Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch
Dustin Hoffman directs seasoned British cast in ‘Quartet’; opera on DVD, and a new novel from Ian McEwan

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the March 21, 2013 edition of the Inland Register)

Opera Note

I recently received a gift of the DVD of the Staatsopher Hamburg 2008 production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites. The opera is based on a play by Georges Bernanos that was based on the German novel, written two years before Hitler came to power, by Gertrud Le Fort.

It is the haunting story of faith, fear, life and death at a Carmelite monastery in the Compiegne region of France at the time of the French Revolution. The monastery was seized in 1794 and all but one of the Sisters are killed by the guillotine just several weeks before the reign of terror ended.

I found the experience prayerful, thoughtful, and challenging.

This particular production can be found on the internet for a list price of $27.44.

Book Reviews

British Author Ian McEwan, who gave us the powerful, epic-like Atonement, has a new novel out titled Sweet Tooth. It is published in hardcover by Doubleday for a list price of $26.95.

The first paragraph tells the whole story. Writing in the first person, Serena Frome has been on a secret mission for MI5 – British Security Service. Within 18 months she was fired after her secret project is publicly revealed, and her love relationship is seemingly destroyed.

This story is not a major spy account in the midst of 1972 Cold War realities. It is the tale of the recruitment of British writers without their knowledge. The writers are given a monthly stipend through a fake organization financed by the British Security Service.

After some biographical background involving her father being an Anglican bishop, we follow Serena through Cambridge in Math. She then begins a relationship with an older former British spy, Tony Canning. Unknown to her, he was a double agent for the Soviet Union. Before he dies, Canning helps Serena get a low-level job with MI5, which is concerned with security within Great Britain.

Serena becomes part of the “Sweet Tooth” project and recruits Tom Haley, a young writer, into the Service’s phony writing program. The hope is that the artists will write favorable pieces for the good of the country.

Within the novel there are three short stories written by Tony that are read by Serena. There is a trick ending which the reader will have to decide if it is satisfying or not.

Sweet Tooth is definitely not of the caliber of the author’s Atonement. Sweet Tooth is rather a low-key love story with comedic overtones that takes place in a troubled Britain of the ’70s.


Back in January, when I was visiting St. Anthony Parish in Spokane, a parishioner gave me a wonderful book of stories that are thought-provoking and even possibly life-changing, all within the context of a prayerful experience.

The book is Grace Notes, by Brian Doyle. The publisher is Acta Publications of Chicago, and the list price of the softcover book is $14.95.

The stories in the book are usually from three-five pages and originally were published in a wide variety of magazines, from the University of Portland’s Portland Magazine (edited by the author) to U.S. Catholic and The Melbourne Anglican and Notre Dame Magazine.

Doyle takes stories from daily life and gives them a life and new twist that touch the reader deeply. He is especially good on stories of his family and what it means to be a Catholic believer, husband, and father.

He opens with a Prologue titled “The Genius of American Catholicism.” This hopeful piece is meant to be read and reread. What a wonderful article for the times we live in. It is especially appropriate at a time of new leadership in the Church.

There are roughly 37 stories in the book that the author states are “true stories about sins, sons, shrines, silence, marriage, homework, jail, miracles, dads, legs, basketball, the sinewy grace of women, bullets, music, infirmaries, the power of powerlessness, the ubiquity of prayers, and some other matters.”

My favorite stories are the first and last in the book. “A Sin” tells the story of the author roaring at his 10-year-old son as he grabs the son so roughly the boy flinches as fear and pain spread across his face and he runs away. It is the story of what it means to be a father and what reconciliation is all about. Dad finally finds the son hiding in a laurel thicket of the sort that’s common in Portland. And then the father writes these beautiful words: “We knelt in the moist green dark for a long time, not saying anything, the branches burly and patient. Finally I asked quietly for his forgiveness and he asked for mine and we walked out of the woods hand in hand, changed men.”

“What Am I Doing Here?” has a section on Bryan doing laundry on a Saturday after the three kids have sent tons of their clothes down the laundry chute and he is roaring again. He says: “But I asked for these children, I begged for them, I prayed and yearned and was thrilled and delighted when they emerged from my wife one after another like a circus act…. I got exactly what I asked the Coherent Mercy for, which was the chaos and hubbub of children, who are the most extraordinary creatures of all…. Also I have often thought that the Coherent Mercy has a dark and devious sense of humor, and clearly relishes irony, and often gives you exactly what you asked for, which is more than you knew you wanted.”

Grace Notes is a welcome gift that touches the soul.

Movie Reviews

Director Steven Soderbergh recently remarked that his most recent film, Side Effects, will be his last picture “for a long time.”

The film is a convoluted thriller that starts as a story about the use of drugs for clinical depression as Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) begins treatment of Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) after her husband returns home from prison, where he had been serving a term for insider-trading. Channing Tatum plays the husband, Martin Taylor.

Emily has numerous side effects from the drugs as Banks tries to find the right combination of drugs to help her. All of sudden, Emily’s behavior takes a shocking turn and the movie has many twists as it goes in the direction of asking the question: What is the responsibility of the psychiatrist for events happening from possible side effects of drugs prescribed?

At this point, the movie takes on overtones of a Hitchcock movie, where a key character seems to be all alone against all odds. Dr. Banks begins his own search for the truth in an obsessive effort to clear his name.

The acting by Jude Law and Rooney Mara is first class. Catherine Zeta-Jones has a small part as another psychiatrist who had earlier contact with Emily as a patient. If you enjoy a thriller and can deal with information being held back in the narrative and an ending that seems too perfect with another set of ethical questions not discussed, you will enjoy Soderbergh’s tricky Side Effects.

The film is rated R-Restricted by the Motion Picture Association of America. Catholic News Service rates Side Effects as L-limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling.


Not many years ago there were few movies for older viewers. This past year there were many fine movies, from Lincoln to Argo, that brought older viewers to theaters. If you enjoyed the British production The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel you will enjoy the small film Quartet, from the play by Ronald Harwood.

Famed actor Dustin Hoffman directs his first movie. He makes sure that the actors are seen at their best.

The story is fairly slight and the ending seems a little too pat, but the movie excels with wonderful acting by some of Britain’s best older actors.

Jean (Maggie Smith) arrives at Beecham House, a beautiful old Downton Abbey-type retirement home for gifted musicians in the English countryside. Three former opera singers like herself are preparing for a gala to raise money for the institution on the anniversary of Verdi’s birthday. Reg (Tom Courtenay), briefly married to Jean, is upset she will live at the same place where he lives. Wilt (Billy Connolly) and Cissey (Pauline Collins) try to make peace between the two. The hope is that Jean will join the other three in singing a song from the opera Rigoletto.

This may sound like a pretty simple plot, but it is a joy to watch these actors give it their all.

Quartet is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America. The film is rated A-III-for adults, by Catholic News Service.

(Father Caswell is Inland Register archivist.)

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