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Carol Morely's The Falling: A Portrait of Mass Hysteria in Sixties Britain

words Rosanna Durham

24th April 2015

The year is 1969, the scene an English boarding school for girls. A bright, cold summer is underway when the school's most popular student, Abbey, faints on her way to class. The consequences are terrible, for after Abbey's fainting comes her death. But if her passing was unexpected, what happens next surprises everyone.

Abbey's best friend, Lydia, assumes her place as student protagonist. And soon she and her new circle of followers start fainting too, this time without the fatal consequences that befell Abbey. Eyes rolling back, they collapse onto the floor with a thump and a bruise.

Director Carol Morley’s new film, The Falling, is a confident, immersive portrait of mass psychogenic illness in the mid-twentieth century. What follows is an edited extract of my conversation with Carol Morely, the full version of which you can read in the forthcoming Oh Comely issue 25. 

What was your main source material when researching the history of psychogenic illness? A lot of mass psychogenic illness happened in schools or institutions, nunneries and hospital wards. I spoke to a psychiatrist, Simon Wessely; he sees it as an emotional problem becoming physical.

He commented that if you look at the central person in an outbreak--in the film that’s Lydia--they will probably have problems at home. Lydia’s mother has a secret that she doesn’t know about. I was just thinking: imagine if your whole identity is something you can never really discover, something no one’s told you. The film opens with the line "What’s wrong?" and ends with, "There’s nothing wrong with you." So it was this thing about feeling wrong, which I think all teenagers feel to a large extent. In many ways, the film is about an isolated teenage girl. It’s also about collectivity.

I enjoyed some of the reactions that the girl’s fainting provoked, and the unorthodox ways this was handled. In particular, the scene when Lydia’s headmistress sticks a pin into her leg when she faints in her office in an effort to revive her. Yes, the pin! I met a doctor who treated someone in a mass hysteria in the sixties and said, "I remember sticking pins in them to see if they responded."

What that illustrates is people not understanding how to cope with hysteria. The atmosphere you create in the film, the sense of the supernatural, heightens this sense of sense of confusion between what we can control and understand, and what we can’t. People have wondered if there’s something otherworldly about mass psychogenic illness. And I wanted the colours in the beginning of the film to be like those in a Renaissance painting, gold, red and blue. So it would feel like a painting come to life, rather than a reality.

Could you comment on the gender stereotyping that exists around hysteria and mass psychogenic illness? It is 1969 and the world of psychiatry is still very male. I was interested in creating male characters that were powerful in their own way, but not making women victim to that. I feel that Lydia actually gets the best of the psychiatrists.

There’s a sense of a very young person being demonised in some way, or not taken seriously. The articles I read about mass psychogenesis sometimes comment along the lines of, “It’s the drugs of this generation that causes it. They’re just taking LSD.” So they may have felt their experiences were trivialised.

The Falling is out this Friday. Find times and locations for screenings here:

Recipe Friday: Wallflower Girl's Elderflower & Berry Tarts

words Tamara Vos

23rd April 2015

We've been joined by the Aimee who blogs over at Wallflower Girl all this April. She's taken us on a gluten-free journey, sharing recipes for scrumptious mini cheesecakescarrot cupcakes and raw apple porridge.

These berry and elderflower tarts are her final recipe, and they might just be our favourite yet!

This recipe makes two small tarts (to fit 2 x 12.5cm tins) or one large tart (to fit 23cm tin). 

You will need:

For the crust:

150g / 1½ cups ground almonds
35g / ½ cup coconut flour
Small pinch of salt
3 tbsp maple syrup
3 tbsp coconut oil (melted) or olive oil

For the filling:

120ml / ½ cup water
60ml / ¼ cup elderflower cordial
2 tbsp agar flakes

120ml / ½ cup coconut milk
1 tbsp arrowroot powder
2 - 4 tbsp maple syrup
80ml / ⅓ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ tsp vanilla extract
Mixture of fresh berries


One. Preheat the oven to 170°C / 350°F and lightly grease a loose-base 23cm tart tin or two 12.5cm tins.

Two. In a food processor, mix together the ground almonds, coconut flour, salt and maple syrup. Add the oil 1 tbsp at a time until the mixture resembles dense breadcrumbs that shapes like a dough when pressed.

Three. Using your fingers or the back of a spoon, press the dough into the tart tin, making sure the sides and bottom are coated evenly.

Four. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes until golden.

Five. In a small saucepan, combine the water and elderflower cordial. Taste and add more cordial if needed. Sprinkle the agar flakes on top and allow them to soften for a few minutes.

Six. Meanwhile, mix 60ml / ¼ cup of the coconut milk with the arrowroot powder in a small bowl and set aside for later.

Seven. Bring the elderflower and agar mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Stir for a 5-10 minutes until all the agar flakes have been dissolved. Stir in the maple syrup.

Eight. Add the arrowroot and coconut mixture to the saucepan and bring to a boil. Whisk briefly for a few seconds and then reduce the heat. The mixture should thicken considerably. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and vanilla extract.

Nine. Make sure the tart shell is completely cool. Pour the elderflower filling into the tarts and leave to set in the fridge for 1 hour. Arrange the berries on top, pressing them in slightly. Leave to set for a further hour.

Pick Me Up

words Poppy Manchester

23rd April 2015

With the work of Laura Callaghan, Rop van Mierlo and Hattie Newman on show, last night's opening of Pick Me Up proved this annual graphic arts exhibition to be too good to miss.

Almost all the work on display--from prints and original drawings, to Lazy Oaf shirts and Studio Fludd necklaces--is for sale, and while this unabashed commerciality may not be to everyone's liking, if illustration and graphic arts are your biscuit, you'll find plenty to interest and surprise you. It's on for two weeks from today; be sure to visit!

Pick Me Up, Somerset House, April 23rd to 4th May. 


Sponsored Post: P&O Ferries

words Tamara Vos

22nd April 2015

Nowadays, it's all about doing things or getting places as quickly as possible. We can order something online to arrive the next day or be on the other side of the world by tomorrow, not to mention things like instant coffee, pot noodles and fast-food restaurants which deliver the goods in minutes. 

That said, there are certainly perks to taking things slow. Brewing a proper cup of coffee. A long bath. Taking your time to get somewhere. We all know how the story of the tortoise and the hare goes. 

Travelling by ferry is possibly one of the most overlooked modes of transport in our rush to arrive at our destination as quickly as possible, but in many ways it's a charming way to travel. There are a countless number of perks: you can bring along your car and any number of friends, and you get to enjoy the scenery, watching the world turn from harbour to nothing but glorious sea. The couple of hours in between, the excitement as you wait for your first glimpse of land. It might take a touch longer than other modes of transport, yes, but it's a relaxed and dignified way to get from A to B, and is much more comfortable than being squeezed into a tiny plane or train seat. And if that isn't enough to convince you, it's dead cheap too, with ferries between Dover and Calais starting from £39 for a single journey. 

If you're thinking about a little getaway this spring, why not catch a ferry to France; P&O Ferries will get you there slowly but surely. 

 Photos: P&O Ferries 

Oh Comely Presents: Storm In A Box

words Sarah McCoy

20th April 2015

This spring, we're proud to announce the Oh Comely subscription box. A curated collection of beautiful, hand-made objects, it's the magazine in object form.

Inside, you can expect things to make you smile and things to cherish for time to come: unique collaborations with our favourite artists. Each box is put together to reflect the theme of the issue, and comes with a copy included.

Next issue, our theme is weather. So we took the blue from the sky and the howl of the wind and packed them up tight inside our Storm in a Box edition. We’ve only made 200 of this one, so it’ll be gone quicker than a British summer.

Sounds fancy, doesn’t it? Just wait until it arrives on your door mat!

Order yours here. And look out for a special discount if you’re a current magazine subscriber.

Photos are for illustration only: cup of tea not included, and the magazine will our fresh new issue 25.


Recipe Friday: Wallflower Girl's Mini Strawberry Cheesecakes

words Tamara Vos

16th April 2015

We're joined by the lovely Aimee who blogs over at Wallflower Girl all this April. Aimee experiments with vegan, gluten free, raw, paleo and low carb recipes.

Third in her series of receipes are these individual desserts, nearly all raw and guilt-free.

You will need:
Serves 6

4 Nakd Strawberry Crunch Bars, or similar
65g cashew nuts, soaked overnight in water and drained
Juice of 2 lemons
60ml agave nectar or maple syrup
60ml coconut oil, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 pitted dates
6 large strawberries

One. Grease or line a muffin tin or preferably use a silicon muffin tray to make the cheesecakes easier to remove.

Two. Chop the Nakd bars in a food processor or high powered blender into small bits and divide them into 6 sections. Press firmly into the bottom of the muffin tins or silicon trays to make 6 cheesecake bases.

Three. Blend together the cashew nuts, agave nectar/maple syrup, coconut oil and vanilla until it makes a smooth silky mixture. Pour the mixture onto each of the cheesecake bases until it fills the top.

Four. Make the strawberry swirl by blending together the dates and strawberries then dropping a few dots of the mixture onto the top of the cheesecakes. Use a skewer to gently swirl the strawberry mixture around.

Five. Place the cheesecakes in the freezer overnight or for at least 4 hours to set.

Six. Sit at room temperature before serving and enjoy! 

Photos: Wallflower Girl

Force Majeure: Director Ruben Östlund on Family Life and the Crisis of Masculinity

words Jason Ward

10th April 2015

This article contains spoilers for the central premise of the film. 

Force Majeure charts the slow-motion unravelling of an affluent model family. As Tomas (Johannes Kuknke), Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and their two children dine during a skiing holiday, they become briefly convinced that an avalanche is approaching. Faced with a moment of reckoning, Tomas impulsively grabs his iPhone and abandons his loved ones to their fate.

In darkly comic, excruciating detail, writer-director Ruben Östlund explores the aftermath of this event as the family confronts Tomas' failure to conform to his socially-ordained role. Ahead of the film's release we spoke to Ruben about gender expectations and nuclear families.

Were there any real life events that inspired the story?

The starting point was that I've skied a lot and have made ski films and wanted to make something set in a ski resort, but hadn't known how because it's such a kitschy world. Then I saw an online clip of a group of tourists sitting at an outdoor restaurant, similar to how it's visualised in the film. They see an avalanche and think it's beautiful but seconds later they're screaming in panic and fleeing, before realising their error. They become ashamed of themselves, of losing control and exposing something that is uncivilised.

I was talking about the incident to a friend. You could tell that he's done a lot of things in his life that he's ashamed of. I'd had the idea of putting a family in that situation, and he said “What if it's only the father that runs away?” Immediately I realised this would expose expectations of gender. I started to talk with a lot of different people, and many had personally experienced women losing trust in men because of how they behaved when it came to a crisis situation.

As I was watching I kept thinking about what happened on the Costa Concordia.

I thought it was extremely interesting how the captain of that ship started this lie that he fell into a lifeboat to avoid losing face. At one point Tomas says "I am a victim of my instinct", which is a direct quote from that captain.

Ultimately the worst thing that Tomas does isn't momentarily running away but continuing to lie about it.

I agree with that, but it's so painful to lose your identity. If you're a man and a lot of your identity is this expectation of what a man is, then lying about it is a way of trying to avoid that moment. The outside perspective of who we're supposed to be has such a strong influence over our behaviour. In our society a man is supposed to sacrifice himself when there's a sudden outside threat.

As a man or a woman you're adapting to the role of being a man or a woman, to the expectations that come from those cultural influences. For me Tomas and Ebba are just performing the characters of the woman and the man in a family, acting like what's expected of them. It's role-playing. When tested, that brings out silly behaviour.

Were you trying to deconstruct the idea of a family unit?

It's not very often that we see the nuclear family from an economical and historical perspective. We think of it as a fundamental thing about being a human being, but the actual term "nuclear family" was invented in the 1950s. Before then we lived in large families, and the industrial movement made us move into towns and small flats so we had to cut the bands with an older generation.

To motivate ourselves in this new lifestyle we conceived the idea of a nuclear family, but it's totally stupid to not have grandparents around. In the large family there were more adults taking care of the children that were being brought up. The nuclear family is so much more vulnerable. If the mother and the father are not functional then the children are much more exposed.

If we look at the kind of lifestyle we can see that we're following a pattern: we're going down to individuals, which is the most efficient consumer unit. Stockholm, for example, has the most single person households of any city in the world. If there is eventually only one person in every household then they have to buy all the equipment that they'd buy when there are four people. We're going from nuclear families to living alone in our apartments, being more and more efficient consumers all the while.

Is Force Majeure offering a critique of that process? Does it argue for a different way?

No, that part is not the film criticising. I wanted to look at the kind of family that is upper middle class and has that kind of lifestyle. By our criteria Tomas and Ebba have succeeded. They're a beautiful couple staying with their beautiful children in a five-star luxury hotel. But then actually the perspective of the film is we're looking down at them. These poor people! Going out in the hallway to have arguments about a catastrophe that never happened.

You're right that they're not actually in real peril at any point. Do you think Tomas and Ebba are looking for things to be unhappy about?

We have a culture today where we're allowed to put 99% of our time and concern into our relationships. There's something about this lifestyle that creates existential crises. We feel like love should be a problem, and we hear it in pop music over and over again. In movies, on television, it's all relationship challenges. As long as we have that kind of focus for our lives we won't be able to look at society's problems from a proper perspective. I wanted to question that.

Force Majeure is out now. 

Recipe Friday: Wallflower Girl's Raw Apple Pie Porridge

words Tamara Vos

9th April 2015

We're joined by the lovely Aimee who blogs over at Wallflower Girl all this April. Aimee experiments with vegan, gluten free, raw, paleo and low carb recipes. Second in her series is a delicious, warming breakfast that just so happens to be super-healthy!

Ingredients (serves one)

120ml (1/2 cup) almond milk
2 tbsp chia seeds
2 tbsp almond butter
3 dates, roughly chopped
1 or 2 tbsp coconut sugar, depending on sweetness desired
½ tsp mixed spice
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 green apple, peeled and cored
chopped pecans 

One. Mix all the ingredients, except the chopped nuts, in a blender until thick and smooth.

Two. Transfer to a saucepan, stir and heat gently until warm. If you're on a raw food diet, you can use a thermometer to ensure it doesn't heat above 40c (110f.)

Three. Serve with chopped pecan nuts and grate over some fresh apple (I used leftover apple from the core.) Enjoy!