What I’ve Been Watching…

It has been a while since I’ve done an in-depth film review, so I thought I would drop in to let you know what I’ve been watching! If you’re like me, you’re always looking for good options, so hopefully you will find something to interest you here.

  • Sweet MagnoliasI have to say, I wasn’t sure about this show at first, largely because the first scene included both disastrous attempts at Southern accents and a misunderstanding of how the legal system works.  Luckily, I persevered through the first scene, because…I absolutely ended up loving this show. The accents seemed to level out (or maybe I just got used to them?), and although I continued to have concerns about obvious misunderstandings of the legal system, the lawyer character, Helen Decatur, was phenomenal. She was a strong woman, convinced of her own internal worth, confident, and beautifully played by actress Heather Headley. It’s a story of three friends who are, I think, supposed to be in their late thirties or early forties: Maddie, Helen, and Dana. All have their own stories and struggles. Maddie and Dana have children, and the show accomplishes something remarkable: portraying teenagers as actual teenagers and actually making it interesting. I’m not even a baseball fan, but I enjoyed even the high school baseball drama! The kids in the show are all amazing actors. You will see some recycled storylines. Part of the way through, I thought: this is a little Reba, a little Gilmore Girls, and a little Friday Night Lights. And yet…somehow it works tremendously. The show is authentically small-town-Southern. It handles big issues and big emotions delicately. It has a natural, easy way with diversity that few shows accomplish these days. It has tons of charm. And I cannot wait for Season 2!
    Streaming on Netflix.
  • Virgin RiverI have such a love-hate relationship with this show (which consists in me loving it half the time, and me hating it half the time!). The show has a lot of heart. Then it suspends reality. Then the characters are completely relatable. Then they are off the rails… I’ve watched all of the seasons. I’m not sure I’ll watch the next. I always say that; then I always do.
    Streaming on Netflix.
  • Never Have I EverThis is a fun teen drama. With Mindy Kaling at the helm, you are in for some laughs. The first season packed a satisfying emotional punch with the ending. The second season was slightly less satisfying, but I think the writers still have their hands on the reins, so I’ll be watching the third season.
    Streaming on Netflix.
  • The Parisian AgencyThis is a reality show featuring a French family of luxury realtors (a mom, dad, and four sons). It is in French, so I used subtitles, which is, admittedly, a bit exhausting. But it was worth it to get a look at what luxury means in Paris, as well as French culture. I also enjoyed the interactions of the Kretz family and seeing common familial bonds, love, and squabbles across a culture purportedly so different from our own. 
    Streaming on Netflix.
  • Emily in ParisSpeaking of Paris… The show is a little chick-flicky boring…and then all of the sudden turns edgy. It has the “American in Paris” dichotomy of provincial, good kid thrust into the world of Paris and all its culture and sins that has, I think, been a popular ideation since Thomas Jefferson went to Paris as Minister to France in 1785. And the idea of exploring Paris through American eyes did feel fun and accessible, as well as interesting, culturally speaking. I have to say, I did not find the main character relatable or likeable. I sometimes mused to myself that she had been miscast. However, from my admittedly limited knowledge of French culture, there seemed to be a lot that the show got right, and the writers were certainly not lazy with the plot. I’ll be looking forward to the second season!
    Streaming on Netflix.

  • 9/11: Inside the President’s War RoomThis BBC documentary ties the events of 9/11 with a timeline for President Bush and his cabinet on that day. I don’t typically watch 9/11 documentaries, but I wanted to do something to commemorate the 20th anniversary. I highly recommend this documentary. It covers the actions taken and decisions made that day and has a lot of pictures that are never-before-seen. Most of the big players, including Bush, Rice, and Powell, agreed to be interviewed, and I think that will be a huge treasure to history in the future. We don’t have, for instance, a minute-by-minute interview with FDR of his day during the Pearl Harbor attacks, which would be so illuminating. The documentary was very educational and moving without being overwhelming. 
    Streaming on Apple TV.
  • Jack Whitehall: Travels with My FatherThis is a show consisting of a young comedian who goes on world travels with his father. It is often hilarious, with the father being completely unconcerned about political correctness. He does it from the position of an elderly English aristocrat, which comes off as snobbishess, which is why I think he gets away with it when others wouldn’t. The dynamic between father and son is unique and just very funny. It was funnier to me when I just thought they were a father-son duo who were in a reality show practicing off-the-cuff banter. It became clear early on that at least some parts of it were coordinated, however. I have to say that my joy was sapped by that question of doubt as to the raw reality of the show. I enjoy scripted humor if it doesn’t pretend to be otherwise, and I enjoy real life humor. Scripted humor parading as real-life humor leaves me feeling ruffled and a bit cheated. In this case, the question was how reluctant to be there (a huge point of the humor) could the father really be if he had memorized a script? You can’t have a grumpy old man pretending to be a grumpy old man—that takes self-awareness and humor. That being said, I have read articles which state that their off-the-cuff banter is phenomenal, so to the extent the show is a bit rehearsed, it is definitely playing off that dynamic. And it was still funny, even if a bit cheaper form of humor, and you learn some about the places they travel. It’s excellent escapism. Streaming on Netflix.

  • The Chair: This university dramedy with Sandra Oh is almost eerily real sometimes. The writers must be very well-versed in small-major liberal arts academia. Literally, it’s like they know my professors. They also weren’t afraid to “go there” with the drama of a woke student body. I think everyone could take something away from the show. It was very insightful on the troubled family life of academics, but lovingly presented in its humanity. It will also be eye-opening to many on the subject of how, if universities can’t find an internal fabric, they are in very real trouble. There were moments of humor. There are various moments when probably everyone will be very annoyed. It could be heavy; it could be very light (hence, the “dramedy”). I think everyone, whatever their political alignment, will feel both vindicated and frustrated variously. And for that, I give the show high marks.
    Streaming on Netflix.

  • The Babysitters Club: This, when it stays on script, is a good little show based on the original book series about a group of entrepreneurial middle school girls who have a babysitting service. There’s a lot of depth to the show, and it gets a lot right about coming of age. Unfortunately, in Season One, there was a storyline about a trans child that was very uncomfortable to watch for various reasons, none of which have anything to do with trans storylines in general. It involved a very young child, and it just missed it in several aspects. In fact, I thought the show handled it inappropriately. Because of this, I almost didn’t watch Season Two. But because the show had proven itself in other respects, I decided that it might have just been a well-intentioned attempt to make the show inclusive which went off the rails a bit. But Season Two began, to some extent, to go down the path of Anne With an E, which I discussed here. Netflix obviously has an agenda, and it is their right to do so. It is also the right of viewers to criticize when a show’s integrity begins to be harmed by that agenda. 🤷🏻‍♀️ Look, most everything on streaming devices has a left-leaning bent. That’s not what I’m talking about. That can be art. Including long passages that are information dumps about political theories that have only the flimsiest tie to any storyline and pressing them to an insufferable degree…that is not art. That is politics. And that is fine. But it shouldn’t be parading as art. Especially, like Anne With an E, when it draws in an audience based on the reputation of a classic. And it is worth noting that the two shows with which I have seen this done to the largest extent are both shows primarily for children. Which takes Netflix’s agenda to a whole new level, and one that I can’t imagine will end well for them. We shall see. So, like Anne With an E, when the show shines, it really shines. When it strays off task, it loses the thread. So take that for what you will. 
    Streaming on Netflix.

  • Miss Scarlet and the Duke: This is a great show about a female detective in Victorian London, who often comes up against her frenemy, a Scotland Yard Detective Inspector. I am usually not a huge fan of detective dramas, but this one is in the old-fashioned tradition of British whodunnits, where the emphasis is on the people. The romance hits all of the right notes, the tension being superbly written and masterfully acted. It’s in another great British tradition of being of a slow-burn variety and subtle, while nonetheless being passionate. Season One aired on PBS Masterpiece a few months ago, and you may be able to catch it on PBS replays. It is streaming on PBS Passport now (their paid subscription streaming platform), and the first episode is free on Amazon Prime.
    Streaming on PBS Passport.

  • All Creatures Great and Small: This reboot of the beloved classic about a small village veterinarian is very heartwarming and family friendly. It’s a good storyline with a good cast. It ran simultaneously with Miss Scarlet and the Duke on PBS Masterpiece, and it was always a debate as to which would draw me in more. This is currently streaming on PBS Passport, and the first episode free on Amazon Prime.
    Streaming on PBS Passport.

Review: Emma (2020)

Last night, my mom, sister, and I had a movie night.  Since we are all huge Jane Austen fans, we decided on Emma, which, even though the movie wouldn’t normally be out of its theater run, has been made available for streaming from various sources since theater-gathering is currently discouraged.

Emma is one of my favorite Jane Austens, largely because of the extremely cozy village she was able to create in Highbury and because Mr. Knightley definitely rivals Mr. Darcy in swoon-worthy gentlemanliness.  I have read and enjoyed the book, and this is the fourth film adaptation of  Emma I have seen, so I was coming into this with some rather pre-conceived ideas about what a successful adaptation of the story should look like.  So there you go: I always try to let you know my biases up-front.

There were things the 2020 adaptation did better than any of its predecessors.  For one, the cinematography is excellent.  The vistas and ballrooms are stunning, and I have heard that a lot of work went into choosing an appropriate and eye-catching color palette, which was a creative idea.  You leave with an impression of color in your mind’s eye, and take away beautiful and cheery lighting.  My only reservation was that, just occasionally, the color could be slightly too much, and you felt like we had strayed into candy land.  But that was only very occasionally, such as when there was a big fluffy cake sitting on the table or when we’re shopping for ribbons in a lollipop of color.  The outdoor scenes are unrivalled in beauty, though.

The costumes are exquisite, and I noticed particular attention was paid to the shoes.  You could tell the designers really looked at fashion plates from the Regency Era, because there is nothing (except maybe one pair of earrings) that jerks you out of the time period.  In addition, there are special details on the dresses, etc. that are very Regency-appropriate that I’m not sure I have ever seen any other Regency film use.  In short, 10 out of 10 stars for the costuming department.  My one question was whether Mr. Knightley would have worn his shirt collars quite so high.  Georgette Heyer has led me to believe that only dandies wore their collars so high that they had difficulty turning their heads.  But in contrast to being a dandy, Mr. Knightley always struck me as a country gentleman, a man of sport and the land, preferring to ride a horse to fancy dinner parties than take his carriage.  However, I do not profess to be an expert on the subject of all of the subsets of Regency gentlemen (dandies, Corinthians, fops, etc.) and Georgette Heyer is admittedly my only source.  And maybe my vision was clouded by the fact that this particular Mr. Knightley was ten times as handsome when we could glimpse his neck. 🙂

The next thing that was well-done was attention to historical details.  We get to see a lot of antiques and how they were used.  We see (humorously) the function of fire screens, and we also get to watch a very fun parlor game in progress.  Also revealing was the intimacy that dancing induced (I had forgotten that one was supposed to stare into one’s partner’s eyes).  It was a little easier after watching a dance performed in that way to understand why there were so many rules of etiquette surrounding the art of dancing, and why so many feathers were ruffled when the rules were broken.  I love when visual history explains something we wouldn’t otherwise understand!

The characters were also jazzed-up a little.  At first, I was a little nervous about the changes that I knew were going to be made to Mr. Woodhouse (Emma’s father) and Miss Bates.  But I would go anywhere Bill Nighy and Miranda Hart want to take me.  I cannot think of better or more trust-worthy choices if you are going to change up well-known characters.  And, while I am a stickler for following a book exactly, I actually didn’t mind these changes.  They weren’t drastic, and both were in keeping with the spirit of the characters.  If I’m being honest, I actually enjoyed these characters more than ever before because, in the real story, while we love them and appreciate their absurdities, they can be a little tedious.  Here, they were delightfully quirky and provided excellent comedic relief.  I like the idea of Emma’s father having all of his hypochondria while still being spunky, and maybe even a little wired.  I think that was a reasonable interpretation of his character, even though most have interpreted him as a more feeble old gentleman.  And when Miss Bates screams suddenly, and out of nowhere, at her deaf mother, that “Miss Woodhouse has invited us to Hartfield!!!” we were all in giggles.

And what to say about Mr. Knightley?  We see a lot more of his personal life than we ever do on the book, and than we ever have in any other adaptations.  We get to see him dressing, which was certainly a gift. 🙂  We also get to see the moment his feelings started to change for Emma and the agony that leads him to suffer over the next few months.  I think I actually like that, and here’s why: I believe they simply showed the emotions Jane Austen knew he was having but we don’t know about until the end of the book.  The scene where Emma and Knightley dance at Christmas is shown as the moment they both start to shift their feelings for one another, and I think that is accurate, at least for Mr. Knightley, although it has been a while since I’ve read the book.  But every other adaptation has made this attraction quite subtle.  Here, though, we see Knightley throw himself on his drawing room floor in frustration.  It’s not in the book.  But it actually made me understand a little more why Knightley invited his Highbury acquaintances to pick strawberries at Donwell soon thereafter, and why he said something about only allowing Mrs. Knightley to manage his house, once she is in being: he wants Emma in his house, and he is contemplating, for the first time, there being a Mrs. Knightley.  I had never thought about that aspect of his psychology, so that was a great hidden nugget.  On the whole, I liked Johnny Flynn’s interpretation of Knightley, even if I was initially thrown off by his blonde hair.  He handled the role quite delicately.

And that brings us to what I didn’t like so much.  I’m usually not this direct, but I will just have to be honest: I did not like this interpretation of Emma’s character.  Anya Taylor-Joy is lovely, and I like that her acting reminded us that Emma is only 21 and also showed how her wealth has left her in a spoiled cocoon.  Further than that I cannot say, because this interpretation made Emma absolutely unlikeable.  Jane Austen’s Emma is a deeply flawed character, and I love that about her.  But Austen was careful to give Emma redeeming qualities and a certain maturity that balances her over-confidence, privilege, and snobbery.  Here, she was drawn as petulant, which I don’t remember that Emma ever was.  While there was a certain immaturity to Emma’s course of action in the real plotline, she never acted like a simpering, pouting child.  While she could be sharp-tongued, and while that trait often led her into scrapes, she was never crabby/irritable just because she seemed to be that way by nature.  I’m not sure if the goal was to make Emma more coy, or what, but she actually lost almost all of the nuances to her character and was kind of boiled down into a one-dimensional incarnation of the snotty rich girl archetype.  Not my cup of tea.  And the main reason is that we cannot for the life of us see what Mr. Knightley sees in her.

Another thing that I was not a fan of was the overall production.  You really need to go into this adaptation with a basic knowledge of the intricacies of the plotline, because you won’t get them from watching this film.  It felt, actually, more like watching a play or, more accurately, perhaps, an opera.  A great deal of attention was put into theatricals, such as ladies lining up with the flourish of the background music, and overly-loud music accentuating the feeling we were supposed to get from the dialogue.  The music playing during scenes really distracted and took away from the storyline.  I just kept wishing we could settle in on a scene, like a real movie, and enjoy acting and character nuances instead of flitting here and there.  With music playing overly loud, and some of the actors being forced to deliver their lines overly-dramatically, you’re sped through the scenes and don’t get the details of a very intricate plot.  But what was really odd was that somewhere in the middle of the movie, we did slow down and take a breather, almost as though we had switched directors.  The music stopped being as frenzied, and we enjoyed a couple of stable scenes.  Which I found…odd.  I like consistency, even if I don’t agree with the choice made.  Without it, the production doesn’t feel polished/tight.

Another oddity was the choice in music itself.  I’ve already mentioned that it was often too jaunty and loud.  But even more bizarre was the choice to put in chorals here and there.  Don’t get me wrong: I love anything sung by a choir, and these were really beautiful.  They were just totally out of place.  I’m sure the songs were time-period-appropriate (although I would have to look on a couple), but the presentation was not (by this, I mean that the arrangements reminded me a lot of O Brother, Where Art Thou?).  It’s weird to be travelling in a carriage and just randomly start hearing a hymn sung dramatically by a choir, no?  At least, it was in Emma.

But in the end, there were enough things that I did like that I will probably watch it again.  The over-all grandeur and urgency being slightly hyped-up was very well-done, and very compelling as a viewer.  I found myself wishing that I was a master movie-maker and could pluck parts from all of the adaptations of Emma and make the perfect movie.  Which leads me to a ranking of the Emma adaptations that I have seen, which might be useful if you are wondering where to start.  I’ll rank from least-favorite to most-favorite.

4. Emma (1996) with Gwyneth Paltrow.  I have heard many people say this is their favorite, so know I am in the minority here.  But there is just something annoying about this version to me.  There’s also no chemistry between Knightley and Emma or any of the characters, really.

3.  Emma (2020). [Discussed above.]

2.  Emma Mini-Series (2009).   This is a 4-part mini-series that goes into great detail and follows the storyline pretty closely.  This Emma still annoys me slightly, but she is the least-offensive of the three I have mentioned.

1.   Emma (1997) with Kate Beckinsale.  This adaptation is phenomenal.  It is the reason, probably, that I’m so hard on all of the other adaptations.  I have watched it over and over and never leave disappointed.  I love the nuance Kate Beckinsale brings to Emma’s character.  She fully explores her flaws but shows all of the redeeming qualities, too.  I love the passion Mark Strong brings to Knightley’s character.  No one tells Emma off quite the way Mark Strong does.  He makes all of the other Knightleys look weak, with the exception of the most recent 2020 Mr. Knightley.  He shows Knightley’s hot temper but also his great kindness and depth of feeling.  And as far as the village feeling – there could be nothing cozier.  It accomplishes in one movie all that the above-mentioned mini-series attempts to do in four episodes.  The cinematography is not beautiful or sweeping, so I think that might be the reason this one is often overlooked.  But I promise you won’t notice that once the actors take the story into their hands.

In the end, it doesn’t matter which Emma is technically more accurate or delicately-handled, I suppose: it is which one you enjoy watching that matters.  I do recommend that you watch the new Emma.  It’s a great way to pass the time, and if you have enough people in your home quarantine, it’s actually cheaper than going to the movies would have been.  I streamed it for $20.00 from Amazon Prime.

Enjoy!

(Note: if you have children in the room, there is one little nudey scene where Knightley is dressing, and another slight one when Emma is, just to give you forewarning.)

Photo Credit: screenrant.com

-Tara

 

 

 

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