Wives and Daughters, Part 1

The BBC production of Elizabeth Gaskell‘s Wives and Daughters isn’t as well-known as say Pride and Prejudice or Emma. Gaskell is a writer I just learned about a year ago, but I’m liking her more and more. I loved Gaskell’s novel Cranston and the BBC production of her North and South was quite good.

Episode one of this 4 part series introduces viewers to Molly Gibson, a young girl who’s mother’s died. She gets lost and is brought to a huge country home. Cut ahead ten years later and her father, a country doctor decides to wed because Molly suddenly needs a mother. Of course, his choice shocks Molly. She doesn’t feel she needs a mother and she knows she won’t like this finicky woman Dr. Gibson chose.  This Cinderella story works as they almost always do. I add more as I move through the subsequent episodes

The King’s Speech (from my archives)

Since I’d heard such high praise for The King’s Speech and I knew what it was about, I figured I’d enjoy this movie, but not be blown away. Well, it is a terrific movie so it does succeed in living up to high expectations.

As I knew, it’s the story of Prince (later King) Albert, whose speech impediment is a curse considering he’s a royal and even the second son needs to make speeches on occasion. The film closely tracks Bertie’s struggles and his relationship with a controversial, unorthodox speech therapist. During this era stronger stories and persons fill the history books: Prince Edward whose romance with Mrs. Simpson can easily fascinate and Winston Churchill are off to the side in this story, though in history they are front and center. As a history buff, I enjoyed seeing this small story told well. We get caught up in Bertie’s struggle and admire him for persevering. Lionel, his therapist, gets to push and prod royalty, which is like dancing in a mine field. He always respects Bertie, but knows that brutal honesty is needed for success with this patient.

The script is spare, very Aristotelean, I’d say as it focuses on the primary relationships and we root for Bertie to face his demons and disability. Helena Bonham-Carter plays Prince Albert’s wife with understatement and loyalty. Though I did wonder how they got together and how she saw past Bertie’s stutter when they first met. The only actor I didn’t like played Winston Churchill. Granted, that’s a hard role as Churchill had such a strong persona overacting is a real danger. Luckily, Churchill’s not on screen much.

Persuasion, BBC 2007

I’m not that sure I’ve read Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion. I recall Bridget read it, but if I did, it was long ago.

I saw this BBC adaptation on Netflix and thought, “Why not?” and I’m glad I did. Persuasion is simpler than Austen’s other works like Pride and Prejudice or Mansfield Park. There are some minor storylines, but we don’t get invested in them as we do in Austen’s other books.

In Persuasion, Anne Elliot is surprised when her former fiancé Mr. Wentworth re-enters her life eight years after she turned him down. Her father’s squandered his fortune and must lease his grand home. His tenants turn out to be Mr. Wentworth’s sister and brother-in-law.

She has not gotten over him and he still feels the sting of rejection. Anne rejected Wentworth due to the persuasion of her relatives who believed he was too poor for her. Now he’s returned after acquiring a fortune for his success in the navy.

This book lacks a confidante for the heroine and doesn’t have as much wit as one finds in say Sense and Sensibility or Emma or P&P. Yet I was drawn into the story wondering how the couple would get together. Austen wrote while suffering with the illness that eventually killed her. (Experts can’t agree on what it was.) Thus this book wasn’t revised as carefully as her other books.

While I did like the story it was hard to understand why Wentworth was so smitten with Anne, why he couldn’t forget her. She wasn’t especially beautiful and because she isn’t shown amongst friends we don’t see her wit or spark. She’s a good, dutiful young woman with a churlish family. It’s a short film at just about 90 minutes so you don’t have much time to wish for more characters or dialog. The film moves along at a clip.


North and South Ending

Whilst I’m in New Mexico, I’m sharing some favorite scenes from Master Piece Theater’s North and South.

North & South

I’m half way through the four episodes of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South produced by the BBC. Darker than Downton Abbey or an Austen adaptation, North and South is set in a mill town in northern England during the Industrial Revolution. Margaret Hale moves with her parents from the countryside in the south because her father, a vicar, won’t sign a paper stating he believes in the Common Prayer. So they’re uprooted to the sooty, depressing North.

They encounter Mr. Thornton, a strict factory owner, takes lessons from Mr. Hale. Margeret befriends a working class family, headed by a union organizer, preferring them to the snooty Thorntons. The series provides great visuals of work in the factories with cotton floating through the air like snow that chokes and sickens the workers. Though philosophic and ethical adversaries Mr. Thornton admires Margaret and proposes to her. He’s flat refused. It’s not hard to guess how that relationship will fare, but I am intrigued and wonder about the workers.

It’s a fascinating drama capturing life in the Industrial Revolution.

Gaskell wrote the lighter Cranston, which I read and reviewed last fall.

Downton Abbey

I’d heard Downton Abbey was excellent some time ago and have found time to watch the first few episodes. Set in the early 20th century, before WWI, Downton Abbey delves into the lives of the inhabitants of a magnificent family estate. Like the earlier Sense and Sensibility, the family who has lived in this mansion for generations is likely to lose it because there’s no living male heir. A middle class third cousin is now in line for the estate including the wife’s fortune and though everyone involved sees the injustice, there’s something of a sho-ga-nai (it can’t be helped) attitude towards this change of events. The young lawyer who’s set to inherit moves to the village and really does not want this house or the servants that come with it.

Half the drama takes place amongst the servants. There’s deceit, rivalry, jealousy and envy. When Bates a new butler arrives, he is in the crosshairs of the more venial staff, who’re appalled because he walks with a limp and thus the more superficial see him as an affront to the dignity of the house. The characters are reserved and articulate as you’d expect. The drama is elegant and tense with little surprises. The clothes are exquisite and while I’m more like the third cousin who doesn’t see the need for assistance getting dressed, etc., it is interesting to watch how this house operates and how everyone cares so much about doing their work with excellence. (A sharp counterpoint to my maid in Indonesia.)

The cast features some familiar faces. Elizabeth McGovern (Ordinary People) plays the mother and Hugh Bonneville (Notting Hill) plays the father.

In the Loop

I’m so glad Bridget suggested we seeIn the Loop, a British satire based on the hypothetical (wink, wink, nod, nod) premise that through deceit, ineptitude, stupidity and egotistical ambition the Brits were pulled into a war in the Middle East with (or by) their friends across the Atlantic. It’s an incredibly funny film with loads of profanity, probably the most inventive swearing I’ve ever heard. The dialog is brilliant and I’m sure I didn’t get all the jokes which come at you a mile a minute. The characters reveal all the many faces of how to protect a fragile career in politics, which they probably should just let tank to salvage any scintilla of dignity, sanity or ethics.

Simon Foster is the British Minister of International Development and more or less living proof that the Peter Principle is alive and well. In a radio interview he states that he believes a war in the Middle East is “unforeseeable,” which is exactly what the Prime Minister’s Pit Bull, Malcolm Tucker, did not want said. He then goes on to a meeting that the new junior communications officer set up. He’s only supposed to sit there, but no one tells him he’s only filler in the room. Of course, he says something and of course, it makes things worse.

To salvage the situation a Washington fact finding trip is planned, but that just leads to more trouble and comedy as we see how the Americans can botch and twist things up just as well as the Brits. The more Tucker and Foster try to fix the situation the more political disaster and belligerent tongue lashings ensue.

The movie contains so many hilarious lines that you have to hear in context. Something like “difficult, difficult lemony difficult” needs context to be appreciated. I loved that women like Foster’s advisor stood up to Tucker when he verbally attacked them while still maintaining intelligence and poise no less. The whole cast is strong including the junior staffers. If there was an award for the lamest excuse to give your girlfriend to explain an infidelity, it’s in this film and it’s hysterical.

Doc Martin

Doc Martin is a British series that’s as much a story about a village as it is about a character. It’s a wry comedy that chronicles a gruff, insensitive physician, Martin Ellingham, who returns to his hometown after his career in London peters out. It seems he’s suddenly can’t take the sight of blood. I’ve only seen one episode, but the eccentric small town characters juxtaposed with the cantankerous Doc Martin, who bristles when his new neighbors call him by this nickname or get too casual. There’s some romance and the writing’s good. It’s definitely worth getting hooked on. Its levity counters the intensity of MI-5.