“The Accident”–Unexpected Trauma

The Accident Hulu series

The Accident , a four-part  British series, plunges into a  Welsh community’s fight for justice after an explosion on a construction site kills several local teenagers.

The town of Glyngolau, Wales is comparable to many Appalachian  coal mine and steel mill towns. Most have lost their main employers, leaving everyone in financial ruin. To the rescue is a large real estate developer, Kallbridge Developments.  It  swoops in,  promising a thousand local jobs, and the residents breath a sigh of relief.  Iwan Bevan, head of the town council, has worked hard to secure the project.

Fifteen-year-old daughter, Leona Bevan,  rebellious and bored, has experimented with drugs and is looking for a good time in a town with very little going on.   In the opening scene, Iwan’s wife, Polly (Sarah Lancashire of “HappyValley” and “Last Tango in Nova Scotia”), catches Leona in bed with a forty-year old man and warns her of the father’s reaction. Sullen, Leona takes eight of her teenaged friends to sneak into the Kallbridge building site, to vandalize the yet-unfinished interior,  and most of all, to annoy her dad. A tragic accident occurs and legal recourse follows.

Harriet Paulsen (Sidse Babett Knudsen of “Borgen”), the senior vice-president of Kallbridge, is responsible for the construction site and is implicated. Polly, who understands her husband’s tempestuous behavior all too well, suspects Iwan is culpable in the accident as well.  Harriet, romantically involved with a junior employee she supervises, soon reveals her moral compass in defending her position as do Polly, Iwan, Leona and individual residents.

As the town mourns the tragedy, attention towards the grieving parents shifts to who is to blame: A fellow townsman who managed the construction? Harriett Paulsen fronting the greed of the Kallbridge corporation? Or ,the councilman and some of his peers?  What price is worth pursuing justice?  Does the cost seem too high when the grieving parents put up their houses as collateral to cover the legal expenses?

The Accident is about who is to blame, the power of greed and relationships crumbling to save oneself.  The ending is somewhat weak, but the performances and the narrative, for the most part, support the drama and the suspense.

Availability:  Hulu streaming and Channel 4 (BBC).

Note: There are powerful, deeply disturbing, and– unfortunately,– convincing  scenes of domestic violence and the battered woman syndrome. Distressing to witness and  certainly harrowing.

“Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am”–Dissembling the American Dream





Toni Morrison (1931-2019), the 1993 Nobel Prize winner in Literature, was a complex artist who did not hold back from confronting the worst of human history. The documentary, Toni Morrison:  Pieces I Am, is a historical panorama of a slice of history dating from the 1930’s until the conclusion of the film in 2019.  Morrison emerges as a powerful, iconic, and formidable moral and intellectual force. The film gives us a retrospective of her groundbreaking novels which challenged the literary status quo,   rewarding the reader with imagining black lives on their own terms, devoid of the “white male gaze”.

Toni Morrison, born in Lorain, Ohio, a steel-town she remembers as being integrated, recalls experiencing segregation in the 1950’s only after she arrived in Washington, DC to attend Howard University. She published much later than most writers, but her college experience textured her writings.  She wrote from the vantage point of wounded women who had the strength and will to find often unexpected and hard-won redemption and triumph, not victimhood.  But her novels speak to people globally, to their traumas and their joys, in a language which is pure inspiration. Places and people– previously invisible or unnoticed– become powerful voices.

The documentary deftly reveals that Toni Morrison’s work is the essence of beautiful storytelling.  Despite the fact that her novels are about private pain as well as  collective trauma, both raw and searing, tender and compassionate, Toni Morrison is an electrifying and positive personality. Perhaps startling, — given the dark and sobering themes of her novels,– the viewer sees an ebullient, charismatic and theatrical mind of extraordinary talent:  both buoyant and vivacious.  Friends repeatedly describe her as a party-goer who loves clothes and is joyful in being herself and celebrating any occasion with friends. Many were invited to her Nobel Prize parties.  But she doesn’t tolerate fools easily, either.

First and foremost,  Morrison is a literary warrior reflecting the dark mirror of untold truths, things unsaid.   When asked by Dick Cavett on his nightly talk show if she dislikes being praised as a Black writer, she beams and answers that she is proud of being a Black woman writer but cringes at being asked that question by white interviewers.

Blowback was inevitable in the context of her meteoric rise in popularity.  The New York Times declared Morrison too talented to “remain a recorder of black provincial life” in its review of her book, Sula.  The mid-1980s furor that followed resulted in a petition signed by prominent Black authors urging that Morrison be given a major literary prize. In 1993 it was in Europe that her magnificent work was first awarded  the highest honor any author can receive:  the Nobel Prize in Literature.

But we also see a private, delightful writer who has the heft and electrical charge of a powerhouse to be reckoned with. Her prose is intricately woven with intelligence, wit, unpredictability, toughness and fearlessness.  And so is the woman–who challenged the inflection and fantasy of the American dream in every sentence she spoke publicly and in every line she wrote.  Moving photographs–some of her family threaded together with  19th-century engravings  and contemporary art by Kerry James Marshall, Jacob Lawrence, and Romare Bearden among others–contribute to the memorable beauty of Toni Morrison and the world she has created.

I watched this and was transfixed. The wisdom of Ms. Morrison is eternal…it touches us all.

Availability:   Hulu, Amazon Prime, Netflix.

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Ragnarok–Thor on Steroids

Ragnarok,  a Norwegian fantasy series, takes place in the fictional town  of Edda, in Hordaland, the home of the mythological Norse god of thunder, Thor.  This modern day Ragnarök follows the story of  the Norse mythology of the god Thor.  Ragnarok stands for the end of the world and the twilight of the gods, with natural disasters leading to a battle between the gods (Thor) and giants (Jutuls).  In this reimagining of the myth, Ragnarok is environmental disaster due to climate change from corporate giants.  Edda is owned and controlled by the Jutul family, the fifth richest family in Norway, and the owners of much of the town’s economy as well as responsible for its rampant industrial pollution.

Magne Seier, a reincarnation of the thunder-god Thor, is a teenage boy who has recently moved to Edda with his younger brother and single mom, recently widowed. The mom has returned to work for her former classmate and lover, Vidar Jutul, the patriarch and corporate power that dominates Edda.  In a duplicitous scheme, Vidar is advertising the town as a nature destination while polluting it with company effluents.

Slowly Magne begins to realize he has the superpowers of a god, which becomes evident and threatening to the Jutuls.  Magne’s first and only friend at school is an environmental activist, a sort of Greta Thunberg,  with a YouTube channel she uses to expose pollution, glacial melt, and mutant trout guts. One teacher asks Magne to make sure his whole project isn’t about how “old white men” are destroying the world. Magne’s comeback: “Well, aren’t they?”

Ragnarok mini-series

Can Magne, this awkward, , dyslexic, good-natured teenager save the world against some formidable enemies? And how is this teenage hero going to handle his newfound power?  Magne soon discovers that the illness and death arising in the town is due to the toxic waste from Jutul Industries.

Ragnarok is a novel approach to the Norse legend story, fun to watch, and a break from the Marvel comic blockbuster  version of Thor and his superpowers.

Availability:  Premiered on Netflix streaming on January 31, 2020.

The Spanish Princess–An Imperial Royal Highness

The Spanish Princess is a ShowTime limited series based on the novels The Constant Princess (2005) and The King’s Curse (2014) by Philippa Gregory.  This is a  drama about the teenage Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon (Charlotte Hope who played Ramsay Boulton’s lover Myranda in “Game of Thrones”). She becomes  the first queen of England betrothed to King Henry VIII  (Ruairi O’Connor).

Teenage princess Catherine of Aragon, daughter of  the Spanish Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, travels to England  in 1501, to meet her husband by arranged marriage to  Arthur, Prince of Wales, heir apparent to Henry VII of England.  Smitten with the love letters she had been receiving, Catherine assumes that Prince Arthur is the man of her dreams.   Betrothed since she was a young child, the marriage is also an economic negotiation for wealth from Spain to a sorely needed English court desperate for funds. Unwelcomed by some as a foreigner and by others as too headstrong for a future queen, Catherine of Aragon and her diverse court retainers struggle to fit in. Soon Arthur’s younger brother, the magnetic Henry, Duke of York, reveals he is  the author of the romantic letters she has cherished. When Arthur dies suddenly, her fate becomes perilous.  She longs to marry Henry but– as she had been married to his brother– Catherine is confronted by  the Old Testament ban on  marriage to a brother’s widow.   Only a papal dispensation can allow the marriage to take place.  Furthermore, Catherine maintains that she is still a virgin because her marriage to Arthur was never consummated (a lie).

With court intrigue mounting between Henry’s diabolical mother, Lady Margaret (Harriet Walter) , who severely disapproves of Catherine, and Catherine’s fighting for the status and security of a queen, the viewer is treated to several subplots.  One  is a lady-in-waiting deeply involved with a Muslim knight who is accused of being a “heathen”. Another is  the burden on the royal family to broker marriages which will provide male heirs.   To ensure continuity of the regime, their hegemony, and their exorbitant property holdings,  court intrigue was not for the faint of heart.  And the draining of court coffers due to the high cost of continual war  ensured that marriage was a business negotiation for national interests and power struggles.  Catherine of Aragon is merely an asset from Spain to add to the British court’s  wealth through her dowry and her family’s alliances. But Catherine of Aragon  won’t be dismissed easily.  She is imperious, manipulative, and scheming–everything that makes The Spanish Princess so entertaining!

Note: The first eight episodes premiered on May 5, 2019. The remaining eight episodes– Season 2– premiered on October 11, 2020. The series finale aired on November 29, 2020.

“News of the World”–A Gift for the Heart

News of the World is based on the Paulette Jiles’s bestseller by the same name. The story follows a sixty-something curmudgeonly widower,   Captain  Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks), a traveling newspaper reader. Captain Kidd  entertains and informs townspeople–some of whom are illiterate– in small communities all over  Texas:  for the price of a silver dime. The year is 1870, five years after Reconstruction, and Texans still are disgruntled by their defeat after the end of the Civil War.

In the opening scene a Black man has been lynched and a ten-year-old blonde white girl (Helena Zengel) is hiding from Union authorities looking for her.  The girl speaks only Kiowa, the language of the tribe who has raised her after killing her parents and her older sister in retaliation for the government’s land grab of their territories.  She yearns to be with her Kiowa family.

At the insistence of the Union authorities  Kidd reluctantly assumes responsibility for returning the girl to her German immigrant relatives, a task the girl resents. Kidd feels ill-equipped to accompany her there, a trip of several hundred miles, while continuing his itinerant life as a newspaper reader.  But this is no ordinary Western and Kidd and the little girl he calls Johanna have challenges in establishing communication and trust in each other.

News of the World is marketed as a Western involving a horse-and-wagon road trip in a fight for survival in inhospitable, unwelcoming regions of the Texas Panhandle.  But primarily it is a feel-good “old man and little girl” story of human decency and the need for family.  Both Tom Hanks–who is made for this role–and Helena Zengel who performs the feat of conveying all of her angst without uttering more than a few words of English, Kiowa or German–make News of the World  a gift for the heart.

Availability: Paid “theater” ticket for streaming.