Gaslit

Gaslit

Donald Trump’s presidency saw a renewed interest in the rise and fall of Richard Nixon, now almost half a century ago.

In 2017, we got the excellent Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House, starring Liam Neeson as the associate FBI director who fed Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein the story behind the Watergate burglary. They nicknamed him “Deep Throat”.

The four-hour documentary Watergate — Or, How We Learned to Stop an Out-of-Control President was released a year later.

Slate produced a podcast about the Watergate scandal in 2020, called Slow Burn. It was so successful that they continued it with a season about Monica Lewinsky and the impeachment of Bill Clinton.

Gaslit is partly based on that podcast. The makers of Slow Burn restored Martha Mitchell’s role in the history of Watergate. Gaslit puts her front and center with a stellar performance by Julia Roberts.

Continue reading “Gaslit”

Dirty Lines

Dirty Lines

I previewed Dirty Lines as the Netherlands’ answer to Sex Education in my review of Amsterdam Vice, which I compared to The Deuce. Having watched all six episodes of the series (sadly, there are only six), I can confirm it’s just as wholesome.

Sex Education is about teenagers at a modern-day British high school. The main character of Dirty Lines, played by Joy Delima, is a sexology student at the University of Amsterdam in the late 1980s. The Dutch show is a little grittier (it’s 1980s Amsterdam) and a little more mature, but in terms of topics and humor it has a lot in common with Sex Education. Both are on Netflix.

Continue reading “Dirty Lines”

Paris to Link Suburb by Cable Car

Construction is due to begin later this year on a cable car connecting the Parisian suburb of Villeneuve-Saint-Georges with the French capital’s metro network.

The 4.5-kilometer line was designed by the architects of Atelier Schall. Doppelmayr, which also builds ski lifts, is due to make the cable cars themselves. Each would seat ten passengers, allowing the system to transport up to 1,600 commuters per hour.

It’s not a new idea. As I wrote in Unbuilt Paris, engineer Jean Pomagalski proposed to link the then-new business district La Défense with the city center by a cable car, or téléphérique, in the 1960s.

Continue reading “Paris to Link Suburb by Cable Car”

The Atom: A Love Affair

The Atom: A Love Affair

Nuclear power is back in fashion as a means to wean Europe off Russian gas.

Not so long ago, the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan convinced Germany to abandon atomic energy. Before that, the disaster in Chernobyl, Ukraine gave Europe pause.

The Atom: A Love Affair shows that such ups and downs are not unusual in our 70-year relationship with this form of energy. We have been falling in and out of love with the atom since the 1950s.

Continue reading “The Atom: A Love Affair”

Amsterdam Vice

Amsterdam Vice

I will soon have a review for you of Dirty Lines, the new Dutch Netflix series about the beginning of the phone-sex industry in late 1980s Amsterdam. The first episode looked good. It reminded me of Sex Education.

If you’re looking for something closer to The Deuce, the 2017-19 American series about the sex industry in 1970s and 80s New York starring James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal, I recommend Amsterdam Vice.

The name of both a movie and one-season drama series, which repurposed the movie as pilot, it was released in the Netherlands as Baantjer: Het Begin. It is a prequel to the long-running Dutch police procedural Baantjer, which in turn was based on the novels by former cop Albert Cornelis Baantjer. You don’t need to be familiar with either, though, to enjoy Amsterdam Vice. (I never watched the original Baantjer, nor did I read the books.)

Set in 1980, on the eve of Queen Beatrix’s coronation, the movie introduces Waldemar Torenstra as rookie cop Jurre de Cock and Tygo Gernandt as his hardened partner Tonnie Montijn. The two stumble on what appears to be a plot against the new queen when they discover a corpse floating in Amsterdam’s canals.

Continue reading “Amsterdam Vice”

Death on the Nile

Death on the Nile

Kenneth Branagh returns as Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie’s world-class detective, in Death on the Nile, but unfortunately the movie doesn’t rise to the standard set by Murder on the Orient Express five years ago.

The sequel is beautifully done. Aficionados of dieselpunk and the 1930s will find plenty to like here. There are spectacular shots of the Nile, the riverboat on which most of the action takes place, and the Temples of Abu Simbel, which at the time were still located right on the water. (The complex was controversially relocated in 1968, when the construction of the Aswan High Dam raised the water level.)

Sophie Okonedo lip-syncs era-appropriate blues music by Sister Rosetta Tharpe. The rest of the cast is no less impressive. Gal Gadot, of Wonder Woman fame, stars as a wealthy heiress who fears for her life. Emma Mackey, best known for portraying Maeve Wiley in the Netflix comedy-drama series Sex Education, plays her rival for the affections of Armie Hammer’s character. Readers will recognize Hammer from Guy Ritchie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (our review here).

Continue reading “Death on the Nile”

The Last Battle

The Last Battle

In The Last Battle, Stephen Harding tells the unlikely tale of Allied and former Nazi troops making common cause to protect prominent French prisoners of war from the Waffen-SS.

This Battle of Castle Itter really happened, on May 5, 1945 — three days before victory in Europe. Elements of the American 12th Armored Division, Austrian resistance fighters, defected soldiers of the German Wehrmacht and several of the French prisoners themselves held off an attack by SS diehards before they could be relieved by the 142nd Infantry Regiment.

Among the prisoners were former prime ministers (and bitter rivals) Édouard Daladier and Paul Reynaud, former army commanders Maurice Gamelin and Maxime Weygand, and the former leader of the French far right, François de La Rocque, who had turned against Marshal Philippe Pétain and his collaborationist Vichy regime to secretly provide intelligence to the British.

Continue reading “The Last Battle”

Building a Better Future

Building a Better Future

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been watching events unfold in Ukraine with mounting frustration. Vladimir Putin is inflicting terrible and unnecessary suffering on the country, but there is so little we, ordinary Westerners, can do.

I recommend donating to a charity of your choice to help the people of Ukraine. 3.5 million have fled the country. Millions more are internally displaced, hiding out with family or friends or — worse — in basements and bunkers in cities like Kharkiv and Kiev and Mariupol, often without electricity, heat, medicine and running water. Charities like Doctors Without Borders and the Red Cross are doing what they can to reach these people, and others are helping to provide shelter to refugees both inside Ukraine and in other European countries. They need and deserve your help!

Thanks to Sergeant Frosty Publications, a relatively new publisher of historical fiction, fantasy and science fiction, there is one more thing we can do: buy the alternate-history anthology Building a Better Future. Edited by David Flin, it contains thirteen stories. All the proceeds go to charities helping the people of Ukraine.

Click here to find the book on Amazon.

Also consider signing up for a writhaton this Saturday, Alternate Historians for Ukraine, which will raise money as well.

What If Franz Ferdinand Had Lived?

Matthew Yglesias is worth reading for his political commentary but occasionally dabbles in (alternate) history as well. This week, he has a neat little alternate history in which Franz Ferdinand survives an assassination attempt in Sarajevo in 1914 and turns the Austro-Hungarian Empire into a liberal democracy.

Franz Ferdinand was a liberal who wanted to transform his empire into something of a federation. The Compromise of 1867 had given the Hungarians autonomy, but not the Croats, Czechs and other peoples of the Dual Monarchy.

Franz Ferdinand had less sympathy for the Hungarians, which actually works out in favor of the liberal outcome Yglesias envisages. Too strong a Hungary could have dominated a federation. What it needs to survive is balance.

Continue reading “What If Franz Ferdinand Had Lived?”