Tales Of The City: There's nothing like a (naked) dame

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The Independent Online

So, Dame Judi Dench is reportedly "distressed" by plans to release on the big screen a BBC TV film in which she appeared minus her clothes in 1978. The film is Langrishe, Go Down, from the novel by Aidan Higgins, with a screenplay by Harold Pinter (who turns up in a cameo as a nasty Dublin gouger), and co-starring Jeremy Irons as a German student staying in the lodge of an Irish Big House in the 1930s.

What is distressing Dame Judi is all the sex: she strips off to run around the grounds of her home at night, and attempts to seduce the scholarly Hun by various stratagems. The film was shown on television only once, but I saw it and it was a brilliant piece of work. Dame Judi should be very proud. I remember with special clarity the bit when Ms Dench, at the end of a dîner à deux with Jeremy, bares her top, scoops up some cream from their shared pudding, anoints her nipples, and invites him to lick it off.

Why do I remember this so clearly? Because watching it with me were my mother, my father, my aunt (a Carmelite nun) and my uncle (a parish priest), and it was, by some way, the Most Embarrassing Moment Of My Life. I'd urged them all to watch the telly version of this Irish masterpiece, and there I was with a roomful of saintly clerics, all inspecting Ms Dench's wobbly bits. I still remember the hot bands of mortification that tightened round my head. I remember the sweat. So, if you feel embarrassed about it now, Judi, well - join the club.

I haven't experienced an earth-open-and-swallow-me-now moment of the same quality about a movie since - though, curiously, I watched it happen beside me a few months ago. At the Cannes film festival, I saw a preview of The Mother, the Hanif Kureishi film directed by Roger Michell (released tomorrow), about a woman in her sixties (Anne Reid) who has an affair with her daughter's boyfriend (Daniel Craig). It's a clever, sophisticated movie, in which you spend a lot of time wondering how they're going to make the attraction between the principal characters plausible, and then wondering just how much of the leading lady, in the throes of rapture, is going to be on display. You keep these ageist cogitations to yourself, however.

Not so the young woman in the seat beside me. She was about 25, a journalist on a Sunday newspaper, and she didn't know where to look. At the first discreet, gauzily filmed bonk scene, she made loud gagging noises, but obviously meant them seriously. At a later nude scene, she made that curious mewing noise with which teenagers indicate that they're grossed out ("Eeeeewwww..."). And towards the end, when the sexagenarian kneels before Mr Craig, and oral sex seems imminent, the girl flinched back in her seat, her hands - goodness, even her knees - recoiling from the screen action like a dowager confronted by a perfectly horrid beggar.

She left the cinema looking shaken, as if she'd witnessed a massacre. I've rarely seen embarrassment so tellingly embodied. I've never seen human disgust so vividly conveyed. And because of what? Because of age, flesh, the evidence of mortality, the sagging memento mori, the inconvenient fact that sex outlasts youth and beauty. Ms Dench, by comparison, is not going to repel anybody. She should grit her teeth, see Langrishe again, and be pleased to note how her 43-year-old raspberry ripples withstand scrutiny 25 years later.

Doctor, I keep seeing dangling modifiers...

Since I decided, last week, to start monitoring examples of gross grammatical and punctuational mishandlings, examples have come crowding in from all over. Here's a press release from a toy company that shouts: "Dam Troll's are back... and this time with attitude!!" Here are reported sightings of "Halloween pumpkin's", "Yuletide cracker's" and, slightly unbelievably, "Don't leave it too late for your Xma's shopping!".

It seems we've got an epidemic on our hands, one to which we've been awakened by Lynne Truss and her new book, Eats, Shoots and Leaves - The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. Once you start being a stickler about these things (I am a stickler; thou art a pedant; he is a sad old git), there's no end to the linguistic abominations around you. Suddenly, I see dangling modifiers everywhere. In The Spectator, for instance, there's an ad for Boris Johnson's collected writings: "Vigorous, idiosyncratic, always intelligent and informed, with a very interesting perspective on our time, we offer Spectator readers signed copies..." (enough about how marvellous you are - what's the book like?).

My favourite syntactical balls-up, however, comes from the London Evening Standard, where, above the cover splash, there's a charmingly ambiguous special offer. "FREE SOUP!" yells the come-on line. "For every reader worth up to £2.85." It makes you wonder. How much are Independent readers worth?

Beckham gets booked

David Beckham's British publisher, HarperCollins, is understandably over the moon about the news that his book, My Side, has hit the top of the bestseller lists in China. Printed on recycled rice paper and selling for the equivalent of £2, it's currently walking out of bookshops from Beijing to Shanghai. Will the Chinese try the same enterprising marketing tie-ins as the Japanese? Each volume of the Nipponese edition comes with its own bookmark. On one side is a picture of our hero eating a Dinky car, with the words "I love cars" in a thought-bubble. On the other side of the bookmark is an advertisement for a pet magazine called Rascal. What any of this has to do with football, I have no idea. Damned inscrutable, your Japanese footie fan.