Ian Britain

Ian Britain

Ian Britain is a historian, biographer, and former editor of Meanjin. Having recently completed a biography of Donald Friend, he has embarked on a study of biographers in fact and fiction. 

Ian Britain reviews 'Solid Ivory' by James Ivory

April 2022, no. 441 23 March 2022
Ian Britain reviews 'Solid Ivory' by James Ivory
‘Call me Ismail,’ it could plausibly begin: a screenplay not of Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick but of the real-life relationship between two filmmakers renowned for their adaptations of a string of other classic novels. Ismail Merchant first met James Ivory on the steps of the Indian consulate in Manhattan in 1961. ‘Call me by your name,’ the Ivory character might wittily retort in th ... (read more)

'Benediction': A bardic biopic on war poet Siegfried Sassoon

ABR Arts 29 November 2021
'Benediction': A bardic biopic on war poet Siegfried Sassoon
Cinema and poetry make for a less obvious coupling than cinema and theatre or cinema and painting, but once you start counting, the number of movies about poets and their world is surprisingly high. Granted, there’s more about scandal than scansion in most of them, but the list, just from those I remember seeing, is impressive: The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934), The Bad Lord Byron (1949), St ... (read more)

Ian Britain reviews 'Arthur Boyd: A life' by Darleen Bungey

February 2008, no. 298 01 February 2008
Ian Britain reviews 'Arthur Boyd: A life' by Darleen Bungey
‘More difficult to do a thing than to talk scintillating dialogue of 1890, ‘The Critic as Artist’. To hold to such a belief, Gilbert declares, is ‘a gross popular error. It is very much more difficult to talk about a thing than to do it. In the sphere of actual life that is of course obvious. Anybody can make history. Only a great man can write it.’ ... (read more)

Ian Britain reviews 'Son of the Brush: A memoir' by Tim Olsen

January–February 2021, no. 428 16 December 2020
Ian Britain reviews 'Son of the Brush: A memoir' by Tim Olsen
‘A voyage round my father’, to quote the title of John Mortimer’s autobiographical play of 1963, has been a popular form of personal memoir in Britain from Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son (1907) to Michael Parkinson’s just-published Like Father, Like Son. The same form produced some of the best Australian writing in the twentieth century, with two assured classics in the case of Germaine G ... (read more)

La Trobe University Essay | 'The Talented Mr Conrad' by Ian Britain

April 2001, no. 229 01 April 2001
La Trobe University Essay | 'The Talented Mr Conrad' by Ian Britain
As mouths go, it must be one of the most fabled of the century past. The lips, as widely parted as they could be, suggest the contours of a distended heart. There is an upper gallery of teeth, slightly imperfect, and glazed by spittle mingling with the crystal darts and droplets of a powerful jet of water issuing relentlessly from above the face. A mottled tongue is barricaded in by the lower gall ... (read more)

Ian Britain reviews 'Fairweather' by Murray Bail

June 2009, no. 312 01 June 2009
Ian Britain reviews 'Fairweather' by Murray Bail
‘A large part of the beauty of a picture,’ Matisse famously decreed, ‘arises from the struggle which an artist wages with his limited medium.’ Struggle is the dominant motif in Murray Bail’s study of Scottish-born painter Ian Fairweather, first essayed in 1981, now refashioned, updated, and handsomely repackaged. In the chapter on Fairweather’s work of the late 1950s and early 1960s ... (read more)

Ian Britain reviews 'Not Quite Straight: A memoir' by Jeffrey Smart

June 2008, no. 302 01 June 2008
Ian Britain reviews 'Not Quite Straight: A memoir' by Jeffrey Smart
It is an eerie measure of a movie’s power when you come out at the end of it and sense, however fleetingly, that you’re still a part of its world, or that its world is all but indistinguishable from the everyday one you’ve just re-entered. German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder was grand master of this trick. His compatriot Pina Bausch achieves a comparable sorcery with dance. Her audience ... (read more)

Ian Britain reviews 'Dashing for the Post: The letters of Patrick Leigh Fermor' edited by Adam Sisman

Online Exclusives 30 November 2017
Ian Britain reviews 'Dashing for the Post: The letters of Patrick Leigh Fermor' edited by Adam Sisman
‘Absolutely charming – slim, handsome, nice speaking voice and manner, a super-gent’: it might be a line from an old-fashioned dalliance column, but it is from one of the letters published in this volume, and Patrick Leigh Fermor, writing to one of his most regular and lustrous correspondents, Debo Devonshire, youngest of the Mitford clan, is not advertising himself – well, not quite – b ... (read more)

Ian Britain reviews 'Worlds Apart' by David Plante

January-February 2016, no. 378 22 December 2015
Ian Britain reviews 'Worlds Apart' by David Plante
How has David Plante managed to become as prolific a novelist as he has when so much of his time has been spent in flitting between gallery openings in New York, dinner parties and book launches in London, idyllic holidays in Italy and Greece, and teaching in Tulsa, Oklahoma? And those are just a few of the 'worlds apart' recounted in this so-called memoir – the book is really just a succession ... (read more)

Ian Britain reviews 'Bill: The life of William Dobell' by Scott Bevan

March 2015, no. 369 02 March 2015
Ian Britain reviews 'Bill: The life of William Dobell' by Scott Bevan
‘He was a great bloke, a gentleman and a scholar,’ one of Scott Bevan’s interviewees says of his subject, the fêted and (at one stage) ill-fated painter, William Dobell. Like many others in the book, this interviewee got to know Dobell at Wangi Wangi, the little coastal township just south of Newcastle in New South Wales where the painter retreated for the last third of his life, following ... (read more)
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