Beauty and the Beast


(BBFC PG, 129mins)

Disney’s 1991 animated version of Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s classic fairy tale, one of those movies whose narrative, songs and aesthetic has imprinted itself upon the psyche of generations of little girls, desperately needed a brand new, live action and cgi version, right? Well, frankly, no. Even if it did, this version of Beauty and the Beast is not it. It’s not a bad movie by any means, in fact it’s very good in parts, the problem is that all those good bits are lifted directly from the five-star animated version. It just feels a bit… unnecessary and uninspired.

Everything is there from the 1991 version: bookish Belle (Emma Watson), tired of her life in a provincial French village offers herself as prisoner to the Beast (Dan Stevens) in exchange for her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline) who languishes as the Beast’s captive; the Beast’s retinue – Lumiere (Ewan MacGregor), Cogsworth (Sir Ian McKellan), Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson) and her son, Chip (Nathan Mack) – transformed along with him by a witch’s curse for his selfishness (harsh) free Belle from her prison; the vain and jealous Gaston (Luke Evans), who convinces his fellow villagers that the Beast must die; the songs, the costumes, the romance and fun. There’s also a few new songs that don’t quite capture the magic or singalong-ability of the originals and a bit of extended backstory which add an extra forty minutes, but little else.

Emma Watson is perfectly cast as Belle, a thoroughly modern girl trapped in an age that doesn’t cater for her wants and needs. She manages to pull off a tricky mix of strong and yet vulnerable and it would be difficult to see anyone but her in the role. The rest of the cast are good (though the voices of the originals sometimes weirdly ring in your ears), but it’s Luke Evans as the vainglorious Gaston who steals the show, he’s a proper, hiss-able Disney villain who you’ll love to hate.

Whereas Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book (2016) made plenty of references to its animated predecessor whilst creating its own story, Beauty and the Beast director Bill Condon sticks (more-or-less) rigidly to his source material. There are whole scenes lifted directly, but played with as-much gusto and verve that you (kind of) forgive it and it’s all very efficient, just not very, you know, exciting.

The fuss over Josh Gad’s Le Fou being an openly gay character is pretty much a storm in a (chipped) tea cup. There’s a blink-and-you-miss-it moment in the film’s closing number, but that’s it, hardly anything to get your “I Heart Trump” knickers in a twist about; gay people exist; gay people have always existed; get over it.

It’s difficult to say anything bad about Beauty and the Beast, but it’s also tricky to say anything gushing about it, either. What you think about it depends on your relationship with the animated version, though I don’t think you’ll hate it.

*Very young viewers may get a bit squirmy in their seats at the film’s (overlong) running time and there are a couple of scenes (especially the wolf attack) that may be upsetting for them (you are in the best position to know your child’s tolerance levels, if in doubt you might want to see the film on your own first).

Andy Oliver

Colchester Classics – Classical Music Picks for March 2017



Music-making in March has most certainly sprung into action. Here are just a few of the concerts this month.

In February the Colchester Bach Choir presented An Evening of Mozart in St Botolph’s Church in aid of the Colchester Mayor’s Charities, raising £1,000. Later this month the Mayor, Julie Young, will be hosting a St Patrick’s Day concert. The Children of Lir, an Irish fairytale Cantata by world renowned Irish film composer Patrick Cassidy, will be performed by The Blessington Millennium choir from County Wicklow accompanied by Charles Pearson on the Moot Hall organ on 17 March at 7.30pm in the Colchester Town Hall.

Tickets are £10.00 (01206 282206).

By the way, Patrick Cassidy has composed some beautiful music including the enchanting Vide Cor Meum (See my Heart) first heard during the outdoor opera scene in the film Hannibal.

One of the excellent soloists at An Evening of Mozart was the soprano Gill Wilson.  Gill can also be heard on Wednesday 8 March at 1pm at her recital accompanied by pianist Ian Ray in Lion walk United Reformed Church, Colchester.

On March 11 Gill and also Roderic Knott will be the soloists with Witham Choral and the Colchester Philharmonic in the Last Night of the Proms concert full of favourites such as the Henry Wood Sea Songs Fantasia, opera choruses, Land of Hope and Glory and much more. This concert is on Saturday 11 March at 7.30 pm in the Witham Town Hall.

Tickets £12 (0345 017 8717)

J S Bach’s St John Passion tells the Biblical story of Jesus’ Crucifixion and was first performed on Good Friday in 1724. Rather than expecting the congregation, or, audience to sit back and take in the music, Bach included a number of hymn-like chorales so all could participate in the worship.

If you like your Bach oratorio sung in its original language, this month Colin Baldy will be the bass soloist with the Colchester Choral Society in the St John Passion sung in German accompanied by the John Jenkins Consort with Peter Holman (continuo) conducted by Ian Ray.  Saturday 18 March 2017 in St Botolph’s Church, Colchester (

Next month Colin Baldy will be conducting St Mary’s Church Choir in a performance of the same work in German but this time with five chorales sung in English by the choir with the congregation invited to sing too. This takes place on Good Friday, 14 April at 7.30pm with free entry at St Mary’s Church, Church Street, Maldon CM9 5 JG

By the way, Bach’s St John Passion is often sung in English in the UK and next month’s column will include details of a concert in Clacton and, after a forty-five year wait, information on a new CD of the work sung in English recorded by a Colchester-based international company

Sunday 19 March offers several musical treats such as the Colchester Chamber Choir at St Peter ad Vincula Church, Coggeshall with a programme of 16th and 17th century choral masterpieces including Palestrina and Monteverdi, interwoven with modern jazz improvisations from the internationally-acclaimed jazz guitarist Chris Allard.

Tickets:  £16, under 30s £10 and the concert starts at 7pm

Earlier that same day, Anglia Singers under Chris Green will be performing Handel’s much-loved oratorio, Messiah at Our Lady Queen of Peach Church, Braintree at 4pm. Tickets: £8 (01245 350988)

Also at 4pm on that same Sunday, Kammer Philharmonie Europa will be performing at St Mary’s Church in East Bergholt as part of the Stour Valley Arts Music concert series.

For ticket availability and more information please telephone 01206 298426

At 5pm on Sunday 19 March The Pimlott Foundation is hosting a concert in its recently refurbished Barn with a programme of Elizabethan Music by John Cooper, John Dowland and William Lawes and French music for the court  of Louis XIV, The Sun King.  This concert is at 5pm at Old House, Great Horkesley CO6 4EQ. Entry £11 includes refreshments.

Children and students free Tickets and further details; or phone 01206 271291.

World-famous harpsichordist Trevor Pinnock makes a welcome return to Suffolk Village Festival as part of his 70th birthday celebrations. He is joined by his long-term recital partner Jonathan Manson in a programme that brings together some of the greatest Baroque music for viola da gamba and harpsichord with two extraordinary pieces for solo harpsichord. J.S. Bach’s astonishingly bold Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue has been a favourite with virtuoso keyboard players ever since it was written, while Handel’s monumental Chaconne in G is one of his greatest keyboard works.

For further details contact Suffolk Villages Festival, 119 Maldon Road, Colchester, Essex CO3 3AX telephone: 01206 366603, email  Guess what date this concert is on? Yes, that is right Sunday 19 March at 6pm in St Peter’s Church, Sudbury. Tickets £18 (reserved), £12 (unreserved), reserved seats for two concerts £34.

Colchester Symphony Orchestra returns to St Botolph’s Church on Saturday 25 March, 7.30pm with soloist John Jermy. This concert includes Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto and Beethoven: Symphony No 6 in F major op 68 -The Pastoral. Tickets are £14 and can be reserved via telephone (01206 271128) or more info

In contrast with the above, if you enjoy choral works the Tiptree Choral Society will be singing Mendelssohn’s Elijah in English– a work for large-scale chorus, soloists including numbers for an octet and women’s trio. The work depicts events in the life of the Biblical prophet Elijah and was composed in the spirit of Mendelssohn’s baroque predecessors Bach and Handel, composers he so admired.

Saturday 25 March at St Luke’s Church, Church Road, Tiptree. Tickets from £10 on the door.

If you have a forthcoming concert of classical music, you would like previewed, contact Liz Leatherdale on 0800 999 6994.

Start your love affair with Classical Music at and take a minute to watch their company video: 

Liz Leatherdale






Liz Leatherdale



BBFC 12A, 118 mins

Let me chuck this out there right at the start: Kong: Skull Island is audacious, goofy, insane even, and I loved practically every minute of it. It’s a movie that embraces its own ridiculousness, gleefully revelling in action and fun; it’s a Saturday morning cartoon; a theme park ride; it’s the joy of a narrative created by a kid playing with action figures with no regard to which toy-line they belong; it’s Apocalypse Now and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness channelled through a Guardians of the Galaxy entertainment filter.

It’s 1973 and the United States is facing the humiliation of losing The Vietnam War, the early days of the Watergate scandal and America needs a quick win, something that reasserts their standing on the world stage. A shady government task-force known as Monarch (yes, the same Monarch from the 2014 Godzilla movie, hinting toward a royal rumble?), led by Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins), suggests that not only do monsters exist but proving their existence and bringing them under control will show the world just how powerful America is. Nobody’s going to make a monkey of the USA (sorry).

Monarch gathers together an uber-tough crack military team, a war photographer, Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), and an ex-SAS captain turned tracker, James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and takes them into an uncharted region of the Pacific in search of giants. Not unexpectedly, they find them and then some. Cue chaos and a fight for survival, you know the drill.

I don’t want to give away any more of the plot, suffice to say that Kong is not the greatest threat native to the island, but let’s not spoil the fun or thrill of discovery.

Unlike Peter Jackson’s 2005 or John Guillermin’s 1976 King Kong, which were straight remakes of the 1933 original, Kong: Skull Island instead builds upon the mythos of Kong, minus the gurning sentimentalism. This is Kong as King with a capital ‘K’, unassailable, regal, as benevolent as he is ferocious; he’s primal terror, compassionate protector, the soul of a poet trapped in the body of a beast. Plus, you don’t have to wait an interminable portion of the film’s running time before you get to see him (and you’ll want to see him the biggest screen available to you, trust me).

With only one small, independent movie (the rather glorious Kings of Summer) under his belt, director Jordan Vogt Roberts seemed an unusual choice for such an obvious tentpole blockbuster, but where (with a similar CV) Safety Not Guaranteed’s Colin Trevorrow failed with Jurassic World, Vogt Roberts succeeds in spades with Kong: Skull Island. Vogt Roberts picks up the “goofiness ball” of the script and runs with it, he never stops to linger over the nonsense it spews, rather he embraces it with controlled abandon and brio. Admittedly, few of the action scenes match the initial heady excitement of the adrenaline-fuelled Kong versus helicopters set-piece, but neither are they dull or incomprehensible and always full of fresh ideas. Everything moves along at one heckuva lick and never loses sight of how much fun you’re supposed to have watching it.

Although slightly under-written for the central characters the script does a good job of fleshing out the support, giving surprising back-story and depth to characters usually consigned to “fodder”, most notably with Shea Whigham’s Cole, a career soldier who takes a laid-back, philosophical approach to life and the extraordinary events he finds himself in. Samuel L. Jackson chews the scenery with glee, turning up his Samuel L. Jackson-ness to eleven but it’s John C. Reilly’s World War 2 fighter pilot, Hank Marlow who steals the show. When Marlow, who crash-landed on the island during the war, breaks away from his expository role as guide to the island’s weird evolution and fauna he is a joy: with no experience of the outside world he is constantly asking questions and surprised by the answers, imagine leaving the world listening to Glenn Miller and re-entering to Jimi Hendrix.

The special effects are on point, the soundtrack (full of classic rock songs) soars and you may find yourself temporarily deafened by the roaring of monsters, machine guns and explosions (but that’s what you pay your money for, right? So please don’t complain that it’s too noisy). Some scenes may be too distressing for younger viewers and those with a fear of spiders may want to look away at a certain point but Kong: Skull Island delivers all the thrills and boisterous entertainment you could wish for in exchange for two hours of your life.

Oh, and you might never look at a peanut butter sandwich in the same way ever again.

Andy Oliver




Moonlight, Hidden Figures, The Great Wall



(BBFC 15)

A story in three chapters that chronicles the boyhood, adolescence and young manhood of Chiron, a gay black character growing up in a rough, drug riven district of Miami. Moonlight is an achingly beautiful examination of life that transcends its settings to tell a story we can all find meaning in.

Like pebbles dropped in a pool people fall into our lives creating ripples and waves that shape who and what we are. Moonlight posits that we have no control over not only our skin colour, our backgrounds or sexuality but that we have no control over who will enter our lives and the effects they will have upon us. The themes are universal and through them director Barry Jenkins allows us to explore a life so alien and different to our own yet so similar. What is it that makes us “us”?

Centring your thoughts on Moonlight being a black movie or a gay movie is missing the point, the film asks you to look at your own life and the influences that subliminally and consciously have brought you to the place you are today. And what happens to us if we decide to create our own narrative. Whilst Chiron (in the third and final chapter, Black) has allowed his past to shape his present, Kevin finds his “happy” in, finally, ejecting his past and the people he allowed to shape decisions.

Everything about Moonlight is next level. Universally great performances; beautiful cinematography; understated yet powerful writing; a melancholy, yet uplifting, score and poetic and subtle direction all combine to create one of the most nuanced and (though I hate the term) “Important” movies of the year (or many years, for that matter). Where Richard Linklater’s wonderful “Boyhood” focused on a single life, Moonlight has implications for all our lives.

Saying it is a coming of age movie or a black movie or a gay movie or a “worthy” movie is missing the point. Yes, it is all these things, but those are “parts”, what make Moonlight so special is the “whole”.





Hidden Figures tells the spectacularly fascinating, and yet little known, story of the black women who contributed to the early years of NASA’s space program. Unfortunately, it is told in an utterly pedestrian manner that embraces stereotypes and clichés, it’s like buying the very best ingredients and still ending up with egg and chips for dinner.

There’s plenty of solid work from the central trio of Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae, but the movie has so many problems it’s hard to know where to start in dissecting it: tonally, it’s all over the place never sure whether it wants to be serious or amusing; it embraces so many clichés about black people and black culture that it borders on its own racism; it lacks any focus wanting to tell three stories and only really doing one of them any kind of justice (barely any justice at all actually); nobody is ever called to account for their overt or covert acceptance of institutionalised racism and sexism (and even goes so far as to portray all the white characters as nice guys who are simply misguided or absolute straight arrows); about five minutes in you get the first of Pharrell Williams’ faux Sixties soul tracks which continue to jar and annoy throughout the movie.

Add to this, Kevin Costner chewing the scenery (and an endless supply of gum); Jim Parsons attempting to show that there’s more to him than playing a snippy science nerd in The Big Bang Theory (here he plays a snippy science nerd who’s also a bit racist) and a script so shallow you would struggle to get the soles of your shoes wet were you to step in it. It’s everything that was bad about eighties/nineties movies, more Cool Runnings than Selma, less The Right Stuff and more Spacecamp.

Such a shame as the story of these women genuinely needed to be told and admired. Hidden Figures is just not the film to do it.





(BBFC 12A)

The Great Wall, although beautifully designed, is such a weird mix of generic Western and Eastern action tropes, Chinese mythology and Communist ideology (yes, really) that it’s difficult to understand exactly where it’s coming from.

Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal play a pair of European mercenaries who travel to ancient China in search of the secret of gunpowder, only to stumble upon an ongoing war between men and monsters. Should the pair use the chaos of battle to steal the secret they came for or stay and fight?

There’s plenty to enjoy in the film’s design (including the creatures and the colourful costumes of the oriental army) and original ideas (especially the female warriors who bungee jump off the wall to attack the dragon-like beasts below and the well-thought creature hierarchy), less so in the story or characters. The Great Wall is an okay action movie, no more, no less. It’s only when you scratch beneath the surface it becomes ideologically troublesome.

Made by House of Flying Daggers and Hero auteur Zhang Yimou for the state-owned China Film Group, The Great Wall is pretty overt in its politics, ie the blind adherence to the state in the face of outside antagonism over individualism (interesting to see how that plays in 2017 America). The nobility is buffoonish and incompetent whereas the strength and sacrifice of those who hold the line for the greater good seems like a polemic straight out of a certain little red book. Admittedly it’s one hive-mind versus another, it’s just that the outside one wants to devour the other.

Yimou is a master of composition and large-scale action and, as propaganda, The Great Wall is not short of spectacle or subtlety, unfortunately it lacks enough plot or character depth to make it a memorable cinematic experience.

Andy Oliver

Colchester Classics – Classical Music Picks for February



On Wednesday 1 February at 1pm the The Marenzio Singers will be performing at the first lunchtime concert in 2017 at Lion Walk United Reformed Church in Colchester. The Marenzio Singers are a five-part vocal ensemble and specialise in music from the 16th and 17th centuries plus music from more modern times.

Free entry with a retiring collection.

Last January the University of Essex Choir under the direction of Richard Cooke performed Mozart’s Requiem and other works to a packed audience at the Ivor Crewe Lecture Hall in the university.  Early next month, the choir will be back at the same venue with an intriguing selection of pieces.

The choir’s next concert does not feature one major choral work but instead Richard has chosen a wide selection of music.  I understand that the choir has been thoroughly enjoying rehearsing Holst’s hauntingly beautiful Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda (group 3), for female voices only, and Britten’s The Ballad of Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard, for the male voices.  The concert also includes works for the whole choir in Brahms’ 4 Quartets (Op 92), contrasting with Folksong arrangements by Percy Grainger such as I’m Seventeen Come Sunday and music  by the sadly neglected 20th century Swedish composer, Stenhammar.  The choir will be accompanied by pianists Richard Pearce and Jonathan Beatty who will also perform music by Brahms, Debussy and Grieg.

This concert takes place on Saturday 4 February at 7pm.  Tickets: £22 ( By the way, a short walk from the Ivor Crewe Lecture Hall, Wivenhoe House Hotel is offering pre- or post-concert dining (01206 863666).

On Sunday February 5 at 2.45pm the Kingfisher Ensemble returns to Lion Walk United Reformed Church in Colchester performing Piano Quartets by Schumann and Beethoven.

Tickets: £12 and available on the door.

Colin Nicholson will be joining Ian Ray in Two’s Company in the second concert in the series of three lunchtime Organ Recitals given on the magnificent Moot Hall. A variety of organ duos will be performed on Tuesday 7 February at the Colchester Town Hall .

Free entry with a retiring collection.

Over in Chelmsford, Jeffrey Wilson’s Environ Music promotes creative musical initiatives including a regular Wednesday lunchtime recital series at the Cramphorn Theatre in Chelmsford. This month on Wednesday 15 February the “Sun Trio” (Carol Taylor, clarinet, Paul Arnell, viola, Alison Eales, piano) offer some engaging chamber music.

Further information (01245 606505)

Last year octogenarian Colin Nicholson celebrated the Golden Jubilee of his founding St Botolph’s Music Society in Colchester with his wife, Gill. This month Colin will be conducting the Society’s orchestra in its Gala Concert with a trio of concertos. International pianist Noriko Ogawa performs Grieg’s Piano Concerto – one of the most-loved piano works of all time. (Some of you may recall the classic Morecambe & Wise sketch with Eric attempting to perform this concerto while endlessly annoying conductor Andre Previn). Back to 2017: in the same concert, soloist Philip Smith will perform Schumann’s Piano Concerto and the solo violin part in Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole will be played by Sian Philipps. Saturday 18 February at 7pm in St Botolph’s Church, Colchester.

Tickets: £15 (01206 577905)

Colchester Classics is delighted to be at the Noriko Ogawa concert offering her CDs before her  CD signing in the interval.

The following weekend at the same venue, situated next to the ruins of the Norman priory, Colchester Bach Choir and Orchestra perform their annual concert in aid of the Mayor of Colchester’s Charities. On 25 February the choir will be presenting An Evening of Mozart to include the famous ‘Coronation’ Mass and the Solemn Vespers. Among other pieces, a highlight will be the delightful Flute Concerto in D with Mary Blanchard as soloist. Conductor Patrick McCarthy tells me he also has a Mozartian surprise or two up his sleeve. This will be the 23rd such concert the choir has given for successive Colchester mayors thereby raising many thousands of pounds for their charities.

Tickets £12 (£5 full-time education). Tel (01206) 282206

If you have a forthcoming concert of classical music, you would like previewed, contact Liz Leatherdale on 0800 999 6994.

Start your love affair with Classical Music at and take a minute to watch their company video: 

Liz Leatherdale

Liz Leatherdale

Hacksaw Ridge


(BBFC 15)

Calling himself a “Conscientious Co-operator”, Desmond Doss went to war. A Seventh Day Adventist, Doss refused to carry a weapon or work on a Saturday (the Sabbath in said church) and yet he managed to save the lives of seventy-five severely injured men from the blood-soaked killing field beyond the Maeda escarpment (the titular “Hacksaw Ridge”), Okinawa.

The movie begins in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia where we follow the childhood and adolescence of Desmond (Darcy Bryce), the son of an alcoholic, damaged WWI veteran Thomas Doss (Hugo Weaving). It’s an “Aw, shucks” upbringing straight out of The Waltons, tinged with moments of sudden violence (such as hitting his brother in the head with a brick) and the constant threat of his father’s belt. It’s another belt, though, that provides the momentum to push the story forward when the slightly older Desmond (now played by Andrew Garfield) uses his as a tourniquet to save the life of a man trapped under a car. Not only does this incident provide Doss with a calling, it also brings him into contact with nurse Dorothy Shutte (Teresa Palmer) with whom he is instantly smitten and becomes the love of his life.

When most of his town, including his brother, enlist to serve to fight in World War II Desmond is compelled to join up to become a medic despite/because of his deeply held beliefs and the protestations of his father. Basic training at Fort Baxter becomes pivotal to the story as Doss refuses to pick up a weapon, a decision that brings him into conflict with not only the platoon’s hierarchy (Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington) and his comrades but with the army itself. Life is made hellish for him as he is forced into endless menial and demeaning duties, beaten viciously by his ‘buddies’ and faces a court martial and it is only through the intervention of his father, ironically, that Doss is allowed to remain in the army and go to war.

Which brings us to the literal meat of the movie, the battle for Hacksaw Ridge. Remaining behind after a savage attack and even more bloody retreat, Desmond pulls man after wounded man from the charnel killing field and delivers them to safety. Despite the threat of multiple Japanese patrols, constant danger and exhaustion he continues to venture out to save, “Just one more”.

In many ways, Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge is a proper, old fashioned “war is hell” war movie on a scale not seen since Stephen Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan or Sam Fuller’s The Big Red One, even. It’s a crowd-pleasing epic that tells of one man’s courage in the face of, not just, a relentless enemy but implacable bureaucracy and gung-ho bravado; it’s a tale of heroism that harks back to, and is akin to, classic Hollywood fare starring Gary Cooper or John Wayne or Jeff Chandler and wades through devastated landscapes of violence, action and gore to deliver a (mostly) true-story as inspirational as it is uplifting.

And yet, I found it deeply troubling. It works really well on a surface level but beneath that surface bubbles the director’s politick, a right-wing agenda that plays to Red-States America and the baser side of our nature. Gibson uses techniques perfected by the propagandist movie makers of the 1940’s, films used to drum up enlistments or demonise the enemy:  The movie opens under bucolic Virginian skies, good ol’ boys drinking beer and church choirs assert the way of life under threat; before we even see the Japanese they are referred to as unkillable animals and, when we do see them, they are a horde not unlike the CGI waves of World War Z zombies, faceless, unstoppable and relentless; enemy bullets rip, tear and explode American bodies in huge meaty gouts of blood where allied bullets kill cleanly, humanely, because, remember, atrocities are only what the other guys carry out.

Mel just can’t help being Mel. There is much of his Passion of the Christ in Hacksaw Ridge, the camera lingering over the suffering and pain, the blood and injury, the slow-motion hero posing. There are direct lifts from other movies (most obviously during the basic training section of the movie in which the woeful Vince Vaughn attempts his best Full Metal Jacket) and moments that could only have come directly from the bizarro-mind of Mel (such as a weirdly glaring moment when a soldier uses a dead comrade’s torso as a shield as he charges, gun-blazing, into the enemy).

Hacksaw Ridge
plays in entire counterpoint to Martin Scorsese’s Silence, a movie in which, once again, Andrew Garfield plays a man of faith venturing into the far east to find that his faith is tested. When Garfield’s Rodriguez asks of God all he receives is silence; when Garfield’s proto-Gump asks of God, God answers with explosions and the cries of the dying: “What is it you want of me? I don’t understand” BOOM! “This, you idiot”. Scorsese wants you to think about belief, to question, to find your own answers. Gibson wants you to know that his god is bigger than your god.

I didn’t like Hacksaw Ridge but that doesn’t make it a bad movie. It’s a great story and I have nothing but respect for Desmond Doss, there is nothing about Gibson’s film that you could ever call, “boring”, in fact it’s pretty exciting (albeit in a goofy kind of way). There’s much I don’t agree with in the movie but that doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining (which is why I gave it a 4-star rating). It’s a 1940’s war film made for a 2017 audience and that is its strength as well as being its weakness.

Andy Oliver


Learn All About Colchester’s Coat Exchange Initiative

The other day a clothes airer with a handful of coats on it appeared outside Colchester’s public library and the GO4 Market Cafe. It was the start of a simple coat exchange initiative to help those in need. Before long it was being featured in media outlets including Colchester’s Daily Gazette newspaper, The Independent, the BBC website, and even across the pond on America’s ABC News. Fay Sibley, the Colchester resident behind the initiative, tells us all about it.

A little over two weeks ago, as I embarked upon my train commute home from London, I sat idly scrolling through Facebook, pushing my thumb upwards, passing post after post. Suddenly something grabbed my attention, Spotted in Yorkshire had posted a photo of a coat rail with a few coats outside a shop and a sign that read ‘Need a coat? Take one. Want to help? Leave one.’ I shared the post – thinking this is fab!

A few likes and a couple of smiley faces later a friend got in contact saying she too thought the post I had shared was fab. We both agreed – this simple act of kindness was something we needed in our hometown of Colchester. We discussed the pros and cons of various locations including the Salvation Army and the town hall, deciding that the Salvation Army was too far out of town and the town hall too exposed. Eventually we settled upon the Library behind Holy Trinity Church knowing that GO4 Market Café was based there and already ran several initiatives for the homeless – including a ‘pay it forward’ breakfast scheme.

Galvanised and enthusiastic I told my friend I was just going to do it – I wasn’t going to ask for any specific permissions and if it was taken away ‘oh well what did it matter’. I did, however, contact Will Quince and advised him of what I was going to do, asking him to share it on social media once I had.

My friend and I, along with our families gathered up our old coats. Unable to find a clothes rail at such short notice I grabbed my clothes airer, some string and my freshly laminated sign and on Saturday morning at 07.30 I headed to town. After I had hung the coats and tied on the sign I took a picture and shared it on my Facebook and twitter page – imploring others to do the same.

The response was overwhelming, my post was shared over 900 times and I had never had so many twitter notifications in my life. Within an hour of sharing the photo a local woman got in touch to tell me she had a clothes rail, a short while later she had dropped it to the exchange and added some coats. Others started to get in touch saying they too would donate coats – sending messages of support and encouragement. We started with 12 coats Saturday morning, and by the evening had more than 30!

I think the success of the coat exchange exists in its simplicity – nearly all of us have an old coat or two at home that we no longer need or want. What the rail does is gives people an opportunity to put that coat to good use. It’s a simple gesture of kindness – which can mean so much to someone else. We have deliberately tried to keep the rules simple – anyone needing a coat is welcome to take one, whatever the reason for that need might be. I have met some wonderful people whilst I have been standing at the rail, some donating and others receiving, all touched by act of kindness that lies behind the rail.

If you have a coat or two you would like to leave you can find the rail outside the library Monday – Saturday. The rail is only taken in on a Saturday evening, it is brought back out Monday morning.

Fay Sibley

The Colchester Community Poetry Project

Alice Goss, one of Colchester’s historians, talks about her latest project to assist our town’s homeless guests.

The homeless situation in Colchester, as in other towns, is rising alarmingly and there are too many people living on our streets, all trying to access the few resources that are open to them. There are many people and organisations in the town who are trying to assist them, Beacon House, Emmaus and the GO4 café, along with many individuals who give up their time to help this sector of our community. Yes ‘our community’ as these homeless people are as important in our town as those with homes to go to. How would you feel if someone you knew or a family member was sleeping in a doorway in wet, freezing conditions? There is a small army of volunteers who give up their time to help homeless people, many professional people who help, and there are those through the church who help, with the St. Peter’s Guest House project is a success story now active in its third year. This project ensures that some of our homeless are kept warm and nourished, in a safe, sheltered accommodation over the winter months.

So why am I doing this project? I spent all of last year unemployed, which drove me into a severe financial situation, so much so that I could have lost my home and potentially been homeless myself. The thought of losing everything and then having to rely on the generosity of others to help me rebuild my life, was a situation I did not want to face, and the reality of my situation began to hit home. As I looked into the state of homelessness in Colchester I was struck by the limited resources available and by the generosity of the good people of Colchester in supporting homeless charities. I am now working (albeit part time, working nights) doing a job that I don’t want to do, but it’s a job and one which will keep me housed. I therefore set out to find some way of assisting the community to which I could have belonged, and as a business woman (self-employed for 18 years) I had all the skills to which I could utilise in devising and executing a project like this.

So, what exactly is this project?

This project is to establish a poetry book, which will consist of 100+ poems, all on a theme relating to Colchester (the castle, River Colne, churches, arts scene, transport, aspects of the town’s history, priory, Hythe, military, Roman Circus etc..) accompanied by photos of the town, articles, case studies profiles, an introduction, illustrations, a preface and a foreward. There will also be an index of poets and an acknowledgements section for those businesses who have contributed to the costs of the book. I already have two businesses who are contributing their resources and I expect others will follow shortly.

The finished book will be a hard back, of around 200-250 pages and all the profits generated will go to help fund homeless projects (through Emmaus – although the exact details of how the money will be allocated is still to be finalised) within the town to help our homeless guests.

What I’m asking of the good people of Colchester to please support this project in either of two ways. Either be one of the many who will contribute a poem if they feel able to write one or alternatively, people can support the project by making a financial contribution towards the production/advertising/marketing costs of the book by donating through the gofundme page.

This is a bold initiative undertaken by myself, but with the help and support of Colchester’s people, then together we can make this project a reality. In my opinion, there is something very wrong with our society if we have people living on our streets. Homelessness is a nationwide problem which seems to be escalating and it’s time that our homeless guests were helped more by the housed community. Thank you for reading this and for your support.

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Alice Goss

Overwhelming Support for Tollgate Village at Public Appeal

As I wrote in a previous post I attended and spoke at the Tollgate Village planning appeal last Thursday evening (12th January). I hadn’t planned to write up about the evening, but when I saw the coverage in today’s Daily Gazette I felt that their version did not accurately reflect the mood and tone of events at the meeting.

To briefly summarise events leading up to Thursday evening, the Tollgate Village plans were originally passed by the planning committee, then after a reshuffle of the committee they were thrown out. The Tollgate Partnership then launched an appeal as well as resubmitting their plans. The plans were thrown out again, so now the appeal process is underway and on Thursday evening residents of Colchester had their opportunity to speak in front of the government’s planning inspector Ken Barton. He will prepare a report for the Secretary of State to make a final decision in August.

As has previously been published in the Gazette, and its sister paper the Essex County Standard, there is overwhelming support in the town for the Tollgate Village development and the many benefits people feel it will bring the town, and this was very apparent at the packed meeting.

In the Town Hall’s Moot Hall 100 or so local residents had gathered to have our say, or just to watch others having theirs. Proceedings began promptly at 7.00pm and after a brief explanation from Mr Barton of how the proceedings would work I found myself first up to speak.  I talked of people flocking to Chelmsford, Freeport, Westfield etc because of the choice they offer, and how Tollgate Village would help provide choice and keep some of that money here in Colchester. I also stated that I was unhappy that Fenwick were allowed to be legally represented at the appeal. You can read the transcript of what I said HERE.

Councillor Gerard Oxford spoke and voiced his concerns that approving Tollgate Village would be to ignore correct process and the local plan, and therefore spoke against the development.

A member of the public whose name I didn’t catch, and Colchester’s UKIP secretary Ron Levy, who is also chairman of the Colchester Retail Business Association, also spoke against the development. Mr Levy was concerned about the effect the development might have on the town centre’s traders.

There then followed speaker after speaker making their support known, apart from councillors Dominic Graham (LibDem) and Tim Young (Lab). I’ll come back to them later.

A few highlights include:

Councillor Sue Lissimore (Con) told Mr Barton how the residents of her ward are sceptical about the reasons for the refusal of Tollgate Village.

Resident Charlie Palmer accused the council of being inflexible, cherry picking arguments to suit their narrative, and having lost sight of what the community needs.

Another resident, Jeremy Hagon spoke of the positive impact Tollgate Village would bring to the town and its economy and said he does not visit Colchester town centre often, preferring Chelmsford and Freeport. He cited the dirty streets and expensive parking amongst his reasons. He also made the point that it is cheaper to park at Heathrow Airport for three hours than in Nunns Road car park behind Fenwick for the same period of time.

You can read the full transcript of Mr Hagons’s speech HERE.

Mark Payne, resident and owner of a Tollgate based business, told Mr Barton that it wasn’t about Tollgate Village or the town centre, they can co-exist and both thrive.

Fellow business owner and resident Kim Adcock agreed and said the greatest threat to town centres was from supermarkets. She was also frustrated by the disappearing parking spaces in the town, with more recently lost in the remodelled Priory Street car park.

Resident Andrew Guest, who runs the Purple Dog pub in the town, also felt that Tollgate Village and the town centre had different appeals.

Scott Everest, a resident known to many online by his Twitter name Colonel Camulos and who has a son who is physically handicapped, gave a very powerful speech about the lack of access in the town centre for people with disabilities. These include a shortage of parking spaces and dropped kerbs, and St Marys car park being the only one in town with same level access. These are issues that Mr Everest feels the current Tollgate shopping centre does address and accused coalition councillors of not engaging with residents about such issues, with particular reference to the emerging local plan, and accused them of being ‘self-serving and professional politicians’.

You can read Mr Everest’s speech in its entirety here HERE.

A little over an hour late, at 8.07pm Deputy Council Leader Tim Young arrived. Unfortunately for him he missed his name being called by about a minute and would now have to wait until near the end of the meeting to speak. Mr Young didn’t seem at all pleased by this and sat in the front row with a face like thunder, glancing down occasionally to read his newspaper on his lap.

Colchester, and Essex County Council Councillor for Stanway, Kevin Bentley (Con) declared himself 100 percent behind the development and spoke about the need for infrastructure to cope with all the new homes that are being built, and are to be built, in the borough. Looking across the room at Mr Young this clearly did nothing to lighten his mood.

Councillor Chris Manning, Chairman of Stanway Parish Council, said his authority was 100 percent behind the scheme.

Brigitte Fraser, a resident who runs Simply Living, one of the town centre’s independant businesses, also spoke in favour of the development and the advantages it would bring to the town.

Councillor Fiona McClean (Con) echoed this and said that 82 percent of residents polled in her Stanway ward wanted Tollgate Village to go ahead and that the council is wrong to ignore them.

Tim Young then finally spoke and promptly ignored them, dismissing Miss McClean’s figures out of hand. He then spoke about the effect Tollgate Village would have, in his opinion, on the town centre’s thriving arts scene. He also made an interesting claim that Tollgate Village would stop people visiting Castle Park.

Fellow coalition Councillor Dominic Graham (Lib Dem) was up next and after using half his allocated five minutes to qualify his credentials and reasons for being there, as well as praising the council’s planning department to the skies, he then told Mr Barton how Freeport had destroyed Braintree’s town centre. Mr Graham isn’t from these parts so it would be interesting to know if he had ever visited Braintree before Freeport was built, but comparing Braintree town centre with Colchester is like comparing apples with oranges.

Tim Young left the meeting early straight after Dominic Graham had finished speaking.

The final speaker of the evening, before Kevin Bentley read out a written submission from MP Priti Patel within whose constituency Tollgate Village falls, was Pam Schomberg. Pam was born in a shop in Colchester and has lived in the town centre all her life where she still owns a shop – she’s also a close friend and former neighbour of my mum but enough about that – and she stated categorically that Tollgate Village would not kill the town centre. Pam blamed high business rates and parking charges for the town centre’s decline.

Pam was the third town centre business owner to speak for the development, and her speech perfectly rounded off the night, coming as it did from someone with lifelong and very personal knowledge of the town centre.

Council Leader Paul Smith’s name was called twice but he had not attended the meeting, nor had he sent a message to explain his absence even though had indicated during the afternoon that he would add his voice to the NO speakers. There was naturally quite an air of surprise at his non-appearance.

In total twenty-eight people spoke, five against the development, including the only member of the public opposed, and twenty-three spoke for it. Thirty people had registered to speak including Jon Manning, the former councillor who chaired the original planning committee that has approved Tollgate Village and voted against the planning officer’s recommendation to refuse planning permission. Sadly some of the thirty were beaten by the weather, and Jon Manning had to leave before he was callled to speak. I’m sure whatever he planned to say would have added a whole new level of exctitment to the evening.

Mr Barton must have got quite a shock at this level of support for a new development, usually people turn up at appeals to protest against them, not for them, but this showed just how much many people feel we are losing out on new infrastructure and facilities for residents whilst at the same time building thousands of new homes.

All we can do now is await the Secretary of State’s decision in August.

Simon Crow



Tollgate Village Planning Appeal

Last night residents of Colchester, and other interested parties, had an opportunity to speak at the Tollgate Village planning appeal in the Town Hall’s Moot Hall. Colchester 101 fully supports the Tollgate Village planning application which Colchester Borough Council originally approved then twice rejected, forcing the applicant, Tollgate Partnership, to appeal. Colchester 101 usually tries to remain neutral on local issues, preferring instead to promote people, organisations and events in and around the town, but also giving the council a nudge where necessary, such as our coverage last year of the gaps in our town’s tourism strategy. However, like a large number of Colchester residents we feel so strongly about Tollgate Village, and the benefits we believe it will bring to this fast growing town, that we threw our hat the ring and gave it our full support.

So last night I went along to have my say in front of the government planning inspector Kenneth Barton, legal representatives for the council, the Fenwick department store and others with a major commercial interest in the town centre, Tollgate Partnership and their legal team, and about 100 local residents. In total twenty-five people spoke to support the scheme and only five spoke against it, which included three councillors who are members of the council’s controlling cabinet. Speakers for included local business owners, some based in the town centre, four opposition councillors, and members of the public . I drew the short straw and was first up to speak in front of this packed house. This is the transcript of what I said, a copy of which is with Mr Barton for his perusal. A decision will be made by the Secretary of State on or before 1st August.

My name is Simon Crow and I run a small business in Colchester as well as publishing the popular Colchester 101 blog.

I would like to say the following:

We do not want to be dictated to by Fenwick.

This is our town. The people in this room who have come here to support Tollgate Village, we live here, we bring our families up here, most probably work here, and we do most of our shopping and spend our leisure time here.

We do not want an expensive department store and its associates dictating to us what facilities this town can have in order to protect their own interests at our expense.

This is our town. Not theirs.

I run a business in this town, as do others in this room I’m sure, and nobody is going to stop a competitor setting up down the road from me.

And why should they? Competition is a good thing. It makes everyone raise their game, which is good for consumers.

And we also do not want Colchester Borough Council social engineering our town by denying us choice and forcing us to use the town centre.

I love the town centre and visit it often, but if, as we are told, it is in decline then the council needs to stop blaming those who want to invest in the town and look at the exorbitant business rates and the sky high parking charges for starters.

Sadly, the truth is that the council has no vision for the town centre that they claim will suffer if Tollgate Village goes ahead, so their only answer is to try to force us to use it.

The sad fact is that this council that controls one of the fastest growing boroughs in the country has a small town mentality and they simply cannot see beyond the ends of their collective noses. Instead of having a vision for the town centre they drop to their knees and worship at the altar of Fenwick whilst tugging their forelocks to them in deference.

Thousands of new homes have been built in Colchester over past few years. Thousands. And with little spending on infrastructure to accommodate this fast growing population. We are literally bursting at the seams and Colchester Council have just pushed through plans to build two garden villages with thousands more new homes to come on the outskirts of the town.

One of these, West Tey, is just down the road from Tollgate Village. Yet the council have rejected £70 million of much needed inward investment on infrastructure right on its doorstep. Not only would Tollgate Village provide leisure and retail facilities for this new community, it would also be the source of many much needed jobs in future years.

Every weekend people head out of Colchester in their droves to shop at Lakeside, Chelmsford, Bluewater, Freeport and Westfield because they offer choice we just don’t have here. With Tollgate Village we can keep some of that money in Colchester, along with the money spent by all the new people who will move here over the coming years.

In fact, we should not even be thinking of Tollgate Village and the Town Centre as separate entities. Instead we should think of them both as essential parts of Colchester’s offering, because I believe that with Tollgate Village, with a clear vision for the town centre, and with the council’s leisure and sporting plans at Northern Gateway, we will have all the ingredients to make Colchester a major regional leisure and retail attraction that will bring people here in their droves from all over East Anglia.

We will be the pride of the region.

Yes, Tollgate Village could be the making of this town.

Surely that is better than trying to make time stand still and control what people do?

Please don’t do what Colchester Borough Council and Fenwick and their friends want you to do and deny us and our children choice. Please give us that choice and let Colchester and its people be masters of our own destiny.

Simon Crow



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