A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
"A Merry War" is the insipid and enigmatic new title for a film released in England as "Keep the Aspidistra Flying." That also may not be an inspired title, but at least it is the title of the famous 1936 novel by George Orwell, and a pun on the communist slogan "Keep the Red Flag Flying." In Orwell's England, the aspidistra, a house plant almost impossible to kill through neglect, was a symbol of suburban living rooms. And his hero, Gordon Comstock, seems determined to find out how much neglect he can endure.
Comstock is a version of Orwell with many autobiographical parallels, I suspect, and as played by Richard E. Grant has the same long face, deep eyes, towering brow and morose demeanor. The film begins with Comstock quitting his job at an advertising agency in order to write poetry, only to find that poets, like everyone else, need money.
He gets a job in a ratty used-book store in the slums of Lambeth, only to be reminded by the dusty shelves and sparse business that his boss at the ad agency was probably right when he asked, "Isn't there enough poetry in the world already?" The final straw comes when Gordon finds his own slim volume of verse marked down to three pence.
In Gordon's life there is one sparkle of sunshine, and it is provided by Rosemary (Helena Bonham Carter), an artist at the agency, who rather improbably loves him and even believes in him. But Gordon has no money to take her out, no money for a clean shirt or laundry, no money for smokes or even for tea. The movie, and the novel, capture the desperation of the Depression, when people like Gordon, whose family had just barely slipped into the middle class, were in danger of slipping out again.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
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