Busting a skank

A twenty tonne lion has provoked heated debate in Scotland and prompted the resignation of the curator Richard Calvocoressi. Created by Ronald Rae, the benign granite sculpture has charmed visitors in Holyrood Park (opposite the Scottish parliament) since it was first exhibited there two years ago. However, when Rae offered the lion to the Scottish parliament’s unique art collection his gift was refused. Calvocoressi, who at the time was a key figure of the Scottish Parliament's Art Advisory body, suggested that the lion (valued at £120,000) would devalue the collection as a whole, as its "rustic folk-art qualities" were at odds with the collection's ideals. Calvocoressi, who had been a member of the advisory body since 2005, suggested that the lion would be more at home in a business park than in front of the parliament buildings. The curator, who is head of the Henry Moore Foundation was disappointed to find his advice countered by public support for the lion - 2000 people signed a petition in favour of the beast and a number of MSPs backed Rae’s renewed offer to loan the lion on a temporary contract. Writing in the Observer last week Calvocoressicommented that the decision to allow the lion to reside in Holyrood park for three more years is sadly representative of the power of the Parliamentary Corporate Body’s desire to satisfy public demand. He expressed his dismay that his expertise was disregarded, ruefully commenting that “when it comes to art, everyone is suddenly an expert.” Ronald Rae, who has a number of other exhibits in Holyrood Park, defended his work, stating: "Richard Calvocoressi is an arrogant prick and his curatorial skills are crap . . . the public had spoken."

"Big Boi" from

OutKast has been busting a skank in the world of dance this week. The rapper’s new venture, Big, is currently being performed with artists from Atlanta Ballet. The performance, a multimedia extravaganza featuring local school children and videos, will incorporate OutKast tracks and an unreleased hip hop number titled "Sir Lucious Left Foot Saves the Day". Working in collaboration with choreographer Lauri Stallings, "Big Boi" (also known as Antwan Patton) agreed to the work in the hope that it would broaden hip hop’s boundaries. Showing admirable open-mindedness and dedication to the cause, the star commented “I’m down to try anything once.” The marriage of hip hop and ballet is not the only unusual pairing to surface this week. The ENO has announced that they have appointed the Iranian film director Abbas Kiarostami to direct a production of Mozart’s comic opera Cosi fan Tutte in 2009. Kiarostami, best known for Through the Olive Trees and Taste of Cherry is one of a sequence o f film directorswho have turned their talents to opera. Critics have greeted the trend with mixed reactions.However the late Anthony Minghella directed an ENO production of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly with great success in 2005. It is scheduled to be revived as a tribute to him next year.

Other arts news: Brigitte Bardot also courted controversy this week, when she was prosecuted after reportedly inciting racial hatred in a letter. The 73 year-old actress, who is now a passionate animal rights activist, wrote to the French government in 2006, criticizing the Muslim practise of slaughtering sheep without stunning them first. In a letter circulated to the Brigitte Bardot Foundation she wrote “We're fed up with being led by the nose by this population that is destroying us, destroying our country by imposing its acts." A campaign of a more palatable kind was also launched this week in conjuction with the Teenage Cancer Trust: an orchestra of instruments constructed out of parts of Ford cars is going on tour support the charity. A track featuring Genesis guitarist Mike Rutherford playing the "clutch guitar" is available online.

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Would the BBC's Nazi drama SS-GB have felt half so resonant a year ago?

This alternate history is freighted with meaning now we're facing the wurst-case scenario. 

Would SS-GB have felt half so resonant a year ago? Though the clever-after-the-fact Nostradamus types out there might disagree, I can’t believe that it would. When it comes to the Second World War, after all, the present has helpfully stepped in where memory is just beginning to leave off. The EU, in the process of fragmenting, is now more than ever powerless to act in the matter of rogue states, even among its own membership. In case you hadn’t noticed, Hungary, for instance, is already operating as a kind of proto-fascist state, led by Viktor Orbán, a man whom Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, jokingly likes to call “the dictator” – and where it goes, doubtless others will soon follow.

The series (Sundays, 9pm), adapted from Len Deighton’s novel, is set in 1941 in a Britain under Nazi occupation; Winston Churchill has been executed and the resistance is struggling to hold on to its last strongholds in the countryside. Sam Riley plays Douglas Archer, a detective at Scotland Yard, now under the control of the SS, and a character who appears in almost every scene. Riley has, for an actor, a somewhat unexpressive face, beautiful but unreadable. Here, however, his downturned mouth and impassive cheekbones are perfect: Archer, after all, operates (by which I mean, barely operates) in a world in which no one wants to give their true feelings away, whether to their landlady, their lover, or their boss, newly arrived from Himmler’s office and as Protestant as all hell (he hasn’t used the word “degenerate” yet, but he will, he will).

Archer is, of course, an ambiguous figure, neither (at present) a member of the resistance nor (we gather) a fully committed collaborator. He is – or so he tells himself – merely doing his job, biding his time until those braver or more foolhardy do something to restore the old order. Widowed, he has a small boy to bring up. Yet how long he can inhabit this dubious middle ground remains to be seen. Oskar Huth (Lars Eidinger), the new boss, is keen to finish off the resistance; the resistance, in turn, is determined to persuade Archer to join its cause.

It’s hard to find fault with the series; for the next month, I am going to look forward to Sunday nights mightily. I would, I suppose, have hoped for a slightly more charismatic actress than Kate Bosworth to play Barbara Barga, the American journalist who may or may not be involved with the British resistance. But everything else seems pretty perfect to me. London looks suitably dirty and its inhabitants’ meals suitably exiguous. Happiness is an extra egg for tea, smoking is practically a profession, and
the likes of Archer wear thick, white vests.

Swastikas adorn everything from the Palace of Westminster to Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace is half ruined, a memorial to what the Germans regard as Churchill’s folly, and the CGI is good enough for the sight of all these things to induce your heart to ache briefly. Nazi brutality is depicted here as almost quotidian – and doubtless it once was to some. Huth’s determination to have four new telephone lines installed in his office within the hour is at one end of this horrible ordinariness. At the other is the box in which Archer’s mutinous secretary Sylvia (Maeve Dermody) furiously stubs out her fag, full to the brim with yellow stars.

When I first heard about The Kettering Incident (Tuesdays, 12.20am; repeated Wednesdays, 10pm) I thought someone must have found out about that thing that happened one time I was driving north on the M1 with a more-than-usually terrible hangover. Turns out it’s a new Australian drama, which comes to us on Sky Atlantic. Anna (Elizabeth Debicki), a doctor working in London, pitches up back in Tasmania many years after her teenage friend Gillian disappeared into its Kettering forest, having seen a load of mysterious bright lights. Was Gillian abducted by aliens or was she, as some local people believe, murdered by Anna? To be honest, she could be working as a roadie for Kylie, for all I care. This ponderous, derivative show is what happens when a writer sacrifices character on the altar of plot. The more the plot thickens, the more jaw-achingly tedious it becomes.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit