Diary - Francine Stock

I interview Denzel Washington and he defends his latest film - graphic violence juxtaposed with reli

Time was I used to spend my evenings in studios talking to politicians, striving to get my (and their) facts right. These days, much of my time is spent making things up (novels) and grilling the likes of Denzel Washington for The Film Programme on Radio 4. Abdication of social responsibility? Quite probably.

Yet the two aren't entirely distinct. Even so-called "political" directors would make no great claims that films influence politics. What they can do is give an oblique and often illuminating view of what's going on in the world outside. Occasionally this proves prescient. In the 1998 film The Siege, the scriptwriter Lawrence Wright depicted an Islamist terrorist attack on New York, staged for maximum media coverage. Denzel Washington played the head of an FBI anti-terrorism task force and got to deliver the line: "If we torture this man, we've already lost." Now, in 2004, I sit opposite Denzel Washington. His new film, Man on Fire, directed by Tony (Top Gun) Scott, is released in cinemas next month. Washington plays a bodyguard assigned to protect the child of wealthy parents in Mexico City. He crusades through the city, torturing and murdering anyone he believes had intent to harm the child. But before he embarks on his killing mission, he reads the Bible, taking strength from what he finds there.

The violence is sustained and graphic; the juxtaposition with religion truly chilling. Washington's robust defence of the film in our conversation startles me further. Between 1998 and 2004, a great deal has changed. Revenge is back in the movies, and this time Hollywood thinks it's just fine, even holy, to be angry.

Last weekend we helped a relative with a property on show in the Open House scheme in London. It's an early Georgian farmhouse in the centre of an urban one-way system. We Blu-Tacked information sheets on to the panelled walls, although many visitors were better informed than I was as to the age and architectural details of the building.

After a few hours, our imagination took spark from the enthusiasm of the visitors. The house was once a girls' school, with just 17 pupils. A vast walk-in cupboard became a Huguenot priest hole. Quite why a Huguenot priest should need to hide in Wandsworth was not clear, but I heard giggles going down the street.

Open House is the metropolitan right to roam. I've sat in this house before on an Open weekend, and both times found that most visitors were intrigued and intriguing - although two years ago, there was a man who took out a screwdriver and tried to take up the floorboards to get at the "presence" beneath. He took some talking down.

The Guardian reports that my recycled plastic bottles are being exported to China, and that tons of carbon fuel are used to transport them to factories where they can be processed more cheaply than here. It's mad, of course, but I can't repress the feeling that it's a triumph plastic is recycled at all. Some ingenious fabric or fibre will surely emerge. For I believe in recycling - even if it is still a faith rather than a demonstrable good. My conviction is a remnant of a Seventies childhood, some favourable early impression of Gaia that replaced religion overnight. I feel purged by offloading 21st-century consumption into metal hoppers. The compost heap in our garden is huge and my twice-daily journeys there are sacramental. As a priestess, though, I'm a slattern: I do not turn my compost heap sufficiently, or even at all. Weakling potato plants sprout at the summit. A forest of unidentified trees with pointed glossy leaves now fringes the perimeter. I fear this may be an avocado grove. Evidence of 21st-century consumption grows stoutly outside the window and mocks me.

I also yearn for an electric car. Thirteen years ago, my husband even installed a special electricity point in the yard for this future that hasn't yet arrived. Progress is slow and jerky - unlike the car. I drove one once: it was surprisingly peppy, but its silence was sinister.

The previous week, it had come into sudden (but not fatal) contact with a pedestrian who had stepped off the kerb, not hearing its approach. If ever I had one, I would employ this capacity for stealth judiciously.

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