All the news about News Of The World that’s fit to print, and no sidebar of shame. Warning: very spoilery about the ending! My four-star review of the film is here.
Arthur Miller said “A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself,” and Captain Kyle Kidd, the ageing, war-weary storyteller who travels from town to town literally reading the news, certainly sees himself as a cog in that much-needed machine.
News Of The World is about two things: the connections that help us bridge the gaps between people, cultures and countries, and the search for a place to to put down roots. They’re linked of course – bringing people together creates and fosters the best kinds of communities – and out in the world occur on a vast stage. Though Paul Greengrass’s film is keenly focussed on Kidd and his young charge Johanna, who he’s taking four hundred miles to her only living relatives.
Despite their lack of a home, the two of them already have some solid connections even as they begin their journey together, tentatively learning to communicate even though neither speaks the other’s language.
Captain Kidd has a friend in every town, and a woman in at least one, people prepared to help him whenever he pitches up. It’s an on-the-ground communications network and a like-minded group of people who help him feel he’s not the only one tired of the fighting in an angry and divided nation.
Johanna, running away from the white family Kidd initially tries to leave her with, screams for the Native Americans she sees streaming away from their own land to take her with them, shouting out the names of her adoptive Kiowa parents.
Johanna was originally taken from her own German settlement by the Kiowa people, who also killed her parents and sister. Later her new family are murdered by white people, leaving her “an orphan twice over”, as Captain Kidd’s friend Mrs Gannett, who speaks the Kiowa language, informs him. (Mrs Gannett certainly speeds up the bridging of the gap between their two cultures, though literally speaking the same language is never shown to be essential for people to come together.)
Meanwhile European settlers and their descendants move around and disappear as a matter of course as they search for somewhere to be.
Mrs Gannett’s own husband went to California and hasn’t returned. John Calley, a young man Captain Kidd and Johanna meet along the way, wants to travel with them, but Kidd sends him off to the railroad to make his own way in the world.
Kidd himself is a printer from San Antonio who lost his business in the war and then left the town and his wife. He implies at first that he has chosen not to return to her; it transpires that he went off to war, and she died of cholera while he was fighting. Her death left him feel unable to go back to the place that had been home, and in the five years since he has travelled from town to town, reading the news.
What News Of The World tells us is that home is more than a place, and for a place to be home it has to be more than four walls and a roof. It’s not a new idea (and actually ignores communities which have strong attachments to the literal land they live on) though it is one that bears retelling.
Neither Captain Kidd nor Johanna wants the first home offered. She doesn’t want to go to live with her German uncle and aunt, who she has never met; he isn’t keen on going back to San Antonio, musing that he might take a boat and travel to the faraway places from his news stories.
Naturally what they eventually discover is that the two of them can be a family together. And so they continue on, travelling from place to place. It’s a cliché that home is where the heart is, but there isn’t really a better way to describe it for these two.
Kidd does first take Johanna to her German relatives in Castroville, though it becomes instantly clear that it’s a bad idea to leave her there. He implores them to buy her storybooks but her uncle only wants her for the work she can do on their farm.
After a visit to San Antonio – and a chat with an old friend there – helps him lay to rest the ghost of his wife, Kidd returns to Castroville, finding Johanna tied to a rope attached to a stake in the ground. The Leonbergers agree he can take her with him, and together they continue the itinerant life, with her now not just the dime collector but a key performer in his tales.
News Of The World is now streaming on Netflix UK. You can read my four-star review here.