tel: 07773 322854 | email:

'The Crown' Series 4, Episode 1 -'Gold Stick'

So, at last we reach Series 4 of The Crown on Netflix. We have 10 episodes that start from The Queen’s Silver Jubilee of 1977 and ends with Margaret Thatcher standing down in 1990- so a span of some 13 years with a lot of focus on the matrimonial woes of Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, as well as those of Queen Elizabeth’s other children .

Episode 1 (Gold Stick’) covers 1977 to 1979 and is a very strong start to the new series.

1977 marks the Silver Jubilee of the Queen’s reign and heralds the start of political change in the UK. A weakness of the episode is that it does not cover the huge period of decline in the late 1970’s culminating in the Winter of Discontent where binmen, gravediggers, train drivers and nurses went on strike and which led to Margaret Thatcher’s rise as Prime Minister (you can’t understand why people voted Margaret Thatcher into power if you don’t know what she was the answer to!).

However, the episodes chronicles three main public events at that time – a) the rise of Mrs Thatcher as PM and how having two women in power changed things, b) the assassination of Lord Mountbatten by the IRA and c) the problems of Charles finding a wife and the start of his romance with Diana.

For those who lived thorough the campaign of IRA thuggery, they may feel that ‘The Crown’ overplays their role by playing their threats and claims through Mountbatten’s funeral before he is even cold in the grave. Charles Dance though was born to play Mountbatten as he has his look and demeanour. The episode is effective in highlighting that he was pretty much a surrogate father to Charles (as he was to Prince Phillip) and although he is blamed for encouraging Charles to ‘sow his oats’ and have a relationship with Camilla, he did see that as the heir to the throne, Charles was weak and fuzzy headed about most things.

However, the real star of the show is Gillian Anderson (partner of ‘The Crown’s creator Peter Morgan) who really embodies Margaret Thatcher with the right speech pattern (with hairdo to match). She is especially good at showing her softer domestic side rather than just the ‘Iron Lady’.

Episode 1 is full of some nice one liners too- at the thought of Mrs T as PM, Prince Phillip says “the last thing we need are two women running the shop”. However, as The Queen, Olivia Coleman probably spoke for many when she replied:  “Perhaps  that’s precisely what this country needs”.

On the romance front there are problems of course. Princess Anne’s marriage to Mark Phillips is on the rocks and it is Phillip who comes to her rescue to talk her up. The scene between Tobias Menzies (Phillip) and the ever outstanding Erin Doherty (Anne) is very touching.

The budding romance between Charles and Diana is also touching to begin with as he first sees her when he was dating his sister and she comes across him dressed as a ‘bad tree’. As Diana, Emma Corrin is a dead ringer for her, and she has her look and mannerisms just right. It is a sign of ‘The Crown’s strength that even though we know the history of the Charles & Diana story, we still cringe at and are moved by how Charles (and the rest of the Royal Family) acts at this time (i.e. romancing his future wife whilst at the same time arranging for jewellery to be made with his and Camilla’s name!).

For the first episode the scene is wonderfully set – Diana being betrayed early doors and Charles acting like a lovesick puppy for a married woman, Anne’s marriage is on the rocks, Princess Margaret is (as always) all over the place, whilst Mrs T and The Queen start their relationship off very coldly. More to come in later episodes!

The Greatest Gift


We all want to make a difference in our lives to make the world the best possible place to live, but so often we may feel “but what can I do?”, very much like the famous Breton Fisherman’s Prayer: “God, Thy Sea is so great and my boat is so small”. As individuals we can often feel this way and that we are unable to make a difference to those around us and the world in general.

One person who must have felt like that was a certain Phillip Van Doren Stern. In 1938 he woke up from a dream that he had which seemed to be similar to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol , but the dream was about a man who spent all his life helping others but feels his life has been without purpose, becomes depressed and suicidal and wishes he had never been born, but is redeemed by an Angel and is ‘born again’. Stern felt strongly that this was a story that the world had to hear and remarked  “it’s a universal  story for all people in all times”, but although he was a military historian, he had never written a piece of fiction in his life.

It took him 4 years to write the 4,000 word story that he called The Greatest Gift, but no one was interested. He tried to get interest from magazine editors and even farm journals, but no one wanted to publish it. By this time, it was 1943 and like the hero of his story he was refusing to give up. He then sent 200 copies of his little story in his Christmas cards that year and his daughter recalls delivering the leaflets to her teachers and friends.

In 1945 one of those leaflets was seen by an RKO Pictures producer who realised that it could make a really good movie. So, he brought the rights of the story and in 1946 they started filming their version of the  book and as they were doing that the actor playing Stern’s main character -James Stewart -wrote a touching personal note to him to thank him for what he had written as it was inspiring the cast and crew to bring it to the screen.

The name of the movie? It’s A Wonderful Life which alongside A Christmas Carol  is a perennial Christmas culture essential. Generally regarded as one of the most inspiring and moving films ever made, it has made a lot of difference to many people and part of its message is a) no one is born to be a failure and b) no one is poor who has friends.

I can’t imagine there are too many people out there who have not seen It’s a Wonderful Life, but it tells Stern’s classic story of a simple man -George Bailey- who sacrifices his dreams and his life for the good of the community of Bedford Falls. Rather than travel the world before going to college, he has to put his dreams on hold, and he has to run the family savings bank, but he never gets away and ends up running it permanently making him a very frustrated man. It runs into trouble and he has to forfeit his honeymoon savings to keep the bank going until one Christmas Eve when a large amount of the  bank’s money goes missing. At that moment, he feels a failure, that he is doomed and that he (and the world) would be better place with him dead.

A probationary Angel (Clarence) intervenes and shows George Bailey what the world would have been like if he had not lived, so he witnesses Bedford Falls without his influence. His brother dies because he was not there to save him drowning, a chemist gets imprisoned because George was not there to correct his fatal mistake and the town itself has become rundown, sleazy, crime ridden and amoral.

George Bailey sees right before his eyes the huge negative impact of him not being there and what a difference a good decent individual makes to life. He begs Clarence to take him back to his old life, and in an emotional ending, the community come together and donate the money that has gone missing- and Clarence the Angel gets his wings (don’t forget: every time a bell rings an Angel has earned his wings!).

I always watch It’s a Wonderful Life at least once a year not just because it is truly a great movie but its message is an urgent one for us -that all of us make a difference not just to ourselves but to our families, friends, and everyone around us, if only we knew it.

Its director Frank Capra said he made the film to “combat a modern trend towards atheism” and especially now it is really needed. It espouses Christian values and beliefs and the importance of everyone playing their role, to actively take part in the world but also to be truly grateful to God for what Phillip Van Doren Stern very accurately called ‘The Greatest Gift’ which is Life instead. We need to cherish and love the extraordinary blessings that we have been given.

It also reminds us what one person can achieve despite all the odds. Phillip Van Doren Stern could have given up over the years that he was writing the story and the amount of rejection he faced, but he persisted and in the end the dream he was given back in 1938 is truly a gift, that we need to learn from.

For me, the most poignant and telling scene in Its A Wonderful Life is the one below where George Bailey, clearly at the end of his tether asks God to show him the way.

"To serve is to Live"


Most of us, I imagine, are familiar with the phrase ‘Groundhog Day’ which has become to mean a kind of monotonous, unpleasant, and very repetitive situation that we can’t seem to escape from- as if we were stuck in some kind of time warp. Life under COVID-19 might possibly qualify as a ‘ ground hog day’ moment?

It comes from the very funny film comedy ‘Groundhog Day’ made in 1993 and starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell, where Murray as a cynical TV weatherman keeps on waking up each day and the very same thing happens to him every single day- he does the same things, he meets the same people, he has the same conversations, and the next day is exactly the same- until he changes one important thing.

The film is very funny but for Christians in particular ‘Groundhog Day’ can have a deeper spiritual meaning.

The film starts with Bill Murray as pessimist a weatherman as any onscreen ‘Scrooge’, who each year has to travel to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to film a piece to camera about a groundhog who comes out of his burrow each year on a particular day to decide when winter will end and spring begins.

He travels with beautiful TV producer Andie McDowell who he is keen to impress but each day, in his hotel room, he is woken up by his radio alarm at exactly 6am to the tune of Sonny & Cher’s ‘I Got You Babe’ and he meets the same people each day and that cycle is repeated day after day. His shower is always icy cold, the same person in the B&B he is staying at asks him the same question on the stairs, he always leaves and avoids a homeless person, is harassed by an insurance salesman and finally, without fail,  he walks into icy water.

No matter what Bill Murray’s character does to try and change his day it does not alter in that he still wakes up the next day at the same time to the same repetitive  experiences.

To begin with, he regards it as a golden chance of doing whatever he wants as he realises that there are absolutely no consequences to his actions- if he crashes his car he will not die, he can eat what he wants as again he will not suffer any health implications, he can steal money because he will never be caught,  and he can sleep with whoever he wants as that person will forget about them the next day. But he becomes increasingly depressed by the monotony of living a life where truly ‘tomorrow never comes’.

However eventually he gains wisdom. He realises that doing those things for his own gluttony  or financial or sexual gain does not satisfy or fulfil him, and he starts to realise that by understanding people, being nice to them and helping them, that his life takes on fresh new meaning. He begins to serve people rather than using them to serve his own selfish wants. He gives money and food to the homeless man he normally avoids, he gets to know the insurance man who normally irritates him, he fixes peoples’ tyres, he saves others’ lives. A knock on effect of that is for Andie McDowell who had been repelled by his romantic overtures, she starts to genuinely fall for him as he is ‘reborn’. And then he wakes up at 6am and although he is woken by ‘You’ve Got Me, Babe’ again, the 24 hour cycle of his life is finally broken, and he can truly move on in his newly vital life.

The Jesuits in particularly adore ‘Groundhog Day’ and see it as something that espouses their own particular Christian faith and in particular that those of us who walk this earth are called to help others and seek God in all things.

That is what Bill Murray’s character in the film does – he learns that rather than doing things for his own glory he should act by helping people in whatever situation they find themselves- if they are destitute -bring them comfort, if they are dying - be with them or if they are just in need of some help-aid them.

As Christians this is perhaps the most important lesson for us to learn and live our lives through – to help and love others.

When you next see ‘Groundhog Day’,  you may see it rather differently!

'Pilgrimage-the Road to Istanbul' (BBC2 Fridays)

With people self-isolating and having time on their hands, viewing and watching things on TV are becoming regular rituals, but trying to find programmes of real value, comfort and meaning to us is not always easy.

However, I may have a solution for the next few weeks with something that I think will appeal to  those keen on going on a pilgrimage but without leaving their homes.

Each year the BBC has a Pilgrimage series which takes place either before or during Easter where a number of celebrities go on a modern-day pilgrimage to try and learn about faith, what they believe (or disbelieve), understanding and other cultures.

This year the programme entitled ‘Pilgrimage – the Road to Istanbul’ is being shown on BBC1 each Friday at 9pm. The three-part series of one-hour episodes features 7 reasonably well-known personalities as they walk part of the 1,400 miles ‘The Sultan’s Trail’.

The trail they are going on which runs from Belgrade in Serbia to Istanbul in Turkey was originally the one that the Ottoman Empire’s Army used to invade western countries in the 16th century, but it is has now been transformed into a path of peace where pilgrims of all faiths and cultures can come together on their journey.

However, these programmes tend to be only as good as the celebrities going onto the journey. So, who are our fellow pilgrims?

  • Adrian Chiles TV and Radio broadcaster who became a Catholic in his late 30’s and after being invited to a church service (there’s an idea!) and says, “I love faith and I like walking”.
  • Fatima Whitbread World javelin champion and Olympian – a Christian who spent most of her early life in care but said that “Sunday School gave me a sense of belonging”
  • Edwina Currie ex politician who was brought up Orthodox Jewish, who studied classic Hebrew but rebelled from that faith;
  • Dom Joly – comedian and the most committed atheist of the group (“If religion makes you happy then bully for you, but just leave me out of it”)
  • Pauline McLynn- actress probably best known for ‘Father Ted’ who was brought up in Ireland and baptised as a Catholic but has moved away since then (“I don’t need organised religion”)
  • Mim Shaikh a radio broadcaster and actor who is a liberal Muslim (“When I need strength, I pray”)
  • Amar Latif a blind TV presenter who was brought up a Muslim (“It’s made me realise how much people get out of religion, and how much greatness can come out of it”)

What makes the programme a real comfort and joy is that all our group of pilgrims, without exception, are very reasonable people. There are no extremists, and all are prepared to understand what others believe (or not believe) without judging them. 

There are though some sobering moments in the show. On their walk through Serbia, they pay a visit to the Crveni Krst concentration camp where the German Gestapo killed10,000 Serbs, Jews and Romanis during WWII. A difficult experience for all especially Edwina Currie who feels the loss for her community even though she no longer shares its faith.

Perhaps the most moving portions of the show are when our pilgrims sit down for meals and discuss what they believe or disbelieve- and why. In one of these heartfelt conversations Amir Latif speaks eloquently about the fact that “Religion is a great influencer”, and how faith can warm and sustain you.

Let’s say “Amen” to that! Episodes 1 & 2 are still available on the iplayer with the 3rd and final episode due to go out on Good Friday (10th April)