Antonia Quirke

Escape, amusement, absorption

Escape, amusement, absorption

Antonia Quirke the presenter of the radio 4 film programme has put together her top 3 film recommendations with memorable moments of healing especially for our Orchard Barn audience, we hope you enjoy:

In many ways, the simple act of sitting and watching any film at the moment is a healing thing to do. Escape, amusement, absorption. Did you know that one of the most streamed movies in the world right now is Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 Contagion? A spookily prescient melodrama about a global flu pandemic, where the infection begins (in part) with a bat. Actually, I suspect that the reason millions of people have sought it out has less to do with its (horribly recognisable) portrait of a world in a health crisis, and more because the story has an end. There is definitive resolution. A vaccine invented; solutions found. The world is healed and begins to turn again. What could be more comforting? But for those of you looking for something a little less … explosive, here are three films with memorable scenes of healing that will distract, move and soothe. There is surely no better medicine than cinema.


‘The heart is an organ of fire’ is a phrase lullingly repeated through Anthony Minghella’s outrageously romantic desert epic about an Hungarian cartographer (Ralph Fiennes) in love with a colleague’s supremely English wife (Kristen Scott Thomas), in Egypt on the lip of the Second World War. ‘I’m a bit of toast my friend’ dooms Fiennes, who fell burning from the sky after his plane was shot down over the desolate, gold troughs of the Sahara somewhere near the Libyan border. His head and body a writhing torch, burned beyond recognition, he’s scooped up by Bedouin tribesmen inside great sheaves of oasis reeds and carried to a cave. Skin, nothing but glue and gore: he will surely die. But in the opening moments of the film we see him passing in and out of consciousness, only half-aware of the arrival of a travelling apothecary carrying a giant yoke hung with hundreds of glass bottles of liquid of many colours. Silver thimbles of spices. This merchant doctor, with a face lean and lined, pours oil onto cloth and mixes a dark paste, placing it with cool hands over wounds. Time slows and thickens. Only the sound of wind-chimes and the scream of camels, the unwrapping of masks of herbs. Odours spilling out after the removal of corks. The whole magical, mysterious sequence sets the tone for the rest of the film: of love and pain and lost panaceas.


‘Do you seriously expect me to tell the President that an alien has landed, assumed the identity of a dead housepainter from Wisconsin and is presently out tooling around the countryside in a hopped-up orange and black 1977 Mustang?’ As plots go, this one couldn’t fail to raise the spirits, especially when it’s a devastatingly charismatic 35-year-old Jeff Bridges playing the alien – a curious Starman come to earth on a wholly benign, investigative mission from a distant planet. The movie’s a wheeze, a hoot, a tear-jerking road-trip, unfurling in cars and trains across Arizona and beyond, with Bridges and his human companion Karen Allen on the run from frowning authorities. There’s a moment, midway through, when the Starman spies a dead deer slung across the bonnet of a truck, at a service station full of tobacco-chewing hunters. “Dead deer – why?” he asks Allen. “Do deer eat people? Do people eat people?” His expression is pure sadness and consternation. Moments later, Allen sees him by the truck, standing perfectly still and holding his hands over the animal, projecting a rejuvenating light back into its limbs, coaxing it back to life, and then lifting it gently down from the vehicle and setting it free. The deer shakes its head and stumbles before trotting delicately into the darkness, as though the whole thing had been a strange dream. I’ve often thought about what that scene was like to film. There’s no CGI, no camera tricks. The deer must have been sedated and Bridges would have stood over it for long minutes, maybe up to an hour, holding his position as healer, waiting for it to wake from its induced slumber. The whole crew must have been standing there too waiting, infinitely patient, cameras running, silent. It must have felt a bit like prayer.


Who, in the 19th century, could hope to survive the ministrations of even the best physician? Purgation via bleeding and leeches, a belief that ‘cold fruit’ like cucumber and melon might cause terminal disease, a horror of miasmas and night air. And so when young Marianne Dashwood (Kate Winslet) catches a chill, which develops into a fever and muttering unconsciousness after a long walk and the shockingly depressing end of a relationship, a doctor is called, and the audience doomily holds its breath. Fans of Jane Austen might also enjoy the diaries Emma Thompson kept (and later published) when she wrote and starred in this enduring adaptation in 1995. She notes that she specifically wanted the audience to see Marianne being bled by this doctor in 1811 – to understand how mortally sick she is, how further imperilled by well-meant but bad medicine, how close to death. Thompson plays Marianne’s older sister Elinor, increasingly convinced things will end badly. In the movie’s most powerful scene, in the darkness of a candle-flickering midnight bedroom (you can sense the vast and dusty emptiness of the stately home around them) she pleads with Marianne to live. ‘Do not leave me alone’. Before our eyes, Elinor - so stoic and logical - seems to will Marianne back towards life with the strength of her own love and need. With the superimposition of her very will. Is it just me, or does Thompson’s hand on Winslet’s arm begin to seem like a kind of power cable – a super-wondrous IV drip - defying death itself? Come the dawn; all is well. Those shots of morning dew in the glimmering garden feel like miraculous movie happiness.

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