It’s often forgotten in the whirlwind of grilled hot dogs and sparklers but Labor Day was originally meant to celebrate well…labor and the hard working folks who perform it. So this year along with the mandatory barbecue and fireworks show, consider brushing up on the history of the workers movement with one of the following films. (And remember to tip your server!)
The Grapes of Wrath (1940) Directed by John Ford and based on John Steinbeck’s masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath recounts the story of the Joad family. After losing their farm in Oklahoma during the Great Depression, the Joads make an arduous journey across the west to California where they become migrant workers-and find their troubles have just begun. Starring Henry Fonda and John Carradine, it was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won two including Best Supporting Actress for Jane Darwell as Ma Joad and Best Director for Ford. It’s also widely considered one of the best movies ever made.
How Green Was My Valley (1941) Based on the Richard Llewellyn novel of the same name, this is the epic chronicle of the Morgan family. The Morgans are a hard scrabble close knit clan living in South Wales where the family members work in the coalfields. Over time disputes between the mine’s owners and workers as well as environmental despoliation from the coalfields tear apart the family and destroy the once idyllic village in which they’ve lived. It was nominated for ten Academy Awards and won five including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Supporting Actor.
Norma Rae (1979) Based on the true story of Crystal Lee Sutton, Norma Rae tells how its title character (played by the indomitable Sally Field) becomes a union organizer at the local textiles firm after her health and that of her co-workers is compromised. It was nominated for four Academy Awards and won two including Best Original Song and Best Actress; prompting Field’s immortal “You like me! You really like me!” acceptance speech for her second Oscar win for Places in the Heart. That quote was, in fact, a reference to dialogue in Norma Rae.
Silkwood (1983) Written by Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen, directed by Mike Nichols (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The Graduate) and starring Meryl Streep, Cher, and Kurt Russell, inspired by the life of Karen Silkwood. Silkwood was a nuclear whistleblower and union activist who died under extremely suspicious circumstances at the same time she was investigating alleged criminal behavior the plutonium plant where she worked. Silkwood was nominated for five Academy awards including Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay
Made in Dagenham (2010) Directed by Nigel Cole (Calendar Girls, Saving Grace) Made in Dagenham tells the true story of the Ford Sewing Machinists strike in 1968. The strike was prompted by sexual discrimination against its female employees who demanded equal pay. Starring Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins, Miranda Richardson, and Rosamund Pike it was nominated for four BAFTA awards including best supporting actress for Richardson and Outstanding British Film.
Top photo: Bigstock
This is Hell. We’re being punished for our sins!
Of all of Dame Agatha Christie’s huge body of work, And Then There Were None (title changed from the politically incorrect 10 Little Indians) was both the best selling and by far the most horrific. It was in many ways the precursor to modern ‘slasher’ tales only with its trademark English country cottage feel and Christie’s superb psychological insight. Other Christie novels had detectives who came into save the day; And Then There Were None not only had no detectives, but also no ‘heroes’ in any sense at all. The ten guests and staff members are all murderers beyond the reach of the law, but not beyond that of an unknown fiend who begins picking them off.
It’s actually a terrific set-up for the screen, but all the past English language adaptions of the work, including stage adaptions, have sought to ‘soften’ the brutality and terror of the finale by creating survivors and/or suggesting that certain protagonists were actually innocent after all. Thankfully, the latest 2015 BBC three-hour mini series decided to hell with such attempts at cheering up the piece and gives us the most lurid, bloodiest, fatalistic, and horrific telling of the story yet. In fact it arguably goes further than Christie’s original text making some of the past killings more graphic (though this is also about making more dramatic flashbacks as well) and adding more drugs and sex. Some might criticize BBC for taking such creative license with the text but really, Christie would probably have done so in the original herself if the times would have permitted it.
To that end some of Great Britain’s biggest stars have been recruited for the show. Burn Gorman (Pacific Rim, The Dark Knight Rises) as Detective Sergeant William Blore whose past lethal act of police brutality seems all too topical. Charles Dance (Game of Thrones, Woman in Gold) as Justice Wargrave the Hanging Judge. Miranda Richardson (Sleepy Hollow, The Hours) as the cruel religious zealot Emily Brent. Toby Stephens (Black Sails, Die Another Die) as the pitiful drunk Dr. Armstrong. Sam Neill (Jurassic Park, The Hunt for Red October) as the world weary, shell-shocked General MacArthur. Douglas Booth (Noah, Jupiter Ascending) as callous playboy and reckless driver Anthony Marston. Anna Maxwell Martin (Philomena, Becoming Jane) as guilt ridden housekeeper Mrs. Rogers and Noah Taylor (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Edge of Tomorrow) as her abusive husband. Each one is perfectly cast.
But the main focus is on Vera Claythorne (relative Australian newcomer Maeve Dermody) and Phillip Lombard (Aidan Turner of Poldark). Vera is a moody dour presence; ostensibly the sort of bright, resourceful independent young woman who would generally be the heroine of a Christie novel but here’s she’s slowly revealed to be capable of profound evil. Lombard is an utterly amoral mercenary who’s killed 21, but he’s also refreshingly honest. He’s the only person on the island to freely own up to his sins. The two of them have a white hot chemistry together that’s just as much about their mutual dark sides and capacity for violence as it is about the fact that they’re both stunningly attractive people. Its undoubted one of the most twisted ‘romance’ stories on screen.
What the latest BBC adaption truly understands about the story (set in 1939 as Britain is just on the brink of war) is how the traditional “English’ trappings of the piece serve to underline the horror of the tale rather than diminish it. Everyone on the island is (initially) dedicated to playing along to the roles of their assigned stations – guests cannot behave as servants and vice versa – and behaving as if it’s a perfectly ordinary house party even when the killing starts. But as the body count climbs everyone’s manners and even basic civility drop away. Stripped of their pretensions to gentility we see the moral depravity of these ‘respectable’ people and with it an indictment of the hypocrisy of ‘polite society’ altogether.
And Then There Were None can be seen on Amazon Prime.