Gilbey on Film: I'm a Girl refusenik

Why I won't be watching - or reading - any of the Stieg Larsson trilogy.

A commercially daring marketing strategy has been announced this week by the distributor Momentum Pictures. In effect, it's a cinematic loss-leader.

In an effort to whip up interest in its forthcoming thriller The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, which is released on 26 November, Momentum is putting on free double-bills of the preceding instalments in the Stieg Larsson-adapted "Millenium" trilogy (that's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire). Forty-one cinemas in the UK will screen the two films this Sunday; all you need to do is claim your tickets, climb into your motorcycle leathers, hop on your bike and burn rubber in the direction of your nearest participating cinema.

Well, I say all that about leather and motorbikes but I am exactly the sort of Girl refusenik at whom this unusual promotion is aimed, so what would I know? Through a mixture of cunning and ineptitude, I have managed to miss out on the series -- can we call it a phenomenon, or has that word now gone the way of "icon"? -- in both literary and cinematic form. There was definitely a week earlier this year when I was considering reading the first book or watching the first film, but then a pair of witty writers rained on that idea before it had even become a fully-fledged plan.

First, Nora Ephron -- sparkly on the page, even if her directing (You've Got Mail, It's Complicated) lacks that same fizz -- wrote a knock-out pastiche of the series, entitled "The Girl Who Fixed the Umlaut", in the New Yorker. Even my Larsson-resistant eyes could recognise it was knock-out, merely from having watched the trailer for the first movie, and from all the time-consuming sneering I've done at commuters reading Larsson's books on trains and buses. Ephron nailed the exaggerated pomposity and forced cool that anyone will recognise from even a passing acquaintance with a potboiler:

Lisbeth Salander was entitled to her bad moods on account of her miserable childhood and her tiny breasts, but it was starting to become confusing just how much irritability could be blamed on your slight figure and an abusive father you had once deliberately set on fire and then years later split open the head of with an axe. Salander opened the door a crack and spent several paragraphs trying to decide whether to let Blomkvist in. Many italic thoughts flew through her mind. Go away. Perhaps. So what. Etc...

That alone would have been ample justification for my avoidance of all things Girl-related. Then a few weeks later, Will Self piled in after Ephron in this most amusing literary scrum. In this very magazine, he summarised Larsson's series thus: "[A] lot of tedious Swedes cutting each other to pieces." One distinguished comic writer steering me away from the Stieg Larsson section in the bookshop, or from the cinema showing a Girl movie, would have been quite enough: I'm easily swayed. But two? The damage was done.

There is undoubtedly a contrarian thrill to finding oneself out of step with a popular craze; the rise of Dan Brown has done easily as much good for half the world's feelings of superiority as it has done harm to the remaining half's vocabulary. And in a world that makes increasingly unrealistic demands on our time, there is something empowering about resisting those entertainments of which simply everyone is partaking. (I hadn't read a word of J K Rowling or seen more than one of the Harry Potter films before I was called upon to review the fifth movie for the NS. In preparation, I received a crash course from my children, but what I saw only confirmed that I had not been missing much. It's government-regulated fantasy really, isn't it? Fantasy with the corners sanded down, the fantastic sucked out.)

On-demand viewing has made that level of assertion easier; the dominance of the boxed-set is also proof that we all like to regulate our interests and obsessions, gorging on an entire season in a day or two if we so desire.

The problem Momentum is trying to address with the free Girl giveaway is to stem the fatigue that must inevitably set in among audiences when the three parts of a trilogy are released in such a short space of time (the first Girl opened here in August). At least the Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and James Bond films typically have a year or two between each outing. But I wonder if the Girl brand isn't irrevocably tainted among the uninitiated. I doubt I'll be setting aside five hours on a Sunday to submit to a marketing campaign.

That said, I love the idea of the double-bill making a return in the form of a primer. Multiplexes might show a brace of past Palme d'Or winners to whet our appetites for the upcoming Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. Or a couple of movies set in hotels to get us in the mood for Sofia Coppola's Somewhere, which takes place largely in the Chateau Marmont.

The double-bill is a luxury in which too few cinemas indulge these days. I'm a sucker for them. But when it comes to Momentum's generous offer, I may just be washing my motorcycle leathers that day.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

Photo: Tashphotography / Stockimo / Alamy
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The Negroni fools no one – it’s easy to make and contains nothing but booze

It is the colour of danger, a red rag to anyone jaded by cocktail-world bull.

The cocktail is designed to lie about its origins; no wonder it reached its apogee during Prohibition, which forced everyone with an unrepentant thirst to lie about their cravings. Even today, when only extreme youth, religious belief or personal inclination prevents a person from draining the bar dry, the cocktail continues its career of dishonesty. It hides ingredients or methods. It provides a front for poor-quality booze. And it often dissolves, within its inscrutable depths, mountains of sugar, enabling drinkers to pose as sophisticates while downing something that tastes like a soft drink – to get drunk without leaving the playpen.

This is why I love the Negroni, which fools no one. It is easy to make and contains nothing but pure booze. Despite being a third sweet vermouth, it isn’t saccharine: the other two thirds, equal measures of gin and Campari, may have something to do with this. And it is the colour of danger, a red rag to anyone jaded by cocktail-world bull.

They say it was invented in Florence at the request of a Count Negroni, who wanted a drink unsullied by club soda – a drink stiff enough to get a man back on a bucking horse, perhaps, since this Count may have been a rodeo rider. I prefer to believe that the Count, if Count he was, came in, tossed down enough strong liquor to start telling stories about his American adventures, and, when he finally staggered out into the night, the exasperated bartender poured three straight shots into a single glass and baptised this wondrous reviver in grateful homage to the fabulist who had inspired it.

In a former glue factory a very long way from Florence or America, the East London Liquor Company now makes very good gin – Batches One and Two, the former tannic with Darjeeling as well as cassia bark, pink grapefruit peel, and coriander seeds; the latter redolent of savoury, bay, thyme and lavender. Transforming these plants into excellent alcohol seems an improvement on boiling down horses for adhesive, and the company also makes superb Negronis from Batch Two.

We sit outside, in a carpark made marginally more glamorous by border boxes of Batch Two botanicals, and marvel at the transformation of this grimy part of East London, next door to a park intended to give Victorian working men brief respite from lives all too lacking in myth or fantasy. It is a reincarnation at least as miraculous as the transformation of three strong and entirely unalike spirits into the delectable harmony of the Negroni. The sun shines; a fountain plashes. Nuts and charcuterie arrive. All is right with the world.

I leave my herbaceous bower and dangerously pleasing drink for a peek at the large copper distillery behind the bar, walking in past the fountain, a whimsical stone construction that pours vermilion liquid into two, tiered basins topped by a chubby putto clutching a rather reluctant fish.

And then I stop. And double back. Vermilion liquid? It is, indeed, a Negroni fountain. There are even slices of orange floating in the basin. I dip a finger: the taste is slightly metallic but still undeniably that potent mixture of booze, botanicals, bitterness, and just a hint of sweetness. A streak of citrus from the orange slices. It turns out that the world’s most straightforward cocktail lends itself to a decadent neo-Renaissance fantasy. There’s a message here, one forthright as a temperance tract: without imagination, we would have no lies – but no Negronis, either.

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder