Lullaby, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, Writer Leila Slimani, Director Lucie Borleteau.

Leila Slimani brings to the screen her international bestselling novel Lullaby, directed by Lucie Borleteau. Another case of preferring the film to the novel. I read about half the book, or more, before I stopped reading.

I knew what was going to happen and didn’t particularly like any of the characters. I’ve nothing against books about nannies. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is a classic, none of which of its multiple adaptations as screenplays match the written word, but they remain entertaining. We even get Orson Welles as a gruff Rochester.

Lullaby a simple enough story, an affluent middle-class Parisian couple, hire a nanny, Mila (Assya Da Silva) to take care of their little girl, Sylvie (Noelle Renaude) and little boy, Adam (Calypso Peretjatko  [nine months] and Benjamin Patissier [fifteen months]).

Paul (Antoine Reinartz) is a successful music producer. His beautiful wife, Wafa (Rehab Mehal) doesn’t need to work. They’ve got enough money to live on, but she wants to go back to work and kick-start her career. They agree to look for a nanny. To try out a new way of living. If it doesn’t work they can go back to the way it was.

Wafa is a successful, highly educated Parisian, but she’s also regarded as Algerian. Low-paid drudge work is done largely by the immigrant population. An agency boss belittles Algerian nannies and coloured nannies in general. The usual slightly racist stuff about being lazy and late and not being properly French. This makes Wafa uncomfortable.

They are not sure they’ll find a nanny—they can afford. Wafa interviews a few candidates. Mila is the dream candidate. And she’s white.

She wins the job and the kids love her. Their parents like her too. She does everything for them. Not only taking care of the kids but housekeeping and making them healthy meals and snacks when they finish work.

Like me, you’ve probably figured how this is going to go. There’s a slightly loopy bit in Jane Eyre where she runs away into the English wildness, almost marries another man, but keeps her morals and becomes the nineteenth-century equivalent of a millionaire. She hears Rochester’s voice calling to her.

Lullaby doesn’t end with a lullaby. Read the book or watch the film.

Iain McDonald (2021) I Piped, That She Might Dance.

The title is like the snatched breath of an overhead conversation. It makes assumptions and asks questions of the reader. ‘Piped,’ refers to playing bagpipes. The identity of the ‘She’ refers to Queen Victoria. The narrator is Angus MacKay (1812-1859) telling the story of his life from a cell in Bethlem Hospital (Bedlam).

Iain McDonald takes on the persona of Angus McKay. A factional story, fictionalising the few facts known about McKay. The kind of thing we watch on telly—based on true events.

What McDonald initially knew was that McKay had published A Collection of Ancient Pìobireachd or Highland Pipe Music (1837); he was a drunken syphilitic that drowned while trying to escape from an asylum (Crichton Royal Institution in Dumfries). He played bagpipes for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who loved all things Scottish as is shown by a hagiography in the Inverness Courier (1842).

Some very special guests had come to stay at Taymouth Castle: Queen Victoria and Prince Albert…

HER MAJESTY’S PIPER – The Queen has just appointed Angus Mackay, brother of the piper of the late Duke of Sussex, to be her Majesty’s piper at the palace, so that the Royal ear, and that of various Right Honourables, will be regaled with our mountain music at the Court of England. Highland dresses and ornaments are to be provided for the new functionary, and our townsman, Mr. Macdougall, of the tartan warehouse (who has done so much work to bring the national costume into notice), has been authorised by Lord Jersey and the Honourable Captain Murray to furnish three suits – one for the morning, one for mid-day, and a third for after dinner and state occasions. The equipments will be complete and splendid. [‘equipments’ spelling as show in Courier]

 McKay £75-per-annum salary was enough to place his wife and four children at the heart of the expanding British Empire in London. His journey from Edinburgh had taken him three days by coach, paid for by the Monarch. Returning home by train, he didn’t have to move his luggage and it took less than a day. McKay was part of the Royal Staff, travelled with Queen Victoria on the Royal yacht, and dressed the young Prince Edward in his “Scotch costume” in which her majesty liked to see her children attired. Only when the drink took hold of McKay was he superseded by another Scot, John Brown.

The Queen’s piper had not initially understood,

‘the full extent of the animosity between the English and the Scots. Before I’d even met the queen, I’d heard us referred to as lazy thieves, inbreds and so on, all from common folk. And it wasn’t only Scots that bore the brunt as well; the Irish and Indian staff were mocked and bullied relentlessly in equal measure for their language and appearance.’

He was privileged with ready access to Queen Victoria. But he observed as he passes through the lower reaches of the capital.

‘The air became rank and heavy, enough to make a person gag… Tar and excrement and long-butchered carcasses… The place assaulted all the senses, and none more so than hearing. Every street was alive with the movement of animals and carts, thousands of people, and there was the constant clamor of construction as the city exploded outwards, its borders swelling. On the busiest streets, people were having to lean in close to have a conversation with one another, and every seller shouted to be heard.’

Queen Victoria is liberally minded as far as drink was concerned. McKay as something of a celebrity dives in.  “Lament for the Union” had established him as one of the most talented pipers alive. Whisky flowed. He’d come a long way from his father’s house in Eyre, waves lapping at the Raasay shoreline, where he’s spat out his first drink of whisky because of the foul taste. His father, John Mackay of Raasay (1767-1848), one of the the last great piper to have had lessons from the MacCrimmons and learn by song, with nothing written. He was the best player, composer and teacher of his day, and his sons followed in his footsteps. Angus was determined, however, to record these great works, to go against the grain and write them down.

He was successful and unsuccessful in finding voice and losing himself.

‘Writing music…They were written in canntaireachd. The challenges sometimes lay in finding the timing and precise pitches of notes – no wonder there were always so many versions of the same tune if each one called for different timings! – but I used my knowledge of playing the tunes to determine how they should be written. To the experienced piper, any manuscript serves as but a rough guide to finding the music anyway.’

His nemesis was James Logan. A self-proclaimed expert in Highland music and culture. He wore a bright tartan waistcoat in their first meeting. More importantly, Logan had the aristocratic connections to get the book published. Logan believed Highland music had to bend the knee to social class and society’s foibles.

McKay did not. He believed in the purity of intention and his translation of these ancient piping traditions.

His book was published but butchered by Logan. McKay was told it was ‘well received’ by the Highland aristocracy and gentry. So well received that Logan suggested no other work on pipe music need to be published henceforth.

McKay could only see the flaws. His intention to publish a rebuttal, without countless errors of the scores, but the proposed second volume cut off by Logan and the difficulty of publishing.

In the Great Empire Exhibition, he’s introduced to a tiny, ugly woman with bad teeth, Charlotte Bronte. He attended a lecture by William Makepeace Thackery. A novelist the Queen disapproved for his social satire. But it’s the machinery court that catches his eye. Printing press, capable of churning out more than 5000 copies of The Illustrated London News in a single hour. With such a typesetting revolution, he could cut out the Logans of the newly industrialising world.

With no cure for the ‘French Pox,’ he drinks more of ‘the water of life’ to deaden the pain. He believes he’s got to warn Queen Victoria about a plot against her—and dreams they’ve become more intimate. Mary, his wife, rallies against him. He’s incarcerated in Bedlam.

Iain MacDonald ghost-writes Angus McKay and brings him to life. We always kill the things we love. Read on.  

The Secret Life of Books: Jane Eyre, BBC iPlayer.

I’m a big fan of Jane Eyre and that Charlotte Bronte, well, she’s well hot too. We all know the story of little orphan Jane Eyre all alone in the world. She’s a plain girl with a fiery temper. In the opening pages she bests her bully of a cousin, John, and tells her Aunt Reed, who is her guardian, what’s what, which isn’t a winning combination. Only beautiful girls are allowed to have fiery tempers. Or plain girls with large dowries. Beautiful girls with large dowries and little or no temper, that’s win-win.

Not that the aristocracy would have used such terms circa 1850. After the revolutionary fever of 1848 that swept through Europe that’s revolutionary talk. Jane Eyre as a revolutionary? Or as the journalist and novelist Bidisha puts it ‘How much of a heroine was Jane Eyre?’

This has something of the standard English Lit., about it that I immediately started scrawling down answers. Sex before marriage? No Jane wasn’t that kind of girl. Bronte, however, picked on a real problem for the aristocracy: where to seat the governess. In a world where God has ordained everyone’s place, with Englishmen at the very top, just below God, an English lady was a lesser being, but had to be treated well and kept in place like a good horse, with a stall at the top table. Governesses, as Jane shows, were tricky beasts. They could be sent to sit with the servants and other dumb animals, but many governesses were spawn of the gentry and knew how to wield a knife and fork and not spit on the floor.

Here we have the problem dramatised with the introduction of the beautiful and fiery Blanche Ingram. Blanche jokes that as a little girl she liked nothing better than to terrorise the governesses that ruled her life. She wouldn’t let them of course. She was a free spirit. Just as Mr Rochester was a free spirit.

Cut to the domestic dogsbody Grace Poole and the madwomen in the attic. Mr Rochester, is of course, not a free man. He’s married to a mad woman and not only is she mad, she’s coloured (Creole) but doesn’t know it. Mrs Rochester is Bertha Mason, the female Steve Martin from The Jerk, not only does she not understand she is coloured, she doesn’t understand marriage leaves her with the same rights as an American cockroach and frequently trying to burn down the house and biting her brother to death will not change the laws of the land. B1+ for effort though.

Jane instinctively understands all of this. A sham marriage is no marriage at all. She flees. Here’s where Bidisha finds some biographical gold. Charlotte too was fleeing from a broken romance. Like Jane she had fallen in love with a married man, in Brussels of all places, a professor of languages. Her professor acknowledges Charlotte’s love and allowed her to write to him every six months.

Jane is offered the same kind of deal by the aptly named St.John. He tempts her with the offer of a platonic marriage based on a mutual understanding that there was a lot of the Lord’s work to be done converting Heathen folk in Hindustani into godfearing English gentlemen and he promises no hanky panky. Jane is torn. She is on the verge of agreeing but she doesn’t love him and therefore decided she cannot marry him.

Bidishia rates Rochester as rotten to the core. She didn’t realise this when she was a young naive runt reading the book. She has a trump card. Not only is she a woman. She is a coloured woman. She better than others understands this problem better now. A* Bidishia. You’ve passed all your exams, grown up and now live in the real world jane eyre

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