Cultural prescription: film, books, plays and more to help you embrace autumn

From A Midsummer Night’s Dream to When Harry Met Sally, Guardian critics suggest comforting culture for the changing seasons


What better way of seeing out the high season than a staging of Shakespeare’s bacchanalia, A Midsummer Night’s Dream? Raging with the sudden fevers, loves and infatuations associated with sun stroke, it is set amid lush Athenian forest splendour which, in a good production, leaves you smelling the fauna and flora. A Covid-secure prescription for this year’s “childing autumn” – as Titania calls it – is to watch an outdoor performance. There is the added bonus of watching Puck turn Bottom’s head into a donkey’s, which gets us in the mood for the panto season to come. Arifa Akbar

Battle chilling autumn with A Midsummer Night’s Dream … Victoria Elliott as Titania in the Shakespeare’s Globe production.
Battle chilling autumn with A Midsummer Night’s Dream … Victoria Elliott as Titania in the Shakespeare’s Globe production. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian



This rich, sweet, funny picture famously follows the mating dance between two friends who can’t quite see how into each other they are – a meet-cute lasting for years and tracked through the seasons. But autumn is the film’s keynote: there is a lovely scene when Harry and Sally are walking through Central Park, with its spectacular hues of brown and yellow, autumn leaves crunching underfoot, talking about sex dreams. And New York’s autumnal magnificence is framed in the background by the vast panorama windows of the Met Museum (gallery 131, The Temple of Dendur exhibit, as all WHMS superfans know) as Harry does his goofy voice (“I would be proud to partake of your pecan pie”) and then asks Sally out. Sally has to tell him she already has a date and poor Harry has to cover up how hurt he is, something very autumnal in his romantic sadness. Peter Bradshaw



Seasonally adjusted … Haydn was inspired by autumn in Vienna. Photograph: DEA/A Dagli Orti/De Agostini/Getty

We associate the word “autumnal” with harvests, glorious colours and fading light, although it can also describe late artworks that reflect on their creators’ lives towards their close. Haydn’s great 1801 oratorio The Seasons encompasses both meanings. He was in his 60s when he wrote it, and it is full of happy memories of his own childhood in rural Austria. In Autumn, the third of its four parts, he observes harvesters and hunters and celebrates young love, before dispatching his cast to the tavern for the rowdiest of drinking songs – one last fling, before the chill of winter finally sets in. Tim Ashley



Tacita Dean’s Michael Hamburger, 2017.
Tacita Dean’s Michael Hamburger, 2017. Photograph: Courtesy the artist, Frith Street Gallery, London and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris

Everything must pass in Tacita Dean’s intensely autumnal film portrait of the poet Michael Hamburger from 2007. Rather than his friendship with the writer and fellow East Anglian WG Sebald, or his childhood flight from the Nazis in 1933, Dean focuses on Hamburger talking about his well-tended apple orchard. In his Suffolk home, the russet fruits he’s taken such pains to nurtureslowly wrinkle amid the books, papers and other flotsam from his unique life. Skye Sherwin



Dark Matter

As the nights draw in and the temperature starts to drop, what better than to curl up with a novel in which the protagonist is going through similar seasonal woes, but much, much worse? Michelle Paver’s Dark Matter follows the story of Jack, who joins an Arctic expedition in 1937. But, as the summer fades away, he finds himself increasingly isolated. Then the sun disappears and the Arctic winter descends. This is a gloriously chilling and genuinely terrifying ghost story and the perfect autumn read; one to cosy up with under a blanket and shut the curtains as the night presses up against the windows. Alison Flood


Peter Bradshaw, Tim Ashley, Adrian Searle, Alison Flood and Arifa Akbar

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