Murdering the Orient Express. March 2018.

Dear Rowley,

Much anticipation on buying the 2017 reboot of Murder on the Orient Express on DVD having missed the cinema release. The review could be truncated to two words: gobble gobble. What an expensive turkey and all the more bothersome because Kenneth ‘Hercule Poirot’ Brannagh has signed a three-moustache deal to ruin Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun as well. Oh my days!

It wasn’t so much the casting as the acting choices that made this reboot cluck like a gobbler facing the Christmas cleaver. Michelle ‘she who can do no wrong in my eyes’ Pfeiffer plays the Lauren Bacall role Mra Hubbard as a ditsy husband hunter. She gets a terrible opening reveal in a hideous plumb bias cut gown that does nothing for her and it’s all downhill from there. Mrs Hubbard – spoiler alert – is the architect of the murder. She needs more cunning and gravitas.

Johnny Depp’s cameo as the eventual corpse Mr Ratchet is basically a regurgitation of his Mr Wolf in Into the Woods. He’s most unpleasant as the mobster/murderer so is playing entirely to type. Fortunately he does die in the first half hour.

We turn to Brannagh as Poirot. I was not a fan of the histrionics of Albert Finney in the original Murder on the Orient Express being a lifelong fan of Ustinov. But Brannagh tries to make Poirot have sexiness and a romantic back story. Oh please my nerves. He even says to Ratchett ‘I don’t like your face’ in cod heroic tones. The moustache gives a much truer performance than Mr Brannagh who says at one point ‘I am the greatest detective in the world’ as Poirot never did in Christie’s novel. Dire!

After the murder is discovered, we find Poirot walking on the roof of the train. Quel Blague. The cinematography is apparently sublime but to me there was far too much CGI graphics. The original was much more beautifully shot let alone acted and the soundtrack of the first Murder was symphonic not silly suspense music.

I fear the Count and Countess Andrenyi were more The Addams Family than mysterious Balkan nobility though Lucy Boynton gets the best flapper costumes. Willem Dafoe is in Schindler’s List rather than Murder on the Orient Experess and Penelope Cruz’s Pilar Estravados – a role created by the Oscar-winning Ingrid Bergman – is more soothsayer in Up Pompeii than simple missionary who looks after ‘little brown babies’.

Judi Dench did a rather good Dame Maggie in Downton rather than a magisterial Princess Drafgomiroff as originally played by the marvellous Wendy Hillier with dry wit and impeccable comic timing. Who can forget Hillier telling Finney, ‘my doctor has advised against it’ when questioned why she never smiled.

Rather than sticking to the clues and beginning with the abduction and murder of Daisy Armstrong we are expected to wait for the reason why Ratchet was murdered. The original Murder set up the killing of ‘little Daisy Armstrong’ at the top and took us on ‘a journey’ on a stationary train. It was superb.

Brannagh’s accent and moustache are far too sexy for Poirot. Strike that, the moustache is LUDICROUS. It deserves a Best Supporting Prop Oscar. Michelle Pfeiffer gets worse after the discovery of Ratchet’s body. If only she had played it like Velma Von Tussle in Hairspray rather than Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction.

There is a hottie playing the train manager who keeps grabbing my attention and who I think holds all the overacting together. Derek Jacobi is having a ball as John Gielgud who I am afraid he can’t even lick a boot in this performance as the English butler. Besides, he plays it a bit too common to be an English butler.

All this crit and we haven’t even got half way through the movie which confirms it is a gob-a-gob-a-gobbler. Brannagh is no Sir Laurence Olivier despite his best efforts and even makes Finney’s Poirot sound understated by comparison.

I am wishing at this moment that instead of all twelve suspects stabbing Ratchet that Depp’s Ratchet went on a rampage and stabbed all of them instead. Now that would be a remake. We could call it Nightmare on the Orient Express.

God only knows what Brannagh will do to Nile and Evil Under the Sun. Both originals were definitive. Death on the Nile co-starred Bette Davis, Maggie Smith, Angela Lansbury and Mia Farrow. Who are we going to get in the reboot? Judi Dench and Olivia Coleman (again), Rosie O’Donnell in the Salome Ottoborne role and Emily Blunt as the Farrow murderess role.

I could cast a mean Death on the Nile. Brannagh would get the boot in favour of Gary Oldman. Maggie Smith would play Mrs Van Skyler and Emily Blunt her long-suffering ladies’ companion Miss Bowers. Bette Midler would play Salome Ottoborne and I would cast Jennifer Lawrence as the Mia Farrow role.

There is one true performance in the 2017 Murder on the Orient Express and that is Daisy Riley as Miss Debenham. She’s super sharp as the capable, clipped Miss D. Her performance is outstanding because everyone else is eating the snowdrifts if not the scenery.

After another bottle of beer I could probably cast Evil Under the Sun as well to save some casting agent tens of thousands of pounds to fuck it up. I don’t know whether I can be bothered to watch the rest. After all, everyone who has seen the original knows what happens. That’s another Achilles heel of the reboot. And a Merry Christmas to all our readers. Until next time…


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And the Oscar Goes To. March 2018.

Dear Rowley,

Wouldn’t you know it, the all-black dress code for actresses at the BAFTAs was out of the window at the 90th anniversary Academy Awards yesterday. There was still a deal of tub-thumping post-Weinstein but now the leverage is about women being first class producers, directors, sound people, scriptwriters as opposed to victims of the casting couch.

Interesting that Frances McDormond – who won Best Actress – encouraged all the women in the hall nominated for an award to stand up and be counted. They would still be outnumbered significantly by men had the exercise been repeated for everyone with a cock who had been nominated. So clearly there is some way to go.

The fashion statements at the 2018 Oscars made interesting reading. The winners were the gals who channelled vintage Gianni Versace and wore metallic goddess dresses such as the gold micro-scrap Dior Couture mermaid gown sported by Jennifer Lawrence, Gal Gadot’s silver fishtail dress and Lupita Nyong’o fabulous Atelier Versace gold glamour diva column dress.

Nicole Kidman is increasingly looking like Truly Scrumptious in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Her face is tight as a drum and she wore an Armani Privé blue bow-front strapless sweetheart neckline dress that was designed for Instagram: seen from the front, it was darling. Seen from the side Miss Kidman looked like she was carrying twins.

The Old Broads have it down to a fine art. Jane Fonda channelled 1940s Joan Crawford in a white column dress with shoulder pads that looked as if she’d borrowed one of Helen Mirren’s bras to pad em out. Saint Meryl of Streep wore scarlet Dior that covered the upper arms and presented her cleavage like a Swan to be devoured by Henry VIII.

Necklaces seemed distinctly out of fashion much to the disappointment of the jewellers though chandelier earrings and diamond cuffs were clearly dans le vent at the Oscars this year. Helen Mirren was the exception to the rule again wearing a dazzling Bulgari diamond and sapphire collar with a Royal blue Reem Acra (who he?) evening gown.

I found Emma Stone’s capri pants and wrappy Vuitton get-up a disappointment and Whoopie Goldberg’s crinoline that had a sweeping neckline revealing a hideous tattoo a monster of frock. Frances McDormond dressed like Stig of the Dump and Margot Ronbbie looked like a pair of ruched net curtains in Chanel. Glad I got that off my embonpoint.

I was so proud of Henry Poole & Co for dressing Gary Oldman in bespoke Churchill suits for his Best Actor Academy Award role in Darkest Hour and loved Gary telling his Mum to put the kettle on because he was bringing Oscar home for tea. Pity he didn’t wear a Poole dinner jacket to the ceremony seeings as they originated the garment.

The boys let me down with Jewellery for Gentlemen largely because of the ‘Me Too’ badges in support of women being exploited by the Weinsteins of the business. However, a men’s trend emerged in the shape of crystal embroidery. A notable exception was rapper/actor Common who wore a vintage Tiffany & Co black tie brooch and cufflinks.

Interesting that the most directional men’s style came from black fly guys such as Winston Duke who wore a diamanté-embroidered scarf with his dinner jacket and Lakeith Stanfield whose Zegna frock coat was embellished with crystals on the front panels behind his grosgrain lapel. He rocked out drainpipe trousers and zip-front Chelsea boots.

What we were seeing was the death of the Dinner Jacket as formal dress code for the Academy Awards. I loved the Call Me By Your Name lovers Timothée Chalamet in an all white original outfit and Armie Hammer in a gorgeous velvet Giorgio Armani suit as comfortably cut as an Adidas tracksuit.

All the cufflinks and dress sets appeared to be courtesy of Montblanc who clearly had the monopoly. I was nonplussed by ice dancer Adam Rippon turning up in a Moschino get-up that incorporated an S&M harness and a black leather filigree bow tie. It was an odd choice for a man who had no business being there unless he was dating one of the nominees. Let’s hope he had a change for the Vanity Fair after party. I did like his Cartier 18ct yellow gold bracelet and the knuckleduster rings however.

Velvet ruled for the boys this season and I think I liked it. Christopher Plummer resembled Peter Cushing playing Dracula in his velvet number. Interesting that the big stars were not in evidence on the red carpet at the Oscars which might signify the end of a cycle. The exception is Saint Meryl of course because it is treason to host an awards ceremony without her in the front row.

There was no Angelina, no Brad, no Tom Cruise and no Cate Blanchett although they will probably pitch up at the Vanity Fair after party with Madonna, the Beckhams and every fashion designer who scored on the red carpet. I enjoyed Lesley Manville, Gary Oldman’s ex-wife, scowling like a Disney Witch when she lost.

I would imagine that Salma Hayek is getting fed-up of having to wear Alessandro Michele’s hideous frocks for Gucci … owned as it is by her husband Monsieur Pinault Jr. The Oscar effort was a pink abortion with layers of frilly nonsense reminiscent of a toilet doll. Then again, some of those block colours worn by Meryl and Helen Mirren did make them look like a BBC weather presenter Carol Kirkwood tribute band.

Whatever the verdict of the fashion police, the Academy Awards are one of the most important dates on the fashion calendar and makes critics of us all. It is a hoot but also a hoot that makes millions for the fashion industry. Until next time…

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Hard Acts to Follow. February 2018.

Dear Rowley,

Are you a fan of remakes? I have not yet seen it but hear Kenneth BRannagh’s Murder on the Orient Express is dry as dust compared to the original though the cinematography is spectacular. Why Hollywood tries to improve on perfection is beyond me. For what it is worth, I feel that Judi Dench should have done an Ingrid Bergman and turned down the Princess Dragomiroff role for the Swedish missionary and that Maggie Smith should have stepped into Wendy Hillier’s shoes but I’ll have to wait until the DVD comes out to confirm my worse suspicions.

Cabaret can’t be touched after Liza Minnelli’s performance in the 1972 film. If I had to cast it all over again, I would have to think about whether Jennifer Lawrence could give it a red hot steaming go. It would be more like Dame Judi’s Sally Bowles than Liza’s granted but the casting would have to get as far away from Liza as possible.

Liza is perfect for Sally physically and emotionally. The chanteuse in Berlin who thinks she is an international woman of mystery is, in the words of Brian, ‘as fatale as an after dinner mint’. What I loved about the film is how Sally utterly normalises Brian’s bisexuality in the first few reels. To be gay in 1930s Berlin was a ball though the rise of the Nazis rained on the parade somewhat.

The ménage-a-trois between Sally, Brian and Max is beautifully played as is the cabaret songs Bob Fosse directs all linking to the story and driving it forward. Joel Grey as the MC cannot be topped though Will Young was terribly coy and mischievous in a West End production I saw a couple of years ago.

Seeing Sheridan Smith attempt Fanny Brice in Funny Girl  – the first actress since Barbra Streisand who brought Funny Girl to London – was a mistake. She was end of the pier compared to Barbra’s Oscar-winning performance. Truth to tell, to modern eyes Fanny wasn’t that funny. Barbra in the film is rip-roaringly amusing as well as poignant and magnificent … all of which are arrows in Streisand’s quiver.

Barbra has a voice that no-one can truly pin down though many drag queens have tried. Liza’s mannerisms are much easier to copy by drag performers and by me as it happens. We sing in the same key. I can also do a mean Bette Midler rocking out. The Rose  is another film that must not be remade. As a Janis Joplin type of doomed rock goddess, Bette Milder puts everything into the role though, unlike Streisand and Minneli, she lost out at the Academy Awards as Best Actress.

Apparently Lady Gaga has remade Streisand’s A Star is Born. Barbra’s Star was a remake of Judy Garland and James Mason’s movie of the same name … which was also a musical remake of a straight movie. The trick will have to be making the remake totally original. Gaga is talented and Barbra has wisely given her blessing so we shall see what we shall see.

It would be much more interesting if actresses today chose to option turkeys made by Liza, Bette and Barbra which are ripe for a better crack of the whip. I love Liza’s New York New York though found Robert di Niro’s character too unpleasant and controlling. But Liza did make Lucky Lady – a prohibition caper movie – that I think Catherine Zeta Jones could play perfectly.

I never liked Barbra’s Yentil either which it is treason to say amongst the gays and lesbians. It is a trouser role for Babs and she never quite pulls it off. Emily Blunt could be marvellous as Yentil. Bette has been fortunate that post-Rose she made a string of comedy hits for Disney including the marvellous Hocus Pocus plus super singles such as The First Wives ClubThat Old Feeling and the drastically underrated For the Boys.

But Bette has made turkeys not least Isn’t She Great the biopic of Jacqueline ‘Valley of the Dolls’ Susann. I wonder whether Cate Blanchett couldn’t step into those shoes or Judy Davies who was so marvellous as Garland in the TV biopic. It is great fun recasting movies to replace actors you thought didn’t quite deliver. But, then again, it is much easier to criticise than to praise.

We are fast approaching the Academy Awards on Monday morning English time. I wish I had Sky to watch or that there was a Red Carpet arrivals channel that I didn’t have to pay for. If all the hashtag Me Too ladies wear black I will be most disappointed as I will if the diamonds don’t come out to dance in the light. Someone should write a play about the bar at the Oscars where many of the stars choose to watch the ceremony when they aren’t up for a statuette.

I’d quite like to write a treatment of the skiing holiday in Aspen when Liza Minnelli coaxes Barbra Streisand out of self-imposed exile as a live performer at one of Donna Karan’s Aspen skiing weekends. There are three roles I would give to Anne Hathaway (Liza), Cate Blanchett (Barbra) and, yes, Emily Blunt (Donna). There might even be a cameo for a Bernadette Peters as played by, well, Bernadette Peters.

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The Girl Who Walked Home Alone. February 2018.

Dear Rowley,

Do you recall a disco hit called You To Me Are Everything? There is a particularly heinous line ‘now you’ve got the best of me, come on and get the rest of me’. I could not disagree more. Nobody wants ‘the rest of me’. They only want the best. Neither do I hold by ‘for richer, for poorer and in sickness and in health’. Somewhat fortunately, gay marriage was still illegal when I met my last three husbands so we never had to test the vows. But we would, I feel, have fallen at the first hurdle and I might have been considerably wealthier from 50% of their income.

One of my favourite Hollywood diva biographies is Charlotte Chandler’s The Girl Who Walked Home Alone about the late, great Miss Bette Davis. Hers is a title I carry with me with pride. I am the London gay guy who walks home alone happy. I might bring a take-away with me for a few hours but I rarely want to wake-up with them.

Solitude is a blessing when not in a depressive phase. There is nothing I like more than shrugging on my pink and white stripe Emma Willis linen dressing gown having taken off the glad rags of the night, pouring a glass of Malbec or Champagne and relaxing in front of the gogglebox with a cigarette and a foot bath. There’s nothing to see here. Move along the bus. This is all about what pleases me.

I suppose I live what the Victorians would have called a confirmed bachelor life. I like people to get the best of me and leave the rest of me to myself. Some are happy to hear your sob story – that’s a true friend – but the worst thing in the world is to labour it. My friends and I do the organ recital – what’s failing, what’s holding up – then we have a jolly good laugh about growing older disgracefully.

Fortunate is the man or woman who likes their own company and can keep entertained for 36-hours. I might skip to the Admiral Drunken or Halfway to Heaving for a pint and a bit of drag but I am always happy to walk home alone. I went to a ,well, let’s call it a gentlemen’s spa last night when it was snowing and cold. I had a sauna, a steam, a jacuzzi and a Becks and came home. No funny business because I was so not in the mood.

I saw my friend Shaun Leane the other day and he said it was all about self-healing and that the boys and the bars can wait. Let the world turn without you tonight to quote Lord Lloyd-Webber. I am all for that. I see friends that I want to see and walk home alone with a skip in my step. For this I am grateful after all the troubles of January.

Solituede is very nourishing when you feel calm, relaxed and happy with your lot. I spend all of my time writing really so an hour or two flat on my back watching box sets is a boon. I watch what I want to watch, drink out of the bottle if I feel like it and sleep or wake when I need to. What’s not to like?

Liza has a great song called Living Alone and I Like It. It is sung by an old broad on a park bench in Manhattan having a brown bag lunch. She tells the young career girl next to her why she is so happy. My favourite line is, ‘If I want to drink gin, I go out and drink gin, come home when I want to and when I walk in, there’s no bum yelling where the hell have you been’. Answering to yourself is a panacea for the human soul.

I was never the marrying kind despite having a six year, a fourteen year and a couple of year long whirlwind romances under my belt. I have now decided variety is the spice of life. If one makes me eyes turn to hearts I might think about a romance but that hasn’t happened in the recent past so screw it.

There are not a few girlfriends of mine who are locked in unhappy marriages. One has found a lover and an exit clause and the other is simply wading through treacle with an abusive, invalid husband in a home. Neither will leave these dreadful men and try to claw back some happiness before it is too late. I have always been the one to end a relationship and drop a match into the burning building behind me.

Some say happiness is not a God-given right. I disagree. What are we on the planet for if not to spread a little happiness and net even more for yourself. This is not the same as self-indulgence. It is a deep-seated happiness with your lot minus all the deadly sins.

I am no longer envious, gluttonous (never was), slothful, greedy or wrathful though lust still courses through my veins being a Scorpio and a manic drunken slut with anger management issues. Actually, the anger management is more under control though I can still spit feathers at the PC bullshit that the newspapers and television give credence to when they should not.

Apparently the University of Bristol has banned feminists like Germanie Greer who are ‘transphobic’. Bullshit and mendacity. Even the high priestess RuPaul says trans women aren’t eligible for RuPaul’s Drag Race. Peppermint was in the final last year but she had not had the ops at the time. it would be like entering a unicorn for Crufts.

On that note, a Merry Christmas to all our readers and walk home alone safely. Until next time…



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Show Me The Money. February 2018.

Dear Rowley,

You know the motto that La Ruby and I always live by? ‘No Dough, No Show’. It is only after thirty-five years in London that I am beginning to get the hang of it. Writers are so eager to please and to have someone say, ‘you did a good job’ that they often sacrifice money for praise and a pat on the head. If publishers only realised that carrot rather than stick gets the work done then we’d all have pleasanter lives.

Publishing today is a swindle. The authors get less than 10% of the cover price of a book and significantly less on bulk discounts of which they have no control. Amazon absolutely fleeces writers and publishers so it’s a no win. Writers are expected to write the theme tune, sing the theme tune, promote the theme tune and tour the theme tune.

My dander is up about my latest book. The cover was taken out of my hands from the start and when we finally get something I can live with I’m asked to spend days calling in all the pictures from my contacts. Makes the blood boil. I care far too much about my books to leave anything to chance and that’s what the publishers count on. The occasional thank you and I would not bear such a grudge. But, no, apparently that is too much to ask.

I have another book on the go after Jewellery for Gentlemen and delivered one hell of a first four chapters with all additional work and picture research done. Not even a well done just criticism after the publisher scanned the manuscript after a boozy lunch. Grrrrrr.

Sometimes one wishes that one cares less like all those billionaires who knock people down and trample over them with no scruples whatsoever as long as the money gushes into their bank accounts. People ask my why I feel such empathy for Judy Garland over and above that I am gay.

Well, Judy spent most of her life broke and singing endless concerts to pay the IRS. As she said, ‘I can’t be broke. I’m Dorothy for god’s sake’. I know how she feels. Joking. Sort of. I earn money to keep standing still and it really gets my goat. I am always paying down overdrafts and loans while working like a Trojan to produce beautiful work.

Judy made recordings for a proposed autobiography and they make harrowing listening on YouTube. She is drunk, distressed and mad. Know how she feels. Joking. Sort of. As she says, ‘I sang for your mothers, I sang for your daughters. There’s a lot of life in here. I’m not just a puppet who entertains you then is put back in its box when you’ve had your fun.

I do empathise with Judy. I’ve done my very best as I was brought up to do with manic depression dogging my heels every moment of the day and God knows how many other bloody illnesses to contend with. I actually think I’ve done rather well all considering but it is never enough for some people.

Now I have been signed off work for three months people can see how they get on once I have downed tools. I have done my dash and am tying-up loose ends in time for a month on Menorca in May. After four weeks of sun, sea, sex and relaxation I can return to London feeling less bitter about the treatment I’ve been put through by persons I shall not name.

What really bit me on the bum today was that the publisher will not pay the advance in time for my next rent cheque despite having about 36-hours to arrange a BACS payment. To add insult to injury, I delivered the sample chapters and I will not get that cash until July 1st. This knowing full well that I need all the cash I can muster after the robberies.

Enough complaining I know. I don’t want this letter to be a dirge. I am thoroughly enjoying relaxation at the moment and a clearing of the mind. Tonight I went for a sauna, steam and jacuzzi to cheat the snow outside and am now snuggled in bed watching Geraldine McEwen’s Miss Marple. She wasn’t a popular choice and I am rather partial to Julia McKenzie but I adore Geraldine McEwan. She is a super Marple and much more to Christie’s taste than Joan Hickson.

Someone should really write a book about fashion and Agatha Christie. There are so many clues in appearance in the books and,  yes, the books really merit re-reading once you’re past your teenage years. I even like reading the greats such as Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile where I know the plots inside out. My favourite Marple is The Pale Horse; the one about witchcraft hiding a murder plot by an invisible assassin. It is one of Pauline Collins’s finest hours of acting chops.

Well, time for sleep soon thanks to a couple of jagged little pills and a bottle of Corona. See what I mean about empathy with Garland? I believe Judy preferred Blue Nun towards the end of her life. She also still smoked and took uppers and downers. Shake hands!

So what is to become of this existential problem in Savile Row and Uniqlo? Well, I have a feeling things are going to turn out OK in the last reel. I am banking on it. So show me the money and let me tootle off to Menorca for a month to get body and soul together. I’ll be back. Until next time…

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