A few years ago, I hooked up with a BBC team in Berlin to record a programme with Daniel Barenboim. We were shown in to his spartan offices at the Staatsoper and, without preliminaries, I conducted an interview with him across a low table for 45 minutes. When our time was up, Barenboim rose and left. I am not even sure if we shook hands. Knowing him from previous encounters, I was not particularly bothered. What did shock me was the sight of my BBC colleagues, their faces white with stress, their limbs rendered catatonic. No one creates tension in a room like Daniel Barenboim. Last month, seven musicians in

Alfred Dreyfus is being erased all over again

In London to promote a book, I received an invitation to a secret screening of An Officer and a Spy, Roman Polanski’s new film about the Dreyfus affair. I boarded public transportation to a clandestine destination, somewhere in England, to view what recalled for me the samizdat literature once produced in Communist eastern Europe. I looked over my shoulder several times to see if anyone was watching me; if the possibility of exposure wasn’t real, my anxiety certainly was. My emotional reflexes still echo the trip I took to Prague in 1983 to meet dissident writers during which I was followed. But why all the cloak-and-dagger dramatics now? Why can’t

Joan Collins: I’m an actress, not an actor. And yes, it matters

I recently tried to put my profession down as ‘actress’ on Instagram, but the only option available from the drop-down menu was ‘actor’. Why? Actress is such a graceful word, so evocative of elegance, refinement and poise that the common and blunt ‘actor’ cannot possibly conjure. It’s even worse when we are referred to as ‘female actors’. How utterly contemptuous and disrespectful towards women. We have fought long and hard for equality only to be lumped in with the male appellative in the rat race of showbiz — some victory. Although many other actresses agree with me, it appears that the younger generation think my view is old-fashioned and ridiculous.

Why Simone de Beauvoir is my kind of woman

New York   A strange thing happened to me here in the Bagel last week. Having read the recent review of a biography of Susan Sontag in these here pages, my plan was to compare her with another feminist, Simone de Beauvoir (I have just finished an opus about Beauvoir, Paris and the Left Bank après la guerre). My money was on Simone, an extremely promiscuous and beautiful woman who was the first to raise the feminine flag against men’s oppression of the fairer sex. Beauvoir’s Second Sex, published in 1949, made her lots and lots of enemies, but it also established her as the number one female icon of

The men I’ve groped (including Boris)

Charlotte Edwardes reports that Boris put his hand on her leg during lunch 20 years ago. Full disclosure, I put my hand on Boris’s leg 20 years ago during lunch. It wasn’t that I was making a pass at him. I just wanted to hold his attention while I was telling him something I wanted him to listen to. Now I am worrying. What if Boris and/or a cohort of other males come forward? ‘Mary assaulted me in a historic sex abuse incident. #SheToo.’ These are topsy-turvy times. Anything could happen and now I think about it, I’m sure I have been putting my hands on legs and generally assaulting

Sex pests and patriarchs

Bitter Wheat, David Mamet’s latest play, features a loathsome Hollywood hotshot, Barney Fein, who offers to turn an actress into a superstar provided she lets him rape her. The show’s gruesome storyline has flashes of bitter comedy. Fein boasts that the Writers Guild of America would ‘drink a beaker of my mucus’ if he forced them to. Although this is the ultimate #MeToo play it can’t prevent itself from taking a masculine point of view. Fein’s assistant, Sondra (Doon Mackichan), conveniently vanishes at the right moment and leaves the starlet at the monster’s mercy. But was Sondra complicit? We aren’t told. And we learn nothing about her attitude to her

Not him, too

Over a drink recently I sat next to a man who announced, barely before he’d taken his first sip, that he was a feminist. ‘Like you,’ he added ingratiatingly. Like me?!? Poor sap. Did he imagine that this creepy statement would actually endear me to him? That I admired his courageous stand and was prepared to hang on his every word? Not a bit of it. From that moment, I despised him. Firstly, I’m no feminist and never have been. Like Mary Wollstonecraft, I’m an equal-but-differentist, or would be if such a thing existed. And I have no desire to get my own back on women’s oppressors, if indeed, today,

The diversity agenda is killing cinema

The film world is atoning for its crimes against diversity. On screen, strong women are supplanting Disney princesses. Superheroes, once uniformly white and male, are turning multicultural. Gay intrigue is edging out heterosexual romance. Away from the camera, bankable stars force studios to employ minority personnel by adding ‘inclusion riders’ to their contracts. Film-makers must repent ancient mis-speaks, beg forgiveness and denounce peers accused of transgressions. Abuse allegations against Woody Allen may be unproven, but actors who have taken his shilling disown him and donate their tarnished earnings to #TimesUp. Unsurprisingly, the current awards season reflects these rectifications. Of the eight nominations for best picture Oscar, six boast diversity credentials.