Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)

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

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Miss Potter starring Renee Zellweger, Ewan McGregor and Emily Watson

Miss Potter with Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor
Miss Potter is a movie which every time I watch it, I am surprised by how much I love it.  I mean, as I am pulling it off the shelf, I always think why didn't they get a Brit to play Beatrix Potter, and then after I watch it, I am quite happy with Renee's performance!  Zellweger and McGregor have great chemistry and the twinkle in his eye as he helps her to get her "Bunny Book" published is adorable. I always tear up at a "certain part" of the film-no spoilers here.

Ewan McGregor and Renee Zellweger at the printers in Miss Potter
Ewan McGregor is one actor I would love to see a lot more of, as he seems to be truly having fun with this role and really becomes Norman Warne. Emily Watson is wonderful as Norman's sister Millie...she and Zellweger's Beatrix Potter really seemed to give a lovely modern feminist feel to the film. The Edwardian period is one of my favourites anyway as it has such energy and excitement as the new century begins.

Millie and Beatrix in Miss Potter- "Men are only good for two things. Financial support and procreation!"
Barbara Flynn and Bill Paterson are perfect as Beatrix's London social climbing parents. I love Bill Paterson as a father figure especially in Wives and Daughters, but he is just as adorable in this film. Barbara Flynn is hilariously controlling in this film (when she kicks the chair of Miss Wiggin I always laugh out loud!) and she is also a fave of mine from both Wives and Daughters and Cranford.  And I have to admit that until I saw the film again last night, I didn't realize that Emma Thompson's mother, Phillida Law, played Norman and Millie's delightful mother Mrs. Warne.  For Pride and Prejudice lovers, David Bamber, alias Mr. Collins, plays Norman's elder brother Fruing Warne.

Filming Miss Potter at Derwent Water in the Lakes District

The Lakes district was used extensively in the outdoor scenes, which are crucial to the wonderful feel of this film. It is appropriate that they were able to use the real Lakes District as Beatrix Potter is partly responsible for the fact that they are so well preserved today. She donated over 4,000 acres of land to the National Trust on her death and her actual home Hill Top Farm, is now a Beatrix Potter shrine with thousands of visitors annually (including The Squire and I in 2009). Beatrix Potter is so popular in Japan, that the day we were there, they had a Japanese tour guide specifically for the many Japanese tourists who arrive there every day. Although Hill Top Farm has many visitors each year, it is kept quite pristine and untouched save for the ever present gift shop.

Hill Top Farm in Near Sawrey, Cumbria, UK
If you are going to the Lakes District and want a real Potter experience, the house used for Hill Top during filming Miss Potter is now a bed and breakfast with fabulously up to date rooms. Here is the link to Yew Tree Farm in Coniston in the Lakes District. I'd love to put my photos from the Lakes District on this post, but it will take me an extra 2 days to find them! I am such a techno peasant! If I can locate them, I'll add them soon. It will make you want to go if you haven't before. My fave spots were Keswick and Grasmere.

Anyway, if you haven't seen this one, do see it. If you haven't seen it in a while, it's worth seeing again, especially if you are in that certain mood for a lovely quiet, sweet film with some great eye candy (of a few different kinds!)
Peter Rabbit with that naughty look on his little bunny face
Norman Dalziel Warne and his nephew, ca. 1900
OK, I couldn't resist adding this when I responded to Mel Mel below. Isn't that an adorable face? No wonder she fell in love ---ooops! Spoiler!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

BBC's "The Way We Live Now" with Matthew Macfadyen, Cillian Murphy and David Suchet!

The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope, Adapted by Andrew Davies
Here is another one of those wonderful BBC adaptations which you either love, or you haven't yet seen. So which category do you fall into? I really adore this one. It romps along, probably due to the fact that the scriptwriter is my beloved Andrew Davies, and who better to wrestle this wonderful book onto the screen for us? It is also perfectly cast with David Suchet (well known as Hercule Poirot) as financier Augustus Melmotte, an immigrant to Victorian London who not only wants to make big money, he wants to be a Member of Parliament in order to really fit in with the upper crust!

Matthew Macfadyen as bad boy Sir Felix Carbury in The Way We Live Now
Matthew Macfadyen really gets to have some fun as the bad boy for a change. As the gambling, manipulative rake Sir Felix Carbury, Macfadyen really seems to be enjoying himself. Apparently the character in the book was detestable, but you can't help but like Sir Felix and sort of root for him to finally get his act together.

Shirley Henderson as Marie Melmotte being wooed by Sir Felix- I want that dress!
Shirley Henderson is hilarious as the daughter of Augustus Melmotte, wooed for her money by Sir Felix, she is impossible to take one's eyes off of. A bit over the top but in a really great way, Marie Melmotte really comes into her own at the end!

Cillian Murphy as Paul Montague, Victorian Engineer in The Way We Live Now
The rest of the cast is peppered with gems such as the ever pretty Cillian Murphy as the idealistic Paul Montague who just want to build a railroad, dammit! And Paloma Baeza is radiant as Hetta Carbury, sister of Sir Felix who has to choose between good old cousin Roger mouldering in the country or the pretty boy who travels the world. Hmmmm....who shall she chose?????

Try to ignore the horrible American accent on Miranda Otto's Mrs. Hurtle, and concentrate on the wonderful Jim Carter as the lovable Jewish gentleman Mr. Brehgurt and the grasping Georgianna Longestaffe (played to perfection by Anne-Marie Duff).

Anyway, can you tell that I liked this one? I'd pop it in the DVD player right now, except Spooks/MI5 is about to come on PBS and they are on the ones with yummy Adam Carter (Rupert Penry-Jones) running around catching spies. So.....bye for now!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Vanity Fair - Film vs Miniseries

Vanity Fair BBC miniseries 1998 wins!
OK, I have given it away right here at the beginning...the 1998 BBC miniseries with Natasha Little, Nathaniel Parker and Philip Glenister is hands down the winner. I am betting that although many of you likely saw the 2004 film version with Reese Witherspoon, not many of you likely saw my winner (or read the amazing novel by William Makepeace Thackaray). I never would have read the novel if it hadn't been for the miniseries with the screenplay written by my hero, Andrew Davies, and with the captivating and mesmerizing Natasha Little in the title role. Mira Nair and Reese Witherspoon did their level best, but no contest between these two versions.
Natasha Little as Becky Sharp and Frances Grey as Amelia Sedley in Vanity Fair
Natasha Little does a fantastic job of playing the woman that other women love to hate, Becky Sharp. She is gorgeous, charming, cunning and ruthlessly manipulative, which is what she needs to be to climb that difficult social ladder in 19th century London. Frances Grey is also great as the unbelievably sweet and incredibly doting Amelia. They are both exactly as they should be.
Nathaniel Parker as Rawdon Crawley in Vanity Fair
Nathaniel Parker is spot on as Becky's husband the empty headed Calvary Officer Rawdon Crawley but the one you'll really fall for in this version is Philip Glenister as Dobbin.
Philip Glenister as William Dobbin in Vanity Fair
Philip Glenister will steal your heart as the tall, ungainly and supposedly plain William Dobbin, who is loyal to George Osborne and in love with Amelia Sedley until the bitter end. Stupid, stupid Amelia. You'll want to shake her little blond head and then run off with Dobbin yourself!!!!

Vanity Fair 2004 with Reese Witherspoon
The 2004 film version directed by Mira Nair is ambitious to try to cram this wonderful novel into 141 minutes. Well....good try, but not quite. Too much plot to condense and it loses something in the process.  Not surprisingly, Mira Nair gives her version an exotic, Indian twist, which is fair enough considering that the character of Jos Sedley as a successful Nabob in India was likely part of the draw for her.  It is gorgeously filmed and a feast for the eyes, which is probably enough to get me to watch it again if only for the costumes and locations.
James Purefoy as Rawdon Crawley and Reese Witherspoon as Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair

I will say that James Purefoy is quite sufficiently yummy as Captain Crawley.  Mmmm, mmmm, good. Unfortunately Reese Witherspoon is a bit too likeable to really pull of the anti-heroine Becky Sharp. She is quite beautiful enough and nails the alluring, intelligent, talented part of her personality. She just doesn't make me buy the amoral, manipulative, insincere part which is really the entire point of the story.
Romola Garai as Amelia  Sedley and Rhys Ifans as William Dobbin in Vanity Fair
Romola Garai who I usually love, does her best here but has to work fast to develop her character. And although he may have done a good job here, to me Rhys Ifans will forever be the goofy roommate Spike from Notting Hill running around in his underwear.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Rhys Ifans and James Purefoy in Vanity Fair
I didn't really like Jonathan Rhys Meyers portrayal of the selfish, vain George Sedley, although maybe he played it so well that I just hated the character. Or maybe I just hated the fact that he had too much 20th century hair gel going on????

In any case, if you haven't seen the 1998 BBC miniseries then you are in for a treat. And if you, like me, bought the Reese Witherspoon version, watch it again for the visual feast. And if you are tempted to read the novel, I believe it is one of the best novels I have ever read, even if it doesn't end as happily as one might like.

By the way, thanks to Charleybrown from Enchanted Serenity of Period Films for her wonderful lists of Georgian, Regency, Victorian and Edwardian films which have reminded me of many I want to see again, and many I have yet to see.

P.S. The music score of the 1998 Natasha Little version IS a travesty. Please try to ignore it and enjoy the acting. It's really in need of re-scoring but I'm sure it would be too expensive.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Dueling Authors-Austen vs Dickens, Sense and Sensibility and Bleak House

Dueling Authors-Austen vs Dickens, Sense and Sensibility and Bleak House

Challenge: Read Sense and Sensibility and Bleak House. Compare and contrast books and authors. Ahhhhhhhhhh!

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, adapted by Emma Thompson
OK, as I start writing this, I am realizing how crazy I was to take on reading and reviewing both Sense and Sensibility and Bleak House for this Dueling Authors blog tour for The Classics Circuit. I freely admit that I was forced to skim through parts of Bleak House, but I will go back and give it a proper read soon, as I truly enjoyed the book. Both of these classic novels have been adapted superlatively for the screen  and this was my motivation to tackle the mammoth task.
Bleak House by Charles Dickens, adapted by Andrew Davies
First of all, let me say how much I really love both of these authors. I give preference to Jane Austen, not surprisingly considering the title of my blog. And again, because I am obsessed with the film adaptations of classic English literature, one of the reasons I chose these two books is that they have been very successfully adapted for film by two of my favourite scriptwriters, Andrew Davies and Emma Thompson (I wish Emma Thompson would do more adaptations!).  Novels are not screenplays, and many readers who adore these novels are perturbed by the changes which have to be made to shape the novel into something that will work well on the screen as well as fit into either the 2 hour cinematic film length or a miniseries of between 3 and 15 parts (yes, Bleak House was parceled out into 15 little episodes, much like how Dickens actually wrote).

I think one of the reasons I find Jane Austen so easy to read is that she writes more like a screenplay. There is a lot of action in her novels, and contrary to popular belief they are not just about a bunch of ladies drinking tea. Dickens on the other hand (possibly partly because he wrote in installments, not knowing quite where the story would end up) often gets bogged down in descriptive passages and occasionally goes off on tangents away from the main plot, as if he is testing the waters to see if the novel will go in a certain direction. Andrew Davies says this of Dickens:

Andrew Davies (photo from The Telegraph)

"His novels are full of energy and are teaming with life. I love the way he makes such a rich mixture of humor, tragedy, sentiment and social indignation. You get so many different things rolled up into one great book. Dickens had such a vivid imagination and some of his characters are just extraordinary. Bleak House combines a terrific mystery with a series of love stories." "But plot-wise it's a nightmare. It is so convoluted and keeps spinning off into subplots. My main concern was to keep focused on the central plot, so that the whole audience can follow along. In truth, when you get down to the finest detail, quite a bit of the plot doesn't work, so you have to straighten things out. But every problem is an opportunity in disguise and I think we've cracked it."

Now, all you Dickens fans, please don't go all hysterical on me here, and go off in an indignant huff because Andrew Davies sounds like he has to "fix" Dickens. He has to adapt the novel so that he works for the screen. The page and the screen are two totally different things, and they were also trying to make Dickens accessible and exciting for the average British citizen. The BBC actually marketed Bleak House like a soap opera, even airing it early in the evening in half hour segments to try to pull in a wider viewing audience. I love the story both as a novel and a film, as it's such a great mysterious plot which keeps you guessing right up to the end, and such a great social commentary. You have to love Dickens for the way he really goes after lawyers and bureaucracy in Bleak House. Ouch! This novel really should be required reading for all law schools...really. But the commentary about the human condition (the greed, the love, the shame...)  in this story is what puts Dickens into the same category as Shakespeare.
Guppy from Bleak House-what a face!

I will say that I found Bleak House an easier read because I had seen the Andrew Davies miniseries earlier this year. For such a complex story, I find if the characters are already known to me and the basics of the plot are already understood,  I can enjoy the lovely Dickensian descriptive passages more. It also helped that I was not dreading the end. I have been disappointed in Dickens before. I read The Old Curiosity Shop one summer at our cottage and when I got to the end, I almost hurled it in the lake. HOW could he have ended it that way, after trekking me all through the Midlands of England with poor little Nell and her grandfather? Bad, bad Dickens. Bleak House has a lovely satisfying happy/sad ending which will not make you want to throw it out the window.

And now on to Sense and Sensibility. This is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Sense and Sensibility, so if you haven't read this one, I highly recommend it. Much easier to whip through this one than through Bleak House, especially if you are a fan of the 1995 film with Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet and Hugh Grant. Here is an Emma Thompson quote (from her Screenplay & Diaries) on her adaptation:

Emma Thompson
"I have a notion that it might be nice to see Colonel Brandon tickling trout- something to draw Marianne to him.  Tickling trout is a mysterious old country method of catching trout; you tickle their tummies and when they're relaxed you whip them out of the water.  I ask Laurie (Laurie Borg, co-producer) if it's possible to get trained fish. Lindsay (Lindsay Doran, producer) says this is how we know I've never produced a movie.  She tells us that two of her friends had read the script and thought I'd invented the pregnancy of Brandon's family ward for shock value. It's surprising to find such events in Austen but after all, how many people know that there's a duel in Sense and Sensibility?  When Lindsay asked me to adapt the novel I thought that Emma or Persuasion would have been better. In fact there's more action in S&S than I'd remembered and its elements translate to drama very effectively."
The Dashwood family of Sense and Sensibility

I love Sense and Sensibility as it is a novel about two young sisters who have to help each other through difficult times. I can really relate to this as I look back on my own teenage years and my relationship with my sister. Both the passionate sensibility of Marianne and the more controlled sense of Elinor are familiar to me and I think most of us can relate to the characters equally (although we older folk are usually much more Elinorish by now!) But as usual, the language of Jane Austen and the romantic happy ending are what make me reread this book every year or two.

So, in conclusion, both of these novels are fabulous. Both of these novelists are fabulous. Both of these adaptations (imho) are brilliant. Just a note here that I really loved Andrew Davies 2008 BBC miniseries version of Sense and Sensibility too, but if I could only have one, it would be Emma Thompson & Ang Lee's version.

But my theory, right or wrong, is that most of us modern readers benefit from seeing the film adaptation first and then get more out of the inevitably richer prose than if we just read it cold right off the bat. In fact I bounce back and forth between adaptations and books regularly and I love both. I did finish reading Sense and Sensibility just days before I saw the 1995 version on the big screen, and I remember thinking how brilliant the screenplay was. Getting rid of the annoying older sister to Lucy Steele? Very economical, as was lopping off the wife and children of Sir John Middleton. Genius! Didn't bother me a whit!
Sense and Sensibility (Penguin Classics)Bleak House (Penguin Classics)

Apparently, I need both books and films in my life. I am a very visual person.  I get more of a sense of time and place from a well crafted period drama and that lets me relate better to the book when I read it. It is much harder for a modern reader to picture the places and characters of Regency or Victorian England than it was for contemporary readers so perhaps that's the reason. And even the Victorians liked to hear Dickens act out his stories on the stage!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Victoria and Albert 2001 starring Victoria Hamilton, Jonathan Firth and Penelope Wilton

Victoria and Albert 2001 starring Victoria Hamilton, Jonathan Firth and Penelope Wilton
After watching the end of South Riding tonight on PBS, which I thoroughly enjoyed by the way, I popped Victoria and Albert in the DVD player. Penelope Wilton did an amazing job in both of these miniseries'. She is a true force of nature in this as Queen Victoria's mother The Duchess of Kent battling for control with her daughter, the future Queen of England.

Victoria Hamilton as Queen Victoria and Penelope Wilton as her mother The Duchess of Kent
Victoria Hamilton, as well as sharing her character's name, really seems to capture the young girl grappling with her transition from girl to Queen to wife. In one scene where she stands up to her mother the Duchess and Sir John Conroy, the grasping Irishman that The Duchess relied on, Victoria is shaking with anger and fear at her new found power. Woweee.

Jonathan Firth (yes, Colin's brother) and Victoria Hamilton in V&A
Jonathan Firth, the younger brother of the more famous period actor Colin Firth, does a fabulous job of conveying the trepidation with which he approached this marriage and his frustration to carve out a role for himself in Victoria's life and in service to his new homeland. The tenderness with which he bathes Victoria's temples on their wedding night really makes the heart skip a beat. No wonder Victoria never got over his death. They even fight with an undercurrent of sexiness. He may not have loved her at first, but they sure seemed to have developed a great relationship and this miniseries makes you feel as if you were a fly on the wall watching them fall in love. Oh, those Firth brothers!

Lord Melbourne played by Nigel Hawthorne
The supporting cast is a dream, with Nigel Hawthorne as Lord Melbourne, Victoria's first Prime Minister and advisor in her early days. David Suchet is brilliant as the Saxe-Cobourg family mentor and behind the scenes man Baron Stockmar, who pulled the strings to achieve the match between the famous pair.

Diana Rigg as Baroness Lehzen
Diana Rigg as Victoria's governess and friend Baroness Lehzen, Peter Ustinov as Victoria's uncle and predecessor King William IV (aka Billy the Sailor King) and even Crispin Bonham-Carter, everyone's favorite Mr. Bingley as Lord Frederick Standish...the list goes on and on.

So if you have never seen this wonderfully crafted miniseries, and you are still craving more royalty after that little wedding a few weeks ago, this one is a great one to see. Although the photography and costumes were better in the more recent film, The Young Victoria, this one has more heart.

For this and more of Queen Vicky, you can try these films, and by the way, I vote for Victoria as the name of the firstborn of William and Catherine. What say you to that? OK, not if he is a boy. How about Albert for a boy's name?????

Victoria & AlbertThe Young VictoriaMrs. Brown



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