Monday, 28 October 2013


I went to see James Corden in his new film 'One Chance'. Cheeky Chappy plays Paul Potts, the goofball nobody from nowhere who won the first-ever series of 'Britain's Got Talent' in 2007, and gave a performance at the Royal Variety for Her Majesty the Queen. Against all odds do losers like Paul achieve greatness, is the message. The movie lacks the style of 'Billy Elliot', to which it has been compared. Nor does it do much for Julie Walters, usually perfectly-cast in everything, whose role as Potts's doting mother deserves more screen-time. With the big guns behind it - Weinstein, Cowell - it is no-expense-spared. The location work in Venice is sublime. It features shameless product-placement: Carphone Warehouse, Boots the Chemist. It has the requisite happy if so-what ending. For the real Paul Potts, despite having shifted five million copies of his three albums, the debut also called 'One Chance', has not metamorphosed into the Pavarotti-style opera singer he yearned to be. He's a good enough light tenor concert performer now and again. A recording artist, primarily, with  the requisite charisn'tma to be just that.

I made myself take the night to digest. I'm still a bit sad about it. You might think that a former hack would be immune to a little truth-bending. Granted, the disclaimer is clearly displayed before the film starts: that the feature is based on a true story. In which case, why call the guy Paul Potts?

The first thing that grated on me, a Welshwoman, was Corden's lack of Welshness. It was pathetic. The bugger lives in Port Talbort. His pronunciation of his town annoyed me too: we say TALbot, not TALLbot. The real Paul spent his childhood in Bristol before moving to Wales, and speaks in an accent best described as Bristolian Welsh.

Potts the Real has a degree in Humanities, and once worked as a Bristol City councillor. Corden's Potts was a bullied academic failure with no future beyond that of salesman in the local mobile phone shop and a brief stint in the steelworks. The distortions thereafter come fast and thick, not least the beam-me-up depiction of his wedding night, when Paul confesses to Julz (in real life Julie-Ann,  played by Alexandra Roach) that he has 'never done this before.' 'I've had thousands,' his bride deadpans. The real Paul had his share of girlfriends too. To portray him as a fat, fumbling virgin, on top of his other loserliness, was a stretch too far.

The moral of the Paul Potts story is this, isn't it: that without the magic wand of Simon Cowell, Potts might still be toiling in the phone shop or shovelling slag. Like Susan Boyle, he dreamed a dream. He made it over the rainbow: one of the few I-want-this-sooo-muchers who did. What happens to the losers beyond the money-spinning tours? Who cares. Cowell can't do. He is reborn as the Wizard of Oz, reinforcing his own self-madeness. Dishing out brains and hearts, and courage, and teeth. Winging Dorothy Gale back to Kansas. Making Emperor's New Clothes.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013


Better to snuggle beneath a duvet plumped with comfortable lies than to shiver through naked honesty? It's a question I 've often asked myself during the eight years since my divorce. Had I known the truth, would I have turned a blind eye and have gone with the flow, as wives tend to, terrified by the thought of disintegration and withdrawal of all I held dear ? I sometimes wish that I'd had the choice. I didn't.

Is ihonesty still relevant, or has truth had its day? Just because it mattered to the ancient Romans, who worshipped goddess Veritas as the mother of virtue; to Confucius, who declared it to be the foundation of love, fairness and communication; and to the children of Israel, for whom the Ninth Commandment given at Mount Sinai taught against bearing false witness, should it matter to us? Everyone seems to lie these days. We all seem to be getting away with it. We 'know' that truthfulness is the foundation of positive human relationships and personal integrity, but with such abandon do we cast it aside in the name of 'love' and the pursuit of our 'truest' desires.

It's not something I dwell on, truth be told. But last night. I was at the Almeida Theatre Islington, for Sir Richard Eyre's provocative revival of Henrik Ibsen's 'Ghosts.' Bear in mind that Ibsen penned the play in 1881, ripping into the hypocritical morals of of Victorian society with such rage that he was vilified for it. Denounced as a 'cesspit of a play', it was also called 'sordid', 'shocking' and 'blasphemous', at a time when promiscuity and sexually-transmitted diseases were never acknowledged in polite circles.

The wealthy Widow Alving reveals to her Pastor the long-hidden, shameful secrets of her late husband's infidelity. Having denied herself the privilege of motherhood by banishing her young son to protect him from his father's debauched lifestyle, she is overjoyed and empowered by the boy's return. But the great Dane contrived a hell of an ending for Ozzie. He has the young man fall in love with Helen's housemaid, Regina – who turns out to be the bastard of the late Captain Alving himself. Oswald is smitten by his own half-sister. The union can never be. The sins of the father appear visited upon the child. He succumbs, in the end, to hereditary syphilis. Helen is faced with the unthinkable decision of whether to administer the morphine and euthanize her offspring out of his misery. We never know which way this goes. Such torture.

Helen is portrayed by the phenomenal Lesley Manville (of Mike Leigh's 'Secrets & Lies', 'Another Year' and 'All or Nothing') as a brave but hopeless dame. It is revealed that she had acted on the stern advice of the Pastor, a man she once loved romantically. Duty, respectability, charity and philanthropy were prized above all in that patriarchal age. The hideous Victorian Compromise had much to answer for. But what choice, for females of her ilk? Helen condemned herself to keeping up dishonest appearances and concealed hideous truth. Her morality is corroded. How she regrets the unfortunate business now.