Thursday, 22 February 2018


Welcome to Stuart Fernie’s Blog

Please scroll down or find on the right links to articles, pages of reflections on films, books, TV series (including "Babette's Feast", "War for the Planet of the Apes", "Dunkirk", “Dances With Wolves”, “Inherit The Wind” and “The Prisoner”), and occasional pieces of flash fiction. These are additions to similar pages which may be found at .

link to my YouTube channel with video presentations of a number of my pages.

Having retired from teaching fairly recently, I thought I’d write my memoirs, “What have I done?”, and present them online. Please find links to the various chapters on the right, though chunks of the text (but perhaps not all) may also appear below. If you suffer from insomnia, this may help!

Click on the arrows to access links to 2016 and then December.

I can be contacted through the comments sections or at

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Reflections on "Babette's Feast"

Reflections on “Babette’s Feast” (1987)
Written and directed by Gabriel Axel from the short story by Karen Blixen
Starring Stéphane Audran, Brigitte Federspiel and Bodil Kjer

This is the story of two elderly Danish spinster sisters (Martine and Filippa) who devote themselves to the principles of a religious sect founded by their father in Jutland, and their housekeeper Babette, a refugee from revolutionary Paris, who insists on providing and preparing a high-quality French dinner for friends of her benefactors when she wins 10,000 francs in the French lottery.

The film quickly establishes the pious superiority of the spiritual over the physical in terms of the sisters’ rejection of relationships and pursuit of ambition (and development of talent) to focus instead on good and charitable works within the confines of their small religious community which embody the teachings of their beloved (though long since deceased) father.

Perhaps because of the absence of their righteous, idealistic and domineering spiritual leader, cracks are beginning to show in the spiritual love his “disciples” display to one another as past deeds and wrongs are recalled and old feelings of resentment and anger are evoked. It seems that focus on the spiritual alone can lead to obsessive and mean-spirited behaviour when there is no balance based on experience and compassion.

Babette’s feast, with its emphasis on food, drink, taste, smell and sensory pleasure surely represents the physical side of life and suggests we should indulge our senses and appreciate what sensory delights life has to offer.

After the feast the villagers are far more content, understanding and tolerant, despite misgivings and a determination to remain true to their principles by refusing to recognise or discuss what they experience during the meal. This suggests that a person is complete only when he/she recognises and accepts both aspects of his/her existence – the spiritual and the physical. In this way he/she will know fulfilment rather than simply deny half his/her nature.

We may require the “soul” (or that which is spiritual) to exercise control and reflect upon our actions, but indulging the senses and gaining physical experience lends knowledge and perspective to the spiritual, and encourages understanding and compassion. It is, after all, easy to adopt a haughty moral or spiritual stance if you have never acceded to the possibility of physical temptation – such a stance requires no strength if temptation is not even recognised or if it is avoided. Nature and all its gifts should be appreciated and, combined with reflection and consideration, is a source of socialisation, tolerance and kindness.

The sisters (and indeed all of their father’s congregation) seem to be driven by a desire to evolve spiritually, but with the physical playing a minimal role in that evolution. Yet their lives are enriched by contact with the world outside their small Jutland village, especially by those who visit their community. Lorens, Achille and of course Babette all add something to their lives – Babette’s everyday preparation of food for the poor and infirm is much appreciated by her clients and indeed they are sorely disappointed and upset when Babette takes her leave for a few days and their food is once again prepared by the charitable but less talented sisters. Despite their insistence on the superiority (and perhaps even the sufficiency) of the spiritual, their rather restricted lives are clearly enhanced by encounters of a more physical nature.

That said, after the French dinner, as Lorens is saying his farewells to Martine, he makes it clear that true love does not require a physical aspect to blossom and endure.
Toward the end, as Babette has used her entire lottery win of 10,000 francs to fund her French dinner, it is pointed out to her that she will remain poor for the rest of her life, to which she replies “An artist is never poor.” Presumably, this is to suggest an artist is spiritually rich in talent and skills, talent and skills which lead to fulfilment and a sense of completeness, especially when shared with others. Babette appears to have sacrificed her future for her fellow villagers, but in so doing she has also gained spiritual joy and satisfaction for herself in exercising her artistry with food which, in turn, brings to the fore humanity and a sense of spiritual well-being in others.

Of course, there is also the existential link connecting the main characters – each has an influence on others, though each acts of his/her own volition.

Martine and Filippa devote their lives to caring for the weak and the poor, and to maintaining the principles established by their pastor father. They deny themselves opportunities to cultivate life-paths or careers that might conflict with these principles, though they appreciate and savour their “foreign” encounters with Lorens and Achille in particular. In a sense, these encounters only strengthen their resolve and affirm their faith, but they are nonetheless touched and affected by these meetings and potential life choices.

Achille knew considerable success but this has now faded, and with it his celebrity and position. His greatest achievement, however, may have been to direct Babette toward the sisters’ home (due in no small part to the affection and admiration he developed for Filippa as he shared his talent and skills with her) at a time when Babette’s world crumbled around her. This act of thoughtfulness and consideration undoubtedly saved Babette’s life and positively influenced the lives of all those in the Jutland village. It also provides further illustration of the principle that an artist is never poor when he/she shares his/her talent, and this leads to a spreading of humanity and compassion while allowing the initiator to feel a certain fulfilment and satisfaction.

Lorens becomes a celebrated and influential General largely due to the apparent impossibility of a relationship with Martine, though in the end he appears to value his enduring love and devotion for her above his career and all he has achieved.

At one point in the film it is stated “We take with us only what we give away”, suggesting perhaps that what we do for others is all that matters, and this is borne out by the actions and attitudes of the main characters.

Much has been made of religious connotations in the work – Christian forgiveness at a last supper attended by 12 disciples etc, but I would suggest that the film’s principal strength is in its fundamental message to embrace the duality of our natures in order to achieve fulfilment, while bearing in mind the existential influence we may exercise on others in our dealings with them.

My thanks for taking the time to read this page. I hope you found it of some value.

Stuart Fernie

I can be contacted at .

Friday, 9 February 2018

Reflections on "War for the Planet of the Apes"

Reflections on “War for the Planet of the Apes”

Directed by Matt Reeves

Written by Mark Bomback and Matt Reeves

Starring Andy Serkis and Woody Harrelson

Criticism of human character and nature is maintained and even sharpened right from the opening scenes of “War for the Planet of the Apes”. Humans initiate and escalate aggression and violence in a furtive attack on an Ape encampment, the purpose of which, it transpires, is to divert the apes’ attention while their Colonel infiltrates Caesar’s home and kills Caesar’s wife and son. This happens shortly after Caesar has released some human soldier prisoners as a gesture of good will and has offered peace on condition the apes are left in peace in the Redwoods.

The Colonel’s unprincipled act virtually amounts to treachery in the face of Caesar’s act of mercy and his reasonable stance in offering terms. This is compounded by the fact he appears to neither know nor care about who he has just murdered, but simply assumes he has killed Caesar.

On top of this, turncoat apes are used by human military forces as informers and trackers but are treated with condescension and contempt while Caesar spares the lives of captured soldiers, showing mercy and respect for life – all life.

There are few shades of grey or signs of inner conflict such as we witnessed in “Dawn”. Lines and characters are clearly drawn from the outset of the film and a final conflict seems inevitable from the beginning. The principal antagonist is not even named – he is known simply by his rank, symbolising authority, position and attitude.

Having lost his family in such an underhand and brutal attack, Caesar finds, despite his previous (but untried) insistence on forgiveness and “letting go” of the past, especially in his dealings with Koba, he cannot contain his hatred and his desire for revenge. He, accompanied by a select few supporters, sets off on a mission to seek out and destroy his enemy, the Colonel, as his fellow apes decamp and seek another home.

Along the way there are numerous references to the original Apes film (including horse rides along the coastline, crucifixion scarecrows, the gift of a human doll and the name “Nova” given to the little mute girl they pick up on their travels), as well as an explanation for the spreading mutism and simple-mindedness among humans, an element essential to the original film.

Many themes are touched upon or revisited in the course of the film, using apes to represent any race or minority group under threat from those willing to ignore or neglect others in an attempt to establish their authority and ensure their own survival. These themes include animal rights, mankind’s fundamental untrustworthiness and willingness to sacrifice others (belonging to other races, but also his own) to ensure his own survival, racism and slavery, and the need for compassion and forgiveness in the face of hatred and the desire for revenge.

However, the outstanding theme is that of anti-fascism.

The Colonel’s installation is set out rather like a Nazi concentration camp and incorporates forced labour, crowded internment facilities or cages and sustenance inhumanely withheld until completion of the task set. Columns of soldiers cry out praise for their Hitler-like leader who arrogantly presents himself for their acclaim on a balcony high above them. The Colonel is even aiming for the purification of his race by getting rid of the weak and infirm, and is willing to use other races to this end before eliminating them as well.

The message regarding dictatorship and how easily mankind turns to a leader who offers solutions in times of crisis (regarded by some as extreme), is clear.

Caesar, in contrast, acts in the best interests of all his race and is even willing to put his life on the line to defend his people and insist upon their rights to fair treatment. It should be noted his fellow apes are willing to endure harsh treatment in order to save his life. Their mutual respect and admiration is in direct contrast to the dictatorship endured by the humans.

Subtlety may have been lost, however, when Caesar refers to the Colonel’s pointless building of a “wall” (as opposed to “defences”) to protect against the influx of enemy soldiers.

Once again, there is sterling work in terms of writing, direction and performance. This is the darkest of the three films but this is perhaps inevitable and logical given the development of the overarching storyline and the increasingly pessimistic tone, though this was lightened by occasional humour, especially from the vaguely Dobby-like Bad Ape.

I have to say I was totally engaged and didn’t notice time go by, and there are few higher recommendations for a film.

This would appear to be the final volume of a trilogy, but I would suggest there is ample scope for a further trilogy. These three films have set the scene and laid the historical groundwork for a further series of adventures which would see the return, thousands of years later, of the astronauts who set off into space during “Rise”. They would return to a planet inhabited by intelligent and talking apes alongside silent and weak-minded humans.

The astronauts might eventually make their way along the coastline and encounter archaeological digs in a forbidden zone which covers the site of the Colonel’s military installation, handily buried, along with the vast majority of the nation’s fighting forces, in a deluge of snow and nature …..

They may even discover that Caesar’s exploits and principles have been enshrined in sacred scrolls handed down through the generations, scrolls which form the basis, and establish the fundamental values, of Ape culture.

I look forward to seeing such a second trilogy …..

My thanks for taking the time to read this page. I hope you found it of some value.

Stuart Fernie (with links to my page on the original “Planet of the Apes” and a page about “Rise” and “Dawn”)

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Reflections on the use of humour in drama

Reflections on the use of humour in drama

As a general rule, people don’t like to be laughed at (unless, of course, they set out to produce that effect). Humour degrades its target and may threaten the position of that target as the perpetrator of humour points out weaknesses and insecurities in character or may reveal underlying purposes, objectives or ruses behind the manner and style of others.

A humourist may adopt a certain position of (moral) superiority as he/she reveals truths and takes up a stance that offers perspective and overview, and certainly does not bow to automatic or expected respect.

A humourist will frequently display an irreverent attitude which may shock, but which serves a purpose beyond immediate amusement and gratification. It may equally offer dissent or challenge to a commonly held view or an established position or argument, but it may be more effective than straight counterargument as humour engages emotion and personal interest far more readily than does mere intellectual jousting.

In terms of drama and entertainment, for most people light comedy appeals more than heavy drama, though a subtle mixing of the two may produce rewarding results. Comic relief has long been recognised as an essential element in the success of serious works, offering some degree of escape from what might otherwise be judged an overly intense experience, while drama and conflict lend weight and value to what might be considered a pleasant but ultimately vacuous experience.

I would say the key elements in successful comedy/drama are balance and complicity.

Going back to the 17th century, Molière’s comedies reveal many of the social ills of his time but also address several universal social themes such as status, love, parenthood and faith, to name but a few, but he was always careful to maintain a balance between gently mocking comedy and touching emotion bordering on tragedy. He knew the key was to have his audience care for his characters despite their flaws and so while encouraging laughter at his characters’ misjudgements, he fosters emotion and sympathy as the audience sees the potentially tragic results of these misjudgements. To this day, most comedies of note follow a vaguely similar pattern as they promote an underlying threat of (self) destruction with regard to their main characters in order to ensure a degree of emotional engagement on the part of the audience.

Complicity of the audience through previous knowledge and awareness (which, crucially, may not be shared with characters in the production being viewed) will also foster engagement and a sense of “participation” in a production. Just about the ultimate example of this is “Groundhog Day” in which weathercaster Phil Connors (Bill Murray) relives the same (Groundhog) day seemingly endlessly, but only Phil and the audience are privy to the joke.

Much can be achieved through the medium of humour (or the inclusion of humorous elements) that might otherwise be less successful or engaging.

At its core, the above-mentioned “Groundhog Day” is a fable about personal development and evolution through (eventual) consideration of and selfless service to others. Such a naive, simplistic and potentially patronising message had to be handled deftly and with care, and Harold Ramis along with Bill Murray carry it off wonderfully with a series of strangely comical positive-yet-cynical vignettes. These trace Phil Connors’ transformation from self-centred careerist through depressive fatalist and selfish hedonist (willing to use others for his own ends, but equally depending on them), until finally he achieves fulfilment through altruistic acts of kindness and help. The lightness of touch ensures we never dislike Phil (perhaps because he is the ultimate target of the humour of the film) as we share his responses to his outlandish situation, which the humorous tenor of the film allows us to accept and enjoy.

Similarly, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” would undoubtedly have been considerably less appealing and successful in terms of engagement, sympathy and empathy if it had been presented as a harrowing battle of wills between a representative of social repression and one of personal freedom. Humour allowed for the humanisation and development of the numerous characters involved, and their struggles and conflicts became all the more touching and affecting because humour encouraged empathy and a sense of solidarity, ultimately emphasising and clarifying the division between the two factions and making the end (and the “message”) all the more effective and moving.

Even the genre of action/adventure films has been augmented and enhanced by the inclusion of humour.

The early Bond films injected a knowing self-awareness and even mockery which added an element of sophistication and entertainment which many have sought to emulate in other productions and which has influenced several of the most successful franchises in cinema history, including “Star Wars”, “Indiana Jones”, “Mission Impossible” and some Schwarzenegger productions. By incorporating elements of humour in their storylines, writers lighten the emotional load (in itself essential to maintain interest) on audiences and yet build emotional engagement with their characters and draw audiences into their work.

My thanks for taking the time to read this article. I hope you found it of some value.

Stuart Fernie

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Random thoughts and questions about life

Random thoughts, questions and observations - just for fun

I’d be happy to discuss any reactions or thoughts prompted by the questions and reflections below.

I can be contacted at

Which is the wiser course – to travel to see beauty or to appreciate beauty in what you see?

Where should man seek truth – without or within?

If God is the creator of man and is infinite, where did He get the idea of the finite?

Art is an attempt to encapsulate and share an observation or point of view with beauty and clarity.

An author reveals himself in his writing.

Opportunities should be equal, even if the capacity to take advantage of them is not.                                                                  

When confidence outweighs competence, the consequence can be crisis.

Mutual respect is a basis for harmony.

Everything is subjective.

Time is a man-made construct which does not exist in nature.

Philosophy is a fascinating subject which ultimately achieves nothing, however the method used to philosophise may help achieve something.

Treat a person reasonably, and you create a reasonable person. 

Everyone makes mistakes, but not everyone learns from them.

It’s not the length of experience that counts, it’s what you make of it. 

Nationality is an accident of birth.  

Fame means you are known, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are worth knowing.

Recognition of one’s ignorance is essential to the measurement of one’s knowledge.

Careerism is the enemy of professionalism.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Reflections on the nature and resolution of regret

Reflections on the nature and resolution of regret

Regret is a painful reminder of the past that may help guide you in the present.

Regret, guilt and anguish may ultimately be destructive. Regret can become an obsession that colours other (even all) aspects of your life and can prevent you from functioning “normally”. In extreme cases, it can lead to despair and depression, altering your view of life so it is difficult to keep things in proportion or maintain a balanced perspective. Feelings of responsibility and guilt may become overwhelming and prevent you from seeing positive aspects of your character and life.

Regret, however, is not all bad. It suggests intelligence and sensitivity. You may have done, said or felt something you regret, but the very fact you regret it suggests recognition of and a desire to embrace certain values and principles. Mistakes may have been made, but that does not make you worthless, nor does it invalidate positive actions and decisions you have taken in the past and may take in the future. If you feel bad, it is probably because you are good, and you need to recognise that.

To state the obvious, we cannot change the past. If we feel regret, the most we can aspire to is redemption in the form of our future actions. If we learn from our mistakes and channel our feelings of regret into a positive way forward, or learn to see that what we regret may be just one part of a bigger and brighter picture, or even recognise the positive influence our regret may already have had on our conduct, we may appease some of our guilt. Self-forgiveness may not be possible – perhaps we need pain and remorse to help us evolve and to prod us into acts of compassion and understanding, but it may be possible to live with our remorse if we recognise our failures (but also our successes) and set about doing our best in the future.

Stuart Fernie

A poetic comment from Daphne Buckingham:

A lovely offering of peace to the soul. Regret knows its place in the heart. We too often live in such ways that seek to avoid this necessary emotion; therefore we delay our own evolution. That we can feel regret is one of the characteristics that makes us uniquely human. Next, how we respond to it and how we calculate our future actions is key to the responsibility that regret calls up to us. When we take time to listen to the sad music of regret, we allow ourselves the possibility to transcend what is our most humble and ordinary existence. 

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Reflections on "Dunkirk" (2017)

Reflections on “Dunkirk” (2017)
Written and directed by Christopher Nolan,
starring Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy

Watching “Dunkirk” was something of a visceral experience. It felt like more of a participation than a viewing, and I think that was probably Christopher Nolan’s key intention and purpose when planning his film – he wanted his audience to share the experience he is presenting.

Nolan engages the senses of the audience. The movement of the camera and positioning of shots allow us to be involved in the action and to be impressed by sweeping vistas and the sheer scale of the task of evacuation of so many men. Yet he is equally adept at handling intense, confined scenes which allow us to share the immediate experiences of all concerned in the evacuation process. Scenes are built reflecting the fear, hope, safety, loss, destruction, devastation, insecurity, defeat and celebration (survival is the enemy’s failure) of the evacuees and those trying to ensure their evacuation.

I’m not sure I’ve ever heard better use of sound than in this film. It wasn’t just loud, it was sharp, intense, encompassing and heightened the sensations and reactions of the audience so they could virtually feel the sheer power and deadly force of each bullet.

The music (courtesy of Hans Zimmer) became part of the sound experience and enhanced not only the action and the drama, but the very sensations felt by the audience. At one point the steady increase of sound/music and its intensity reflected not just the physical approach of fighter planes and bombers, but an ever more concentrated sense of expectation and imminent danger.

While I understand Nolan’s desire and intentions in showing the same events from different perspectives, emphasising the existential nature of actions and their impact on others (often without realisation), their nonlinear presentation within the ongoing timeline caused some confusion.

Throwing us in at the deep end (having the audience join the action without preamble or explanation) means no meaningful background or exposé of situation or character, so we have no historical overview or perspective (we’re really no further forward in terms of our historical knowledge and understanding by the end of the film), and we have no real opportunity to build emotional ties to any of the characters (beyond sympathy and understanding for their immediate circumstances).

Indeed, this amounts to a certain emotional detachment for virtually all the characters in the film because although we share their awful experiences, there is no construct in the script to allow us to know or care about the characters beyond admiration for their determination and courage, and sympathy for their situation.

The one exception is the young lad on Mark Rylance’s boat who is hurt by the shipwrecked Cillian Murphy. This story within a story seems tagged on and requires greater development – as it is, it just rather tragically fizzles out. These are the only “artificial” scenes in which an emotional situation and response are created and imposed – all other scenes are “natural” and arise from the drama and genuine possibilities of real events which could have applied to any of the evacuees.

So, a worthwhile venture whose strengths in involvement in action and sharing experience bring about a few weaknesses in engagement of emotion and historical context.

My thanks for taking the time to read this page.

Stuart Fernie