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Archive for December, 2015

Happy Holidays, Happy Federal Day Off, Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, and Gelukkig Niew Jaar to all my readers. Don’t forget, my friends in the U.S., to tune in to PBS MASTERPIECE for the 6th and final season of Downton Abbey. You’ve asked for it, so I’ve dusted off my PBS press pass and I’ll be writing my tongue in cheek recaps and reviews of the goings on at the Abbey once again.

My  dear U.K. viewers – please, no spoilers. You may comment and review, but DO NOT reveal vital plot information until the Episode has been shown in the States. I will watch the comment section like a hawk.

Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Patmore. Credit: Courtesy of Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE

Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Patmore. Credit: Courtesy of Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE

Our two favorite downstairs friends will have an hilarious conversation in the first episode. Do tune in to view this masterful bit of writing and acting. How will we ever live without our downstairs friends after this season?

As usual, Lady Mary remains as cool as a cucumber when things get hot under the collar. Will her reputation suffer this time? Watch Michelle Dockery at her finest, snobbiest, upper crust self – you can just hear the ice crackling in her veins. Knowing of her personal tragedy, I can only guess how bittersweet this final year of filming must have been for her.

Lady Edith_DA654980EP95

Lady Edith looks particularly lovely this season. It must be the 20’s fashion … or is it? Credit: Courtesy of Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE.

Will Lady Edith finally find the happiness she deserves? Some of my friends think she’s cattier than Lady Mary and dislike her ‘woe is me’ attitude. I, frankly, am on Lady Edith’s team, although one can’t help but admire Lady Mary’s talent for needling her sister at every opportunity. Edith does get in some zingers, but she’s largely on the defensive, since Lady Mary excels at creating a stir and bullying.

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Violet, double the trouble, double the fun. Credit: Courtesy of Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE.

Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham – she of the verbal ripostes and deadpan delivery, and absolute certainty that in all things she is always RIGHT, has her sights set on maintaining the status quo. In my opinion, Downton Abbey would never have experienced its phenomenal world wide success without Dame Maggie Smith. Just saying.

With the exception of Mr. Carson, the gents seem to be in a supportive position for now. I also placed no image of Cora, Countess of Grantham – whose presence is notably slight in this episode – on this post. Let’s hope her story will develop in the future and that she’ll get a major plot line of her own. After all, why should her daughters get so much of the drama when their mama is still such a hot chick?

DOWNTONABBEY_S6_KEYART_AW V1 LORES

From the PBS Pressroom: Downton Abbey | Series Six We return to the sumptuous setting of Downton Abbey for the sixth and final season of this internationally acclaimed hit drama series. As our time with the Crawleys begins to draw to a close, we see what will finally become of them all. The family and the servants, who work for them, remain inseparably interlinked as they face new challenges and begin forging different paths in a rapidly changing world. Photographer: Nick Briggs, PBS MASTERPIECE.

Well, there you have it. It’s count down time until January 3 in the U.S. Tune in to your PBS station and watch the final Downton Abbey season on MASTERPIECE. Here is the schedule as listed on MASTERPIECE’s site:

“Episode 1” premieres January 3, 2016

“Episode 2” premieres January 10, 2016

“Episode 3” premieres January 17, 2016

“Episode 4” premieres January 24, 2016

“Episode 5” premieres January 31, 2016

“Episode 6” premieres February 7, 2016

“Episode 7” premieres February 14, 2016

“Episode 8” premieres February 21, 2016

“Episode 9” premieres March 6, 2016

I will place my recaps/reviews on this blog at 11 PM (after the show airs EST and my bedtime.)

Happy Holidays to all. Vic

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Ah, the internet. I am happy to spend hours searching, researching, and sharing ideas as I crawl through thousands of fascinating sites each week.

The Victoria & Albert Museum website seldom fails to please. Enter this interactive V&A site on Georgian wigs designed which teaches as well as encourages you and your child to create a fashion of the past. We all know about the over-the-top wigs worn by Marie Antoinette and her court. Does hyour child? The V&A gives us an opportunity to design a wig virtually and to share the results with the world. create wig

Before each step, the V&A provides some information about the zaniness of wig creations in the late 18th century. The instructions then ask you to drag out the hair to start your wig.

make wig

I came up with this. Hah! I tried a number of variations. Such fun. This would be a great teaching activity with your children. Let them go NUTS, I say.

decorate

You are then asked to decorate with the usual ornaments – a ship, a fan, feathers, jewels, flowers, bows and tassels. Go crazy! I did.

powder

Add powder in the final step, which I did not find quite as intuitive, and, voila! Your own bewigged work of art.

Could this interactive site have been more sophisticated? Oh, yes, but it’s free. Within the limitations of the site, the activity is quite informative and fun. Bring in a few paintings, caricatures, and illustrations of the day, and you’ve brought a fun history lesson into your child’s life. One can even show some modern influences.

Thibault Carron

Photographer Thibault Carron imagines what modern life would be like if our fashion was from the 18th century in this playful series And if Fashion Was…, the Montreal-based creative juxtaposes scenes from contemporary culture with a woman whose outfit and hairstyle recall a time from centuries past.

I’ve collected quite a few Marie Antoinette images on my Pinterest board, Marie Antoinette’s Hair and Other French 18th Century Inspired Fashion – Splendor during, before, and way after the French Revolution. Some images are historical, others are tongue in cheek.

As an online advent calendar gift, this V&A site can’t be beat. I hope you are all enjoying this holiday season.

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happy birthday Jane AustenJane Austen was born on a bitterly cold night on December 16, 1775.

Little is known about birthday celebrations on one’s natal day during the Regency era. Jane makes no mention of them, as far as I know, in her letters and novels. Please correct me if I am wrong. Common sense tells us that family members recognized this important day, but how? Perhaps a special meal was made and a handsome present or two were given. In Persuasion, Jane described a Christmas celebration in Uppercross, which gives us a sense of how a boisterous family celebrated an important event:

On one side was a table, occupied by some chattering girls cutting up silk and gold paper; and on the other were tressels and trays, bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies where riotous boys were holding high revel; the whole completed by a roaring Christmas fire, which seemed determined to be heard in spite of all the noise of the others.

The rich might have made more of a fuss for a loved one’s birthday – gifting a girl with a diamond brooch or a pearl pendant or the young heir with a sporty phaeton.

In celebration of Jane Austen’s 240th birthday, I’ve made a list of the gifts that people exchanged in Jane’s day, and came up with a variety of items that her family and friends might have given her:

  • Brother Edward, a plump goose and a brace of pheasants from his lands
  • Brother Charles, a gift of exotic spices and tea from the West Indies.
  • Sister Cassandra, an exquisite embroidered shawl made from fine cloth given by brother Frank.
  • Her friend, Madame Lefroy, a year’s subscription to a circulating library.
  • Brother Henry, several music sheets of songs that were the current rage in London.
  • Her mother, a clever poem in her honor, and her father, ink, goose quills, and paper for her literary pursuits.
  • Her good friend Martha, special recipes to prepare Edward’s gifts of food.

 

An other article about Jane’s birthday on this blog:

Baby Jane Austen’s First Two years: Happy 235th Birthday, Jane!

 

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I’d like to share my thoughts on two Jane Austen movies before the end of the year: Pride and Prejudice, 2005 and Clueless, 1995.

CapturePP_Clueless
Pride and Prejudice 2005 premiered in November ten years ago in the U.S.. I recall watching the film with two members of our Jane Austen book club. The three of us felt less than “whelmed.” We usually eat dinner after a movie and discuss the film in detail. I recall very little discussion other than sharing our sense of disappointment. Keira Knightley seemed too thin and modern as Lizzie. Matthew MacFadyen was no Colin Firth, not his fault, I suppose, but damning in our eyes.

PP05_icons
Ten years later, my opinion of the film has changed somewhat. I have come to appreciate that Joe Wright was trying to reach an audience much younger than the members in my book club. That he targeted his audience correctly is proven by the numerous fan clubs that sprang up around the film, the tens of thousands of creative and interesting icons that were created to represent P&P 2005 characters, the many discussion forums and blogs that dedicated reams of information about the film and its actors, and the many nominations the film received at award shows (although I find Keira Knightley’s Academy Award nomination for best actress perplexing). One cannot fault the film’s cinematography and music, which were lush and gorgeous. Has England ever looked more romantic? – its ancient, gnarled oaks, sweeping vistas, misty fields lit by rising suns, and grand houses never looked lovelier on film.

PP country

Let’s not forget that PROPOSAL scene in the rain. One cannot deny the chemistry between Keira and Matthew. Pure unrequited lust sprang off the screen.

rain scene

There was also a lovely scene in which Lizzie rotates on a swing in an archway as the seasons of the year swirled past. While this scene was short, it provided a unique visual of the passing seasons.

lizzy_jane

Finally, finally, this film delivered an actress as beautiful and sweet as the Jane Bennet of my imagination! I will be forever grateful to Joe Wright for hiring Rosamund Pike for the part and pairing her with the first true puppy-like Mr. Bingley.

Film directors are not expected to follow an author’s vision religiously. After all, film is a visual medium, whereas the author relies on words to stimulate our imaginations. BUT. Please. Did Jane Austen really mean for the Bennets to live in a moated manor house, with pigs, geese, and cattle meandering through a muddy courtyard?

darcy courtyard

While I adore Donald Sutherland as an actor, at 70 he was more suited to playing Mr. Bennet’s elderly uncle than Mrs. Bennet’s husband. He also interpreted Mr. Bennet as still having the hots for Mrs. Bennet, despite her irritating personality, a modern POV, to be sure, but surely not in keeping with what we know about Mr. Bennet’s huge disappointment with his wife’s foolishness (and with himself for choosing such a ninny)?

mr mrs bennet
While Lizzie was definitely a tomboy compared to her sisters, did she HAVE to be shown walking barefoot or slogging through the fields and dragging her hems through mud and dew so often? Austen, in demonstrating Lizzie’s loyalty to Jane, devised a scene where Lizzie walked through 3 miles of wet fields to be with her sister. This caused Miss Bingley to note with disdain that her petticoat was six inches deep in mud. The Bennets, while upper class, were not super rich. Cloth was not easily obtained or cheap. Clothes were made, remade, reused, and worked over, until the cloth became so threadbare that it was used for cleaning. So, for Lizzie to be shown muddying her hems in so many scenes makes no sense. Her gowns would need repeated washings, which, with the strong lye soaps of the day, would have degraded the cloth too quickly for practicality. She would surely have pinned her dress and train up, exposing only the petticoat, or worn a shorter day gown, as so many commoners and country folk did. Perhaps I am being too much of a stickler, but these lapses in logic affected my experience of the film the first time around and they still do.

catherine violet

One more rant. It’s become de rigueur in historical films to dress dowagers in the richly made, old-fashioned clothes of their younger years (think of Violet, the dowager countess in Downton Abbey and Judith Dench as Lady Catherine de Bourgh in this film). We get that. My mom still wears serviceable but outdated clothes from the 1980s, but can there be any excuse for dressing Miss Bingley in a nightgown for the Netherfield Ball and arranging her hair in a 1960’s updo?

caroline bingley

In my opinion, this 2-hour adaptation of a 200+ page novel falls short when compared to the 1995 six-hour P&P. In 2005, Wickham was given very short shrift, as were the younger Bennet sisters. The scenes moved too fast, though I suppose this suited director Joe Wright’s intent, since he was targeting an audience that can barely remember life before fast-paced electronic games, instant messages, and music videos.

My final beef is with the alternative American ending. Mr. Wright insulted many serious fans of classic literature across the Pond with the final dialogue between Lizzie and Darcy, which lowered their romance to the level of a Barbara Cartland novel.

 

I still don’t like P&P 2005 half as much as P&P 1995.  Yet, despite my misgivings, P&P 2005 has held up relatively well and I think younger viewers still prefer this adaptation to P&P 95. The second film on my mind is Clueless, which premiered several months ahead of Pride and Prejudice 1995 in the U.S., and which also targeted the young theater goer.

Amy Heckerling’s 90’s take on Jane’s meddlesome Emma is as fresh and funny today as it was then. It’s hard to choose which is more ridiculous: the slang of the 90’s valley girl airheads,  the over-the-top fashions, the conspicuous consumption of LA teen culture, the banality of Cher’s high school education, the immature boyfriends, or the neutered adults.

Who can forget Cher’s mugging, where she resists lying down on the ground in her designer outfit, even with a gun to her head? Or how Heckerling turned Frank Churchill into Christian, a disco-dancing, Oscar-Wilde-reading, Streisand-ticket-holding-friend-of-Dorothy cake boy?

cher and christian at the mall

As Dion reminds Cher, “He does like to shop and the boy can dress.” Cher’s classic reply to Christian’s being gay? “Oh, my God, I’m totally buggin’!” Then there’s the girls’ inability to drive in LA, where driving is as essential as breathing. Those scenes are still classic and not to be missed.

Amy Heckerling did a smart thing in reinterpreting Emma. She brought Jane’s heroine over to California and gave her a different name, and moved her from a dull, country town and dropped her in the center of Beverley Hills, the Mecca for consumption-driven materialists.

Like Emma, Cher is motherless. Whereas Emma’s mama died a natural death, Cher’s mom died from the complications of liposuction on a plastic surgeon’s table. Both Cher and Emma are rich, bored, and meddlesome. Cher babies her father, much as Emma caters to Mr. Woodhouse. In Clueless, Cher’s father, a lawyer, is more dynamic than Mr. Woodhouse. One senses that he tolerates Cher’s mothering more than needs it. The love between them is palpable, and Cher’s kindness to one and all is genuine and sweet. These traits save her shallow character.

There are many similarities between the Emma characters and Clueless characters, and it’s fun to guess in the film who is who. You can tell from my excited tone how much I like this cinematic take of Emma. Clueless is a broad satire that seldom delves below the surface. The film is a feel good movie designed to give the viewer a rollicking good time.

Clueless has the same energy, sense of fun, and satiric take on human foibles as Jane Austen’s Juvenilia. I wonder if Amy Heckerling, having lumbered through all 400+ pages of Emma, turned to Jane’s juvenile stories for inspiration? They are filled with zany plots and joie de vivre. I wonder if she decided to meld the boisterous tone of Jane’s youthful stories with the more layered and complex plot of Emma. Meld? I think not. I think Amy gleefully tossed Emma’s subtext aside in favor of a bit of fun.

I am curious, gentle readers, about your take on both films. Do you agree or disagree with my assessments? Please let me know.

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