Review: Anne with an E

Review: Anne with an E

I should first confess that I am not a dedicated Anne of Green Gables groupie. I’ve never seen any of the adaptations before Netflix’s Anne with an E, and I haven’t read all of the books. I did read the first book when I was in Sixth Grade, but, unfortunately, its brilliance and subtleties were lost on me at that age. I am, however, quite familiar with the story, have a loose understanding of how the plot plays out, and have listened to The History Chicks Podcast episode on L.M. Montgomery (so that makes me an expert!). Okay, so that lets you know where I, a fairly neutral party, stand. (Note, I am going to give an honest critique, but keep reading, because I have lots of good things to say, too!)

I love any historical drama, so when Anne with an E popped up, I tried it, and I have since watched all three seasons. I know enough about the storyline to know that even the first season strayed from the books, but that didn’t bother me because it felt true to the spirit of them. I didn’t mind that the writers read between the lines and gave new dimensions to the story as long as they stayed grounded in the historical period and character of the books’ inspiration. For example, dealing with the trauma of being an orphan was great, and dealing with the prejudice Anne encountered as an orphan was really moving.

However, as we continued into the second season, we strayed from tackling the injustices of the historical era to using Anne with an E as a vehicle for the writer’s take on social/political issues of today. This is not a commentary on the issues that the writers chose, since this blog is strictly neutral on political matters. My concern, in any historical piece, whether it be film or literature, is accuracy, and accuracy becomes difficult to achieve when you place modern beliefs and mores on any historical era. You are playing with fire if you use a period drama for modern political purposes, especially if you are using someone else’s work. A writer wishing to forward his or her own causes (not an unworthy goal) should simply craft his or her own story, and not use the fame of a beloved classic as a vehicle for that goal. The parts where the writers strayed the most were, not surprisingly, the weakest segments because the stories didn’t resonate with historical truth. I have always found this to be the case in any historical book or film which paints with a modern brush. I should add that this wasn’t a mistake on the part of authors unacquainted with the historical era – they made this choice deliberately, as evidenced in the line of the opening song which says, “You’re ahead by a century!” So I am absolutely not accusing the writers of carelessness, just of using tactics which harmed the integrity of the show. Not only were current events tackled, but this was done in a heavy-handed way, which is a personal dislike of mine. I believe subtlety always wins the day.

There were so many times when I almost turned the T.V. off and said, “Done!” because historical accuracy is a make-or-break subject for me, and I tend to overlook a thousand good qualities if accuracy is not present. But I never could quite do that, because when the show shined, it really shined. Again, not surprisingly, this happened when it stayed true to the era and story. The absolute strength of the show was in the scenes with Anne and her friends, as they discover the wonders of becoming adults. Those parts rang so true and brought back so many happy memories. I absolutely loved watching those rites of passage into womanhood. It was beautifully nostalgic.

Anne (Amybeth McNulty) was a phenomenal actress. In fact, everyone was phenomenal. Some real standouts, though, were Marilla (Geraldine James), Matthew (R.H. Thomson), and Diana (Dalila Bela), who has my vote for Melanie if there is ever a remake of Gone with the Wind. But I could honestly go on and on about the cast. I loved the portrayal of Gilbert by Lucas Jade Zumann. Corinne Koslo’s portrayal of the snarky Rachel Lynde went a long way towards keeping the show grounded in the era. And Kyla Matthews, who plays Ruby Gillis, is also one to watch. You felt safe in the actors’ hands.

Not to be overlooked, also, were the costumes, which were beautiful (I was especially impressed with the men’s shirts this season, oddly enough!), and the scenery, which makes you kind of feel you are on vacation. The filming and production level were top notch.

And my thoughts on Season 3? More of the same: the straying from the spirit of Anne of Green Gables and the realities of the time period was overwhelming at first. Also, Anne became increasingly, screechingly militant, and I almost fell out with her when she screamed at Matthew (The Sweetest Person Ever) simply because he didn’t agree with her, which is what she did to anyone who didn’t immediately jump on board with her 21st Century beliefs. But then I reached Episode 5, which returned to the heart of the show: Anne and her friends as they come of age, and I loved it. And finally, as I watched Episode 10 (the final episode), and it reached its climax at the end, my heart soared, and I haven’t seen such good television since Matthew’s proposal to Mary in Downton Abbey (cue Downton music). It was absolutely fantastic! On the whole, I’m sorry to say goodbye to Anne with an E!

P.S. I really liked that the writers were interested in the historical fact that a lot of Indians/Native Americans/First Nations (Canada) experienced the unspeakable grief of having their children taken from them and put in Western schools, without their consent, in an attempt by the governments, to put it bluntly, to commit cultural genocide. I do not think this was actually covered in the original books, and I would submit that the story would have been more powerful in a different show (as it seemed to be a tack-on here), but I won’t complain because I think this is a part of history of which not many people are aware.

Until next time, Kindred Spirits and Bosom Friends!

-Tara

Review: John Adams

Looking for something cozy to watch on these warm summer nights? I can’t think of anything better than the series John Adams. Based off the biography which bears the same name by David McCullough, the series stays true to history and the characters and is just a delightful experience, spanning from the Boston Massacre to Adams’s July 4th death in 1826.

Adams is portrayed beautifully by Paul Giamatti, and Abigail is exquisitely brought to life by Laura Linney. I love the portrayal of Jefferson (Stephen Dillane), too, but the show-stealer was Tom Wilkinson’s Benjamin Franklin, whom you’d just love to have a cup of tea with.

The series takes you from the halls of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, to Paris, to the newly constructed White House. The scenery is beautiful, the attention to detail laudable. I cannot praise the cast or directors, all of whom had obviously intricately studied their subjects, enough.

The series won four Golden Globes and thirteen Emmys, which is apparently more than any other miniseries in history. It originally aired on HBO but is now available via Amazon Prime. Now go watch! You won’t regret it!

Death Comes to Pemberley

What can I say?  I hate books and movies that seek to ride in on the tailcoats of fame of authors who no longer have copyrights.  Besides being cheap writing, it usually makes for bad writing, the plot suffering from the confines of what has already been written, already imagined, by another brain, and inspiration, you know, usually comes easiest to the original author of the storyline and characters.

I probably wouldn’t be writing this, though if the book hadn’t achieved enough notoriety to be made into a movie, and it wouldn’t have achieved that without the word “Pemberley” in the title.

Do not look for a perfect re-drawing of Austen’s larger-than-life characters.  They, in fact, bear very little resemblance to them.  Mrs. Bennett, Lydia, and Lady Catherine are so over-drawn and afflicted with bad acting that you’ll just have to ignore them. Darcy and Elizabeth are very little like their characters, either in looks or personality.

So why am I writing this if I only intend to be ugly?

I don’t!

I have a suggestion: Pretend it bears no relation to Pride and Prejudice.  Before I did that, I almost couldn’t get through it.  Once I did it, I actually enjoyed it.  Imagine it’s a story about a young, wealthy, Regency couple, already married, happily, in a moment that crowds in on them filled with chaos.

The Darcy and Elizabeth aren’t bad, if you’re not trying to make them Darcy and Elizabeth (Matthew Rhys and Anna Maxwell Martin).  In fact, they are good actors, portraying delicate emotions in their expressions without speaking, which is what we have come to expect from good British drama. Georgiana and Wickham (Eleanor Tomlinson and Matthew Goode) are great, too (and actually come closest to portraying their characters accurately).  The mystery itself is not terrible, with enough twists and drama to keep you halfway interested.

But the real value in this series is the portrayal of everyday Regency life, both for the wealthy and the not, when we flash away from the courtroom scenes.  Too often, we see the Regency damsel’s courtship, and then she rides off into the sunset with her duke.  We don’t see the ups and downs of actually becoming a married lady of rank, the responsibilities of being a patroness to many. We also don’t usually see the poverty in which many lived.

My sister commented while we were watching this, “Okay, how good would this have been if she had made up her own characters?!”  It would’ve removed all negative comments from this review, and I would have loved it.  But again, I never would’ve seen it at all probably, which could lead to some very scathing comments about the publishing and film industries, which I’m sure you’ll hear at a later date!

Currently available for purchase from Amazon.

Happy Galentine’s Day!

In honor of Galentine’s Day, and on the off-chance you’re staying in to watch movies with your gal-pal, we here at Tea and Rebellion thought we would give you a list of our favorite Rom-Coms and Rom-Drams (if that’s a thing?)  Tell us your favorites!

Romantic Comedies:
Leap Year
While You Were Sleeping
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
27 Dresses
Yours, Mine, and Ours
Enchanted
Bride Wars
Pretty in Pink
Bridget Jones’ Diary
Made of Honor
The Holiday
An Ideal Husband
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
The Wedding Planner
The Wedding Date
The Back-Up Plan
Notting Hill
The Proposal
Two Weeks’ Notice
How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
13 Going on 30
Beauty Shop
Never Been Kissed
Sweet Home Alabama

Romantic Dramas:
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
North and South
(British Version)
Persuasion (2007)
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
(2011)
Under the Greenwood Tree
Emma
(1996)
Pearl Harbor
Belle
Dr. Thorne
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
Far From the Madding Crowd
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
The Young Victoria
Gone with the Wind
Walk the Line
Under the Tuscan Sun
Sabrina
War and Peace
Downton Abbey
Little Women

Hope you enjoy!!

 

North and South

Ah, North and South.  Possible one of the greatest film adaptations we have yet seen in the 21st Century.  Airing on BBC in 2004, the mini-series stars Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage.  It was adapted from the novel by the same name published in 1855 by my girl Elizabeth Gaskell, of the Wives and Daughters and Cranford fame.  But North and South is nothing like either of those (great novels in their own right, don’t get me wrong).

It is HUGE: sweepingly grand, taking on sectional and class divides, gender issues, the Industrial Revolution, worker’s rights, death, nostalgia, human nature, and just plain old coming of age.  It is JAM-PACKED with goodies, but if literature bores you, fear not: it’s all so carefully drawn that the screenplay unfolds like your favorite novel. The filming is a work of art in historical accuracy (except Margaret’s eyebrows, sadly waxed).

I won’t talk much about the plot, because you need to watch it!  Suffice it to say, Margaret Hale leaves her idyllic home in the South of England to go north to the industrial town of Milton, where she encounters the harsh realities in the cotton mills of the Industrial Revolution.  One of the masters of the mills is Mr. Thornton, whom she originally hates, although he ultimately becomes her love interest.  The romance is subtly beautiful.  In fact, if I could find one word for the entire series, it would be subtle.

You saw, in my list of social issues above, how many conflicting points of view are at stake, but never once is Gaskell or the screenplay author heavy-handed.  In fact, we oscillate between thinking Margaret is right, and then Mr. Thornton, although we are never led there.  It is deeply, brutally honest in a way that nothing ever can be if you don’t take your own views off the table. Gaskell let things simply be as they were, challenging the norms of the Victorian Era without ever letting you know it, until you are already changed by truth.  It still resonates today, and Margaret Hale is an amazing female lead, even for today.  I can only imagine how moving it must have been in 1855.

Go watch it, if for no other reason than you need a romance fix.  You won’t be disappointed.  Currently available on Netflix.

-Tara

 

War and Peace

Le sigh.  Finally.

A relatively new period drama that is thought-provoking and intensely satisfying.  You may be familiar with Russian author Leo Tolstoy from his Nineteenth Century novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina.  This mini-series adapts the former into an eight-part sweeping drama, which was first broadcast on BBC One, and then in America simultaneously on A&E, Lifetime, and the History Channel as four two-hour episodes.

I remember when it first aired.  I got 2.5 episodes in and was engaged by the beautiful filming and good acting, but it wasn’t enough to counteract having to sit for two solid hours late at night and watch some morally questionable (truly shocking) things happen.  Now, I am a dork.  I was on Eastern time then, and this was pushing my bedtime far too late, and you basically have to be Downton Abbey to make that worth it for me.

But I had always regretted stopping it.  I couldn’t forget it and kept telling my sister about it in that annoyingly nostalgic way.  Then it popped up on Hulu (in doable 45 minute episodes), and I called it: we’re watching it.

Warning: there is a relationship so shocking at first that you’ll need to collect yourself for a few minutes.  Then again, some similar stuff happens in Genesis, so I guess we’re a namby pamby generation(?)  And there was something done by one of the characters (Andrei, played by James Norton) that made me wonder if I was going to like anybody.

But I’m happy to say that I was wrong.  War and Peace is a triumph.  You just have to watch until the third episode to see that.  Now initially, it was James Norton who brought me back.  His portrayal of the brooding and jaded Prince Andrei Bolkonsky was so well-done and different from any role I’ve seen him play that I was impressed.  I hadn’t realized his depth as an actor until War and Peace.

Now, James Norton is…rather attractive, and never more so than here (brunette works, James!).  But it was Paul Dano, who plays the initially feckless Count Bezukhov, or Pierre, who had me googling the morning after I finished the series.  He was a sensation.  I’ve not seen that level of fine acting and subtlety in a really long time.

We’re not supposed to fall in love with the un-hot Pierre, but we do.  It’s the most bizarre thing you’ve ever seen.  When it hits you that he’s the male lead, it’s like a ton of bricks.  To portray someone like Pierre (a sometimes dufus, sometimes deeply thoughtful individual, always lost, until he is found) in such a sensitive way was so far ahead of Tolstoy’s time that you instantly see why people rave about him as an author.

I won’t give away too much of the plot, but, basically, you follow five aristocratic families during a little less than a decade surrounding Napoleon’s invasion of Russia.  The series is a gem for its historical insights alone.  I mean, I didn’t know that Russia’s situation during the invasion was very comparable to the American South during the Civil War, did you?  I guess I had pictured all of Napoleon’s victims dancing in ballrooms like Almack’s with only a vague notion of what was happening “over there”.

But what truly stood out for me, and what seems so rare these days in British period drama, is that the characters did not deviate from their moral codes.  I’m not saying they were angels – most were NOT.  I’m saying there was never anything that happened that had me scratching my head and thinking another person had just invaded the character’s body a la Poldark.  Nothing was done purely for shock value.  Sometimes (often) you will be shocked, but after thinking for a moment, you’ll realize, “Oh, yeah.  That was in him all along.  I just didn’t see it.”  It is character exploration at its finest.  To be fair, it is precisely the kind of literature I like: thought-provoking, deep, a little romantic, honest, with serious events, deep feelings, bittersweet ending that still is sweet and gives a huge payoff.  It might not strike you the same, but hey, at least I can promise you won’t feel like you wasted your time.

Shout-out to Lily James, who plays the wistful Natasha Rostova.  But that really isn’t fair because the whole cast deserves endless accolades!

-Tara

The Great British Baking Show

What better place to start our reviews of movies of shows appropriate to pair with a warm cuppa than the mother of all cooking shows: known in the U.S. as the Great British Baking Show and in the U.K. as the Great British Bake-Off.

I am myself not much drawn to competitions in the kitchen, but this show was playing a few years ago before one of my Masterpiece Theater dramas (yes, I queue it up at least an hour early) (yes, it was Downton Abbey), and immediately there was something so very British about it that I was sucked in.

At first, it was the weird pastries, I’m not going to lie. Hitherto  my experience with British baking was limited to the incomprehensible descriptions of meals from the Regency novels I had read.  Cornish what?  Meat pie?  As in meat?  It’s fascinating, I tell you.  All of the little technical perfections that look incredibly unfinished to the American fondant enthusiast soon draw your admiration from the level of skill to the attention to detail.  If the best way to learn a culture is through its food, there’s no better place to start.

There’s no question they’ve got the formula right, too. They meet in a tent on the lawn of an old British manor, for heaven’s sake.  What am I supposed to do with that?  The American eye will be truly stunned by the quaintness of contestants sharing a refrigerator too small for the average home, and by the tiny oven and workspace they are given.  In America, I’m pretty sure every contestant would have their own tent, but it’s so quaint, I promise you, and the sparse supplies amp up the difficulty and competition (as is displayed by the great freezer drama of Season 5, a/k/a Bingate).

Yes, freezer drama is about as bad as it gets on the show.  The contestants are almost without exception lovely, are from all different cultures and backgrounds, and have even been known to help one another.  From the inimitable Paul Hollywood to the incomparable Mary Berry, the judges are just the kind of people that we want to repose our trust in.  Their knowledge is astounding, their snobbery humourous (oops, I just spelled that with a U!), and their decisions generally just.  In keeping with British tradition, there must be a fool to every drama, and our guides Mel and Sue have been cast perfectly.  They’re funny, goofy, comforting, and I just want them to be my friends, okay?

A word of caution: the British seasons run differently from the American, causing some confusion as to which season is next.  My advice: don’t worry too much about it: just watch whatever Netflix gives you.  The order matters but little.  Speaking of, apparently now the show will be produced by Netflix, with only Paul Hollywood returning, and a new Mary, Sue, and Mel.  I haven’t yet seen the new series, but I’ve heard good things.

I’ve got to run – the kettle’s boiling!

-Tara