In the Critics this Week

T C Boyle on nature, Queen Elizabeth's face and the sins of the Empire.

In the critics' section of this week's New Statesman, Tim Adams considers Queen Elizabeth's many portraits and observes that although she possesses "perhaps the most frequently depicted features in all history, she remains faceless". Of those who have taken her photograph or painted her portrait, "[Lucian Freud] made her wear the most exposing crown... made her look almost masculine in her dourness, and the crown seems to sit anachronistically on her clayey flesh," Adams writes.

Historian Amanda Foreman reviews Running the Show: Governors of the British Empire by Stephanie Williams. It is Williams's misfortune, Foreman writes, to have written a paean to the Empire just as evidence has emerged of British abuse in Kenya, where "prisoners were routinely starved and tortured to death, but the colonial authorities knew about the abuse and even tried to cover it up". Foreman criticises Williams's "incompatibilities of tone and subject matter," arguing that "some crimes are just too great to sandwich between letters about high tea and elephant hunting". The Books Interview this week is with T C Boyle, who reflects on the presence of nature in his fiction and his indifference to modern technology. "To take a walk down the beach with your headphones in is missing the point," he suggests.

An "oppressively grisly movie... of unvarying sadism," Ryan Gilbey remarks of I Saw the Devil, directed by the Korean Kim Jee-woon, while Rachel Cooke takes on The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, an ITV period murder mystery based on Kate Summerscale's book of the same name and declares the drama "painfully stretched and slight". NS Culture editor Jonathan Derbyshire reviews The Art of the Enlightenment exhibition at the National Museum of China in Beijing, which opened just as the Chinese authorities were demonstrating the limits of their embrace of Enlightenment values with the arrest of the artist Ai Weiwei. Finally, our radio critic Antonia Quirke finds The Organist Entertains on BBC Radio 2 "as pleasantly depressing as a Cath Kidson apron".

GETTY
Show Hide image

Hillary and the Viking: dramatising life with the Clintons

August radio should be like a corkboard, with a few gems pinned here and there. Heck, Don’t Vote for Him is one.

Now is the season of repeats and stand-in presenters. Nobody minds. August radio ought to be like a corkboard – things seemingly long pinned and faded (an Angela Lansbury doc on Radio 2; an adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s The Professor on Radio 4 Extra) and then the occasional bright fragment. Like Martha Argerich playing Liszt’s Piano Concerto No 1 at the Albert Hall (Prom 43, 17 August).

But on Radio 4, two new things really stand out. An edition of In the Criminologist’s Chair (16 August, 4pm) in which the former bank robber (and diagnosed psychopath) Noel “Razor” Smith recalls, among other memorable moments, sitting inside a getaway car watching one of his fellows “kissing his bullets” before loading. And three new dramas imagining key episodes in the Clintons’ personal and political lives.

In the first (Heck, Don’t Vote for Him, 6 August, 2.30pm), Hillary battles with all the “long-rumoured allegations of marital infidelity” during the 1992 Democratic primaries. Fenella Woolgar’s (brilliant, unburlesqued) Hillary sounds like a woman very often wearing a fantastically unhappy grin, watching her own political ambitions slip through her fingers. “I deserve something,” she appeals to her husband, insisting on the position of attorney general should he make it to the top – but “the Viking” (his nickname at college, due to his great head of hair) is off, gladhanding the room. You can hear Woolgar’s silent flinch, and picture Hillary’s face as it has been these past, disquieting months, very clearly.

I once saw Bill Clinton speak at a community college in New Jersey during the 2008 Obama campaign. Although disposed not to like him, I found his wattage, without question, staggering. Sweeping through the doors of the canteen, he amusedly removed the microphone from the hands of the MC (a local baseball star), switched it off, and projected for 25 fluent minutes (no notes). Before leaving he turned and considered the smallest member of the audience – a cross-legged child clutching a picture book of presidents. In one gesture, Clinton flipped it out of the boy’s hands, signed the cover – a picture of Lincoln – and was gone.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue