“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
— Mark Twain

The China Rhyming Annual Round Up of Popular Culture Opium References – 2014

Posted: December 26th, 2014 | No Comments »

Another year, another round up of references to opium in popular culture (see the 2013 and 2012 roundups for previous dope in popular culture).

Episode 1Tommy’s off the dope it seems – no wonder he’s getting a bit violent with those Sabini boys

Lucy Worsley’s BBC series A Very British Murder, on the history of popular fascination and books about murder in Britain, kicked off with the presenter in Thomas de Quincey’s old place in Grassmere, in the lovely Lake District, showing us his opium paraphernalia. In Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner we also found out that the artist partook of a drop of laudanum for his ailments. Elsewhere on TV series 2 of Peaky Blinders was excellent, but Tommy Sheridan appears instantly cured of his series 1 opium addiction and Birmingham Chinatown didn’t feature again – still, this time round, we got swells tooting coke in a Sabini-family-run London 1920s nightclub, so all was not lost! (and see my post on tooting ‘Tokyo” in 1920s London here). Showtime and Sky’s Penny Dreadful did not disappoint and had us in a candlelit East End opium den within the first fifteen minutes of episode 1 and poor sweet Brona Croft (Billie Piper) on the laudanum later!! At the theatre Lynn Nottage’s play Intimate Apparel played in the UK to good reviews. Centred around a seamstress in 1905 New York, she ends up married to an opium addict.

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Penny Dreadful’s Sir Malcolm Murray steps into a Limehouse dope den

In books London historian and novelist Peter Ackroyd had some mentions of Limehouse as a slum in the 1960s and as a rookery of opium dens back in the day in Three Brothers while Laura Wilson’s DI Stratton had a morphine murder during World War Two London on his hands in An Empty Death. Robert Edric’s The Monster’s Lament saw good old Aleister Crowley on a little dope in war-time London (and make a couple of mentions of his Shanghai sojourn too). According to The Monster’s Lament Crowley’s preferred tipple was ten grains of opium taken with brandy! Opium also makes a small appearance in Adrian McKinty’s interesting The Sun is God, a tru-ish story of a murderous German cult living on the Kaiser’s far flung Pacific island colonies at the start of the twentieth century. Somewhat of a curiosity from McKinty (who usually does more modern noirs about Northern Ireland and Irish-New York), but a fascinating tale all the same. Sarah Waters hinted at 1920s London cocaine party goings on in The Paying Guests, and Lawrence Osborne had a washed up English gambling addict sucking the pipe for relief on Lamma Island in his excellent The Ballad of a Small Player. And, last but never, ever least, the excellent James Ellroy opted to include a few opium den scenes in just pre-war 2 LA in Perfidia, 

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