Great Britain

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Beyond the Balkans – Eric Ambler and the British Espionage Novel, 1936-1940

Eric Ambler (1909-1998) was one of the foremost architects of espionage fiction as it exists today. Like his predecessor Somerset Maugham, Ambler sought to transform the genre from the verbal banality and minimal characterizations of authors William Le Queux and Edward Oppenheim to a more sophisticated, morally ambiguous world of deception and danger.

The Last Victorian: John Buchan and the Hannay Quartet

But, even more importantly, he also struck the first modern note in the evolution of the genre with respect to the degree of personal doubt and insecurity that over-shadows the mission – the same note, albeit greatly amplified, that is found in the novels of such well-known successors as Eric Ambler, Graham Greene, and John Le Carré, whose spy stories may be correctly seen, in part at least, as a continuance of John Buchan and the Hannay Quartet.

Movie still: Eastern Promises

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Eastern Promises, #29

The diary of Tatiana (Tatiana Maslany), a 14-year-old, drug-addicted prostitute who dies while giving birth to a daughter in a London hospital, sets the film in motion. Her account of how and why she came to London—provided by periodic voice-overs as the diary is translated from Russian—offers a back story of the mob’s involvement in white slavery and English brothels.

John Everett Millais: The Blind Girl

Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Art and Design, 1848–1900, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

The Pre-Raphaelites shared several treasured ideals, but their painting styles varied greatly. The two transcendent themes, especially in their early work, were “truth to nature” and the power of religious faith. They aimed to depict the natural world with great fidelity, while evoking spiritual values as medieval artists had done.

Movie still: The Long Good Friday

100 Greatest Gangster Films: The Long Good Friday, #34

There’s a fascinating blend of flag waver and felon in the English bulldog character created by Bob Hoskins in The Long Good Friday. Comparing his homeland with that of a visiting American Mafiosi, Shand says, “Look what England has given to the world: culture, sophistication, genius. A little bit more than the hot dog, know what I mean?”

Movie still: Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, #39

The twisting, amusing heist movie was written and directed by Guy Ritchie, a 29-year-old Brit who never went to film school and learned his craft by creating music videos and TV commercials. Unfortunately, as we see it, this feature-length debut also serves as the high point of Ritchie’s career—unless you count his eight-year marriage to Madonna.

Jacket cover NW by Zadie Smith

Book Review: NW by Zadie Smith

By calling her newest novel NW, Zadie Smith follows in the tradition of other writers, including Mary Gaskell, George Eliot, and Winifred Holtby, who have named the work after the setting. Like its predecessors, NW is an ensemble novel that explores human nature through a microcosm of the world, a technique that has historically appealed to women writers. Jane Austen famously said her work, containable on a “little bit (two inches wide) of Ivory,” was about “four or five families in a country village.”

Book jacket: Diaries by George Orwell

Book Review: Diaries by George Orwell

Europe had yet to recover from the First World War and the Allied peoples were at a grave psychological disadvantage in comparison with the civilian population of Nazi Germany. Through nearly a decade of political indoctrination, news censorship and threats of imprisonment or worse, the German people were schooled for war. To Orwell, the only things that could shake the British out of their complacency were the drone of the engines of German aircraft over London and the detonation of the bombs they dropped.