‘Black Beauty’: Mending broken spirits in yet another retelling of a classic

‘Black Beauty’: Mending broken spirits in yet another retelling of a classic
The film begins with the sorrowful story of how Black Beauty (voiced by Kate Winslet) is taken away from her family. (Supplied)
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Updated 30 November 2020

‘Black Beauty’: Mending broken spirits in yet another retelling of a classic

‘Black Beauty’: Mending broken spirits in yet another retelling of a classic

CHENNAI: English author Anna Sewell wrote her only novel “Black Beauty” between 1871 and 1877, at a time when she was quite ill and could hardly get out of bed.

Often considered a children’s classic, it has sold a whopping 50 million copies and was actually directed at adults — Ashley Avis’s reimagining of “Black Beauty” for Disney+ underscores this in an enormously poignant way, although this sixth incarnation (the last being Caroline Thomson’s rather disappointing 1994 version) may have lost some appeal. 

An autobiography of a wild horse captured in the American West and tamed, Avis’s film begins with the sorrowful story of how Black Beauty (voiced by Kate Winslet) is taken away from her family and brought to Birtwick Stables, run by John Manly (Ian Glen). Despite his experience as a horse whisperer, he is unable to tame Beauty. It takes his teenage niece Jo Green (Mckenzie Foy) to calm the magnificent creature.

Green, who comes to live with her uncle after the death of her parents in a car accident, succeeds largely because of her ability to treat Beauty not as an animal but as another soul capable of feelings. She says early on in a teary moment that like herself, the horse has lost its family. This understanding and the bond that follows are beautifully captured by Avis, also the writer. 

What may serve as an important point of novelty is the gender switch. Beauty is now a female mustang, not a male as in the tome or adaptations. This may have been an intelligent ploy to establish a still warmer camaraderie between Green and Beauty. Only Green can soothe Beauty, who can help the girl get over her terrible loss.

But then the horse has to live through several masters after Manly finds he can no longer afford her. Beauty experiences as much care as cruelty, but as Winslet observes at the beginning: “A wise horse once told me that a mustang’s spirit can never be broken.”

While Winslet’s voiceover seems useful, there are moments when it is distracting. Also, Avis’s inclusion of a fair amount of modernism in her narrative — with swanky cars rubbing shoulders with horse-drawn carriages on the streets of New York, where Beauty is taken — may seem confusingly improbable. “Black Beauty” is charming, but what could have added a zing to it is greater drama. Most of the time, the storytelling is flat.

 


Egypt announces ‘major discoveries’ at Saqqara archaeological site

Egypt announces ‘major discoveries’ at Saqqara archaeological site
Updated 17 January 2021

Egypt announces ‘major discoveries’ at Saqqara archaeological site

Egypt announces ‘major discoveries’ at Saqqara archaeological site
  • Egyptian archaeologist says discoveries will rewrite history of region

CAIRO: An Egyptian archaeological mission working in the Saqqara area near the pyramids of Giza in Egypt has discovered dozens of archeological finds, including a Pharaonic funerary temple.

The Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities announced that the discoveries —  made by the joint mission between the council and the Zahi Hawass Center of Egyptology — include wooden wells and coffins from the New Kingdom, dating back to 3000 B.C.

Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the council, said that the discoveries are located at the Saqqara necropolis, near the pyramid where King Teti, the first king of the Sixth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom, who ruled Egypt between 2323 and 2291 B.C., is buried.

Zahi Hawass, Egyptian archaeologist and head of the mission, said that these discoveries will rewrite the history of the region, especially during the 18th and 19th Dynasties of the New Kingdom, during which time King Teti was worshiped.

Hawass said that the mission found the funerary temple of Queen Nearit, wife of King Teti, part of which was uncovered in the years prior to the mission, as well as three mud-brick warehouses on the southeastern side, used to store offerings and tools that were involved in a revival of the queen’s creed.

The mission also discovered 52 wells, ranging in depths between 10 to 12 meters and containing more than 50 wooden coffins from the New Kingdom era. This is the first time that coffins dating back to 3000 B.C. have been found in the Saqqara area.

The surfaces of the coffins depict various scenes involving the gods who were worshipped during this period, in addition to texts from the Book of the Dead that help the deceased pass on to the other world.

Inside the wells, the mission found numerous artifacts, such as statues of the deity Ptah, as well as a four-meter-long papyrus, representing chapter 17 from the Book of the Dead, with the name of its owner recorded on it. The same name was found on four statues.

Other finds included a set of wooden masks; games for the deceased to play in the other world, one of which is similar to chess; and statues and a shrine of Anubis, the god of death.

The mission also discovered a bronze ax, indicating that its owner was one of the leaders of the army in the New Kingdom era, and paintings inscribed with scenes of the deceased and his wife and hieroglyphic writings.

A large amount of pottery dating back to the New Kingdom was found, including pottery establishing trade relations between Egypt and Crete, as well as Syria and Palestine.

Hawass explained that this discovery confirms that the Saqqara antiquities area was not used for burial during the Late Period only, but also in the New Kingdom.

The mission studied the mummy of a woman who was found to be suffering from a disease known as Mediterranean fever or swine fever, which comes from direct contact with an animal and leads to a liver abscess.

Hawass asserted that the archeological discovery is one of the most significant ones of this year and will make Saqqara an important tourist and cultural destination. It will rewrite the history of Saqqara in the era of the New Kingdom and will confirm the importance of the worship of King Teti during the 19th Dynasty.