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Spoiler Alert: Do not proceed if you have not watched this episode.

As episode six opens, Moseley is handing out tickets for a tour of the Abbey in aid of the Downton Hospital Trust. BRING ALL THE FAMILY IN A RARE OPPORTUNITY TO VIEW THE STATEROOMS OF THIS GRAND MANSION! shouts a poster affixed to the Church’s outdoor bulletin board.

Mary and Tom have come up with a brilliant idea that neither the earl nor his fond mama find appealing.

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Downton Abbey | Photographer: Nick Briggs/Carnival Films for Masterpiece

We’ve nothing to show them,” complains a grumpy earl, still abed after his vomitous projectile episode and sick of being sick. “Some dusty old portraits of relatives no one remembers … We sleep in a bed, eat at the table … What do we have to show them, except Lady Grantham knitting? They’ll do better taking the train to London and visiting the Tate.”

“People want to see a different sort of home, not the things in it. They want to see how the other half lives, where supreme calm, dignity, and propriety always reign,” says Lady Mary with a straight face.

“The Abbey is to be opened for one day for charity, nothing more,” adds Cora in a reassuring tone.

Tom says very little. He’s too busy calculating the amount the Abbey can rake in by multiplying the potential visitors, times the operating hours, times 6 d. admission per head, times the number of downstairs rooms that can be traipsed through, times the number of physically fit family members who can escort the hoi polloi at speeds calculated to make even a motor car driver like Henry Talbot dizzy. Since no member of the Crawley family has anything of historic interest to say about the Abbey, each paying customer should take no longer than 10 minutes to complete a 3-hour tour (complete with complimentary luggage and clothing for 3 years, courtesy of Madame Ginger of The Minnow Booking Agency). When Tom realizes what a treasure trove the Abbey represents, British pound signs begin to replace the pupils in his eyes.

But I digress. Let’s return to the earl’s bedroom, gentle readers, where Tom comes to himself long enough to say, “They have a curiosity about our way of life.”

Mary and Tom have made the decision,” says Cora with a finality that brooks no debate.

“I know well enough that when Mary has spoken, my opinion has little bearing on the matter. I still think it’s crackers,” Robert says peevishly.

Since his BLOODY episode at dinner, the earl’s been on a strict 500 calorie a day diet of broth and flavored gelatin. He’s hungry AND craving crackers, no doubt about it.

Two Friends Discuss Jane Austen

As an aside, conversations about visitors paying their hard-earned lucre to see an aristocratic pile of stone and its gardens are rather confusing for Jane Austen fans. It has been a grand tradition for housekeepers and butlers for centuries to show visitors around in great country estates for a moderate tip when the owners are away or at play. How else could Jane have contrived to place Elizabeth Bennet at Mr. Darcy’s great estate, Pemberley, and to have her meet him in the most embarrassing circumstances, only to discover that he’s a splendid fellow after all and that his house, reputation, and income aren’t all that shabby either? This well-known point was confirmed by Isobel, who sensibly reminds the unhappy Violet of this fact.

But why should they pay?” asks Lady Violet peevishly, “just to see an ordinary house?”

Ordinary, indeed. One wonders how our favorite dowager duchess would describe Chatsworth House or Castle Howard. She must regard her cozy dowager cottage as a mere hovel.

 

The Merge

The two hospitals will merge, as expected, and the post of president will be offered to Cora, Lady Grantham. Lady Violet will be “allowed” to step down after many years of service. Her demotion smacks of age discrimination, since, in the words of Dr. Clarkson, her once loyal ally, “She is not as young as she once was.”

Cora is gob smacked. She’s to step into her mama-in-law’s shoes and be given more responsibility! “Who will tell her?” she asks, with some trepidation, knowing it would be wiser to provoke a rabid dog than to inflame her mama-in-law.

Let’s have the hospital write her a nice letter of termination after we leave for America. We will be well out of the way by then,” Isobel says sensibly.

Cora is almost tempted. Instead, she invites her mama-in-law to a discussion in the earl’s bedchamber. Before they can inform the dowager of her reduced status, Lady Violet announces, “The patients are my priority. I shall be MAGNANIMOUS in victory.” She exits the room, not having learned of her firing.

I am woman hear me roar

I suppose you will want to accept the position,” Robert says peevishly. “I worry that this will be too much for you. You’re not like Isobel. You need your rest.”

“What do you mean?” Cora asks in too soft a voice. “I’m not old, Robert.”

“I didn’t say you were!”

“Didn’t you?”

The earl spends the next few minutes prying his foot from his mouth.

 

A Fond Sisterly Exchange, Part Two

Bertie Pelham wants to meet up here,” announces Edith.

“Is he worth it?” asks Mary.

“As opposed to your car mechanic?” asks Edith.

“Hey,” says Tom. “I’m one.”

 

Opening the Abbey’s Doors to Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves

Meanwhile, downstairs, Carson hates the idea of strangers poking and prying around the house. “What are the odds of them slipping a valuable bauble or two, or a first edition, in their back pockets?” he asks, which causes Bates to worry that he or Anna could be charged with theft should an unscrupulous visitor lift a few priceless items, what with their bad luck and all. The constable’s always breathing down their necks when anything of a CRIMINAL nature occurs and he’s tired of the man’s harassment.

tom and bertie

Tom and Bertie. Photographer: Nick Briggs/Carnival Films for Masterpiece

The day of the tours nears. Bertie Pelham, who has come for a visit with Edith’s family, asks sensibly, “Who knows about the history of the house?”

Only our librarian, Mr. Pattinson,” answers Edith. “But he won’t be here.”

“You’ll have to fake it,” says Bertie, less sure of their success.

“Do we need anyone knowledgeable?” asks Tom. “Can’t they just have a quick look before we push them out like cattle?”

“Not if you don’t want them to go out happy and leave what’s not theirs,” says a sensible Bertie. “We’ll have the servants sit in an inconspicuous corner to keep an eye on things.”

In due course it is decided that the public will be taken through the small library, then the big library, then through the painted room, the withdrawing room and smoking room, the great hall, in and out of the dining room, and back outside.

What about the back staircases and the gardens?” asks Bertie, who worries that the visit might be a tad rushed. And then he comes to the important question. “Who are the guides?”

“Lady Mary, Lady Edith, and Lady Grantham. I’ll sell tickets,” says Tom.

“Well, then, Lady Grantham, you and your daughters will take parties of 10 each with no more than 30 people in the house at a time,” says Bertie decisively.

“Crikey!” says Edith.

“Heavens,” says Cora.

‘Hell!’ thinks Mary.

long line

A line forms. Image by Nick Briggs/Carnival Films for Masterpiece

The day of the house tour arrives, the ticket table is placed at the front door, a long line is forming, and our aristocratic trio of ladies are ready as they will ever be. They fail miserably as docents, of course, their knowledge of the priceless paintings and artifacts in the house being a smidgen above zero. How could they have known that people of humble origins would ask such impossibly intelligent questions?

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Cora smiling instead of informing. Image by Nick Briggs/Carnival Films for Masterpiece

As a group tours through the house with Lady Cora, she quickly reveals how little she knows about the saloon.

This room was medieval,” she ventures.

“Is that why it’s called Downton Abbey?”

“I guess so.”

A visitor points to a portrait. “Who painted that?”

“I’m not sure, but…” Cora gestures vaguely around the room… “This painting and that painting, and, oh, that one over there, well, they’re quite worth looking at. Don’t you think?”

“What are those blank shields on the mantelpiece?”

Cora peers closely. “I haven’t a clue.”

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Edith reveals her ignorance. Image by Nick Briggs/Carnival Films for Masterpiece

Lady Edith is not faring much better than her momma.

Tell us about that painting,” asks one visitor.

“They’re all rather marvelous, don’t you think? Truth be told, I haven’t looked at them in years. They’re part of the background…”

“Who is the architect?”

“Sir Charles Barry. He finished the Houses of Parliament and built lots of other lovely big buildings, or so I think. Well, I’m almost sure.”

In the library, Lady Mary reassures her group that the sitter in one portrait, “…might be the son or it MIGHT be the father…”

Before Lady Mary spews more inanities, Lady Violet barges into the library, not caring that there are 30 strangers in her son’s house. “WHERE IS SHE!!!” the dowager demands, looking for the traitorous USURPER. She has just found out about her amicable discharge from the hospital board and will not wait another second to speak her mind.

Lady Mary, wishing to deflect her grandmama from saying something untoward AND have her answer a question that has her stymied, asks Violet about who founded the library.

The library was assembled by the fourth earl. He was a great reader. He was also a collector of horses and women,” she says, charging out of the room.

The visitors realize that the dowager imparted more information in three curt sentences than the ‘docents’ had in 2 ½ hours.

Meanwhile, a bored Robert, in danger or developing bedsores from lying around too long, espies a cheeky little rascal peeking around his bedroom door.

littlevisitor

Little visitor

Who are you?”

The boy looks up and around, curious. “Why is your house so big?”

Robert is taken aback. “I’m not sure really.”

“Why not buy something that’s comfortable. You must have the money,” the urchin says reasonably.

“You know how it is,” the earl sighs. “You like what you’re used to.”

Molesley appears at the doorway, sees the tyke, orders him out of the family quarters, and threatens to report him.

No,” the earl says, “he was more a philosopher than a thief.”

After Tom counts up the day’s till (minus the amount refunded to unhappy customers), he proposes that the Abbey should be opened for more tours in the future. This sets off a shrill protest among the docents, who quit en masse.

So much for family unity.

 

An Undelivered Letter

Some days later, as Mrs. Patmore tosses out some kitchen scraps, she finds a letter from Mr. Mason, which Daisy accidentally on purpose dropped in the rubbish bin.

Why is it opened?” Mrs. P. asks suspiciously, curling her nose at the odors emanating from the pages.

“I don’t know,” says Daisy, deliberately forgetting that Mr. Mason charged her to give Mrs. Patmore his missive.

“Did the letter grow legs and walk to the rubbish bin?”

“Perhaps.”

“Did it somehow open itself?”

“Maybe.”

“Pah,” says Mrs. Patmore, thinking, ‘We’ll see about this.’

When Mr. Mason drops by with a basket of fresh veggies, ostensibly to thank Mrs. Patmore, but actually to see her sweet face again, Daisy turns even more childish.

You’ve already thanked her,” she says petulantly. “Besides, why bother? Have you seen the kitchen gardens here?”

Mrs. Patmore tries to be gracious, telling Mr. Mason that his carrots are tastier, his cabbages are bigger, and his onions make her cry harder. But all he can think of is finding the fastest way out of the kitchen before the hens start fighting over the rooster.

 

Charlie Sweet Talks Elsie

brideattable

The look of love is in her eyes

Charlie would like his bride to have a talk with Mrs. Patmore about the art of making a proper cup of coffee for an occasional breakfast in their cottage, and perhaps arrange for the hall boy do some polishing and keep their home up to STANDARD.

I don’t see why not,” says Elsie, gritting her teeth.

“And you might ask one of the maids to make up our bed.”

“Is that not good enough EITHER?”

“Oh, it’s not bad, but I do like those sharp corners.”

Elsie reaches for a piece of paper. At the top of her to do list will be a visit to the parish priest about the procedures for annulling a hasty marriage.

Unaware of his beloved’s thoughts, Charlie keeps pressing the issue of dinner.

You’re not expecting a banquet, are you?” she asks suspiciously.

“No, just a delicious dinner prepared by the fair hands of my beautiful wife.”

While flattered, Elsie thinks, ‘I’m up a creek without a ladle.’

 

Flotsam and Jetsam

Thomas Barrow, meanie under butler, is trying to get back into everyone’s good graces without much success. Carson sums up Barrow’s future at Downton: 1) Lady Edith already manages without a maid, 2) probably not even one footman will be working in the Abbey in the future, and 3) Lady Mary will probably not replace Anna if she leaves. “The under butler,” he concludes, is a “post that is FRAGRANT with lost memories, unlike a butler. A house like Downton cannot be run without one.” This cheery discussion leaves Thomas even more despondent.

Mr. Moseley’s transformation from inept butler and first footman to a world class educator is almost complete. Mr. Dawes the school master, likes Moseley’s enthusiasm in helping Daisy study for her exam and wonders if he should harness his intellectual energy and take a test of general knowledge (of his own devising) at the same time that Daisy takes her test. Largely self-schooled, Moseley is unsure, but he is finally persuaded to take the test alongside Daisy. This results are so excellent that Mr. Dawes offers Mr. Moseley a teaching position. How sweet. It’s about time that our Mr. Moseley gets to shine!

Mrs. Patmore has bought a pretty little house with the money she inherited from her relative, and will transform into a bed and breakfast. She’ll continue to cook, while her niece will take over the day-to-day management of their little inn.

How will you attract lodgers?” Mrs. Hughes wonders.

Mrs. Patmore, 20th century entrepreneur, has a ready answer. “I’ve already placed an advertisement in the paper.”

“How will they contact you?”

“I’ve installed a telephone in the house,” replies our favorite cook and trail blazer.

 

Dickie, still intent on courting Isobel despite the execrable behavior of his two sons, brings a Miss Cruikshank around to meet her. This young lady is engaged to Larry Grey, the most venomous of Dickie’s boys.

I know you and Larry got off on the wrong foot,” Miss Cruikshank says sweetly.

“That’s one way of describing it,” says Isobel.

“Please know, not all of Lord Merton’s family feels the same way.”

‘Goodness,’ thinks Isobel, scrutinizing Dickie’s face for any sense of irony. ‘I might look like a gullible widow, but I wasn’t born yesterday. Something’s afoot and methinks I need to tread carefully.’

 

Back to the Newlyweds

How are we doing?” says Charlie as he waits for his meal at his cozy table in his cozy cottage for two.

Elsie, smiling, serves him smoked salmon with lemon. Only, there is no lemon. “I left two lemons at the Abbey,” she mourns.

Charlie then suggests that horseradish thinned with a little sour cream would hit the spot just fine.

“There’s none,” says Elsie sadly. She looks at her glass of … plain water. “What are we drinking with our meal?”

“What you see. His lordship cannot drink alcohol, ergo we shall not drink alcohol. Loyalty is solidarity,” he intones.

“Is that what’s making you grumpy?”

Charlie raises his impressive eyebrows. “I think not. What’s next?”

“Duck.”

“Is the skin crispy like Mrs. Patmore’s does it. Did you ask her advice?”

“We certainly talked about what it’s like to cook dinner for you,” says Elsie, handing Charlie his plate and muttering under her breath, “She thinks you’re too old to be trained as a husband.”

Charlie, having found one tiny piece of crispy skin, bites into it and fails to hear his beloved.

 

The Sisters, Their Bachelors, Their Prospects

henry and mary_6

The rain, the man, the woman

Henry Talbot has a clear notion that his prospects with Lady Mary are modest at best, but he’s not deterred. He walks her back to her place in London after an ambush dinner. The weather cooperates and they must seek shelter from a rain storm. He takes her in his arms and kisses her.

Heaven’s Mr. Talbot.”

“You’re a great catch. You’re also a woman I happen to be falling in love with. Gosh, that sounds rather feeble doesn’t it?”

“No!” she says, thinking, ‘Frankly, you had me at…”You’re the boss.” ’

“Then will you come to Brooklands to watch me motor race?”

“You must realize that Matthew died in a car crash.”

“What if I promise I won’t…”

She shushes him, saying “Love mean never making promises you can’t keep.”

Meanwhile, at the Abbey Tom mentions to Robert, Cora, and Mary how much he likes Bertie after his buffo performance as grandmaster of the house tour.

“He seems to know a lot,” agrees Cora.

“But he’s an agent,” says the earl, “stuck somewhere up in Northumberland, managing someone else’s estate.”

Mary cuts to the chase as usual. “He’s boring to an Olympic degree. Edith’s so stupid to have saddled herself with a child. Marigold is sweet, but why would any man want to take her on?”

“What are Edith’s prospects?” says Cora, concerned about her daughter’s SECRET.

“With her magazine, she could develop into one of the more interesting women of her day. And he’s a gentleman. You cannot object on that score,” says the earl, finally seeing the gold and the attraction in his middle daughter.

Cora and Robert leave, giving Tom the opportunity to talk about Henry. Mary mentions going to Brooklands to watch the motor race.

“But, the cars…!” she adds, worried.

“Could this be love,” Tom wonders aloud.

“Oh, shut up!” says Mary.

In Conclusion:

My how time flies, except when you’re writing a recap and review. Six down, three to go. And then? I’ll get to write about Jane Austen again.

What did you think of this week’s developments, dear readers? Will Henry snare Mary? Will Edith reveal to Bertie that Marigold is her daughter any time soon? Will Robert start drinking port again? And how many top Yelp reviews will Mrs. Patmore’s little inn attract?
My other Downton Abbey Season 6 Reviews:

 

 

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The third episode of Upstairs Downstairs will be shown this Sunday. Will you tune in?  (Watch all three episodes from April 25 through May 24 at this link.) Better yet, the BBC will make the DVD available for sale Tuesday, April 26th.

BBC’s Upstairs Downstairs DVD is available for purchase!

Upstairs Downstairs has been brought back with a fresh new cast. It is 1936 and six years since parlormaid Rose (Jean Marsh) left 165 Eaton Place. Fate brings her back to the house and its new owners, Sir Hallam Holland (Ed Stoppard), his wife Lady Agnes (Keeley Hawes), and his mother, Lady Maud Holland (Eileen Atkins). Rose recruits a new “downstairs” family to help run the elegance and finery of the “upstairs” world. Set against the historical backdrop of a pre-World War II Britain with a new King on the throne, with Fascism on the rise on the continent, and with sexual, social and political tensions at 165 Eaton Place, this new series provides an evocative take on the master-servant relationship.

In honor of the U.S Premiere on PBS’s Masterpiece Classic, the BBC is giving away a free DVD just two days following the conclusion of the third episode. This DVD includes the making-of featurette Upstairs Downstairs – Behind Closed Doors. (SRP: $34.98 ($43.98 in Canada)

CONTEST is CLOSED. The winner is Felicia!!: For an opportunity to win the DVD, all you need to do is leave a comment stating what you liked best about this 2010 series! The drawing (by random number) will be held on Tuesday, April 26th at 11:59 PM, EST.

Read this blog’s reviews of UpDown in these posts:

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Oh, my, Upstairs Downstairs turned down a darker road in the second episode, which can be seen online this week until May 24th.

The arrival of parlor maid, Rachel Perlmutter, changes the mood of the show from light-hearted to somber. She is a Jewish refugee from Germany who is forced to work as a maid, a career that is dangerous to her asthmatic condition.

Rachel (Helen Bradbury) suffers from asthma, which strikes her at the most unexpected moments.

Race and prejudice are the very obvious subtexts of this episode, in which Mr. Amanjit, who at first lived apart from the staff, is slowly accepted downstairs.

This scene, in which Mr. Amanjit was invited to listen to music on the radio, was most gratifying

Harry Spargo, the chauffeur, has developed a political interest that is typical of many people in the 1930’s, but his leanings are towards the far right and with the black shirts of Oswald Mosley’s fascist party.

Harrys social politics will place him at odds with the family and lead to tragedy belowstairs

A bored Ladie Percie flirts with danger as she pursues the chauffeur and his interests.

Bored and rebellious are not a good combination in the mind of a none too bright woman. Lady Percie races up the stairs to join an unsuspecting Harry at a far right rally.

And Agnes, the mistress, is pregnant.

A montage shows the stages of Agness pregnancy in swift succession

While I liked that Upstairs Downstairs embraced the many social upheavals of pre-war Britain, the one hour format is too rushed for these complex plot developments. I know the original series was based on one-hour shows, but back then each episode centered on one plot line that was often developed over several episodes. There were too many holes in the various plots that have been introduced and this series seems rushed, giving almost no time to character development. I hope that the pace slows down in Season 2 next year. Meanwhile, I can’t wait to see what develops in Episode 3, for at this point the twists and turns have intrigued me.

I must admit to being disappointed with the costumes, which did not appeal to me at all.

Other Upstairs Downstairs posts on this blog:

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Created by Oscar-winning writer Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park), “Downton Abbey” depicts the lives of the noble Crawley family and the staff who serve them at their Edwardian country house. It is April and the Titanic has just sunk.The world will never be the same for the Crawleys, for both the heirs to Downton Abbey went down with the ship.

Hugh Bonneville as the Earl of Grantham. This image speaks of power and privilege.

The earl and countess of Grantham’s three daughters cannot inherit the estate, which is entailed to the male next in succession. He is Matthew Crawley, a third cousin, son of a doctor and a nurse, and a lawyer by trade. Matthew knows nothing about running such a vast estate, and cares little about the niceties of protocol.

Dan Stevens plays Matthew Crawley. He also played Edward Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility.

The answer to the earl’s predicament is simple really – Lady Mary, his eldest daughter, should marry Matthew. But nothing is simple in Downton Abbey, for Lady Mary is stubborn and has a mind of her own.

The Crawley sisters: Lady Edith, Lady Mary, and Lady Sybil

The series is lushly produced and the story lines are riveting. In its depiction of the intertwined lives of servants and aristocrats, Downton Abbey recalls one of television’s most beloved programs, Upstairs Downstairs, which aired on MASTERPIECE (then MASTERPIECE THEATRE ) in the 1970s. One of the thrills of MASTER PIECE’s 40th season is a new three-part Upstairs Downstairs with a new cast of characters set in the same house at 165 Eaton Place, taking the story from 1936 to the outbreak of World War II .

The Earl and Countess of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern)

Episode 1
Sunday, January 9, 2011, 9 to 10:30pm
When the Titanic goes down, Lord Grantham loses his immediate heirs, and his daughter Mary loses her fiancé, throwing Downton Abbey and its servants into turmoil. The new heir turns out to be Matthew, a handsome lawyer with novel ideas about country life.

Matthew and his mother are formally received by the servants and family during their first visit to the Abbey

Episode 2
Sunday, January 16, 2011, 9 to 10:30pm
Mary entertains three suitors, including a Turkish diplomat whose boldness leads to a surprising event. Downstairs, the shocking former life of Carson, the butler, is unmasked, and Bates risks his health to remain valet.

Jim Carter (Cranford) as Mr. Carson, the butler

Episode 3
Sunday, January 23, 2011, 9 to 10:30pm
Growing into his role as heir, Matthew brings out the bitter rivalry between sisters Mary and Edith. Servants Thomas and O’Brien scheme against Bates, while head housemaid Anna is increasingly attracted to him. Lady Violet’s winning streak in the flower show is threatened.

The Countess (Elzabeth McGovern) and the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) at the flower show.

Episode 4
Sunday, January 30, 2011, 9 to 10:30pm
The heir crisis at Downton Abbey takes an unexpected turn. Meanwhile, rumors fly about Mary’s virtue. Her sister Sybil takes a risk in her secret political life. Anna unearths Bates’ mysterious past. And O’Brien and Thomas plot their exit strategy.

The Countess of Grantham with her daughter Lady Edith

My posts about Downton Abbey

Cast

Hugh Bonneville (Daniel Deronda, Filth)…Robert, Earl of Grantham
Jessica Brown-Findlay…Lady Sybil Crawley
Laura Carmichael…Lady Edith Crawley
Jim Carter (Cranford)…Mr. Carson
Brendan Coyle (Prime Suspect 7: The Final Act)…John Bates
Michelle Dockery (Return to Cranford)…Lady Mary Crawley
Siobhan Finneran (The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard)… O’Brien
Joanne Froggatt (Robin Hood)…Anna
Thomas Howes…William
Rob James-Collier…Thomas
Rose Leslie…Gwen
Phyllis Logan (Wallander)…Mrs. Hughes
Elizabeth McGovern (A Room with a View)…Cora, Countess of Grantham
Sophie McShera…Daisy
Lesley Nicol (Miss Marple)…Mrs. Patmore
Maggie Smith (Harry Potter)…Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham
Dan Stevens (Sense & Sensibility)…Matthew Crawley
Penelope Wilton (Wives and Daughters)…Isobel Crawley
Charlie Cox (Stardust)…Duke of Crowborough
Kevin Doyle (The Tudors)…Molesley
Robert Bathurst (Emma)…Sir Anthony Strallan
Bernard Gallagher…Bill Molesley
Samantha Bond (Miss Marple)…Lady Rosamund Painswick
Allen Leech (The Tudors)…Tom Branson
Brendan Patrick…Evelyn Napier
David Robb…Dr. Clarkson
Helen Sheals…Postmaster’s Wife

More on the Topic

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Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) examines microscopic evidence

Copyright (c) Jane Austen’s World. The ending of the final episode of Sherlock!, which represented the final Mystery! for PBS’s 2010 Masterpiece season left me sitting on the edge of my seat, and … I won’t spoil your enjoyment if you haven’t watched it yet. Click here to view The Great Game online if you missed it. Two of the three episodes will be available until December 7.

The countdown clock is ticking: 12 hours

Sherlock’s ingenuity is put to the test in The Great Game, which a darker and more complex tale than the previous two episodes. Holmes races against time to solve a mystery that began when he was a boy. Clues arrive from an adversary worthy of Sherlock, whose detective skills are put through their paces. Dr. Watson is also on top of his game, and more critical as Holmes’s partner than ever.

Watson accuses Sherlock of enjoying himself, even as another victim's deadline has dropped to 3 hours

The cat-and-mouse games become more and more intricate as clues arrive from Sherlock’s dangerous adversary. His presence has been hinted at in previous episodes, but, again, I won’t give the game away.

Watson (Martin Freeman) puzzles through the clues, which are elementary for Holmes

The script is fiercely funny and its wit sharper than the edge of a freshly honed knife. The ending is shocking. I won’t give it away except to say that PBS MUST air the second season of this series. That’s all.

The ending is a game changer that makes this series a must-see

Reade other Sherlock! reviews :

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I had never heard of the book Small Island or author Andrea Levy until PBS scheduled the film as the last presentation for Masterpiece Classic this season. The story follows two couples, one from London, England and the other from Jamaica, whose lives intersect at crucial moments. Against the backdrop of World War II and post war England, we learn about the dreams and ambitions of Queenie, Bernard, Hortense, and Gilbert.

David Oyelowo as Gilbert Joseph

The story is about the reaction of the British to the 492 men from the British Colonies who bought passage on the Empire Windrush in 1948 and emigrated to England. Prior to that event, 6,000 West Indian men had volunteered for the RAF during World War II. After the war, they wanted a better life and sought it in the motherland.

Queenie (Ruth Wilson) and Bernard (Benedict Cumberbatch)

As the story unfolded I was struck by the Jamaican islander’s view of their mother country. Their attitude towards England was  loving, deferential, and loyal. While the Jamaicans learned everything they could about English customs and history, the British knew or cared very little about the people they had exploited. Reality sunk in for the young Jamaican men who had signed up to fight alongside the British in WWII. They dreamed of fighting as pilots, but were assigned menial jobs, some not even at the front. Worse, they encountered racism designed to squash their pride and put them in their place.

Hortense (Naomi Harris) goes out shopping properly dressed

David Oyelowo plays Gilbert Joseph, a wonderfully optimistic and cheerful man, who aims to find a better life in the motherland. His dream was to become a lawyer, but in reality he became a postman for the Royal Mail. His scene on the park bench after being humiliated by other postal workers broke my heart. I think I fell a little in love with Mr. Oyelowo then.

Hortense and Gilbert

Hortense (Naomi Harris) dreams of becoming a school teacher in London. An orphan, she pursues her teaching degree in a Jamaican school and learns how to conduct herself properly. Her ambition prompts her to betray a friend and finagle her way into a marriage of convenience with Gilbert, whose passage on the Empire Windrush she finances. Their deal is that he will send for her as soon as he finds a nice place for them to live in London.

Ruth Wilson as Queenie

Queenie (Ruth Wilson)dreams of a more exciting life than on the pig farm that her parents own. We first meet her with her aunt in London, practicing elocution lessons – “the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain”. Queenie’s dreams are squashed when she makes a compromise after her aunt’s death and marries the dull colorless young man who has fallen in love with her. Her existence becomes lackluster and uneventful, and she chafes under her boring routine. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Bernard in the unsympathetic part of Queenie’s husband. Sadly, Bernard has already realized his dream, which was to marry Queenie, who does not love him. He must confront his disillusionment and resistance to change if he is to hold on to his marriage to Queenie.

Bernard (Benedict Cumberbatch)

Then the war begins and suddenly life changes for Queenie, whose path crosses with Gilbert and Hortense, and a mysterious man named Michael, who (coincidentally) Hortense has loved all her life. Rather than spoil the plot, I encourage you to read a lovely synopsis at this PBS link along with an interview with the author, which I recommend highly.

Ashley Walters as Michael

These days we do not often encounter black ladies of the old school. Do you remember them? Their postures were ramrod straight. Their neat clothes did not allow for a single crease. Their hats were proper and decorous, and their purses were held just so in their gloved hands. Their language was grammatically correct, old-fashioned and Victorian, as if they had been taught from a 19th-century grammar book. I volunteered with such a lady, Miss Edna, who had been a school teacher since the 1930’s and who volunteered as a tutor well into her 90’s. Hortense reminded me of Miss Edna. I thought that Naomi Harris captured every aspect of Miss Edna, including her unassailable dignity.

Queenie and Michael

To my mind, Queenie, is the tragic character of this tale. As Andrea Levy said “She is a warmhearted person, a kind person, an open person.” Yet she is not perfect. None of the characters are. The author explains, “With all my characters, I never want them to be perfect, they have faults, just like us all.” Despite her imperfections, Queenie is the heroine who, when faced with a King Solomon decision, does not flinch from choosing the right course.

The acting is superb. There were scenes that caused me to hold my breath, they were that good, and there were times when I literally ached for the characters. When I cried, it was from sympathy, not from a contrived plot. Like real life, this drama is sprinkled with humor, which cuts the tension. At the end of the film, I wanted to see more. Rarely does this happen. PBS will air the first part of Small Island tonight, April 18th at 9 p.m., and the second part on April 25th. I highly recommend that you see it.

Hortense, Michael, and Queenie

If you have missed the first part, you can watch it online at this link starting April 19th through the 25th.

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Rupert Penry-Jones in The 39 Steps

John Buchan wrote The 39 Steps in 1915, creating the genre of the espionage thriller, particularly that subset involving the upper-class gentleman spy. In the book, Richard Hannay, had recently returned to London after years of living in Africa, serving in the Boer War and then working as a mining engineer. It is late spring of 1914; he is bored blind by his present life, and ready for some action. He gets his wish when his neighbor, Scudder, entrusts a mysterious notebook and story of spies about to destroy the British Navy to Hannay and gets killed by German spies in his flat. Naturally, Hannay is assumed guilty of the murder, and, with both spies and police searching for him, he goes to Scotland to unravel the story and thus be found innocent. Like all stories of intricate and slightly implausible plot, the tale unfolds at breakneck speed. Buchan’s book is filled with chance encounters, plot twists, double crosses, chases across the Scottish moors, once with an airplane tracing his movements, and ends with Hannay back in England, uncovering the traitor and foiling the German plot. The book was a huge success.

In 1935, Alfred Hitchcock undertook the challenge of making The 39 Steps into a movie. It was a challenge because of the intricate details and large cast in the book, so Hitchcock developed a very different version: he kept Hannay’s name, the murder of the agent in Hannay’s apartment, and the trip to Scotland to discover whatever he could. But Hitchcock updated the time of the action to the mid-30s, made Hannay Canadian and the spies vaguer in nationality, incorporated a music hall performer named Mr. Memory, and changed the 39 steps from a physical location to a conjuring trick. He also brought in a woman to provide the requisite cinema love interest; they meet cute and dash across the moors of Scotland, handcuffed together for some of the time. Robert Donat played the hapless Canadian Hannay; he was the best part of the movie.

The 39 Steps, as broadcast by PBS Sunday night, is much truer to the original. Rupert Penry-Jones, who has the jaded upper class part down cold, plays Hannay, once again the bored Brit. He is aloof when Scudder barrels into his apartment, disbelieving of the story, until the milkman breaks in and Scudder is murdered. Penry-Jones, who previously appeared as Captain Wentworth in Masterpiece’s broadcast of Persuasion, plays a somewhat understated hero. He is quick off the mark, and, in the manner of such heroes, good looking in face and form. Lizzie Mickery, who adapted the novel for this screenplay, also added female interest: Victoria Sinclair, played with spirit by Lydia Leonard, is a suffragist and also a British agent. Again, there are a number of runs across the moors displaying some really splendid scenery. And once again, Hannay is chased by an airplane; although in a clear homage to Hitchcock, the folks in the plane don’t simply spot him, they shoot at him a la North by Northwest – another great Hitchcock spy caper.

Rupert Penry-Jones (Richard Hannay), Lydia Leonard (Victoria Sinclair)

Captain Maynard, my trustee co-viewer, was delighted to note that the cars and guns were all authentic to the 1914 date. He loves the wonderful Masterpiece productions for this reason. And in my fashion, I liked the accuracy of the costumes, both men and women. The story starts very quickly and tautly, and unwinds without a moment wasted; we were both drawn into it immediately.

We enjoyed the Hitchcock version of the movie, although I thought the addition of the music hall unnecessary, even while recognizing that this was a favorite Hitchcock device. (See also, The Man Who Knew Too Much.) And I could see no purpose to have Donat be Canadian; things were already difficult enough. Hitchcock also likes his hero to be pretty clueless, bumbling from one near-disaster to the next, until he finally adds up the pieces and solves the riddle. Over all, I like my hero to have a little more on the ball, and in this 2008 update, Penry-Jones is quick-witted and in charge; he solves the cipher, recognizes his foes, and works through the puzzle ahead of the Secret Service. He is a nice combination of James Bond and Lord Peter Wimsey: not so over the top or predatory as Bond, a little more physical than Wimsey. The love story is believable, not the comic relief of the Hitchcock version. Victoria is also sharp, has a photographic memory, runs without falling down in a swoon, and altogether plays an effective sidekick. One thing did strike a false note: Victoria calls herself a suffragette rather than suffragist, the less derisive term used always by those indomitable women. The story plays out against the beginning of World War I, building both tension and reality for the spy plot. The last scene shows Hannay, now an officer in the British Army, at St. Pancras station setting off for France. The tantalizing hope is that he and Victoria will have a future after the war. And at this point, Co-viewer and I have changed our allegiance: truer to the book, while building in a female character, this remake is by far the better 39 Steps.

Gentle Readers: My good friend, Lady Anne, an avid fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, wrote this review for my blog. I am, as always, ever so grateful for her learned insights. Watch The 39 Steps online at PBS until March 30. 2010.

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