Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)

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

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Child's Christmas in Wales 1986 with YouTube link!

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 A Child's Christmas in Wales on television 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 1986, 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, 27 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..."

This post is a rerun from a few years ago but I have added the YouTube link below for those who don't have this on DVD. This gorgeous, funny and heartwarming production deserves a much wider audience. It has aged well. Enjoy an old fashioned Christmas with some mischievous boys in Wales!

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

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Saving Mr. Banks and other must see films!

There are a few films on my list to see (hopefully over the holidays) which I will blog about later, but I thought I would let you know what looks good so you can see them before I do!

You have likely seen some of the promos for Saving Mr. Banks with Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks. If you are a sentimental fool like I am, you will be counting the days until you see the story of how Walt Disney convinced P.L. Travers to let him bring Mary Poppins to the silver screen. I love the title, which refers to how the book Mary Poppins is about rescuing Mr. Banks (and Mrs. Banks for that matter) not the children. I have loved the Disney film from when I was young and my eldest child (now 22 years old) used to pretend he was a chimney sweep and dance around the house when he was 2 or 3. I think I may take him to see this one!

I am looking forward to seeing Philomena just as much as Saving Mr. Banks. Apparently Judi Dench and Steve Coogan are both at their level best in this dramedy about an elderly Irish woman who goes to America with the help of a journalist to look for the boy she unwillingly "gave up for adoption" after a stay at a 1950s Catholic home for fallen women. Apparently it is Stephen Frears' best film since The Queen.

I can't wait.

Although I am not a huge Ralph Fiennes fan, I have a lot of respect for his acting and that he is such a fan of Charles Dickens that he wanted to bring The Invisible Woman, the story of Dickens' mistress Nelly Ternan to the screen. The fact that the middle aged Dickens abandoned his wife and 10 children for an 18 year old actress...well that much is history and we might as well have a great film out of it. Felicity Jones plays the titular role (I have loved her since Northanger Abbey) and a few names like Tom Hollander and Kristin Scott Thomas sound good too!

Well, a few others are on my list such as August: Osage County, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Book Thief and American Hustle.

And don't forget that Season 4 of Downton Abbey starts Sunday January 5th! PBS is having a draw for a trip to England to mark the event!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Call The Midwife Holiday Special Dec 29 2013

I was lucky enough to be able to preview the new Call The Midwife Holiday Special today. As much as I enjoyed last year's Christmas Special, I am happy to report that this year's was every bit as good. Prepare to cry. Maybe not as many tears as last year but still a few.

We find Sister Bernadette no longer a nun (and now going by her real name Shelagh), and preparing for her wedding to the good doctor. Speaking of Dr. Turner, he is trying to get all the children of Poplar vaccinated against polio before another outbreak. And we see lots of Chummy in this special, enjoying life as a new mother to baby Freddy, and still a Cub Scout leader!

Jenny has a new very handsome beau, and has stopped pining over that married creep. Finally! We also learn a bit about Trixie and her home life as a child.

There is a crisis in the form of an unexploded bomb from the Blitz which was discovered in the rebuilding effort in the East End of London. The neighbourhood of Nonnatus House is evacuated to a community hall, and all just before Christmas!

So what will come of Nonnatus House and our favourite nuns? Tune in to PBS on Sunday Dec 29th at 7:30 pm and find out. I think I will watch it again with you then!


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Netflix Period Drama Gems!

I finally gave in and subscribed to Netflix. I would like to say that although you won't find every title you may be looking for (far from it), there are enough fine choices to keep me busy all winter long. My first indulgence was watching North and South again. I loaned this DVD to a co-worker and have yet to urge it's return. So it was like visiting an old friend to watch one of my fave miniseries (from a fave book) and swoon over Mr. Thornton again. If you haven't seen this one, you must and if you already love it, it is well worth another viewing. It is hard to describe, but just trust me. It's awesome.

My first weekend of Netflix also included I Capture the Castle which is hard to find elsewhere and so I had been meaning to see this for ages. This one is wonderful and only a film not a miniseries. A few hours with Romola Garai and Bill Nighy. What more could you ask?

Speaking of Romola Garai, The Hour is a miniseries about a fictitious newsroom television show on the BBC in the 1950s where the producer is (gasp!) a woman. There is also a great mystery/spy plot going on and of course a romantic liaison or two! This series consists of 6 hour-long episodes for each of two seasons. Bet you can't watch just one!

Mansfield Park 1999. Frances O'Connor and Jonny Lee Miller? Heaven!! I see this one at least once twice three times a year. Mmmmmm.

The Buccaneers is another miniseries that flies under the radar but which deserves a much wider audience. 4 nouveau riche American girls (well, one is South American) can't break into the Victorian New York elite and so go to London for "The Season" and end up marrying into the British aristocracy with mixed results. One of my all time faves.

I like A Room with a View. It is not on my very top list but it is well worth seeing if it has been a while. A bit offbeat but the Italian scenery and the acting is top notch. And Maggie Smith is in prime form as is Helena Bonham Carter.

Little Dorrit is a true masterpiece. Andrew Davies is at his best when adapting Dickens and you couldn't get better acting. It will leave you riveted and your family will wonder why you have stopped cooking and returning phone calls for a week.

George Eliot can get a little unusual sometimes but her Daniel Deronda is amazing, both in novel form as well as in this spot on miniseries. Romola Garai (again! You could have a Romola fest on Netflix) and the ever gorgeous Hugh Dancy. And you have never seen Hugh Bonneville in a role like this. Wow!

Under the Greenwood Tree will give you a lovely little dose of Thomas Hardy's Wessex. Keeley Hawes is adorable. Light and sweet!

The Way We Live Now, a miniseries adaptation of Anthony Trollope's novel (also well worth reading) is a tour de force saga of a Victorian Ponzi scheme. Matthew Macfadyen as the drunken bad boy is reason enough to see this but the story, the acting and the drop dead gorgeous costumes and locations make this one a must see too.

The Damned United is a sports film about Leeds United, a football team (soccer) set in the 1970s and starring Michael Sheen as Brian Clough, the manager of the team. I saw this in our local art house theatre with my husband. Neither of us know anything about British football but both of us enjoyed it thoroughly. I loved the fact that it was set in the 70s, an era I remember well as a child. Oh, the furniture and fashions!

I am thrilled that I can see the latest Jane Eyre on Netflix. If I have the time for a miniseries, I prefer the 2006 miniseries, however this wonderfully made film from 2011 with Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender is a great way to spend a few hours. I don't have this one on DVD so I will really enjoy seeing this again for the first time since I saw it in the theatre.

Vanity Fair is another film which is a very pleasant way to spend a few hours. Again I prefer the miniseries (except for the music and cinematography which is much better in this one) but if you only have 2 hours, this one is great. And along with Reese Witherspoon, Romola Garai appears in this one yet again! I have to give a shout out to the novel (Vanity Fair: a novel without a Hero) by William Makepeace Thackeray which stays with me to this day. Watch and then read!

An Education is a trip to 1960s England following the trials of a young, gorgeous and extremely bright woman who gets accepted to Oxford University but who then gets waylaid by an intriguing but dangerous man. This one sucks you into the 60s and keeps you transfixed.

If you have never heard of 7 UP, it is a series of documentaries following a group of 7 year olds of different socio-economic backgrounds in England in 1964 and checking in on them every 7 years thereafter. I admit to being fascinated by this concept, especially living in Canada where we don't have the same kind of class system and private schools are fairly rare even now. Unlike in England, most of us have very similar accents (eh?) whereas in the UK your speech pattern can determine your future to a certain extent (although this seems to finally be changing). Fascinating! I will watch this whole series. I just started the first one and I am hooked!

Other good bets:

Kingdom with Stephen Fry
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel with Judi Dench and Maggie Smith
Cheerful Weather for the Wedding with Felicity Jones
Wings of the Dove with Helena Bonham Carter
The English Patient with Ralph Fiennes and Kristen Scott Thomas
The Last Station with Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer
My Brilliant Career with Judy Davis and Sam Neill
The Importance of Being Earnest with Colin Firth and Rupert Everett
The Young Victoria with Emily Blunt
Dean Spanley with Jeremy Northam and Sam Neill
Anna and the King with Jodie Foster
A Royal Affair with Mads Mikkelsen and Alicia Vikander
Midnight in Paris with Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams
MI5 (Spooks) - the entire series!!
Mr Selfridge
Downton Abbey (1 &2)
Foyles War
Made in Dagenham with Sally Hawkins
Shakespeare in Love
The House of Cards (both British and American versions)
Upstairs Downstairs
Doc Martin
Pirate Radio
Tamara Drewe
Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman
Sliding Doors with Gwyneth Paltrow
Fawlty Towers
Little Women with Susan Sarandon and Winona Ryder
The Winslow Boy with Jeremy Northam and Rebecca Pidgeon

And this is just Netflix Canada. Apparently in the US, you have many more choices and I think Netflix UK is different again. Let me know your Netflix favourites in the comments below. Looks like a good winter to me!


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Return to Downton Abbey- Dec 1 on PBS

PBS is giving us a nice little teaser for Downton Abbey in the form of Return to Downton Abbey on December 1, 2013 at 9 pm.

Susan Sarandon hosts this recap of all things Downton including a peek at Season 4 which starts on January 5, which is not that far off! Apparently O'Brien is gone so we will need a new evil female character below stairs. I can't wait!

We get to see some behind the scenes clips, along with interviews with creator Julian Fellowes and some of the actors we now know and love. So tune in to PBS this Sunday (I think even my local WNED out of Buffalo is airing this one at the same time) and enjoy the teaser!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

About Time- A Sentimental Journey

I got to see the latest Richard Curtis film About Time last weekend and can absolutely recommend it. If you haven't already heard it is about a time travelling father and son team (Domhnall Gleeson and Bill Nighy) and the son's search for love (Rachel McAdams in her third time travel film). And yes it is a bit sappy, par for the course with Mr. Curtis. But it is also wonderful!

In a nutshell, it seems like Richard Curtis was feeling very sentimental about family (the father son relationship especially) and he has also apparently been mulling over the fact that we could all be happier by smelling the roses more instead of getting stressed out over life, as most of us do.

So suspend your disbelief (only adult men in this particular family can time travel, and to do it they have to go into a dark place while they close their eyes and clench their fists) and just go with it.

Tim (Domhnall Gleeson pronounced Dough-nal) is the new Hugh Grant/ awkward Brit character who falls in love instantly with Mary (Rachel McAdams) without seeing her at first (too complicated to explain) and uses his time travel ability to go back and "re-do" the cringe-inducing moments we are used to in a Curtis film.

Let me just add that the cast is superb among them Tom Hollander as...well...again, hard to explain his relationship with the main characters but his role is hilarious perfection! And Lindsay Duncan is understated and simply lovely as the mother/wife of the time travelers.

The supporting cast of young unknowns is also wonderful and the scenery of Cornwall is out of this world. So yes, if you enjoyed Love Actually, Notting Hill and Four Weddings and a Funeral you will adore this one too. If those films didn't turn your crank then you probably have drastically different taste in film than I do!

Enjoy this one friends!!!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Longbourn by Jo Baker

I have recently been swallowed up by a book, Longbourn by Jo Baker. This is going to be a short post because I am nearing the end of this totally absorbing story and I want to get back to it.

If you haven't heard of Longbourn yet, it is the story of what happened below stairs in the Pride and Prejudice story. Not only a brilliant concept, but brilliantly executed. We tend to forget who actually made those big country houses tick, and the story of the maids, cooks and footmen make for just as riveting a novel as the original. At times I forgot it was the P&P story, until, for instance, Elizabeth reappears and tells the main character (maid Sarah) that she is coming to stay at Hunsford parsonage with her when she visits Charlotte Lucas. To which I said to myself, "Oh, goody! Let's get Sarah's spin on the whole Darcy issue!"

Random House Australia provided this adorable character map if you would like to see who the downstairs folk are. Or you could just be surprised. Suffice it to say, this one is a great read and will make a wonderful film. I would be surprised if the film rights aren't already spoken for. I look forward to this future film much more than the one already being made Death Comes to Pemberley, a miniseries adaptation of P.D.James's murder mystery sequel to Pride and Prejudice, even though that one stars a fave of mine, Anna Maxwell Martin.

So that is all I am going to tell you about this wonderful book. You are just going to have to check it out for yourself. And picture the film as you read it!


P.S. Now that I have finished the book, I can give it an unqualified recommendation. There is a happy ending (unlike so many modern novels). As well, it will make you feel pretty awesome about yourself and all you do. We are the cooks, maids, gardeners, housekeepers, nannies and income earners these days. Not to mention that we manage to be as captivating and handsome as the Bennet sisters all the while. Well, some of the time anyway!!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Secrets of The Tower of London

Did you know that The Tower of London is almost 1,000 years old and was built by William the Conquerer as a result of the Norman Invasion of 1066? It was built for use as a palace and as a signal of the strength of the French ruling elite of that time. I certainly didn't know it was that old, and my great-grandfather was born in the Tower Hamlets, a few blocks from the actual tower.

Tonight most PBS stations are airing Secrets of The Tower of London tonight, Oct 27 at 8pm (my local station is airing it on Nov 17 at 8 pm) and it is well worth watching, no matter how much you know about "The Tower".

The history of the Tower of London as a prison for the upper classes is much better known although there are a ton of secrets within it's walls, not surprising considering it's age.

Tourism is the purpose of the Tower these days and although it no longer houses the Royal Menagerie, it does still hold the Crown Jewels and the displays of Royal armour.

So if you want to know more about its famous prisoners such as Anne Boleyn and Sir Thomas More as well as the Beefeaters and the ravens, tune in tonight. Of course, they can't cover every story associated with The Tower of London, but you will definitely be fascinated and the wonderful HD photography makes you feel as if you are right there in the heart of London. Great to get a peek behind the scenes with the people who work and live there. Yes, many workers actually live on the grounds!

The ravens were in the news this week as apparently two of them were killed by a fox just before they were put into their cage for the night. Who knew there were foxes in the East End of London? And there is a superstition that if the ravens all fly away, the monarchy will fall and Britain with it. Which is why the resident ravens have their wings clipped and why they have a few extra around "just in cases" (sorry, I occasionally fall into Love Actually speak). Sad that two of the ravens had an early demise, but I guess the foxes have to live.

In any case enjoy the program. It is wonderfully done and I can't wait for Secrets of Selfridges and Secrets of Scotland Yard. "Check local listings"!


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Frances O'Connor- Actor of the Week

Frances O'Connor is my actor of the week and I truly can't believe that I have not featured her before. She has done a few films that I watch again and again, and she continues to surprise us with new offerings. So here goes...

I first saw Frances O'Connor in Mansfield Park 1999 and continue to be blown away by her performance every time I watch this. I have not even come close to getting tired of watching Mansfield Park. And she gets to kiss both Jonny Lee Miller and Alessandro Nivola, the lucky girl. Wonderful acting, great chemistry and the best take so far on MP. Yes, it needs to be redone in a longer miniseries format with a Fanny Price more like she is written in the book, but I will still always love the Patricia Rozema version and Frances O'Connor is a big part of the reason!

As the spunky and sexy Gwendolyn Fairfax from The Importance of Being Ernest, she again rocks the strong female lead. I mean, who else could stand up to Judi Dench (playing her mother) and make Colin Firth do exactly as she wished, including getting a tattoo on his posterior? Incidentally, she outshone Reese Witherspoon by a mile in this one.

If you haven't seen the Women's Suffrage film Iron Jawed Angels, you really have to seek this one out. It is so little known and yet such a great film. Once again we have Frances O'Connor playing a real firecracker of a lady, Lucy Burns, and playing her extremely well. This film should be required viewing for...everyone! You will never miss out on voting for anything after you see this one. Loved it!

And of course we have the lovely Rose Selfridge in the recent Andrew Davies miniseries, Mr. Selfridge. Frances O'Connor is a bit more sedate as Mrs. Selfridge, although she still has quite a backbone! Just a little softer around the edges than some of her roles. We can't wait to see her again in season 2. I just hope they don't kill her off. In real life, she died in 1918. Please keep her in the series Mr. Davies!

There are a few other of her period dramas, notably Madam Bovary, which I haven't seen but would like to. Any other recommendations of fave Frances O'Connor films?


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Austenland! Finally!

I FINALLY got to see Austenland, the much anticipated and much delayed film about an Austen fan who blows all of her savings on a vacation to a Jane Austen theme park in England. Based on the book of the same name by Shannon Hale, directed by Jerucha Hess (Napolean Dynamite)  and produced by Stephanie Meyer (Twilight) this one was filmed at least 2 years ago.

So you can understand my trepidation in viewing Austenland, especially considering the mixed reviews it was getting. So it is with great relief that I can tell you that rest assured, if you are reading my blog, you will like this film. It is all a matter of matching the consumer to the product in this case. If you are a random person off of the street (especially a male used to action films) you will be unlikely to appreciate this tongue-in-cheek romp of a movie.

However, if you have ever wondered, even fleetingly, what it would be like to step into the pages of a Jane Austen novel, then you are likely thinking that if this place were real, you would be booking a ticket. OK the thought has possibly crossed my mind before!

I won't give any spoilers, but Keri Russell does a great job as the main character Jane and the two love interests, JJ Feild and Bret McKenzie were already two of my favourite actors even before Austenland. Jennifer Coolidge of course steals every scene she is in. The whole cast seemed to be having a blast filming Austenland, which only adds to the viewers' enjoyment.

The supporting cast is marvelous too with Jane Seymour as the snooty proprietress of the theme park. Rupert Vansittart (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Pride and Prejudice 1995) and James Callis (Tom from Bridget Jones) were wonderful additions and nods to some of the films we know and love so well.

So in conclusion, it's not high art but it is a hoot and well worth seeing. Enjoy!


P.S. There is a tour company in England called P&P Tours which will take you to a lot of the filming locations of your fave Period Dramas including Downton Abbey and P&P 95. The link is here:

P.P.S. My previous blog post about my desire for a real Austenland is here along with a link to Regency House Party



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