Mary Queen of Scots: too much for the big screen

The film covers the five-year period from 1561 when Mary returned from France to 1568, when she fled to England. She had been crowned Queen of Scotland at the age of one and shipped off to France where she was later married to the Dauphin who became King Francis II and she Queen of France. When Francis died, she returned to Scotland and claimed his throne. This is the point at which the film begins.

Mary Queen of Scots
reigned 1542 -1567

The politics of this period are exceptionally complex so the film does an excellent job of keeping them simple. Mary has a legitimate claim to the English throne.She was the great-niece of King Henry VIII of England and should Elizabeth I die childless, she would have a legitimate claim to the throne.

The film revolves around her efforts to have Elizabeth name her as heir to the English throne while she fights the naturally vicious politics of a catholic Queen in an increasingly rabidly Protestant country.

She marries Lord Darnley, an English noble, only to discover him in bed with her friend David Rizzio the following morning.

Generally speaking, Darnley isn’t up to much and he keeps demanding that Mary make him King. Something that she steadfastly and wisely refuses to do.

Eventually, he is done away with in pretty suspicious circumstances and Mary is forced into marriage with a Scottish nobleman. But this marriage is less successful than one with Darnley. For the most part she is more than a match for the local Scottish lords and the firebrand Protestant preacher John Knox. But she has to live by her wits and the weight of numbers is against her.

She has none of the advantages of Elizabeth, who was a Protestant Queen in a Protestant country surrounded by a loyal Protestant court intent on maintaining her in power. The chief player in this is Lord Cecil (played by Guy Pearce) and may has no one of his calibre advising her..

We see nothing of  Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s spymaster who was primarily responsible for Mary’s entrapment and execution. Probably a necessary economy.

The long period of Mary’s imprisonment in England is not covered in the film even though the film begins and ends with her execution. What we do know is that Elizabeth signed the death warrant.The film does not make it clear why Elizabeth did this. We see nothing of the power plays between Mary and the Spanish. There is no room in a film of this length. The film rightly focuses on the difficulties of females monarchs in a male dominated world.

Moviegoers who come to the film with little knowledge of the period will leave the film none the wiser. Those with knowledge of the period, will wonder “What was the point of all this?”

This probably highlights the problems in dealing with such a complex historical figure as Mary Queen of Scots. The film does not touch upon her upbringing in the Catholic French court. And we have no insight into what drives her as the Queen of Scotland nor in her desire to be the Queen of England. All this probably says Mary Queen of Scots is not a good subject for a film.

Probably a longer TV mini-series is what is needed.

The Favourite: Poor old Queen Anne, not much fun being Queen

Queen for 12 years, bullied by the Duchess of Marlborough for most of it, 17 failed pregnancies, house full of rabbits, bullied by the Duchess of Marlborough, dead at 49. Not too bright.

Portrait by Michael Dahl, 1705

The Favourite is a film of part of that life. It isn’t really a laugh a minute. Nonetheless, it is an excellent film. There are stellar performances from the three main actors.

Olivia Colman as Anne, Queen of Great Britain 

Emma Stone as Abigail Masham,

 Rachel Weisz as Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough

Sarah Churchill is her husband’s ears and eyes while he is in France fighting the wars of the Spanish succession. He is one of England’s most brilliant soldiers and his wife is a brilliant political in-fighter. She is also the Queen’s confidante and manipulates her mercilessly. The film makes it clear that the relationship is a lesbian one, although history is less clear on this

She is able to do this with ease until the arrival of Abigail, a distant relative, who inveigled her way into the court circles and before Sarah is able to realise it begins to supplant her as the Queen’s favourite. The Queen in ill-health and easily manipulated. Abigail has no hesitation in entering into a lesbian relationship with the Queen and has soon supplanted Sarah.

The shifting bedroom politics are a microcosm of the larger politics surrounding the war in France which must be financed by a land tax. The Whigs, supported by Sarah Churchill, are in favour of doubling land tax. This is opposed by the Tories, who are predominantly landowners and are led by  Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer played by by Nicholas Hoult who bullies Abigail into betraying Sarah’s trust.

It’s a dog eat dog world. And the only decent character in this film is a duck.

The acting in this film is brilliant and it’s worth seeing for that alone. But you won’t come away feeling any better about the English ruling classes than you would have if you had attended one of Theresa May’s cabinet meetings.

Vice, the Dick Cheney biopic, exposes, once again, the fragility of the US democratic system.

There is a wonderful scene where presidential hopeful George W Bush, portrayed as an an easily manipulated and amiable buffoon, is endeavouring to convince Cheney to run as his Vice President. Cheney provides the voiceover. He ponders the question, “What does he want?” as discussion goes on. Cheney delays Bush, suggesting that he should conduct a search looking for a more suitable candidate. Bush is disappointed, not understanding Chaney’s delaying tactic. Then the voiceover says somewhat incredulously, “He just wants to impress his dad.” And Cheney then tells the soon-to-be President that he (Bush) is really a “big picture person” and that that as Vice President, Cheney would expect to look after such mundane issues as foreign-policy, defence and energy.

Throughout the discussion, the visuals show Cheney, a keen fly fisherman, casting for a trout, when Bush agrees to Cheney’s terms, the line tightens, the fish has taken the lure. Cheney goes on to become the most powerful VP in American history. It’s a wonderful analogy.

The film is helped by was most wonderful make up. The resemblances between the actors and the real-life people is uncanny.

Amy Adams is Lynne Cheney, the powerful woman behind the man
Christian Bale plays Dick Cheney

Tyler Perry as Colin Powell

This film has divided American audiences. Left-wing critics love it because they see it as a wonderful insight into the machinations of unprincipled, power hungry, right wing politicians. Right-leaning critics dislike it because they see it as a badly made film. Both of these are pretty much par for the course. 

What we do get in this film is an insight into how a brilliantly talented Machiavellian politician is able to manipulate the political system, particularly when there was no one with the talent to counter him. What we do not get to understand is what motivated Dick Cheney. He turned down an opportunity to run for President because he didn’t want his daughter, who was gay, to become an electoral issue. Later, he gave up that particular moral position for a much smaller prize when his other daughter was running for state election.

At the end of the film, we are shown the terrible price of the war in Iraq, where hundreds of thousands of people died. Cheney gives a television interview and turns to address the camera directly. He insists that he regrets nothing that he has done to keep America safe but most tellingly he says “You chose me” as a justification.

It is a chilling conclusion to the film. The war cost the lives of thousands of US troops and the 600,000 Iraqis who died as well as the ongoing war in Syria. And it left Cheney as possibly the most destructive US VP ever.

The film ends with a panel discussion that degenerates into a fight over the nature of the film. It’s probably symbolic of the kind of response that the film is receiving in America. Nonetheless it’s a brilliantly made film and will be a contender at the Oscars.

And while it deals with events that anyone who has an interest in world and American history will be familiar with, it provides an interesting insight into the fragility of the American political processes and how easily it can be manipulated.

More electoral bad news in Liberal heartland

The Age reports: Health Minister Greg Hunt may also face a serious challenge, with suggestions former Liberal MP Julia Banks, who moved to the crossbench last year amid allegations of bullying, may stand against him in his Victorian seat of Flinders.

Juliia Banks with Julie Bishop

A ReachTEL poll conducted last week suggested Mr Hunt, who holds Flinders with a margin of 7.1 per cent, is now trailing the ALP 51-49.

The means a swing of some 9% percent in what was always a very safe seat for the Liberal party. This will be in line with the results from the massive victory of the Andrews government in the recent state election. It remains to be seen with these results are repeated in Victoria. If they are, it will be a disaster for Scott Morrison.

This comes on top of news that ex-Clean Energy Finance Corporation, Oliver Yates, will stand against Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in his blue-ribbon seat of Kooyong, in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs.

There was an upset in this area in the recent state election when a swing of 9.1 per cent in the previously safe Liberal seat of Hawthorn, which was claimed by the ALP’s John Kennedy. Not enough to unseat Frydenberg who has a comfortable majority of 12%. But the vultures are circling.

There is also a new dynamic being introduced into many seats that the Liberal party would have considered relatively safe in the next federal election. With the success of  Kerryn Phelps in Wentworth and now Zali Steggall standing against Tony Abbott, independent candidates are creating a new dynamic in the competition between the two major parties.

Both Steggal and Phelps have great appeal to conservative voters. One a doctor, the other a lawyer, both highly articulate and both female. Both are high profile. Phelps has been the president of the AMA and Steggall has been a Winter Olympic gold medallist. The contrasts to the existing Liberal party could not be stronger.

If independents are able to gain second place on election nightand garner sufficient support from other independent candidates and the Labor Party, which is highly likely, there will be a large number of independent candidates sitting on the crossbenches in the Parliament.

These independent candidates will gain seats at the expense of the Liberal party. At present does not seem likely that there will be a large number of independent candidates standing in safe Labor seats.

Interesting times.

Scott Morrison plays Chicken Little politics with talk of recession under Labor

The Age reports: Prime Minister Scott Morrison says Australia risks tumbling into a damaging recession under a Labor government, in a new pre-election strategy that also promises to eliminate $350 billion in debt and revives a jobs pledge once championed by Tony Abbott. It seems that Jobson Growth is getting a run again

In a major speech that paints a dark picture of the economy under Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, Mr Morrison will on Tuesday pitch the battered Coalition as a “jobs government” and vow to oversee the creation of 1.25 million new positions within five years if re-elected in May.

Many Australians will remember the story of Chicken Little. An acorn fell on her head and she thought the sky was falling in and ran around yelling, “The sky is falling down.” Pretty soon all the animals were all running round all yelling, “The sky is falling down.”. At the end of the story, the Fox ate them all.

Bill Shorten seems worried. He probably remembers the story.

Some practices raise questions about the monitoring of medical and non-medical processes

The Age reports: A self-proclaimed spiritual healer, Dennis Wayne Jensen, told a woman with terminal cancer he could cure her using alternative remedies and encouraged her to stop medical treatment, health authorities have found. The Health Complaints Commissioner, Health Complaints Commissioner Karen Cusack, found that ‘‘healer’’ Dennis Wayne Jensen supplied her with B17, a compound extracted from stone fruit that has been linked to cyanide poisoning, claiming it would cure her cancer.

Mr Jensen claimed he was being denied the right to heal, stripped of his religious rights, and that the commissioner was protecting the chemotherapy industry, which he described as a ‘‘toxic poison’’.

Later he said he had the support of the United Nations, and denied he had discouraged the woman from receiving medical treatment.

A Therapeutic Goods Administration spokesman said amygdalin (B17) was prohibited for use as a therapeutic good in Australia and classified as a substance that posed such a danger to health as to warrant prohibition of sale, supply and use.

Nevertheless, it is easily available for sale online. One site sells a 21-day supply of B17 and other supplements for cancer patients for $4760, claiming it can destroy cancer cells and that it is supported by hundreds of clinical studies, which ‘‘give us complete confidence that there is no danger’’.

How do we stop lunatics like this preying on the vulnerable”

And then this

Popular IVF therapy like ‘snake oil’

A common IVF treatment marketed as a fertility booster and costing hundreds of dollars is useless, research shows.Endometrial scratching did not offer women a better chance of having a baby after IVF, found the largest and most comprehensive trial of the procedure

The live birth rate for both groups was identical (26.1 per cent), found the three-year study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.The findings come amid the Victorian government’s 12-month review of IVF clinics, as well as the safeguards to protect patients.

But despite a lack of robust evidence, a recent survey found 83 per cent of fertility clinicians in Britain, Australia and New Zealand offer or recommend endometrial scratching at a cost of hundreds of dollars.Women who’d had multiple failed implantation attempts were most likely to be offered scratching.Professor Ben Mol at Monash University, who wrote an accompanying editorial, said it was “great news” to discover it did not help.

It would be good for someone to explain the difference between these two examples.

Scott Morrison and Clive Palmer both demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of how grassroots politics work.

Scott Morrison has announced that Liberal party candidate for the marginal seat of Gilmore, Grant Schultz, will be dumped in favour of ex-Labour Party President Warren Mundine. Schultz was pre-selected to replace sitting member Ann Sudmalis who resigned claiming she was bullied and undermined by Liberal colleagues.

This overrides the decision of the local branch which is made up of the people who will vote in the next election. The people who will man the polling booths. The people will knock on the doors of the electorate. The people who will put the election material in the letterboxes. The people who will stand in the cold at the railway stations and hand out leaflets. All the hard work that makes elections work at the grassroots level.

The Guardian reports “The decision by the New South Wales Liberal executive sparked outrage from Schultz, who said the party had betrayed its values of “honesty, democracy and integrity” by dumping him in favour of Indigenous leader Mundine.”

It’s all been very messy. The sitting member, Ann Sudmalis announced her retirement. claiming she had been undermined and bullied by members of her own branch and federal members of her own party.

It hasn’t helped that a woman resigned from the Liberal party claiming that she was undermined and then the local Liberal party preselected a male candidate: Grant Schultz. Morrison wasn’t happy and overrode the decision and parachuted another male, Mundine into the seat.

There has been a kerfuffle about democracy in New South Wales Liberal party and attempts at returning power to local branches and getting rid of the faceless factional powerbrokers spearheaded, by Tony Abbott of all people.

And now this. Seems like nothing has changed.

Not only is Mundine an ex-president of the Labour Party, he has only been a member of the Liberal party for a week. Naturally, the locals aren’t happy and Schultz will be running as an independent. The Nationals will be running a candidate as well.

And then there is Clever Clive Palmer, standing as a candidate in Herbert, where he closed his steelworks down owing his workers pay and entitlements.

He must think everybody has very short memories. And now he’s re-routing all his operations through New Zealand while claiming to “Make Australia Great”.

Do these two blokes think that there is no connection between what you do in an electorate and the way people cast their votes?

There you can simply do and say anything and it makes no difference?

Well it’s not true. And day of reckoning will be election day.

Veronese: Master of colour and structure.

Sometimes, when you’re walking through the gallery, you come across a painting that stops you in your tracks. Often,  you’ve never seen before and it’s by one of the myriad artists that you’ve never heard of. And the gallery is the Hermitage.

 The painting is The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine from the Workshop-of-Paolo-Caliari,-called-il-Veronese is one such painting. And it is by one of the most famous Renaissance painters.

This painting depicts Catherine of Alexandria, who before her martyrdom was mystically married to Christ by the Virgin Mary, a ceremony seen as an allegory of the pious soul’s spiritual betrothal to God. Here she is richly dressed and crowned (the Golden Legend records that she was of royal birth) and kneels on part of the broken wheel on which she was to have been executed. With one hand the Christ Child takes the ring from the young John the Baptist, unique in Veronese’s depictions of this subject, and with his other he takes Catherine’s hand to receive it. (Royal Collection Trust)

What is so immediately striking about this painting is the way in which Veronese uses colour as a major structural component. The brown flesh tones of the four women, the Christ child and be seraphim form the cross structure of the painting running from the top right bottom left. The other structural element is from slightly stooped figure of John the Baptist through Catherine and Christ child running at right angles. This sets up the major tension in the painting which runs through the figure of Catherine.  Notice how the orange colours of John the Baptist’s cloak link through the garments of Catherine and her attendant and blue of John Baptist through links to the cloak of Catherine in the bottom right of the picture. And then the curve of John the Baptist’s arm swoops round includes the head of the seraphim, picks up Catherine’s arm and comes to include the Christ child. Brilliant

It is truly a masterwork of structure and colour. 

Some students waiting for their first round university offer will suffer anxiety levels equal to those of first time parachute jumpers

In 2000, I published a paper with Kosmas X.Smyrnios, & Charles Osborne entitled A Cusp Catastrophe Analysis of Anxiety Levels in Pre-university Students in The Journal of Psychology.

It involved getting students to fill out an anxiety questionnaire just before and after receiving their first round offer of the University place. Naturally, the results varied. Some students who were certain they would give their first-round offer were not anxious at all. Some who were uncertain of receiving a first-round offer, initially experienced high levels of anxiety and when they found they had been successful, experienced huge drops in anxiety levels. Those who were uncertain and unsuccessful, maintained their anxiety levels. Generally, the anxiety levels often approached those of first time parachute jumpers.

Although the research to not investigate all the causes of anxiety, it is highly likely that the uncertainty surrounding the cut-off point for entry into some courses contributed to the anxiety levels.

Anyone who is interested in reading the paper can send me an email at

Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party to run candidates in all 151 seats in the next federal election. Now that’s a good idea!

Just a bit of history first.

In the house of Reps, in 2013 Palmer got just under 710,000 votes, and one seat, his own in Fairfax. In 2016, he got just 315 votes. In 2019, he will have to buck the trend.

In the Senate in 2013 Palmer got 4.9% of the vote and three Senate seats . In 2016, he got 0.19% and no seats.

Clearly, Australian public has not been impressed by the performance of Palmer or PUP.

None of its Parliamentary representatives has been re-elected and Lambie was disqualified under the dual citizenship regulations. The party has also been plagued by resignations which you can see on the Wikipedia website.

.Source Wikipedia

One wonders what makes him think he can reverse this disastrous trend. He has already sent SMS messages to 5.6 million Australians in an almost certainly mistaken assumption that this will make people like him

Palmer’s track record in selecting candidates who stick around is not great. Remember these guys?

Dio Wang, Jacqui Lambie, Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party senator Ricky Muir  and Glenn Lazarus pose with was Palmer in happier days.  Both Lazarus and Lambie quit the party and Muir pulled out of the alliance. It hardly speaks well of Palmer’s ability as a political leader when two thirds of the party get jack of him.

There is a high probability that this time round there will be a high proportion of political adventurers, oddballs, screwballs, right-wing weirdos and all manner of loonies sneaking under the selection radar and all keen to have their 15 minutes of fame. There’s not much chance of any of them being elected but they will certainly be able to do a fair amount of damage to the UAP brand in the run-up to the election.

The logistics of selecting 151 candidates before closing date for nominations for the next election, which is at best four months away, would be a formidable task even for a major established political party, let alone one that was establishing June 2018. Unless Clive is going to do all the interviews himself, the party will need to establish interview committees in all of the electorates. Even that is a a formidable task.

And all this work when none of them have a snowball’s chance been elected.