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Archive for the ‘Masterpiece Classic’ Category

Inquiring readers,

We have reached episode four of Andrew Davies’ eight-episode mini-series on PBS Masterpiece.  Mr. Davies is a master cinematic storyteller.  Austen told her stories through words, while Davies takes advantage of showing dress, customs, manners, and settings visually.

The challenge in adapting the novel for a film is how to stay true to the source as you proceed to bend it into the medium of film. The first thing to consider is adapting prose to dramatic writing and the limitations of the screenplay format.” – Adaptation: From Novel to Film, by Judy Sandra, 27 November, 2017. Downloaded 1-25-20 @ https://www.raindance.org/adaptation-novel-film/

By episode four, Davies’ cinematic adaptation of Sanditon has strayed from Austen land and into Georgette Heyer territory. Not that this is a bad thing and it explains why so many Austen fans love his interpretation of Jane’s incomplete novel.

Image of Some of Vic's Georgette Heyer books in her collection.

Some of Vic’s Georgette Heyer books in her collection.

At 19 years of age, after reading Austen’s six novels, I wanted to read more Regency romance between heroes and heroines sparring verbally with wit and daring. I quenched my thirst by devouring all of Georgette Heyer’s delightful novels, even her mysteries.  Heyer knew the Regency and Georgian eras intimately. She and her husband lived in Mayfair, the London setting of so many of her books. Her details were historically accurate, and, best of all, she was a prolific writer. Heyer’s novels, set mostly in the highest circles of society, were as exciting as they were delightful. They were funny and romantic and brought the Regency era alive through her detailed descriptions and historical content.

Heyer’s best novelsThe Grand Sophy, Frederica, Venetia, Sylvester, Arabella (my first introduction to her work), The Corinthian, The Reluctant Widow described in great detail Regency customs, male and female fashions, social interactions (such as the use of calling cards), descriptions of White’s Club or Almack’s, Bow Street Runners, 19th century inventions, and all the minutia that Austen rarely bothered to mention. Through her sparkling stories, Heyer appeased my youthful cravings to inform me about Jane Austen’s regency world. Her often crazy plots offered pure escapism.

In a review of Heyer’s biography by Jennifer Kloester (which I also own), Rachel Cooke writes:

If you want fun – if you want elopements and quadrilles, velvet britches and sprig muslin gowns – you will have to go back to the novels, still in print, and still the greatest and most surprising of pleasures.

After viewing four episodes of Andrew Davies’ adaptation of Sanditon, I am reminded more of a Georgette Heyer plot (with added sex) than Austen’s unfinished manuscript. Which is OK. The melodrama makes for great television.

It just isn’t Austen.

Do you agree? Or not? Both opinions are welcome on this blog. Please feel free to leave your comments or take the poll:

Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen, Linnet Moss, May 2017. Downloaded: January 25, 2020:
Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen

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The anticipation is over for American fans. PBS has aired the first two-hour installment of Downton Abbey Season 3 and we have had 6 days to digest the goings on of the Crawleys, their friends, relatives and spouses. All week people have been asking me: What are your thoughts?

Credit: Courtesy of © Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Let me confess, I saw the entire series before Christmas and have since dithered. How to review a program that contains a minefield of plot spoilers? I decided to share my thoughts one week at a time. So, without further ado, I’ll break down the first 120 minutes.

Shirley Maclaine as Martha Levinson

Credit: Courtesy of © Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

I salivated, I yearned, I couldn’t wait for Shirley’s appearance KNOWING that she would be Maggie Smith’s equal in retorts and sarcasm. Boy, was I wrong. My dreams of epic verbal sparring between two battle axes were dashed, leaving me feeling as flat as a bottle of Champagne left open for too long. The best line was Martha’s opening salvo when she first sees Violet:

Martha: “Oh dear, I’m afraid the war has made old women of us both.”
Violet: “Oh, I wouldn’t say that – but then, I always keep out of the sun.

I expected more zingers between these two characters, but alas they were few and far between. Martha is a brash American who wears her fortune on her person and looks a bit too newly-minted. She also apes her youngers in dress and fashion, a species whom Violet refuses to acknowledge as her sartorial betters.

Martha lacks proper manners, and here is where the Brit writers got her wrong, for Martha lives in Newport, Rhode Island, one of the snobbiest enclaves for the rich in early 20th century America. As Edith Wharton so brilliantly attested in her novels, there is nothing snobbier than a New York/New England socialite. A nouveau riche American trying to make a dent in that upper strata would have to learn to behave. Martha might be gauche and her money might be fresher than yesterday’s salmon, but she would have known about proper etiquette and manners, make no mistake about that.

My biggest surprise was Shirley’s physical presence. Maggie looms large in every scene, whereas Shirley’s hunched figure seemed diminished in contrast to Maggie’s stiff upper lip and upright posture. Worse, there was no connection between Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) and Martha (Shirley). The viewer was left to wonder about the back story between mother and daughter. A short but marvelously written scene could have given us insight as to what makes Cora tick, but this never happened. An opportunity lost? You betcha.

Sad violin music for Bates and Anna

Credit: Courtesy of © Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

As a member of Team Bates I’ve had enough! Will someone please break Bates out of prison before I start rooting for Thomas? I’m sick of watching Anna and Bates making moon eyes at each other across a prison table. Anna does show some moxie in that she’s determined to sleuth in order to free her man. And who knew that Bates could be so ruthless with his cell mate? No patsy he! Still … I yearn to see Bates and his Anna in a more uplifting story line and it isn’t happening anytime soon.

The dissolution of the finest villanous couple in PBS history

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

I’m at a loss for words. Who’d have thunk that the writers would mess with Thomas and O’Brien? I never thought of them as separate entities but as ThomasanObrien. They were always plotting in back corridors as we watched in glee. The reason for their estrangement is so piddly it’s barely worth a mention. Thomas is worried about keeping his job at Downton Abbey and O’Brien’s wants to promote her too tall nephew to footman. THAT’s the conflict. It’s llike asking circus lions to perform a kitten’s trick, or akin to morphing The Clash of the Titans into a bitch fight at a “Real Housewives” party.

The truncated wedding of Mary and Matthew

If you blinked at the wrong time you might have thought that you time travelled. One moment Matthew is making goo goo eyes at his bride at the altar and in the next they are dashing around the countryside in an automobile. No I do’s. No kisses. No tossing of rice, and no cavorting under the sheets in wedded bliss. When the wedding scene was cut short, a gasp went around the room (7 of us viewed the first episode together) and then we shouted – “We wuz robbed!” Anna and the viewers do get a glimpse of Mary and Matthew in bed — much much later. All I could think was: “What if Anna had walked into the room while they were doing IT?” To paraphrase Cher Horowitz in Clueless – “Ewwww.”

Lady Edith, shameless hussy

World War One and influenza did more to reduce Europe’s male population than untold centuries of starvation, hunting accidents, duels, or bar brawls ever did. After 1918, there were a gazillion fertile young women for every man. No wonder Lady Edith set her sight, hooks, and clamps upon Sir Anthony Strallan. While considerably older than the nubile Edith, he’s not all that decrepit a specimen of British aristocratic manhood. He still has his teeth and hair, and can offer her a fine house. While one of his hands can no longer do the job for which it was intended, the other can still unhook Lady Edith’s underthings if Sir Anthony so desired. What else would a young lady of breeding age want? With her biological clock ticking and her eggs shriveling by the minute (and with nothing much else to do), Edith hones in on Sir Anthony like a heat seeking missile, which makes Papa Crawley’s innards crawl The viewer is asked to wonder why, since historically young aristocratic British maidens were SACRIFICED on the altar of land and wealth with nary a blink of an eye by their doting papas.

Tom Branson and his Sybil

Credit: Courtesy of © Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Our former chauffeur turned newspaperman wears ill-fitting suits and cannot let go of his political fervor even at the dinner table. The servants sniff and snort within his vicinity, unable to withhold their disdain for a man who married his BETTER. The servants resort to the tools they know best to put him in his place. When serving him at table, the footmen hold platters of food too high or low for comfort, or for too short a time. Others sling sideway looks and lift their noses as if smelling a putrid excrescence. Violet shows much more tolerance towards Branson, for in her book he has become FAMILY.

As for Saint Sybil, she’s turned into the invisible woman. Branson leaves her in danger in Ireland to save his own hide, and when she finally shows up at the Abbey, she’s pregnant, dowdy, and all but mute. What’s happened to our feisty miss? I’m not feeling her this season and apparently she’s not feeling it either..

Violet, the Inviolate

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Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

In this instance the writers have not messed with perfection. Either that or Maggie Smith is able to rise above hasty script writing. She’s given fewer zingers this go-round, but every utterance is platinum in my book. Do not criticize my Maggie or you will be banished from my blog forever.

In Conclusion

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Let’s face it, the first episode is off to a slow start. The writers are juggling too many story lines, but the main problem with season three is the lack of real conflict. Season One featured the sinking of the Titanic, which killed off Downton’s heir, and Season Two played against the backdrop of World War One. The only thing Season Three has going for it thus far is that the earl has lost Cora’s money out of sheer stupidity by investing all of it in one railway, and that Matthew refuses to save the day with Lavinia’s dead daddy’s money because of his tiresome high-mindedness about having let Lavinia down. Mary’s still willing to marry him and not pull a Clytemnestra, which boggles the mind. Meanwhile, as Daddy Crawley is forced to contemplate selling his books and his beloved dog Isis, and firing all the servants in order to make ends meet, his daughter Mary is spending money on her trousseau like no tomorrow.

Credit: Courtesy of © Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

With tepid fare like this, the 120 minutes seemed to drag on. At the end of the first episode, I sang in my best Peggy Lee voice, “Is that all there is?” Well, no. There is more to come and the season does gain momentum. There will be plot twists and turns that will leave viewers stupefied, howling with grief and laughter, or wanting more. Too bad that the first episode barely hinted at the drama to come.

I did a quick survey among friends and colleagues this week and tallied up the scores. Half the people I talked to loved the first episode, the others felt like me. All were let down by Shirley MacLain’s performance, except for one. The best line regarding saving Downton Abbey from bankruptcy came from Market Watch, which asked: “Desperate times call for desperate measures. If you were Earl and Countess of Grantham, what would you do?” One person answered, “I say buy life insurance on Mary and knock her off. Ghastly woman.”

Hah!

Please, in your comments, NO plot spoilers.

The New York Times has an interesting take on the phenomenon that is Downton Abbey

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From the moment the new adaptation of Great Expectations opened, viewers knew that this was not going to be their grand daddy’s sentimental interpretation of Charles Dickens’ classic. I struggled with how to review this PBS special, which aired last night, and realized that I could only do it through visuals. In the first 15 minutes, with very little dialogue, cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister captures the essence of Pip’s bleak life and visually sets up the rest of the plot. (Problems with the coloration of the screen captures must be blamed on my poor photo editing skills, not the cinematographer’s!) If you missed the first episode, you can watch it online until May 1.

Like some preternatural creature, Magwitch rises from the marsh waters. One of the ships in the background is the prison ship from which he escaped.

It is said that Ray Winstone has always wanted to play Magwitch

These scenes were shot in Tollesbury Wick Marshes in Essex, known for its wildlife. The fog adds to the sense of isolation.

Sketch of the church on the marsh. David Roger, production designer. Image @PBS Masterpiece Great Expectations. How much of these scenes were due to CG design?

Our first view of Pip (Oscar Kennedy) is at his parent's graveside. The smaller stones represent his dead siblings. "There were five of us," he told Miss Havisham sadly. So far, other than the booming of the ship's cannon, not a word has been said.

Pip should have been mortally scared of Magwitch and never come near him again. There is nothing pretty about their first encounter.

Pip's run to the Forge, where he lives with his sister and her husband, Joe Gargery, shows how isolated this section of the country is - flat, with few landmarks on the horizon. It would be nearly impossible for Magwitch to find a hiding place.

Orlick (Jack Roth)is Joe Gargery's assistant and no friend of Pip's. In this scene he almost looked like a zombie appearing through the mists. His encounter with the boy as he runs home to find a file for Magwitch is filled with hate and jealousy on Orlick's side, and dread on Pip's. It sets a malevolent tone to an already edgy opening.

The Forge is little more than a hovel.

This scene is quiet and pivotal. For many precious moments, Magwitch does not speak or move when he understands what Pip is offering him. Knowing how harsh Pip's life is, I too was moved by the boy's generosity.

The marsh lands through Florian Hoffmeister's lens are harsh and unforgiving. Magwitch can only cling under the platforms in the muck, but he will have no place to go when the tide rises.

This fight in the muck was elemental. I flinched as I watched this. At this point we are only 10 or 12 minutes into the film and I could not pull my eyes away.

Magwitch is caught, covered with mud and blood, yet still defiant. It is obvious that he has the grit, determination, and ingenuity to escape again.

In all these early scenes, only Joe Gargery (Shaun Dooley) shows Pip genuine love, concern, and kindness. His steady support of Pip provides the only real stability in the young boy's life.

The travelers journey through what seems to be a flat, bleak land. As observers of wildlife know, marshes teem with life, offering food for scores of creatures, both transient and permanent.

The two travelers are mere specks in this vast landscape. It would seem to be a perfect dystopian setting for The Hunger Games.

My next visual review will take us into Miss Havisham’s house. Great Expectations, 2011 was directed by Brian Kirk and adapted for the screen by writer Sarah Phelps. The cinematographer was Florian Hoffmeister and the production designer was David Roger. I commend them all for setting the stage so well for Pip’s story. Young Oscar Kennedy plays a compelling young Pip who stirred my heart strings.

Read the fabulous interview with production designer David Roger at this link.

The following links describe the Tollesbury Wick Marshes in Essex.

Google map of Tollesbury marshes

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Only two days remain to watch Downton Abbey Season 2 on PBS’s website. The online feature ends on March 6th. If you have a Netflix membership, you can watch Season 1 on streaming video.

Netflix page for Downton Abbey Season 1

Season 3 is being filmed as I type. Once again we have to wait 10 anxious months before seeing the results.

Several questions were sent in by readers about Lady Mary and Pamuk. Perhaps readers can help answer these particulars.

Reader #1:

1) The whole plot revolves around Lady Mary not defending herself so it’s a mystery. WHY does she not defend herself? Pamuk said he would expose her if she didn’t let him have his way with her, and she never tells anyone that. So, she couldn’t even scream him off.

2) How did Pamuk learn where Lady Marys room was? No one asks her and that’s strange. We know that rat Thomas told him after threat of exposure from his peccadillo, but the plot should have someone asking.

Reader #2:

I still have two questions:

1) How did Pamuk convince Mary she would “still be a virgin”?

2) Why was Mary so hesitant to accept Matthew even prior to the news of her Mother’s pregnancy if she loved him? Was it that she couldn’t find the way to explain Pamuk’s death?

Do you have other questions that still remain unanswered?

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Gentle Readers: Amanda Millay on New Noblewoman has found modern fashions inspired by Downton Abbey. She has graciously allowed me to reproduce her article for this blog. It will lead you to her blog, The New Noblewoman, which features all things fashion.

Downton Abbey is not just successful as good entertainment. Women everywhere are clamoring for clothing inspired by the show, and finding that modern-day retail wear is not even as pretty as the show’s most simple dresses.

The longing for Downton Abbey-inspired fashions, and the very few options available at the retail level, indicate that a change is needed in women’s fashion. Most women can’t afford a $1,000 dress, and designers and manufacturers will continue to make cheap, ugly, throwaway clothing until people stop buying it. But there is one option remaining for turning the fashion tide: Making or buying only top-quality, beautiful clothes, and making do with a limited wardrobe . . . like most people did for centuries. We should bring the emphasis in fashion back to having a few quality items, rather than amassing a huge quantity of synthetic items that we grow weary of or that go out of style after a few months. Women are already realizing this, and have started searching out homemade clothing (and making their own) in the quest to bring some true style back into fashion.

So can women today find anything that’s comparable to Downton Abbey fashion (without making it, or wearing an evening gown during the day)? I’ve scoured online women’s boutiques and department stores, and after looking through thousands of dresses, here are the best options I’ve found for Downton Abbey-inspired style. There are some great dresses at exorbitant prices, but in this list, everything is less than $200.

(If you’re looking for authentic vintage style, check out the Ladies Emporium,Recollections, Etsy, or this list of retailers from Sense & Sensibility Patterns.)

Long Dresses for a Look That’s Casual or Elegant

The ladies of Downton Abbey are usually dressed to impress. But it’s possible to find empire-waist dresses and long dresses in a variety of styles that have a bit of pre-World War I British flair. Click here for the rest of the article on New Noblewoman.

Other links:

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Twists and turns keep the plot of Downton Abbey rolling. One twist was unsurprising – the arrival of Spanish flu just as the war was winding down. The flu pandemic that swept around the world and killed an estimated 40 million people (some scientists estimate that as many as 100 million died globally) in three waves in 1918,  1919, and 1920 spread quickly via troop movements and global transportation. One major problem in containing the pandemic was that in 1918 governments were primarily concerned with the war and were caught flat-footed in containing the pandemic when it struck. The first wave of the pandemic was the most deadly.

Flu pandemic image @Wikipedia

Flu pandemic image @Wikipedia

The Spanish flu resulted in a particularly virulent and lethal pandemic. At the time people did not yet understand how flu was spread or how to take precautions against it. All they could do was stay indoors and wear masks when venturing outside. Two age groups that were especially susceptible were babies less than a year old and healthy young adults between the ages of 15 and 35. The flu usually killed the very young and the very old, but this virus strain attacked teens and young adults with robust immune systems. Immune cells were activated by the virus, increasing the number of immune cells circulating in the blood and overwhelming the lungs with fluids.

Healthy young adults essentially drowned from within. Some patients died only a few hours after their first symptoms appeared; others died in a matter of days. Patients would turn blue, suffocating from a lack of oxygen as lungs filled with a frothy, bloody substance.

In the US, twenty five percent of the population was afflicted by the flu. More remarkably, in only one year the average life expectancy in the U.S. dropped by 12%.

As happened in real life, a number of Downton Abbey’s inhabitants contracted the flu. Some survived and others did not. Edwardian Promenade has written a more detailed account on this topic.

Please note: Advertisements on this blog are placed here by WordPress. I make no money from this blog.

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A good reviewer is not supposed to give the game away early, but I can’t help but gush: If you haven’t seen Any Human Heart when it aired on PBS, you will have an opportunity to watch the episodes online the Monday after its initial showing, from Feb 14 to March 22, and two more weeks to catch the last two episodes on screen (February 20 & February 27).

Some critics have dismissed this mini-series as another Forrest Gump story, wherein the fictional hero moves through the 20th century and rubs shoulders with famous people. I can assure you that this is the only trait that these two movies have in common, for one is filmed from the perspective of magic realism and the other is a gritty view of a man’s life and his failures and successes. I began to watch the first episode of Any Human Heart when I had the time to view the DVD from start to end. I was glad that I had five free hours, for I could not stop watching it. The opening credits had a similar feel to the opening of Mad Men, which clued me in that this mini-series would not offer a one-note plot (I have not read William Boyd’s book, but intend to), and that cigarettes would be used as a prop. I was right.

We meet Logan Mountstuart almost immediately in all of his personifications (in misty watercolor memories) – from childhood,

Conor Nealon as Logan Mountstuart, youth

to young man,

Sam Claflin as Logan Mounstuart, young man

to mature man,

Matthew MacFadyen as Logan, mature man

to an old man reminiscing about his life.

Jim Broadbent as an old Logan

“I’m all these different people,” he thinks as the camera pans to a misty scene of a river bank. “Which life is truly mine?”

The three Logans on the river bank

Logan rummages through the detritus of his life, burning memories (much as Cassandra Austen burned her sister Jane’s letters) and looking over his journals. “Your past never leaves you,” he says early on.

Burning memories

There are many reasons to watch Any Human Heart, not the least of which are the performances.

Matthew MacFadyen


Logan is a flawed, egotistical man whose ambition to write his great novel eludes him. Too often he is ruled by his heart, not his head, and he is easily influenced by external events and his own and other peoples’ desires. Matthew captures this man perfectly. We see him happy and content only with Freya.

Freya (Haley Atwell) and Logan

For the rest of his life he compromises, and it becomes a struggle. Not that his love story with Freya is without fault, for Logan leaves his wife and son to be with her. I am a child of divorce whose father never bothered to come and visit, and so I thought myself incapable of feeling much empathy for a man who abandons his son and sleeps with his friend’s girlfriend and wife, but Matthew MacFadyen’s performance had me riveted.

End of Logan's first marriage with wife #1, Lottie (Emerald Fennell)

Logan’s character is complex, and Matthew portrays all his shades in such a way that, although I found Logan’s actions often repellent, I also felt sorry for the choices he made and how the plans of his youth unraveled. “Life has to be encountered with an ignorance of sheer faith.” Ah, Logan.

Jim Broadbent

During the first two episodes, Broadbent’s role as Logan in old age is largely silent, but in this actor’s skilled hands, the viewer knows exactly what is happening and why.

Mature Logan (Jim Broadbent) in France

When Broadbent finally takes center stage in the third episode, the final chapter of Logan’s life is told. Now old and bent and poor again (for his assignments as a reporter have dried up), he has taken to eating dog food to stay alive and selling newspapers for a radical group.

Logan selling radical newspapers

The older Logan reviews his life through the lens of knowledge and experience, and what he sees and remembers makes him wince. “We never stay the same person. We change as we grow older. It’s part of the story of our life.”

Gillian Anderson

With The King’s Speech up for a gazillion awards, this is a propitious time to portray Wallis Simpson, and Gillian has taken on the part with gusto.

Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor

Gillian Anderson as Wallis Simpson

Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard

At any moment I expected her to morph into Gloria Swanson and say “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my closeup” or perhaps Morticia, I can’t decide. Not a single person in my social group admires Wallis Simpson, for her reputation as a sexual predator and icy fashionista, and knowledge of her dominatrix control over David have preceded her. Neither the Duchess nor Duke of Windsor come off well in this production.

Wallis spies Logan at a gathering and spews venom

The viewer can think of their story line as Chapter 2, after David abdicated as king in The King’s Speech. As for Gillian, she is carving out quite a career for herself in these spectacular BBC and PBS dramas, and I can’t wait to see more from her. Her performance in this series is over-the-top dramatic, but then wasn’t Wallis herself?

Kim Cattrall

The same goes for Kim, who has recently been flexing her acting muscles onstage in London and in substantial parts such as My Boy Jack and as Gloria Scabalius in this production. She (and Gillian for that matter) show no vanity, allowing themselves to be filmed with makeup that is too white and heavy, as middle aged women who were once beautiful are often wont to do, and play the parts of cougars.

Kim Cattrall as Gloria Scabius, predatory female

In Kim’s case this is literal, as her character, Gloria, has the habit of leaving her mark on her men. She cheats on her husband (Peter Scabius, Logan’s friend), and goes after Logan like a heat-seeking missile.

Kim as Gloria in full cougar regalia

Her final scenes with Logan are full of pathos. (I could not help but think of an ailing Liz Taylor or Zsa Zsa Gabor.) Perhaps Kim will shrug off the bad after effects of that excruciatingly awful film, Sex in the City 2, and accept only meatier roles from now on.

Tom Hollander

Gillian Anderson as Wallis and Tom Hollander as the Duke of Windsor, who needs reminding that he has met Logan before.

You just have to love an actor who is willing to play a weak, self-indulgent, and dangerous man, and capture that personality to a tee. Tom Hollander’s performance as The Duke of Windsor personifies what I think of the former king. As a teenager I read several biographies about the Windsors, thinking like so many others that the king’s willingness to abdicate his throne for the woman he loved was romantic. Well, it was not.

The odd, self-important couple in Nassau.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor toadying up to Adolph Hitler

In this series we see the Windsors for what they are: willing to ruin other peoples’ lives and to use others in order to maintain their self-important but insignificant status. They were stupid and dangerous snobs who hobnobbed with carpet baggers, the nouveau riche and dangerous factions. Tom Hollander portrays the duke as a mighty mite, and he does it perfectly.

Haley Atwell

Haley Atwell as Freya Deverell, Logan's wife #2

One can believe that a man can lose his head, senses, and heart to a woman as beautiful as Freya (Haley). She’s smart, totally in love with her man, and too good to be true. Plus, she smokes as much as Logan. (Some of the scenes were so Bette-Davis-1930’s, where the man offers to light the woman’s cigarette, and so much can be said cinematically through the gestures of a cupped hand touching the other and looks of longing behind curtains of smoke.)

Logan meets Freya, a smoking hot newspaper woman

I don’t think I have ever seen an actress look lovelier in 1940’s dresses than Haley, and in this role she is the personification of Logan’s idea of a perfect woman. As he said,  “Time away from Freya is time lost forever.”

Charity Wakefield as Land Fothergill (Logan's first love) and Sam Claflin as young Logan

The cast of Any Human Heart is so strong that I could continue gushing for another hour. I suppose this mini-series might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I certainly will be watching it again. Simply put, I found it outstanding.

Tess (Holliday Grainger), Logan's first lover

Emerald Fennell as Lottie, Logan's first wife

Natasha Little as Allanah Mountstuart, Logan's 3rd wife

Logan, Gloria, and Lionel, Logan's son (Hugh Skinner)

Tobias Menzies as Ian Fleming

Julian Ovenden as Ernest Hemingway

Samuel West as Peter Scabius, Logan's successful friend

More on the topic:

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Highclere Castle as Downton Abbey was a beautiful setting

Now that the last episode of Downton Abbey has aired, I can reflect back on the series and revisit some of the most surprising scenes. Indeed, the unexpected plot developments, which kept the viewers on their toes,  helped to make this series so unforgettable. Throw luscious costumes into the mix, stunning locations, a wealth of detail about Edwardian life, and great acting and you get one of the best costume dramas in recent years. Oh, the series had its faults with one or two too many stereotypical characters, but overall I give it a grade of A.

Reader alert: Spoilers!!

Surprise #1: Thomas kisses the Duke

Thomas (Rob James-Colier) and the Duke of Crowborough (Charley Cox)

This scene, which upset parents watching with their children, helped to seal the character of Thomas, the first footman, and clued the viewer into the the Duke’s motives for hightailing it to Downton Abbey when he thinks Mary will come into a boatload of money.

The duke learns the true situation of Lady Mary's finances from Lord Grantham.

The Duke finds and burns Thomas’s letters, which were the footman’s only means of blackmailing him, and then he scurries away the moment he discovers that Lord Grantham’s estate is entailed to the closest male heir, making his chance to marry into the Grantham fortune less than zero. Thomas goes on to demonstrate his sleazy character in many more ways, but his move on the Duke packed a real punch.

Surprise #2: Lady Mary is not just another cookie cutter heroine

Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley

From the moment we meet her, Lady Mary comes off as a cold, calculating, and complex woman, whose vulnerability does not come into full view until the third episode. When the viewer meets her, she worries about having to wear black after the death of her fiance on the Titanic and only mourns the fact that she cannot mourn him. Haughty and immodestly aware of her attraction to men, her pursuit of a wealthy and titled husband begins to take on a hint of desperation, which is why her fall from grace with Evelyn Napier’s attractive Turkish friend, Kemal Pamuk (Theo James), is even more shocking.

Surprise #3: Lady Mary, Lady Cora, and Anna share a terrible secret that cannot be contained

Lady Mary is in deep trouble after Pamuk dies in her bed.

The scene in which Pamuk dies in Lady Mary’s bed and the women secretly carry him back to his bedroom could have descended into slapstick comedy, but it did not due to great directing and acting. As I watched, I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or whoop it up. All I knew was that in no way did I anticipate this plot development, which would affect Mary’s story arc and uneasy relationship with her mother for the rest of the mini-series.

Consequences of Lady Mary's fall from grace. Anna and Cora carry Pamuk back to the bedroom.

Handsome Pamuk is reduced to a limp corpse. And Mary? What on earth was she thinking? When Matthew finally proposes, Cora reveals to Violet that Mary wants to confess about the circumstances of Pamuk’s death, prompting the dowager to exclaim:  “She reads too many novels. One way or the other, everyone goes down the aisle with half the story hidden!”

Surprise #4: The Enjoyable Saga of One Upmanship Between Two Well-Matched Battle Axes

Violet, the dowager countess (Maggie Smith) and Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton), Matthew's mama

Violet and Isobel: Two strong-willed women, both firm in their belief that they are right, one with modern notions, the other clinging to old-fashioned ways, provide a colorful but minor story line. Isobel Crawley, despite her comparative lack of social status (when matched against the Dowager Countess), manages to make her will known and felt. Violet can only sputter and rage at Isobel’s interference, and she finds scant satisfaction in proving Isobel’s diagnosis and treatment of Molesley’s skin condition wrong. But Isobel was not born yesterday, and at the Flowershow Death Match she shames Violet into giving the trophy for best roses to Molesley’s papa, instead of appropriating it as her own for the umpteenth time.

Violet graciously gives this year's prize to old Mr. Molesley.

In their scenes together,  Penelope Wilton  gave the incomparable Maggie Smith a run for her money. The enjoyable interplay between these two marvelous actresses was as surprising as it was worth watching.

Surprise #5: Cora’s Pregnancy

Lord Grantham's surprise at learning of Cora's pregnancy. (Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern)

Did you see this scene coming? I did not, although it made sense, for this unexpected pregnancy explains much about the entail and why Matthew Crawley was only the presumptive heir and therefore essentially helpless in changing his situation. As long as the earl could possibly sire a son, Matthew’s claim to the inheritance would remain tenuous. The entail could not be broken for the Grantham was still  a healthy and virile man, as this scene shows. The pregnancy led us to discover…

Surprise #6:  O’Brien’s True Malevolent Impulses

Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) holds the fatal bar of soap

O'Brien shoves the bar of soap in harm's way.

Cora’s fatal flaw was in thinking that she and O’Brien had developed a mutual friendship and trust. While Cora receives glimpses of O’Brien’s true character, she never fully understood the anger and insecurity that her ladies maid harbored. O’Brien’s pang of conscience about shoving the broken half of the bar of soap from under the bath tub came too late, and Cora slipped and fell, losing the male heir that she and Lord Grantham so desperately wanted.  O’Brien’s dark impulse was for naught. Cora wasn’t actively looking to replace her, but only helping her mother-in-law in hiring a new ladies maid. This surprising news hit the viewer at the same time as it did O’Brien.

O’Brien’s momentary second thought comes too late. (Siobhan Finneran)

Surprise #8: The Spiteful Tug of War Between Two Sisters

Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) realizes that her sister Mary was behind Lord Strallan's cool departure.

At first the viewer felt a great deal of sympathy towards plain Lady Edith, who was only to happy to go after Lady Mary’s leavings. But as the mini-series progressed, the viewer came to understand just how much animosity the two women felt towards one another and how far they would go to extract their revenge, Lady Edith writing the Turkish embassy about Mary’s part in Pamuk’s death, and Lady Mary sabotaging Lady Edith’s happiness with Sir Anthony Strallan, who was about to propose.

Lady Mary salutes her triumph over Lady Edith.

In the end, neither sister came up smelling like a rose. The surprise was that their story line was written so well that many viewers came away feeling sympathy towards both women.

Surprise #9: Lady Sybil’s Firm Stance Behind Women’s Rights

Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown-Findlay) urges Gwen (Rose Leslie) to keep trying to find a job as a secretary

Lady Sybil’s story arc did not truly begin until the second episode and reached its full glory in episode four, when she is struck during an election rally and is carried from the scene bleeding.

Matthew Crawley and Lady Sybil at the election rally

A smart, independent, and kind woman, one can only hope that Lady Sybil’s character gains traction in the second series that is currently being filmed. The surprise here is that quiet, sweet Lady Sybil is truly the most daring and courageous of the three sisters. Jessica Brown-Findlay has true star status, and any time she came on the small screen, she lit it up.

Lady Sybil's daring new harem pants.

 

The family reacts to Lady Sybil's harem pants. Priceless.

Surprise #10: The ending

 

Lord Grantham, "I regret to announce we are at war with Germany."

Obviously a second series is in the works, for the story line is left hanging. World War I has broken out, causing consternation among the group.

Matthew refuses Lady Mary's acceptance of his proposal after her baby brother's death, and vows to leave Downton Abbey to make his own way.

Lady Mary accepts Matthew’s proposal, but he refuses her, unsure of whether the baby’s death had anything to do with her acceptance, and he declares his intention to leave Downton Abbey and make his own way in the world. Lady Mary, in a Scarlet O’Hara moment, realizes too late that she waited too long to accept Matthew.

Lady Mary understands she has made a mistake in waiting so long to accept Matthew's proposal.

Bates,  who cares for Anna as much as she cares for him, refuses to discuss his wife’s whereabouts with her.

Bates (Brendan Coyle) and Anna (Joanne Froggat) find themselves in the throes of bittersweet love.

And so, the viewer must wait an entire year to see what will happen to the characters in Downton Abbey, testing our patience sorely.

None too soon, Thomas announces his resignation to Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes

In addition to my ten choices, there were other surprises and great story arcs in Downton Abbey: Cook’s failing eyesight and the operation that saved it, Daisy’s blindness towards Thomas’s true character, which leads her to lie,

Daisy is haunted by what she saw in the corridor and her lies about Bates.

Mrs. Hughes’s longing for her own family, which made her momentarily receptive to an old flame’s advances, and Mr. Carson’s past as a performer, of which he is ashamed.

Mrs. Hughes says no to Joe, an old flame (Bill Fellows).

For those of you who missed certain episodes or who would like to watch the series again, PBS has made it available for online viewing until February 22. DVD’s are also available for sale.

My question to you is this: Of all the characters and story lines, which was your favorite? Please feel free to leave a comment.

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Matthew Crawley and Lady Mary stroll through the town, Episode 3

While it is popularly known that the interior and exterior scenes of Downton Abbey were filmed in Highclere Castle, the market town of Brampton, where the scenes of the town were shot, is not so well known. Bampton is located in Oxfordshire and was chosen because “the village provided an authentic backdrop close to London.”*

Matthew (Dan Stevens) and Mrs. Crawley (Penelope Wilton) arrive in their new home

Yesterday, villagers gathered outside St Mary’s Church to watch Penelope Wilton, who plays Mrs Reginald Crawley, and Dan Stevens, who plays her son Matthew Crawley, arriving at the family home.

Ms Wilton said: “This is one of the prettiest villages I have ever been to. It feels like living in a timewarp.”*

The film crew was not able to hide all 21st century influences. Notice the t.v. arial

 

Drama as Modern Life Intrudes in Hit TV Show discusses the difficulty of filming a period movie in a location, and viewers “have spotted a TV aerial on a roof, electricity pylons, a modern conservatory and double yellow lines on a road.” One villager remarked, “nothing is ever perfect.”

Bampton (St. Mary's Church in the background), 1965. Image @Francis Frith

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Inquiring reader: Sit back, relax, and grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine! This is a long post about foxhunting. (Note: because of the helpful suggestions from equestrian readers, crucial edits have been made.)

Downton Abbey (Highclere Castle) and the start of the hunt

The fox hunting scenes in PBS Masterpiece Classic’s Downton Abbey fascinated me and prompted me to ask: How accurate was the depiction of this sport? Aside from the fashions, how different was fox hunting in the Edwardian era from the Regency era? And what happened to that wily fox, whose odds of escaping a score of determined hunters and a pack of excited hounds must have been close to zero? Or were they? My research uncovered a few interesting bits of information:

Hounds milling before the hunt. Notice William with refreshments. Downton Abbey

Description of the Hunt:

In 1910, 350 hunts existed in Britain, almost twice as many as today. Foxhunting was one of the few country sports in which women played an active role. It had become so popular that foxes were even imported from Europe to meet demand. The anti-hunt movement was a fledgling organisation concerned largely with horse beating and vivisection. For the vast majority, fox-hunting was seen as a harmless and ancient tradition. – Manor House

Before the start of an Edwardian hunt. Image @The Antique Horse

The Master will sound his horn and he and the hounds will take off on the hunt. Everyone else follows. The hounds are cast or let into coverts, which are rough brush areas of undergrowth where foxes often lay in hiding during the day. Sometimes the huntsmen must move from covert to covert, recasting the hounds until a scent is discovered. Once the hounds pick up the scent of a fox, they give tongue. The hounds will trail and track for as long as possible. Either the fox will go to ground or find an underground den for safety and protection or the hounds will wear him out and overtake him in a kill. Temperature and humidity are huge factors in how well hounds keep the scent of a fox. Often the chase involves extreme speed through brush and growth. A rider will need to be skilled in racing, jumping brooks, logs, brush, and the horses must be in excellent condition as well.”  – The history of fox hunting

Moving accident by flood and field

Moving accident by flood and field

Filming the Fox Hunt for Downton Abbey:

While the crew were at the castle they filmed various scenes, inside and out. Lady Carnarvon explained that on one particular day they filmed a hunt. “It was wonderful. It was a beautiful day on the day they were doing it too. The funny thing is the one thing I asked them not to do was go across the lawns because there was to be a wedding. They started very early and they were all hanging around. They were going up and down for hours on end, and then suddenly just out of the laurel bushes went a fox – a real fox. The fox took off towards the secret gardens and the hounds turned in full pursuit. The fox wasn’t caught. It just ran off. The hounds were eventually brought back having gone through a couple of cold frames in the garden. I could see the location manager thinking that is the one thing I asked them not to do,” she laughed. – Highclere Castle is the star of the screen

Dirt dog work, circa 1560

History of the Fox Hunt:

Talk of horses, and hounds, and of system of kennel!

Give me Leicestershire nags, and the hounds of old Meynell!

While Hugo Meynell is widely considered to be the father of modern foxhunting as we know it today (his Quorn Hunt between 1753 and 1800 was quite fashionable), hunting foxes with hounds was not new. Evidence exists that fox hunting has been practiced since the 14th century. In 1534 a Norfolk farmer used his dogs to catch a fox, which consisted of hunting on foot and trailing the animal back to its den. Foxes were thought to be “vermin” and left to commoners to hunt. In those early times, royalty and the aristocracy hunted stags, or deer, which required great swathes of open land and an investment in horses, hounds, and stables. Considering the chasing and killing of vermin to be beneath their status, the aristocracy continued to chase stags until these animals became scarce.

Hunting with hounds on foot

Hugo Meynell began breeding hounds that could keep up with the foxes at the same time that an increased number of 18th century men could devote their time to leisurely pursuits. Consequently, the sport of fox hunting began to take off. (See Rowlandson, The Humours of Fox Hunting: The Dinner, 1799 for a depiction of a group of men enjoying the after effects of a hunt.)

There were no formal hunt clubs during this period. Rather, large landowners kept hounds that accompanied them on private hunts. The hunts were not very effective in controlling the number of foxes in any given area, but the sport was safer than the practice of using spring traps, which could snare a human as well as a fox. (Animal traps from the 16th century. )

 

18th century spring trap

By the early 19th century, a more formal style of foxhunting began to be organized. Roads and railways had cut the land into smaller portions, and it became more convenient for rich landowners and their guests to hunt foxes. Railways also gave a larger number of people in towns and cities easy access to the countryside and an opportunity to join in the sport.

The rising middle clases, eager to improve their social standing, joined the clubs, and by the late 19th century the sport had reached the height of its popularity. In fact, the demand for foxes was so great that some hunts were called off if the probability was high that the fox would get killed. Foxes were so scarce that a large numbers of the animals were imported from Europe to be sold in England.

The Bilsdale Hunt. Image @MSNBC.com

The oldest continuous fox hunt in England is the Bilsdale Hunt in Yorkshire, established by George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham in 1668. Since 2005, foxhunting with hounds has been illegal in Britain, but there are groups that are still unhappy with this turn of events, for foxes are still allowed to be hunted and shot in England. Supporters of the foxhunt state that organized foxhunts never caught enough foxes to affect the total population and that the kills were clean. In addition, foxhunting supports a minor economy of farriers, grooms, horse stables, dog kennels, trainers, veterinarians, shops, inns, taverns, and the like. Since it became organized, the hunt also provided a spectator sport to local villages and market-towns and inspired railroads to expand their services so that participants could join the hunts and travel up and back within a day. The landscape also benefited from the hunt in that landowners planted low bushy coverts for the foxes and maintained their hedges to facilitate jumps. – Encyclopedia of Traditional British Rural Sports: History of Fox Hunting

 

Foxhunting Schedule:

Fox hunting began on the first Monday of November; traditionally a hunt was held on Boxing Day (Dec 26).

In the early morning workers stopped up the holes of the dens where the foxes rested, forcing these nocturnal animals to find shelter above ground during the day.

Around 11 a.m. the riders (field) would assemble, with around 40-50 hounds.

The Master of the Hounds was in charge of the hunt and supervised the field, hounds, and staff. The huntsman, who had bred the hounds and worked with them, would be in charge of the pack during the hunt.

Chasing the fox. Downton Abbey

Once the group was assembled, the hunstman would lead the pack of hounds and field to where a fox might be hiding. When the fox was flushed out into the open, the group would pursue the fox, with the huntsman leading the group. The field would follow at a gallop and watch the hounds chase down the fox.

When the fox was cornered, the hounds took over.

Hunt festivities included lawn meets, where food and drink were served to the people who gathered together, and hunt balls.The cost of horses, outfits, and operating expenses made the activity prohibitive for those with limited means, and only those with a great deal of money could afford to participate. – What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew, Daniel Pool – p171-173

Women and Foxhunting:

Waiting for the hunt to begin, Downton Abbey

Few women rode in a fox hunt during the Regency period. It took great skill and courage for a woman to join the hunt, for in those days the side-saddle lacked the leaping horn, which offered a more secure seat and made taking fences safer.

The Inconvenience of wigs, Carle Vernet. Image @Yale University Library

By the mid-19th century, women began to join in the sport in greater numbers. An article written by Catriona Parratt discusses women’s involvement:

“Preeminent among these activities was foxhunting, one of the few sports for which there seems to have been no rigidly prescriptive code limiting women’s participation. In fact, some women embraced the sport with a zest which was evidently not considered inappropriate. This may be explained in part by the extreme social exclusivity which attended to the leaders of the foxhunting set. Members of the aristocracy and the upper middle classes were probably sufficiently secure in their status to ignore, to some extent, more bourgeoise notions of respectability… According to one enthusiast, 200 riders was considered a poor turn out, while few meets attracted less than 100 men and women. A figure of thirty women is given in an account of the Tipperary Hunt in the 1902 season, but the overall evidence is very impressionistic…

There are also several accounts of women achieving the honour of being the first to ride in at the death of the fox, something which seems not to have offended their supposedly more delicate sensibilities. In a 1900 meeting of the Dartmoor Pack, the brush [tail] was awarded to a Miss Gladys Bulteel, of whom it was noted that her pony “was piloted with exceptional skill,” while in a previous month’s run of the same pack, a Miss Dorothy Bainbridge claimed the coveted trophy. None of this is to suggest that women participated in equal numbers or on equal terms with men… Rather, it is clear that some women were active, enthusiastic, and skillful participants who were drawn to the sport by “the enjoyment, the wholesomeness, even the nerve-bracing dash of danger.” – Athletic “Womanhood”: Exploring Sources for Female Sport in Victorian and Edwardian England Cartriona M. Parratt*, Lecturer, Dept. of Physical Educ

Kemal Pamuk (Theo James) meets Lady Mary

Comments about the Fox Hunt in Downton Abbey from the Horse and Hounds forum:

As I researched foxhunting, curiosity led me to a discussion forum at the Horse and Hounds website. I wanted to know what the experts thought of the foxhunting scenes in Downton Abbey. Here they are in a nutshell, with the names of the individuals taken off:

Master of the Hunt sounds the call

They should have told that daft lady [Mary] side saddle person to put a bloody thong and lash on her hunting whip and hold it the right way too..thong end up please. Suppose we should be grateful it was’nt filmed in high summer! And WHY film the field and hounds all mingled but apparently in full cry..UUURRRGGGHH it drives me nuts.”

“Not unless they have a leather loop on one end for the thong and lash? Do sidesaddle whips have bone “gate hooks” on the top end?? In one shot the lady did have a thong attached ..but still holding it the wrong way anyway, shortly before, no lash!! Pathetic.”

“My thoughts that the horses were not typical or hunters of that era, also would there have been a coloured, I thought that the craze for colours was a recent thing and they were frowned on in ‘those days’. “

The field follows the Master and pack

I am amazed that finally a TV programme has made the effort to show not only a hunting scene but a lady hunting on PRIMETIME TV and people are moaning about minor details! I hunt side saddle, I do it because I love it, so I was over the moon to finally see something relevant to it on t.v. Would you have preferred they didn’t show it at all and cut the hunting scenes entirely??

Lets not forget these programmes are filmed for public entertainment, they are not historical documentarys. Please could we all be a little more supportive of equines on TV regardless of the reasons, then maybe we would see more.”

“Well if you want to moan about the most minute details of the scenes (and don’t forget, what you see on screen in a STORY not a documentary !!!) why not start with the fact that the forward seat was unknown in Edwardian times?”

Master of the Hunt and pack set off ahead of the field

We noticed the coloured horse too and said no way would they have had one of them!! They only pulled carts in those days. Still – we all got excited when the hunting scene started!!”

Lady Mary and Evelyn Napier, Downton Abbey

Lady Mary and Evelyn Napier

Did anyone spot which hunt’s tail coat was being worn by Mr Evelyn Napier?”

“It was the vine and craven hunt huntsman David Trotman scarlet coat with gold vine leafs on black collar. The Vine & Craven [were] filming at Highclere Castle…”Horse and Hounds forum

Riding hell bent for leather through the fields. Downton Abbey

Master of the Hunt and other staff:

The Master of the Fox Hounds (MFH) or Joint Master of the Fox Hounds operates the sporting activities of the hunt, maintains the kennels, works with, and sometimes is, the Huntsman. The word of the Master is the final word in the field and in the kennels.  The Huntsman is responsible for directing the hounds in the course of the hunt.

The Huntsman usually carries a horn to communicate to the hounds, followers, and whippers-in.  Whippers-in are the assistants to the Huntsman. Their main job is to keep the pack all together.”  – Human roles in fox hunting

The huntsman drinking a pre-hunt drink. Image @Icons A Portrait of England

From Baily’s magazine of sports and pastimes, Volume 2, 1861, p. 182: “As well might you assert that because a nobleman throws open his house and grounds to the public one or two days in the week from free goodwill that he has not the right to exclude any persons he may object to. A Master of fox hounds hunts his country upon the same conditions. Any landowner can prevent him riding over his fields or drawing his coverts. By the landowners he stands or falls. He recognizes no other power to interfere with his conduct in the field.”

Edgar Lubbock, Master of the Blankney Hunt

Description of the above image: Edgar Lubbock LLB was the Master of the Blankney Hunt at the turn of the 20th century. He was born on 22 February 1847 in St James, London the eighth son of Sir John William and Harriett Lubbock. Educated at Eton and the University of London he studied Law and became an accomplished lawyer. Through his career he held varying positions, including Lieutenant of the City of London, Director of Whitbread Brewery, Director of the Bank of England and in 1907 Lord Lieutenant of Lincolnshire. He died in London on 9 September 1907 aged 60 whilst Master of the Blankney Hunt. – Metheringham Area Mews

The Dogs:

The true point of riding to hounds was (and is) to watch the hounds work. Those who galloped wildly or jumped unnecessarily were termed “larkers” – an insult – and disdained by the serious hunters. – Word wenches, fox hunt

The hounds are the most vocal component of the hunt and the means by which the fox is flushed out and then chased until it was too exhausted to go farther. In England, there were two breeds of dogs that were necessary to the hunt: Harriers, which are slightly smaller than foxhounds, and who chased the fox over hill and dale; and terriers, who followed the fox into the den and dug it out.

Harriers (Hare Hounds or Heirer)


The Harrier, also known as the Hare Hound or the Heirer, is a hardy hound, with a strong nose, that was developed in England to hunt hare.  Hare hunting has always been popular in England, sometimes being even more popular than fox hunting because hunters could trail their hare hounds on foot, without the need for the many horses required to follow fox hounds on the hunt. Moreover, hare hunting was never reserved to royalty; it was always accessible to commoners, who could add their few Harriers to a “scratch pack” made up of hounds owned by different people and still participate in the sport. Reportedly, in 1825, the slow-moving Harrier – in size between the larger English Foxhound and the smaller Beagle – was crossed with Foxhounds to improve its speed and enable it to better hunt fox in addition to hare. – Harrier overview

Terriers

Fox Terrier. Image @Chest of Books

With the growth of popularity of fox-hunting in Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries, terriers were extensively bred to follow the red fox, and also the Eurasian badger, into its underground burrow, referred to as “terrier work” and “going to ground”.[1] The purpose of the terrier is that it locate the quarry, and either bark and bolt it free or to a net, or trap or hold it so that it can be dug down to and killed or captured.[2] Working terriers can be no wider than the animal they hunt (chest circumference or “span” less than 35 cm/14in), in order to fit into the burrows and still have room to maneuver.[3] As a result, the terriers often weigh considerably less than the fox (10 kg/22 lbs)[4] and badger (12 kg/26 lbs),[5] making these animals formidable quarry for the smaller dog. – Wikipedia

My terrier no longer has the slender girth to chase a fox into its den, for he eats too many doggie biscuits.

Read more about terriers:

The Kill:

Foxes were killed in one of two ways:

1) Hounds chased the foxes until they were caught and then dispatched it. There seems to be a widespread disagreement about the kill, some saying it was quick, and that the fox died from a nip to the back of the neck, and others saying that the fox was repeatedly bitten or torn apart, and sometimes died slowly from its injuries.

2) The fox went to ground (inside a hole or den), and then was dug out with terriers.

Animal rights experts also found the chase itself, with the fox hunted to the point of exhaustion, cruel.

A lurcher adopts a fox cub, the opposite of a kill. Jack and Copper are famous in the U.K. Image @Animal Tourism.com

I could not show an image of a kill, so I’ve presented you with the opposite image: This young lurcher has adopted a fox cub. Jack, the hound, and Copper, the cub, are famous in the U.K. for their playful wrestling matches. Image @Animal Tourism.com

Final Words about Foxhunting in America:

Since Cora (the Countess of Grantham) in Downton Abbey was an American heiress, the information below regarding the American fox hunt is appropriate to this post:

Description of a Fox Hunt by a New England minister

Fox hiding in the covert.

Foxhunts were imported into America in the 17th century. In 1799, a wry New England minister gave a glimpse of the sport in the New World: “From about the first of Octor. this amusement begins, and continues till March or April. A party of 10, and to 20, or 30, with double the number of hounds, begins early in the morning, they are all well mounted. They pass thro’ groves, Leap fences, cross fields, and steadily pursue, in full chase wherever the hounds lead. At length the fox either buroughs out of their way, or they take him. If they happen to be near, when the hounds seize him, they take him alive, and put him into a bag and keep him for a chase the next day. They then retire in triumph, having obtained a conquest to a place where an Elegant supper is prepared. After feasting themselves, and feeding their prisoner, they retire to their own houses. The next morning they all meet at a place appointed, to give their prisoner another chance for his life. They confine their hounds, and let him out of the bag—away goes Reynard at liberty—after he has escaped half a mile—hounds and all are again in full pursuit, nor will they slack their course thro’ the day, unless he is taken. This exercise they pursue day after day, for months together. This diversion is attended by old men, as well as young—but chiefly by married people. I have seen old men, whose heads were white with age, as eager in the chase as a boy of 16. It is perfectly bewitching. The hounds indeed make delightful musick—when they happen to pass near fields, where horses are in pasture, upon hearing the hounds, they immediately begin to caper, Leap the fence and pursue the Chase—frequent instances have occurred, where in leaping the fence, or passing over gullies, or in the woods, the rider has been thrown from his horse, and his brains dashed out, or otherwise killed suddenly. This however never stops the chase—one or two are left to take care of the dead body, and the others pursue.” – Colonial Williamsburg, Personable Pooches

Middleburg Christmas parade. Image @Washington Post

Comment made on a Word Wenches post by a reader who lives in Virginia’s hunt cup country: I live in Virginia hunt country, in fact in the Old Dominion hunt area.  My property deed has one covenant on it. We must allow the huntmaster through. We can deny the rest of the hunt if we want. The covenant was signed by King Charles (I am not sure which one). Fauquier County has 3 hunts and the U.S. largest Steeplechase race, the Gold Cup. .. Many of the more recent mansions (post US Civil War through the 1920s) in Fauquier and neighboring Loudoun were built as hunt houses. – Word Wenches, Fox Hunting

Jacqueline Kennedy. Equestrian outfit in the 1970s.

Etiquette and Dress Code of a Fox Hunt:

The etiquette of the hunt field was (and is) as intricate and strict as that of the ballroom. I imagine (and please correct me if I am wrong), that each club has its own variation of rules. Loudoun County is west of Washington D.C. and sits near the middle of the hunt country of Northern Virginia, where Jacqueline Kennedy frequently hunted when she lived in Georgetown. Click here to read the extensive rules of etiquette of the Loudoun Hunt: Etiquette and the rules of Attire.

Edwardian riding habit. Image @side saddle girl

More on the foxhunt:

Addendum to original post:

This post began innocently enough, for I had no idea about the emotions surrounding the fox ban. Various views are presented in the comment section. Tony Grant, who writes for this blog and who lives in London, said in an email:

A fox creeps in Tony's yard towards the dustbins

Because foxes are no longer hunted their population has expanded unbelievably. They no longer keep to the countryside but live in the towns and cities as scavengers. They live in dens created in parks and the bottom of peoples gardens. They scavenge dustbins. We have an epidemic where I live in South London. They walk down my road and enter my garden on a regular basis. They are not afraid of humans.

Here are some pictures taken in my back garden. This fox wanted to raid our dustbins.

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Inquiring readers: Raquel Sallaberry from Jane Austen em Portugues sent the link to this post on Promantica about the entail in Downton Abbey entitled “Downton Abbey Fans – Welcome to the MOST Boring Law School Class.” The title is not exactly descriptive, for this wonderful post explains in great detail why the entail cannot be superceded, why Cora’s money is tied up and Lady Mary cannot inherit, and why Matthew Crawley cannot relinquish the title.

The Earl of Grantham and Matthew Crawley walk around the grounds of Downton Abbey

Magdalen, one of the blog contributors, introduces the expert:

By special request, I have asked my ex-husband to help us understand the law of the entail, critical to the plot of Downton Abbey.  Henry is a) British, b) an attorney, c) smart, and d) the son and grandson of QCs, i.e., barristers (British attorneys who appear in court) selected to be “Queen’s Counsel.”  (Although, to be fair, I think Henry’s grandfather took silk — Britspeak for becoming a QC — long enough ago that he was actually King’s Counsel!)
The blog goes on to describe the difference between real property, personal property, and intellectual property. Magdalen then dives into her questions:

First off, what’s an entail?
It is a limitation on the current tenant’s (in our case, the 6th Earl of Grantham) ownership interest in the estate. If he owned Downton Abbey outright, he would have a fee simple. Instead, he has a fee tail, which gives him a life interest so he can’t be evicted in his lifetime, but not the right to say who gets Downton Abbey after he dies.

The Earl of Grantham summarizes the situation best: "I'm a custodian, not an owner."

Okay, so how would an entail work?
The normal entail would be to “the 6th earl and heirs of his body” (meaning his legitimate biological children) or “and heirs male of his body” or “and heirs male of his body to be begotten on Cora.” When the 6th earl had no sons, the second and third of those would terminate, allowing the 6th earl to dispose of the money by will. The first would allow a daughter to inherit, but I’m not sure if it would pass to Mary or to the three daughters jointly or in shares…

To read the rest of this fascinating post, please click on this link to Promantica.

Thank you, Raquel (and Magdalen and Henry). This article is fascinating, fun to read, and very, very informative.

Read this blog’s other posts about Downton Abbey:


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Copyright @Jane Austen’s World. Written by Tony Grant, London Calling.

2010 Upstairs Downstairs cast

Last night, Tuesday 27th December, saw the final episode of the three-part revival of Upstairs Downstairs (2010). It was shown on BBC 1. This new reincarnation saw the action move on in time, from the final years portrayed in the original series, to the years between the two World Wars.

Front door. Image @Tony Grant

Upstairs Down stairs was the idea of two actress friends, Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins. Eileen Atkins was not able to take part in the original series because of acting commitments in the West End at the time. In this new version she plays the part of Lady Agnes, the dowager head of the household. Jean Marsh reprises her role as Rose from the original series. Now she has become the head of a servants letting agency.

Eileen Atkins and Jean Marsh in Upstairs Downstairs 2010

The series portrays the lives of people from two different strata of society, the servants and the aristocracy. One of the main themes reveals how these two social groups are closely entwined and rely on each other. It is interesting to note the period, between the two wars, when the action takes place in this new series was the time when the relationship between the classes and indeed the classes themselves changed. One class serving another class that intimately was near its end. A new world was being born out of the necessities of war.

Harrods truck

My own roots lie with the working and servant classes of that era. My Great Aunt Kate, my Great Grandmothers sister, worked as a nanny for the Chamberlain family and lived in a flat in one of the Chamberlain family houses in Cheney Walk, Chelsea. Neville Chamberlain was the prime minister at the start of the second world war. Neville Chamberlain himself lived in a house in Eaton Square, the main square in Belgravia.

Transformation of Clarendon Square in Leamington Spa for Upstairs Downstairs 2010

My grandfather, on my father’s side, had been a guardsman fighting in France during the First World War. After the First World War he became the head barman of the Cunard Line, serving the famous and the elite on the transatlantic ships crossing to New York in the interwar years. My other grandfather, on my mother’s side, was a skilled draughtsman and worked in shipyards on the Tyne River in Newcastle upon Tyne and later, because of the depression, moved south to work in a shipyard in Southampton.

Belgravia and park. Image @Tony Grant

The action to Upstairs Downstairs is set in a house in Belgravia, number 165 Eaton Place.

West side of Belgrave Square, 1828. Thomas Hosmer Shepherd.

Belgravia, is the most salubrious address in the United Kingdom and one of the top addresses in the world to this day. The Duke of Westminster owns the land and many of the freeholds and leaseholds on the property in Belgravia. In the 1820’s the then Duke of Westminster, Richard Grosvenor, had as one of his titles, Viscount Belgrave, and it was this name he gave to the area.

Belgravia House. Image @Tony Grant

To the north is Buckingham Palace but to the east side is Victoria Railway Station with it’s grand railway hotel looking like an old French Chateaux. This symbol of steam and industrialisation represented the Victorians desire to see and conquer the world. From here the boat trains would leave London for the ferries at Dover and Folkestone and the route to Europe. Many of the rich who lived nearby in Belgravia would leave London on the Orient Express for Paris, Rome, Athens, and Istanbul, and take tours to The East. Victoria Station is a symbol of the growing desire for travel and to see the world. The Belgravia set got there first.

St. Peters, Eaton Square, Belgravia. 1827.

The Duke of Westminster employed Thomas Cubitt – who built mostly grand terraces with white stuccoed fronts – to develop the area. Construction was focused around Belgrave Square and Eaton Square.

Thomas Cubbitt, 1788-1855

From the start the super rich and the aristocracy bought properties in this area and used the land for their town houses. This part of London has remained exclusive to this day. The Queen lives in Buckingham Palace bordering the north part of Belgravia; and Roman Abramovich, the Russian oil oligarch, has a property in Lowndes Square. He is the owner of Chelsea Football Club and one the richest men in the world. The average price of a property in Belgravia today is £6.6 million pounds. But prices going up to and above £100 million pounds have been known. Apart from the very rich, many famous actors, film stars, writers and politicians have lived and still choose to live in this area.

Image @Tony Grant

Margaret Thatcher lives in Chester Square and Joan Collins lives in Eaton Place. Elle MacPherson, the model; Arcelor Mittal, the Indian Steal producer magnet; and Christopher Lee, the horror film star, all live in Belgravia.

Dame Edith Evans' house in Belgravia. Image @Tony Grant

In the past, both Mozart and Chopin stayed there. Other more recent tenants include: Dame Edith Evans;Vivien Leigh; Ian Flemming, the writer of the James Bond books and, indeed, Sean Connery himself; Roger Moore; Tennyson, the poet; Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein; Noel Coward; Henry Gray, famous for his Grays Anatomy; the Beatles manager, Brian Epstein – the list could go on.

Dress shop in Belgravia. Image @Tony Grant

After the Second World War many of the houses in Belgravia became embassies, company offices or the headquarters of charities, and the number of houses owned by a single family reduced. However, since the year 2000 many houses are now being converted back into family homes, a visible sign that the number of rich in the world has increased.

Mews houses in Belgravia. Image @Tony Grant

Mews houses sit behind the great terraced houses fronting the squares. When the properties were originally built in the 1820s, these were the stables that once housed the horses and carriages used by the rich for transport. As cars became fashionable, the mews were turned into garages. Nowadays many have been converted into very desirable homes. To own a mews house in Belgravia is nearly as posh as owning one of the grand terrace houses.

Belgravia through the trees. Image @Tony Grant

The area has not changed much since it was developed in the 1820’s. Except for modern transportation, the streets and house exteriors are the same.

Leamington Spa street transformed for Upstairs Downstairs 2010. Image @BBC

As you walk around Belgravia today, try and imagine the area as it was in the 1820’s. In your mind’s eye, you can still imagine the servants disappearing down the stone stairs behind the black ornate iron railings into the basements. You might be lucky enough to glimpse a Lord or Lady, or even Margaret Thatcher mounting the steps to her front door and seeing it opened by a starch-collared butler. Pick a door yourself, take the large black, iron hoop suspended from the jaws of an angry looking iron lion’s head, rap it smartly, and the door might be opened by Mr. Hudson himself.

Mr. Hudson, 1970s series

Upstairs Downstairs 2010 will be aired on PBS Masterpiece Classic in April, 2011. It was recently aired on BBC One in the U.K.

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