Review
Community
Culture
3 min read

One life's relevance to today

One Life is a historic story retold for today audience, highlighting the response of individuals, families and leaders. Krish Kandiah ponders what it can teach us about sanctuary.

Krish is a social entrepreneur partnering across civil society, faith communities, government and philanthropy, He founded The Sanctuary Foundation.

An old man wearing a suit and tie sits in a TV audience as people stand around him.
Anthony Hopkins plays Nicholas Winton.
BBC Film.

There’s an elderly man with thick-rimmed glasses sitting in the studio audience of a popular 1980s television programme. The camera lingers on him as the presenter on the stage, in her signature blue dress, opens up a scrapbook detailing a hitherto unknown mission at the beginning of the second world war that rescued 639 Jewish children from the Nazi genocide. 

The man in the audience was the force behind this rescue mission, and the camera is focussed on him because there’s about to be one of the best television moments in history. Unbeknown to him, he is sitting next to a lady whose life he once saved. As Esther Rantzen reveals the connection, a look of shock, wonder and amazement crosses his face.  

The story that was kept secret for nearly a lifetime was broken in front of a live television audience of millions. I’ve watched the recording a hundred times; it never fails to make me tear up. I’ve spoken to people who were on the production team of that show who say that this programme was the highlight of their careers. It was a truly brilliant piece of television. 

40 years later and I am sat in the Royal Festival Hall next to another elderly gentleman. We have just watched Anthony Hopkin’s incredible performance as Nicholas Winton, that man in the studio, in the new movie One Life. The director of the movie, James Hawes, makes his way to the front and asks if there is anyone in the audience who is alive today because of Nicholas Winton. The elderly gentleman beside me stands along with hundreds of others. Some of those standing were on the Kindertransport in 1939. Others were their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.  

It was an immense privilege to spend some time with these survivors. Many had their original identity photographs with them. It was an emotional evening as I heard stories from those who remembered boarding the trains in Czechoslovakia in 1939 and saying goodbye to their parents for the last time. 

Many of the Kindertransport descendants had met Nicholas Winton personally before he died and were astounded by Hopkin’s ability to capture his likeness and his story.  

I never met him myself, but as I watched One Life, I felt like I was in the room with him. The audience meets him as a young man discovering the terrible situation for Jews in Europe and deciding to take action. We journey through the many obstacles to the rescue mission.  At first nobody would take in the Jewish children because of the misconception that migrants would overwhelm local services at a difficult time for the country. Yet through savvy use of media, great administration and pure unrelenting persistence, Winton and his mother (Helena Bonham Carter) were able to get a system running that meant hundreds of temporary foster parents not only came forward but paid for the privilege of helping to save the lives of these children.  

As many of the children lost their families to the horrors of the gas chambers and could not be reunited with their families, a large number were adopted by their foster carers and grew up in the UK. Some went on to greatness, others lived quiet lives of service. The 91-year-old man who sat next to me at the premiere had dedicated his life to the church and also to making sure the next generation didn’t forget either the horrors of the holocaust, or the hospitality of ordinary people. 

One Life is a deeply inspirational film. As I reflected afterwards, I couldn’t help but draw parallels with the situation in the world I live in now with terrible wars that are in full swing. I wondered what Nicholas Winton would do for the children being slaughtered today. What would a modern equivalent of the Kindertransport look like? Who could step forward to inspire our nation once again to offer sanctuary, protection and hope to our world’s most vulnerable children? 

  

https://youtu.be/8u1UAc7GKek 

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Kirsh Kandiah reports from the One Life premiere.

Review
Books
Culture
Identity
Sport
4 min read

What makes fans tick?

Fandom’s remarkable fusing.

Simon is Bishop of Tonbridge in the Diocese of Rochester. He writes regularly round social, cultural and political issues.

Scottish football fans wearing kilts march down a street singing and waving their arms alogt.
Scotland's Tartan Army of football fans.

"A fat, sarcastic Star Trek fan: you must be a devil with the ladies." 

This put down of Comic Book Guy in The Simpsons neatly sums up a prevailing attitude to fans.  To be a committed fan is to devote yourself to a niche pastime; to be weird and nerdy and, simply, not cool.  At its worst, the fan becomes a fanatic, from which the noun is derived; an obsessive who stalks the object of their passion online and, at its most dangerous, offline. 

Times are changing, though, and the internet is chiefly responsible.  Where once fans could feel isolated and able only to relate to fellow afficionados slowly via the postal system, now they can find people who share their love in a handful of clicks and build relationships in real time.  A lot of anguish is spent on how the internet allows people to find extremist chat rooms where abhorrent behaviour is normalised; less attention is given to the wonder of being able to find fellow lovers online of Massey Ferguson tractors, Australian mullets or Rubik’s Cubes.  Many fans feel less alone online, building a new sense of belonging and purpose – a realisation that others will take them seriously. 

Yet experienced from the inside, a remarkable bonding is taking place, where fans not only fuse with others, but with the team itself.   

In Fans: A Journey into the Psychology of Belonging (Picador, 2024), the academic Michael Bond gives a perceptive and generous insight into the world of fandom.  There are Beliebers, Directioners, Trekkers, Swifties, Janeites, Ricardians.  For the uninitiated, that’s lovers of Justin Bieber, One Direction, Star Trek, Taylor Swift, Jane Austen, Richard the Third; though strangely one of the biggest bases of all simply goes by the title Star Wars fans.  Bond spends some time looking at the phenomenon of Michael Jackson.  Professor Gayle Stever has researched the pop star’s fans and found them, like many other fans, to be ‘normal people carrying on normal lives with functioning relationships and jobs, who just had this passion for Michael Jackson’.  Despite the discomfort of idolising a celebrity who lived, and died, with serious child abuse allegations made against him, they saw Jackson as ‘the target of racist abuse and unwarranted criticism throughout his career’. 

Fans often identify very personally with their idols.  Cosplaying conventions allow fans to reinvent themselves and Houston University studies have shown that people can ‘feel less lonely and less anxious in the face of rejection simply by thinking of a favourite TV show’. 

But what of football fans?  Many find the aggressive tribalism involved hard to accept.  I have observed young male fans of London Premier League teams chanting loudly at train stations in a way that made young women nearby shrink away, making me wonder whether my opening line from The Simpsons ought to be re-purposed.  The ritualised conduct of football crowds – the fist pumping, jumping and embracing at a goal, the verbal and hand abuse of opposing players and referees, and the chants that defy pre-match announcements about tolerance at games – can look bizarre and scary.  Yet experienced from the inside, a remarkable bonding is taking place, where fans not only fuse with others, but with the team itself.   

‘... the best of sport is not the earthy moment of victory, but the privilege of watching athletes tilt at divinity.’ 

Emma John

The deeper the love for a club, the greater the joy and the pain at success and failure.  It is a high-risk investment that many stake because it makes them feel so alive.  The peerless interpreter of football fandom, Nick Hornby, says that football is a context where watching becomes doing’.  Anyone whose leg has involuntarily jerked as a player reaches for the ball will grasp that. 

I wonder if some football fans who identify as Christian struggle with the secret reality of uncontrollable mood swings every weekend?  Should a win on a football pitch matter that much, when so many things are so much more important?  They may aspire to the whimsy of Ecclesiastes (there is a time to win and a time to lose, the author nearly said) but feel the coursing testosterone of Samson instead. 

God made us playful, and football is a disarmingly simple game to watch and play.  There is also breathtaking beauty in the movements of its finest exponents, like the choreography of Michael Jackson himself.  If we are called to life in all its fulness, isn’t this also a part of that fulness (even if some games are a stretch)?  

In recent interviews, Nick Hornby has said he couldn’t write Fever Pitch again, his pained love letter to Arsenal FC; middle age has brought a new perspective.  Writing in Prospect magazine (May 2024), sports journalist Emma John says: ‘I have observed many of my sports-loving friends follow the same trajectory…the best of sport is not the earthy moment of victory, but the privilege of watching athletes tilt at divinity’. 

At least, until the final penalty shoot-out, when for the diehard fan it’s absolutely all about the earthly moment of victory.