Disney’s latest movie is the Frank Capra classic for a lonelier age.

Disney/Pixar’s Soul

This Christmas, I’ve been watching a movie about a downtrodden American who, with guidance from celestial beings, receives a second chance at happiness after discovering that life is a gift and he ought to count his blessings.

Most years, I’d be saying this about It’s a Wonderful Life, director Frank Capra’s enduring classic from 1946. This time, however, I’ve got my eye on Soul, Pixar’s new animated movie, which debuted on Disney+ on Christmas Day.

It’s a fine film: rich, nuanced, profound, complex, ambitious and stunning to look at. But will it stand the test of time in the same…

What would today’s puritans make of the straight-talking fictional British lawyer?

The Old Bailey’s statue of Lady Justice. Photo by Lonpicman on Wikimedia Commons

I think about Horace Rumpole a lot these days, because he taught me the principles of justice.

Not social justice in the modern sense. I’m talking specifically about the philosophy that underlies English common law and the court systems that sprang from it across the globe.

Rumpole is a fictional lawyer, for those who don’t know — an irreverent, undistinguished (but nonetheless brilliant) barrister at London’s Central Criminal Court, known to everyone in Britain as the Old Bailey. A self-confessed hack, in actual fact.

And I, like millions of Generation X-ers, grew up watching him with more than a little…

I can’t shake the guilt of the ‘death knocks’ I did in the 90s

Death knocks are journalists’ grubby little secret. Photo by Ahmed Rizkhaan on Unsplash

I’ll never forget my first death knock. That’s a phrase journalists use, in the UK at least, for calling unannounced on someone who’s just been bereaved.

It was the mid-1990s. I was working the 7am shift on a provincial evening paper, which meant phoning the police to ask if there’d been any overnight incidents.

Usually nothing had happened, but in this instance, joyriders had caused a car crash, killing an innocent woman in her late teens. I informed the newsdesk straight away, knowing they’d expect me to visit the family home and find out what I could about her.


In 70 years, 10 very different actors have played the protagonist of George Orwell’s 1984. But will we ever see a Winston who isn’t white?

Actors Eddie Albert and Norma Crane, with director Paul Nickell and designer Kim Swados, publicise CBS’s 1953 TV play of 1984
Actors Eddie Albert and Norma Crane, with director Paul Nickell and designer Kim Swados, publicise CBS’s 1953 TV play of 1984
Actors Eddie Albert and Norma Crane publicise CBS’s 1953 TV play of 1984 with director Paul Nickell (right) and designer Kim Swados. Source: Wikimedia Commons

In the beginning was the book: George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, published 8 June 1949.

Eleven-and-a-half weeks later, on 27 August, US radio broadcast the first adaptation, starring David Niven as its much put-upon hero, Winston Smith… although, given the rape-and-murder fantasies he admits to, maybe we should call him an antihero.

Winston’s a complicated guy, living in a nightmarish world that’s been devastated by a nuclear war. In the power bloc he inhabits, Oceania, the ruling Party monitors the population’s every move, changes historical records as a matter of course and crushes dissent via torture and vaporisation.

Ten actors —…

Twenty years before I wrote a non-fiction book, a cheeky question earned me a place in someone else’s

Elvis Costello on stage in 2006
Elvis Costello on stage in 2006
Elvis Costello in 2006. Photo: Victor Diaz Lamich on Wikimedia Commons

Not many people know that I’m a book about the musician Declan Macmanus, or as he’s better known, Elvis Costello. I was very proud of this about 20 years ago.

This stems from the fact that in the nineties, when I was a fan of his, the British music magazine Q came up with its Cash for Questions slot.

You, the reader, could send a query to whomever they were due to interview and if they used it, they’d pay you. I think it was £20. As a way of crowdsourcing ideas, it was rather revolutionary concept.

It also preceded…

David Ryan

British writer, journalist and copywriter. Author of ‘George Orwell on Screen’. Talking head on Criterion’s ‘1984’ Blu-ray.

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