This film was directed by Morton DaCosta. It was released in 1962.
I would call this film a classic, no questions asked. It is cheeky, it is funny, and Harold Hill is a character who you won’t forget in a hurry.
If you enjoy films like Singing in the Rain and Meet Me in St. Louis, then The Music Man will be right up your alley. I love films like this. I don’t exactly know why. I love the costumes and I’m a big fan of musicals, but there’s something else about this kind of film that I really enjoy.
I think it’s the element of pure escapism. This film is fun, it is bright, the songs are fantastic, and there’s enough conflict to keep the plot engaging, but overall it is just a lighthearted watch. Perfect for a rainy day.
As always, there will be spoilers in this discussion. Consider yourself warned.
Let’s dive into the plot. I think this film is very straightforward. The entire story revolves around Harold Hill. Hill is a charming con man and his biggest con to date is travelling around posing as a music teacher. He gets small towns all excited about the idea of a boys’ band. He sells band uniforms, instruments, sheet music, all with the promise that he is going to lead the best boys’ band these towns have ever seen. Here’s the catch, Harold Hill cannot teach music because he does not know how to play. He cannot read a note. That is how he makes his money. He cons the people of the town into spending a small fortune on their children and then he takes off.
The film is set in Iowa, in the small town of River City. River City is the next stop on Hill’s list.
He plans to con everyone in River City just like he has done many times before.
This time though, Hill is not so lucky because the Mayor is suspicious of him and spends the entirety of the film chasing Hill for his credentials. Hill also was not prepared to meet Marion, the librarian and piano teacher in town. Marion is not impressed by Hill’s smooth talking, she sees through him from the start. Hill certainly was not prepared to find himself smitten, but now he will risk ruining his schemes and getting caught so that he might have a chance at winning her heart.
Marion is smart, stubborn, and knows her own mind. She has fallen victim to small-town gossip. Everyone has something to say about the fact that she inherited the library and the fact that she has not married yet. I will say, it is always slightly strange when watching films from a different time period as the age of when people married was significantly younger than what is common today. So it was slightly funny watching everyone treat this young woman as if she was far too old to ever find love. This is why context, especially the context of setting, is so important.
The other main character is Tommy. He is a teenager in River City. He is labelled a “troublemaker” by the adults of the town, again this is funny because we never really see him do anything bad aside from when he pranks one of his teachers. The prank in question being that he causes a loud noise at the school prep rally. Tommy is a good kid at heart. He has a crush on Zaneeta, the Mayor’s daughter, and throughout the film he helps Harold Hill dodge the Mayor and he ends up being front and centre of the boys’ band.
Mrs Paroo, Marion’s mother, also features in the story. She is an Irish woman (the accent is questionable) and she is hopeful that Marion will find someone who makes her happy. While she hopes her daughter will be lucky in the land of love, she also encourages Marion’s independence and her love of literature. She also worries about her son Winthrop. Winthrop is a quiet boy who has a very prominent lisp. He struggles with his self-confidence because of this lisp, so Marion (despite her suspicions) and her mother hope that he will gain confidence if he joins Harold Hills’ boys’ band.
In summary, this is a story about a con man in a small town. He thinks he is going to make a quick buck, but the people of River City pull on his heartstrings. He can’t con them. He ends up finding love and family in the place where he thought he’d find easy money.
It is the perfect setup with the perfect combination of characters.
The small town where everyone knows everyone. A confident, charming stranger waltzes in and ends up finding everything he didn’t know he wanted. A nosey Mayor who is determined to foil this stranger’s plans. A confident, independent woman who sees through all the well-versed con talk, and ends up finding someone who is a great match for her. The teenage Tommy and Zaneeta, the young couple who we are all rooting for. Great music, great choreography, and witty dialogue, all of these elements combine to make a perfect, lighthearted story that really never gets old.
Let’s talk about the themes of the film. I think that it is easy to say that the themes of this film are the ideas of family, love, and finding the place where one belongs. I would also say this film shows how music can bring people together, and on a slightly more serious note, this film does demonstrate how moral panic can be created in order to manipulate a willing crowd – although this is done in a very humorous way.
Harold Hill was money hungry. He never cared about the towns he flew through or the people he conned, he never gave it a second thought until the people in River City opened his eyes and opened his heart. A conscience develops over the course of the film. He falls in love with Marion, he wants to be with her. He has formed a friendship with Tommy and he wants everyone in town to see that he really is a good kid. He wants Winthrop to gain confidence too and he is ecstatic just like everyone else when he starts to speak more and more.
His life becomes about more than just money. He finally finds the place where he belongs and the people he belongs with.
Marion dreams of finding that special someone. Despite her suspicions of him, she finds herself growing very fond of Harold Hill. He has brought a sense of excitement to town and to her quiet life. She is delighted to see her mother and brother so happy. She is overjoyed when Winthrop starts speaking. Harold Hill is a great change of pace from the gossip in her life. She finds that he has expanded the horizons of the town, he has gotten people excited, he has gotten people talking. He has created a sense of community through music even though he does not know how to play. She finds her match. She can be herself with Harold. She can be independent, keep her job, she can still enjoy her books and her life, but now she has found someone to share it with.
Before I talk about how music brings people together, I would like to talk about the creation of chaos. The people of River City live quiet lives. It is a quiet town. There is really nothing to do but gossip until the day Harold Hill comes along. I think the most iconic song in the film is “Ya Got Trouble.” Harold Hill learns that a billiards table has just arrived in town. The Mayor owns the billiard hall. Harold needs to get the people in this stubborn small town interested in a boys’ band, more importantly, he needs to get these people willing to spend money on a boys’ band so he creates the idea that the billiard table is a huge problem waiting to happen. He causes a huge stir, we’ve got trouble he sings. Right here in River City. A billiard table is the gateway to gambling. The youth are at risk, we must think of the children and keep them away from the billiard hall. What better way to keep the kids moral after school than having them join a boys’ band? It is genius. It is so funny, the song is so catchy. It is incredibly quick. It is almost a tongue-twister to perform, but Harold Hill does it with style and elegance. He is a master of wordplay. He uses his quick-thinking and sharp wit to cause a frenzy. Suddenly everyone wants their kids out of the hall and in the band. They’ve done exactly as Harold Hill wanted them to do. This film demonstrates in a lighthearted, but clever way, how manipulation happens.
This is how con men get away with it. They create panic, they create a problem where it does not exist, they cause a stir, and then they gain people’s confidence. I think one of the easiest ways to get someone to do something is to convince them that if they don’t do it then their kids will be in danger. I would say it is fair to assume that everyone wants the best for their children. Harold Hill even calls out to the mothers in town in his song, and now he has got people twisted in another way – If you’re a good mother, a good and moral mother, you’ll have your children in the boys’ band, because this shows how much you care for them. It is a brilliant tactic. This is a very lighthearted film, and all of this is achieved in a witty, musical way, but it is still a great, visual example of how moral panic is created and how mob mentality is fuelled. “We Both Reached For The Gun,” in Chicago is another fun, witty example of how people can be masterfully manipulated into believing something. I tend to think about “We Both Reached For The Gun,” when I hear “Ya Got Trouble,” and vice versa.
The uniting power that music has is evident in this film. Music brings the entire town together even though it all started out as a scam. Harold Hill believes in the “thinking method.” The idea is if you think about something enough then you’ll be able to do it. That is how he avoids teaching the children any music. He tells them that first they have to think about playing.
His confidence is very funny. Harold Hill does bring people together by bringing music into their lives, even though he did not do it on purpose. He sets up a barbershop quartet. The men who used to argue are now the best of friends who enjoy singing together and everyone in town loves to listen. He reminds the Mayor’s wife about how much she enjoys dancing. He gets everyone in town excited about the idea of a band, from the youngest of kids to all of the adults. Marion even points out how even if he did lie about his qualifications, and even if his intentions were originally to con people, he did still bring new life to the place. There is a bit of movie magic at the end. The boys’ do play their instruments despite never being taught how to play. Now to be fair, they don’t play them extremely well, but they do play them and that is a start. There is nowhere to go but onwards and upwards, especially now that Harold Hill is turning over a new leaf. The film ends with everyone in town enjoying a musical parade. The boys’ band struts down the town streets in their bright uniforms, playing their instruments proudly. It is bright, jolly, and lots of fun.
I also want to give a special mention to the song “76 Trombones.”
It is a great song. It always gets stuck in my head any time I hear it. It is so catchy.
I think it is a song that just lifts any mood and gets you humming. It is a song that I would love to hear played live by a full orchestra. The Music Man is a film that I would love to see a full-stage musical adaptation of. I think it would be stunning in a theatre.
Overall I think The Music Man is lots of fun. It is an easy watch. I think it is perfect for a rainy day. It is a little long as the run time is two and a half hours. Personally I don’t mind this, but I know that not everyone enjoys films that are this long. I’ve recently heard a lot of people say that they dislike when a film is longer than an hour and a half so if you’re going to sit down and watch The Music Man, this could be something to keep in mind. If you are a lover of classic musicals then this film is a must watch!
Next week I will be reviewing and discussing The Banshees of Inisherin.
I found this film to be extremely powerful and at times hard to watch, so I am glad that this review is quite lighthearted and easy, as next week’s review and discussion will be more serious due to the nature of the themes explored in The Banshees of Inisherin.
After next week I will be switching things up and discussing some books and plays before returning to films. You can follow me on Instagram @katelovesliterature if you don’t already so that you can see what is coming up next here on Kateloveslitersature.com.
This film was released in 2019. It was written and directed by Rian Johnson.
This is an ensemble piece starring Daniel Craig as the eccentric master detective Benoit Blanc.
I would call this film a parody revival of the classic whodunit murder mystery movie genre, as this film takes classic murder mystery movie tropes and has fun playing with them, and in some cases, subverting them entirely.
This review is the first of a two-part review set. Next week I will be discussing Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. I would not call Glass Onion a direct or traditional sequel, but rather it is the second film in what appears to be a series of films all about Benoit Blanc and the bizarre cases he finds himself investigating. Benoit Blanc is the only character to return to the screen, as Glass Onion introduces audiences to an entirely new set of characters. This is why I would be hesitant to use the word sequel, as in my opinion, Glass Onion can be viewed, understood, and enjoyed as a stand-alone piece. It does not require viewers to have seen Knives Out first. With that being said, I do consider Glass Onion to be a film that steps beyond Knives Out, and I will explain what I mean by this phrase in next week’s discussion.
I consider this review and next week’s review to be a set. The two reviews have been written in a way that hopefully leads to each piece complimenting the other, however as the two films have entirely separate plots and casts, the reviews can also be read entirely independently.
I’ve been trying to decide whether or not I have a favourite film out of the two. It is hard to say, because I really enjoyed both films, and they are so different, however I think I appreciate them in different ways, instead of having a clear cut favourite, and this is another point that I will expand upon as I go on.
Let’s dive into Knives Out.
There will be spoilers ahead, so if you have not watched the film already, you have been warned.
I’m going to dive into a plot overview, and then dive into themes, the murder mystery genre idea, and character types.
The film opens with a stunning yet almost eerie shot of a large mansion that sits on a hill in the middle of nowhere. It is the home of Harlan Thrombey, a wealthy, eccentric mystery writer. How fitting. On the morning after Harlan’s 85th birthday party, Fran the housekeeper brings Harlan his breakfast, only to find him in his study with his throat slit.
The murder mystery movie classic tropes start here. We expect the maid to scream and drop the breakfast tray, followed by a shot of the coffee cup crashing on the carpet. Instead, Fran gasps, almost drops the tray and utters out a not very graceful “Shit!!!” as she realises she is spilling coffee. It is a very subtle thing, but this is the beginning of the tropes being played with.
Knives Out does something that I absolutely love. It is a film that knows what it is. It knows the tropes, it shows us the tropes, and it also has fun with them.
How many times have we seen the maid drop the tray? It is a classic shot, and here it is right at the start of the film, but ever so slightly different.
The detectives have ruled the case a suicide, but the eccentric and famous Benoit Blanc is on the scene. He is a private detective who has been anonymously hired, and he is not willing to close the case just yet. Something compels him to keep looking, and so this is how we get into the plot. The Thrombey family and Marta, Harlan’s nurse who is “like family” – this is a key line- have been gathered in the home for one final round of questions.
As Blanc starts asking each family member questions, it soon becomes clear that each member of the Thrombey family had a motive to kill Harlan. This is a home of vipers and vultures who will not hesitate to stab each other in the back – or maybe even slit a throat.
So now the film asks us, was this a suicide? Or was this a case of foul play?
Let’s take a look at the ensemble.
We’ve got Linda, played by Jamie Lee Curtis.
Linda is Harlan’s daughter. She is a “self-made” woman, just like him, and she idolises her father. Linda is proud of herself, proud of her father, and proud of the Thrombey name.
She is intelligent and guarded. She is highly protective of her family, and this is highlighted when she refuses to give into Blanc’s questioning.
Blanc uses a clever tactic, he asks politely probing questions, alongside observations. His goal is to get each family member to spill something about the other. Linda does not take the bait, but her husband Richard sure does.
Richard is a character that I will expand upon shortly in another point, as I’m going to discuss one of the key themes in the film, which is the idea of the “outsider”.
Richard reveals that Linda’s brother Walt had a fight with their father on the night of the party.
Walt runs Harlan’s publishing company and he publishes the books that his father writes.
Walt has dreams about adaptations and films, but Harlan owns the rights to all of his books, and he will not allow them to be adapted in any way. Walt is furious about this, as this is where the opportunity to earn real money lies.
On the night of Harlan’s birthday, Walt pleaded with his father again to allow him to do more in the company. Harlan says he won’t hold his son back anymore, and he is now free to build something for himself. Devastated that he has just been fired, Walt spends the rest of the night sulking.
Harlan Thrombey has three grandchildren. Ransom (Hugh), Meg, and Jacob.
Walt describes Ransom as the “black sheep” of the family because he has never had a job, yet Harlan has always supported him. He describes Harlan and Ransom’s relationship as a “love/hate” relationship and tells Blanc that Harlan and Ransom argued often and dramatically in front of the entire family, but on the night of Harlan’s birthday party, the pair argued privately in Harlan’s study and Ransom stormed off early.
Meg is a college student. She is the only person in the family who seems to genuinely like and respect Marta and Fran. She scolds a police officer for referring to Marta as “the help” and she scolds Ransom when he refers to Fran by the wrong name. Harlan supports Meg’s college education by paying for her tuition and giving her mother an allowance.
Jacob is a sixteen year old entitled brat. He is described as a “literal Nazi” by Richard, but his father Walt says he is “politically active.” It becomes increasingly obvious that Jacob has extreme views and as the film plays out, it is clear to see that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
This point leads me to discussing Richard, Joni, and Marta, and one of the key themes in the film – The idea of the “outsider”.
Within the kooky, mysterious, eccentric, almost unbelievable story that is Knives Out, there are some very important, very topical themes being discussed. One of these themes is the idea of someone being an “outsider.” There are even “outsiders” within the Thrombey family.
Richard and Joni are outsiders. I am going to call them “familial outsiders” because they are the people who have married into the Thrombey family. Richard is Linda’s husband. He is Ransom’s father. Linda made Richard sign a prenup before they married, meaning that her fortune is hers and hers alone. It is revealed that Richard also argued with Harlan on the day of his party. Before his death, Harlan discovered that Richard has been having an affair and he plans to tell his daughter Linda all about it. Richard knows that if Linda finds out, she will leave him, and he will not enjoy her wealth anymore.
Joni is Harlan’s daughter-in-law. Joni is Meg’s mother. She married his other son Neil, who died shortly after Meg was born. Harlan looks after her and Meg by providing for them.
Joni also argued with Harlan on the day of the party. Harlan found out that Joni had been stealing from him because his office had been wiring money directly to Meg’s school, but tuition money was also being sent to Joni’s account. She was “double-dipping.” Harlan informed Joni that he would be cutting both her and Meg off and she would not receive another payment from him.
Donna is also an outsider. She is Walt’s wife, but we don’t learn too much about her, aside from the fact that she is money hungry and racist. Her character does not get much screen time.
Richard and Joni are familial outsiders because Richard is at the mercy of Linda. He signed a prenup, so his wealth is not actually his wealth. He is not really part of the elite circle. He knows that once Harlan reveals his affair, he is out. The family is clearly irritated by Joni. She is a free-spirit who loves meditation and yoga. She is very obviously too laid-back for the uptight Thrombey family and one can imagine that the only reason she is still included at all is because she is the mother of Harlan’s granddaughter. When Harlan cuts her off, she will be out too.
The plot thickens because now we know that Walt, Richard, and Joni are about to lose their money so all three of them have a motive to want Harlan harmed.
Marta Cabrera is Harlan’s nurse. She is kind, and loyal, and she became more of a friend to Harlan. The Thrombey family treat her as a true “outsider.” She is even more on the outside than Richard or Joni, because she is not connected to the family in any way. She is not married into the family. She is Harlan’s nurse, and while the family claim to like her, to love her even, they still keep her on the periphery because she is an employee.
The power imbalance is somewhat subtle at first. The family keeps telling Marta she is “like family.” They compliment her, they call her a good girl, and a hard worker, but as the film plays out, it becomes clear that they do not respect her at all. They do not consider her to be like family. When talking about Marta, each family member tells Blanc that she is from somewhere different. She is said to be from Paraguay, and then from Uruguay, from Ecuador, and from Brazil. This is a somewhat subtle detail, but it is a clever one as it highlights that the family clearly didn’t listen to Marta and they don’t actually care where she is from. To go another step further, it demonstrates that this family will list places like Paraguay, Ecuador, and Brazil etc. as if they are all just one and the same.
There are also key moments where subtle actions highlight that the family think Marta is beneath them. She was not allowed to attend Harlan’s funeral. There is a scene where Richard, Walt, and Joni are discussing immigrants in America. Joni is clearly the most liberal, and it does become clear which political issues were most relevant at the time that this film was released. Richard feels that America is for Americans, and he feels that if people want to come to America, then they need to do it the right way. Joni is trying to explain that it is not such a simple issue and that people just want better lives for their children, and she is fiercely against children being detained in cages. Richard feels the blame lies with the parents of those children. He makes Marta join the conversation. She is deeply uncomfortable, but Richard wants her opinion. He parades her in front of everyone, and while he is at it, he very subtly hands her his plate because he is finished with his cake. This moment reveals everything about Richard’s character. He can say what he wants about Marta being someone who has worked hard the right way, so now she too gets to enjoy America, because at the end of the day, he sees her as beneath him. It does not matter how often they say she is “like family”, he sees her as someone who is there to take his plate. Marta is a registered nurse, she is not a maid or a housekeeper, and yet Richard simply views her as someone who exists in that home in a service capacity. It is not her job to take care of his plates, but he feels he is entitled to make her take it off him anyway. I have more to say on this, but I will come back to it in a later point.
Marta was the only person who genuinely valued Harlan’s company. She is honest to a fault, to the extent that lying makes her physically vomit. This is a gag that is used to move the plot along, it is a physical comedic act that will make some people squirm as the detectives know when Marta is lying because she gets sick right in front of them. Marta also played a key role on the night of Harlan’s birthday party, but before I talk about whodunit, and the reveal of whodunit and how they did it, I want to start to dig deeper into the themes that this film explores.
Ultimately I would say that Knives Out is a film about power. Who has power? How do they have that power? Who do they have power over? What will someone do to retain that power? Underneath all of the mysterious smoke and mirrors, in the end all motives are monetary.
For all of the family’s claims about being great, about being self-made, about building things for themselves, they are, at their core, a family of entitled, money hungry vultures. They are hypocrites and they are desperate to hold on to their father’s fortune, and all of the power that the money affords them.
The clawing for money is a point that I will circle back to, but first I want to discuss the reveal of whodunit.
Spoiler Alert – Whodunit?
Ransom did it. At first audiences believe that Marta accidentally killed Harlan by mixing up his medications and giving him a deadly dose of morphine. Unable to find the emergency antidote, Marta panics and tries to get help. Harlan stops her. The pair form an airtight plan so Marta will be eliminated as a suspect. Marta’s mother is undocumented, and Marta fears she’ll be harassed and deported if she is investigated and that comes to light. Harlan knows this, and he tells Marta that she must do as he says to protect her mother.
It is later revealed that Marta did not mix up the medications at all. Ransom tampered with them and switched the bottles, but Marta still inherently knew the difference because she had administered the medication a hundred times before and she is a good nurse. The argument that Ransom had with his grandfather on the night of his birthday was about money. Harlan revealed he was cutting him out of his will, and he revealed that he was leaving absolutely everything to Marta. Ransom came up with a plan, he planned to frame Marta for the death of his grandfather, knowing that if she was found responsible for his death, even accidentally, she could not inherit anything.
This is likely why Harlan slit his throat. He wanted to take as much attention away from Marta as possible, and no one would suspect an overdose when they found someone with their throat slit.
The cause of death really was suicide, but a tangled web was still created.
Before the truth finally comes out, Ransom knew that the will reading would reveal that Marta was due to inherit everything. He also thought she would be found guilty, overturning the inheritance. Ransom was cocky and he was the only family member who was calm at the will reading, and this point allows me to dig deeper into the film’s commentary on money and power.
When the Thrombey family find out that each of them have been cut out of the will, they all go mad. They scream, they shout, they hurl accusations and obscenities at Marta, the one who they claimed to love, the one who they insisted was “like family” because when it comes down to the money, she is not family. Not real family.
When Linda learns that her father cut off Ransom, she tells her son that this could be the best thing to ever happen to him, and Richard tells his son that maybe now he’ll be forced to grow up. Such condescending words from people who are still rolling in their riches.
Five minutes later, when they learn with the rest of the family that they too have been cut out, they are furious, they are devastated, they are thrown into a state of sheer, desperate panic.
Ransom is the person who helps Marta escape the chaos, he tells her to hop into his car and he drives her away while saying “This could be the best thing to happen to all of you” with a smirk on his face.
At this point in the plot, audiences don’t know yet about what Ransom did, so at this moment, I actually found myself liking him. I thought this was really clever. From the start, Ransom is set up to be the worst Thrombey. He is called the black sheep, he fights with his grandfather, he has never had a job so he just uses his grandfather’s money. He is rude to Fran. He considers “the help” beneath him and makes them refer to him as Hugh, not Ransom. He is cocky, he is arrogant, and he has a smirk that you’d love to smack off his face. The dogs don’t even like him. Need I say more?
Chris Evans did a great job in my opinion, because in this second act of the film, he made Ransom strangely likeable. There is something to be said about an asshole who knows that they are an asshole and does not pretend otherwise. We can see that Ransom is not nice, but he never pretends to be. When he and Marta are having lunch and talking about what happened that night, Ransom gets Marta to confess to him about the medications. He tells Marta that she is going to keep the inheritance, that he will help her get away with it, and then she can just give him his share. He hates his family so he feels no loyalty to them, and this way he still gets his inheritance anyway. It is a win win.
At this moment, I was okay with this plan. As a viewer I said “Okay sure, why not. I did not expect him and Marta to team up but why not?”
Ransom turning out to be the true killer is another way that this film played with murder mystery tropes. He is set up as the worst character. At the beginning, it is likely that many people suspected him, but then dismissed the thought as too obvious. The film then leads us to believe that he is actually, maybe alright, still an asshole, but slightly better than his vulture-like family and most people would have likely been satisfied with him helping Marta get away with the medication mistake and get his cut anyways. So when it is revealed that he had malicious intentions all along, that it actually was the most obvious choice all along, this was another brilliant way that Knives Out presented very classic and obvious tropes in new ways.
Ransom is not a good person, but he is not the worst Thrombey. The Thrombey family members are all awful, and all in different ways. Linda is a hypocrite. She is not self-made at all. She did not build her fortune from the ground up like her father, she started out with a million dollar loan from him. Linda as a character is someone who continuously calls herself self-made, she is proud of this. She says that Walt does not really do anything, he just publishes their father’s books. He is not the same as her. No, no, no. She conveniently forgets to mention that million dollar loan from her father when she was just starting out, and I wonder how self-made from the ground up she would have been without that loan.
Joni’s free-spirited, liberal concerns die when her money is threatened.
Walt very menacingly threatens to draw attention to Marta’s mother if Marta does not renounce the inheritance, but Meg, I think Meg may be the worst of all.
Meg, the one who scolded officers and family members on Marta’s behalf. Meg who said Marta is her friend, who said she wanted to help Marta, who said that the family discussed it and they want to take care of Marta, she is the one who I think turned out to be the worst of all.
At first she is horrified when her family members attack Marta. She tells her mother that if grandad wanted to give the money to Marta, then she thinks they should respect that, but the tables turn when Joni reveals she is broke, and she will not be able to pay for Meg’s college.
So Meg calls Marta and she asks her what she plans to do, she tells Marta she should give the money back, because she is not family, not really. Meg tells Marta that her mother is broke, that she will have to drop out of college, but Marta tells her she won’t let that happen, she will pay for college, she will “take care” of her, and Meg learns how condescending and patronising it really is to be on the other end of that sentence. Now I would think that if someone feared they would have to drop out of college, they would be relieved if someone told them that they would not, that their fees would be paid for, but Meg is not relieved, because she is no longer the powerful one in this relationship. Meg was happy to be friends with Marta and be kind to Marta and scold others for not being kind to Marta when she was the one who held the cards. When she was the wealthy one. Now that the wind has changed, she doesn’t like it so much, and so she tells the rest of the family about Marta’s mother being undocumented. Meg gives her family the information they need to harass and bully Marta. I think Meg is the worst kind of character, she is the most sinister kind of character. Ransom is awful, but he never pretends that he isn’t.
Meg on the other hand pretends to be nice, pretends to be progressive, maybe she even truly believes that she is, but as soon as she faced hardship, she stabbed Marta in the back and called her an outsider.
I think having Meg turn out to be the worst Thrombey was a very clever way of highlighting the mindset of a certain kind of person. There are people who sit on moral high horses, claiming that as long as people do things the “right way” then they are welcome to share in the riches, but they don’t ever want that equality to actually happen, because their kindness, their morals, their compassion all depend on being the powerful one in the relationship. They can’t handle actually being on equal footing with someone, because then they have to admit that they don’t really respect the other person at all. They have to admit that they do see others as beneath them, that they do have unfair biases and prejudices. Knives Out was released in 2019, but this is a topic that is still relevant today, and Glass Onion also handles very important themes about money, power, and manipulation that I will discuss next week.
So Ransom’s plan failed, because Marta did not give Harlan the wrong medication after all.
His plan didn’t go as smoothly as he thought it would because Fran saw him tampering with Marta’s medical bag and she assumed that he was poisoning Harlan. At one point it appears that Fran is babbling on about a Hallmark movie, and it is easy to dismiss it as ridiculous chatter, but when you actually listen, you will hear that she is frantically telling Marta about a movie where the protagonist was killed slowly by being poisoned in small doses overtime, and that is what she believes Ransom was doing to Harlan. She also states that her cousin works as a receptionist in the medical examiner’s office. Another sentence that can be easily missed, but it is very important later.
Fran also wants money, so when she gets a hold of the toxicology report, she attempts to blackmail Ransom by sending him the report. “I know what you did.” The report actually reveals that Marta was innocent all along, and Ransom cannot let this be known, so he sends the report to Marta and tricks her into thinking that the report will show the overdose. He then kills Fran with the same medication overdose that he attempted to kill Harlan with.
The station mysteriously gets burned down, destroying all evidence.
Just when we think all is lost and Marta is about to renounce the inheritance, Blanc reveals the copy that Fran hid, proving Marta’s innocence and unravelling Ransom’s web.
It was an intriguing mystery and as I was watching, I had many different thoughts and guesses about how it might play out. I had different guesses about who the killer would turn out to be, because at certain points, it really could have been anyone. That is what made Knives Out so great in my opinion. The Thrombey’s are terrible people, and it really could have been anyone.
All motives were monetary. I thoroughly enjoyed Blanc telling the family off, it was amazing to watch him tell them that they are vultures and they have treated Marta like shit, and that she would be keeping the inheritance. Blanc is a fantastic character and I look forward to seeing him again in more films.
Something that I want to talk about is the attention to detail in this film. It was brilliant, and it was brilliant in Glass Onion too. Knives Out is the kind of film that every time you watch it, you will notice something new. A great example is that there is blood on Marta’s shoe. A tiny, almost non-existent spatter of blood, proving she was in the room, and audiences are not shown the blood stain until the middle of the film. Later, when all is resolved, Marta asks Blanc when he figured out that she was involved in some way. He tells her that he knew from the moment he met her, and he points out the tiny speck of blood on her shoe. When I watched the film again, I caught that in the scene where Blanc and Marta meet for the first time, he does indeed glance down at her feet.
It is tiny little details like this that make all of the difference. Fran’s line about the murder movie is another fantastic example. It seems like such a throwaway thing, but it is so important. Blanc notes how the dogs never bark at Marta and he feels that a dog is the best judge of character. The dogs bark at every other family member, especially Ransom. Linda states early on that she and her father have their own secret way of communicating, she says her father loved games. This could be viewed as simply a sweet thing to say. Linda clearly adores her father, so she feels they can speak in a way that no one else understands. Later we learn that they truly did have a secret language. She finds the letter from her father about Richard’s affair, one that appears blank, but then her lighter reveals the hidden ink. The closing shot of the film is iconic. The fallen Thrombey family members are all outside the house, arguing with the officers who are taking Ransom away. They turn, mouths agape, and stare up at Marta who is standing proudly on the balcony. They always looked down at her, but now she is literally looking down at them. The film ends with a shot of her sipping out of her coffee cup, the cup that Fran did not drop at the start of the film. The cup has a saying on it. It reads “My house.”
It is wonderful, visual storytelling. It was a really enjoyable watch. I was thoroughly invested.
I know that I jumped around to different discussion points in this review, but it naturally happened that way as I was going through everything I wanted to say. I also felt that the film did this too, we jumped back and forth in time, we jumped into different people’s perspectives, and so my own thoughts kind of naturally jumped around too as I was writing. I’m enjoying this new style of writing where I just go with the flow a bit more, but if anyone has any questions or thoughts then please do drop a comment because I’m always excited to read other people’s thoughts, opinions, and interpretations.
I would highly recommend watching Knives Out if you haven’t already. It is a funny yet very intriguing watch. If you have already seen it, and you feel inspired to watch it again, then I would encourage you to keep an eye out for things you may not have caught the first time around. I would also say watch and simply enjoy the fun that is a classic murder mystery.
Enjoy the house on the hill. Enjoy the eccentric detective. Enjoy the arrogant family. Enjoy every twist and turn.
Knives Out is an entertaining revival of the classic whodunit?
It is funny, it is quirky, it is at times a bit ridiculous, but within all of the intrigue, this is a clever film about money and power. A brilliant story told by a fantastic cast. Bravo.
Have you seen these films? Did you guess the killer? Do you prefer Knives Out or Glass Onion?
Be sure to tune in next Wednesday. I will be reviewing and discussing Glass Onion.
Festive wishes & a Christmas book review by Kate O’Brien.
Christmas is my favourite holiday. It is a time that I associate with family, friends, and lots of love. I really enjoy being festive. I enjoy buying and wrapping gifts, I love Christmas lights. I love when my home is filled with Christmas decorations. I love candy canes, I will have hot chocolate even though it is not my favourite…I do however, love a Baileys hot chocolate.
Tis the season after all.
I can’t believe that it is this time of year again. I feel like the year has flown by.
It has been a busy year, but I am very thankful that I can say that it has been a great year.
This will be my last review/discussion of 2022. I will be discussing two books.
After I publish this piece I will be taking a break for Christmas. I love Katelovesliterature.com. It is my passion project, but I work on my laptop, I’m doing my master’s which consists of lots and lots of research and essay writing, and I am always writing reviews so even though I love what I do, and I consider myself very lucky, I’m constantly typing so I think it is important to take time away from the laptop screen every once in a while. I will be writing and publishing reviews and discussions again in the New Year.
Before I jump into my final review of 2022, I want to take a moment to say thank you so much to all of my readers. You know who you are. Thank you so much to everyone who has subscribed to Katelovesliterature.com. I really appreciate it, and I hope that you all have been enjoying my reviews and discussions so far. I hope that you continue to enjoy them as we move into 2023. There is so much more to come. Merry Christmas to everyone who celebrates. I hope that you all have a happy and healthy New Year. Here’s to 2023.
I want to say a special thank you to the Children’s Books Ireland team and to the Beehive Books team. I’m honoured to be a member of the Children’s Books Ireland reviewer team. I’m such an advocate when it comes to encouraging young people to read. I really believe that the books we read when we are young can open up so many doors. Everything that I do now can be credited to the fact that I was an avid bookworm when I was young, and I am so glad that the adults in my life encouraged my love of reading and ensured that I always had books. This is why I am such a fan of the Children’s Books Ireland ethos, which is that every child has the right to be a reader, and every child should have access to good quality reading materials. Every school should have a library. I have huge admiration for everyone at Children’s Books Ireland, and for all of the work that they do, and so I am delighted that I can say that I am involved in some way. #everychildareader.
I’ve also been so lucky this year as I have gotten to know some members of the Beehive Books team. I’ve had the opportunity to attend some book launches and to review some of their books. Everyone whom I have met has been so kind, so lovely, and so welcoming, which is something that I really appreciate. I have a keen interest in the publishing industry, and when you meet people who are doing what you are striving towards, and they are so encouraging, it is really lovely. Thank you to everyone at Beehive Books.
I’m adding social links below. Be sure to check them out!
The Christmas season never passes me by without reading A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It is a classic that is synonymous with Christmas in my opinion. I think it is such a significant read. Everyone should have to read this book at least once, and I do believe that it should be taught in English classes at this time of year. It is extremely hard for me to choose a definite favourite Dickens’ text. He is my favourite classic author. I loved studying his fiction and his journalism. Writing about his works was challenging, but it was a challenge that I really enjoyed. I would highly recommend reading A Christmas Carol first if you have never read any of his other works before, as although it is a dense text, I think it is a straightforward story to get into. The book also does a great job of introducing readers to the writing style of Charles Dickens. He is a very descriptive, evocative writer, and some of the scenes in A Christmas Carol are incredibly vivid because they are filled with such detail. I would argue that is why this book is so cinematic, and why a story like this lends itself to so many film adaptations.
I have discussed A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens in much more detail in a previous book discussion. You can read it by clicking the link below.
I’m also looking forward to watching Christmas Carole starring Surrane Jones. This show will be airing on Sky on Christmas Eve, and based on the trailer, I think it looks quite good.
Surrane Jones is obviously taking on the role of Scrooge. She appears to be an uptight businesswoman who scoffs at Christmas and kindness. Following the classic Dickens plot, she will be visited by three ghosts. Some may call this plot predictable by now, and this is somewhat true because even if you have never read the original text, A Christmas Carol has been adapted so many times that by now almost everyone knows the story and how it plays out. It is a little formulaic, but that is okay. That is the nature of a story like this. It is predictable, it does follow a set structure, but nevertheless it is a heartwarming, and very important tale. I’m excited to see this new take on it, even though I already have clear ideas about how the show will play out.
I’m a fan of Surrane Jones, and it looks as though this adaptation has a fantastic cast so I am looking forward to sitting down and tuning in this Christmas Eve. I will do a mini #watchtvwithme on the spot review as I’m watching so be sure to follow along on my Instagram stories @katelovesliterature.
The Holly Pond Hill Christmas Treasury by Paul Kortepeter.
(The second of two book discussions.)
The Holly Pond Hill Christmas Treasury, illustrated by Susan Wheeler and written by Paul Kortepeter is a book that I have had since I was a little girl. I flipped through it again a few days ago, and I was reminded of just how charming this book is.
This delightful book is a collection of festive recipes, Christmas stories, poems, and songs. It is filled with charming illustrations and it is the perfect read for when one is counting down the days until Christmas. The characters of Holly Pond Hill are getting into the Christmas spirit and readers will too when they flip through the pages of this Christmas treasury. I think it is such a sweet keepsake. I’m so glad that I still have it after all these years. I think that a book like this would make a lovely present for a young reader, because it is something that they can have forever. A book like this can become a Christmas tradition because it is one that can be returned to every year. I think my favourite poem in this book is A Call for Snow! It is short and sweet, and perfect for young readers who want to practise reading independently.
I’m delighted that I came across this book. It made for a fun trip down memory lane, and I just had to share it here on Katelovesliterature.com.
I am looking forward to 2023. I have a feeling it will be a great year. There is so much more to come, and I believe that there is no way to go except onwards and upwards.
For now, thank you all for reading. I appreciate every like, and every comment. I love what I do, and it is so lovely that people engage with what I write. Until next year…
2023 is fast approaching and I am really looking forward to the new year.
It is going to be a busy year. I am excited to embrace new opportunities as well as completing my master’s degree.
There is so much more to come here on Katelovesliterature.com as I plan to keep striving onwards and upwards.
I am going to be following a more structured schedule in 2023. I will still be reviewing books and movies. I will still be discussing all aspects of literature. I will still be sharing travel snaps and theatre trips.
I am excited to continue to share my passion for literature, and I will be doing so every Wednesday on Katelovesliterature.com so be sure to stay tuned.
It is lots of fun, and I share lots of snaps and updates on my grid and in my stories.
My latest #literarytrip to Leipzig was absolutely magical. It is a beautiful city that is filled with a rich literary history. My travel piece, alongside the many snaps I took, will be published very soon on Katelovesliterature.com.
There is a lot to look forward to on Katelovesliterature.com over the next two weeks.
I am so excited because there is another #theatretrip coming up very soon. I’m sure some readers may be able to guess what I am going to see next. I cannot wait. The show that I am going to see soon is very special to me, but all will be revealed in my next Theatre Trip discussion. Keep an eye out on my Instagram – @katelovesliterature.
After a trip to the theatre, I am very happy to say that I am going on a trip to a #literarycity.
I can’t wait. I did not expect to travel this side of Christmas, and I am so grateful to have been surprised with this trip.
I’m going somewhere that I’ve never been before, and I am counting down the days because this city is filled with so much literary history, this city has a particularly rich music history and I am looking forward to exploring and taking lots of pictures and just soaking in the beauty and the history of the place, as well as really enjoying the festive season.
Most of my trips are inspired by literature in some way, not on purpose, but I am very drawn to exploring places that have a rich literary background. There is something really fascinating about seeing the place where a piece of art was created.
I have not yet shared where I am going, and I think I will keep it a secret for just a little while longer, but do stay tuned because all shall be revealed very soon.
Glorious Goddesses Of Ancient Ireland written by Karen Ward and illustrated by Paula McGloin.
A literary review by Kate O’Brien.
Published by Beehive Books, Glorious Goddesses Of Ancient Ireland introduces readers to legendary figures from Irish mythology. This book is filled with fascinating tales.
This book is a delightful read, and Ward’s stories are brought to life by McGloin’s striking artwork.
This book introduces readers to nine Goddesses. Danu, Gráinne, The Cailleach, Brigid, Áine, Aisling, Boann, The Morrigan, and Ériu. Each of these mythical Goddesses are unique and powerful in their own way. Each and every one of these figures is a force of nature.
Danu, The Mother Goddess, is the first of all the Irish deities. Danu is the symbol of nature and fertility. Gráinne, The Maiden Goddess, is a determined girl who knows her own mind. The Cailleach, The Crone Goddess, is a protective and powerful force. The Crone Goddess brings the winter, but she also protects those in her care. Brigid, Goddess Of Spring, is the patron saint of Ireland. Brigid is the bringer of spring. Áine, Sun Goddess Of Love is celebrated at the summer solstice. She is a force that brings the harvest, and her sunlight ensures ripe crops.
Aisling, Goddess Of Vision, she inspires all who see her. Aisling’s presence is a sign of hope, and it was believed that if she appeared before you, it was to bring an important message.
Boann is the River Goddess who wouldn’t be refused wisdom, instead her power grew and grew. The Morrigan is the Goddess Of Death and Prophecy. The Morrigan is a seer of death, she predicts the future, and she encourages heroics. Last but not least is Ériu, the Sovereignty Goddess Of Ireland. She symbolises Ireland as a land of abundance.
This book brings these Goddesses to life, and celebrates a variety of abilities and strengths.
This book talks about life and death, about nature and the seasons, about love and revenge, and about the different stages of a woman’s life. The book also contains a lovely introduction, one that welcomes readers into the rich history of Ireland. Ancient Ireland was a place filled with magic and I must say that Ward and McGloin captured this sense of wonder on every page.
Also included in this book is a glossary that younger readers may find helpful if they’re coming across some new words, (Older readers may find this helpful too. We are never too old to learn something new!), and there’s a beautiful map of ancient Ireland too, making this text truly something to treasure.
Ward flawlessly writes about Ireland’s history as well as capturing the fiery, passionate, intelligent, powerful spirits of these figures and McGloin’s artwork is striking. The colours are rich and vivid, and her illustrations have brought the vastness of these figures to the forefront of every page. The illustrations capture the person, and their strength, as well as incorporating beautiful aspects of Ireland’s nature. I read this book from cover to cover several times over, but I also spent ages just flicking through the pages, looking at all of the pictures. There’s one or two that I would love to have framed on my wall! The stories are fascinating, and the artwork is eye-catching. That’s a brilliant combination if you ask me.
If you’re a fan of Irish mythology then this book belongs in your collection, and if you’re looking for an introduction to Irish mythology and wonder, look no further!
I highly recommend picking up a copy of this book, and I think it would make a beautiful present, remember Christmas is right around the corner.
Glorious Goddesses Of Ancient Ireland is a richly magical read and a stunningly visual treat.
I would recommend this book for anyone ages 8+.
I would like to thank the Beehive Books team for sending me a copy of this book to review.
Important Note – This is not an ad.
This is not sponsored.
This is not a paid review.
All thoughts and opinions shared are entirely my own.
You can order your very own copy of Glorious Goddesses Of Ancient Ireland written by Karen Ward and illustrated by Paula McGloin on www.beehivebooks.ie.
Ireland not only has a rich, literary history, but Ireland is also home to some extremely talented & creative writers.
This week is Irish Book Week and if you follow me on instagram @katelovesliterature, then you will already know that everyday this week I have been recommending a book that is written by an Irish author or written in Irish.
If you don’t follow me Instagram – you should, there’s lots of fun posts happening on my page all the time – but if you don’t follow me there that’s okay because I am going to list my recommendations right here on katelovesliterature.com.
The Dog Who Lost His Bark.
Written by Eoin Colfer, illustrated by PJ Lynch, & published by Walker Books, this book is a heartwarming tale about a boy & his dog. These two need each other & they get each other through hard times. I would recommend this book for anyone aged 9+. It is important to be aware that there are some mentions of animal mistreatment that more sensitive readers may struggle to read. Overall, this story is warm & up-lifting.
I’d highly recommend it.
Irish Fairy Tales.
Written by James Stephens, illustrated by Arthur Rackham, & published by Macmillan & Co., this book is a stunning collection of legendary tales, all set in medieval Ireland. If you’re a fan of Irish mythology, this is a fantastic read. This book is a rich addition to any bookshelf.
Written by Sadhbh Devlin, illustrated by Róisin Hahessy, & published by Futa Fata, this charming story is about a little girl who sometimes wishes she could actually go inside her doll’s house to play with them instead of her little brother. I’m sure this is an idea that many children, and let’s be honest, many adults will be able to relate to. This story is a great way to introduce children to the Irish language & encourage them to read in Irish outside of the classroom.
An Slipéar Gloine
Written by Fearghas Mac Lochlainn, illustrated by Paddy Donnelly, & published by Futa Fata, this story is an Irish language picture book that tells the timeless story of Cinderella through delightful rhymes that are accompanied by magical illustrations.
This enchanting picture book recently won the Gradam Réics Carló 2022!
The story of Cinderella has always been my favourite fairytale. It holds a special place in my heart & I’m delighted to have a beautiful Irish version on my bookshelf. I’d highly recommend it. Is breá liom é!
There are so many more Irish authors that I could write about & I hope to keep expanding my collection of books that are written in Irish. One week dedicated to Irish books is just not enough. Sometimes I’m convinced that I could talk about books for eternity.
I really enjoy recommending books. I also enjoy the challenge of trying to describe a book in just a few words, while attempting to do it justice. All of the books I’ve mentioned above are such charming reads. I will be publishing more recommendations going forward, & I will continue to speak about Irish authors & Irish books even after #IrishBookWeek ends.
My biggest goal is to continually broaden my horizons & always add to my bookshelf. I want to read books from all writers, from all places, from all backgrounds, so I will not only be talking about Irish authors, but as many authors as possible.
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This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending the 2022 Children’s Books Ireland International Conference that took place in the Light House Cinema. Before I go any further I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who played a part in making the conference happen and run smoothly. Needless to say events like this are often filled with lots of planning, work, and stress behind-the-scenes, but everyone’s hard work paid off because it was a brilliant event. Thank you again to everyone involved.
The theme of this year’s conference was the idea of home. The conference was titled All The Way Home, so over the entire weekend, conference goers like myself had the opportunity to listen to authors, poets, and illustrators talk about this idea of home and what the word home means. Home can mean different things to different people. Home can be where we are from. Home can be the house we grew up in. Home can be our family. Home can be our friends. Home can be found and created with another person. Home can be a place that we create. During the heights of the pandemic, home may have been a place we wanted to get away from because suddenly when you cannot leave a place, that place does not seem so comforting anymore. Home can be places that are lost in an instant.We can have more than one home. It may seem dull to some, but the idea of home is an idea that can be explored in many, many different ways.
There is a reason why so many children’s stories focus on this idea of home. It is a place (or several places) that evokes many feelings in readers and so it is interesting to think about why the idea of home is often promoted in children’s stories. Many children’s stories feature a protagonist who must leave home and go on an adventure. On this adventure, the protagonist will face challenges and make new friends along the way, but the story usually always ends with the protagonist returning home, and bringing their newfound skills and knowledge with them. The journey home in children’s literature aligns quite closely with the quest narrative as in order for a story to be a quest, there must be a goal to be achieved and a journey to make in order to achieve that goal although adult quests can be more complex and perhaps darker, whereas child protagonists will often face age appropriate fears. Having a child protagonist face and overcome a certain fear allows child readers to experience fear in a safe and controlled way, and then when the book protagonist overcomes their fear, this shows the child reader that fears can be overcome so it is quite an empowering moment in the children’s story and this moment usually happens towards the end.
I recently watched Disney’s The Haunted Mansion (2003), and a great example of what I am talking about can be found in this movie. The movie follows the Evers family as they must learn how to escape the curse of Gracey Manor. Michael Evers is the youngest member of the Evers family and we learn in the beginning of the movie that he is deathly afraid of spiders. When Michael sees a spider, he is so afraid that he is unable to move. The cursed haunted mansion is a place where fears can be exploited and just before we move into the final act of the movie, Michael must face his fear and open a door that is covered in spiders to save his dad and his sister who are trapped behind the door. Michael does face his fear, he opens the door, and he learns that he can do things even though he may sometimes be scared of doing them.
There are so many movies that focus on this idea of getting home and wanting to get home above all else. Another iconic example is The Wizard of Oz.
This past weekend lead me to think about several examples, and I started thinking about all of the books that I loved when I was a child and I started to really examine what home means to me.
There were so many incredibly talented authors, poets, and illustrators at this event. I was pinching myself and I will be for quite a while to come, but Hannah Lee, the wonderful author of My Hair said something during her talk that really stuck with me. Hannah spoke about how she loved the story The Twelve Dancing Princesses by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm when she was a little girl, and she spoke about how even though there have been many books that she read as an adult and loved, nothing stuck with her quite like how The Twelve Dancing Princesses did.
This point really resonated with me because I think that the entire reason I do what I do has stemmed from my love of reading as a child. I was a bookworm. I was a movie lover. I still am a movie lover. I’ve written before about how I love returning to books with adult eyes, because sometimes the book can mean so much more now that I am an adult. Sometimes I like to return to a childhood book because I want that wonderful wave of nostalgia to hit me.
Home can also be found in stories. Stories can make us feel safe and understood. Stories can speak to us in a way that no-one else can because stories, while they are meant to be shared, can also be a very personal thing. I love Charles Dickens. I love Oscar Wilde. I love Shakespeare. I love Emily Dickinson. I love all of the canonical classical authors that we are told we must learn about, but whenever I think about my favourite stories, I almost always think of fairy tales.
I think of Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. I think about Matilda and The Wind in the Willows.
I think about Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. I think about the works of Lemony Snicket.
These are the stories that I was enamoured by when I was little. These are the stories that I still love now. Some may be imperfect, some may be outdated, but I love them all the same. I still think they are extremely important. I think about the person that I am today, and without sounding too dramatic, I really do owe a lot to the books I read as a child. Today I consider myself a huge advocate for fairy tales, an advocate for encouraging a sense of curiosity and wonder in children because being curious and being wonderstruck leads to questions. Questioning leads to learning more because we want the answers, and a thirst for knowledge means that the world is open. The more you learn, the more you know, and I think that the more you understand different things, the better experiences you have.
A love of reading can open up so many doors. I loved reading and I loved watching movies so then I went to drama class. In drama class I learned that I love poetry and prose so I decided I wanted to study English Literature and that is what I did. I worked hard because I wanted to get into my course, and now I’m doing my masters in a specialised area of English Literature and getting the opportunities to do things such as review books for Children’s Books Ireland and attend international conferences where I get to listen to Carson Ellis speak. Carson Ellis has done illustrations for Lemony Snicket. I mentioned above that I adored the work of Lemony Snicket.
Ten year old me would have been over the moon if she knew that someday she’d get to listen to Carson Ellis talk about her journey and her career.
I’ve been rather self-indulgent, speaking about myself and it won’t be something that I do very often, but it felt important to me that I attempt to explain, as succinctly as possible, why children’s literature means so much to me. Children’s literature has had a huge impact on my life as the love for reading I had as a child lead me down the path to the work I do today, to the career I wish to have. I know so many others who say the exact same thing so it is crucial that we do not dismiss the importance of reading in childhood. It is crucial that we encourage young people to read and to fall in love with reading. Their curiosity should be cheered on and their enthusiasm should never be dampened. It is crucial that all young people are given the opportunity to fall in love with reading because you never know where that childhood passion may take them. Children need to have access to good quality books and the fact that some schools do not have any library services is just unacceptable. When things need to be cut due to financial reasons, the arts are often the first to go because there is still sadly an attitude that the arts are disposable, or not as important as other subjects. This simply is not true. This attitude needs to be forgotten. So many children thrive creatively. So many children find solace in English class or music class or art class and if you tell a child that their passions don’t matter, that their passions are not important anyways, you are ignoring and crushing potential.
At the conference, the idea of decoding was discussed a lot. This idea that books are something to be “decoded” saddens me because it just feels like the point of literature is being completely missed. Yes you can analyse a text and study it in detail. You can discuss the themes and decide what you think the author is trying to say. You can spend time figuring out what your interpretation of a piece is, but the idea that a text can be “decoded” in a classroom, the idea that it must have one meaning that is the same to everyone misses the point entirely and defeats the purpose of opening up ideas in the classroom. This kind of thinking leads to children and young people having no interest in their English classes because it is becoming another rigid subject.
The joy of English Literature is that there is no right or wrong. There is no rigid set meaning that one must commit to memory. You should have the freedom to figure out your own interpretation and then use the text to back up your opinion. It should be fun, it should be exciting. Sharing different ideas and having discussions is all part of the fun. The sharing and expressing of different creative ideas is key and if we lose that then we lose the joy of studying English.
We cannot be afraid to have creativity in our classrooms. We must let children be curious and excited. We must let them express their thoughts and ideas and this all begins with ensuring that they have books.
I adore the work that Children’s Books Ireland does. I’ve written an article about why I love the work of this organisation so much which you can read by clicking the link below.
I’m also going to provide a link to the official Children’s Books Ireland website so you can go and explore the work that they do and learn more about this fantastic organisation by clicking the link below.
I have quite a few book and movie reviews coming soon here on katelovesliterature.com along with some exciting news that I can hopefully share soon so keep an eye out for updates. Remember you can follow me on Instagram @katelovesliterature. I do a lot on my stories. You can now also find me on TikTok so I’d appreciate it if you’d follow me there too. As always my handle is @katelovesliterature.
Is there a book that you loved as a child that still sticks with you to this day? What book is it? I’d love to know. I’d also love to hear some different opinions on the idea of home so feel free to comment below.
I read every comment and every message and I do my best to respond to every single one as they are very much appreciated, and I do love hearing other people’s thoughts. If you’ve engaged with me here or on Instagram by commenting or sending me a message, you know who you are, and thank you so much for your interest and support.
I don’t think there is anything more nostalgic than sitting down with a book I enjoyed when I was little and reading it now with adult eyes. My studies have allowed me to dive into the world of children’s literature, and I’ve found that I have a new appreciation for all of the books that I read as a child. I’ve always been one to encourage reading in childhood as having a love for literature can open so many doors and benefit us in ways we may not even realise.
Lately I’ve fallen down a bit of a fairy tale rabbit hole, as you will have noticed if you keep up with me on Instagram. If you haven’t already, you can follow me @katelovesliterature.
Fairy tales always provoke very interesting conversations in my opinion, and I think that classic fairy tales are often treated unfairly in today’s media. Literature will always reflect the time that it was written in, that is in many ways the role of literature, to shine a light on all aspects of society, the good, the bad, and the things we wish didn’t happen. I will admit, many fairy tales are imperfect. There are aspects of some older fairy tales that would likely not be included if they were written today by a modern writer. I find it interesting that fairy tales are readapted and reimagined so often, because new adaptations tend to bring out critics who enjoy tearing the original to pieces. I’ve found that sometimes in an effort to correct some outdated ideas that an original story may present, the adaptations in question can sometimes swing too far the other way and present a different idea that is not exactly ideal either, however that is a much broader conversation and one that I will share another time in a different discussion.
I will give a very brief example of what I mean, and I just want to be clear that in this example, I’m not referring to any story in particular, instead I’m speaking generally about an idea that I’ve seen in various different pieces.
I’m an advocate for female empowerment and female agency in stories.
I love seeing female characters who know their own mind, and speak confidently about their own desires and interests. I understand the idea behind wanting to show young children stories about women who are well-rounded, complex, dimensional characters. This is great. For a long time female characters were subjects of the male gaze and I think it is fantastic that there seems to be a shift and finally we are getting to see female characters exist and function beyond how they’re viewed by men. I always like to say that there is nothing wrong with being a love interest, but you shouldn’t only be a love interest. That should not be a female character’s only purpose, however I dislike the trend of calling the heroines in original fairy tales nothing more than “damsels in distress who do nothing but wait to be saved.”
The heroines in older Disney movies face this kind of criticism as well, and I think it is very unfair. In my opinion it is too simplistic. That kind of critique completely ignores the fact that these stories were written in a very different time. It is the same with period pieces, people complain if female characters don’t act in a way that perhaps a modern woman would, but this critique again ignores the fact that many period pieces take place in times when women were at the mercy of the men in their lives. If you didn’t have access to any money, if you didn’t have anywhere to go, if you didn’t have any kind of education depending on one’s status, if you didn’t have any say in who you married, then it is almost impossible to just up and leave. I still think it is inappropriate to say that today in 2022, because the truth is that we cannot know everybody’s private circumstances and to say “just leave” is ignorant and dismissive. I will not scoff at original heroines. I will not call them passive, helpless, and I will not say that they did nothing but wait for a Prince. If you actually read the original fairy tales properly, you will see that many of the original heroines did their best despite being in dire circumstances that were beyond their control. I also don’t like the idea of promoting a narrative that says accepting any kind of help means you’re weak. I think there needs to be a balance. It is important to have complex, realistic, layered female characters who know they can speak their mind, assert boundaries, and take control of their lives the way a male protagonist would without question, but I think one must also acknowledge that it is okay to have friends, it is okay to accept help, it is okay to cry and be vulnerable sometimes, and it is okay to need people and have romantic desires.
I’ve noticed that female characters shutting out love because “they’re perfectly fine on their own” has become a bit of a trend. The idea behind this is wanting to show a character who doesn’t need a romantic relationship to be happy. That is great, but the idea is often undermined by the fact that she will almost always end up in a romantic relationship anyways, often with the man that she’s been shutting out for the entire story. I think this is a bit contradictory and reductive. Plenty of people are happily single and plenty of people genuinely don’t want a romantic partner and that is perfectly fine, but I’d rather see a character who is happily single throughout instead of seeing a woman actively shut down any romantic feelings or desires because she feels she has to, because she feels that allowing herself to be romantic somehow makes her weaker. Again, in my opinion, it is a question of balance. All independence should not be lost because you are in a relationship and these characters should still be able to function independently and chase their dreams and thrive at work even if they do admit that they really like someone else. Independence is very important. I think it is vital to be able to be alone and enjoy one’s own company, however I don’t think it is reasonable to expect anyone to be alone all of the time. These types of narratives tend to involve characters learning that it is okay to let people in, and it is okay to share feelings and be vulnerable, and it is okay to want someone or people in your life – these discoveries don’t always have to be romantic, they can come from relationships with friends, families, and mentors too, and all of that is great, but I’m a bit tired of that being the lesson.
To sum up this point, the gist of what I’m saying is that of course I do want female characters to be well-rounded and dynamic and to be more than just a love interest, however I also don’t want to venture into a territory that says emotions or accepting help or being in love automatically equal a loss of strength and/or independence.
This is a topic that I want to explore/write about in much broader detail with fleshed out examples so stay tuned for more discussions like this if this is a topic that interests you.
My book review of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows is coming soon.
The 2021 film Last Night in Soho has been on my “must watch” list since I saw the trailer.
Having missed seeing the film in cinemas, I’ve been very eager to see it for the longest time.
I’m happy to say that I have crossed the film off my “must see” list at last, however I must admit that I did not adore this film the way I thought it would.
If you’ve read my previous film discussions on Katelovesliterature.com then you’ll know that usually I follow a certain formula. I discuss the plot, the setting, the themes, and the structure of a film. I’m changing things up and I’m going to discuss this film in a less formulaic way.
Edgar Wright directed Last Night in Soho. Wright being the film’s director was a big reason as to why I was so eager to see this film. I’m a fan of Wright’s style of directing. I would say that a technique that makes his directing style quite notable is his use of rather jarring cuts. When reading about Wright and the way he directs films, another notable feature of his directing style that gets mentioned often is when editing, Wright is very creative when it comes to transitions.
Both of these things are very clear in Last Night in Soho.
Another film that I love that was directed by Wright is Hot Fuzz. You can read my discussion about this film if you click the link below.
These are two films that I love because every single thing that takes place in these two films happens for a reason. Every single idea that has been set up at the beginning comes full circle by the end of the film.
I think that Edgar Wright is quite a meticulous director. He pays attention to details. This is really noticeable when you watch Hot Fuzz. Every time I watch Hot Fuzz I catch another little detail. He lays the foundation and then he follows through. Nothing happens just because. Everything has a purpose. This is why I thought I would absolutely love Last Night in Soho. I expected the same level of acute attention to detail and unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed because I felt that the film started off so strong but became messy as it went on. I will elaborate on this point further along in this discussion.
I have to be fair and more importantly, I have to be honest. I did really enjoy this film, in fact I would even say that I loved it. If you follow me on Instagram @katelovesliterature then you will have seen that my immediate initial reaction to this film was that I really enjoyed it.
I shared on my Instagram stories that I would give it 10/10, that I loved the cast, that I loved the directing style. I said that I particularly loved the use of lighting in the film. I loved the music in the film, and all of these things are still true, however upon further reflection and taking more time to think about the film, there are things that I felt fell apart once you spend more than five minutes thinking about them. If I was to summarise my thoughts I would say “brilliant concept, messy execution.”
Let me explain. Before I talk about the things I didn’t love, let’s discuss the plot because I really did like the idea of this film. I thought it was a really creative and intriguing premise.
If you have not already seen this film, please be aware that this discussion will contain spoilers.
The film follows aspiring fashion designer Ellie as she moves from Cornwall to London to study at the London College of Fashion. Ellie, who is massively inspired by the music and fashion of the sixties, struggles to adapt to the bustling London life as it is so different to her sheltered, rural upbringing with her Nan. Ellie’s mother died when she was a young girl and Ellie can still see her in mirrors. This is the first sign that this movie will contain some supernatural elements.
Ellie does not feel comfortable staying in the college dorms as she is struggling to make friends, so she decides to move to a women’s only bedsit that is owned by a woman named Mrs Collins.
Ellie feels much more comfortable in this bedsit and while living there, she has a series of dreams that transport her back to the 60s. In her dreams, she observes a glamorous, confident, aspiring singer named Sandie. At first, Ellie is excited by Sandie’s life and she uses these dreams about Sandie to inspire her own fashion and her work in school. She dyes her hair blonde to match Sandie’s and in class, she starts designing the dress that Sandie is wearing in her dreams. This new confidence that Sandie has inspired impresses Ellie’s teachers and makes other classmates jealous. However all is not as glamorous as it appears because as each night passes, Ellie’s dreams about Sandie become more and more disturbing. Sandie is not living the high life of a singer in fancy bars, instead she is being mercilessly pimped out by her manager/boyfriend Jack. The man who had promised her stardom and success is pimping her out to his business associates. The dreams that once had Ellie rushing to go to sleep have quickly become inescapable nightmares. Ellie wants to avoid sleep, but the figures of her dreams start to haunt her daily life. Ellie gets more and more afraid as the movie goes on because she keeps seeing disturbing visions of Jack, and the other men who misused Sandie.
The disturbing dreams take a turn for the worst when Ellie dreams about Jack murdering Sandie.
Ellie becomes obsessed with the idea that she must avenge Sandie’s death in order to escape these dreams and be able to sleep. This idea consumes her and she begins looking up newspaper articles about the murder and she attempts to track down Jack to confront him.
I want to pause here before I discuss the film’s twist because I want to talk about what I had hoped this plot would be. Based on the trailer, I thought that this film would be about Ellie trying to solve Sandie’s murder. I was fascinated by the idea of a young girl being plagued with dreams about a cold case and naturally, the only way to get the dreams to stop is to get justice for Sandie and solve her murder because the impression that the beginning of this film gives is that Jack got away with it. This idea is fuelled by the ominous appearings of an old man. Ellie gets a job in a pub, and an old man who we don’t know the name of frequents this pub. This unnamed man has a few odd conversations with Ellie, particularly after she dyes her hair blonde. The film very much gives audiences the impression that this old man is Jack. He seems to recognise Ellie, but only because her newly blonde hair reminds him of Sandie. He’s a strange character.
He is a red herring and I will elaborate more on this point as I go on but first I want to mention one other direction that I thought this film would go in.
I mentioned in a point above that I would summarise this discussion by saying “brilliant concept, messy execution”, and now I am going to give an example of this. I also felt that this movie didn’t follow through with certain ideas and this point is also an example of that.
Ellie’s first dream about the 60s is a glamorous one. She is in a bar in Soho. London is bustling.
One point I will make is that despite all of its flaws, this film is beautifully crafted. There are some absolutely stunning visuals and the vibe of London in the 60s was captured in such an electric way onscreen.
In her first dream, Ellie watches Sandie check her reflection in the mirror before entering the bar. She is determined to figure out a way to become a singer. She is going to be the next Cilla Black. Sandie is flirty, confident, and slick. She’s a force to be watched, she draws you in. She is directed by the bartender to speak to Jack. She’s told he’s Cilla’s manager. Sandie introduces herself to Jack and he is clearly quite taken with her. The couple dance together and this is a brilliant scene.
I have to give credit to Anya Taylor-Joy and Matt Smith. The pair are fabulous as Jack and Sandie. They are slick, they are sexy, they have brilliant chemistry and they capture that electric, swinging vibe of the sixties perfectly. The dance scene is brilliant because it flawlessly cuts between Sandie and Ellie dancing with Jack and I must also praise Thomasin McKenzie as Ellie too because all three actors were fantastic in this scene. There was a lot of brilliant and practical mirror work done in this scene. There were shots where Sandie would look in the mirror and Ellie would be looking back at her instead of her own reflection. This very much gives the impression that Ellie is living the night through Sandie’s perspective. The dance is particularly slick because Jack will spin Sandie out and it will be Ellie who spins back in or he’ll dip Ellie but Sandie will come back up. I believe this scene was done practically as the transitions are so smooth. It very well could have been filmed with both women doing the dance individually and then the scenes were edited together, but it is done so smoothly at times that I suspect it was done practically. This would involve a lot of very precise choreography, but this precision is something that I would associate with Wright. The dvd I bought does have a behind-the-scenes documentary that I plan on watching so I do hope they include how they shot this scene.
I’m not just talking about this back and forth between Sandie and Ellie for no reason, I brought up this point because it is one of the first instances where I feel the movie sets up something that could have been a really cool concept but then does not follow through.
Sandie and Jack end up in a lift. The pair kiss and Jack gives Sandie a hickey on her neck.
When Ellie wakes up in the morning, she has a hickey on her neck in the exact spot that Jack left it on Sandie in her dream so this presents the idea that Ellie physically experiences what happens to Sandie in her dreams.
I thought this was really interesting and I was disappointed when this did not come up again.
This moment also led me to think about what I thought may happen. An idea that I would have been really intrigued by, is the idea that whatever happens to Sandie in the dreams, physically impacts Ellie. So Sandie gets a hickey, Ellie wakes up with a hickey. If Sandie got a bruise, Ellie should have woken up with the same bruise just like she did with the hickey. I wondered if this plot would become about how Ellie would have to somehow stop Sandie from being murdered, because if what happens to Sandie physically impacts Ellie, then surely Sandie being murdered would put Ellie in danger. This did not happen. That was not the plot.
Ellie also did not have to figure out who murdered Sandie. This was not the plot.
I am going to talk about the twist, and then I am going to explain why I did not like the twist.
Jack did not kill Sandie. Jack threatened Sandie with a knife and then she fought back and killed him. Sandie went on to kill the men who came back to her room with the intent of using her for sex. She killed several “Johns” and hid their bodies in the floorboards and walls of her bedsit.
It turns out that Mrs Collins is Sandie. She has managed to keep her secrets for all of these years and now that Ellie has discovered the truth, she panics. In order to keep her secret safe, because she refuses to go to prison, she intends to drug Ellie. All of Sandie’s plans go awry when Ellie’s only friend John knocks on the door to check on her. Mrs Collins stabs him. In Ellie’s room, the room that Sandie committed all the murders in, Ellie is seeing the figures of all the men who Sandie killed. They are crying out to Ellie, begging for help, and begging her to kill Sandie but she won’t. Ellie refuses to kill Sandie and she stops the woman from killing herself with a knife. Ellie is struggling after being drugged, the spirits are shouting, John is bleeding at the bottom of the stairs, and the entire building is burning as a fire has broken out. Mrs Collins/Sandie tells Ellie to get out and escape with John while she stays sitting on the bed as the room becomes engulfed in flames.
Thankfully John recovers – I was so happy about this as he was a really good friend to Ellie throughout the entire film. He is a sweet character and he did not deserve to die. Ellie also recovers and goes back to fashion college. The ending feels far too neat, but I’ll talk about that shortly.
I want to talk about the twist. I did not like it. There are a few reasons as to why I did not like it.
The first being that we watched Jack kill Sandie. In one of Ellie’s dreams, he kills her.
This is where the plot becomes messy. The movie never clarifies whether or not Ellie is having dreams or visions. The things she sees when she goes to sleep are treated as facts.
Ellie sees Jack and Sandie in the flirting stage of the relationship. She watches as Sandie wows him with her voice and her dancing. She is excited when Sandie supposedly gets her first gig, her big break, and then she is horrified to discover that she is not a star at all. Sandie is an overworked backup dancer who is doing a lot more than dancing at night. Ellie wakes up screaming when she dreams about the various men who abuse Sandie in the bedroom. They menacingly unbuckle their belts and laugh at her fear as they stalk towards her. This leads me to this question, if everything up until Sandie’s murder was treated as fact, why did this change when Sandie was allegedly murdered?
Why and how did Ellie see Sandie being murdered if this didn’t actually happen?
Everything else up until this point was portrayed as the accurate unfolding of events in order.
Sandie’s world falling apart and becoming filled with fear as her hopes and dreams are dashed as she is pimped out is a realistic storyline. It is a tragic one. The beginning of the film makes you sympathise with Sandie. She was a wide eyed girl with a beautiful voice and she’s been lured into the world of prostituion and there is no way out because Jack has her under his control. This is believable. So if everything else in Ellie’s dreams was simply an unfolding of events, how did Ellie see a murder that did not actually happen?
Another problem that I have with this is that Ellie is so haunted by Sandie’s murder that she starts to see Sandie in her day to day life. She is haunted by the image of Sandie walking around Soho in her gorgeous pink dress, but the beautiful image is ruined when you glance up and see her slit throat.
Here’s what I think happened. I think that the image of a beautiful Sandie walking around Soho with a slit throat is a very powerful, very disturbing image. It is haunting. It is jarring, and as I mentioned earlier, I think Wright notably uses jarring shots. I can understand why any director would want such a shot in their film, however I feel like wanting this imagery may have overshadowed some plot details.
I would also put forward the idea that the film suggests that Ellie sees things from Sandie’s perspective. She is inspired by Sandie, and then she is concerned about Sandie’s safety, so perhaps when Ellie dreams about Jack threatening Sandie with a knife, she assumes that Jack kills her. She may assume this because up until this point, Jack has had all the control in their relationship, and if he is pimping her out and emotionally abusing her, it makes sense that Ellie would assume that him taking a knife to her resulted in her death. I put forward that idea, but the problem with this is that I’m the one putting forward the idea. That is my interpretation as to why Ellie saw Sandie being murdered. The film does not explain why. The film never makes Ellie out to be an unreliable narrator. The film never alludes to the fact that Ellie’s dreams may be biassed or only reflective of one point of view. As I said, the film treats Ellie’s dreams as a window into the past, and through these dreams, we see Sandie’s life play out so that is why it does not make sense that Ellie saw Sandie being murdered if that did not actually happen. To go against my own point, I would ask if we were to say that Ellie is seeing things through Sandie’s eyes then wouldn’t that mean we would have seen what actually happened? If we are seeing things through Sandie’s eyes, then wouldn’t we have seen her murder Jack?
I wish we hadn’t seen Jack murder Sandie. I wish we had seen a knife fight. I wish we had seen a struggle. I wish that instead of seeing visions of Sandie with her throat slit, that we had seen visions of her covered in blood. This would have been more vague. We don’t see Jack again after the murder dream. We only see the older man, the one the movie lets us assume is Jack.
If we had seen Sandie covered in blood, it would have been easier to wrongly assume that Jack killed her and got away with it. This would make sense. Ellie has been seeing Sandie’s struggles all this time. She has formed a connection with Sandie. Ellie feels sorry for her. If Ellie had dreamt about a knife struggle but woke up before anyone was killed, and then saw images of a bloody Sandie walking around Soho, it would be fair for naive and out of her depth in London Ellie to assume that Jack is the one who killed Sandie. The fact that this is not left elusive, the fact that we see Jack slitting her throat makes this twist really redactive. It was not really a twist in my opinion. We saw him kill her and then a while later, the movie tells us “actually he didn’t kill her, she killed him. Surprise!”
It feels messy.
I also don’t like this twist because I don’t like what the end of this film does to Sandie.
I will say that talking about a fictional murder is extremly different to talking about a real life murder. Fictonal murders are different because depending on the genre of film, murder can very easily become an act that is easier to understand.
Let’s look at Sandie’s character.
She is a young girl who lives alone. There is no mention of her family. She wants to be a singer. She’s talented. She can sing, she can dance, she is charming. She is told to speak to Jack. She does. He is the ultimate teddy boy. He is charming, he’s a smooth talker. He promises her the world and he seems to be opening doors for her. He tells her he loves her, and in the beginning at least, he defends her from sleazy grips and prying eyes. She feels safe with him. “I’m with Jack,” she says. The job turns out to be a backup dancing gig at a gentlemen’s club. The girls are expected to perform onstage and offstage, the dressing rooms are filled with girls who are forced to perform sexual acts and it is clear that some of the girls are not well at all, so clearly noone really cares too much about their wellbeing. Sandie does not have a way out. The men know where she lives, Jack knows where she lives and there is no way he is letting her out. He feels a sense of ownership over her. He is not going to let her just walk away. He is controlling and he is violent, he proves this by pulling out a knife. He just did not expect her to fight back and turn the tables on him.
The idea of an abused girl fighting back and killing her pimp in self defence is one that I can’t say I disagree with. I can’t say that I blame Sandie for killing Jack. Ellie even tells Sandie that she doesn’t blame her, that she understands why she did what she did. The film also presents all of the other men as terrifying figures throughout the film. The images of them following Ellie down the streets and to school are really unsettling. The scenes where shadowy hands are reaching out to grab her feel really uncomfortable to watch, especially as a young woman, so when the film pulls the switch and suddenly has all of these dead “Johns” crying out to Ellie for help, it feels off.
Sandie is then presented as a serial killer because she killed the many men who came back to her room and wanted to pay her for sex. The film presents this idea that she is getting revenge on all of those “Johns” who use and abuse her by killing them. This is another point that caused me to have conflicting opinions and I actually struggled to gather my thoughts articulately because killing that many people is wrong and being able to kill that many people has to have a profound impact on a person. In the fight with Jack, it was self defence, she did not go out that day knowing she would kill Jack that night. There does come a point though, where it is intentional. She knows that when she takes these other men back to her room that she is going to kill them one by one. She feels they deserve it.
Do they deserve it? That is an interesting question. The film does not make these men sympathetic whatsoever. They are portrayed as sleazy, predatory, arrogant figures who love to watch the girls dance and then get a private show later. The men who interact with Sandie act like they’re entitled to do whatever they like with her and to her. The audition scene is particularly seedy in hindsight. At first it seems as though Jack and the owner of the bar are in awe of her voice. The two men share a look. Upon reflection, it becomes clear that the owner was not impressed by her singing, there was never any intention of making Sandie a star, the only intention was to turn her into a prostitute and they succeeded. It’s hard not to still sympathise with Sandie. She says herself that she died in that room a hundred times, and in a way she did. The innocent Sandie died in that room. The Sandie who didn’t know violence died in that room. The Sandie who just wanted to be a singer died in that room. The old man who we think is Jack, who I will talk about properly in my next point, has a line about how he used to know all of the pretty girls. He talks to Ellie about the pretty girls, the pretty blonde girls. He says he doesn’t remember them all because “they all look the same on the slab.” It is a horrible line. It is a line that stood out. It is cold, it is callous. I think it is hard to think of Sandie as a cold killer when the film tells us that these men simply used young girls for their pleasure. They didn’t care about them as people. They didn’t care about their safety or their wellbeing. They would not care if they found out that one of those girls ended up dead.
Historically we know that if a female prostitute wound up dead, the crime was not taken all that seriously because the victim was viewed as someone who deserved it or a prostitute’s life wasn’t considered that important anyways. I have talked about this in my discussion of Jekyll & Hyde the musical as it is a very prominent plot point. You can read this discussion by clicking the link below https://katelovesliterature.com/2021/10/22/jekyll-hyde-the-musical/
The film Lost Girls is based on a tragic true story and this film demonstrates how some people, even those investigating the crime, often lack any emphty for the victims because of the fact that they were prostitutes. You can read my review of this film by clicking the link below.
I am aware that I am linking several of my other reviews in this discussion. I am doing so because the points I am making relate to points I have made in more detail when discussing other pieces that contain similar themes and if you’re interested in exploring these points further and reading about how these points were portrayed in other stories, then you can go ahead and read some of my other discussions if you haven’t already.
If Sandie had have been murdered, it is fair to assume that her death wouldn’t have been taken all that seriously based on the fact that she was a prostitute in the 60s. Lost Girls is not a period piece and the film demonstrates how even in this day and age, certain victims will be dismissed because of the lives they lead so it is fair to assume that had Sandie died, some would have had the attitude that she got what was coming to her. Last Night in Soho is a film that deomonstartes how easy it is for a young girl to end up working as a prostitute so is it fair to say that any prostitute deserves to be murdered? I don’t think so. I think that seeing every step of Sandie’s struggles made it really difficult to condemn her actions even though they did change from self defence to intentional. The reason for this is that the film presents the men as very predatory figures who abuse young girls, so as an audience member, it is hard to sympathise when these men cry out for help. Sandie cried out for help. Sandie cried out in fear. They laughed at her.
The film then goes a step too far with Sandie because while I can say that killing that many people is wrong but I can understand Sandie’s motive behind doing so, when Sadie stabs Ellie’s friend John there is no turning back. To an extent, I can understand why she drugged Ellie. She has lived her whole life with her secrets and she does not want to go to prison and now because of Ellie, she may be caught. So she panics. She drugs Ellie so that her secret won’t get out. It is an act of desperation. Was it wrong? Yes. Do I understand it? Yes. Why do I understand it? I understand it because it is in character. It aligns with everything she has done so far. Every ounce of understanding goes away when she stabs Ellie’s friend John. There was no need. There is no justification for it. Ellie swore she wouldn’t tell anyone the truth she has learned, and I believe that she wouldn’t have. She still felt sorry for Sandie. She understood why Sandie committed those murders. As a viewer, I believed that Ellie would have taken that secret to her grave, but Sandie couldn’t trust that so she drugged her. Stabbing John was unnecessary. He was completely innocent. He knocked on the door to make sure Ellie was okay. Sandie could have said she was sick. She did not need to stab him. Sandie even makes it a point to say she is not going to kill Ellie with a knife because she would not do that to her, she does not deserve it. The only reason Sandie is planning to kill Ellie is because she wants her secret to die with Ellie. She does not believe that Ellie deserves to die violently the way the “Johns” did. Sandie drugged Ellie’s tea and planned for her to fall asleep and die peacefully so this demonstrates that Sandie does not just ruthlessly brandish her knife, but then she stabs John. She uses her knife on someone completely innocent when she really didn’t have to and this action cannot be justified.
Sandie is a very flawed character, and while murder is objectively wrong, there was at least a clear motive from Sandie’s point of view and while you can disagree with her actions, at least you can see why she did what she did, you can see why she wanted revenge. She’s complicated. She’s layered. Her actions and the reasons behind those actions invite audiences to think about morals and how complex the morally right thing can be. I think having her stab a completely innocent boy ruins that, because in my opinion, that is a point that can’t be overlooked.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this film in preparation of writing this review and every time I think about it, I think why did she have to do that to John? Everything else, I could see the motive behind it, but hurting John has no defence and I think that really hurts her character.
I mentioned in a point above how I felt that the imagery of Sandie walking around Soho with a slit throat was a very powerful visual and I felt the want for this jarring visual overtook some plot points making sense. I think that this happened again when it came to Sandie’s final scene.
I think that the idea of having Sandie die on that bed, in that room, as the room becomes engulfed in flames is a very poignant idea. The visuals were stunning. Scary, heartbreaking, but stunning. Again, despite all of the flaws, this film was beautifully crafted. I think the idea that Sandie metaphorically died in that room a hundred times and now she will literally die in that room is a very, very poignant idea. I think that having Sandie sit on that bed in that room as it became engulfed in flames was a visual that was really wanted, but a reason was needed for it, which is why the choice was made to turn Sandie into this serial killer who was desperate to keep her secret. In order to have this powerful scene on the bed, the film needed to provide a reason as to why Sandie would do that. So the film has Sandie decide to die on her own terms. She refuses to be caught by the police. Ellie stops her from using the knife on herself, but she still won’t allow herself to be caught so she tells Ellie to run and she dies on her own terms, on her own bed.
I will also take a moment to say that all of the thoughts that I have expressed in this review are entirely my own. People can feel free to disagree. People can love this film, and feel that the twist was brilliant. People can enjoy the fact that it became somewhat of a slasher film.
I am not saying that what I think is right. Film is subjective and films are always open to interpretation. Personally, I was so excited to watch this film, but based on the trailers I thought it would be completely different. I loved the idea and loved many things within the film such as the music, the costumes, the use of lighting, I did feel that while this film is beautifully crafted, the plot gets messy. Too many things don’t add up in my opinion. Too many things were brilliant concepts but they were let down by the execution. I also think that certain plot points were overlooked and allowed to be messy because certain visuals were wanted. I love powerful imagery. I am in favour of getting really interesting, dynamic, and startling shots, but they need to make sense.
I want to talk about the old man before I talk about the film’s ending. The old man is a red herring. There are many times in the film where we see Jack and then in the present day, we see the old man. So the film allows audiences to assume that he is Jack. There were a few moments where I was unsure, because the film doesn’t clarify who this man actually is until the third act. When it was revealed that the old man who had spoken to Ellie in such an ominous way about the past was actually a retired undercover detective who had once tried to help Sandie, again I just couldn’t help but feel that this was a messy twist.
The old man’s real name is Lindsey and when Ellie thinks back through her dreams, she does recall one night when a man tried to help Sandie. It turns out that this man was Lindsey.
Ellie confronts Lindsey before she learns his true identity. She thinks he is Jack. She attempts to get him to confess to killing Sandie. This results in an argument and Lindsey leaves the pub angry, only to be killed when he is hit by a car. It is only when he is dead that Ellie is told who this man actually is, and she is horrified to learn that she wasn’t questioning Jack after all.
This moment disappoints me because it just feels a bit pointless. Lindsey’s death feels really unnecessary, as does John’s stabbing. I think the problem is that the film doesn’t allow audiences to feel connected to Lindsey as a character. The film allows us to assume he is Jack for a very long time, and Lindsey isn’t exactly the nicest character. He’s guarded. He seems very suspicious of Ellie. He is not exactly kind. At one point he even asks Ellie if he scares her, and he seems to smirk at the idea that he does, taking pleasure in her discomfort instead of easing her mind.
In my opinion, we don’t see him enough in Ellie’s dreams of the past. There is a brilliant yet devastating montage of Sandie being forced to dance by Jack. She dances to get the attention of men. These men buy her a drink, ask her for her name, they tell her she has a lovely name, and then they proceed to use her for their pleasure. It happens over, and over, and over again. The point being that these “Johns” are all the same. The same club, the same approach, the same drink, the same question, the same answer, and then the same result at the end of the night. Sandie gets more and more delirious as she answers the same questions over, and over because she knows exactly how her night is going to play out. It plays out the same way every time.
Lindsey is in this montage. He’s at the table with her, arguing with her about how she is better than this, but Sandie knows she is being watched intently by Jack so she feels too trapped to accept his help. When the film reveals that Lindsey was actually a detective, there’s this idea presented that he was a good guy all along and it is a shame that he died. It is a shame that he died, he didn’t need to, but the devastation of everyone else in the pub feels misplaced because they don’t connect with him throughout the film. He is never once presented as a great man who everyone loves and respects, he is always presented as a lone figure, who is silently observing Ellie and the way he stares at her sometimes is borderline uncomfortable. I think the film made him behave this way so that audiences would not trust him, so that we would believe he is Jack, so that the reveal that he is not Jack would feel like a shocking twist, but doing that hurts this twist because he was not a particularly nice old man, and there were not enough scenes with him from the past.
I would argue that if we had seen him more in the past, if we had seen him actively trying to help Sandie, actively trying to get her away from Jack, if we had been given the opportunity to get to know his character then this twist and his death would have felt much more poignant. If he had been a reserved old man who refused to talk about the past because it was too upsetting instead of an ominous figure, then this moment would have had more impact. It would have been a different character if he had done all he could to help Sandie but couldn’t, and didn’t want to talk about the past because that time and those memories bring him pain, and then for him to tragically get hit by a car after all of that, that would have hit harder. I could also argue that this would be somewhat melodramatic to have this person who tried his very best fail, be haunted by that failure, and then tragically die. I’m not saying that this would have been the perfect solution. The point I’m trying to make is that I feel that in order for that twist and his death to work, we needed to feel more connected to Lindsey as a character. I feel we didn’t know Lindsey at all, so that entire scene just felt sloppy.
I think the main reason I didn’t love Last Night in Soho as much as I expected to is because within this plot, I feel that there were some really brilliant concepts, but as I talk about moments that I found to be quite messy, and when I try to think about how I would have liked those moments to make more sense, I find that I’m almost creating a different film.
I’m not a screenwriter, and I’m not a director, but I just see so many threads that if you pull on them enough, the plot slowly unravels. This is a shame because the premise is really creative and intriguing, but I think the decision to make it an almost slasher film was a mistake.
I like the idea of Ellie dreaming about a cold case and in order to escape the nightmares, she attempts to prove that Sandie was murdered. Lindsey could have been a reserved, retired, jaded detective who finally agrees to work with her because he couldn’t prove Sandie was murdered at the time. This would have been a different film.
If the film wanted to keep the twist that Sandie killed Jack, okay then maybe Lindsey found out and kept her secret all these years because he felt that Jack was a cruel man and Sandie fought back in self defence. Ellie poking around and questioning the past would threaten Lindsey and Sandie in modern day because the crime they covered up would be at risk of being revealed and they would get caught. This would have been a different film.
I really loved the idea that Ellie is physically impacted by what happened to Sandie in her dreams. So I would have loved for this to have continued rather than just stopping after the hickey. It was a really cool idea that happened once and not ever again. Why? Why did it only happen once? How did she get the hickey but no other physical proof of what happened in her dreams? If Ellie is physically impacted then Sandie being murdered puts her in physical danger and she would have to somehow figure out how to save Sandie and save herself and that is where the horror comes in. With every dream, she takes one step closer to being murdered. Again, this would have been a different film.
There were so many different and interesting concepts within this film. I think the original premise lends itself to going in many different directions, all of which would have been creative, compelling, and rather poignant. The film could have kept its horror elements even if they had gone in a different direction and I think it is disappointing that the direction that was chosen led to messy storylines and messy executions of really cool ideas.
The film’s ending feels far too neatly wrapped up. Ellie returns to fashion college and thrives. Her former bullies tell her she is so brave after all she has been through. There were three bullies in this film, the classic Mean Girls set up where we meet the head bully and her two minions. Jocasta is the leader of the pack. She dislikes Ellie immediately. She makes fun of Ellie for making her own clothes, she thinks Ellie is boring and weird, she’s also jealous when Ellie gets positive feedback from a teacher. Throughout the course of the film, Ellie is getting more and more paranoid in her real life because she keeps seeing disturbing figures from her dreams and she fears that the men and Jack are after her. There is a very disturbing scene in the library where Ellie is terrified that she is being chased by attackers so she grabs a pair of scissors to defend herself. Her only friend John grabs a hold of her and stops her right in time because when Ellie comes to, she realises that that figure she was about to stab is actually Jocasta. The pair of scissors is dangerously close to Jocasta’s face and she is rightfully angry over what has happened. Ellie can’t explain her actions as she feels no one will believe her. She is afraid people will think she is mad. This incident is never mentioned again. Ellie runs from the library. John follows as he is desperately trying to figure out what is wrong and what has happened.
At the end of the film when Ellie is back in college, Jocasta is never mentioned again. The two girls who used to laugh at Ellie with Jocasta tell her that she is so brave. They are suddenly being kind to her. Jocasta is alone in the background of the shot. She is not smiling, but she does not look angry, she is just sort of there and it just feels off. She was nearly stabbed in the face with a pair of scissors but there was absolutely no mention of how this issue got resolved. After everything Ellie just goes back to college and John and her Nan watch happily from the audience as she does very well at an end of year fashion show. It is a happy ending and I like happy endings, but this felt bizarrely wrapped up in a bow and it didn’t fit the tone of the rest of the film.
Overall I am delighted that I got to watch Last Night in Soho at last. I would watch the film again, and despite being let down by the plot twists and feeling that the plot became messy, I would recommend it to anyone who has not seen it because the cast is brilliant and there are some really fantastic moments in the film that I did enjoy. The music was fantastic. The way the film captured the setting of the 60s was wonderful. The way the energy shifts from flirty and glamorous to seedy and terrifying is done brilliantly. There are moments in the film that are so unsettling, and this feeling is achieved from the creative use of lighting and sound. I also really love the practical shots and the mirror acting. It is a very creative shot that you don’t see all that often. If you’re a fashion or makeup buff, then I think you’ll love the costumes. The 60s looks, particularly Sandie’s, are gorgeous. I’ve said it a few times in this discussion but it is worth repeating because it is true, the film is visually stunning. It is a well made film that just has a messy plot. I would love for a few things to have been different, so that the overall plot could have made more sense, but even with all of the things that I wish were different, I can’t deny that I enjoyed this film. I plan to watch the behind-the-scenes documentary as I believe it will be fascinating and I look forward to seeing how certain things were done.
Have you seen Last Night in Soho? What are your thoughts? Love it? Hate it? Agree with me? Disagree with me? I’d love to know.
Do you have a movie that you think is really well made despite being full of things that just don’t make sense when you think about it? What movie is it?