Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)

Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)
Oh, to be in England...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Downton Abbey coming to MASTERPIECE Classic PBS

Downton Abbey- The Upstairs Crowd

The new year is bringing some excitement to PBS.  MASTERPIECE is celebrating it's 40th anniversary with the highly acclaimed Downton Abbey.  Starring the incredible Maggie Smith and Hugh Bonneville as some of the aristocrats in this late Edwardian-era peek into the drawing room and into the scullery.  If you can imagine a combination of Gosford Park and The Buccaneers, you'll be getting close to this little gem.  You get to see the aristocratic Crawley family up close and their servants even closer.  Watch the servants watching the family...voyeurism at it's best.

Almost a soap opera, but as visually appealing as...well a day at an English Country Manor, this is one that you may want to own after you watch it on television. (Downton Abbey DVD here)

Every Sunday evening in January, I will be glued to my TV as PBS is airing this in four 90-minute parts starting January 9 through January 30, 2011 at 9 o'clock ET (check local listings).  Here is a taste of what you can expect:

Downton Abbey Part 1 Preview

Downton Abbey- The Downstairs Crowd

All I can say is that you must watch this if Period Drama is even remotely your thing.  It is worth it just to hear Dame Maggie Smith say things like "What is a week-end?".  Bwaahahaha!  I love you Maggie Smith.

Link to PBS Downton Abbey site

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Child's Christmas in Wales 1987

A Child's Christmas in Wales

"I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six."

I watched this the first Christmas I spent with my husband in 1987, before we were even married.  I knew he was the guy for me, because he appreciated the sweetness and beauty of this holiday classic.  Not many people even know this DVD exists, which is a shame.  Our family had the pleasure of traveling to Wales five years ago (although in the summer) and parts of Wales are still almost as rustic as in this film.  In fact, this was filmed on location in Montgomery Wales, which is probably little changed from when Dylan Thomas was a boy in Swansea.
Old Geraint telling his grandson Thomas about Christmas past...

This sweet film is based on the poem by Dylan Thomas which was first published in 1954 after his death.  It is really more like a lyrical piece of prose as only Thomas could write.  In 1987, a collaborative effort between Global TV in Canada and HTV in Britain (now known as  ITV Wales & West Ltd) brought this to television, and it was shown on PBS in the USA as well.  It is rare to see this on television anymore, so you'll have to invest in the DVD if you want to see this (a wise investment for years to come...)

"One Christmas was so much like another, in those years..."

"December, in my memory, is white as Lapland, though there were no reindeers. But there were cats. Patient, cold and callous, our hands wrapped in socks, we waited to snowball the cats."

"It's loovely Grandad."

The Welsh scenery is gorgeous and lets you feel as if you are truly traveling back in time.  The film is a combination of present day (well, 23 years ago) and flashbacks to what looks like the time period just before WWI.  The children all have authentic Welsh accents, although I believe the adults are all Canadian actors except of course the wonderful Denholm Elliott (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Trading Places, Room with a View) who was English, but does a wonderful Welsh accent.

"...once I had a little crocheted nose bag from an aunt now, alas, no longer whinnying with us."

The music will also stay with you after watching this, particularly from the cozy scene at the end, where the family are all singing by the fire, quaint Welsh carols like "On To Bethlehem Town" and "All Through the Night".

"Our snow was not only shaken from white wash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground..."

As I was watching this tonight (research, you know) both my 16 year old son and my husband made their way into the room where I was and watched the last half with me.  Well, this has really gotten me into the Christmas spirit.  I will try to hold onto this feeling as I finish my Christmas shopping this weekend (fingers crossed) and not get caught up in the things that don't matter.  Happy Holidays!

N.B.  The screen captures above were borrowed with permission from a beautiful blog

Click for the full text of the Dylan Thomas Poem A Child's Christmas in Wales.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The King's Speech- My impressions

Poster for The King's Speech
Last night, my husband and I drove to Toronto (about 90 minutes from here) to see this wonderful film.  I was afraid that my expectations were too high and that I would end up disappointed.  I was not disappointed.

It only opened in 5 theatres in all of Canada this weekend, so we bought our tickets online and drove in early.  We ended up in line about an hour before showtime and there were already at least 50 people ahead of us.  My social husband (I like to call him the Squire) started chatting with two ladies in front of us after they asked us to hold their spot in line.  It ended up as a hilarious dissertation by the ladies on why my Squire could not just put on Wellington boots and end up looking like Mr. Darcy.  "It's the brooding, you have to be brooding and mooning... you can't just put on the boots!"   He looked slightly crestfallen as they were laughing at him.  I told the ladies to watch out for Jennifer Ehle as Lionel Louge's wife as she likely wouldn't look much like Lizzy Bennet anymore, especially dressed in 1930's fashion.
Geoffrey Rush as speech therapist Lionel Logue
Then as the earlier showing of the film started pouring out, another slightly older lady came up to the four of us and said "You are going to love this film.  Enjoy it!"  Now we were really getting excited.  It was a sold out show and we had our popcorn.
Colin Firth as Bertie (King George VI) in full uniform
The film itself is a story of friendship developing between two men from very different backgrounds.  At the beginning of the film, Bertie is the Duke of York and he is seeking out the help of speech therapist Lionel Logue because his stammer is interfering with his public duty.  This is a prince who has had no contact with the common man and an Australian who has never encountered royalty and doesn't buy into the British class system.  The plot concerns the lead-up to the speech, The Speech, where Bertie (King George VI) has to get on the radio and tell his people that for the second time in a generation, their country was going to war.  Not just any run of the mill speech.  That is a lot of pressure for anyone, never mind a King with a stammer who thinks that everyone prefers his brother who had recently abdicated in order to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson.
A sweet look between King Bertie and Elizabeth (the Queen Mum)
So I won't tell you any more about the film, other than that Jennifer Ehle does not look anything like Lizzy Bennet in this (except for her little mole on her left upper lip) but there is a really funny scene with her and Colin Firth together on the screen again.  This must be weird for her as she and Colin Firth had a fling during the filming of Pride and Prejudice.  It would be sort of like running into an old boyfriend at a party I would think.
Anyway, there are many other familiar faces in this such as David Bamber (Mr. Collins from P&P) in a very brief cameo.  There are quite a few Harry Potter alumni also such as Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange) as Elizabeth (Berties wife and the future Queen Mum) looking as sane as we have ever seen her onscreen.  Timothy Spall (Peter Pettigrew) as Winston Churchill was a bit of a stretch, but Michael Gambon (Dumbledore as well as appearing in most Period Dramas) always gives a great performance, here as Bertie's father King George V.
Poor Bertie with one of those anxiety causing microphones

On the way out of the theatre, I overheard a teenage boy behind me say "Thanks for dragging me to see this Dad.  I thought it would be boring but it was great!"  So feel free to drag family members, even teens to this.  There is some swearing (although only for comedic effect and the teens will think it's really cool anyway) so you may want to prepare Grandma if you are taking her.  The music is fabulous and the Squire leaned over during the dramatic speech and whispered "They're playing Beethoven's 7th", just in case you needed to know that!

I had tears in my eyes as I made the customary run to the ladies room after the film and I was not the only one.  I think the fact that my parents would have heard that speech on the radio, and my grandparents and even my great grandparents really got me emotional and even now the tears are pricking at my eyes.

So there is my enthusiastic review of The King's Speech.  Now go see it as soon as it comes to your city.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Christmas Story-My Father's Favourite

A Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time
This heartwarming Christmas story, set in the 1940's was my father's absolute favourite movie of all time (not just his favourite Christmas film), so this post is in memory of my Dad, big kid that he was.
The fact that this is about childhood and Christmas in the 1940's took my father right back to his own roots, growing up in a small house in the "East End" of Hamilton, Ontario, the son of a steel worker in a very working class neighbourhood. His childhood home resembled the one in this holiday classic (even I still remember the push button lights and the wringer washer in what was still my Grandma's house).

Over the years I got to be quite a connoisseur of soap.
In A Christmas Story (based on the book In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash by Midwestern humorist Jean Sheperd), Ralphie is a typical American kid in the 1940's who wants a Red Rider BB gun for Christmas.  He tries to convince his parents, his teacher and even Santa himself that this is the perfect gift for Christmas, but keeps hearing the same response..."You'll shoot your eye out!"

A Christmas Story Full Size 45" Leg Lamp
Fra-gee-lay, must be Italian...
Not a huge success on it's release in 1983, it has grown to be a classic.  A taste of the innocence of childhood and an awful lot of humour evoked by looking back on it through adult eyes makes this a must see film for the holidays.  Ralphie's inner monologue, the adult voice of Jean Sheperd's musings, is a wonderful story telling technique and keeps the viewer transfixed and hugely entertained.

A Christmas Story- the house

Ralphie: Oooh fuuudge!
Ralphie as Adult: [narrating] Only I didn't say "Fudge." I said THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the "F-dash-dash-dash" word!
Mr. Parker: [stunned] *What* did you say?
Ralphie: Uh, um...
Mr. Parker: That's... what I thought you said. Get in the car. Go on!
Ralphie as Adult: [narrating] It was all over - I was dead. What would it be? The guillotine? Hanging? The chair? The rack? The Chinese water torture? Hmmph. Mere child's play compared to what surely awaited me.

He looks like a deranged Easter Bunny!
Mr. Parker: It's a clinker! That blasted stupid furnace dadgummit!
[he walks down a few stairs and falls the rest of the way down]
Mr. Parker: Damn skates!
Mr. Parker: Oh, for cripes sake, open up the damper will ya? Who the hell turned it all the way down? AGAIN! Oh, blast it!
Ralphie as Adult: [narrating] In the heat of battle my father wove a tapestry of obscenities that as far as we know is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan.

NOW it was serious. A double-dog-dare!
 So enjoy this one with all of your family this holiday.  And this one is for you Dad...

Sunday, December 5, 2010

At Home with the Georgians-Brilliant!!!

Amanda Vickery, helping us snoop into the lives and homes of the Georgians!

Charleybrown, a fellow Canadian Period Drama addict whose blog (Enchanted Serenity of Period Films) is truly brilliant, has come up with an absolute gem this weekend.  She has found what sounds like a dry British documentary on the Georgian home, but is actually one of the most entertaining pieces of BBC television I have seen in ages and here is the link-  Enchanted Serenity of Period Films: At Home with the Georgians: "In this three part series, historian Amanda Vickery explores how the great British obsession with our homes began 300 years ago."

Professor Amanda Vickery is the slightly cheeky historian/presenter of this series, whose particular interest is in the Georgians, and she takes us straight into the lives of real people living in England during the 1700s by reading us their diaries, and having actors reenact their lives. She also pokes into homes of the period while imagining what would have been going on in them, and fiddling with her IPad when she is not reading the original documents.  Her books and a CD of a radio show on Georgian England and social history are below and likely have the same cheeky feel to them (more Christmas list material for me!).

The Gentleman's Daughter: Women's Lives in Georgian England (Yale Nota Bene)Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England [Paperback]
Radio 4's History of Private Life (BBC Audio)
Sex, scandal and soft furnishings is what the BBC trailers promised and the titillation of peeping into the thoughts and lives of the Georgians is what makes this series different.  As much as we love Jane Austen, we ever aware that she is only showing us the female perspective, and even that only an unmarried woman's.  In this series we get to meet lonely horny young bachelors planning future happiness if only they can find the right woman (some do and some don't).  And the women's stories are equally compelling.  One woman  finds happiness in and out of the bedroom with her new rich husband, but there are miserable spinsters and abused wives which show the other side of the coin as well.

Alternately heart-breaking and hilarious, this is historic voyeurism at it's best. Here's a clip from YouTube as the full version has been removed from ESPF:

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Shakespeare in Love- I love it!

You will never age for me, nor fade, nor die.
Two things made me think of Shakespeare in Love in the past week.  First of all, my teenage son's girlfriend was appearing as Juliet in a local production of Romeo and Juliet (and it was very good production, as was she in the titular role).  I said to my son at one point in the evening "Now aren't you glad that I made you watch Shakespeare in Love so many times?" and he actually said yes!  (If you would like to see the YouTube video promoting the Lost and Found Theatre production, the link is here.)  By the way, he had a hard time seeing his girlfriend kiss Romeo multiple times, but he met Romeo after the show and they shook hands (very cute).

Then I was blogging about the new film The King's Speech and I realized that I had seen Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush in a film together before....hmmmm......which film was it?  Of course, they both had supporting but key roles in this Best Picture of 1998 and Geoffrey Rush was nominated for an Oscar in his role as Philip Henslowe, owner of The Rose Theatre.  Colin Firth plays the baddie in this one, the unromantic Lord Wessex, to whom Gwyneth Paltrow's character Viola De Lesseps is betrothed and is forced to marry, even though she is in love with the married Will Shakespeare.  Poor Gwynnie, I'll take Lord Wessex off  your hands if you like!

Lord Wessex: My lady, the tide waits for no man, but I swear it would wait for you.
Geoffrey Rush as Philip Henslowe
Philip Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.
Hugh Fennyman: So what do we do?
Philip Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.
Hugh Fennyman: How?
Philip Henslowe: I don't know. It's a mystery.

If you want to watch a period drama with any of the men in your life, this one is a good one to pull out of your collection or to rent.  The costumes are sumptuous, the music will swell your heart and the story will sweep you along and have you in tears by the end.  Gwyneth Paltrow won her Oscar for playing Viola (anyone else remember her pink Ralph Lauren Oscar dress that looked like it needed shorter spaghetti straps?) and Judi Dench stole all the scenes she was in (and a "Best Supporting" Oscar to boot).

In Justin Long's Guide to Rom-Coms, he says "Oh God, then there’s Shakespeare In Love. I feel immediately more romantic just thinking about it. After watching that it makes me want to swoop out and seduce someone with a sonnet."  So, if you want your special someone to seduce you with a sonnet, then this film is your pick.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The King's Speech promotional tour

Colin Firth is starting his promotional tour for his new film, The King's Speech, the story of King George VI, father of Queen Elizabeth II, his dramatic ascension to the throne and the Australian speech therapist who helped the struggling monarch find his voice.  I can't resist joining in the excitement with this post.

Director Tom Hooper, whose heritage is both Australian and English was particularly drawn to this unlikely story, largely unknown, about the friendship which developed between King George VI and his Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue.  The screenplay writer David Seidler, was a young stammerer himself during WWII and derived great inspiration from the King's struggles with his speech.  After writing the screenplay for the film Tucker, (for Francis Ford Coppola in 1988), he turned to this story.  However, after approaching the Queen Mother (widow of King George VI) for permission to tell the story, she asked that he wait until after her death, as the events were still too painful for her to relive.  Little did he realize that she was to live until the age of 101!  He was aware that some diaries and documents belonging to Lionel Logue existed, but by the time he finally got to write the story (after the death of Elizabeth the Queen Mother in 2002), it was only a few weeks before the film shoot began when the documents were finally found in the London attic of Logue's descendant.

Apparently, the script was reworked at the last minute to include much of the authentic information from the diaries and medical records.  There was also a three week rehearsal involving Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and the director and writers where each line was worked on and some jokes even added by the actors. Apparently when Lionel Logue asks the King if he knows any jokes, and the King replies "Timing isn't my strong suit", that line was written by Colin Firth!

The film is largely about the friendship which develops between the two men and swings back and forth between drama and comedy (something the Brits do so brilliantly) and is already generating Oscar buzz.  So you all know where I will be on December 10th when this is released in North America.  I don't care if I have to drive to Toronto, I'll be seeing it on opening night!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Christmas shopping ideas for Period Drama fans

Little DorritBleak House (Special Edition)I have a few gaps in my DVD collection so Little Dorrit and Bleak House are on my Christmas list this year.  What is on yours?  The only way your loved ones will know what you want is to give them some hints, and Amazon will make a wish list for you to help with shopping.

Jane Austen Action Figure
Jane Austen Action Figure
To adorn the desk of a reader, there may not be a better stocking stuffer than the Jane Austen Action Figure.  Very cute and a real statement for the cubicle or desk of a Janeite.  It even comes with a mini Pride and Prejudice and a writing desk with a removable quill pen.  If you want a full collection, there is also the Charles Dickens Action Figure which may or may not actually recite A Christmas Carol on command (just kidding) but does come with "removable hat and quill pen!".  What more can a literary fan ask for?  However, for my money the funniest (or more tragic, depending on your viewpoint) is the Marie Antoinette Action Figure with launching head?  OK, that one is not on my Christmas list.  Actually these reminded me of the hilarious Bronte Sisters Power Dolls which still don't actually exist.  Someone should really manufacture these.. I would gladly pay for their "boomerang book throwing action"!

Jane Austen Little Thinker
Jane Austen Little Thinker Doll

For a bit cuddlier Jane Austen Doll, there is the Jane Austen Little Thinker.  Personally I like the action figure better, but there are some who would definitely prefer a plush version and this one comer with white gloves, lacy cap and Regency dress.  All for just $18.99!  What a hoot.

Pride And Prejudice Trivia Board Game
Pride and Prejudice Trivia Board Game
This one is for the hard core Janite, but The Pride and Prejudice Trivia Board Game looks like a lot of fun.  There are a few of us out there who have read the book and seen the adaptations more than once (!) and who would probably enjoy this over a glass of wine during the holidays.
P&P quiz night anyone?

The Cranford Companion Wow! The Cranford Companion, a beautiful hardcover book, includes behind the scenes stories about the production, the adaptation of the script and the scouting of the English countryside for filming locations. Also included are a map of Cranford, information about the characters and interviews with actors who portray them. Gorgeous photos from the series and the set will keep you coming back to pore over this book for years to come.  A must for any Cranford fan.

Books, obviously, are a real weakness of mine and I have discovered a new genre, "Fan Fiction", which offers Jane Austen fans some sequels or alternate scenarios for her beloved novels.  I say that I just discovered this genre, but the truth is that I read a few some years ago, but recent offerings are a great improvement.  After all, there are only six Jane Austen novels, so this is a great way to keep that wonderful feeling from ending.  Some popular ones which will be on my reading list for the new year include:

A Darcy Christmas
A Darcy Christmas, consisting of three short stories each written by a different author.   Mostly there are great reviews for this, some lukewarm, but I am looking forward to reading this one during the holidays.  I especially like the sound of the adaptation of Dickens' A Christmas Carol to the Pride and Prejudice characters.  There is also a portrayal of the Darcy family over many years of Christmas celebrations, and a story about a little "addition" to the Darcy family over one of their first holidays together.  Sounds great!

The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy
This one doesn't come out until next year, but Mary Lydon Simonsen's newest Austen Fan Fiction book sounds wonderful. 
Here is the blurb from Amazon for The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy:
"Convinced that the lovely Elizabeth Bennet is her brother's soul mate, Georgiana Darcy enlists her clever and not at all snobbish cousin Anne de Bourgh in ensuring that pride and prejudice aren't able to keep these two hearts apart. All is going according to plan until Lydia Bennet brings scandal on the family by eloping with George Wickham, and Darcy is called away from Elizabeth's side before he has a chance to propose. It will take all Georgiana and Anne's considerable matchmaking talents to ensure that Elizabeth and Darcy are reunited in time to claim their happily ever after."

My question is how long it will take to turn some of these Jane Austen "Sequels" or more acurately, "Fan Fiction" into film adaptations.  Or at the very least, how long until we get a Georgette Heyer novel adapted for film.  Any thoughts?



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