Digested week: Dear, oh dear … I’m almost feeling sorry for Liz Truss | Emma Brockes

PM’s awkward exchange with King leaves me wondering how it would have played out without the forelock-tugging protocol


The spectacle of Brad Pitt imploding is one many of us have been anticipating with relish for years, although of course it remains unclear how far “the culture” will go to defend him. Without prejudging the outcome of Angelina Jolie’s legal filing last week – Pitt’s ex-wife alleges that he abused her and their children during a flight on a private jet in 2016 – let’s consider the 58-year-old actor and humanitarian’s contributions to public life over the last quarter of a century.

It’s an embarrassment of riches, frankly, beginning with the in-plain-sight aspect of Pitt’s celebrated 1999 men’s rights movie, Fight Club, and ending with his role as a producer on the soon-to-be-released #Metoo movie She Said. Like many self-identifying male feminists, Pitt vocally champions women’s causes while having a seemingly more complicated relationship with flesh and blood women themselves. In a quote from an interview that belongs to what might, politely, be termed the happy finishing school of profiling, Pitt let slip earlier this year that he is a member of a “really cool men’s group”. I wonder what they talk about. Probably sit around discussing how great their ex-wives are, right?

“I’m one of those creatures that speaks through art,” he said in that same interview. “I just want to always make. If I’m not making, I’m dying in some way.” Hmmm. A sentiment very much shared, one imagines, by former residents of Pitt’s supposedly sustainable post-Katrina homes that, as the Guardian reported earlier this year, were so “plagued by mould, electrical fires and unclean water” that Pitt and his foundation agreed a $20.5m settlement with the residents. If only Pitt’s artistic drive had driven him in the direction of curating houses that actually worked.

Still, there is always his fine taste in interiors to recommend the man. My favourite piece of Pitt-enablement is from another magazine profile, from 2017. In a line that could’ve been written by Stephen Sondheim, had he ever risen to the heights of contributing to GQ, the piece opens: “Serenity, balance, order: That’s the vibe, at least. That’s what you think you’re feeling in the kitchen of Brad Pitt’s perfectly constructed, awesomely decorated abode. From the sideboard, with its exquisite inlay, to the vase on the mantel, the house exudes care and intention.” As lawyers on both sides of the Pitt-Jolie fight gather evidence, one only wishes the sideboard with its exquisite inlay could speak.


I inhale Catherine Called Birdy in one gulp. It’s Lena Dunham’s new movie for Amazon and it’s so charming, and so fun, and so full of performances by people who make me vaguely pine for England – Andrew Scott (I know he’s Irish, but still), Billie Piper, Lesley Sharp, even Russell Brand, whose three-line cameo made me laugh out loud – that its reception by some critics in the US is infuriating.

The continued punishment of Dunham, who had the temerity, 10 years ago, at the age of 25, to write, direct and star in a TV show that was held responsible for structural race and class bias across an entire industry is clearly an expression of other biases. Since then, many shows set in New York have been made, a large proportion of which failed to feature a single minority, but of course those were created by male showrunners, so passed without comment.

And still the punishment continues. Catherine Called Birdy is set in 13th-century England, adapted from a book by Karen Cushman, and with the excellent Bella Ramsey in the lead role as a teenage girl trying to avoid an arranged marriage. In US press around the show there is a lot of “however you feel about Lena Dunham” throat clearing before a tiny, grudging nugget of praise is allowed to pass. The loopiest review of all, on the rogerebert.com website, calls out Dunham for her “oblivious feminism” and hammers her for failing, in this funny, well-written and whimsical film, to accurately depict – big concern in the US right now – the economic and feudal realities of medieval England.


It may be said with some confidence that King Charles’s preferred mode of communication is passive-aggressive muttering followed by a smart half-turn away from its intended recipient.

On Wednesday, video of the King’s first weekly meeting with the prime minister at Buckingham Palace was recorded and disseminated the next day for our pleasure. Here is Liz Truss, entering the room via her customary side scuttle. “So you’ve come back again,” says the King. Allowing that this is the case, the prime minister replies “well it’s a great pleasure”, and lists dangerously to one side, as if leaking air from a puncture. “Dear, oh dear,” says the King and half-turning, mutters the exit line of every under-powered English person you’ve ever met: “Anyway.”

Had the encounter been less governed by 1,200 years of forelock-tugging protocol, Truss’s response should, of course, have been: “What’s that? I didn’t quite catch it.” To which the monarch would have been duty bound to reply, with arch innocence: “Nothing.” To which Truss, according to the law governing two English people having a testy exchange, would have answered: “No, if you’ve got something to say, I think we’d all like to hear it. Wouldn’t we? Wouldn’t we all like to hear what Charles has got to say?” Instead, the prime minister could merely smile wanly and scuttle on by. I almost felt sorry for her.


Ah, the sound, like metal on metal, of a powerful movie director complaining about the demise of respect for his oeuvre. At the New York film festival this week, Martin Scorsese expressed concern about the state of modern cinema, which, he complained, “is devalued, demeaned, belittled from all sides, not necessarily the business side but certainly the art”. The threat of commercial compromise was one that, he went on, had been around, “since the ’80s”, as has the sound of powerful film-makers grumbling about it. It was, said Scorsese, “kind of repulsive” that cinema these days is judged purely on numbers, ensuring the dominance of Avenger-style franchises all over the world. I sympathise with his position, but as we know from novelists complaining about publishing metrics, and artists complaining about galleries, it’s a short hop from there to blaming audiences for being too philistine and stupid to value his work over that of his rivals.


As winter approaches and energy costs rise, many of us are casting around for ways to economise. I’m reminded of my mother’s money-saving habits, many of which I inherited without realising it until they came out, unbidden, in my parenting. “Put the tap off while you’re brushing,” I say as my children clean their teeth, before coming to and wondering where that reflex directive came from. (It came from my mother, obviously, her voice floating across the decades advising me not to “waste water”.) Meanwhile, the mystery of the disappearing loo roll in my house is solved when I walk into the bathroom at the moment my child is pulling half an entire bog roll off the holder. “Stop!!” I yell and she looks up in alarm. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to frighten you. But how much toilet paper do you need for one wee?!” (My mother, absolute boss of this kind of thing, got it down to a single square, a tip I pass on to you, gratis.)


Emma Brockes

The GuardianTramp

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