Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)

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

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Invisible Woman

The Invisible Woman has been on my TBW list for a while now, and I finally got to see it in a tiny art house theatre on a frigid Canadian Saturday night. I was in just the right mood for this meandering stylish film. I have to preface this by saying that I am an appreciative reader of Dickens and I had just finished Claire Tomalin's book the night before, on which the screenplay was based. In case you have never heard of said invisible woman, Ellen (Nelly) Ternan was the young actress with whom Charles Dickens had a long affair over the last decade or so of his life.

So we find that Mr. Dickens has feet of clay after all. This is a story as old as humanity. A powerful middle aged male finds himself attracted to a girl less than half his age and ends up separating from his wife and acting on his urges. Except in this case Dickens was a national treasure in England, and a champion of Victorian family values.

The casting of Ralph Fiennes as Dickens turns out to be quite brilliant. A randy old ham playing a randy old ham. Perfect! And Felicity Jones is an amazing talent and gives us a peek into Nelly Ternan, conflicted and flattered and desperately in need of a protector.

All of the supporting cast are wonderful, from Kristin Scott Thomas as Nelly's similarly conflicted mother, to Tom Hollander as a heavily bearded Wilkie Collins, to Joanna Scanlan baring body and soul as Catherine Dickens.

Kudos to Ralph Fiennes as director for not painting anyone in this story as the "bad guy". This story is a tragedy but without a villain.

So if this sounds good to you then go ahead and enjoy it. But don't drag anyone who wouldn't appreciate the slow pace or anyone without even a remote interest in Dickens. Here is the trailer if you haven't seen it:


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Downton Abbey Season 4 Finale (Christmas Episode)

SPOILER ALERT! This post is intended for those who have already seen Season 4 Finale (Christmas Episode)

Downton Abbey relocates to Grantham House in London for Lady Rose's presentation to the sovereign at court, the start of the British social season. I enjoyed the episode, even though some of the story lines were a bit daft.

We get to follow Julian Fellowes's obsession with the London season and the debutante ball where every year a new crop of young ladies "come out" to London high society and were then able to participate in other events such as Royal Ascot and the Henley Royal Regatta and other various balls and events.

The court dress is usually a white (or ivory or light pink), short sleeved dress with white gloves, a veil attached with 3 white ostrich feathers and a train. I would say Lady Rose nailed the 1920s version above! That girl never gets nervous does she?

House of Worth Court Presentation Dress, late Victorian

Started in the Georgian era, the court presentations were officially abolished by Queen Elizabeth II in 1958, although if you would like an account of the lives of London debs in the 1960s, Julian Fellowes has written an entertaining book called Past Imperfect (he also has another very entertaining novel along the same lines called Snobs).

But as usual, I digress!

Delightfully, we have the return of Cora's mother Martha Levinson (the always welcome Shirley MacLaine) and newcomer Paul Giamatti playing Cora's naughty American brother Harold Levinson, fresh from being rescued from scandal by Robert.

Martha gets wooed by an English nobleman in desperate need of a cash infusion. Thankfully she sends him on his way, but promises to send a few American dames his way. Harold similarly tries to avoid getting snared but seems a little more smitten...with Daisy's cooking at least!

There was some craziness in this episode, not least of all the saga of the Prince of Wales's love letter (eye roll). And Lady Mary's attitude towards Bates and the train ticket seemed like quite a departure from when she was trying to help Anna spring him from prison a few seasons ago! Sigh.

Poor Edith's story was sort of glossed over, but I sure am glad she has parked her progeny with the handsome farmer next door. I wondered whether the pigs were the only reason he was still around!

Now who else was thrilled to see Daisy courted by her American admirer? Ohhhh, I loved this part! And we got rid of the insipid Ivy all at the same time. Perfect!

But the best was saved for last as Carson and Mrs. Hughes get all friendly like and hold hands in the waves. Swoon!!!

Best lines:

Mrs. Hughes: We're all tired. But not as tired as we're going to be.

Daisy: What difference does it make if you peel potatoes in London or peel them in Yorkshire?

Lady Mary: I'd rather sleep on the roof than share with Edith.

Lady Mary: Your niece is a flapper. Accept it.

Violet (to Isobel): Can't you even offer help without sounding like a trumpet on the peak of the moral high ground?

Mrs. Patmore: Mr. Carson, all women need someone to show a bit of interest now and then. Preferably in a manner that's not entirely proper.

Uncle Harold: I like my food good. I don't need it original.

Violet: The British peerage is a fountain of variety.

Uncle Harold: I would find it very hard to respect any woman who wished to marry me.

Mrs. Patmore (to Lady Rose): If the family is like sardines my Lady, the staff are like maggots!

Martha Levinson: Well the gang's all here I see.
Countess Violet: Is that American for hello?

Violet: The combination of open air picnics and after dinner poker makes me feel as though I've fallen though a looking glass and into the Dejeuner sur l'Herbe.

Martha Levinson: I don't really want to spend the rest of my life among people who think me loud and opinionated and common. Why don't you come and visit Newport and I will rustle up rich widows who want titles much more than I do?

Martha Levinson: I have no wish to be a great lady.
Countess Violet: A decision that must be reinforced every time you look in the glass.

Baxter: You've made me strong Mr. Molesley. Your strength has made me strong.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Downton Abbey Season 4 Episode 7

SPOILER ALERT! This post is intended for those who have already seen Season 4 Episode 7

We started this action packed episode quietly enough. Good old Cora is organizing the church bazaar in order that we get some fun outdoor scenes while we await the return of Lord Grantham from America. Loverly!

But poor Anna!!!! As if it wasn't bad enough that she had to endure Mr. Green again AND tell Mary the entire truth, NOW she is pretty darn sure she is married to a murderer. I think she had a fair chance of regaining some peace and happiness if she just never had to see Mr. Green again as those memories would gradually fade. But the knowledge that your husband is a cold blooded killer? That one is forever I think. Oh, dear.

On a lighter note, Lady Mary is getting some teasing about her many suitors. Tony Gillingham (a devoted dark horse), Evelyn Napier (nah, boring) and Mr. Blake (yes, I think we can guess that he is the one to tame this fiery brunette). And now we have a master of the pigs in our tenant farmer Mr. Drew. Hurrah!!!!

I rather loved the Daisy story line (finally!) as she ducked out of seeing Alfred at the bazaar to have a down home picnic with the adorable Mr. Mason. I truly wished I could join them for beer, bread and cheese, chutney and did I spy some sweets? And look at that view!

But Mr. Mason gives Daisy some good advice and I think we were all a bit touched by her basket of goodies (and cider!) given in friendship, which finally seems to make an impression on the great big dolt. Anyone think Daisy should get Mr. Mason to fix her up with a nice steady young man and then have the pair join him on the farm to sell organic jams and goodies? No, I suppose that won't work.

So Edith is off to Switzerland? You have to love Aunt Rosamund. "I thought I would go to Switzerland! You know what the French are like. The Swiss are so clean." So Edith is expected to give her wanted baby to a strange Swiss couple because they are clean?!

But Violet (who quickly figured out why Edith needed cherishing) thinks that giving the baby to the master of the pigs is not very well thought out either. Oh, where has Michael gone! What a mess!

Now if you blinked, you might have missed a few other plot points. A fair bit of time was given to Rose and her jazz singer, who was quite growing on me especially when he showed the maturity lacking in his lady love.

Here is the rest. Isobel has an admirer. Tom's teacher/political lady seems to be telegraphing interest in him. Molesley and Baxter seem to be an item. What were they serving in the punch at the bazaar??? Mr. Green gets thrown under a Picadilly bus before Tony Gillingham can even fire him. And Lord Grantham and Thomas are back from America smoothing over Cora's brother's involvement in The Teapot Dome Scandal (OK, that one was pointed out to us emphatically. Did you catch that one?) Tony Gillingham had called off his engagement and is ready to wait years until Mary is ready for him. Did I miss anything?

Can't wait for the Christmas special where we see Rose presented AT COURT. And Shirley MacLaine and Paul Giamatti as the crude American relations should be worth watching.

Best lines of the night:

Isobel: It's only me.
Violet: I always feel that greeting betrays such a lack of self worth.

Baxter: I've had my stuffing kicked out more than once.

Mrs. Patmore: Blimey. He puts a lot in a letter does Alfred.

Jack Ross: A black singer and the daughter of a Marquis in a North Yorkshire town. Why should we attract any attention?

Molesley (to Baxter): It's only coffee. You won't have to surrender any of your independence.

Violet: Rosamund has no interest in French. If she wishes to be understood by a foreigner, she shouts.

Violet: Switzerland has everything to offer except perhaps conversation. And one can learn to live without that.

Mrs. Patmore (to Daisy): If you were my own daughter I couldn't be prouder than I am right now!

Awwwww! See you next week!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Monuments Men

My hat is off to George Clooney for trying to tell the story of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives program which although represented by only 7 Monuments Men in his film, was actually an effort of over 350 individuals from various countries to preserve fine art in the last days of WWII.

Clooney (co-writer, director and star of the film) based his story on the book The Monuments Men: Allied Heros, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History. The story is fascinating. Hitler and the Nazis had taken paintings, sculptures and other national treasures from France, Belgium, Poland and across Germany...much of it taken from Jewish collectors. Apparently up to 20% of the art in Europe was looted by the Nazis, and stored in various castles, salt mines, etc all over Germany. Most was recovered but in 2012 a large quantity of Nazi looted art was found in a Munich apartment and much art is still missing and may never be found.

The film The Monuments Men is well worth seeing, although a bit clumsy in it's attempt to be both serious and lighthearted. After seeing the deft way the Brits take us on the emotional roller coaster between tears and laughter in Philomena, this film was less successful. Still, even though it veers into Hogan's Heroes territory at times, I did quite enjoy  it.

Manet's In The Conservatory being recovered from a salt mine
In The Conservatory by Manet, now in the Alte Nationalgallerie in Berlin

It is likely that Hollywood would not have made this film without the Clooney machine behind it and the fact that he convinced all of his friends and big name co-stars to take a much lower salary than they usually would. So although George takes it on the chin about his predilection for Amazonian models half his age, we really need more film stars like him around. I think he might want to leave the directing to someone else next time however.

So again, go for a light evening of entertainment and to learn a bit about art and Europe in the final days of WWII. No Academy Awards here, but you might enjoy seeing Bill Murray as an architect and John Goodman as a sculptor. Oh and Cate Blanchett as a French ice queen who hits on Matt Damon. :)

Let me know what you think of the film if and when you see it.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Downton Abbey Season 4 Episode 6

SPOILER ALERT! This post is intended for those who have already seen Season 4 Episode 6

Well, off go Lord Grantham and Thomas to America to see what Cora's troublesome brother has been up to. And Lady Mary (shockingly) thinks that Thomas may enjoy getting some action away from rural Yorkshire, which I imagine had a limited gay scene in the 1920s. Have fun Thomas!!!

And will someone at Downton please tell Rose that her jazz singer, although a lovely gentleman, will be a bit of an uphill battle for her to integrate into the 1920s elite of London? Lady Edith seems like the likely person to lay it on the line. "Why can't you just fit in for once?"

But what Bates is up to (staying back at Downton) we really don't have to think too hard about. Look out Gillingham/Green! But does Bates' plan include the PIGS, by any chance?!

Line of the night by Lady Mary: "What do I look like?"-Was anyone else yelling "A muddy snooty SNOB!" at the screen? Just me then?

And at another point she says "I'm not aloof am I?"  Well...not when you are throwing porcine excrement at your latest suitor I suppose.

I think we are all relieved that Edith didn't go through with the back street abortion at the place she found in the back of a magazine she found at a train station?! And another baby bouncing through the plot line can only be a good thing for Downton, can it not? But WHERE IS MICHAEL? Are we TRULY not going to see him for the rest of the season? Poor Edith!

The ill Dowager Countess story line had me worried for a bit. Lord Fellowes wouldn't kill off Dame Maggie would he? But then I realized that it was just a bonding exercise for the old dames. Rats...just when Violet was one up on Isobel (game, set and match) now she is in debt to the old drunken vicar herself. Pooh!

Uh-oh, I know I asked for a new love interest for Tom Branson but is this prune faced political dame really what he needs?

My fave scene of the week is a tie between the pig mud fight and Mary actually scrambling eggs. Cooking! In the kitchen! The look on Ivy's face said it all. But of course Ivy had to do the washing up. This is still Downton after all.

Best lines of the week:

Lord Grantham: "I know plenty of relatives of English Earls who belong in jail."

Lord Grantham: "You do know the Americans have a correct uniform for practically every activity known to man."

Lady Mary: "I've been married. I know everything." (LOL!)

Lady Rosamund: "You seem so preoccupée lately."

Carson (flirting with Mrs. Hughes): "You're quite a plotter when you want to be."
Mrs. Hughes: "It's a skill all women must learn."

Lady Mary: "I hope we are good employers. But even we expect to get what we pay for."

Mrs. Patmore: "I do grudge him the tears and the heartbreak that will flavour my puddings for weeks to come."

Violet: "Dr Clarkson when you go can you please take that mad woman with you?"

Dr. Clarkson: "You'll be rewarded in heaven."
Violet: "The sooner the better."

Mrs. Hughes (threatening Mr. Green): "If you value your life I should stop playing the joker and keep to the shadows."

TTFN and see you next week. One more regular episode and then the finale/Christmas episode!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Downton Abbey Season 4 Episode 5

SPOILER ALERT! This post is intended for those who have already seen Season 4 Episode 5

Poor, poor Daisy. The ones she loves never love her back, and the man who adored her (remember her "husband" William?) not only didn't get Daisy's love, but died in Season 2. More tears. So is Alfred gone for good now?

And no sympathy for Ivy who discovered that Jimmy wanted "things no man should ask for before he's married." And I thought Daisy was a simple Yorkshire lass!

Hurrah! Molesley is back in the Abbey! Albeit with white gloves on, but that is soooo much better than shoveling gravel. Isn't it??

And now how many suitors does Mary have? Is that 3 now? Let's see...Anthony Gillingham is engaged but that doesn't count him out...Evelyn Napier wasn't scared off by the fact that anyone who sleeps with Lady Mary dies...and now we have Charles Blake/Andrew Foyle  in the mix. Since he is the least interested in Lady Mary of the three, he will be the one she falls for...according to the Daisy principle.

I have to say that the predictable kissing scene between Lady Rose and Jack Ross the band leader was WAY eclipsed by Carson asking him about Africa. Good one Carson!

Oh dear, Edith is pregnant, as Lord Julian Fellowes foreshadowed so obviously last week. Will this girl never learn? And her Michael Palin chappie has gone missing in Germany. Sigh! But at least she is getting some lovely headbands and hair ornaments to go with her vastly improved wardrobe.

Lady Cora gets a prize for putting the uppity maitre d' in his place but bad timing on cutting in on the serious conversation at the Bates table. And Bates is getting ever more murderous. Are we sure he didn't off his first wife? I am starting to wonder!

And more awkward dancing by Tom Branson with elderly ladies. Can we get this hunk of man someone decent to keep him happy at Downton? And will Dr. Death finally get Isobel to marry him at last? He sure is making a hash of it so far. By the way, kudos to Isobel for her detective work on the King of Sweden knife. But the big award goes to Violet for staying one step ahead of her (polite applause). I'd say that was game, set and match to Lady Grantham!

Best lines of the week:

Bates: Your husband is a brooder. And brooders brood.

Countess Violet: I wonder you don't set fire to the Abbey and dance round it, painted with woad and howling.

Isobel: How you hate to be wrong.
Countess Violet: I wouldn't know. I'm not familiar with the sensation.

Carson: You're nervous because you are intelligent Alfred. Only stupid people are foolhardy.

Mrs. Patmore: I like that Rudolph Valentino. He makes me shiver all over.
Carson: What a very disturbing thought.

Countess Violet: It is her fuel. I mean some people run on greed, lust, even love. She runs on indignation. (in reference to Isobel)

Lady Edith: Who is this singer and how did he get here? Isn't it rather odd?
Lord Grantham: No, I think it's fun.
Countess Violet: My dear, we country dwellers must beware of being provincial. Try and let your time in London rub off on you a little more.

Evelyn Napier: Is this your first experience of jazz Lady Grantham?
Countess Violet: Oh, is that what it is? Do you think any of them know what the others are playing?

TTFN and see you next week!



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