Sunday, February 24, 2013
A Royal Affair is a fabulous dramatization of a true story about Caroline Mathilde, a younger sister of King George III of England who was wed to the unstable King Christian of Denmark at the ages of 15 and 17 respectively. If this sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, then you know where this story is headed.
The young Queen quickly finds out that she has married a bit of a whack-job, but endears herself to Denmark by quickly providing a royal heir.
Her loony King Christian then announces that he is leaving for an extended tour of Europe, to which she replies the Danish equivalent of "So? What do I care?". Oh, did I forget to mention that this film is in Danish with English subtitles? They would actually have been speaking German in the Danish Court of the time, but it's a Danish film so let's not quibble about that.
Christian brings back a certain German Dr. Johann Struensee with him from his Grand Tour, who as well as befriending and acting as a calming influence on the young King, brings some radical notions to Denmark like smallpox vaccination, freedom for serfs and the abolition of torture. He is able to use the King's power to drag Denmark into the "modern era" of The Enlightenment. This film takes place around the time of the American and French Revolutions to give some context.
Dr. Struensee finds a kindred spirit for his progressive ideas in the young Queen and, well, let's just say that the history books seem to agree that her second child, a daughter, was fathered by the good doctor!
I really enjoyed this film. It doesn't have a happy ending, it is filmed almost entirely in Danish with English subtitles and is a full 2 hours long. However I was riveted for the full 2 hours. The Squire (my husband) got a little antsy near the end and made a comment about how he kept expecting blood to drip from the corner of Struensee's eye (Mads Mikkelsen was the fabulous villain Le Chiffre in Casino Royal). Mikkelsen is verrrry attractive as the thinking woman's sex symbol of the 18th century in this film. He keeps repeatedly being voted Sexiest Man in Denmark, to which he replied "I'd rather be voted 'the sexiest man in Denmark' than 'the ugliest man in Denmark'." Hear, hear!
Anyway, if you enjoy a gorgeous, slow political romance then this is your film. Just make sure you see it with someone who is also into that kind of film. The Squire was OK with this one but only just! :)
P.S. This film is nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars tonight. I will be rooting for it to win!
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
So, which is your favourite version of Pride and Prejudice? As this is my blog, I get to fire the first salvo here and I say that my fave is 1995 Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, but only just. This miniseries kept me sane when I was the working mother of a toddler and a preschooler so this will be hard to beat as number one for me. It also introduced me to Jane Austen as I am ashamed to say I had not read any of her books before 1995.
I have a theory that the first version of P&P you see is likely to be your fave. Not always, but there is usually a soft spot in your heart for your very first Mr. Darcy and Lizzy.
My other theory is that every 10 or 15 years, there will be another version out, so each generation can have their own Mr. Darcy. And I think that there can never be too many Austen adaptations out there. If they are really trying to do it right, (not modern or time travel or different cultures) I think we can welcome another version in a few years. What do you all think?
Shall I start with the most recent first? I have to say that there is an advantage to the length of a feature film. When I want a little dose of P&P, this is the version I usually reach for. A miniseries is a time commitment which I used to find easier than I do now. This is my bite-sized version. I also love the "muddy hems" and more realistic late 18th century settings and costumes. Gorgeously filmed and the music is lovely.
I think the leads were well cast. Lizzy is the proper age and Keira Knightley is a wonderful actress who loves the book and threw her heart into it. Matthew Macfadyen is a great Darcy. He puts a bit more shyness and awkwardness into the role which is a great take on the Darcy character.
I adore Brenda Blethyn as Mrs. Bennet. She brings a realistic and loving touch without losing the comedy. Well done. I think Tom Hollander is brilliant as Mr. Collins with his exemplary vegetables and his amazing facial expressions. Claudie Blakely also deserves kudos for her Charlotte Lucas. We truly feel her fear of being "left on the shelf".
I do admittedly adore Colin Firth's Mr. Darcy in the 1995 version. He is verrrrry sexy and perhaps the fact that he was having a wee fling with Jennifer Ehle during filming adds a little spark to the chemistry. And Jennifer Ehle's little smirk and all of her eyebrow raising is very effective to make you really love her as Lizzy.
It is also truly gorgeous in it's locations and costumes and the fact that it is so true to the book. The length is a plus unless you only have two hours to spend with the Bennet family.
I love Benjamin Whitrow as Mr. Bennet. When he kisses Lizzy on the head and gives his blessing to the marriage, well I just want him for my father. And could you want any more in Lady Catherine de Bourgh than we get from Barbara Leigh-Hunt? The scene with Lizzy and Lady Catherine in the garden is perfection!
My only knock against this version is the shrill tone to Alison Steadman's voice as Mrs. Bennet. Although I love her portrayal otherwise the thought of her voice has actually prevented me from popping this in on occasion (usually when I have a migraine).
I remember many years ago, raving about Colin Firth to an older co-worker and she said that David Rintoul was a far superior Mr. Darcy. So you see where I started my theory about each generation having their own version. Elizabeth Garvie is a wonderful Elizabeth and I think it's a shame we haven't seen her in more films over the years, although she was great in The House of Eliott too.
This is a wonderful adaptation, only really suffering from being recorded on video tape instead of film, and the basically low production values of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The scene which really stands out in my mind is when Darcy finds her walking in the park at Rosings and hands her the letter, the way the camera follows him as he walks away is truly effective. Off he goes into the future without her...
The 1940 version with Laurence Olivier as Mr. Darcy and Greer Garson as Elizabeth is really much better than it could have been considering what Hollywood was doing at the time. They brought in talented screenwriter Jane Murfin along with Aldous Huxley (yes, the Brave New World one) and other than the hoop skirts and the abominable change in Lady Catherine in the last scenes, they got a lot of Jane Austen in there.
I love the comedy in this version. It is just a very fun, light Pride and Prejudice. And again, think of all of the people who picked up Jane Austen's novels in the 1940s because of this adaptation. What a blessing in the midst of WWII to have this film and a renewed interest in Jane Austen.
And Laurence Olivier is really not a bad Mr. Darcy (wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more, say no more). I wish we could see Greer Garson's red hair in this, though I don't wish to see a colorized version. I'll take it in black and white.
OK, now I am going to hold my breath and post this. Please feel free to give your opinions in the comment section below. There are no right or wrongs on this topic. Everyone's opinion is valid and truly welcome. I want to know when you think we will get the next version now too. We are almost due...
P.S. To see my other Austen Adaptation Smackdown, Sense and Sensibility- 1995 vs 2008
Sunday, February 17, 2013
SPOILER ALERT! This post is intended for those who have already seen Season 3 Episode 7 Finale!
Fare thee well Matthew Crawley! You have provided a male heir for Downton Abbey and now the actor who portrays you (Dan Stevens) wants to cross the pond and take his chances in Hollywood, so there was no other option for Julian Fellowes. We really can't blame him after all. What other options were there? And perhaps it was for the best. Now Mary can get another great story line (more along the Pamuk line, less along the gotta get preggers line) and we can shake things up at the Abbey. She'll be like a Princess Regent for her little baby boy and now she'll be locking horns with Lord Grantham herself!
But I have to say, other than the ending, I really enjoyed this episode. We finally got to meet the wonderfully named "Shrimpie" and his dour wife, "Snarkie" (OK, I can't remember her name offhand). We got to travel to Scotland and pretend we were stalking deer with the Royal Family at Balmoral. To be honest, one of the reasons we love this show is because it's like spying on the friends and family of the British Royals, right?
We got to see the downstairs crowd kick up their heels once the family left (and once Carson calmed down and let up on the silver polishing). Mrs. Patmore's lecherous suitor made a hilarious change this week and I am really enjoying the camaraderie between Mrs. Patmore and Mrs. Hughs. Nothing like a cancer scare to cement a friendship! And even Daisy and Ivy might be BFFs too after this week. However, good riddance to the new chamber maid Edna. Her teeth were too big anyway!
Poor Molesley was the goofball again in this episode, however I did really enjoy O'Brien's line about Shrimpie's wife Susan (just remembered it!) needing more body and volume. But did Ms.Vidal Sassoon bring some mousse or a hair dryer?
Certainly, Lord Grantham was looking at Cora with a bit more respect and admiration after hanging at Shrimpie's for a weekend.
Hugh 'Shrimpie' MacClare, Marquess of Flintshire: Love is like riding or speaking French: if you don't learn it young, it's hard to get the trick of it later.
At least we had a normal birth (you were holding your breath too, weren't you?) and Matthew and Mary got one lovely scene as a family with their new little Lord G. Sigh! I do like the maternity wear on Mary too. Actually the costumes and the photography in this last installment for Season 3 were breathtaking. Sigh!
Countess Violet: Edith dear, stop fascinating that young man and come make a four at bridge.
Michael Gregson: Ediith, my basic fact is that I'm in love with you. You know that already.
Shrimpie's Man Neald: His lordship was born with a rod in one hand and a gun in the other.
Shrimpie: That sounds rather uncomfortable.
Mrs. Patmore: No man has wanted to squire me since the Golden Jubilee. Even then, he expected me to buy the drinks.
Joss Tufton: I love to be in love Mrs. Hughs. I'll not deny it. Anytime. Anyplace. I love to be in love.
Countess Violet: That is the thing about nature. There is so much of it.
Lady Flincher: She looks like a slut.
Countess Violet: Heavens, that's not a word you often hear among the heather.
Countess Violet: Poor soul. It's bad enough parenting a child when you like each other.
Countess Violet: No one can accuse me of being modern, but even I can see it's no crime to be young.
Mr. Bates: Beer? That's very racy of you!
Anna Bates: I am racy.
Lord Grantham: They do say there's a wild man inside all of us.
Countess Violet: If only he would stay inside.
Matthew: I feel like I swallowed a box of fireworks.
And here is a wonderful interview with Maggie Smith on 60 minutes tonight. I laughed through the whole thing!
Sunday, February 10, 2013
SPOILER ALERT! This post is intended for those who have already seen Season 3 Episode 6!
Bates is back, the ladies are in light mourning now (already out of black and into lavender?) and the baby is christened. In the Catholic church!! By a man in a frock!!!
Lady Cora: What's the matter Robert? Are you afraid you'll be converted when you're not looking?
Lots and lots of cricket talk. Confusing for we non-Brits but interesting. Everyone dressed like we are in Brideshead Revisited. And Tom Branson is truly a toff now! But Molesley was the star of the cricket match. Teehee!
So happy that Ethel's problem has been solved, in spite all of Isobel Crawley's "life rebuilding". I hope we get to see more of her and little Charlie in Season 4. Now Violet has had her charity case too. Poor Shrimpy's daughter Rose arrives to occupy the Dowager and give us a glimpse inside a 1920's jazz club. I did like that scene, I must say.
We must be about to see more of the frizzy haired Rose in the future methinks. And what is it with the botanical names Lord Fellowes? Violet, Daisy, Ivy, Rose? All we need is a Lily and we have a flower shop!
Thomas the valet goes and attacks Jimmy the footman in his sleep...what??? O'Brien has some amazing mind control powers! So he's let go with a nice letter of reference, no now he is fired without a reference, no now he's back and with a promotion. And Jimmy also promoted. What's going on down there? And the tall footman Alfred makes yet another face like he smells something foul. Like Thomas?
Glad to know Mary's 20 minute operation in London which no one noticed or questioned has fixed the unnamed "Lady Problem". Did that problem have anything to do with Mr. Pamuk by any chance?
So now we await another 2 hour episode next week (which aired on Christmas Day in the UK). The family goes to Shrimpy's estate in Scotland for a shooting party, the staff stay back at Downton and enjoy a fall fair and we wind it up for another year. Julian Fellowes is writing Season 4 as we speak but it's a long time until next January my friends!
Violet: What is the Scarlet Letter? It sounds most unsuitable.
Violet: You cannot want your granddaughter to grow up in a garage with that drunken gorilla?
Ethel: These days a working woman must have a skill.
Violet: But you seem to have so many!
Carson to Thomas: I do not wish to take a tour of your revolting world!
Lord Grantham: If I shouted blue murder every time someone tried to kiss me at Eton, I'd be hoarse within a month.
Matthew: Married men who wish to seduce young women always have horrid wives.
Kieran Branson: And what would I change into? A pumpkin?
Lord Grantham: Tom doesn't want me (at the christening). All that crossing and bobbing up and down. I went to a mass once in Rome. It was more like a gymnastics display. (Kieran Branson laughs)
Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Quartet- just go and see it. If you are reading my blog, you will love this film. This film will not win any Academy Awards, nor should it. It will however have you leaving the theatre with a spring in your step and humming operatic tunes. By the way, you need to know nothing about opera or classical music to watch this.
"Getting old is not for sissies." Bette Davis
Maggie Smith stars as Jean Horton, an aging opera diva waiting for a new hip (again! same premise as Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) who has run out of money to pay for her incredibly gorgeous London flat and so has to move to Beecham House, opulent retirement home for aged musicians.
She arrives to a standing ovation, to find that her ex-husband, a few old friends and one rival diva rank amongst the inhabitants of the home.
Tom Courtenay is Reginald Paget, Jean's ex and is particularly wonderful and moving I thought. Billy Connolly is randy old Wilf Bond, there for comic effect (brilliant move Dustin) and Pauline Collins is perfect as the adorable but slightly demented Cissy Robson.
Don't believe some of the cynical reviews out there. This one is a keeper and will be purchased by me to pull out regularly when I need a little lift. It is not a realistic film (if you have spent any time around a real retirement/nursing home you will know what I mean) but it is not meant to be. It is meant to be an uplifting, inspirational film about how to age gracefully, supported by good friends and continuing to pursue your passions. Kind of like hanging around with the coolest grandparents in England!
Don't confuse this film with A Late Quartet, also a very good film but about a string quartet, not an operatic quartet. The filmmakers used real musicians for all of the residents in the supporting cast, and Hoffman deftly gets around the fact that the titular Quartet are actors not singers. Here is a little taste to whet your appetite.
Sunday, February 3, 2013
SPOILER ALERT! This post is intended for those who have already seen Season 3 Episode 5!
Well, Lord Fellowes, you have made me a happy woman again with this episode. We needed time to grieve Lady Sybil's death along with the family and you gave us a full episode to do just that. I think one of the magical abilities British filmmakers have is to veer from tragedy to comedy and back again effortlessly and this week Downton Abbey did just that. They can now throw another Emmy/Bafta at Dame Maggie as she gave us both the laughs and the tears this week.
Violet: I do not speak much of the heart as it is seldom helpful to do so, but I know well enough the pain when it is broken.
Violet: I suppose she has an appropriate costume for every activity.
See what I mean? One minute I am blinking back tears, and the next she has me snorting Earl Grey tea through my nose!
Poor Mrs. Patmore. The hormones in that kitchen are getting out of control. It's like a Shakespearean comedy down there! I did love the rollicking piano playing by Jimmy and the foxtrot dancing by all of the young-uns at some point in this episode. Slow...slow...quick, quick!
Mrs. Patmore: You know the trouble with you lot? You're all in love with the wrong people!
And Mrs. Patmore's best line ever: Do I look like a frolicker?
I also loved the tender scenes between Daisy and her father-in-law at the farm. Anyone else picturing Daisy selling organic jams and whole grain bread to the grandparents of yuppies in Yorkshire?
Jimmy: A man can choose to be different without it making him a traitor.
What kind of different do you mean Jimmy? Are you really gay but just don't fancy Thomas? And what is up with O'Brien (of the ever changing hairstyles) stirring things up again? She needs something more wholesome to occupy her time if you ask me. Can she not take up knitting? Or the foxtrot?
Lady Cora: Is it ever over when one loses a child? Is it ever really over?
Well, these past two seeks were finally Lady Cora's time to shine. After her heartbreaking scenes last week and her thinly veiled anger at Lord Grantham this week, I am now a Cora fan. Personally I would have ripped a strip off of him after he lost all my money on a stock gamble. Nice to see her dealing with her grief in a realistic way this week. But also how lovely of Violet to step in.
Violet: Lie is so unmusical a word!
Good for Dr. Clarkson to find out that he need not lie. The truth was hard to hear but very healing for us all. Now we can just hate Lord Grantham for being a snobby bigot!
Oh, yes, Bates is free. Yay. Apparently the pie crust did it.
So let me just end with some other wonderful quotes from this week. Love them quotes!
Violet: Grief makes one so terribly tired.
Tom Branson: My wife is dead. I'm past help.
Lord Grantham: There hasn't been a Catholic Crawley since the Reformation.
Violet: Do I count as one of the girls?
Violet: It seems a pity to miss such a good pudding.
Robert: I keep forgetting she's gone. I see things in the paper that would make her laugh. I come inside to tell her that her favourite rose is in bloom. And then suddenly...
Lady Mary: Say that to Mama, please...
Oh, and here is a link for a Salmon Mousse recipe. I feel like I should try it since I have use of my limbs! Oooh, I found a recipe for Charlotte Russe as well. Mmmmmmmm. Yummy!