Arts and Entertainment Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in a scene from 'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug'

Dir. Peter Jackson;  Starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, 161mins

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The Life Doctor

Choice: Theatre: Othello

Othello, National Theatre, South Bank Centre, London SE1 (0171- 928 2252)

McKellen: champion for the people

His body language has a strong smack of Michael Foot - the jerky, almost child-like awkwardness and passion, the uncompromising myopia abut visual effect that would be the despair of modern PR and spin-doctors. His verbal language at his public meeting lurches recklessly into areas that are more reminiscent of Hitler and co.

Theatre: King Lear, National Theatre, London SE1 (0171-928 2252)

"Last night," wrote the erstwhile critic of the Denver Post, "Mr Creston Clarke played King Lear at the Tabor Grand. All through the five acts of the Shakespearean tragedy he played the king as though under the premonition that someone was about to play the ace."

Moving into the mainstream

Why compile a list of 40 influential gay men? Because the time has come. You can call it queer, call it gay, call it homosexual but whatever the hip, old-fashioned or sociological tag, it has been the flavour of the decade to date, a defining factor not only in production of high and pop culture (where gay men have traditionally been assured of a warm welcome) but, increasingly, also in the corridors of power, sometimes to kick in the doors of the mighty or, more and more often, to take up public residence; watch the MP Chris Smith's star ascend.

Radio : UP AGAINST IT Radio 4

It's been pointed out before that of all the words of tongue and pen, the saddest are "It might have been". On the other hand, it's hard to think of many words happier than "Phew, that was a close thing".

Boxing Shakespeare

The Bard has endured his share of televisual disasters. But none involving Ian McKellen. David Benedict spends a weekend at the NFT

GLOSSARY / Straight and narrow minds

THERE was an intriguing moment in Call Debbie Thrower, Radio Four's topical phone-in programme this Tuesday, when an indignant gentleman seemed to be on the point of suggesting that Linda Bellos (who had been defending lesbian parents) would be better off back in Africa. He had got his bigotries muddled up and the prospect of a racist remark simmered dangerously for a moment.

Duke confident of restoring homosexual age of consent to 21

THE Duke of Norfolk, Britain's leading Roman Catholic layman, will spearhead an attempt to restore the homosexual age of consent to 21 in the Lords today. Although the outcome is difficult to predict, government sources say there is a distinct possibility that the move will succeed.

THEATRE / Illusions of power: King Lear- RSC, Barbican

After seeing the Robert Stephens / Adrian Noble King Lear at Stratford last season, Prince Charles is alleged to have said he'd never seen a more potent argument against abdication. Very filial of him, of course, and all the more so given that the first scene of Noble's production may actually strike you as mounting a strong case for making kingship a fixed-term office.

RADIO / Vowel, vowel, vowel, vowel]: John Gielgud, 90 this week, sounded as good as ever in the role of King Lear. But the Renaissance production was not the tribute it might have been, says Robert Hanks

Hammy, according to Sir Ian McKellen, interviewed by Sue MacGregor for Conversation Piece (Thursday R4), is what we call actors who are a little bit old-fashioned. He was talking about Laurence Olivier, and Olivier's conviction that his great achievement was to bring naturalism into Shakespeare acting: as Sir Ian pointed out, if you look at Olivier's performances now, with their concentration on disguise and their (by modern standards) declamatory style, it's hard to feel that naturalism is their outstanding quality.

RADIO: Let's hear it for the voice at the end of the line: Robert Hanks on the frank exchange of words on Call Nick Ross and the abuse of words on Wordly Wise

There are people around, strangely, who say they can't stand Nick Ross. They are probably thinking of the rather emollient man who introduces those real-life crime programmes on the television, rather than the shrewd, incorrigibly decent figure, friend of democratic expression, who presents Call Nick Ross (Radio 4, Tuesday). This is an understandable confusion; but in fact, except that they are the same person, there's very little to connect these two Nick Rosses.

The Age of Consent Debate: Tory MPs propose 18 compromise on age limit for gays

A COMPROMISE amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill aimed at lowering the age of consent for homosexuals to 18 finally emerged yesterday.

Consent to gay sex at 16 'to be rejected'

TORY MPS yesterday said they would reject demands by homosexual leaders to equalise the age of consent for gay sex at 16, writes Colin Brown.

No reason to treat us differently: Ian McKellen urges Parliament to lower the age of consent for homosexuals to 16

IN FEBRUARY last year, the Harris Survey asked the following question: 'Should the age of consent - that is, the age at which people can legally have sex together in private - be the same for everyone, irrespective of their gender or sexual orientation, or not?' In response, 74 per cent of those surveyed agreed that the age of consent should be the same for everyone.
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