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
Pasco choirs ‘made the evening’ at Nazareth Guild dinner; new book from ‘Schindler’s Thomas Keneally

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the October 17, 2013 edition of the Inland Register)

Movie Review

Two of our time’s greatest actors, Vanessa Redgrave and Terence Stamp, do a superb job of acting as married British pensioners in Paul Andrew Williams’s film Unfinished Song. To see 74-year old Stamp as Arthur married to 76-year-old Redgrave as Marion is a feast for anyone who loves great acting.

The story sounds familiar, which weakens the film. It is very similar to the 2007 documentary Young at Heart and the more recent film Quartet. Younger viewers might well connect it to the television series Glee, because it ends with a music competition.

Marion is dying of cancer and has only a few months to live. She wants to spend her last days singing with a group at a nearby Senior Center. The choral group is led by the young volunteer, Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton). Arthur wants Marion to stay home with him. He is very much a deep-seated curmudgeon, although the couple are deeply in love.

At an outdoor songfest in their town before she dies, Marion sings “True Colors.” The song is meant for Arthur, who does not know how to react.

Throughout the film, Marion’s joy for each day of life is contrasted with Arthur’s spirit of walking under a dark rainy cloud all the time.

Arthur continually treats his grown son very poorly. The son (Christopher Eccleston) is unable to help his father after Marion dies. Eventually, Arthur does try to come alive after he is alone, with the help of Elizabeth and Marion’s favorite music group. The ending is powerful, as Arthur is able in a music competition to sing Billy Joel’s “Goodnight My Angel.”

Yes, the plot is familiar. Yes, seniors are treated more than a bit paternalistically and are out there singing for lots of laughter. But Terence Stamp’s bravo performance is unforgettable. Here is a movie that treats life and death in a way that touches the soul.

Unfinished Song came out in June, so it may already be out on DVD or available for streaming.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film PG-13 for some sexual references and rude gestures. Catholic News Service has not rated the film.

Nazareth Guild Celebration of Light: September 14, 2013

The 600 or so people gathered for the second annual Celebration of Light responded with vigorous applause and even a standing ovation for the impressive student entertainment.

The entertainers were from St. Patrick School Choir in Pasco, Tri-Cities Prep Liturgical Choir, and Tri-Cities Prep Liturgical Choir Alumni attending Gonzaga University. They were under the direction of Nina Powers, who is Music Director for St. Patrick Parish and a Performing Arts teacher at Tri-Cities Prep. The accompanist was Jeremy Neufeld.

Two of the songs were from the motion picture The Mission. The other songs were “Dios Te Salve,” “Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears” and “Resucito!”

I am no music critic, but this choir was wonderful and is ready for Broadway. They made the evening.

Book Reviews

Thomas Keneally, the Australian author who gave us Schindler’s Ark, made into the classic film Schindler's Listby Steven Spielberg, has just written a new novel of World War I. It is Keneally’s 29th novel and is titled The Daughters of Mars. The epic story is published by Atria Books of Simon & Schuster for a list price of $28.

The so-called Great War is seen through the eyes of Sally and Naomi Durrance of eastern Australia who, early on, volunteer to be nurses. The story begins with a secret that is later worked out by the two sisters as the war progresses.

They begin their service in Cairo and then are on a hospital ship, the Archimedes, just a few miles off the coast of what is today Turkey, at the battle of Gallipoli, where roughly 9,000 volunteers from Australia and New Zealand are massacred.

When the Archimedes later returns from Cairo as a medical and troop ship with no Red Cross on its side it is torpedoed. Keneally goes into great detail as the nurses and servicemen fight to survive the sinking ship.

The nurses that survive the ship sinking eventually set up camp on the Greek Island of Lemnos, where they treat in almost insurmountable circumstances the heavily wounded soldiers from Gallipoli.

Sally and Naomi get separated but eventually end up on the Western Front in the area of Amiens and Rowen. The story is particularly strong on showing the slaughter of the war from the view of the nurses who are sometimes within a mile or so of the Front Line.

There are romances, especially one with an Australian Quaker who has volunteered as a medic. But because Australia voted down conscription, the Quaker is forced to take up arms, which becomes a question of conscience that leads to prison.

Australia gave 120,000 volunteers to the Western Front, where five times as many died as the 9,000 who died at Gallipoli.

I found the novel a powerful story of the horrors of war, and yet there is hope and compassion given by nurses and medics to wounded victims of such a cruel war.

The ending of the novel will not be satisfying to some, as the author in a sense gives two endings. But the great story-telling of the author and the overall magnificent strength of the author’s words make it a novel meant to be read by the widest possible audience.


A local Catholic author recently told me that there are over 500 books now out on Pope Francis in a little over six months.

French journalist Michel Cool has written one of those books under the title Francis: A New World Pope, published by Wm. B. Eerdmans for a list price of $14. The book is a large-size paperback with 127 pages.

Cool spends quite a bit of his time on the day of the white smoke in March when Francis appeared on the balcony of St. Peter Basilica and dramatically asked for the prayers of all the people. Several people in the book are quoted as saying the new Bishop of Rome knelt, but my memory was he bowed his head toward the people. Personally, it was a moving moment for me as I was at the Holy Names Convent, and all the Sisters extended their arms in silent prayer toward the television.

It is probably too soon to get a detailed biography of the pope. Several quotations in the author’s book did stand out.

The pope has been accused by some as being too close to the dictatorship in Argentina several years back. Perez Esquivel, the Argentinean Nobel Peace Prize winner, speaks strongly when he says: “Some bishops were accomplices to the dictatorship, but not Bergoglio. People are accusing Bergoglio, saying he didn’t do what needed to be done to get two Jesuits out of jail while he was Superior of the Jesuit congregation. But I know perfectly well that a lot of bishops asked the military junta to free prisoners and priests and that the requests were not granted. Nothing ties him to the dictatorship.”

Cardinal Barbarin, the archbishop of Lyon, has a powerful quotation when he writes: “In one of his first homilies as pope, he asked us quite vigorously to hold on, to make our faith last, despite the shadows that can darken our lives. But even in the darkness, in the worst moments, you have to know how to persevere. I’m not talking about the power of positive thinking or whatnot, but rather about being able to find a way to await the Lord confidently. It can happen that on our journey through life, the shadows are dispersed. And on that journey, even if we are living stones, even if we confess faith, we can still trip and fall, like Peter during the passion. Then we must put everything below Christ’s cross, in all truth and simplicity.”

There are some gems in this small book, but I would think it is a beginning and some readers may well want to wait.

Television Review

In September Masterpiece Mystery on PBS had a three-part British series of a courtroom drama titled Silk. The title comes from two of the main characters in competition for the honor and prestige of the title Queen’s Counsel, or Q.C., also spoken of as “silk.” The title Silk comes from a special robe that the lawyer is entitled to wear in court.

Now, it takes a little work to catch the differences in the British court system. Lawyers are called barristers and they are backed up in the courtroom by solicitors, clerks and pupils. I must admit I don’t understand everything that is happening and sure I missed an occasional bit of dialogue with the British English. But by the third episode the writing and acting came to a crescendo that was powerful.

The main barrister who definitely prefers being on defense rather than prosecution is Martha Costello, played excellently by Maxine Peake. Her competition for silk is Clive, played by Rupert Penry-Jones, who is hard to classify as the good guy or the bad guy. He is a work in progress and well played.

Yes, the series has lots of melodrama, but is also fascinating as it raises lots of ethical questions in the courtroom and out.

The series should be available for streaming and on DVD.

(Father Caswell is Inland Register archivist.)

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