Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Movie review’ Category

Attention: Spoiler Alert. Do not go further or view the images if you have not seen Episode 2. Missed this episode? Want to watch it again? Click here to see PBSs streaming videos of Downton Abbey 3, Episodes One and Two, available for a limited time only.

Two episodes, two weddings, two radically different endings. Poor Edith. She’s rapidly turning into the Upstairs version of Mr. Bates. Poor Edith/poor Bates. See how these two phrases can be used interchangeably? But Edith’s fate is not what this post is about. I am asking you to cast your critical eyes upon the two wedding dresses and two wedding parties and vote for your fave. Who sported a more breathtaking 1920s bridal outfit? Whose flowers blow your mind? And who spurred guests to dress better? Edith or Mary? Curious minds want to know. Find the poll at the bottom of this post.

Mary and Edith in full wedding regalia

Mary and Edith in full wedding regalia.  Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

 

Edith walks down the aisle with Papa

Edith walks down the aisle with Papa. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Mary with her man, veil, and bouquet

Mary with her man, veil, and bouquet. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Edith with her man, veil, and bouquet

Edith with her man, veil, and bouquet. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Edith with her sisters

Edith with her sisters. (That’s Anna in the background.) Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Edith, Cora, and Sybil in the pews at Mary's wedding

Edith, Cora, and Sybil in the pews at Mary’s wedding. Credit: Courtesy of ©Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Cora's hat at Edith's wedding

Cora’s hat at Edith’s wedding. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

The pews at Lady Mary wedding

The pews at Lady Mary wedding. Credit: Courtesy of © Nick Wall/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Violet at Edith's wedding

Violet at Edith’s wedding. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Downton Abbey Season 3, Episode 2 Wedding Dress Poll

Alas and alack the results of the two weddings were radically different. While one couple experienced wedded bliss, the other couple, well, uncoupled. Sir Anthony, cad, fleed the scene, leaving poor Edith bereft and without purpose. Poor Edith. I am firmly on her team.

Feel free to leave your comments about Episode Two, but no spoilers about later episodes please. Review to come.

Other Downton Abbey Series 3 Posts on this Blog

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

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

mast-004302-da3-hires_crop_319x180

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

Read Full Post »

I’ll admit it: The only thing that Jane Austen and Sherlock have in common, aside from their Britishness, is PBS and the BBC, who co-produce the many excellent film series and costume dramas that Jane Austen fans enjoy. That is my main excuse for reviewing a mystery set in the modern age. After watching Season One of Sherlock,  I eagerly looked forward to Season 2. I was not disappointed with the first episode, A Scandal in Belgravia. A number of viewers in the U.K., however, were outraged.

Lara Pulver as Irene Adler, dominatrix

Parents who watched the Belgravia episode with their young children wrote to the BBC complaining about the plot – which revolved around a dominatrix – and the nudity. While no female parts were anatomically shown, a great deal of bare flesh was displayed for about 2-3 minutes. I seriously doubt that young children are able to understand the double entendres spoken by Sherlock and Irene Adler (Lara Pulver), the woman whose craftiness and intelligence equals his. Much like a championship tennis game or chess match, it is great fun to watch these two characters connive, spar, tease and flirt in a game of mental and verbal one upmanship. And so, I surmise, that the irate parents were concerned about nudity, not subtext. Frankly, I’d be more angry about the explicit violence their children are exposed to in film and on television and try to put a halt to that, but what do I know?

Irene talks nonchalantly as the two men try not to react.

The plot in the first Season 2 episode is really is not so much about solving the mystery as about Sherlock finding himself  in thrall of Ms. Adler’s devious mind. A dominatrix who possesses incriminating photos of her sexual involvement with a British royal, she is able to do mental battle with Sherlock and hold her own. Upon first meeting her, Sherlock cannot make a “read” on her, for she reveals no clues about herself. How could she? She’s naked.  And so he finds her irresistibly intriguing.

Sherlock and Dr. Watson in Buckingham Palace. Unwilling to come, he refused to dress, a fact that barely surprised his roommie.

Some critics yawned at the plot, but I think they missed the point. This episode is all about Irene Adler tempting Sherlock out of his celibacy and distracting him with sexual thoughts. The episode was purportedly written to deflect any thoughts about Sherlock and Dr. Watson engaging in a homosexual relationship. I never had such a thought, but apparently many did.

Tit for tat. Cumberbatch gets to do a partial nude scene.

Once again Benedict Cumberbatch has done an outstanding job in portraying a man who, aside from his brilliant mind, is completely off his rocker. To me he is the definitive Sherlock. No other actor, past or present (even Robert Downey Jr) can match him in my eyes. By now, Dr. Watson (Martin Freeman), has grown accustomed to his strange roommie, and can anticipate how Sherlock will react at any given moment. The two odd friends have solidified into a smooth-working team.

Sherlock refuses to visit the crime scene, but is willing to study the site via WiFi. In this scene he is lecturing the inspector for suspecting the suspect.

Guest star, Lara Pulver, is one brave actress. Not only did she perform an important scene entirely in the nude, she was convincing as the woman who could outsmart Sherlock. I was highly captivated by their interplay.

Sherlock and Irene Adler discuss the crime in her sitting room. The camera zooms in on the actual scene as the two are solving the mystery. It’s these original touches that make this series so visually exciting.

If , after reading my take on the first episode, you still think the topic of A Scandal in Belgravia is too mature for your children, I suggest that you rent a movie for your offspring, trundle them off to a different room, then sit back and enjoy one of the more weirdly satisfying and witty mystery series on TV.

Sherlock will air tonight and on May 13th and May 20th for 1 1/2 hours at 9 PM EST (or check your local listing.) PBS has also arranged a twitter party during these events. Hash tag #SherlockPBS.

The episodes will stream online at PBSs website one day after the initial air date. Click here. 

Read my reviews of Sherlock Season One here.

Read Full Post »

The second episode of Birdsong just aired on PBS Masterpiece Classic. If  you missed the series, you can watch both episodes online at this link through May 29th. I urge you to watch it. This is not a review of the show, simply my reaction to it, as I don’t want to reveal too much of the plot.

Eddie Redmayne and Clemency Poesy as the star crossed lovers

Eddie Redmayne is perfect as Stephen Wraysford. He effectively portrays Stephen as a boyish man when he meets Isabelle (Clemency Poesy), and grows up in front of our eyes as he experiences heartbreak and the horrors of war. The final scene had me reaching for yet another hanky.

Even on the battlefield, Stephen's thoughts are not far from Isabelle

Clemency Poesy is simply splendid in the part of the unhappy wife who turns to Stephen for love and comfort, and so was Joseph Mawle as Jack Firebrace.

Clemency Poesy as Isabelle

I have read a number of accounts of the Somme offensive, all of them horrifying. This film does justice to the young men who lost their lives in what can only be described as a scene from hell. At first I wasn’t sure that I would like the frequent cutting back and forth from the battle scenes to Stephen’s memories of his love affair with Isabelle at Amiens, when the countryside looked beautiful and pristine, but now I think the director and writer made the right choice.

Had we watched the story unfold chronologically, the unrelentingly harsh scenes in the trenches and on the battlefields would have worn me down. Just when the story became too emotionally raw for me to take in, the scene would shift to a softer, more romantic time, when Stephen’s life was starting out and he was filled with hope and ambition. There were perhaps a few missteps when the scene would cut away abruptly, but overall I began to see and look forward to the visual and emotional rhythms that this technique created. Life in the trenches was gray and dull and beige. Life with Isabelle was filled with sunshine, lush interiors, birdsong, and green leafy trees.

Eddie Redmayne portrayed Angel Clare in Tess of the d’Urbervilles. His face, with its unique bone structure, is as sensitive as James Dean’s. Coming off his acting stints in My Week With Marilyn, Pillars of the Earth, and his current role as Marius Pontmercy in Les Miserables, I have no doubt we will see him in many more films in the future.

The relationship between Jack Firebrace (Joseph Mawle) and Stephen Wraysford is as important as Stephen's with Isabelle.

As an aside, I urge those of you who enjoy these great PBS offerings to support your local PBS stations now that their funding has been greatly reduced. I was so sad to hear that the NEA sharply cut its funding for PBS. If you enjoy Masterpiece Classic and Masterpiece Mystery, and all the great arts specials, then we must individually step up to the plate and support PBS. Thank you for reading my rant. (And, no, I was not paid to make it! :))

An emotional scene after the Battle of the Somme was when the names of the men of one unit who had gone into battle were called. Only one replied.

Read Full Post »

Tonight PBS Masterpiece Classic presents the last installment of its homage to Charles Dickens in honor of his 200th year anniversary. The Mystery of Edwin Drood is a 120 minute special about an opium-addled choirmaster, John Jasper, who believes his nephew, Edwin, stands between him and the woman he fancies, 17-year-old Rosa Bud.

Mathew Rhys as John Jasper, Tamzin Merchant as Rosa Bud, and Freddie Fox as Edwin Drood

Gwyneth Hughes wrote the ending to this adaptation. Charles Dickens died half way through writing the novel, leaving The Mystery of Edwin Drood and the question of his disappearance hanging in the air. This Dickens tales is one of the few that I don’t like, no matter how hard I try, for I simply could not care for the characters or relate to John Jasper in any way. Of course, my opinion of the book colors my lukewarm reaction to the film.

Tamzin as Georgiana

Jane Austen film fans will recognize Tamzin Merchant as young Georgiana Darcy in Pride and Prejudice 2005. In a curious coincidence, Freddie Fox (Edwin) is the real life younger brother of Amelia Fox, who played Georgiana in Pride and Prejudice 1995.

Sacha Shawan plays Neville Landless

Your thoughts?

The Mystery of Edwin Drood will air at 9 p.m. Eastern and Pacific, 8 p.m. Central and Mountain. Check your local listings to be sure. Watch the special online starting April 16th.

Read Full Post »

Young Pip (Oscar Kennedy) visits Satis House (Holdenby House's courtyard transformed digitally by Triad Digital).

One of the most polarizing aspects of Great Expectations 2011 is Gillian Anderson’s portrayal of Miss Havisham. Many people loved it; as many hated it.

At 43 years of age, some critics regard the actress as being too young for the part. Yet Martita Hunt played Miss Havisham in David Lean’s classic when she was 47, only fours years older than Gillian. Helena Bonham Carter is set to play Miss Havisham in a new theatrical film version coming out later this year. She will soon be 44 years old.

Others find Gillian Anderson’s take on Miss Havisham to be all wrong. I agree with the critic who wrote that regardless of how one feels about the actress as Miss Havisham, she dominates her scenes as the jilted bride. Paired with the CG changes made to Holdenby House to transform it into Satis House, the viewer is treated to one of the creepier interpretations of Miss Havisham in her rotting manse.

Stone angel in courtyard strangled by vines.

The film sets up Pip’s first meeting with Miss Havisham and Estella by transforming the courtyard into a dark, vine-strangled environment. This alone should tell Pip that all is not right with his new patron.

Transformed courtyard.

Miss Havisham glides down the stairs like a ghostly apparition.

In this adaptation, Pip’s first glimpse of Miss Havisham is of her gliding down the stairs in a candle-lit, dark oak stairwell. A break in the curtain backlights her figure and features. Not a word is said. In the novel, Pip has heard that Miss Havisham is an immensely rich and grim lady who led a life of seclusion.

The stairs are covered with dust and candles are fully ablaze despite the day light.

Miss Havisham as an eerie apparition is enhanced in this scene in which her white figure is indistinct and as fuzzy as the dust on the stairs.

When she discovered that her bridegroom-to-be had absconded with her money and her heart, Miss Havisham was at her dressing table putting on her bridal clothes. She had put on one shoe, her other foot was stockinged. Gillian Anderson is seen walking barefoot, a change in Dickens’ story that I found perplexing. In fact, many of the changes in both plot, scenes, and costumes seemed odd.

Surely the dress would have been yellower and more ragged and tattered after having been worn for so long?

While I enjoyed Gillian Anderson’s reworking of Miss Havisham into a neurotic recluse with a tendency towards self-mutilation, I wondered at the decision to make her appear like a mini-me version of Bette Davis’s Baby Jane. Her wedding gown, I suppose, was meant to look like a Regency version of a bridal dress, but to my way of thinking it resembled a nightie. Her curls, which were not supposed to have been touched in years, hung tight around her face. By the time Pip met her, her white hair would have looked like a rat’s nest.  The delicate fabric of her gown remained remarkably intact – it should have been frayed, especially at the edges and where she sat. She was not wearing a veil, which should have been attached askew on her head. And her train would  have been tattered and filthy, and had an ombre look about it, going from black at the floor to dark gray, to lighter grey until it met the yellowing white color of the gown higher up.

One way to assess if the changes were beneficial is to turn to Dickens’ own words:

In Dickens' great tale, Pip met Miss Havisham as she sat near her dressing table.

However the only thing to be done being to knock at the door. I knocked and was told from within to enter. I entered therefore and found myself in a pretty large room well lighted with wax candle.s No glimpse of daylight was to be seen in it. It was a dressing room as I supposed from the furniture though much of it was of forms and uses then quite unknown to me. But prominent in it was a draped table with a gilded looking glass, and that I made out at first sight to be a fine lady’s dressing table.”

In this film, Miss Havisham walks Pip through a room filled with dusty glass dome-covered scientific specimens that her dead brother had collected from exotic places, much as a docent would accompany a visitor through a musty science museum.

Dead specimens under dusty glass.

Pip’s actual first impression of Miss Havisham after walking through a dark house was much more powerful and immediate:

In an armchair with an elbow resting on the table and her head leaning on that hand sat the strangest lady I have ever seen or shall ever see.”

Once beautiful butterflies pinned into a frozen position, a rather obvious visual simile.

Dickens gave the costume and set designers a plethora of descriptions to work with:

She was dressed in rich materials, satins and lace and silks, all of white. Her shoes were white. And she had a long white veil dependent from her hair; and she had bridal flowers in her hair, but her hair was white. Some bright jewels sparkled on her neck, and on her hands, and some other jewels lay sparkling on the table. Dresses less splendid than the dress she wore, and half packed trunks, were scattered about. She had not quite finished dressing, for she had but one shoe on, the other was on the table near her hand; her veil was but half arranged, her watch and chain were not put on, and some lace for her bosom lay with those trinkets, and with her handkerchief; and gloves and some flowers and a prayer book all confusedly heaped about the looking glass.”

Gillian Anderson's lips are as parched as dry paper, but the curls are too neat for someone who has not tended to her hair in decades.

I have no quarrel with Gillian Anderson’s age. The book is written through Pip’s eyes, and a young boy would have found anyone in their 40’s to be ancient. Gillian did an excellent job of resembling someone who had not seen sunlight in decades, and whose physical condition was deteriorating as a result of physical and emotional neglect. Her curls make her look much too young and are incongruent. Why would she take care to wear such beautiful curls when she has neglected everything else about her appearance?

Helena Bonham Carter plays Miss Havisham in the yet to be released Great Expectations

If viewers were turned off by Gillian’s creepy Miss Havisham, with her high-pitched little girl voice and nervous bird-like mannerisms, then the above photo indicates that Helena Bonham Carter’s take on the spinster is set to go over the top as well. Let’s go back to Dickens’ description of Pip’s first meeting with his new patron to see if these interpretations fit in with his vision of the jilted bride:

It was not in the first minute that I saw all these things, though I saw more of them in the first minute than might be supposed. But I saw that every thing within my view, which ought to be white, had been white long ago, and had lost its lustre, and was faded and yellow. I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress, and, like the flowers, and had no brightness left, but the brightness of her sunken eyes.  I saw that the dress had been put upon the rounded figure of a young woman, and that the figure upon which it now hung loose had shrunk to skin and bone. “

Miss Havisham was a skeletal, withered shadow of a woman who shone as dimly as a pale moon hidden behind clouds. Gillian’s Miss Havisham shines just a little too brightly.

Pip approaches Estella for the first time.

It was when I stood before her avoiding her eyes that I took note of the surrounding objects in detail, and saw that her watch had stopped at twenty minutes to nine, and that a clock in the room had stopped at twenty minutes to nine.”

For some strange reason, the clocks in the film had stopped at 11:00. It’s these minor inattentions to detail that grate.

Izzy Meikle-Small plays the haughty young Estella.

“Look at me”, said Miss Havisham. “You are not afraid of a woman who has never seen the sun since you were born.”

These words would have been much more powerful in the introductory scene than Gillian’s museum tour guide of her rooms.

David Lean's Great Expectations featured a rather mature Jean Simmons. Martita Hunt as Miss Havisham and Tony Wager as Pip.

David Lean’s set was dark, as described by Dickens. Too much sunlight was allowed inside the house Gillian Anderson’s Miss Havisham inhabited. This served to make Satis House look much dirtier but less creepy.

I find it remarkable that many critics found this adaptation visually too gloomy. I think there is too much light. Dickens described the curtains as emitting no light whatsoever.

I glanced down at the foot from which the shoe was absent, and saw that the silk stocking on it once, while now yellow, had been trodden ragged. Without this arrest of every thing, this standing still of all the pale decayed objects, not even the withered bridal dress on the collapsed form could have looked so like grave clothes, or the long veil so like a shroud.

So she sat corpse like as we played at cards; the frillings and trimmings on her bridal dress looking like earthy paper, as if they would crumble under a touch. I knew nothing then of the discoveries that are occasionally made of bodies buried in ancient times which fall to powder in the moment of being distinctly seen, but I have often thought since that she must have looked as if the admission of the natural light of day would have struck her to dust”

The above description tells us why it would have been more important for the set designer to have kept Miss Havisham in total darkness. While some of the effects of the light on the dust and dirt was striking, the only evidence of “earthy paper” was on Gillian Anderson’s parched lips.


This set of the decaying bridal banquet is gorgeous. The house itself is allowed to rot (and Pip begins to notice the water damage and crumbling walls as he matures), much as Miss Havisham is allowing herself to rot inside and out. There were moments when the production shone. The film’s colors follow the current trend for digital color correction to create atmosphere. Whether you like it or not, I’m afraid the trend is here to stay.

The wedding cake looked skeletal and creepy, as if bugs were ready to crawl out of it. Still, would so much of the food and flowers have remained recognizable?

Miss Havisham's self-mutilation is evident early on in the film.

The self-mutilation, in this instance, Miss Havisham is constantly scratching her hand, was an interesting touch that added another layer to her manic obsessions. At times she seemed completely insane and incapable of self-possession. In this adaptation, Gillian portrays Miss Havisham as a weak victim who somehow finds the strength of will to plot her revenge on all male-kind.

The letter of betrayal from Compeyson, the fiance who jilted Miss Havisham.

The incongruity of a perfect white veil over the decaying flowers and (finally) the tattered sleeves struck me as being wrong in Gillian’s final scenes. While I loved the cinematography of the exterior sets, these visual mistakes detracted from my enjoyment of the story. One other thought: while I enjoyed watching the young Pip and Estella, I was bothered by their older counterparts. It was very hard for me to swallow that Pip was more beautiful than the girl he loved.

Vanessa Kirby as Estella and Douglas Booth as Pip

Your thoughts?

You can watch Great Expectations online through May 8th on PBSs website.

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: