Matthew Zajac is an actor. Acting is a precarious profession. The same old faces crop up with regularity. Trying to make a living from acting is akin to trying to make a living from writing. I’ve did a few shifts as an extra. I’ve no interest in being the next what-ever-you-call him/her. Writing, well, that’s a different story.
Writing is my game. I don’t expect to make a living from it. And with over one million self-published books appearing on Amazon every year if you’ve been paying attention, as I have, then you’ll know why.
Matthew Zajac in his downturn between acting and being invisible wrote his own play, The Taylor of Inverness. He took it to the Edinburgh Festival, and with the help of a fiddler, and some projections acted out the part of his dad. It received plaudits. Plaudits don’t pay the rent.
Next his—let’s call it an award winning play, because if it didn’t win something Edinburgh’s culture elite have fell asleep at the wheel—is taken up by BBC Scotland. The peasants up North, us, receive a fraction of the BBC budget to produce content for the fraction of the British population that are interested in that type of thing.
Matthew Zajac gets to play his dad again, for the cameras, in his award-winning play. He gets to travel to his father’s birthplace which was part of Poland until 1939, then in Stalin’s pact with Hitler, became part of the Soviet Union and designated as part of the Ukraine. His dad, Matthew’s grandfather, was Polish, and his grandmother, Ukrainian. The programme also becomes one of those finding about your past kind of road trips where the viewer see nice scenery and meets quaint folk that don’t speak our lingo. Money for old rope.
Zajac’s father told him (and us) how was fox is hunted in his birthplace. Cornered in a field, a fox runs in ever decreasing circles until its captors can bludgeon it to death.
Ukraine used to be thought of the bread-basket of Russia. Soil so rich that to plant a stick was to grow a tree. I’m going off at a tangent here as Zajac did with his da’s story. His dad was buried in Inverness. Whisper it, as a head mason. He was flexible about religion and risen through the ranks. (My understanding is you can be both a Roman Catholic and a Mason, as my da’s pal, Jimmy Mac, was). Zajac’s dad, despite coming from the Ukraine, fought with the Polish army for Britain in the second world war against their common enemy, Nazi Germany.
It all kind of adds up. Before the first world war Glasgow was booming and growing at a rate faster than London. In the interwar years this growth declined, but it was still enough of a metropolis to take a refugee from the Ukraine and for him to find a job as a tailor in Glasgow. And then head to the back of beyond to Inverness to find a shop of his own, a life of his own, a new life and kids. It’s the refugee made good narrative.
The Ukraine of the interwar and postwar years was one of bloodshed. Let me fling some figures at you. 20 million dead. Stalin brought the Ukrainians to heel by mass starvation. Most children under ten would die first. Millions more sent to gulags such as those in Siberia. Ukrainian nationalists fighting the Soviets who had ‘liberated’ them shot and their families deported. Acts of savagery, mass murder and rape. Teenagers, in particular, in the vanguard.
Let’s remember the death camps in the East and the Jews. Jewish tailors that had trained Zajac’s dad. We know around six million Jews were exterminated. But around half, as they were here, were taken into forests and fields and shot.
Zajac finds in the old reels of his father’s tape something unnerving. His story of being swept up by the Soviet machine and being deported to Uzbekistan has a facsimilia of truth. His escape along the Soviet railway, with its own gauge system for train that took three months, seems possible. He joins the British Army.
An alternative story and shadow self emerges that is completely compelling as narrative, as history, or as drama, and a combination of all these. This is much-watch TV. It shouldn’t be given a graveyard slot on BBC Scotland, but a Sunday night slot at 9pm. The kind of slot Small Axe: Mangrove demands and gets because Steve McQueen is a somebody. Zajac is a Scottish yokel, he’s give what he’s got and likes or lumps it territory. Listen up, I watched both and Zajac is better. Watch and learn what a thing man is.
2 thoughts on “Circling a Fox, BBC Scotland, BBC iPlayer, Writer and Presenter Matthew Zajac, Director Brian Ross.”
Dear O’Donnell, Not sure if you’re male or female, so I thought I’d just address you by your surname! I’ve only now come across your review of Circling A Fox and I wanted to thank you for taking the time to watch and write about the film. I’m also very happy that you responded so positively to it and I appreciate your sympathy for the film receiving less exposure than we both think it deserves! Brian Ross deserves a great deal of credit for the way he put the film together. I hope, in time it gets a wider audience as the reactions from those who have seen it, are consistently pretty wonderful.
There are a few inaccuracies in your review which perhaps you could correct:
-it was actually my dad who told me the story of circling a fox to kill it – it’s portrayed in the play in the film
-my dad was Polish rather than Ukrainian. His birthplace was part of Poland until 1939, then became part of the Ukrainian SSR. His dad was a Pole and his mum was Ukrainian
– he did not forego Catholicism to join the masons. His parents were of two denominations and he was pretty flexible when it came to religion! He observed my mother’s episcopalianism after they got together in 1948
-there was no mention of going to India!
Thank you again for your positive appreciation. Feel free to reply and, if you don’t mind, I’ll use a couple of quotes from your review to help promote the film.
All the best, Matthew
sorry about the inaccuracies. I’ll correct them tomorrow when I’ve more time. (It’s Jack O’Donnell). I’ve got your book, published by Sandstone Press. If I’d that to hand the review would have been easier to write, but I can be a bit of a dumpling, regardless of source, and word blind too. You’ve been given a provincial slot on BBC schedule. And let’s face it, there’s some real shite on it. You have made something unique and beautiful. It deserves primetime Sunday night at 9pm on BB1. But sometimes even a consolation prize is still a prize.