Movies that move me 2: Fire In Babylon

For two years or so, early in my life as ordained church minister, I was co-chaplain to Leyton Orient Football Club. This wasn’t a paid post – it was in the parish I was working in, and an opportunity arose to help out there as part of my day-to-day work. Leyton Orient isn’t a big club – outside of English-based football fans, it’s a club unlikely to be known. It sits in a diverse, bustling part of East London, at the heart of the community of Leyton from which it takes its name. It has a small stadium which I rarely saw full. It was during my time there that a chaplain at another club said to me words which explain much – both about the mentality of the professional athlete and that of the committed fan. “There are two crucial lessons you need to learn as a sports chaplain”, he said. “The first lesson is that it’s only a game. The second is that it’s never only a game. Learn those lessons and you’ll be alright”.

Those words came back to me when I first saw Fire In Babylon – a 2010 documentary film about the dominant West Indies test cricket  team of the 1980s. They were only a playing a game – but, as the film compellingly demonstrates, it was never only a game. The film simply, creatively tells the story of Test match cricket as the quintessentially English pursuit. A sport exported via colonialism to a select, but diverse collection of countries: India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the Caribbean Islands. It’s that last geographic destination that this film concentrates on. That’s because cricket is everything to that group. Everything in that they only exist as a collective for the purposes of international cricket. The West Indies national anthem is about cricket. The team plays home games on a variety of different islands. They unite, different cultures and passports and places, around this and this only.

So the team rediscovered something – aggressive, direct fast bowling. I say fast – a small, hard missile aimed at your head or ribcage, travelling at 90-95 mph. As team after team fell – literally fell – before them Test cricket was turned from a 5-day chess match to a full on contact sport. Equipment and rules changed, and the West Indies dominated.

But what this meant beyond the game was more important. A team of black players, finding their own voice and expression, defeating and humiliating the white colonial masters on their own soil. Wrestling with the decision to play – for money – in apartheid South Africa. Moving from loveable, but flawed entertainers to a beautiful, brilliant, at times flawless professional team. Bob Marley was the soundtrack, the West Indies team the visuals.

Fire In Babylon is the 90 minute explanation, with fantastic music, of why 5 day test cricket is way more than a sport. It’s a test of mind and body, heart and soul. It’s an expression of freedom and means of oppression. It is  – like all great sport – metaphor for many, many deeper things. It reminds me that when I can’t tear myself away from updates and coverage of an England Test match or Arsenal; that the emotions that bruise, batter, enrapture and enfold me as I follow are not really about the sport. They are about the family I grew up watching these sports in, learning about them in, going to the grounds as part of. These games aren’t games; they are a way of telling the story of our lives, our families, our countries and our communities. Ask South Africa about 1995; Liverpool Football Club about the number 96; or the American people why it’s important that a team of (then) no stars called the Patriots won the Superbowl in early 2002. If you want a book to read, Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch is as good as you’ll get on this – in that case from the point of view of a football fan.

There must always be perspective – we all know people, or are people who need to remember that sport is, just sport. But those tempted to criticise and sneer must also know that it’s never just that. Fire In Babylon shows and tells this, to stunning effect.

At the time, some said the West Indies team that was sweeping all before it was ruining Test cricket. In a way they were.

But sometimes you have to ruin something in order to discover it.

I rated this move 9/10 on imdb.com and 5/5 on rottentomatoes.com

Promising Change

We’re entering a season of promises. The Christian season of Advent – the 4 week build up to Christmas – is an opportunity to reflect on many things, not least that the Christian God is one who keeps His promises; even if to say that may seem counter-intuitive given only the shortest glance at the world around us. The story of the Bible is of God being faithful, His people being faithless. One of the most potentially scandalous passages of Old Testament scripture is of God telling one of His servants to take a prostitute for his wife and allowing her unfaithfulness to be a sermon illustration. Imagine a 21st century pastor getting that one past his accountability group.

Taking the long view, it’s easy to think ourselves into a place of greater faithfulness than the people of Scripture who are so fickle in their love for God. We mustn’t be too hard on them, though. For a while they were plunged into a period of prophetic silence with only ancient stories and promises to keep them going. When would God come? When would they be free? It’s no surprise, then, that many of God’s people missed God incarnate even when He was right in front of them. Besides, are we really good at believing God’s promises, and would we have been then?

Take this one:

I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more. “Never again will there be in it infants who live but a few days…” (Isaiah 65:19-20).

That would have seemed a poignant and ironic one in Bethlehem as Herod had weeks old baby boys put to death in a jealous rage (Matthew 2:13-18). It’s there nonetheless, though; when the Messiah finally comes, such a thing won’t happen. Really, sobs the desolate mother? Really, echoes the reply.

So goes the human temptation to judge God. Look at what happens around us? How are we supposed to believe you now? It’s time for you to show your power, we scream or sob.

Show your own, comes the chilling reply.

In 2000 the world’s leaders committed themselves to the Millenium Development Goals. These were a set of promises which said to the world’s poor ‘We see you. We see your situation. We commit ourselves to doing something about it.’ There has been some progress. That’s good.

Not everywhere, though. South Africa, where I live and work, hasn’t made forward progress on two of these promises – to reduce maternal mortality and infant mortality. In fact it’s got worse. Much worse. In most of South Africa’s communities the grieving of the young families of ancient Bethlehem still echoes.

The difference is that this isn’t murder. Something can be done about this. So with two years until these promises need to be made good on, some of us saying that the time is now. There’s a global movement of Christians called Micah Challenge, which takes a cue from God’s words to the prophet Micah (Micah 6:8). The expression of this in South Africa is for ordinary people to make their own promise, and to commit to them with simple photos taken of them with their promises. Children have promised to bake cookies for medical professionals. Adults have promised to do sponsored walks and donate the proceeds to NGOs Adults and children have promised to fast and pray. The end result will be to join these promises together and then present them to the country’s leaders as a reminder and a challenge to live up to the promises they made themselves.

We’re entering a season which invites us to trust that God’s promises mean something. Make that a challenge for yourself, and those who lead.

A big hat-tip to Craig Stewart of Micah Challenge SA for a lot of the input to this post. Find out more about Micah Challenge International and its expression in your country here. See some of the promises made by ordinary South Africans here, and learn more about the campaign including how to add your voice, promise and picture, here.

The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales by Peter Rollins

Peter Rollins website carries the banner ”to believe is human; to doubt, divine“. So you know doubt what territory you’re in with his books. He was the founder of Ikon, an Irish emerging/alternative church group with a creative line in blending music art and imagery in worship. I’d experienced some of their work at festivals in the UK – it was nothing if not daring. The music and the imagery and the ideas were all creative and clever, but I sometimes found it hard to work out what they were actually trying to do – and I found myself wondering if they knew themselves.

One of the features of their work was questioning an emerging Christian sub-culture of consumerism and celebrity; one of the things that I appreciated about my experiences of them was that I didn’t know who any of the people were and that didn’t matter. So it’s sightly ironic, then, that founder Peter Rollins is now living in the USA, speaking at conferences, festivals and mega-churches and describing himself on his website as ‘widely sought after’. Let the reader understand…

Such is the context for his little book ‘The Orthodox Heretic’; a collection of 33 short stories (no more than 3-5 pages in most cases) or parables attempting to explore a variety of spiritual themes. They purport to stand in the traditions of Jesus’ parables; short, punchy stories which provoke and divide an audience. In that sense, Rollins’ stories here are successful – these are bound to divide and challenge people. There are, though, a few problems.

One is that each story comes with an explanatory commentary from the author. That’s fine, but in more than a few cases the commentary is longer than the story. This suggests that the story is bearing too heavy a load of interpretation. Rollins doesn’t actually seem to trust a story to speak for itself – he wants to over-explain. Some of the commentaries are so convoluted and weighed down with philosophy and other references that you’ve forgotten what the story was actually about. A simple solution may have been to move the commentaries to a separate section at the end of the book as opposed to immediately after each story to encourage the reader to use them at her own pace; and escape the feeling which I’m sure Rollins was keen to avoid – that there’s one approved interpretation for each story.

The stories are sometimes wholly original, on occasions based on familiar texts; sometimes they invite you into Biblical passages in a new way from the point of view of a particular character. That’s helpful – it’s always good to revisit a Bible passage with fresh eyes in a new way. These often have Rollins’ trademark irreverence – some of these are daring steps, teetering deliberately on the boundary of heresy and orthodoxy to invite you into a new space. Sometimes that’s eye-opening and challenging; sometimes it’s frankly pretentious and annoying – leaving you wondring how much Rollins really loves his audience and how much he’s provoking for the sake of it.

Which leads onto another problem. Broadly the stories circle round the importance of ministry among the poor and the priority of love. Good stuff; but at no time, in the commentaries or the stories themselves, did I sense a warm, embracing heart from Rollins, inviting me on a journey with a wise guide. He wants me to think and change, yes; but to do that I need to be sure the invitation comes from a good and generous place. When one of your main points is the primacy of love in the God we serve, that’s a problem.

It’s not a bad book, but neither is it essential. It’s good to dip into and some of it will shake and challenge you. Do so, though, under the constant reminder of God’s love and gracious invitation. He, above all, IS love.

I rated this book 3/5 on goodreads.com

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The Church of England and women Bishops: hope’s terrible beauty

Hope should be a beautiful, simple word. Hope, the Bible tells us, does not disappoint. The Shawshank Redemption told us ‘Fear can hold you prisoner, hope can set you free’. That resonated with a lot of people.

There’s another side to hope, though. One that’s also true, and altogether more painful. It’s encapsulated in a saying that springs from British football culture. ‘It’s the hope that kills you’. It’s a way of saying that when you feel your team finally has a chance of achieving something unlikely or long dreamed of, it’s all the more painful and frustrating to have that hope dashed. That fits well today.

Yesterday the Church of England’s governing body, General Synod, voted down some legislation which if passed would have paved the way for women to become Bishops. Although Synod actually agreed to women Bishops some time ago, what was up for debate was how that would work legally – how to allow it to happen, but still allow space and provision for those English Anglicans who feel that in all conscience they cannot accept the ministry of a woman Bishop. There are 3 ‘houses’ at Synod; the House of Bishops, the House of Clergy and the House of Laity (people who aren’t ordained). To pass, legislation needs a two-thirds majority in each house. This was achieved easily in the Houses of Bishops and Clergy. In the laity it fell short. If 5 laypeople had changed their votes, it would have gone through,

Pain was inevitable. If it had gone through, there would have been men and women feeling deep pain and anguish today about their future in the Church of England. This morning that pain is for those who long to see women allowed to be Bishops. There is hope, but it’s a hope that today hurts. Hope that women Bishops are effectively agreed to in theory, but the pain that this is not so in practice. Hope that this legislation was approved by most of the individual dioceses (a diocese is a Bishop’s geographical area of responsibility), hope that so many yesterday voted in favour, but pain that because of five the answer is still ‘not yet’. Hope that women are priests, but are not yet legally allowed to be Bishops.

Today it feels like never. I feel heart sore for those denied the possibility of what I and they believe is their God-given calling and right. There’s lots of hope, but this morning it’s precisely that hope which hurts. It’s the same hope which spurs us on and inspires as we wait for Jesus to return and remake creation to a place of no more pain, giving us glimpses now of what that will look like. It’s the same pain too – that causes us to carry on now, aware that pain and apparently unanswered prayer is also a reality.

I and many others are Anglicans partly because being one calls me to be part of something bigger, to challenge me to live in family and in relationship with those with whom I disagree. This morning some of us were always going to wrestle. Wrestle with what God is saying. Are we who advocate for women Bishops wrong? Was this the wrong legislation in the wrong way? Is it the right thing at the wrong time? What is the the Spirit saying to the church?

I don’t know, yet. I was born and raised in the Church of England. It frustrates me, but I also believe God has called me to serve from and within it. Currently I serve many miles away, in another expression of Anglicanism where women can be Bishops, where one was consecrated last week and another will be next year. But still I ache and cry and fear and pray for the Church of the England.

There is hope, but today it hurts, and threatens to kill.The time for discernment will come. It starts, though, with sitting in the dust awhile and feeling hope’s terrible beauty.

Seeking power, and giving it away

This sermon was part of a series preached on the book of Acts, in this case Acts chapter 14. It’s a good idea to read that first, and have it alongside you as read this post.

Power is powerful. It has a capacity to attract gravitational pull towards itself or repel with similar force. It’s been the subject of the stories people tell since people started telling stories. When we come face to face with a person who holds power, it’s easy for us to find ourselves paying attention to the trappings of power as opposed to the person themselves. So when someone like Ghandi comes along, divesting himself of the trappings of power, his message becomes exponentially more attractive and subversive.

In Acts 14, covering the second half of Paul’s first missionary journey, we see the extent to which power – in this case, spiritual power – is both available to all of us but can also provoke wildly divergent reactions … ultimately laying bare the essence of our reactions to God Himself.

The chapter gives a quick overview of Paul and Barnabas’ experience in a number of different places. In each instance, though, we see that the power of God is available and active. God is at work in a real, direct, powerful sense  – in such a way as to be described as miraculous. So in 14:3 we read that ‘miraculous signs and wonders’ confirm the preaching of the news about Jesus. The same thing is repeated in a different city in 14:8-10 –  a man crippled from birth is healed by Paul after he has heard the message preached. It bears many similarities with the first healing miracle in the book, recorded in Acts 3 – a man crippled since the day of his birth, the apostle looking him directly in the eye, the man jumping as he’s healed.

A similar thing happens at the end of Paul’s time Lystra. Paul is stoned and described as being ‘left for dead’ (14:19). The Christians gather round him (14:20), and he’s able to walk back into town. We need to pause here to let sink in what actually happens. The people who stone Paul here know how to stone someone to death – it’s part of their tradition. They knew what a person who had been stoned to death looked like – so when they drag Paul outside the walls of the city, they really think he’s dead. There’s not going to be any doubt in their minds. The disciples gather round the apparently dead Paul – a turn of phrase which commentators tend to agree represents another way of saying they prayed for him – and the man who was previously assumed to be dead is able to get back and walk under his own power back into the city. There’s only one way that’s possible – the power of God.

The fact is that Paul would go on to write about this in his letters to the churches. There’s more than one list of the gifts given to the church by the Holy Spirit in the letters we attribute to Paul – they overlap and fill in gaps in one another. Look at just one – probably the most famous in 1 Corinthians 12:8-11 and we find gifts of the miraculous and healing are right in there. It happens with Old Testament prophets (think, for example, of Elijah); throughout the life of Jesus; throughout Acts and on into the life of the early church. Records start with Iraneus, Bishop of Lyons in 200 C.E. referring to people healing in the name of Jesus, and carries on – in every era of the church, there are people discovering and rediscovering the power of God to heal. Nothing in the Bible or church history realistically allows us to think that gifts of healing and the miraculous died out with the apostles.

Now we know that we don’t live in a perfect world; we don’t see all the answers to prayers we want to because we live in war zone, waiting for the return of the king who will remake creation so that sickness, pain, tears and death are no more (Revelation 21:4). But it’s very clear from the Bible that God’s power is available to us to heal now – to demonstrate that what’s written in the Bible is still powerful, that God really is the same now as He was then, to pull back the curtain of eternity and give us a glimpse of what it will be like when the King returns. So it continues – I’ve prayed for people to be healed and not seen the answer we’d longed for. I’ve prayed for people and seen the deaf have hearing restored, withered muscles restored and pain subside. The power of God is here.

But people like you and me are nothing if not stubborn, and Acts 14 shows the variety of different reactions we can have to God’s power.

There can be outright opposition (14:2-3, 4-5), coming from the same hard hearts and jealousy which we saw at work in chapter 13 last week. There’s also, in Lystra, the sort of opposition that comes from misunderstanding. Lystra was the centre around the cult of the god Zeus; he was believed to have visited the city with his spokesman Hermes, to be recognised by only one elderly couple. His devotees in the city were determined not to make the same mistake again, so when Paul and Barnabas arrive speaking of a God and engaging in the miraculous they assume it’s Zeus returning and try to offer sacrifices. (14:11ff). It’s all the two missionaries can do to stop the townsfolk from making sacrifices to them.

Before we dismiss the Zeus-loving Lystrans we – followers of Jesus and atheists alike – should pay careful heed. Do we ever see one thing and let our assumptions lead us to one conclusion? Or do we stop to consider  – that if there is a God, isn’t it possible, indeed likely, that He may do some things which we find hard to explain without moving to a more ‘rational’ explanation?

Either way, Paul and Barnabas’ reaction is in sharp contrast to Herod’s – they point away themselves, towards the God of heaven and earth, the God of Jesus. Herod, (12:21ff) hearing the crowd acclaiming him in his finery as a god, accepts the praise – and pays the  terrible consequence. Herod’s all for taking all the acclaim and power he can get; Paul, by stark contrast, goes from Lystra back through other cities already visited (14:21-28), releasing other leaders, building them up and delegating power, giving it away, passing it on. It’s not his to hold on to – he’s there merely to hand it to others.

So the power of God is real and it is here. It is here to break into our lives. It is here to heal. It is here to demonstrate that what is written in the pages of the Bible still makes a difference now. It is here to give us a glimpse of what’s to come. So seek it. Use it point away from yourself to Jesus; use it demonstrate the only one with any power that counts isn’t you or me but God Himself. Seek it, and give it away.

This post is adapted from the notes of a sermon I preached at St Peter’s, Mowbray, Cape Town on Sunday 18th November 2012. It’s not an exact text of the sermon as I don’t preach from a full text. The sermon was not recorded.

Ordinary People + Angry Music = joy

I think I was unique among the tens of thousands present in being able to say that the last thing I did before leaving for the gig was take a communion service in a home for the elderly. American rap-rock group Linkin Park played their first South African concert at Cape Town stadium on Wednesday November 7th. It was a fierce, gale-force wind-swept early summer’s day. That carried a high price – before the concert a sponsor’s branded scaffolding tower fell (outside the stadium), injuring several people and killing one. It was a tragic accident, and as the exact facts are still (at the time of writing) being ascertained it’s best to comment no further. Thoughts and prayers remain, of course, with those affected.

Linkin Park were born in 1996, a furious blend of aggressive guitar based rock and electronically backed rap, they’re one of the few bands who have survived that music sub-set’s brief moment in the sun of chart success; achieving significant and long-lasting global success. This is a sort of music that’s often dismissed quickly by those who don’t get it – making a sound like this work in a live environment is a huge musical challenge, one to which the band rise. Battling against some of the worst sound I’ve heard at a gig (strong winds are a PA person’s nightmare at an outdoors gig), the band are in the musical equivalent of some sort of high-wire act to make it all work, harnessing the different sounds and images to at times brilliant effect. In fact, I preferred them live to on record; recorded I find the sound (with the exception of the first album) too clean, too produced. They are, after all, singing angry songs about fear, self-loathing and alienation; so the slick production that’s come to mark their sound since the early days has always felt to me a little at odds with the music itself.

This was a crowd which had waited a long time – 18 years – for the band to make it to South Africa; the set, front-loaded with older hits worked brilliantly.There’s an inherent irony here that must be touched on. Cape Town is often referred to as the most unequal city in the most unequal country in the world. So for a stadium full of the statistically richest people in the city being sung to and singing out about alienation and pain is slightly surreal. That, and this is a manufactured, slick set-up – just how angry can a band really be when they find themselves soundtracking video games and movie franchises?

But still. As I’ve alluded, this is angry, loud music about difficult emotions. (If you’re new to their music, go to their You Tube Channel to sample; I suggest starting with the exhaustingly brilliant One Step Closer from the first album, then the haunting and oddly beautiful much later The Catalyst – a prayer for God to draw close; after that, hunt around and see what you find). People, who for all the world look healthy and happy, spent an evening joyfully engaging with anger and suffering. I say joyfully deliberately. I have a memory of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke being asked about his band’s concerts – aren’t they miserable because your music is about such painful emotions and dark subjects? No, he replied – joy is shared truth, so the band’s concerts are oddly joyful. That’s not the whole of a Christian understanding of joy, but it’s certainly part of it – the catharsis of sharing, of acknowledging together dark places, shining the light on the them and so removing the fear.

The Bible does similar things. The Psalms are often referred to the church’s first prayer book or collection of hymns. It contains ecstatic shouts of praise – and not a little anger too. Psalm 139 is mostly a prayer of awe at God’s power and creativity, but in verse 19 it has an alarming turn of phrase: If only you, God, would slay the wicked! Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!.

Or take Psalm 116, verses 10 and 11 I believed; therefore I said ‘I am greatly afflicted.’ And in my dismay I said ‘all men are liars’.

There’s a whole book called Lamentations. The title fits well.

There are many other places in the Bible we could continue with this; there’s a consistent pattern in scripture of the expression of these emotions of anger and fear and pain leading a person closer to God, not further away. So, as a stadium full of people sang “God bless us, every one, we’re broken people living under a loaded gun”; as angry music allowed 90 minutes of joyful shared experience, I wondered … how does this translate? How do we take these emotions, in the Bible expressed towards God, into our contemporary worship? It’s a challenge – and it’s one, as I’ve touched on before, that the writers of worship songs are tentatively taking up. There is further to go, though. Which is why a lot of us – Christians or not – still need bands like Linkin Park to fill the gaps for us.

That, and they’re great live.

Movies that move me 1: Trainspotting

Like many of the things which shape us, I saw this film at the perfect time. I was in my early 20s, trying to decide what I was going to do and where I was going to do it. As an added bonus, I was born and raised in Edinburgh. If there was a target market for Trainspotting, it was me.

The mid-90s had seen an explosion of suave, knowing, coolly post-modern films; rich in violence, explicit sex, bad language and dialogue which referenced the highways and byways of popular culture. This was led by Quentin Tarantino – the self-confessed film geek working in a video store turned movie-maker. First came Reservoir Dogs then Pulp Fiction (1994); confirming that America was at the epicentre of the new mood.

Britain responded. Along with a new Labour government and a flourishing music scene came films which spoke of the moment. There was 1994’s Shallow Grave, a darkly comic thriller-morality tale of greed and broken trust in Edinburgh. Its director, Danny Boyle, high on the critical and not insignificant commercial success, announced that for his next trick he’d direct the adaptation of cult book Trainspotting; Irvine Welsh’s bizarre, dialect-heavy short story collection about drug addiction in 1980s Edinburgh. Danny Boyle was widely considered to be talented, but over-ambitious. Received wisdom had the book as un-filmable and certainly not for the mass market.

So the film arrived, on a wave of hype in 1996, with an iconic marketing campaign, claiming to herald a young and urgent voice to compete with Tarantino. It couldn’t possibly live up to the hype.

It did. Surfing the wave of popular culture and critical fame it became enough of an international hit to launch director Danny Boyle’s career on a path that would eventually take him to the widely loved Slumdog Millionaire. Whatever you knew about Trainspotting, whatever you hoped for from it, nothing quite prepared you for seeing it. The opening monologue which felt fresh but familiar as soon as you heard it; the music; the daring and sharp cuts from scene to scene; an ability to seemlessly move from realism to flights of fantasy and hallucination; the unapologetic Scottish slang.

It didn’t so much try to adapt the book as jump off from it. Inevitably some thought it was trying to glamourise drug use. Quite how that conclusion is reached given the consequences in the lives of the characters along the way is beyond me. I do, though, know of recovering addicts whose reactions to the film take in the whole spectrum. Some loved it; some couldn’t bear to watch it. It’s certainly not for everyone – it’s explicit, it’s foul-mouthed and features a lot of bodily fluids. Masterpieces, though, don’t have to be for everyone.

What it does so brilliantly with addiction – in this case to heroin in 1980s Edinburgh, at the time Europe’s AIDS capital – is, as the central character says early on, show that it starts because of “the pleasure of it”. The film is structured like an addict’s experience of a drug hit – the rush, the hallucination, the brutal come-down, the attempt to rebuild life … and when it’s over, many of us will want to watch it over again. The film’s genius is, even in the midst of tragedy, not to ask us to pity, in fact to move way beyond pity to something deeper and further reaching. That’s called understanding. For all the pulse-quickeningly brilliant music, the laugh out loud moments and the moments of shock and disgust, all it does is present the truth: people get addicted because it’s an escape they enjoy. The consequences are there if you want to look – but too often those are ignored at the price of the next hit of self-preservation.

Like all great works of art new things jump out on re-watching; not least one character, on the high of a recent hit in a fulfilling requirements interview for a job he doesn’t really want, speaks of those who went to schools like his and those who who went to more prestigious ones as ‘all in this together’. Those four words were the fanfare of British Prime Minister David Cameron’s flailing coalition government, seeking to reassure a disbelieving electorate that the privileged were with those who were suffering. The government’s actions since suggest otherwise; and those four words have become a stick to beat the government with. To hear them now, from the mouth of a chemically-dependant man seeking to avoid work at all costs, adds a delicious layer of irony.

Of course it has brilliant performances – uniformly. Robert Carlyle, Ewan McGregor and Kelly MacDonald all stand out. It’s an adrenaline fuelled masterpiece with a sting in tale; I’ll say again that it’s not for everyone and if you don’t speak Scottish you’ll probably need the DVD subtitles. It asks you to move beyond pity to empathy and self-examination. And it announced once and for all the greatest British director of his generation. Not bad for 94 minutes.

I rated this movie 10/10 on imdb.com and 5/5 on rottentomatoes.com