Posts Tagged ‘Tom Hanks’


Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

As Ron Howard’s movie of Dan Brown’s bestselling novel “Inferno” comes out this week, I’m reminded of a couple of years ago, when the original thriller was republished as a hefty illustrated coffee table version. It was a surprise to me, as it included a couple of my photographs of the Vasari Corridor in Florence.

I confess I have yet to read this fourth mystery thriller featuring Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, but I’m rather more likely to see the movie, which stars Tom Hanks. And I shall be fascinated to see how the Vasari Corridor is woven into the plot.

One kilometre long, the Vasari Corridor is an aerial passageway built in 1565 by artist and architect Giorgio Vasari for the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo I. It linked the Tuscan Government offices (hence Uffizi, the name of the art gallery) in the Palazzo Vecchio, then a public building, and the Palazzo Pitti, the Medicis’ home. Apart from allowing them to walk to work and back without having to mix with the hoi polloi, and thus obviating the need for any special security measures, it was also a potent symbol of Medici power. They were, quite literally “up there,” with the masses down below.

Even now it’s still quite elite. It’s the longest single passageway of paintings and portraits in the world, and to see it, you have to book up months in advance, not least because the short-staffed Uffizi Gallery has to send escorts along with each party that goes through.

Captain Phillips

Monday, October 21st, 2013

The last time I went to the cinema before this week was back in May, when I watched “A Hijacking”, a Danish movie about a cargo ship in the Indian Ocean hijacked by Somali pirates. This week it was “Captain Phillips”, a similar kind of story, this time based on a real-life hijacking in 2009. Directed by Paul Greengrass (Bourne Supremacy, United 93, Green Zone), it stars Tom Hanks and newcomer Barkhad Abdi, both of whom turn in spellbinding performances. Even if you know how it ends, it’s a real nerve-shredder getting there. Highly recommended.

It was an interesting moment of reflection, too, for me. When I went around the world in 2002 on the 33ft powerboat Spirit of Cardiff, amongst various pirate encounters, we did have a relatively close call with Somali pirates. Back then the piracy problem was in its infancy, and we knew the southern end of the Red Sea would be a hot spot, as previous piracy attempts had basically used the natural choke point of the 17 mile wide strait of Bab-el-Mendeb as an easy place to board large ships. We’d been told that anywhere within 100 miles of the North Somali coast had to be considered unsafe, but even taking a route closer to Yemen, we still came within 80 miles.

Having been overtaken by the container ship Kota Wajar, we were trying to tailgate her – following in the wash of a large ship does mitigate the effects of rough seas somewhat. We were only able to keep up with her for around 20 minutes, and it was during that time that we spotted a speedboat about a mile off our starboard beam. They were clearly having bigger problems than us in the heavy seas. As Captain Phillips reports the approach of pirates, he says “they’re not here to fish.” Likewise we knew there was no way a boat would be out for pleasure in the conditions we were facing. Clearly they were after the container ship, but I’ve no doubt they would have regarded us as a decent runner-up prize in the ransom stakes. Ironically, Kota Wajar was subsequently hijacked and held for 72 days in 2009, later in the same year as the events portrayed in “Captain Phillips”.

Read about my epic voyage around the world on Spirit of Cardiff in “Confronting Poseidon”. Click here to download your copy.