Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)

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

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Call the Midwife: The book is just as good as the series!

The miniseries' of Call the Midwife (both seasons) are great and the book Call the Midwife, A Memoir of Birth, Joy and Hard Times is just as brilliant. If you loved the BBC miniseries which just finished airing on PBS in North America, getting the book is a no brainer. And this is one you may want to pass on to a friend, so I was glad my family bought me the paperback for Mother's Day as I have already passed it on to my sister.

You will recognize all of the main characters. Trixie is given short shrift in this book but the story of Chummy conquering the bicycle with the help of her little friend is there and the story of Jenny's affair with a married man and her friendship with Jimmy is there. Miranda Hart makes the role of Chummy even better than it's written! Cynthia apparently had a really sexy, low voice in real life, so perhaps that casting didn't quite come through but I love Bryony Hannah in the role as she is just so adorable!

The casting of all of the nuns as well as Jenny Lee is perfection. As you read the book, it just fleshes out the already beloved characters from the series. Sister Evangelina, Sister Monica Joan and Sister Julienne are well represented in this book. Perhaps we will read more of cutie Sister Bernadette in some of the other books by Jennifer Worth which I have yet to read. Apparently there are four of them. Yay!!!

So if you are looking for some reading material while you wait for the third season (and we are talking next spring for that here in the colonies) you can't go wrong. And you will love the story of the Spanish mother with 28 children (OK, I can't remember the real number and my sis now has the book).

Cheers and happy reading!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Shopping, Seduction & Mr Selfridge- The Book is Better than the Miniseries!

Sometimes the book is better, sometimes the film adaptation is better and sometimes they are both great. This time, for "Mr. Selfridge" vs "Shopping, Seduction & Mr Selfridgethe book has the slight edge in my opinion. It is not a novel, but a non-fiction account of the evolution of shopping on both sides of the Atlantic.

The story of Harry Gordon Selfridge is a true American rags to riches and back to rags story of which few of us were previously aware. I have been to the Selfridges store which transformed the "wrong end of Oxford Street" when my family visited London just after the bombings in July 2005. I just thought Selfridges was a very nice department store in 2005, and a welcome reprieve from a summer downpour. I should have looked around a bit more instead of just shopping. Although I did get some lovely lingerie there! Thanks Harry! :)

Although Harry himself is interesting, it is the history of modern shopping and fashion which have really caught my imagination. Mr. Selfridge started out with Marshall Fields in Chicago, and anyone with an interest  in the history of Chicago would also find this fascinating. I could have used more pretty pictures of the merchandise. Oh, those gorgeous Victorian and Edwardian dresses!

I was fascinated to hear that there was a outdoor rooftop terrace where they held fashion shows and demonstrations of all kinds. And of course those fabulous window displays live on...

Yes, that is a gingerbread version of Selfridges with corgis in Santa hats on top and Pearly Kings on each side! Even though Selfridges has been owned by Canadian food retailer Galen Weston for a decade now, it seems to have retained it's modern British feel. It certainly isn't anything like Harrods in any case!

So even if you, like many, were left underwhelmed by the miniseries, the book is worth a look.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Iron Jawed Angels- American Suffragettes

Every woman in the world should see Iron Jawed Angels. Heck, every man in the world should see this fabulous film, while sitting beside the women in their lives. Although this is the story of women in the United States of America fighting for their right to vote in the early years of the 20th Century there is a lesson for all of us in 2013 and beyond. We are ALL equal in this world. No matter your sex, your colour, your religion or sexuality. We are ALL equal. Full stop.

You will also never skip voting again, even in a minor municipal election EVER, EVER, again if you see this film. When you see how hard these women worked a century ago to win the right for us to vote, you will never squander that chance again. You will walk through the rain, in the dark for an hour to get to the polling station if you have to.

But beyond the amazing and empowering message, this is an awesome flick!!!! Hilary Swank plays Alice Paul, an American Quaker who traveled to England to attend the University of Birmingham and brought back the more militant ideas of the Pankhurst women but without the violence. She was a Quaker after all!

Frances O'Connor plays Lucy Burns (Alma Mater- Columbia, Vassar, Yale and Oxford) who met Alice Paul in a London police station after they had both been arrested for demonstrating alongside the British Suffragettes. They bonded immediately and decided to continue their fight for women's voting rights back in America in 1912.

Alice Paul and Lucy Burns start off working within the National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA) headed by Carrie Chapman Catt, played by Anjelica Huston. By 1916 they broke away and formed their own political party the National Women's Party (NWP) and organized a daily picket outside the White House during Woodrow Wilson's presidency.

A real Iron Jawed Angel demonstrating against President Wilson
They ran into trouble after the US joined WWI in 1917 and picketing a wartime president was considered by some to be treasonous, however the women were breaking no laws. They were arrested instead on charges of "obstructing traffic".

The real Lucy Burns incarcerated in Occoquan  Workhouse
While incarcerated at Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia, the women asked to be treated as political prisoners and went on hunger strikes in protest. I had previously read about the force feeding of women hunger striking suffragettes in England but when you see it on film it is horrific. Again, you will never take your right to vote lightly after seeing this film.

But this is not a downer movie. It has a rockin' modern musical score and sometimes feels more like a music video than a period drama. And this works to it's advantage. It could easily be shown in high schools to both boys and girls who will be riveted by the great story. German director Katja von Garnier (who is a dead ringer for Kate Middleton) did a fab job with this film. And the supporting cast of Julia Ormond, Laura Fraser (the blacksmith from Knight's Tale), Vera Farmiga and Patrick Dempsey are a few other good reasons to see it.

So what are you waiting for? Run, don't walk to see Iron Jawed Angels right now.

By the way, the best comment ever posted on my blog was left by Bridget on my post Suffragettes in Film- "Deeds, not words!" Bridget says it way better than I ever could!


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Gatsby IS Great! (well, in my opinion anyway!)

Just ignore the critics. Go and enjoy the spectacle that is The Great Gatsby. It was a pleasant surprise, after reading some fairly critical reviews.

The costumes were breathtaking. I mean truly breathtaking. Along with the sets. I particularly liked the way they dressed the little house next door to Gatsby's mansion where Nick Carraway lived. Arts and Crafts decor done to perfection. Makes me want to see it again. 

The acting was pretty fab too. Leo DiCaprio does have a knack for this, truly. And Tobey Maguire should be recognized for his amazing take on Gatsby's only friend, in the end. Carey Mulligan is being criticized for being too...too...vapid? But that is who Daisy Buchanan is, right? In any case she is just gorgeous to look at and that is what attracts Gatsby anyway. It certainly wasn't her scintillating conversation!

The music was wonderful (Thanks to Jay Z and friends). And although it doesn't have an uplifting ending to the story, I didn't feel depressed coming out of this one like I did with Anna Karenina. Actually it was a pretty exhilarating experience. Much better than reading the book in high school. And now I want to read the book again. That is the best compliment you can give a film adaptation of a novel methinks.

Well, let me know how you like it. There were some twenty somethings dressed in flapper/gangster garb waiting for the next show when I saw it. Fun! And just so you know, both Leo and Tobey really rocked those old black tank style bathing suits. Yup, I am seeing this one again soon.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Anne of Green Gables for a Happy Mother's Day

Recently I have been enjoying reading Anne of the Island on my e-reader (I got the Kobo Glow as it lets me read in the middle of the night without turning the light on...genius!!). I adored these books when I was a girl and although I reread Anne of Green Gables a few years ago, I hadn't reread any of the sequels. Imagine my delight when I found I could get some of them free for my Kobo! L.M. Montgomery's entire library is available at but I haven't figured out how to get them from the epub file to my Kobo. Anyone?

Anyway, this week on an evening when I was thoroughly disgusted with the offerings on television and in need of some soul soothing after a long day, I remembered that I hadn't watched the sequels to Anne of Green Gables when I ordered the huge boxed set of DVDs about 2 years ago (I just watched the wonderful original at the time). What is it that makes me buy a DVD and then put it away for a year or two? On the upside, it's like treasure hunting sometimes when I hunt through my DVD collection!

I think maybe I thought that Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel would be a let down. Well, I am enjoying it immensely! They did mess with the story a bit and I truly lament the fact that there is no Patty's Place in this version but it is so well done otherwise and Megan Follows truly is our Canadian Anne of Prince Edward Island! We love her here in Canada and I think she has captured the hearts of viewers world wide (there is quite an Anne following in Japan!)

Well, this post (along with reading the books again and watching the films) have been my mother's day treat to myself. In closing I would like to put forth the idea that perhaps the time has come to film Anne again for another generation. What do you think my dear readers? I love the version from the 1980s but the scenery of PEI is so gorgeous and film making has gotten better over the last few decades. Do you think we could find two actors who could play Anne and Gilbert as well as Megan Follows and Jonathan Crombie?

Happy Mother's Day to you all whether you are a mother or have ever had a mother!

P.S. I believe the let down is the third installment of the Anne films called Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story from 2000. It was an entirely fabricated story and is not as beloved as the first two. I'll still watch it anyway!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Suffragettes in film- "Deeds, not Words!"

When I decided to write a post on suffragettes in film, I thought there would be more material on which to draw. There are surprisingly few films (or television programs) which have dealt even peripherally with Women's Suffrage.

I have to give Walt Disney some credit for making the story of the suffragettes so key to Mary Poppins, however the underlying message was really that Mrs. Banks should have been at home, paying more attention to her kids rather than getting "Votes for Women". We'll let that pass as they also skewered Mr. Banks being emotionally absent to the children. That was about as equal as you got in 1964 I suppose.

And truly, I think this is the only exposure to the story of the suffragettes that many citizens of the world have ever had!

We'll have to see whether the issue comes up in the new film Saving Mr. Banks starring Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers (the author of Mary Poppins). Apparently Disney only put the suffragette story in to explain why Mrs. Banks would have needed a nanny. The majority of the American audience didn't know what a nanny was at the time the film was released.

Apparently the best film about Women's Suffrage is Iron Jawed Angels which was made as an HBO film in 2004. Starring Hilary Swank, Frances O'Connor, Angelica Huston, Vera Farmiga and Julia Ormond it even has Patrick Dempsey as a love interest. How did I never hear about this before???

I have requested this for Mother's Day (OK, who am I kidding? I ordered it myself from Amazon and tossed it to my husband today to be wrapped for Sunday). So I will review it when I have seen it. Stay tuned but it sounds amazing.

Just a brief history lesson here. The women's suffrage movement was active mainly in England, America and the colonies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The purple white and green stood for dignity, purity and hope respectively. It is a popular myth that the colours were green white and violet for "Give Women Votes".

Posters like this one were a common sight in England and the USA. Emmeline Pankhurst coined the phrase "Deeds, not Words" as the male politicians kept telling women to be patient and that the topic would be debated...sometime soon! Women demonstrated in the streets and were often arrested and force fed if they went on hunger strikes. If thrown in gaol, they considered themselves political prisoners.

Valentine Wannop (Adelaide Clemens) from Parade's End gave a little demonstration on a golf course (with her friend Gertie) whose escape was aided by Christopher Tietjens played by Benedict Cumberbatch.

I was thrilled to see that Mr. Selfridge included the suffragettes right from the first episode, making it clear that Harry Selfridge's fictitious female financial backer Lady Mae Loxley was also a quiet funder of the women's suffrage movement and held her meetings at the restaurant in Selfridge's.

Edwardian suffragette pendant 
Of course you just know that the real Harry Selfridge would have been marketing all kinds of merchandise to the suffragettes at the time. Indeed he would likely have wanted women to wield more power in England so they could have more influence over how the money was spent. Shrewd man that little Jeremy Piven!

On a more serious note, New Zealand was the first country to grant women full voting rights in 1893 and Switzerland was the last western country to do so in 1971! And just so you know, there are still places in the world where women still cannot vote such as Saudi Arabia and The Vatican. So please vote in every election you are able to. Our ancestors (who were denied the right) won it for us, ladies!

Let me end with a link to a YouTube music video that you may want to show your daughters, granddaughters, sisters and girlfriends. It won an Emmy and you will have Lady Gaga stuck in your head for days!

YouTube Bad Romance: Women's Suffrage

Sunday, May 5, 2013

My Brilliant Career 1979

Well I finally got to see My Brilliant Career! This film was released when I was in high school and I would have eaten it up at the time, as Judy Davis plays a headstrong independent 18 year old trapped in the Australian outback in the early 1900s. She has vague ideas of some sort of life ahead of her which involves music or literature or the arts in some form but has no idea of how to achieve it.

A film adaptation of the book by Miles Franklin  the entire supporting cast seems determined to marry off Judy's character Sybylla Melvyn as the only way to tame the "wild beast" she has become.

After being sent to her more genteel grandmother's house and gentrified by her gorgeous Aunt Helen she falls for a very young Sam Neill (well who wouldn't, I ask you?) and then the struggle inside of her really begins. Will she chose the career or will she chose Harry?

Personally, I would have tried to have both, but that is just me. You'll have to watch the film yourself to see how it ends but let's just say this is not Anne of Green Gables, even though these two redheads in the colonies have their similarities!

This is just a lovely little film for a night where you need a lovely little film. It has a definite feminist feel to it which is not surprising as it was written by an Australian woman at the turn of the century and then adapted by women (producer, director and screenwriter) in the post bra burning seventies I remember so well.

You go girls!!!!!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Anna Maxwell Martin- Actor of the Week

Anna Maxwell Martin is a brilliant actor who has starred in some of my absolute favourite films and miniseries. She has both an unusual look and an unusual voice (a slight lisp) which make her easier to recognize in period dress than some of her peers. She makes fun of her lack of cheekbones, but I love the fact that she doesn't look like so many other actresses. Anyway, here is a highlight of her career in period drama.

As Bessie Higgins in North and South, Anna Maxwell Martin stole my heart. She showed us what the life of a poor working girl in Victorian Manchester would have been like (pretty grim at times) and yet made us love Bessie and weep during her final scene. By the way, if you have not seen North and South do so immediately!!!! Richard Armitage is another great reason to watch this miniseries multiple times.

Bleak House was another tour de force for the BBC this time with Anna Maxwell Martin in the lead role. Esther Summerson is a wonderfully complex yet subtle character and Anna let us see what she was feeling with just a fleeting look. OK, now I have to watch this one again too.

In a comic role as Gaoler's Daughter in The Wind in the Willows, Anna said she had a hard time keeping a straight face as she was filming. Apparently Matt Lucas who plays Toad (and is the chubby guy in Little Britain and Gil from Bridesmaids) just kept cracking her up.

I have not seen this but it is now on my list of films to watch. Oh and to one of my readers Olga, this one might be a good quirky comedy to watch with a 10 year old! Has anyone seen this? Can you recommend this one?

As Cassandra Austen in Becoming Jane, she could not have looked more unlike Anne Hathaway who played her sister Jane Austen but they seemed to have a lovely warmth between them which helped to suspend disbelief. Again her sheer talent as an actress ripped my heart out when she got the news of the demise of her fiance. Brava!!!

By the way, how confusing would that have been for the director to have Anna and Anne playing the Austen sisters? But I digress...

In South Riding she got to play the thoroughly modern Sarah Burton, using her native Yorkshire accent. She went after this role as it was filmed in an area of Yorkshire where she used to play on the beach as a child.

I was just OK with this particular miniseries as it was a bit grittier than what I usually enjoy. I should give it another watch at some point and see if I like it better on second viewing.

And of course, her latest stint as Susan Gray in The Bletchley Circle has me on the edge of my seat awaiting the final episode this coming week. Surely ITV will make another series with this wonderful female foursome now that they know how much we all love them (on both sides of the pond)!

Hopefully we will get to see much more of Anna Maxwell Martin in the future. She is known as the young Judi Dench in Britain so hopefully her career will have the same sort of longevity.



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