Viv Groskop: Anna Karenina stars are proof that dyslexia is no bar to creativity


Viv Groskop
Tuesday 04 September 2012 20:21

The Dyslexia Hall of Fame is a happy place to hang out. Whoopi Goldberg, Anthony Hopkins, Orlando Bloom, Tom Cruise, Salma Hayek, Keanu Reeves, Vince Vaughn. They're all there. Granted, you might want to avoid some of them. I am looking at you, Tom Cruise. Although I'll stop now because that's exactly what you want everyone to do.

But, in the main, these names are a pretty good advert. Certainly aesthetically. Who wouldn't want to find it difficult to read if that's the company you're keeping? And now the members of this most glamorous club can rejoice further as their all-consuming power grows as last night was the premiere of Anna Karenina, a film featuring the talents of two more famous dyslexics, director Joe Wright and actress Keira Knightley. It's a movie everyone has wanted to hate, not least because Knightley-bashing has become something of a national sport. But the film is a triumph. And Knightley is tipped for an Oscar. People are fond of making fun of Keira, perhaps she is a bit too young and beautiful for comfort. How dare she be a good actress, too?

But she's not only good in this film. She's great. Which is no small thing when you realise that, when she was six, her mother bribed her into learning to read by promising to get her an acting agent. And that in her teens, she forced herself to overcome her difficulties by ploughing through a copy of Emma Thompson's screenplay for Sense and Sensibility. Her mother told her, "If Emma Thompson couldn't read, she'd make sure she'd get over it. So you have to start reading, because that's what Emma Thompson would do."

Wright's story is even more amazing. His dyslexia was mistaken for "stupidity". He left school with no GCSEs. He has said that the "stupid" label was one of the prime motivators in his success. "I guess I'm always feeling like I'm stupid and at the same time I want to prove that I'm not." Who, dyslexic or not, doesn't identify with that?

It seems somehow fitting that both Wright and Knightley have found success via an adaptation of a book which represents the highest achievement of the written word. It's great that it has taken two dyslexics – director and leading lady – to turn it into something that looks fresh, exciting and inspiring 140 years after the book first came out.

But there's a strange irony here, too. As Anna Karenina is released, politicians and teachers are still wrangling over whether GCSEs and A-levels are inflated or deflated. In an educational world focused on grades and measurable success, anyone who falls outside of the norm doesn't stand a chance. For every Joe Wright who is motivated by being called stupid, there are thousands who just give up completely. I will not make a joke here about what I wish Tom Cruise had done.

Appreciating great literature is not about being brainy or academic. It's about having a soul. That can't be taught. But it can be taught out of you. Let the Dyslexia Hall of Fame be a lesson to the exam boards. You can't measure everything.

Don't fall for the latest IVF hype

Isn't science great? A report into 37,000 pregnancies in the journal Fertility and Sterility has found that women who become pregnant with previously frozen IVF embryos tend to have healthier babies than those who have fresh embryos. Should we be freezing more or even most embryos for transfer? The more we find out about IVF the better.

But the more eye-poppingly impressive the developments, the more we're distracted from the truth. The IVF success rate is only around 25 per cent. Freezing more embryos is not going to push that figure up significantly. Science is great. But not so great that we can fall back on it.

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