Review: The Young Visiters

Alfred Saltina (Jim Broadbent) is a very nice, unassuming man with wiry, black hair. One day, he meets Ethel Mabel Monticue (Lyndset Marshal) while they are both riding on the train. Miss Ethel is desirous of meeting a husband, noble or peer preferred. Alfred is smitten and decides to pretend to be acquainted with members of the upper crust of British society, but soon finds that there is more to meeting Miss Ethel’s high demands than he imagined. Offering to host Miss Ethel during a visit in town, he scours his book of contacts and decides to call upon Lord Bernard Clark (Hugh Laurie), who lives in a dark and lonely estate and will provide the sort of pomp and luxury that Ethel desires. Little does Alf know that he has found himself a rival for Miss Ethel’s affection…

The Young Visiters is directed by David Yates and features a wonderful cast of seasoned British actors. The screenplay is based on the novel written by 9 year old Daisy Ashford. It’s a quirky and sometimes silly little story and is brought to life in a suitably whimsical sort of way, but I found myself a bit bored at times. I gave it 3 stars because it did prove entertaining. It sort of reminded me of Nanny McPhee, one of my favorites; it’s an over-saturated Victorian[esque] moral comedy. The sort of thing a child would imagine happens in the world of grown-ups, though it is not a  film that I would recommend for children.

Hopefully, tomorrow’s post will bring the next Lark Rise disc 🙂

Review: Wuthering Heights (2009)

Cross-posted from things she read

My final selection for the Brontë Challenge was Masterpiece Theatre’s loose adaptation of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (2009). This film rendition of the tale does away with the narrative quality of the story, reducing Nellie’s part as narratorand forcing the plot into a more linear storyline. There is a lot more romance, and less Gothic drama, which makes the Bronte’s tale of mad passion and revenge seem more mainstream. I found that this version tries to rationalize Heathcliff’s cruel tendencies by emphasizing the rivalry between him and Hindly, and showing glimpses of his happy, free-spirited childhood with Cathy. Tom Hardy does provide a compelling portrayal of Heathcliff, but I find most of the other characters a bit bland. Heathcliff is portrayed as a deranged, though slightly sympathetic character in this version, which is very different from my understanding of his character in the text. The relationship between the second generation of Earnshaws and Lintons is thrust into the background; the three young cousins are present but their part is minimal in the development of the tale.

Overall, not my favorite adaptation of the novel, but not terrible. It has its moments. I gave it a three-star “Liked It” rating on my Netflix queue.

Review: He Knew He Was Right (BBC, 2004)

Based on Anthony Trollope’s novel of the same name, He Knew He was Right follows the courtship and subsequent marriage of Louis and Emily Trevelyan, as these two try to make a life in England. The union between these two appears blissful, a devoted husband and wife with a small son. Emily shares her home with her sister, Nora, and finds pleasure in the society of her husband and his friend, Hugh Stanbury. However, there is one person who Louis disapproves of, Colonel Osborne, Emily’s godfather and an old friend of her father’s. As Louis begins to suspect that there is more between Osborne and Emily than what would be deemed proper, he tries to forbid Emily’s continued association with that gentleman. When she refuses to give in to his demands, arguing that her relationship is innocent, Louis becomes threatening and irrational, sending Emily and Nora away with little Louis to stay with the Stanburys. Though Emily tries to make her husband see reason, Louis staunchly believes that his suspicion is right and that his wife has betrayed him and shamed him before society. His belief sets into motion a terrible chain of events that forever rends their union and destroys their felicity.

He Knew He was Right has to be the single most tragic period drama I have seen. I don’t think I have ever felt so miserable as a result of the turn of events in a period film, but Louis Trevelyan’s descent into madness as Emily tries to defend her honor and independence really try the viewer’s emotions and bring little satisfaction in the end.

However, while Emily and Louis’s tragic tale dominate the plot, there are several narrative threads that lend some comic relief to the otherwise bleak tale. The arc involving Hugh’s sister, Dorothy, and their rich Aunt Stanbury is sweet and endearing as Dorothy wins that lady’s heart and finds an unexpectedly happy ending with her aunt’s heir. The relationship between pompous parson, Mr. Gibson (played by a very harried-looking David Tennant), and the French sisters also brings some hilarity to the story.

Trollope’s treatment of women’s place and the laws of coverture are incredibly powerful and the film portrays that brilliantly through its depiction of the trials experienced by Emily Trevelyan, as well as Nora, the French sisters, Aunt Stanbury, and Dorothy. It is a great film, but definitely not light-hearted.

Random useless factoid: I had a moment of “Aha!” when I realized that music in the BBC drama promo that they play at the beginning of all the recent BBC video DVDs is from the opening credits to this series.

Review: Emma Part 2

Thank goodness for Masterpiece online, as I missed last night’s viewing.

The score. Love it and can’t wait to get it. The music just seems to fit perfectly with the scenes, which is something that I always look for in a good period film.

I also love the simple graceful lines and fabrics used for the costumes, especially the be-ribboned empire waist day dresses that Emma wears, as well as the delicate and ribboned, Grecian-style coifs that she sports.

There are several elements that are making the series grow on me,  Emma’s introspective scenes in particular, but this is also the point in the story where she started to grow on me as a character when I first read the novel.

I like that the imaginings and flashbacks in this series also add depth to the characters. For example, when Emma imagines Jane Fairfax playing piano for Knightley, the viewer gets a glimpse of Emma’s as yet unexplored feelings towards Knightley. I haven’t watched the other Emmas in a while, but I don’t recall seeing this device in the other adaptations.

Laura Pyper as Jane Fairfax is also growing on me, though Rupert Evans as Frank Churchill still gets on my nerves, but that may be because I always found Mr. Churchill’s dealings with Miss Fairfax and Emma to be truly mean-spirited and Evans’ portrayal is definitely playing on that characteristic.

Christina Cole as Mrs. Elton is just as obnoxious as I imagine, though I keep thinking of her as the honorable Blanche Ingram in Jane Eyre whenever she appears with Mr. Elton.

Jonny Lee Miller as Mr. Knightley is also growing on me; the longing glances and his interaction with Garai’s Emma are making him a lot more noble in my estimation.

Review: Emma Part 1 (PBS)

Happily, I was wrong 🙂 I did get home in time to catch the first episode of Emma on Masterpiece.

Emma is my second least favorite Austen novel, after Mansfield Park, though Mr. Knightley is one of my favorite Austen men, after Darcy and Wentworth. That said, I have always been somewhat partial to the 1996 adaptation starring Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma (though this may be because I think Jeremy Northam is a hot Mr. Knightley).

Thus far, I find I’m enjoying the adaptation, but I don’t think it will ever be one of my favorites.

The opening sequence was interesting, if a bit unusual. For some reason, it reminded me of Nanny McPhee. Poor little Frank and Jane at the mercy of their caretakers and little, motherless Emma watching it all. I felt at any moment, Nanny McPhee would swoop in and take them all in hand.

The many faces of Romola Garai were also a bit off-putting. It seemed like overacting, but I imagine it was meant to set the tone for Emma’s machinations (?). Her eyes seemed like they were about to pop out of her head for most of the episode. Like so:

During the Emma watching Twitter party, someone mentioned that Romola Garai looks a bit like Drew Barrymore in this one (I think it was CharleyBrown77) … I have to admit, I see a touch of Drew Barrymore’s Danielle (Ever After) in Garai’s Emma, though much more expressive.

Perhaps I’ll enjoy the second episode more as I tend to prefer the second half of the novel, (in which Emma receives the wrath of Knightley’s disapproval and has a change of heart).

Review: Return to Cranford

Weekends are usually slow at work, so I try to fill up my time with school work or personal projects whenever I have nothing to work on. I was very productive this week, so I was left with nothing to do, unless I wanted to get ahead on classwork for the next two weeks, so I packed a pair of headphones and settled in to watch the last episode of Return to Cranford (I missed it when it aired).

Return to Cranford

Overall, I did not enjoy Return to Cranford quite as much as I enjoyed the original Cranford series. I still love Miss Matty’s sweetness, and Miss Pole’s manner, but there was something lacking from this story. While the first Cranford had its share of melancholy moments, there was a sense of calm satisfaction with the state of things that added to the charm of the storyline. I don’t mean to give away too many plot spoilers, but there are an awful lot of deaths in this story, not least of which is the unexpected death of a very minor character of the four-legged variety (almost as bad as when JKR kills off Hedwig).

A few new characters also joined the town in this series, Celia Imrie as Lady Glenmire being my favorite.

The story ends on a high note, but I felt that there were a lot of loose endings that remained unresolved; I think part of this has to do with the feeling that there was too much going on at once–changes in the town, the matter of the railway, deaths, births, comings and goings, new faces, a love story, an intrigue. The vignettes in Return to Cranford were as sprawling as the railway; I prefer the steady stroll of the first Cranford.

I was also pleased with the quality of the PBS online video (hadn’t had the chance to rely on it before). I’ll probably miss Emma tonight, so it’s good to have the online option 🙂

Review: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Crossposted from things she read

This weekend, I watched the BBC’s 1996 adaptation of Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, starring Tara Fitzgerald, Toby Stephens, and Rupert Graves. This is one of the two movies I selected as part of the “All about the Brontës” challenge and I was not disappointed.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Having read the novel a few months ago, I was eager to watch the series. As with most novels that are adapted into film, the series differed from the book but I found that it did not take away from the experience. Tenant is a disturbing tale and the series effectively captured the threat and anxiety of Helen’s situation. The novel is complex in its exploration of women’s place in society and the tenuous position of wives and mothers in particular. The film did a good job of emphasizing this by presenting Helen as the focal point of the story, though removing Mr. Markham as the main narrator of the tale.

Tara Fitzgerald’s portrayal of Helen added to my understanding of that character. In my reading, Helen came across as a very hard and pious individual, seeming a bit priggish until I learned the reasons for her high moral stance. While watching the film, I felt sympathetic towards Helen from the beginning, the occasional flashbacks that she experiences aiding the viewer in understanding her obvious sadness and isolation, and her devotion to her son. When reading the novel, my sympathy towards Helen grew when she reveals her past to Gilbert Markham, about halfway through the book.

The interaction between Gilbert and Helen is less charged in the film, as many of the misunderstandings that arise during their early interactions are glossed over. Their friendship is a lot more easy in the adaptation and Gilbert seems much less proud than he does in the book.

I found that Rupert Graves was wonderful as Huntingdon. He played such a vile character and really made me hate Huntingdon. The relationship between Helen and Huntingdon was sexed up in the film, adding a different dimension to my understanding of the situation between these two.

All in all, a good start to my Brontë-watching 🙂

work and play

School has ended for the semester, so I am taking advantage of the lull to work on my Book Drum profile and get back to writing. These holidays always pass very quickly, but it seems so different now that I’m not a traditional student. Just a year ago, I graduated with my MA, but starting a distance-learning program just six months after has led to a very different sort of learning experience. It’s interesting and I have to admit that I do enjoy the independance it allows me; in many ways, it seems like an independent study program.

In between all the writing and research (funny, I never thought I would return to a subject that I spent so many months working on for my thesis), I’ve been watching “Lark Rise to Candleford” and loving it almost as much as I loved “Cranford” last year. Small town dramas have always been especially charming to me and this one is no exception. My b-chan finds it amusing that I am so into period pieces and shojo anime, he’s never met anyone who is so into “girly” shows.

Review: The Barchester Chronicles


I’ve been going through my queue, so it’s time for another period film review 🙂

After watching “The Way We Live Now,I decided to go through the Anthony Trollope BBC collection. Based on Trollope’s The Warden and Barchester Towers, “The Barchester Chronicles” follows the religious and political machinations underfoot in the town of Barchester.

While some of the older BBC series often feel like dated set pieces (this one was released in 1982), this one seemed as fresh as “Cranford”. And like “Cranford,” the characters are wonderfully developed–Mr. Harding is as sweet and endearing as Miss Matty.

I did not think I was going to enjoy the series after watching the first episode, but it was the dynamic between Mr. Harding and Mr. Grantly that captured my interest and made me stick to it.

The parallel between Mr. Grantly’s tantrums and Mr. Harding’s easy manner adds to the tempest in a teacup quality that drives the plot. Every move is a political move of great importance in Mr. Grantly’s estimation; he must have his way or else! Mr. Harding, however, is a man of great conscience and empathy–according to Mr. Grantly, it is his greatest weakness. What else must a clergyman be if not immune to empathy? Of course, there is a limit to the level of empathy that any man can possess, as is evidenced by Mr. Harding’s less-than-warm reception of Mr. Obadiah Slope–the sleazy chaplain played by a young Alan Rickman.

While I enjoyed the series, I cannot call it a favorite. I haven’t read Trollope and so can’t compare the series to the novels, but I find that it takes a little more effort on my part to enjoy the Trollope collection. The first time I watched “The Way We Live Now,” I stopped watching after the first episode and only returned to it a few months later because I forgot to remove it from my Netflix queue and received it. I didn’t make the same mistake with “Barchester;” though the first episode was slow, I convinced myself to keep watching and found that the slow start gave way to an interesting story.

Review: Berkeley Square

A look at my Netflix queue looks something like Period Films 101. I love a good costume drama–the more corsets and bustles, the better–so I’ve decided to start blogging about these. I blog about one of my pastimes, why don’t I blog about this one?

berkeley-sqI recently watched Berkeley Square, a drama set in Edwardian London that follows the travails of three nannies: straight-laced and dedicated Matty, naive but loyal Lydia, and troubled Hannah. Each nanny has her own story, their lives coming together as they enter the tight-knit community of nannies that serve the families of Berkeley Square. Despite the differences in their character, the three women bond over the difficulties of their position as women and servants. The series raises issues of social justice for women and the working class, as well as the question of women’s right to experience love when serving in a profession that requires complete dedication to the demands of one’s employer.

I was surprised by some of the issues raised by the series. Hannah’s story in particular raises several issues concerning women’s tenuous position as mothers and workers during this era. An unwed mother, Hannah finds herself in trouble when her child’s father, her only protector, dies in an accident. Struggling to keep her child safe, Hannah is forced to leave little Billy in another’s care before she can take up her post as nanny. Keeping her child secret from her employer and friends, Hannah acts as a mother for the children in her care, but is unable to do the same for her own child.

The series is a must-watch for any lover of period pieces. The storyline is intriguing and illustrative of a slice of Edwardian life that is often overlooked. Think of it as The Nanny Diaries with prams and prying nursemaids.