New Zealand’s people’s Prime Minister is a real-life successor to ‘Borgen’s Birgitte Nyborg. Confident, charismatic and compassionate, Boris should take advice from her…
Right-wing populism has been on the rise ever since the 2015 European migrant crisis. Whenever there is a mass immigration movement, there is always an anti-immigration sentiment and countries across Europe and the Western world have been turning to right-wing populist leaders in search of a quick fix to the often racist questions of “why are people stealing our jobs?”.
It all started on June 23rd, 2016 when the UK voted to leave the European Union. This Euroscepticism has been around ever since the end of World War II, but was skyrocketed to the forefront of British politics thanks to the campaigns of UKIP and their toad-like leader Nigel Farage. In America, the population elected a madman - a racist, misogynistic creature named Donald Trump who wasn’t even a politician to begin with, but a billion-dollar businessman promising to “build a wall” between the USA and Mexico and “make America great again”.
Even Scandinavia, the most progressive and liberal sub-continent in the world, swung right. In the 2015 General Election, Denmark’s anti-immigration Danish People’s Party (DPP) became the country’s 2nd largest party. In 2018, Sweden’s Swedish Democrats - a party with fascist and white nationalist roots - won 62 seats and became the 3rd largest party. And, in Holland - another former hotspot of progressive liberalism - Geert Wilders’ anti-islamic Party of Freedom (PVV) only narrowly avoided becoming the largest party with 20 seats against Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) with 33 seats.
The good news is that the surge in right-wing populism is now on the decrease. The decline of this very extremist form of conservative politics was fast-forwarded by Donald Trump losing the 2020 US Presidential Election to Joe Biden. Thank goodness Donald is conceding now and on his way out albeit kicking and screaming!
Meanwhile, in the UK, UKIP currently has not one single seat in the House of Commons. I wonder how much of this is down to a general belief that the party had its moment in the sun in the run-up to Brexit and achieved its biggest goal, but now has little function given the deed is done and Britain is out of the E.U.
I’d also put down the decline in right-wing populism to an overall, shared desire for a strong state in the current Covid crisis. In a world with a 1.97 million death toll and Covid infection rates showing no sign of slowing down, people are in desperate desire for equality and unity and want a government that’s always ready to step in and lend a hand. This is a central idea of left-wing politics where the role of a big state is always promoted.
You’ll probably hate me for saying this, but I voted Tory at the last election. Not because I passionately support their policies, but because I always see them as a “safe pair of hands” and certainly much better fit for leading government than the crypto-communism preached by Jeremy Corbyn. It’s not that I wouldn’t love to vote Labour either. I certainly would have done so had I been old enough to vote during the Blair years. His promises of a Third Way between the Left and the Right always appealed to me and the fallout of the Brown-Blair deal and return to the more hardline left-wing practices of Labour’s early days has left the party limping on ever since.
What Labour really needs is a leader like New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern. Whereas the rest of the world has swung right in the late 2010s, New Zealand has always been a progressive, liberal capital. The country has had three female Governor Generals in Dame Catherine Tizard, Dame Silvia Cartwright and Dame Patsy Reddy. Current Prime Minister Ardern is also NZ’s third female Prime Minister after Jenny Shipley and Helen Clark. And, recently, Ardern appointed New Zealand Maori Nanaia Mahuta as the country’s first-ever indigenous female Foreign Minister.
The 2020 NZ General Election saw the election of “the most diverse parliament we have ever had in terms of gender and minority ethnic and indigenous representation”. Ardern’s Labour Party has 16 Maori MPs (an expanded group who have Pacific islands heritage), the first MP of African origin, Ibrahim Omar, and Sri Lankan origin MP Vanushi Walters.
10% of the MPs in the elected, 120-seat House of Representatives identify as LGBTQ+ including Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson who is the first openly gay man to hold the latter office. Simultaneously the Green Party won as much as 10 seats in parliament and the majority of them are women, indigenous politicians and LGBTQ+. The majority of MPs elected into parliament are also significantly younger than previously and many of them are millennials.
At the centre of it all is Jacinda Ardern who became the world’s youngest female head of Government at the age of 37 in 2017. She describes herself as a social democrat, a progressive, a republican and a feminist. But I, being a Film and TV buff, prefer to see her as a real-life successor to ‘Borgen’s Birgitte Nyborg.
In Adam Price’s excellent Danish political drama series, Sidse Babett-Knudsen starred as Nyborg - the centre-left leader of Denmark’s Moderate Party; hoping to pave a path between terms like “Socialism” and “Liberalism” that her political opponents wave around so insignificantly.
Like Birgitte, Ardern sits in the middle of the Left-Right spectrum - the so-called “Third Way” that catapulted Tony Blair to a landslide victory in the 1997 UK General Election. It’s interesting too that Jacinda once worked within Blair’s cabinet office.
Ardern certainly boasts progressive policies. She says “New Zealand is likely to become a republic in my lifetime” and campaigned on a promise of a referendum on weed legalisation. But she also advocates a lower rate of immigration with a suggestion of a drop of around 20,000-30,000 and describing it as an “infrastructure issue”. She claims “there hasn’t been enough planning about population growth, we haven’t necessarily targeted our skill shortages properly”. She does, however, want to increase the intake of refugees.
I’ve always sat more on the centre-right of the political spectrum; generally favouring a light regulation of the free market and lower taxes. However, anyone from any side of the political divide should support Jacinda Ardern’s intention to halve New Zealand child poverty within a decade. In July 2018, she announced the beginning of her government’s flagship families package. Among other provisions, the package gradually increased paid parental leave to 26 weeks and also paid $60-a-week to families of low and middle income with young children. In 2019, the government simultaneously began rolling out a school lunches programme with the aim of assisting in reducing child poverty numbers. It has also made other efforts to reduce poverty such as an increase in main welfare benefits, expanding free doctors’ visits, providing free menstrual hygiene products in schools and making additions to state housing stock.
The best world leaders, in my opinion, are always the ones that think with their hearts as much as their heads. Tony Blair did this to the controversy of many - I maintain the belief that he genuinely thought he was doing the right thing when invading Iraq. Ardern, meanwhile, became a symbol of compassion thanks to her loving response to the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings where 51 people were fatally shot and 49 injured in two mosques in Christchurch.
Ardern visited members of the Muslim community at the Philipstown Community Centre on March 16th, 2019. A photo of her wearing a headscarf - filmed through a glass window - was widely shared and described by The Guardian as an “image of hope”.
That’s not to say Jacinda doesn’t have a backbone to all her beauty and benevolence. Just look at the way she rebuffed a sexist question on the AM Show about her baby plans. She claimed AM Show host Mark Richardson was “totally unacceptable” when suggesting women should have to reveal their pregnancy plans to employers and called out the systematic prejudice exercised by employers deciding whether or not to hire women based on their plans to start a family.
And just look at the brilliant way Jacinda has handled the Covid crisis. Boris Johnson, take note - back in June, New Zealand eliminated Covid-19. This was a result of tremendous effort on Ardern’s part to control the spread of the virus. On March 14th, she announced the government would require anyone entering the country from midnight on the 15th to isolate for 14 days. She stated that the new rules mean New Zealand has “the widest ranging and toughest border restrictions of any country in the world”. She later, on March 19th, announced that New Zealand’s borders would be closed to non-citizens and non-permanent residents before declaring a nationwide lockdown on the 25th. You’ve got to be pretty tough to pull that off and Ardern did so in style!
She did all this and gave birth to a baby! On June 21st, 2018, Ardern became only the second elected head of government to give birth while in office - the first was Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto in 1988. And Jacinda was the first female head of government to attend the UN General Assembly with her infant present.
Ardern’s division between her roles and responsibilities as a mother and a politician is very ‘Borgen’. In that series, Birgitte Nyborg divided her time running Denmark with looking after her two young children and faced a barrage of sexism which Ardern is more than used to, especially when a creepy Australian journalist named Charles Wooley branded her “attractive” and questioned her and hubby Clarke Gayford on the conception of their child.
Most of all, though, she walks the fine, delicate line in the middle of Left and Right. Perhaps the meanings of “L” and “R” are becoming indistinguishable from one another as her compassionate, people’s based approach to politics has appealed to both sides of the political spectrum. She is a true people’s Prime Minister and the 21st century exponent of Blair’s Third Way.
With her in charge, I have hope for the future of politics in the 2020s. Boris Johnson should take note…
The Brits Are Coming!
Around the World in 365 Days
- The Big Ugly
- A Rainy Day in New York
- The Grudge
Top 10 Worst Films of 2020
10. Love Sarah
Purple lipstick-loving ‘Great British Bake-off’ winner Candice Brown has a cameo in this soggy-bottomed baking drama. Or, should I say, a bit part as she dies in the opening credits and her absence hangs miserably over the final film. This is one of those rom-coms that appears to have been baked in anti-Richard Curtis clorox and features a whitewashed, completely unrealistic, happy n’ smiley version of London. Celia Imerie is waxily disinterested as the estranged mother of Candice who, with her teenage daughter Clarissa (Shannon Tarbet), sets up a bakery in honour of Candice. 29 year old Shannon Tarbet (too old to be playing a teenager) seems lovely, but can’t act for s**t and the whole movie is just so joyless despite the tweeness of its premise.
7. Joan of Arc
I love a good historical drama, but Bruno Dumont’s latest take on the story of Joan of Arc is such a bore. It’s proof that it’s not just mainstream Hollywood films that are terrible - this is in French! The little girl who plays Joan of Arc here can’t act to save her life and there’s literally a 10 minute sequence I’m sure of her just standing at a pole with some dreary bardcore song playing in the background. One to put you to sleep.
This is a horrible, nasty little film. The title says it all - it’s basically an awful word used by alt-right internet morons to describe unmanly men. It’s the kind of word used by people who say “Femi-Nazi”. The plot sees Zachary Ray Sherman as a military-idolizing loner who gradually becomes more and more extremist when posting alt-right youtube videos. This desperately wants to be the new ‘Taxi Driver’ (1976) except Sherman isn’t as sexy nor as sympathetic as Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle. The central character has no redeeming qualities which makes him impossible to watch.
A contemporary update of ‘The Turn of the Screw’? What could go wrong? Answer - pretty much everything. MacKenzie Davis is the attractive young woman who is sent to nanny a little girl and her lech of a brother who spends his time perving on MacKenzie in her undies. The movie is not just not scary and relies too much on jump scares, but the ending is unforgivable. It’s like they forgot to even have one. Bad stuff.
Josephine Langford and Hero Fiennes Tiffin as Tessa and Hardin (YES! THAT’S HIS NAME!) have less chemistry than two Christmas trees humping for 2 hours. And yet I saw this in a screening packed with teenage girls who were really lapping it up. This is dreary, dirgey emo porn with pathetic songs and the least titilating sex scenes I’ve seen in 23 years. I guess sex sells, though…
Where to begin with Robert Zemickis’s ‘The Witches’? Other than it ruins a children’s classic and fails to cut to the darkness of the original source material which was genuinely creepy and involved children being turned into rats. The rat special-effects here are terrible and most of the blame for this film’s failure lies with Robert Zemeckis who has become too obsessed with computer-generated, motion capture technology for his own good. Someone needs to take his computer away from him. However I must give some special raspberry recognition to Anne Hathaway who is officially the worst witch ever…
2. The Gentlemen
Guy Ritchie’s ‘The Gentlemen’ is his nastiest film in an already pretty nasty career. I really wish he’d stop doing all this Mockney geezah crap. More specifically I wish he’d lay off the racist and misogynistic humour. The film’s only female character is threatened with rape and there’s literally a line where Colin Farrell tells a boxer why it’s ok that someone called him a “black c**t”. Oh dear…
1. The Ringmaster
To be honest, for most of the year, I didn’t think anything could top or bottom ‘The Gentlemen’, but, in the 11th month of the year, Denmark snuck in a late contender for the worst film of the year. The story of ‘The Ringmaster’ is that two blonde gas station attendants get kidnapped and subjected to a series of sexual tortures by a mysterious, titular “ringmaster” who looks like Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker. The sexual violence is offensive and disrespectful (there’s a bloody scene where one of the girls has to stick a pin in her friend’s boob) and it just isn’t scary. Just sexist and misogynistic.
It’s hard to believe that 2020 all started out so well. Certainly for the film industry when Bong Joon-Ho’s ‘Parasite’ (2020) scooped up the Best Picture Oscar. After decades of snobbery and celebrating mainstream prestige, the Academy finally opened their eyes to the beauty of foreign-language film-making.
‘Parasite’ was a remarkable film - I don’t think there’s been a better Best Picture winner in recent years. It could very easily and would definitely have made the No.1 spot in my list of the ‘best films of 2020’. Except the majority of people saw it in 2019, starting with when it first played at Cannes in May last year. It was talked about so much in 2019’s yearly round-ups and in the run-up to 2020’s Oscars that I really think we’ve just about had enough of it for one year. And that’s why it doesn’t feature in this year’s list, but neither does any film released before February 10th which is when the Oscars were held.
From then on, it was all downhill. The infection rates spiked and the death toll peaked and most of the world went into lockdown. As they did so, for the first time since World War II, cinemas across the world were forced to close. How could there be any movies with no cinemas to show them?
If the Covid-19 pandemic did anything at all, it was skyrocket and fast-forward the rise of streaming services. In September this year, TV streaming statistics reported that 6.7 million (24%) households signed up to 2 services or more. Cinemas have long been at risk from the emergence of Netflix, Amazon Prime, Curzon Home Cinema or whatever, but this pandemic put out the possibility that they just might not survive come the New Year.
Studios delayed their biggest budget tentpole blockbusters in hungry desire for good-value cinema money when the pandemic is over. The delay of the latest James Bond film ‘No Time to Die’ (2020) - which was expected to draw back the crowds to the auditorium seats in November - was responsible for the closure of the UK’s biggest cinema chain - Cineworld which closed all 600 of its theatres both sides of the Atlantic.
Traditional cinema-goers were faced with an option. Do they endanger themselves in a pandemic world by going to the cinema and risk getting Covid? Or do they stay at home, download the new movie from Spike Lee on Curzon and have a family evening in for half the price of a £30 family cinema bill?
It’s certainly the case that people’s homes don’t smell of popcorn or hot dogs and taking a bathroom break is pretty easy when you’re sitting on your sofa - you just have to press pause. Unlike, at the pictures, where you have to sneak out halfway through the latest Christopher Nolan blockbuster.
Is it a wonder that Disney dumped two of 2020’s biggest releases - ‘Mulan’ and ‘Soul’ - on their own streaming service Disney Plus?
To be honest, I think studios need to “man up” a little and just accept the fact that they aren’t going to make as much money as they would in non-Covid times. If the vaccine prevails and the infection rates go down, 2021 could see a flood of blockbusters with big-budget leftovers from 2020 hitting the cinema every week. I just worry that, if this goes on for too long, there might not be any cinemas left to even show ‘Black Widow’, ‘A Quiet Place: Part II’, ‘Dune’ and countless others.
Still, hope is on the horizon. Several vaccines have been approved, Trump is on his way out of the White House and a Brexit deal has been reached. It’s now all on 2021 to see if we can come out of this any stronger…
Here’s a selection of my 2020 highlights. Please note. I’ve included many titles that didn’t get a cinema release. A sign of the future of movie watching?
Warner Bros. took a major gamble putting ‘Tenet’ (2020) - Christopher Nolan’s latest head-scrambler - at the newly-reopened pictures back in August. I can’t say it was a gamble that paid off. ‘Tenet’ was predicted to kickstart the post-pandemic cinema industry, but it barely scraped $200 million against its $200 million budget; rounding up with a very miniscule $362.6 million.
I guess there is some hope that ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ (2020) scooped up the biggest post-pandemic, face mask-wearing Box Office numbers with an estimated $16.7 million in North America over Christmas weekend. That is despite the film being released simultaneously on HBO Max.
Is this proof that movie-goers still have the appetite for the big screen? Perhaps. Only time will tell. I just think it’s terrific that a female-led blockbuster is doing as well as it is.
American Indie Cinema
I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve tried to book tickets at Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema only to find shows are sold out. I guess cinemas like Broadway don’t depend on big-budget tentpoles (most of which are being delayed) for their revenue and I sincerely hope this new rise in independent cinemas gives low-budget films a platform for mainstream success.
The rise of streaming has certainly benefited American indie films. I’ve seen several of my favourite films of the year on streaming services such as Eliza Hittman’s brilliant abortion drama ‘Never Rarely Sometimes Always’ which skipped cinemas and was available on multiple platforms.
My favourite American indie of the year, though, was ‘Clemency’ - a stirring, tough, but ethereal drama about Death Row with Oscar-worthy performances from Alfre Woodard, Aldis Hodge and Wendell Pierce. I watched that on Curzon over the summer.
Streaming has certainly given independent cinema a platform that appeals to more than just the niche, arthouse market. Expect to see David Fincher’s ‘Mank’ and Spike Lee’s ‘Da 5 Bloods’ featuring heavily at next year’s Oscars (if there are any). I just hope smaller films get the recognition they deserve.
I loved ‘Lynn + Lucy’, for example, from acclaimed British shorts director Fyzal Boulifa which is a really bleak and brilliant look at how tragedy can rip apart a friendship.
In Ireland, but directed by a Brit was ‘Calm with Horses’ - a terrifically tense gangster drama with doses of equine therapy and two outstanding performances from Cosmo Jarvis and Niamh Algar.
Even away from the cinema, the distinction between TV and Film continued to be blurred by Steve McQueen’s immaculate ‘Small Axe’ series. The opening film in that - ‘Mangrove’ about the Mangrove Nine - opened the London Film Festival. I saw it on a big screen at Broadway and so it features in my top 10 of the year.
The best Brit film of the year, though, was ‘Rocks’ which really put Director Sarah Gavron on the map as the mistress of British feelgood realism. It had a genuine sense of light and dark which any film about childhood and adolescence needs.
Of course, the year’s success for World Film was skyrocketed by South Korea’s ‘Parasite’ taking home Best Picture. It was a fantastic movie - the most close to perfect I’ve seen in a decade. But, again, most people saw it last year and the Oscar it won was recognising last year’s movies. And so I class it as last year’s movie…
What was definitely this year’s movie was Celine Sciamma’s ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ from France which I saw at Broadway back in March. What a wonderful film that was - classical yet sexy and costume-heavy, but cinematic. It was certainly the sexiest movie of the year with the scariest singing sequence of the year.
World Cinema really benefited from the rise of streaming too. I can’t tell you the amount of foreign-language movies I watched on Curzon and BFI Player over lockdown. ‘System Crasher’ from Germany, ‘Bacurau’ from Brazil, ‘The Orphanage’ from Afghanistan, ‘And Then We Danced’ from Georgia...The list goes on, I tell you. But my favourite was ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’.
The bad movies kept coming at the start. I nearly tore the cinema screen to pieces when watching the dreadful horror film ‘The Turning’. There were some really bad horror films this year - ‘The Grudge’, ‘Fantasy Island’, ‘Brahms: The Boy II’ just to name a few.
The worst was ‘The Ringmaster’, though - a disgusting and disrespectful slice of torture porn from Denmark. It made me feel sick to be human. More sick than watching Guy Ritchie’s Mockney claptrap ‘The Gentlemen’ which was a misogynistic, racist mess. If so many bad things happened in 2020, they somehow felt ok and bearable compared to watching ‘The Ringmaster’.
And ‘Parasite’ would definitely have made my No.1 spot had it not featured so heavily in the run-up to 2020’s awards and on critics’ ‘end of year’ lists last year. Either way, here are a couple of movies that didn’t quite make the final list:
- Lynn + Lucy
- Eternal Beauty
- Selah and the Spades
- Saint Frances
Top 10 Best Films of 2020
Many people will question if this is even a film at all as, the first part in Steve McQueen’s brilliant ‘Small Axe’ TV series, it played on BBC1 in November. I saw it on the big screen at Broadway when it opened the London Film Festival, though, and was so blown away by it. It’s a biopic about the trial of the Mangrove Nine which became the first judicial acknowledgement of racial hatred in the Metropolitan Police. The story couldn’t feel more contemporary than it does in this #BlackLivesMatter year and, despite being made for TV, it looks more cinematic than most big-budget motion pictures.
Meet Roshan Chandy
Freelance Film Critic and Writer based in Nottingham, UK. Specialises in Science Fiction cinema.
Roshan's Top 10 Best Films of 2020
4. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
6. David Byrne's American Utopia
7. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
8. Calm with Horses
9. Saint Maud
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