Peter Rhodes on the new Rebecca, dignity for animals and judging historical figures by our own standards

Read the latest column from Peter Rhodes.

Lily James – excellent (Photo: Gage Skidmore)
Lily James – excellent (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

My item last Friday about giving animals legal rights may have strayed into whimsy (I do not seriously believe elephants would claim compensation in buns), but it raised the issue of animal dignity. Our attitude towards animals is changing. Only a few generations ago, the ritual of killing the family pig was something to show the kids. Today, we shudder at the thought.

So what will our grandchildren think of programmes such as The Yorkshire Vet (C5) with its close-focus images of cattle being bloodily de-horned and an afterbirth being pulled out of an alpaca? Scenes like this may be informative and the treatments are doubtless necessary. But do humans have the right to film creatures so intimately, in such distress, and broadcast it for entertainment?

A Tudor warrant book, newly re-examined by experts, reveals how Henry VIII ordered precise details for the execution of his wife Anne Boleyn. Her alleged crimes carried the penalty of burning at the stake. But Henry insisted on a swift beheading with a sword. One Tudor historian says the document reinforces the image of Henry as a pathological monster. But does it? Should we judge a historical figure by the beliefs of our own times? By the standards of his age, Henry thought he was being merciful.

For that matter, how often have we heard 19th century men denounced as racist, sexist, xenophobic imperialists when they were simply Victorians being Victorians?

More twists in the controversy over the Cyber First advert showing a ballerina with the caption: “Fatima's next job could be in cyber (she just doesn't know it yet).” The woke community went ballistic at the very notion that Fatima might have to give up the job of her dreams. Now, we learn that “Fatima” is actually an American dancer called Desiree who lives in Georgia.

This advert was apparently one of several produced by Cyber First last year, with the same “next job” caption, to make people think about re-skilling for jobs in cyber security. One showed a bartender, another a warehouse worker and neither attracted any criticism So why does the ballerina version spark so much outrage but other jobs do not? Is it the ingrained assumption that dancing is somehow a better, nobler and more valuable job than manual labour, hospitality work or cyber? And if that's the case, wasn't this row just pure old-fashioned snobbery?

The new adaptation of Rebecca, in which Lily James stars as the second Mrs De Winter has had, as they say, mixed reviews. I enjoyed it.

Lily James is excellent and Kristin Scott Thomas, as the sinister Mrs Danvers, is perfect. The re-telling of Daphne de Maurier's whodunnit has some great lines, some wonderful scenery and a Bentley convertible to die for. It's undemanding and perfectly suited to a lockdown night. We could certainly use a new genre of movies, the epic for a pandemic – the pandepic.

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