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.



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!


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!


Connection Error

It’s been heavy on my heart recently that our world is much too connected. Instead of wondering all day who was that I saw in the home décor section at Target, I can grab my phone and search until I figure it out. It usually doesn’t take any time, but, while it seems convenient to an annoyed brain, it’s kind of creepy. And it’s actually not very healthy.

Social experiences have been forever altered by social media. Instead of letting friendships at work or church naturally progress, we know by our own countless scrolls through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. what our friends had for dinner, how sweet their husband was to bring them flowers, the items they didn’t find valuable enough to keep or use in their yard sale…

We keep up with the lives of ex-boyfriends, ex-best-friends, that girl who let us borrow a crayon every single day in kindergarten, friends from college and old jobs, neighbors, family members we’ve never met, and a few weirdos we still see too often in real life to delete.

It occurred to me that we are much too connected when the first response I had to a potential boyfriend was to check him out on social media. Make sure all the right boxed were checked and no red flags waved me down. Believe me, I understand the value of this. By this system, we are able to eliminate- for the most part- the creeps or the losers who post shirtless selfies. I only noticed something was fundamentally wrong with this system when all of my many boxes did check off and no flags snagged my attention. What’s a girl to do then?

I found that the guy I was deeply interested in didn’t have many things to tell me as we got to learn each other that I wasn’t already aware of. In under three minutes of social media searches I figured out his religious affiliation, who he backed in the 2016 Presidential election, his dog’s name, what kind of movies he liked, what his last girlfriend looked like, his sports record, and so much, too much more. Amazing, right? It’s like I should be a private investigator or something. But this isn’t a talent specific to me.

I realized that our lives were too interlocked with people we don’t really know when I had to unfollow a friend on Facebook because the constant reminder of their face and the updates of their life’s work stressed me out. I hadn’t seen this friend since elementary school. Why did I need to know the intimate details of their day?

If we were truly close, truly connected, wouldn’t we have more contact that the posts I inadvertently absorbed? It’s freaky that our minds process the things we see so much that this person made guest appearances in my dreams. Wakeup call: I needed to fill my eyes with something a bit more meaningful. I needed to work on myself. I needed to move forward, not dwell on people in the past who weren’t a part of my present.

We absorb so much of what we see on social media that it influences our perception of ourselves. Body image issues are hard enough to tackle without the constant reminder that Becky really does have better hair, or that girl you did cheerleading with as a child has obviously kept up her physique a little more than moi. Comparisons aren’t fair to our bodies.

I knew that connection error was a problem when my niece was born. My brother and sister-in-law refused to put any pictures of her on social media, and people freaked out. Full disclosure, both of them are darlings to all around them, and, naturally, everyone wanted to see their darling, too. They wanted instant gratification, almost like they deserved. But that’s weird, right? Like, come to the hospital or visit them at home. Don’t take the easy way out. It isn’t natural. Don’t expect real-life emotions to hit you the same from a screen. It isn’t fair to the people you love.

It occurred to me that we are much too connected when I found out through social media that a cousin of mine got engaged. Let me rephrase that, when I watched my cousin get engaged because they shared the proposal video. I haven’t seen or talked to my cousin in five years. I have never met his fiancée. But I know his proposal story. I have a visual of the pretty setting, the nervous energy, the sweet reactions, the sizable ring, all of it. Too much of it. This isn’t natural, is it?

I knew that our connectedness was a problem when on a recent vacation I was more concerned with getting the right lighting for a picture of a live oak tree in Savannah than putting my phone down long enough to watch the Spanish moss sway. The Lord’s beautiful landscape, and I didn’t think to thank Him. I used his creation for my own purposes, and that’s pretty selfish. I know I’m not the only one.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been guilty of this. Every summer, fellow Tea & Rebellion author Juliet Wilkes and I take a girls trip to enjoy a bit of history, the ocean, fabulous food, our favorite books, brainstorm story ideas, hopefully find some nice tea, and recap our personal growth from the previous year (really, everything our blog presents you with). We try to take as many pictures as we can for references and for you, fellow rebellious tea enthusiast.

I often fuss at Juliet for always catching me at my worst moments. You know the ones: triple neck out, cheeks overstuffed with food, bad angles of my backside, etc. Inaccurate representations, obviously (hopefully), but social media has influenced me so much that I can’t even laugh at myself or see how pleased I was with the food in front of me in the photo.

We live in a very ME-centered world, and while we may think that sharing the highlights of our trips and lives with all our friends isn’t self-interested, it is. Listen to me, it is. Maybe you’re not like me, but doesn’t it bother you if your posts don’t get any likes? Maybe even if someone specifically doesn’t recognize it, because maybe that’s proof that they don’t recognize your worth.

That brings me to the bigger point. Why have we let the convenience of technology consume every aspect of our lives? We’re never truly unplugged. It’s a crazy horse, an addiction we can’t stop. But why? I am so connected to my phone. It’s the first thing I look at in the morning and the last thing I see before I fall asleep. I replace meaningfulness with mindlessness. If you’re like me, you need to work on some gaping hole in your life that you’re filling with this time. Connectedness is the iceberg lettuce of your life. It’s a filler meal with surprisingly little nutritional value.

I’m not suggesting you give up social media accounts or even your smartphone. I understand that these technologies are part of the fabric of our modern society. I understand that it’s hard not to answer your phone immediately or check it every time it buzzes. But I challenge you to be less connected to the outside world and grow yourself and spend quality time with the people you love, not the ones you look at all the time on a screen.

Any progress in this area has been hard for me, and believe me, there are setbacks. It’s such a habit now to click the icons on my phone and connect with everyone else. Is this healthy? Nope. The only way I’ve seen any headway in my progress is to take Sundays off from my phone. I will still answer calls in case someone truly needs me, but otherwise, I have been trying to dedicate this time to rest. A recent Bible study has motivated me to remember that Sundays are meant for worship and rejuvenation, and I challenge you to try it by giving up your connectedness. If you’re like me, Facebook won’t be so enjoyable come Monday morning when you return to it.

Juliet has deleted the apps from her phone as a way of avoiding idle social media scrolls. I took a week off from my accounts during Lent, and I wish I had continued the whole period. It’s freeing. It refreshes your spirit. You’ll see that you have more time for other things, and you might be able to finish that book that’s been lying around or start a new miniseries on Netflix with your family. Maybe even more realistically, you can start a load of laundry.

I get it. You’re tired after a long day. You don’t want to talk or cook or clean just yet. All you want to do is flip on the tv and rest a minute. What’s so wrong with getting on your phone then? You’ve definitely earned the right to do what you want with your time. But, remember, the iceberg lettuce of your life is just a filler. You’re not getting any more rest looking at your phone than you would be doing something else. You’re not improving your mind or your relationships with those you love. You’re not going to get relaxed getting briefed on your neighbor’s cat’s first trip to the vet. Pick up some new habits. Maybe even close your eyes for a minute. Enjoy some peace. You deserve it.

Don’t feel guilty about unplugging. Don’t worry about missing something or offending someone. People will get in touch when they need to. Human interaction is a natural thing, and something we should get back to. Enjoy natural, honest-to-goodness reactions. Be surprised when that date tells you he likes Bruno Mars too. Let your cousin be the one to tell you he’s engaged. Visit a newborn baby in the hospital.

Get out there and enjoy the world around you. Take pictures to remember, not to impress. But always, always take pictures. Go outside and hike without chronicling your friends with every step. Or for girls like me, stay in under a cozy blanket with a candle burning and a steamy cup of tea, and catch up on some Audrey Hepburn movies. Or bake an intricate cake that expends way too much of your energy with your daughter without sharing the recipe or a picture of the final product with your friends.

Enjoy things for your own benefit. Adventure without the stress of perfect angles and lighting, or making some rando take another picture of you because the last one captured that last bit of holiday weight a little too accurately. Do what makes you happy. Don’t be so involved in what makes other people happy.

I will leave you with some insight far better than my own from 2 John 12:12 (NIV):

I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.

I encourage you not to let the new norms of our social-media-centered society hinder your progress of self-care and meaningful relationships. The world is at your fingertips, but so is the ability to make your joy complete.

With Love,
Willa James.


Welcome! Put on the kettle while you get acquainted with Tea & Rebellion…

You’ll find tidbits about my books, reviews, history, travel musings, and tea.  Sit back and enjoy a bit of rebellion while you sip.


TARA COWAN has been writing novels since she was seventeen. She is the author of the Torn Asunder Series, including Southern Rain and Northern Fire. A huge lover of all things history, she loves to travel, watch British dramas, read good fiction, and spend time with her family. An attorney, Tara lives in Tennessee and is busy writing her next novel.

TARA holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Political Science, with minors in English and History, from Tennessee Tech University and a Doctor of Jurisprudence from the University of Tennessee College of Law.

TO CONNECT with Tara, follow her on Instagram @teaandrebellion_, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.