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- learning foreign languages (I speak English, German, Czech and a little Italian. I dream to learn French and Spanish),
- travelling (I have visited most European countries and the Middle East),
The celebrities I like are:
- James Caviezel,
- Peter O'Toole,
- Sian Phillips,
- Maggie Smith,
- Judi Dench,
- William Hurt,
- Valentina Cortese,
- Monica Bellucci
- Brendan Gleeson
- Kevin Costner
- Gerard Depardieu
- Helen Mirren
- Russel Crowe
- Bruno Ganz
- Juliane Kohler
- Vanessa Redgrave
- Sean Bean
- Derek Jacobi
The late celebrities I like are:
- Greta Garbo,
- Romy Schneider,
- Giulietta Masina,
- Anna Magnani,
- John Gilbert,
- Richard Harris,
- Richard Basehart,
- Marcello Mastroianni,
- Alec Guinness,
- Annie Rosar,
- Anthony Quinn,
- Clarke Gable,
- Vivien Leigh,
- Claudette Colbert,
- Ingrid Bergman.
My favorite directors are:
- Franco Zeffirelli,
- Federico Fellini,
- Roberto Rossellini,
- Luchino Visconti
- Vittorio De Sica,
- Michelangelo Antonioni (here Italians rule!)
- Ridley Scott,
- Kevin Reynolds,
- Robert Wise,
- Cecil B DeMille,
- Joseph L Mankiewicz,
- Francois Truffaut,
- Claude Sautet,
- Mervyn LeRoy,
- William Wyler,
- Julien Duvivier,
- Mel Gibson.
One of the genres I like most are epic films. The best ones for me are:
- THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST
- BEN HUR (both silent and sound)
- QUO VADIS?
- KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
- CLEOPATRA (1934 and 1963)
- THE SIGN OF THE CROSS
- JESUS OF NAZARETH
- THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
- HELEN OF TROY
Therefore, I like Cecil B DeMille whom I consider a genius of biblical films.
I also love old classical dramas, the best one of all I consider QUEEN CHRISTINA by Rouben Mamoulian with Greta Garbo and John Gilbert.
A movie that had an impact on my life was BROTHER SUN SISTER MOON by Franco Zeffirelli.
Besides, I am a fan of some silent films. These are the ones I saw and liked very much:
- FLESH AND THE DEVIL
- THE SUNRISE
- THE LAST LAUGH
- BIG PARADE
- A WOMAN OF AFFAIRS
- THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE
- THE KING OF KINGS
Among psychological movies and specific interpretations of the world, Fellini is no. 1. Although I don't agree with his vision of the world, I love his movies from the 1950s, including LE NOTTI DI CABIRIA and like some of the 1960s and 1970s, like LA DOLCE VITA or GIULIETTA DEGLI SPIRITI. OTTO E MEZZO (8 1/2 is also worth consideration as a great work). But as far as this theme is concernced, I am very much interested in Italian Neorealism, resembled most in GERMANIA ANNO ZERO and ROMA CITTA APERTA.
I don't like science fiction movies and I don't watch many horrors, however some of them are worth consideration.
One of Most Accurate Movies
APARICAO ('Apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima) by Daniel Costele is not one of those 'top' films about the greatest Marian Apparitions of the 20th century but, surprisingly, one of those 'most accurate' films made so far.
This year, when we celebrate the centenary of those miraculous events that took place at Fatima, Portugal in 1917, a lot of documentaries, films, archive footage are brought to light. Costele's film, definitely, should not be skipped for several reasons that make it a truly outstanding cinematic work.
Firstly, it is the only film that develops the 1916 apparitions of the Angel of Peace who appeared to children, Lucia, and now saints Jacinta and Francisco and prepared them for later apparitions of Our Lady by teaching them a significant prayer. This prayer was deeply rooted in the spirit of sacrifices that they more and more willingly undertook for sinners and their conversion. The scenes with the Angel are the great plus of the movie because 13th May 1917 when Madonna appeared to children was another 'step' in the process of their spiritual and mystical experience.
Secondly, Costele's film places the story in the very political context of the Portugal of these years, turbulent years indeed. The anti-clerical government begun by Alfonso Costa with the rise of the Republic in 1910 and the bastion of their media, the newspaper 'O Seculo' (which, paradoxically, promoted the events at Fatima through their mockery) is embodied by the mayor of Vila Nova de Ourem (a municipality superior to Aljustrel and Fatima) Arturo de Oliveira Santos. He arrests the children in the cells of prison at Ourem and demands of them to reveal the secret that the Lady placed upon them. Here is a nice contrast between the earthly powers of freemasonry and totalitarisms and the powers of heaven: frightening vs. love. He frightens them, that is his only weapon while Our Lady says: "Do not be afraid'
It is also a crucial aspect for all those that considered Fatima events as some doomed, gloomy prophecy, a secret of total destruction that was meant to scare the world, place it in fear. On the contrary, it is a message of God's Love, of peace that may be achieved through prayer, penance and sacrifice.
Although Fabrizio Costa's movie of 1997 also develops this aspect of Portuguese history, it goes quite far to the more fictitious plots and events. That is not bad, though, it might miss the point sometimes.
Thirdly, the film does justice to the depiction of children's families. Olimpia and Manuel Marto, the parents of Jacinta and Francisco, perhaps do not have so many doubts as Lucia's mother Maria Rosa. Yet, in both families, there is that pure modesty, that feeling that "We are not worthy. How is that possible?" Yes, God chooses those 'little ones' to entrust them those 'great things.' In that respect, I would like to call your attention to two scenes: Lucia's mother visiting the parish priest and Lucia's father praying the Rosary with her at Cova da Iria. Two different attitudes, yet deeply rooted in faith.
Finally, the film was most welcome by two greatest Fatima witnesses of the 20th century: saint John Paul II and Servant of God Sister Lucia. They both saw the film and the children who play Jacinta, Francisco and Lucia were with John Paul II at Fatima altar in 1991 in exactly the same dresses as the seers of Fatima were once wearing.
"Do not offend God any longer, pray Rosary each day" that is the Message of the Beautiful Lady that 100 years ago appeared in this little village, Fatima. That is the remedy for world's suffering, that is the way of permanent peace. The saint Pastorinhos and their "Ave Maria" echoes from there to the whole world.
The Strauss Family: Adele (1972)
All His Life He Was Waiting For Her...
After the turmoil-ed marriage with a girl-wife, we get a rather pessimistic view of the aging Johann Strauss (Stuart Wilson). Not only has he failed in his marriage but also in relations with his close family, namely his younger brother Eduard Strauss (Tony Anholt). Ambitious, proud and determined, Edi performs at the Sperl and plays Johann Strauss's waltzes. Considering Schani 'out of date,' he believes that it is him that people come to see. Moreover, he does not object to the spreading rumor that Schani allegedly stole late Josef's works and plays them as his own. Quite difficult brother-brother relations but not sufficient dramatization, unfortunately. Edi's sarcasm towards Schani's 'out of date' approach to music will be cured in America which will make him 'old fashioned' and 'afraid.'
Schani's sisters are not quite a comfort either (mind you that they may remind you here of English ladies at tea). The reason for their outright objections, however, lies elsewhere - in a relationship with a woman that becomes a true haven and remedy for loneliness of the aging man, a woman for whom he was waiting all his life...
Adele (Lynn Farleigh) is a Jewess, a widow who lives alone with her little daughter Alice. Unlike the depiction in STRAUSS DYNASTY where Johann Strauss meets her in Budapest, the emphasis here is put on the fact that she lives in the same building as Schani's sisters. Respectable as she appears to all of them, it is hardly possible in Catholic Austria that Schani could divorce his girl-wife and get married again. This convention and the social situation is nicely depicted in a scene with Edi Strauss who highly objects to this, as he calls it, 'mad idea.' Yet, Adele finds Schani 'gentle and kind,' their relationship is not only based on passion but also understanding and he risks everything. Schani gets German citizenship, becomes a Protestant, divorces his wife Lili and marries Adele. Then, they come back to Vienna and...everybody waits for the reactions of the Viennese. His return is marked by the debut of the operetta 'Die Zigeunerbaron' and what follows are tributes... There is still success awaiting for the aging composer that is not merely resorted to 'glass cases.' Mind you that the episode spans quite many years of Schani's life and, therefore, we find him growing old very quickly.
Although the final episode is titled 'Adele' and Lynn Farleigh leaves a lasting impression of depicting a gentle, subtle woman of sophistication and dignity, the two most memorable scenes of the episode do not refer to her, actually. These are the second meeting of Johann Strauss and emperor Franz Josef and the 50th jubilee of Schani's career at the Dommayer's. The meeting with Franz Josef with the sounds of the beautiful and moody "Kaiserwaltz" in the background appears to depict the confrontation of popularity. The two aging gentlemen, in spite of the fact that they represent two 'worlds,' seem to have much in common, they care for their public (humorously Schani changes his looks in order not to be like the emperor). Their conversation echoes the one of episode 5 but it is more a talk of legacy than plans. Whose work will outlast whose? Meanwhile, the scene at the Dommayer's occurs to be the answer for the emperor's dilemma. 50 years later, there are no Claques who would mock the young composer but true fans who applaud their great musician, the symbol of Vienna on the day of his jubilee. Sentimental as the scene may seem, which also sets the tone for final impressions in a viewer, it leads the series to a jubilant conclusion.
Among the supporting performances of the episode, a mention must be made of the actor who plays Johannes Brahms in one short scene, short but memorable, too. In STRAUSS DYNASTY, there is also a scene with Brahms in a far more 'unusual' circumstances where he turns up to help Schani save his face and intends to state publicly that Strauss could never steal his brother's work.
Apart from some fine historical touches in the episode, there is also a notion of the first telephones, 'that thing' to speak to, as Schani calls it.
'All my life I was waiting for you...' a pretty nice thing for a woman to hear from her husband no matter how much older he is...a pretty nice reflection of a passing man. A statement that refers to true love, the only thing worth looking for, struggling for, creating for and withering for.
The empty Sperl, no Johann Strauss any longer, no dancers of that time but music lasts and is for always present in the air of Vienna, the waves of the Danube and the hearts of people.
The Strauss Family: Lili (1972)
After the premiere of Johann Strauss's famous waltz 'The Blue Danube' and the male fascination of one Marie Geistinger (Cheryl Kennedy), the episode begins with full pomp of Schani's smashing success. This time, its location is not the ballrooms of Vienna but the New World. Calling London 'wet' and America 'enormous' Schani (Stuart Wilson) together with his older wife Hetti (Margaret Whiting) soon comes back to Vienna. The king of waltz is back to his hometown, 'the only king in America they wanted to crown...' However, he does not appear so successful within his own family. This not only refers to his closest family but also to women that seem to admire him like an idol and fail to see him as a human being.
a note about the musical pieces: While episode 6 "Hetti" included 'The Blue Danube,' in episode 7 "Lili" we can admire 'Wienerblut' (Viennese Blood) and operetta 'Die Fledermaus.' They marked the pinnacle of success for the composer.
In the first half of the episode, the director along with the screenwriter do not call our attention to one of those young delicious 'darlings' - the title character Lili (played by Georgina Hale) but to Hetti because she sets the accurate context for the events to come. She changes her attitude completely from what was in the previous episode and feels herself useless, old, unattractive and not fitting for so great a composer as Johann Strauss. With reference to many women in STRAUSS FAMILY, she is a true embodiment of artificial attempts to make herself a center of attention by all means despite some natural state of events. Schani gets bored with her. Moreover, the shocking fact of her grown up son who claims certain rights impacts their marriage even more negatively (in STRAUSS DYNASTY, this plot is more dramatically developed by the fact that this is her son of Johann Strauss the Elder and, consequently, Hetti commits suicide out of fear that the truth could be revealed - as I have stated before, Cherie Lunghi is better than Margaret Whiting in the role). As a result, Schani's attention is drawn to other women...and there are many among his fans.
The problem, however, is the fact they are much younger than him yet much more experienced in how to allure a man. Although we first may think that this woman will be Marie Geistinger, as the previous episode would anticipate, she is more like Anne Baxter in the role of Eve in Mankiewicz's ALL ABOUT EVE being more independent, saying straight to the theater director Max Steiner (William Dexter): "I belong to no one!" Marie (whose counterpart in J Chomsky's STRAUSS DYNASTY is sexy Eva played by Paris Jefferson) is talented, beautiful and extremely ambitious. But Lili? Before I move to Lili, the title character of the episode and, perhaps, the most tragic, disastrous femme fatale for a Strauss, let me make some brief note about Edi (Tony Anholt).
The episode contains a truly splendid depiction of close family relations not only in Strauss family but in any family of famous people where jealousy, prejudice, psychological wounds, neglections and rivalry may appear. This jealousy of Edi Strauss that grew more intense after the death of their brother Josef is unrestrained. His wife Marie fans the flame of those negative emotions when she asks: "Does Edi always have to be the second best?" As Schani's popularity grows and he is more and more widely acclaimed as 'The Strauss', Edi grows horns. The sisters are of no comfort or constructive help. Schani is more reasonable in this brotherly rivalry and he states clearly that he is not "entering any contest of popularity" with his brother, but the situation becomes more serious when his private life breaks into pieces.
a little note about a performance: Tony Anholt portrays a jealous man a little bit too gently. We can deduce the turmoil that takes place in his mind but it's all too little dramatic, wild, neurotic).
Hetti falls ill and dies and Schani, in the sorrow of loss, comes across Cafe Victoria where Lili is introduced to him. Much to the surprise of his family, in one of the most hilarious scenes of the episode, he introduces her to his brother and sisters as a newly wed wife. Young, beautiful, sexy, making him much younger, just sweetness and pleasure itself! Consider the decor of their bedroom as a terrific visual/symbolic aspect. It is a place of illusion, a lustful pleasure itself, a short-lived substitute for true love. Schani is no longer bored but the problem is that soon Lili is bored. She wants life full of extravagant pleasures, constant fun, company of various people and wild nights. He is too tired and too busy working for such a lifestyle and temper. A taste of disappointment goes with a taste of treason...a marriage doomed to fail.
Georgina Hale gives a very good performance as Lili highlighting this balance of cheap sentiment, lust and hidden personal motives. Emma Bowe in STRAUSS DYNASTY portrays just a silly, ridiculous woman in love with jewels and nudity. Stuart Wilson as Schani is, for the first time in the series, laughable and pitied. The final scene when he plays his waltz at the portrait of Hetti embraces all emotional turmoils herein depicted. Does not appear to anticipate much, though.
The Strauss Family: Hetti (1972)
A Woman like That...
The carnival is on, all Vienna is taken with Strauss's music but, as the many audiences often throw you flowers and forget you are human," hardly anyone seems to understand a celebrity. The 'idol' of the crowds also has the right to his private life. This episode, unlike many of the previous ones, makes this notion clearly remarkable. Schani, after the disappointing experience with Olga, listens to the call of his heart and is taken with a sophisticated influential woman, Hetti (Margaret Whiting) much to the dismay of his mother (Anne Stallybrass). It is she who shaped his future and who finds it really hard to accept things as they are. The haunt of the past co-exists with the reality of the present.
Dramatised by David Butler, the episode primarily concentrates on Hetti (Margaret Whiting), Schani's first wife. When they get to know each other, he utters a memorable line: I never knew what it meant to be alive before I met you." Although I personally prefer Cherie Lunghi in STRAUSS DYNASTY (1991), Ms Whiting highlights her aristocratic high airs and her older age (10 years older than Schani). "A woman like that..." referred to by Schani's mother, she encourages Schani to play more and more with his brothers, Josef (Nicholas Simmonds), weak and rather indecisive whom we got to know in the previous episode and Edward (Tony Anhalt), more ambitious, more lasting. Three brothers together! Schani's mother strongly opposes but when she realizes that she cannot insist on her ways to her grown up son, she retires and moves to oblivion. It is no concern of hers anymore...
Schani's fascination towards Hetti is nicely compared to his father's fascination towards Emily Trampusch (Barbarra Ferris). She has her scene in the episode as an old woman living the haunt of the past, cherishing a few years worth living for, forgotten and abandoned within the dust of long ago. Quite a drama to depict Schani offering help, financial help to the woman who ruined the marriage of his parents... The reason for understanding his father is his love to Hetti.
One of the most touching scenes of the episode and of the entire series is Anna Strauss' death scene. Holding the waltz composed by Schani at the age of three, she passes away in disappointment, sorrow, loneliness while all Strauss family are having fun at the ball. What is more tragic a fact, which Marvin J Chomsky in his later version does not dare depict so cruelly, is that Schani refuses to take part in his mother's funeral. In the 1991 version, Hetti gets the telegram to Paris after the premiere of Blue Danube waltz and hides the sad information from Schani because they are going for the tour nee in America. Later, as Schani finds out his mother is dead, he mourns her and yells on Hetti in despair. Here, he says "Nothing will have changed" and accepts the fact with an emotionless reaction. Soon, however, his brother Josef dies too. Edi (Tony Anhalt), the only brother left anticipates more a jealous than a modest attitude...
This episode also includes the premiere of the famous waltz by Schani Strauss titled 'The Blue Danube.' Here, the title character Hetti also has her word of advice. Initially thought to be a choral waltz with rather ridiculous lines to sing: In Vienna be gay" (unlike "In Vienna be glad in the later version) Schani takes Hetti's advice and plays it without any words. Taking into account the rather sad context within the family when two of its members are gone, the atmosphere is not that gay and jubilant as in STRAUSS DYNASTY where he premieres the waltz in Paris with standing ovation. Here, he plays the waltz in a small casino, small but meaningful for Strauss family. However, it is not Hetti's husband's night...as she would suspect but another woman stands in the way, another source of fascination and inspiration...
The Blue Danube waltz, perhaps the most famous waltz that people associate Johann Strauss with, and Hetti absorbed by bitterness and jealousy mark the final credits of the episode.
The Strauss Family: Josef (1972)
Man of Many Talents
Years have passed since the death of Johann Strauss Sr, Anna Strauss is an elderly woman with as much vibrant energy as she used to and now it is Schani (Stuart Wilson) who is the head of the family. Popular among Viennese audiences, dancing people who is, as Prince Metternich said, 'a happy people' he does not go to the court as the new court music director but it is rather the court that comes to him. He meets emperor Franz Josef and it is a memorable encounter where two worlds meet: the world of art and the world of politics. Both want happy people... However, it is not Schani nor the young emperor (Nicholas Jones) at the center of attention in this episode.
Directed by David Giles and dramatized by David Butler, the episode calls our attention on Schani's younger brother Josef called Pepi (Nicholas Simmonds). First, because of engagement with a beautiful Carolyne played by young Jane Seymour; second, because of taking over the family's passion and work for music. When Schani realizes that he wanted to be just like his father who would never stop but died young, he falls ill placing himself on the verge of nervous exhaustion and burning himself out. A man of many talents, a writer, painter, an architect, and engineer and a musician Josef Strauss evokes and takes over filed with contradictory emotions, as he points out, 'excited and frightened.' Josef is portrayed in an accurate fashion by the actor who highlights his doubts, his fears, his ambitions as well as the fact that he 'owes it to his family.' The scene of his first performance is brilliance in itself focusing on inexperience combined with curiosity of novelties. Josef rises in fame and Edi, another brother, in jealousy... However, as the episode's dramatization rightly develops the character of Josef Strauss, it seems to get out of its track in the second half.
There, we have Schani and his trip to Russia where he plays for the tsar and has an episodic love affair with one Olga, a girl of aristocratic background. Romantic and sentimental as it may seem (sometimes even too much), this plot should not have been incorporated into this episode. It would, equally well, make a perfect material for an entirely separate episode since there is hardly any emotional development here. Schani's trip to Russia is far better depicted in Marvin J Chomsky's version where you have true passion, torments and determination on the verge of madness from Olga portrayed there by Alice Krige. Here, their scenes resort to sheer idealistic sentimentalism - the heights they can reach hardly understood by today's audiences. Even the scene at Olga's mother does not have that dramatic impulse simply because the whole plot needs insight. The busts in Greek and Roman style that stand in her home do not correspond to the Russian context at all. Pity there is such a serious flaw but that plot which takes approximately 12 minutes of the episodes is bound to fail.
Soon, however, we come back to Vienna with Schani who gets over the failed love affair easily and amuses important people with significant goals and ambitions and delightful tastes. It is Baron Todesco with a woman, considerably older than the King of Waltz, yet with considerably sufficient crush on him, Hetti (Margaret Whiting) - a woman who will play a decisive role in Schani's upgrading and a dramatic role in his mother's oblivion.
Among the supporting cast of the episode, a mention should be made of the actress who plays Carolyne's mother, Ms Brockmeyer and Nicholas Jones who plays Franz Josef.
The Strauss Family: Revolution (1972)
Destruction of Old Order
After the very atmospheric and austere episode about the new star, the young Johann Strauss's debut at Dommayer's, we get a slightly different tone now. The historic event of the revolution that took place in 1848 (also in Vienna) marked the destruction of the old order not only in political but also the cultural world. As Johann Strauss the Elder (Eric Woofe) points it out here: "Nothing will be quite the same again." For some indeed, nothing else will matter and for others, everything will... It was truly "somebody else's night." The stone that breaks the glass of the window where Emily (Barbara Ferris) is sure no one can spoil the night is just a prelude...
Dramatized by Anthony Skene and directed by Peter Potter, episode 4 titled "Revolution" puts emphasis on the events of 1848 and the Strauss Family coping with the horror of the revolution. This time, however, it is Johann Strauss and his "Mrs Strauss" who are in far greater trouble, the financial trouble as well. As the revolution breaks out, they have to flee from Vienna (Strauss being suspected of supporting Prince Metternich and his "old order") and go to England. It is the time when Johann Strauss composes the famous Radetsky March, the piece he is most famous for. But the unforgettable sounds of this march we do not hear as it happens today in the joy of the New Year's wishes but in the gloom of the revolution, its destruction, its arrogance, its violence and misery. While away from home, the revolutionists break into and vandalize everything at hand. They burn his music. In one of the saddest scenes of the series, they come back seeing the tragic condition of their house. Now he can only glimpse the vision of the youth and the new order. As they come back, his children fall ill and there is no money for the doctor. The troubles drive Emily to despair and insanity.
Meanwhile, Anna and her children (Edward being the youngest son who visits his father regularly) do not only glimpse the vision of the youth but live it. They represent a far more positive attitude, a true determination to survive and come out of it all stronger. To view comes Josef Strauss as a young revolutionist and his girl Caroline (played by Jane Seymour). We see the turmoil of the revolution from the inside perspective and more and more of Anna as a caring mother and a forgiving wife. She proves not to be selfish (as Dommayer asks her a rhetorical question: Where would be be without Schani?) and gives some money to her husband who begs her to help his illegitimate children. What a woman! What a courage!
But it is not quite the determination that seems to take over in this episode but far more values. Within the gloomy aspect of Johann Strauss's sickness and death (he died in September 1849 of the scarlet fever that he had caught from his illegitimate children), it is his true family who are at his dead body. Abandoned by those who represented illusive love and passion of a moment and prayed for by those whom he, for some time, ignored. Marvin J Chomsky in his later version STRAUSS DYNASTY depicts the last days of Johann Strauss the Elder memorably as well but the aspect of forgiveness and the drama that must have taken place within his wife's heart is really here. Perhaps a bit too dramatic and stagy these scenes might occur from today's perspective, but they truly leave a lasting impression. There, you feel you are watching a story of a real family, there, you feel that characters of great heart are depicted, those who give and want nothing in return. I mean primarily Anna here and Anne Stallybrass has some more moments of truly strong performance.
Among the supporting cast of the episode, John Harvey as Prince Metternich deserves credit. He is different than Edward Fox in the later version, the development of the character is quite episodic here but there is one line he utters that needs mentioning: Man without his work is nothing." That is what he says to Johann Strauss while they stay in a hotel room in London. And Strauss came back with his Radetsky March and his last applause.
While Schani's music is admired in all Vienna now and the Sperl is filled with his waltzes, there is a reflection of a woman at a grave of Strauss Family Senior who lived for only 45 years.
The Strauss Family: Schanni (1972)
A New Star
A young talented man who is going to be one of the most famous musicians of his time does not look so self confident and promising in the beginning..."Will I pass?" young Schani (Stuart Wilson) asks his mother at the beginning of the episode. He is afraid, he is inexperienced, he has to look for musicians to his orchestra. Nevertheless, he may truly achieve 'the impossible' even if all the world around seems not to care but, most importantly, the will is there.
Dramatised by Anthony Skene, the third episode of this wonderful series appears to be solely dedicated to young Schani Strauss (Stuart Wilson), who unlike his famous father (Eric Woofe), now a court music director and a star at the Sperl, will have to face some awful obstacles and yet will succeed being coined 'a new star' Strauss vs. Strauss, the Sperl vs. Dommayer; performance at the luxurious Sperl vs. debut at a 'suburban hall' and yet, the result is surprising.
The episode dramatizes two views on music, the ones that not only appeared at the time of Schani's debut but has occurred in many generations resulting more in a wall than a bridge. We see a young composer with fresh, new look on music and some closest people around him who are willing to give him a push. That is, mainly, his mother (Anne Stallybrass). Here, she becomes even more positive a character than she was in the previous episodes. She takes Schani's side with all her heart and soul. With obstacles comes the 'circle of the acclaimed,' mainly Schani's father and his impresario Hirsch played by David de Keyser. They want to spoil the debut of the young musician by giving the concert at the Sperl on the very same date. But, two concerts on one day which will certainly make the audiences take sides is not enough for Hirsch. He visits a sophisticated 'primadonna' Signora Lucari (Sonia Dresdel) and asks her to send a group of the Claque to Dommayer's in order to mock and spoil the debut performance. There are always and everywhere people of quite wretched characters who will dare any malicious deeds for money... Out of fear of success and jealousy, the elderly do anything to stop the boy and his mother from possible dawn of a career. The haunt of oblivion appears too strong.
Mind you the scene Johann Strauss visits his wife and wants Schani to play in his orchestra. The moment is also echoed in the later version of STRAUSS DYNASTY where the reaction of Anna (Lisa Harrow) is an outcry 'NEVER' but as short as it may seem there, this episode develops the encounter more effectively. The scene is genuine, indeed. Anna (Anne Stallybrass) presents herself as a woman who has never known what choosing is in life but her primary goal now is the happiness of Schani, his independent happiness. He is the head of the family now. She shows Johann a piece of paper with notes that Schani wrote at the age of six. It is good to pay attention to this 'relic' so much cherished by her because it will be referred to in a more touching scene later in the series... Top notch performances by Ms Stallybrass and Mr Woofe!
Schani's indefatigable struggle to success is nicely depicted at Dommayer's (Christopher Benjamin). When, among the beautiful sounds of his first waltzes, the Claque prove to be the people "skilled at making their presence felt in the performance" (as Hirsch states once), he does not give up and insists "I will play my music anyway!" Consequently, he prompts the whole mocking laughter of the situation turn into applauding acclaim; sheer parody into valuable entertainment. The scene is long, indeed, interrupted from time to time by some unnecessary lines and seemingly dated nowadays but it is one of the most memorable moments of the series. Truly, it was supposed to be catchy because this was actually the dawn of Schani's career, a real debut. Yes, it is the highlight of the episode when Signora Lucari, the one who mockingly calls Strauss music, 'cafe music' pays tribute to a 'new star.' A great supporting performance by Sonia Dresdel!
Johann Strauss the Elder does not feel like a triumph at the Sperl where, the so much expected emperor does not appear anyway, because the triumph is clearly elsewhere. But it is not the Johann Strauss who is totally overcome by jealousy and that is good because it makes him more likable. In one moment when the news of the Claque comes to him, he says "Schani is my son, let them not destroy him, he must end with some dignity!" There is another nice little scene when we see Johann and his Emilie in a cab and Hirsch comes to them with the news of success at Dommayer's. Johann's laughter makes us laugh too. What an impact on a viewer... It is, anyway, a success of his son whom he once forbade to play music.
It is a turning point when there are two Johann Strausses in Vienna but the city's heart is more and more with Johann Strauss the Younger, a 'new star' whose waltzes have won the hearts of so many people who have come to Vienna ever since.
The Strauss Family: Emilie (1972)
"A Mrs Strauss"
In the previous episode dedicated to Johann Strauss's wife, Anna says to her husband "We want you to become part of us (our family) again." However, at the heights of his career, he is taken with more and more women. A beautiful blonde appears at the Sterl and has a crush on him... Emilie Trampusch (Barbara Ferris), whom historically Johann Strauss called "Queen of Waltz." She presents herself as "Mrs Strauss" in one of the most unpredictable situations...
Anna (Anne Stallybrass) becomes nothing more than a housewife taking care of her six children. Johann Strauss (Eric Woofe) comes back home late at nights, he leaves his dirty boots on the table, he behaves more like a guest. He becomes rather a nuisance than an aid to his family. He treats them more instructional and, as one of his sons says, he would "parade his family in public in order to prove they still exist." Family table and its role change. Clearly, his children are musically talented, yet, he plans a different future for them. The almost grown up Schani (Stuart Wilson) works in a bank but he does his job reluctantly rather than out of some youthful enthusiasm. And music?
There is no room for music in his life unless in secret. He takes private music lessons at the best teacher's in Vienna named Drechsler (played by wonderful Carleton Hobbs). But he will go his way reaching far more than his father... The boy soon has "no father" and Anna is his mother. Strong mother, indeed. Anna utters another terrific line here: "When there is no work, one must create work."
After Johann Strauss leaves his family and goes to his Emilie, David Reid's dramatization of the episode accurately marks this division of two realities. Mind you that Anna's flat is contrasted to Emilie's flat along with visual representation of them both. While Anna's flat dominates in rather gloomy but realistic depiction of life, Emilie's flat is dominated by pink standing for "illusion". That clear contrast is sharpened by pairing of scenes and juxtaposing from close-up to close-up. An interesting character who finds favor in Johann's eyes is Hirsch, always a diplomat, an adviser with a bit of distrust towards Emilie.
Apart from quite an extraordinary depiction of Johann Strauss's double life, the episode is famous for great scenes with Josef Lanner (Derek Jacobi). Despite the argument they have had and rivalry that took over their friendship, Strauss and Lanner meet in the chapel. Their talk seems friendly; yet, is there any reconciliation when "too much has happened; too much Lanner cares about?" Soon, it occurs this was their last meeting... In STRAUSS DYNASTY by Marvin J. Chomsky, Lanner's death and Strauss's coming too late are, perhaps, more dramatic and spectacular aspects; but the subtlety herein depicted is worth considering.
Among the supporting cast of the episode, a mention needs to be made of Carleton Hobbs as old Drechsler. His manners supplied with some awe and dignity very well fit to the role of "the best teacher in Vienna." John Gielgud supplies the character with more humour, perhaps, being in taken with the taste of apricot jam; yet, Hobbs's Drechsler is unique. Pity there are actually two scenes with him only.
The most memorable and dramatic scene of the episode, though, appears to me the moment when Schani, having encountered Emilie - "Mrs Strauss' in the bank goes to her flat and sees a little kid, Emilie's kid whose father is his father. Much is conveyed through that scene.
While the music of Johann Strauss sound at the Sterl, attention will be drawn to old place at Dommayer's. Argument, rivalry, scandal...two Johann Strausses and through all this, a new star to rise.
The Strauss Family: Anna (1972)
Did One Do For the Best?
After the credits and the beautiful sounds of Strauss Waltz, a viewer is directed to a slightly gloomy image of drops of rain falling on the window glass. A famous composer having made his tournée through Europe is lying delirious in his bed. Already married to Anna, a nice and respectable girl, he contemplates his decisions and his youth. Naturally flashbacks come to view...
Directed by David Giles (a famous director of some great British productions of the 1960s and 1970s, just to name THE FORSYTE SAGA and FIRST CHURCHILLS) and dramatized by Anthony Skene, the first episode "Anna" rightly sets the tone of composer's life from the perspective of composer's wife. It also hits the right atmosphere of the entire series. Anna will hold quite a power in the stories of Vienna's greatest composers. However, our attention is drawn, at first, not so much on Anna, played brilliantly by Anne Stallybrass (in my main review on the series I mentioned the fact that still it would be difficult to decide if the later portrayal of Lisa Harrow is better) but on Lanner (Derek Jacobi) and Strauss (Eric Woofe), old friends who are more and more absorbed by different motives. In some respect, the episode with many events and rather a considerable time span packed into those 51 minutes, at least its first part, could be titled LANNER vs STRAUSS.
Although they are both musicians and music composers (deceptively "book binders" among those people for whom musicians had no reputation to speak of) who work tough and may get ill easily, they are of totally different personalities. While Lanner is a hard working fellow with ambition and serious attitude to life and career (indeed he sometimes takes greater pains in composing), Strauss is rather his opposite, a neurotic personality, a musician with great inspirations but almost childish attitude to life. In one scene, Lanner says that Strauss actually thinks "the whole world should revolve to his satisfactions." Slowly, in friends become rivals and foes. The glass is soon to be broken and harmony brought into pieces... While it is not that clear here that Lanner was in love with Anna (which is to be the case in the 1991 STRAUSS DYNASTY), attitude to music and work makes for a logical cause of their row as well. Both Eric Woofe and Derek Jacobi give splendid performances. Their fight, though, is a bit laughable when watching now. But let me come back to ANNA, not yet "Mama Strauss" though...
Anne Stallybrass, similarly to her portrayal of Jane Seymour in SIX WIVES OF HENRY VIII, gives a subtle performance and remains in memory as an actress of great caliber and excellent diction. Similarly to Lisa Harrow (forgive me my many comparisons to later series, actually, they are bound to be compared), Anna's question to her husband is "Isn't that enough?" - a sort of remedy for his ambition, too much of that ambition and never being able to be content with this much what one has achieved. From the excellent moment with her father Streim (played by ....) to the last moment of the episode when she says "We want you to become part of us again" Can he, though? She develops in us more and more compassion for what she goes through so far and prompts some anticipation what will come of it. In her, the reflection "Did one do for the best?" appears even more powerful. Her most powerful moment appears to me a scene when she reads her husband's letter to his children (6 children - accurate historically). As long as there are some idyllic mentions of trips, she reads the letter out loud to her kids but as the line comes when Strauss explains why he allegedly could not send any money...we hear his voice...and consider her face which tells it all. Her feelings conveyed non-verbally!
A note should be made of the scene when their first son, Schani, is born. Here, too, he is being born in the sound of music while his father plays. Yet, the scene with Paganini that is the highlight of the first episode in STRAUSS DYNASTY made twenty years later is surely more catchy and memorable.
AND SUPPORTING CAST: The actor who called my attention is Christopher Benjamin who plays Dommayer and who, ironically, also appears in one scene of the latter series. Of course, the actor who plays Streim is also worth considering.
In Strauss' being a "nobody" and comeback to composing and playing at his dream place, the Sterl, a true rival is to make her appearance. Sweet and naive as her hiccups might occur, she makes her entrance with charm and delusion...Emilie Trampusch (Barbara Farris), a "Mrs Strauss" to come...
Fall of Eagles (1974)
True Feast for History Buffs
While checking certain BBC serials from TV productions' heyday, I came across this series recently. Having not heard about it before (it has never aired on Polish TV), I watched on YouTube the first episode "Death Waltz" with no expectations. Soon, however, the series involved me with its incredibly intense combination of history and screen drama. I decided to buy a DVD box available with some bonus material of interviews with Gayle Hunnicut (Alix), Charles Kay (tsar Nicholas) and one of the directors David Cunliffe. I have seen the whole series twice wince then and awed by it, I plan to see it for the third time. No wonder the daily Telegraph hailed it as "impressive."
Made in the mode of the British TV productions of the 1970s (just to mention I CLAUDIUS and EDWARD VII among some), FALL OF THE EAGLES has not dated at all. It can be well considered one of the best productions ever made for several reasons. One reason is surely the absorbing dramatization of thirteen episodes each dealing with particular story incorporated into the historical period. Indeed, the story lines are stuffed with facts and, yet, do not bore us with too documented material. Let me address this point in more details.
One big "family" of ruling dynasties at the twilight of their reigns, the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries: the Habsburgs, the Hohenzolerns and the Romanovs. From "Death Waltz" and the famous story of young Franz Josef in love with sweet Elisabeth of Bavaria (nicknamed Sissi) through "The English Princess" - Vicky and Fritz's love, "The Honest Broker" and Bismarck's rising influence shadowing the Kaiser William to the growing tragedy of czarism in Russia and "Absolute Beginners" who appear to hold the power and win the people. The dynamic changes that Europe experienced at the time are accurately and memorably depicted with fine balance between sheer facts and some additional acceptable liberties taken with history. To me, one of the most memorable episodes is episode 9 "Dress Rehearsal" where we can see clearly how politicians with their incompetence may truly make history... However, from today's perspective and with modern viewers' requirements, it is not historical accuracy that appeals to the general public in the series. More captivating appear the cast.
FALL OF THE EAGLES has wonderful performers. Some of the very best acting from mainstay characters like tsar Nicholas portrayed unforgettably by Charles Kay, his wife Alexandra played by Gayle Hunnicut, Barry Foster as emperor William II, Laurence Naismith as emperor Franz Josef of Austria and Patrick Stewart as Lenin to the supporting character and even episodic ones that appear on the screen in single episodes but contribute to the quality of the production considerably. Just a few to mention lie Nora Swinburne as Katharina Schratt, Curd Juergens as Bismarck, Peter Vaugham as Izvolsky, Rosalie Crutchley as Maria Pavlovna, Carleton Hobbs as Father Gruenboeck approving of a very specific funeral for Crown Prince Rudolph's mistress, Irene Hamilton as Mrs Vetsera and many others. Acting is sheer brilliance here, a great mutual achievement.
Among many other strong points that you will notice while watching the series, one has this unusual feeling that this history which we find in unemotional pages of various books can captivate us to such extent. A very human face of those people and a very psychological approach to their psyches. Perhaps, one of the best achievements in that respect is to Barry Foster's interpretation of Kaiser William II whose development, rise and oblivion we feel to the very end game. He has the final say, indeed, both tragic and hilarious...
FALL OF THE EAGLES is a must see for all history buffs and those viewers who like old BBC productions. it's an unforgettable experience. Having seen it, you will find this history period far more vivid and inspiring.
Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
Rich in Message, Rich in Meaning, Rich in Mel Gibson's Style
Can you do something crazy? Can you endure the pain of being mocked and feel determined to go your way? No matter if you hesitate with the answer or not, here is a film you really should see.
Mel Gibson with his great comeback after 10 years is far from 'attentive exhibitionism' and from the very start, he calls our attention to the hero of his story who managed to put a little bit of the world tearing itself apart back together." Yes, unique story rich in meaning and message where the inner world of the director seems to correspond to the inner world of the protagonist, Desmond Doss, as Robin Collin pointed out a story of an outcast finding redemption through superhuman levels of suffering."
PROTAGONIST. Matt Zoller Seitz in his review on the film memorably observed that HACKSAW RIDGE is the movie which is actually 'at war with itself.' Following this track of argumentation, we can say that Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) embodies that contradiction. His inner convictions, his upbringing place him at war with the world around, arouse incredible dilemmas in him. The fight of the inside that he undertakes from the start is captivating. As a son of a desperate WWI veteran Tom (Hugo Weaving) who himself openly expresses bitterness of war and disappointment that arises from serving his country, Desmond fights with the haunting presence of his father's psyche within himself (though he cannot win completely) and develops his own convictions based on Faith and God's commandments, namely: Thou shalt not kill" The picture of Cain killing Abel that hangs in his house (also mentioned in Frances Doss's book) imprints a powerful trace in his memory. Innocent, genuine, physically weak but spiritually strong, he goes to serve the country. How? Without any weapon but medical stuff to protect life. In short, you remain a great human being even if you are placed, either by coincidence or some destined fate, in the worst hell imaginable. But what a way to the top .Consider mainstay aspect of climbing.
WRONG JUDGMENTS: A young man who initially evolves mockery rather than respect and rejection rather than acceptation personifies wrong judgments that people rush to indoctrinate and later find themselves in rather shameful finale. Mel Gibson, when taking about his film in one of the interviews, memorably stated that he himself wonders if he could have that much faith that would enable him to crawl into a battle, to enemy fire without the weapon just to save other people's lives." What could drive this young man to handle that? Perhaps, one scene may sheds light on this aspect of courage that, as the film follows, absorbs us. After Smitty, his friend dies on Hacksaw Ridge and all meaning seems to have lost all meaning, Desmond asks God What is it you want of me?" That scene most powerfully speaks to mind and soul: the profound and humble question of his existence is directed to God. Andrew Garfield does a splendid job as Desmond portraying his courage combined with seemingly retreating position, his openness to help combined with delusively reclusive solitude. Another powerful moments that Garfield handles with exceptional skill are the scenes when he justifies his convictions. The reactions around him are mesmerizing.We clearly see this clash between what the world could truly be and what the world actually is like depending on whether more and more people look deep down to their conscience. Seitz nicely mentions this saying that they can feel the truth of what Doss is saying. But they can't imagine the world being anything other than what it is, a place ruled by brute force and cruelty."
OTHER CAST: Mel Gibson's film can really boast wonderful cast that make the story vivid and place it within a nicely framed whole. The one that first comes to mind is Vince Vaughn, excellent in the role of Captain Howell. Mel Gibson states clearly in one interview that he inhabits the character" and Robbie Collin labels his performance as his most roundly appealing" in at least a decade. He is brute to those boys but not without reason; he trains them and prepares them to the worst horror they will experience. Yet, as others, he is too absorbed by wrong judgments. Luke Bracey is very memorable as Smitty, a character who develops a profound relationship with the protagonist though, at first, he feels the superiority of his own looks and skills.
TERESA PALMER: As much as the second half of the movie emphasizes the Okinawa events and is, undeniably, a war movie, the majority of its first part is a love story. The beautiful Dorothy that Desmond meets by chance in hospital having saved a man's life after the automobile accident, is one of the most powerful and pure depictions of a woman in film. Gibson refer to her warmth. Their scenes (Dorothy and Desmond's) though naive at certain moments, are the most pleasant, innocent scenes between a man and a woman. She does a wonderful job in the film not resorting to sweetness yet simultaneously, not losing pure appeal. The scenes echo Gibson's style as well, particularly the moment they climb the rock and kiss Kudos to cinematographer Simon Duggan. The psychological aspect is striking here...Desmond does his best, at the same time struggling not to be like his father.
'Mel Gibson managed to make a film about family, faith, love and forgiveness all put the test in an arena of violent conflict' (Peter Travers). HACKSAW RIDGE is another great gift for cinema of today. In times when war is raging in many places of the world and talks of peace seem to be mere words in vain, such a hero speaks to our Times. Don't give up to do something crazy for the world if you are with God and SAVE human life NOT KILL.
Dark Victory (1939)
Their Victory Over the Dark...
This adaptation of George Emerson Brewer's play stands out not only as a typical tearjerker of Hollywood's golden age but also as a terrific depiction of truly brilliant performances from the cast. Edmund Goulding's direction proves exceptional vitality and dynamism in his rapport with great stars of the type, namely Bette Davis in the lead.
Her portrayal of the character leaves no one disappointed. Even the most pretentious viewers find something for themselves in her magnetic depiction of contrasts throughout. The first contrast appears in the title where something negative goes with something positive. We discover that contradiction in her character where sorrow blends with rejoicing, gay youthfulness with reflective decline. We get to know her as a young, lively lady who seems to experience life in its fullness. Mind you her scenes in which she occurs to involve all the people around her within the frame of her attention, within her world. It is surely not the moment when she is to hear about tenderness and peace that can be found within oneself. She is the embodiment of passions. And when the sorrow and fear caused by the illness appear in her life, immediately a man appears in her life, a man who treats her, a man she comes to love... Paradoxically, they gain that victory over the dark thanks to love that illumines even the darkest aspects of human life. This love also wins over other substitutes, represented namely here by Michael (played by Humphrey Bogart).
Bette Davis and George Brent are simply excellent in their scenes. You notice memorable chemistry between them and the overall feeling of pity combined with never ending hope for the better. While she is a sort of person that does not seem to submit easily and appears to keep on fighting till the very end, he is a calm companion of her troubled soul. Turmoil is ever present but it is slowly overcome by peace of mind leading, finally, to one of the most touching death scenes on screen. The scene manages to grasp the glimpse of mystery not resorting to sheer sentimentality and shallowness. Hyacynthe, the flower, represents hope.
Among the supporting cast, a mention must be made of Geraldine Fitzgerald who beautifully portrays a true friend. There is also Ronald Reagan who plays one Alec (a role not necessarily ambitious, yet influencing the 'rejoicing' moments of the movie). The artistic splendor of the movie is also beautifully manifested in haunting cinematography and some elaborate interiors.
DARK VICTORY is one of the movies I come back to with ever greater pleasure and sentiment. Not for its sentimentalism, though, but for its profoundly illumining truths about human life. I think that even nowadays, when viewers of digital generation used to incredible inventions of modern technology come across this movie, it may appear thought provoking to them if there is truly something that really has the power of victory over our unconquered fears...
The Strauss Family (1972)
The STRAUSS SAGA with Limited Sets but Absorbing Characters
Having been more acquainted with the newer TV series THE STRAUSS DYNASTY directed by Marvin J Chomsky, I was pretty astonished to see this BBC serial made almost 20 years earlier. Comparisons were unavoidable, naturally; yet, as much as Chomsky depicts the musical dynasty of Vienna from a more 'modern' standpoint, David Giles, David Butler and Peter Potter portray the family in a more 'claustrophobic' as well as 'from the inside out' manner. If you enjoyed THE STRAUSS DYNASTY for its dynamism and splendid, attractive use of Strauss' music, you may or may not so much enjoy THE STRAUSS FAMILY due to its 'limitations' of sets so typical of the BBC serials of the time. However, in spite of certain 'shortcomings' that we could notice nowadays, technical shortcomings, THE STRAUSS FAMILY is a wonderful display of excellent performances.
Through 8 episodes, each titled according to the character it seems to highlight most, we can get into the world of the Strauss saga with all their dramas, all their passions, all their inspirations and contradictions. Unlike Schani's line "They throw you flowers and they forget you're human," here we have 'human characters' that are perfectly appealing to audiences who are not necessarily fond of their music. Before 1972 when this series was made, we had had merely fictitious saccharine 'fairy tales' about the great composers. Perhaps, Duvivier's THE GREAT WALTZ would be an exception.
Eric Woofe as Johann Strauss father and Stuart Wilson as Schani are the choices for the roles that may, undeniably, compete with Anthony Higgins and Stephen McGann. They beautifully manifest the neurotic aspects of their musical characters. Easy going Johann Strauss who thinks that 'an fool can work' is a 'walking inspiration' from the very start. His scenes are particularly memorable with Josef Lanner played y excellent Derek Jacobi in the two first episodes. Their friendship is based upon conditions and their conflicts upon competitions. Yet, the drama is resembled in the tactful handling of the musicians' psyche by the two. Stuart Wilson, no doubt to say, steals our attention from the second episodes onward to the final scene thanks to a true development and study of the character. His passion is music and women. The former one was within his total self, the latter one was constantly to be gained and maintained. As a young boy, disobedient to his father who does not see a musician in his young talented son, he is 'tormented' and pushed forward at the same time.
No wonder that most of the episodes' titles are names of women that existed in the lives of the Strausses both father and Schani. Emilie Trampusch played by Barbara Ferris (here, the character is far more developed than in the later version). Schani, we can say is a bit less lucky with women, even his own sisters who do not occur to understand him but wives particularly: Hetti (Margaret Whiting) much older wife of Schani, yet, having a crush on him to a great extent, Lili, his girl wife spoiled and capricious. Finally, Adele who found him gentle and kind and as lonely as she used to be. Quite a drama but quite a source for musical inspiration as well. Yet, there is one woman that is, perhaps, one of the most powerful and influential female characters ever, that is Anna (Anne Stallybrass), Schani's mother.
Nominated for the British Academy Television Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Anna Strauss, we can say that watching her is any viewer's pleasure. In STRAUSS DYNASTY Lisa Harrow resembles much of the similar emotions, some scenes or even lines bear resemblance. Yet, as much as I liked Lisa Harrow in the role intensely, Anne Stallybrass is truly marvelous. She wonderfully highlights her character's determination, indefatigable strive for better future of her son(s), disappointment with years. One of her most unforgettable lines is "when there is no work, one must create work!" Incredible woman.
The supporting characters are no less memorable and unique played by wonderful British actors. Young, beautiful Jane Seymour as Josef's wife Karoline, David de Keyser as Hirsch, a foxy impresario of Johann Strauss the Elder, Sonia Dresdel as Signora Lucari who, among the Claques, notices a new rising star in young Schani; delicious Cheryl Kennedy as ambitious Marie Geistinger (the 'Eva' character of the newer version); Christopher Benjamin as Dommayer and Carleton Hobbs as Drechsler. Finally, we have the most important figure of the time for Austria, emperor Franz Josef whose legacy does not seem to outlast Johann Strauss's, the elderly emperor played by Michael Bryant.
After seeing the first episode, you soon forget that most of the story actually takes place within the walls, in inner sets and perfectly get used to that. All thanks to performances that bring those historical characters back to life. A great series highly worth seeing. If you like the Shakespearian acting, this is truly for you!
The Forsyte Saga: Swan Song (1967)
Swan Song Reflective, Rewarding
It's more rewarding to play the old man" (Eric Porter abort playing Soames).
It was 4th July 1967 when, after 14 months of shooting, the cast and crew finally finished their work on the adaptation successfully. The viewers, with even greater emotions and curiosity, got absorbed by the emotional crescendo in "Swan Song." 'Aren't we emotional still?" one could ask. But before reviewing this episode, let me outline certain motives that drove me to comment on THE FORSYTE SAGA in such a detailed manner.
Its popularity in my country, Poland, was something of a phenomenon. Since the early 1970s can be considered as the heyday of the communist times, anything that was not Soviet nor 'Polish' in that very condensed sense of the word was highly censored by the authorities but met with even greater enthusiasm within the society. Any work subjected to cautious control by the regime naturally works the opposite way being its recommendation among people. In this way, such 'rarities' for Polish audiences as the American RICH MAN POOR MAN, and the English THE FORSYTE SAGA enjoyed wide acclaim. To a great surprise, THE FORSYTE SAGA was the first ever British series bought by the Soviet Union. As a result, Poland followed its footsteps and broadcast the entire series in the early 1970s with unique dubbing version (dubbing was something of a rarity since we are used to the voice-over). As the series was a 'national obsession' (Cliff Michelmore) in Britain, so it was in many other countries, including Poland. My early childhood memories mark the re-broadcasts of the serial in the mid 1980s when, I remember, it was still extremely popular.
Nowadays, however, in a restored DVD version, we can all admire the 26 episodes beautifully directed by David Giles and James Cellan Jones and produced by Donald Wilson. In spite of its black and white and quite rigid confinement within the limitations of interiors mostly (there are only a few moments outside, namely those that stand for the youthful love and freedom), this adaptation is in no way dated. All thanks to truly brilliant performances of "such a distinguished team of actors" (David Giles), terrific costumes by Joan Ellacott and atmospheric designs by Spencer Chapman. Still, after almost half a century, it still moves us, involves us and lets us drown in the world of nostalgia therein depicted. Therefore, I have a soft spot for this series and I think that each episode really has something unique to offer, something was has been worth writing about. And now something about the final episode...
Like once, it was Robin Hill, the rest-house and a place of relief for some Forsytes, it is now Dorking where memorable Mrs Gadsden (Hilda Barry) answers the phone. A couple who have common memories but different natures: one loves the scent of drought, the other the smell of rain. The feverish Fleur (Susan Hampshire) and transparent, decent Jon (Martin Jarvis) return to their sentimental places of youthful songs. Things come about, things resulting in satisfaction in one and regret in the other. The scenes in nature, anyway, echo or complement their scenes in episode 13. Meanwhile, Soames (Eric Porter) visits an old parish, digs the archive books and reflects at the gravestones of his ancestors, unable to glimpse the vision of the youth. In all this, we feel the emotional climax. How much meaning the Forsytes convey to us, how similar we all are. A song sung in life about life, its mistakes, its disappointments, its dreams, rewards, punishments, regrets, sufferings and joys. This is the song whispered within the final comedy where we all get, not the 'modern comedy' but a universal one, this is the swan song with its reflective and unique sound
reflecting readiness to reach out one's hand in reconciliation;
ability to grant and accept forgiveness;
awakening conscience amidst the chirping birds and tolling of bells;
some little 'irresponsibility' for the sake of greater goodness in the long run; readiness to speak one's mind;
father's care and reassurance of his daughter's activity;
promise to the dying man;
hopeful certainty that 'future has already been arranged;'
As it was more rewarding for Eric Porter to play the old Soames, it is most rewarding for us to watch the final episode which is incredibly focused and grasps the most important aspects that we have analyzed in the characters for such a long time. Thanks to great, absolutely terrific performances, the characters instilled an illusion that they really come alive from the book on the screen.
Meanwhile, the continuity and certain parallels work here most powerfully. Just to mention Irene and Fleur's conversation that wonderfully echoes Francis and Helene's conversation in episode 2. Soon, we get the last encounter of Soames and Irene. Mind you where that is...in June's studio, the place of art....as art once inspired their first meeting, so it does their last meeting; yet, the results are very different pointing at the fact that EXPERIENCE has the strongest impact in male personality. It is nicely contrasted to the scene of forgiveness between Jon and Anne and the scene of healthy distance to life itself between Holly and Michael. Everything changes but...
"in case of forgiving, you never know" (old, faithful Gradman)
"Love is the most cruel thing in the world" (Jon Forsyte); yet, it is the only thing worth living for.
That variety in the circle of life and a rewarding song about saving the one that you love most seems to be the true legacy of any man, even the 'man of property' who tried to save it by all means and yet, cannot take it with him to the opposite bank.
Passions of Fleur, Scheme of Fleur
"A woman is always after a soul of a man or a child." (Harold Blade - Bryan Marshall) A painting occurs to dominate and influence the entire content of this episode. Painting with its artistic magnetism and illusion. What a multiplied delight when the painting is that of a woman with her highly complex soul...
While law and legal perceptions seemed to take over in the first episodes and the painting as itself was not taken much into account by the Forsytes who saw no money in it (note young Jolyon), now it grows in value and respect. The opening scene with Michael's narration about his father-in-law Soames who buys pictures does not necessarily lead to 'leisure for repentance' (as noted wittingly by Marquess) but to long-term plans of an elderly gentleman already tired of life and the times he is bound to live in. Two gentlemen, as different as they may seem, have one thing in common: the spirit of the age is against them.
The opening scene of Soames and Marquess' encounter is nothing short of perfection. Soames buys the picture Mooreland from Marquess. But, as the Forsytes aim at buying confidence, Soames finds Marquess' bargain flawed. Yet, for the very lines they utter and brilliant performances, the scene alone makes the episode worth seeing. Soon, we move to the center of attention, Fleur (Susan Hampshire).
She sits for the portrait at Harold Blade's, the painter who has already painted the portrait of Anne, Jon's wife. As an artist, he has a certain flair to see into various people's characters and it is a pity that the episode does not develop his character more deeply but resorts to a few scenes. But anyway, there are many other things highly worth considering and aspects beautifully dramatized.
Fleur sits in gold and silver (here, kudos to Joan Ellacott's costumes) but does not behave much like the ancestors for whom there were two options in life generally (as Sir Lawrence Mont points out): voluntary service or nothing. Her scheme and her passions will soon be revealed, partly thanks to the portrait. Susan Hampshire delivers some best part of her performance here having deeply studied Fleur and having developed in the role. In a January 1991 interview at the Alexandra Theater in Birmingham, Richard Amphlett observed that "there is superficiality about her pragmatic and astute demeanor, and an intuitive intelligence in her mode of thinking." That appears most transparent in this episode. But now, let me highlight another point of the episode that seems to me truly unforgettable.
Michael (Nicholas Pennell) displays certain enthusiasm in the committee interested in dealing with those who own slum properties and aiming at investment in general slum conversion fund by dispossessing landlords, not the people. As much as the meeting may at first appear as a humorous relief and prompting certain irony when the squire takes the chair there is, in fact, a lovely 'portrait' of various characters. Marquess (George Benson), of course has his terrific lines about electrifying kitchens, Wilfred Bentworth (George Merritt) so much promoted by Michael's father with character over cleverness, Timothy Fanfield (Clive Morton) with his persuasive tongue. The top of wit appears when they need a solicitor...Soames, a respectable expert at legal matters, joins them. He has been a 'steady brain' for Marquess since they met at the paintings. All comes to a rather unpredictable conclusion and Coaker...what a piece of advice given to her...
Meanwhile, the 'Stainford-Oxford' case contributes to the study of characters and situations. How different reactions are the whole thing being 'damn funny' for Val (Jonathan Burn) and 'monstrous' for Soames.
A mention should also be made of the faithful chap, the oldest friend the Forsytes have - Gradman (Clifford Parrish) when, in a scene with a sentimental touch, he visits Winifred and Soames. All are, indeed, no age to speak of when compared to him and his lifelong loyalty. Afterwards, Soames and Winifred become reflective while looking at the picture of their grandfather, the 'Superior Dosset' ... and asking questions: What have they gained? What have they lost? In fact, it is here when viewers truly sympathize with Soames. He becomes quite a likable chap, in spite of everything.
And Fleur? The canteen during the strike gave her a taste for power and with this 'social butterfly' it results in schemes... As much as in the portrait as in real life, she conceals everything from everyone. Terrific final scene with Michael! The moon and the two that seem to be so close to each other and, yet, are so apart. Common sense does not suffice at her passions that possess her, far from being directioned: passion to know, passion to have but, unfortunately, no passion to give. One of the very best episodes! 9/10
Noon at Robin Hill, Afternoon at Ascot
As one of the final episodes of the serial, "Afternoon at Ascot" may be found truly interesting and arousing tensions due to its more focused content. Although the title may suggest a great public event at Ascot Racecourse, there are no holistic scenes and the particular wins over the general.
Having fed Jon well at the canteen, the episode's opening scene of Fleur (Susan Hampshire) and Jon (Martin Jarvis) nicely hits the note for the fore-coming, and perhaps quite predictable, feelings that will emerge within and between the relationships. Two couples touched by the influence of their past...Michael is the best man Fleur knows and Anne is the best woman Jon knows. Yet, their past experiences exist within 'memories recollected in tranquility' for poetical Jon and possessive instinct for dominating Fleur described by Anne (Karin Fernals) as "lovely, clever, quick, polished." Consequently, none seems to be unable to remember how to forget...
Fleur becomes Anne's sort of rival as Jon becomes a suspicion for Michael who cannot find out the truth from his wife who conceals everything but directs his steps to June.
Two places mark the centerpiece of the episode brilliantly directed by David Giles and dramatized by the producer Donald Wilson. First, it is Robin Hill, the 'relic' so to say of some Forsytes with that famous view that the 'four-in-hand' Forsyte uncle Swithin used to admire. Winifred, Fleur, Jon, Anne, Holly visit the place filled with memories. 'What is it about Robin Hill?' Anne asks Irene later in a highly subtle scene of peace and quiet accompanied by doves and preceded by daydreaming. Note the significant symmetry to many scenes of Old Jolyon at Robin Hill with Irene in the episode "Indian Summer of a Forsyte." Irene tells her the story of its extravagant architect and its admirer Old Jolyon who found his peace there as well as her memories of living there with Jo. The second place is Ascot marking the Forsytes' national identity where even aging Soames turns up at the racecourse in a gray topper. How memorable he is in this topper and with those binoculars which lets his emotions go a bit uncontrolled. Yet, not merely the race is the reason for some disappointment and even shock.
And Michael? The single hearted Michael (Nicholas Penell) stays away from the two places and the schemes being absorbed by something that, perhaps, most reveals his philanthropic nature and lively ideas for the future of the country and its society. This time, his commitment does not revolve around foggatism or birth control that he happens to hear about in the Ministry of Health (mind you the context of the very times of the 1920s and the dramatic changes in social situations), but...slum conversion fund. While the Forsytes admire the luxury and avant garde of Robin Hill, he visits the slum district being dis-tasted by the living conditions and meeting two perfectly memorable people: uncle Hilary Charwell (Peter Copley) and one Mrs Brewer (Rose Power). While the former one gives him an undeniably promising proposition, the latter one is a true representative of the lower class and draws a parallel to the Bickets earlier in the episodes.
A committee to be created, a committee of creative men who will deal with the slum conversion and, perhaps, dispossess the landlords of slum districts. What a challenge for Michael to look for professional, honest men! The funny thing is the idea who will actually be employed to the committee. Propositions vary from Marquess (George Benson), one of the funniest and most lovable supporting characters who believes in electricity and detests smoke (his motto will be 'electrify kitchens') to some domestic characters like his next-door neighbor. Taking his father's advice, Michael cannot afford cleverness but characters. One candidate is Wilfred Bentworth (George Merritt) who knows everything about the fattening stock, a 'solid fella behind the times' for Marquess. But that will be developed more memorably in the next episode. For now, we can delight in a terrific scene of the three: Marquess, Sir Lawrence Mont 'young Mont' and Michael. Like once the son of the Superior Dosset, Old Jolyon, Marquess gives them a glass of Madeira and delivers some lines of specific humour and cleverness.
Among the interesting devices displayed in the episode, a mention must be made of Fleur's 'music player' and Winifred's telephone which mark the very times the story is set in.
Finally, however, it is the artistic personalities that seem to take over and June offers Fleur to sit for the portrait. The upcoming portrait of Fleur is not merely a painting but an insight into the very soul of hers, either for a man or a child revealing her schemes and passions. Fleur...awaken, still there wanting her first love, tired of the best man she knows...
The Forsyte Saga: Strike (1967)
The Fleur We'll Like So Unlike 'Forsytes'
Don't get through life too fast. You'll be bored by 50 and there is no greater bore than a bored woman..." (Marguess' advice to Marjorie who asks her grandfather to clear the debts).
Marjorie Ferrar (Caroline Blakiston) gives her grandfather Marquess (George Benson) a word of a lady. She will not cheapen their aristocratic name any further and try her skills on the stage. Yes, the Ferrar case is over and one of the central themes of the episode deals with 'saving face.' Not only is 'saving face' applied to politics or aristocracy but Fleur. The dramatization of Donald Wilson with a few liberties taken with the literary source supplies her character with a few redeeming moments. Here is the Fleur we will like and the Fleur so unlike the Forsytes, so unlike the man of property's daughter. She is a dear.
The titled STRIKE at the railway, which symbolizes the very situation of England at the time along with the generation gap that makes the spirit of the age against the elderly, is a background to a far more profound depiction of the reality. Some policies and opinions equal with the viewpoints that 'liberty was more destroyed by those who abused it than by those who opposed it,' others take steps in a more practical manner. Steps in social commitment. Here, again, the most active of them all is Michael Mont (Nicholas Penell). He gives his wife a great opportunity to do something more valuable than just sit at the 4711 perfume or require to travel the world giving no option for less. A chance for her head and a change for her character...She will run a canteen for railway volunteers not realizing yet that this will be the moment when past will have its reminiscence again. She will feed the first love of her life. But the past does not only have its voice here...
The episode, in spite of the title "Strike" supplied with certain archive footage of the general strike in the 1920s incorporated into the storyline, is, perhaps, most famous for the Hotel Potomac sequence at Washington D.C. Soames agrees to travel the world with Fleur who does not resort merely to a stay at St Moritz, Switzerland and there, he encounters Irene. Another unwanted encounter and to what extent... Unlike Fleur who, in the final moment of the episode, encounters Jon (Martin Jarvis) with full enthusiasm, he is distanced, remains unnoticed by the beautiful woman who plays the piano (mind you that Irene playing the piano has become a mainstay depiction of the character pointing at her sort of unreachable beauty and mystique). We do not know whether he is hesitating and planning to approach and have a word with her or not. One thing is certain, this is one of the scenes that displays a true variety of emotions. Everything is measured in an excellent way with the unforgettable atmosphere enhanced by the terrific design by Spencer Chapman. The variety of hesitating emotions and feelings unexpressed verbally unfortunately concludes to the slam of the door. Yet another chance to put 'let bygones be bygones' into practice?
Donald Wilson's dramatization of the episode along with David Giles' direction also marks the point that has already been addressed at the plot of the Bickets. That is the contrast between the problems of the rich and the poor. In an atmospheric memorable scene, one Stainford (David Cargill) who claims to be or have been a friend of Val's at Oxford visits Winifred (Margaret Tyzack). While she talks to her brother Soames over the phone (the conversation hardly gets to its desirable point), he steals a snuff box, a sentimental object that she cherishes as a memory of her father. Naturally, the whole fuss around this theft bursts out being a point contrasted to the real problems that Michael encounters within the society.
The final moments, when the canteen is already closed and the strike is called off, foreshadow the last themes of the serial. Jon appears in Fleur's life again and Michael's suspicions and assumptions are proved at June's. Not merely the portrait of Fleur is about to be painted by Harold Blade (Bryan Marshall) but the past of her youth might lead her husband to jealousy and her father to the deepest concern...but none of us to any bore...
"In society, it is not easy to know who is a friend and who isn't" (Marjorie on her stand in the court).
The opening scene of the episode with Michael's narration foreshadows the drama to come. It is not the drama of the Forsytes who "take the same attitude towards the House of Parliament as they do towards the Church of England" but the drama of the moral gloom symbolized by 'current morality' and embodied by Marjorie Ferrar (Caroline Blakiston). As no money can be made out of either politics nor religion, the only motive that drives the Forsytes to the courtroom is honor combined with pride -the evident insults along with the paragraph about the 'Bucaneering politics' can ever be let unnoticed.
Action for libel results in the bitter reaction directed towards legal proceedings. It is not the first time for the Forsytes (consider the fact that the legal background is crucial for Galsworthy's novel) but Fleur, the creature devoted to herself quite incapable of any other kind of devotion and not merely content with this for today... However, Soames' pampered daughter plays second fiddle here. Far more important person who draws our attention as a woman and as a character beautifully incorporated to the plot is the modern representative of aristocracy, Marjorie Ferrar.
It is out of the question that she is one of the truly most memorable supporting characters of the serial. Why is it so depends on a particular viewer. I think that what makes her so unforgettable is Ms Blakiston's magnetizing performance and the features of Marjorie's character that modern audiences often identify with. On the one hand, she represents aristocracy that, as her grandfather Marguess (George Benson) in another brilliant scene of his points out, a group of society who "have no power, no divinity these days but still stand for something;" on the other hand, she is most modern of them all. In this society, however, it is hard to tell who is a friend and who is not.
The scenes at court are brilliantly executed echoing some aspects depicted in masterpieces, namely PARADINE CASE by Hitchcock. Aubrey Greene (John Bailey), the painter is called as a witness, Marjorie is a plaintiff. Sir James with his pushing attitude towards the woman who allegedly 'has no morals about her' highlights the very spirit of a court scene that is nothing short of dynamic emotions and eloquent language. Marjorie does not supply her testimony with any 'linquistic ornaments' but appeals to us with straightforward lines. With the book CANTHAR mentioned in the previous episode, it becomes the judgment of a woman and her morality. From "Have you had a liaison?" all the drama is on her side, as Michael rightly observes. Then, with her decision not to tell and not to tell the truth either, it becomes a matter of men's jealousy, namely Sir Alexander MacGown's (John Phillips) whose pride and dominance suffers a serious gravity and Francis Wilmot (Hal Hamilton) whose chivalric nature is disillusioned with harsh reality and subjected to mockery. All is revealed within the walls of Marjorie's room. Poor guys...poor Marjorie...
The most 'realistic' and at the same time identifiable character among the men is, perhaps, Michael (Nicholas Penell) who is clearly able to pity a woman and her drama and, at the same time, find the exact usefulness of belonging to the parliamentary circle thanks to his ideas for the future of the country. He does not like 'cold water at home as well as abroad.' I liked his scene with Soames when, actually, for the first time they have a slight contradiction. While for a true Forsyte, there is no danger as long as the pound is going up, for Michael, the anticipation of problems is far more objective and insightful. With his distance towards all the fuss, it is no 'moral victory' for him at all. Moral attitudes, herein lies the drama. Pity he does see the problems at the political level but does not see it at the domestic level yet...
The culmination of the whole emotional fuss comes with the public event. As it began so it ends. Yet, music and the charm of the evening does not ease it totally. Some will stay, some will have to retire...
What remains, as in MODERN COMEDY, is a healthy distance to the new reality expressed in the character who hopes for electrification, who sells no blessings, who wants no scandal. Terrific Marguess of Shropshire played with humour by George Benson. Magnetizing moments!
And Fleur? Incredible enigma - happy or merely content with victory? 'Tomorrow' for her is quite different than for her husband. 9/10, one of the very best episodes!
Reaction to Rival
After the dramatic, unfortunate evening when symptoms of the age became too strong to handle, the dramatization in this episode draws wonderful parallels between characters. In spite of being sued for libel, they all share some specific reluctance. The episode begins with an unwanted gift and ends with an unwanted encounter...
Soames, now 69, follows the advice of Jack Cardigan (Andrew Armour), his niece's husband, the embodiment of 'being fit' trend and takes up golf. He accepts this unwanted gift from Jack, clearly reluctantly but with a truly Forsyte-like priority: never give up. In spite of failures, he goes on... And all would, perhaps, develop in the most desirable way if it were not for the unfortunate, sudden, unexpected telegram that his sister Winifred (Margaret Tyzack) brings.
Much will have to be centered on controversy or rather discrepancy between 'what everybody knows' and 'what everybody tells.' The fuss around Marjorie Ferrar (Caroline Blaskiston) and the means for the unwanted but, for honor's sake, inevitable action are the aspects we truly need to pay attention to. An allegedly scandalous book titled CANTHAR already published in Belgium but still censored in Great Britain seems to draw parallel to the character of a woman who 'has morals about her.' The tricky business is how to distribute the copies of the book...Here comes the young and ambitious but seriously harmed by fate, Butterfield (Donald Gee) - remember Elderson's case within the PPRS - a man with a persuasive tongue who will distribute the copies of the highly immoral book which may make you burst with curiosity as for its content but which reveals the innate caution that Marjorie displays. Caution while everybody else seems to be absorbed by emotions...
Marjorie Ferrar becomes the center of attention not only due to a truly new 'type of woman' not at all old fashioned but really a modern one (even to our today's perspectives) within the story and characters haunted by the Victorian period but due to the way she is perceived by men. Two men namely who love Marjorie: the 'American Prince Charming' Francis Wilmot (Hal Hamilton) and a strong gentleman of old manners and a cutting tongue, Sir Alexander MacGown (John Phillips). There is a growing dramatic tension within the young farmer from South Carolina who will have much to suffer until he decides to quit and be finished with that 'fool business.' Sir Alexander MacGown is a totally different personality. On the one hand, he cannot understand why he loves this 'hardest woman he has ever met' and, on the other hand, he grows intensely jealous of her. Yet, above all, she is not dependent of any of them. Like Nora Curfew mentioned, she is a new type of woman admired by men and hated by some women. To make things worse, she is rumored to have had an affair with Aubrey Greene (John Bailey) - remember the painter who did paint the delicious naked girl Victorine Bicket...
In that very context evokes the obstinate and selfish character of Fleur who, like her father, will never give up. In spite of the various feelings and emotions that arise within the political situation of Great Britain (Tony Gains wins the election) and Michael's serious contribution and commitment to the new phenomenon/policy called foggatism where he has a vision full of prospects (consider the excellent scene of his speech described as "lively and well delivered"), the rivalry does not resort to women who called themselves names but spreads to men. There is a brilliant scene of humour and drama when MacGown attacks Michael in the male 'room.' His jealousy displays at the political level and rivalry therein. Poor nose...John Phillips is very good in the role.
Within all that new reality that Galsworthy develops within the context of Great War's effect on people, young people, there is also room for sentimentality in the episode. Old servant of the family, Smither (Maggie Jones) turns up unexpectedly at the Forsytes' and Winifred accepts her request for employment. Minor as the scene may seem, it is a very important touch of the past that seemingly, only seemingly did not matter at the time. Here, it hows the bright side of Winifred's character and the scene is beautifully played, highly worth consideration.
Unfortunately, we do not get Marjorie's father, Marguess (George Benson) in the episode. He is always a great delight for a viewer awaiting magnificent performance and brilliant humour. But the drama seems to reach its climax in the final scene and the truly unwanted encounter of Fleur and Marjorie at Langham Hotel. There, actually, for the first time we see the true face of Fleur. Desperate, ill Francis, unlike many Americans, quits and is finished with that fool business having realized that there is someone else in Marjorie's life and the women? Any continuity or sense of service? Reaction to the rival will find its realization in the courtroom...
The Forsyte Saga: A Silent Wooing (1967)
Old World Meets New World
Here we are with the return of director David Giles in one of the most memorable episodes of the serial dramatized with accurately respectful approach (respectful towards the literary author and the audience) by Anthony Steven. The quintessential parts of the storyline are delivered by perfectly admirable, lovable, humorous but, at the same time, controversial characters. But, predominantly, the centerpiece of the story revolves around the old world meeting the new world, Britain meeting America... Everything in a flawlessly framed plot.
The episode opens in a remote place, some 3,000 miles away from London, in South Carolina where Jon Forsyte (Martin Jarvis) after a considerably longer absence from the serial, stays with his mother Irene. America suits his character that delights in freedom and openness where, above all, past does not count as much as future. He is free to fill his days with silent wooing with a wonderful girl that he deserves, Anne Wilmot (Karin Fernald), the sister of Francis Wilmot (Hal Hamilton), elegant, sophisticated, acknowledged of pianos. Those are the first two new character among many in the episode worth consideration. Irene is no possessive mother, as she claims to be in the conversation with Francis; yet, the past for her, unlike for Americans, leaves much of its haunt. Soon, the new world meets the old world and the Parliament dissolved within the old walls of the House introduces us to a new reality where some of the characters will be bound to suffer "a worse present for the sake of a better future." However, before Jon, Irene, Francis and Anne move to England and face the most unpredictable turn of events, let me highlight a scene of incredible subtlety.
Jon and Anne share a terrific moment in the woods that, in a way, echoes Jon's scenes with Fleur in nature in episode 13 titled "Encounter." The moment with their absorbing talk, the cigarette and the mysterious noise of a bird that seems to remember the native tribes of the land appears to grasp the chemistry between the two and combines mystery with sentiment. Horses, the moon and a kiss...The atmosphere of the scene derives its charm from some aspects of the early cinema and works perfectly in this context.
London looks quite different, not only when compared to South Carolina, of course, where Jon's farmer's soul finds its peace and quiet, but different than it used to be and the heights of the Forsytes' power. At the dawn of 'foggatism' which captivates Michael's sensitive heart to a considerable extent, new symptoms of the age emerge. After the Americans are introduced to the distanced family, all seems to be centered at the public event, one public event that, perhaps, may be considered as a truly dramatic evening, the most unfortunate party where volcano erupts again and the...'war to the knife' might appear more real than ever. Many are called names and 'no continuity, no sense amongst the modern women' will evoke. Women...what is left after innocent Victorine is a picture of 'delicious naked girl who left for Australia.'
Among the many characters that the episode introduces, here comes the most intriguing, the 'exception of the Forsyte chronicle' (as Donald Wilson the producer referred to her), Marjorie Ferrar (Caroline Blakiston). She is, on the one hand, the representative of the old world, the aristocracy, and, on the other hand, the embodiment of an emancipated woman, an insult to Soames' sense of duty, a delight to Aubrey's sense of abstract; yet, she stands on her own as a very strong character, a very strong woman perfectly memorable from the very start and the way she says: 'Evening Coaker!" Meanwhile, we get the heights of humour with her grandfather, lovable Marguess of Shropshire (George Benson) whose scenes are real pleasure. Marquess is introduced to us in a wonderful scene when 'young Mont' visits him and asks for something controversial... An elderly gentleman so much opened to novelties, not the ones in fashion or language but...electricity.
Soames' instinct for trouble arises and Fleur, an entertaining little lady, as Marjorie calls her, prepares for vengeance for insults. Is she a 'snob' or a 'lion hunter"' The final scene at Settlewhite's (Alan Rowe) is beautifully ornamented with extravagant performance with the foreshadow of action for libel. The character of Marjorie does not only absorb Americans...
The Forsyte Saga: No Retreat (1967)
Dramatised by Anthony Steven, the content of the episode appears to revolve around one of Galsworthy's crucial ideas: honest determination among the Forsytes. They, as the narrator points out at the opening scene, never give up, they accept no defeat. They just wait...
In one memorable scene Fleur utters a key statement which, one one hand, seems to resemble the spirit of the very times we get to at this point of the storyline and the popular novelty - auto-suggestion, but which, on the other hand, expresses what 'no retreat' might be all about. "Every day in every way I am getting better" she repeats to herself as many times as she may. It is no mere 'repetitious rubbish' as Soames comments on that but something more which will be revealed in episodes to come, practically to the very final scene of the story which draws parallel with this thought.
The symptoms of the age (do not forget that we are in the stormy 1920s which, for the elder generation, occurred truly hard to grasp due to its ignorance of traditional views, suspicion seems to dominate. Yet, does it take over? Fleur's pregnancy is inter-wined with fears and hopes, reasonable precautions and over-care. Even the picture of the white monkey is taken away having been considered as 'too pessimistic.' Meanwhile, Tony understands that he really has no reason to doubt his wife's love and they finally make it for Australia. In this way, the contrast between two couples Fleur/Michael and Vicky/Tony is marked powerfully: togetherness vs. apart. However, in many scenes, the episodes goes a bit pale. The pace is simply too slow.
We get a lot of scenes around Soames in the PPRS dealing with accusations against Elderson (Derek Francis) and ending with his bitter resignation from the board and they appear as a little bit boring. Although this resignation goes with signing the deed of settlement where, in a flawless scene with Gradman (Clifford Parrish) who, as always, has his lines, Soames leaves so much for Fleur. In fact, that is the first scene when we truly realize that he loves her. We see it in the right 'legal' order, first, he loves her as a lawyer and then as a father. That is, of course, supplied with the aura of hope and happiness of the new generation to come.
In spite of certain flaws of the episode and the PPRS fuss and mess, it does not lack humour. Perhaps, in the most light scene where Winifred (Margareth Tyzack) and Imogen have a lovely chit chat about the family and mark yet another novelty of the times, a 'shaker' - what a name which aunt Anne would probably have found weird.
The final sequence concludes the episode with a very promising touch, a new life, yet another generation of the Forsytes: a little Christopher whom we won't unfortunately see much of in future. And, indeed, something even more worth noting: the sensational news about Jon in faraway North Carolina and his dearest girl...not Fleur, of course, but Ann Wilmot who will make for the best episodes of THE FORSYTE SAGA yet to come...
Afternoon of a Dryad - Personalities Emerge
The fantastic story of eavesdropping that proves Soames' assumptions right occurs to take a more serious form. There will be winners and losers in the suspicions, there will be villains and heroes, such 'Gladstones and Disraelis' within the PPRS but, above all, the strong will appear to arouse disappointments and bring forth the confrontations. For whom is there any point in contemplating future? Whose is, actually, the final say? Indeed, as old Gradman points out: "one man's word against another's is a tricky business." And that is not only the case within the PPRS...
As much as may seem to revolve around the PPRS plot, "Afternoon of a Dryad" dramatized by Anthony Steven and directed by James Cellan Jones begins a chain of episodes that focus primarily on personalities' studies, some great and captivating insights.
Fleur (Susan Hampshire) not so much the center of attention for Wilfrid Desert (Robin Phillips) who leaves for his own goals is truly everything for two men where, unfortunately, the father's caring love struggles with husband's dedicated and sensual love. Michael and Soames begin to differ considerably. Michael, filled with youthful enthusiasm and as a husband who takes his duties seriously meets June who spills the beans about Fleur's affection to her cousin Jon (Martin Jarvis). Here we have another moment when the past haunts the present and no one seems to take any pains to let the bygones be bygones. That is too important. Meanwhile, Soames displays even greater care for his daughter's happiness. He is an old fashioned but more and more sympathetic chap. Fleur's happiness lies at his heart. At the same time, as being old fashioned and bound to his own rules, he appears to have a sense of duty.
How different it is with the younger generation and other artistic or very ambitious personalities for whom others are mere tools to achieve their goals. Unlike young Butterfield (Donald Gee) as a victim of exercising 'too much imagination on behalf of his scheming employer,' fired by Elderson but employed by soft hearted Michael who trusts in his persuasive tongue needed for selling books, Aubrey Greene (John Bailey) with his sense of the absurd provides himself with another object, promising means of profit. He paints the portrait of nude 'Miss Manuelli' Victorine Bicket, whom he will later describe as a 'delicious naked girl.' Much to the dismay of her husband, of course, who also badly wants to earn some money in order to leave for Australia. Thanks to Fleur's little dog Ting, Greene manages to make young Vicky smile and the painting occurs quite a sensation among a variety of viewers and connoisseurs. The gallery is filled with many people, including Tony Bicket...
Amidst much trouble, a viewer of this episode might pay attention to the 'calmest' of all characters, Sir Lawrence Mont. Once stating that 'anything splendid and fine is off,' he publishes a book DUET about Gladstone and Disraeli. Not only as an interesting note about the British history herein underlined (well analysed by Robert Blake) but the fact how, in the entire serial, fathers and sons do have something in common. So were old Jolyon and Jo, so were James and Soames, so were Roger and George, so are Lawrence and Michael. They both display a sense of dignity in action rather than conventions and words.
At the end of the episode, you might think: poor Bickets, poor simple people with their dreams yet too much of straightforwardness that does not suit to this world.
Great supporting performances by Aubrey Greene, Derek Francis, Donald Gee, Terry Scully and Geraldine Sherman.
The White Monkey
The title of the episode, derived from Galsworthy's first novel of the second volume of trilogy A MODERN COMEDY, draws an excellent parallel to the picture that we first saw at dying 'wit of the family,' cousin George (John Barcroft) in the previous episode and becomes now an object of interest in the Forsyte family.
Much in the similar fashion as the previous episodes, Anthony Stevens' dramatization puts greater emphasis on certain aspects that appear to predominate throughout the running 50 minutes. Here, it is Fleur's marriage to Michael compared or rather contrasted to Tony (Terry Scully) and Victorine Bicket (Geraldine Sherman). "The White Monkey" marks one of those episodes that have fewer public events on a more focused scenes that ai at highlighting certain important points.
We see Fleur as a pampered daughter of her father whose happiness lies at his heart to a great extent. She is not only pampered by this very attitude but also by wealth. Wilfred Desert (Robin Phillips), the artistic personality of "Family Wedding" does not seem to give up his passion for 'heartless beast' that he calls Fleur. In one of the most indicative scenes that can boast truly marvelous camera-work by Tony Leggo, he embodies 'passions to have' that we will later hear from Fleur's mouth. Michael, a man with 'a sense of proportion and humour' is too decent a man to react violently to all this mess. He directs his sight towards others. Although the wit of the family is dead (cousin George), Michael seems to bring all good qualities to life. Consider his scene with Bicket in the restaurant with oysters and shrimps: a wonderful meeting of two men of absolutely different backgrounds who can, anyway, understand each other. Michael is an outcast to the pomp of wealth and he will prove that in later episodes even more evidently.
In contrast come the couple short of money but full of affection and sacrifice: Tony and Vicky Bicket. To make a living, he sells balloons in the street where the adverts of dogs' food go with his offers: 'cheap balloons.' Some of them land in the hands of Soames who, in a famous and indicative scene, blows them in boredom and disappointment. The source of basic financial needs of the poor are merely a gamely toy for the rich. To earn some more money, Vicky sits in altogether, at the artist Aubrey Smith (played magnificently by John Bailey). By Jove! What a girl, one alleged Miss Manuelli sent by Michael...The echo of attractive innocence finds its beautiful realization in those scenes. Ms Sherman memorably combines timidness with curiosity. Mr Bailey portrays the artist's self esteem and delivers a brilliant, vibrant, lively performance filled with vitality, some neurotic elements and humour. What attempts to make her smile! These moments are truly the emotional highlights of the episode.
Meanwhile, we have an insightful study of Soames (Eric Porter). We see him not only as a caring parent or disappointed husband but as a member of the PPRS. With the idea of 'splendid isolation' and fear of foreign policy, he embodies his idea of property again, in this different context as a value closed within his four walls of reality. While Sir Lawrence Mont does not display any fears, the object of suspicion becomes one Elderson (Derek Francis). He is worth being watched at much closer rate but...is it of any help for Soames?
Young Butterfield (Donald Gee) along with family friend Gradman (Clifford Parrish) mark the wonderful tension of its final moments. A fanstastic story of eavesdropping is yet to arouse interest...
A Family Darling
And...as could be well predicted previously, the episode opens with Fleur's wedding. Michael Mont (Nicholas Penell), from now on a part of the Forsyte family, one of the most intriguing, interesting personalities, is her young handsome husband. His father, a distinguished gentleman, Sir Lawrence Mont (Cyril Luckham) will have much in common with Soames, the father of a family darling, Fleur. He is a true representative of the older generation for whom "anything splendid and fine is off." Remember, this is early 1920s. As much of pomp and fuss around the splendidly organized public event filled with airs, kisses and chit-chats, this marriage is surely more than alliance...
In this episode, dramatized by Anthony Steven and directed by James Cellan Jones, we get a very interesting depiction of certain contrasts. Although the episode's first moments revolve around Fleur and Michael's wedding, soon another couple is being introduced, the one who live in totally different conditions and who stand for a lower class of the English society of the time: Tony Bicket (Terry Scully) and his wife Victorine (Geraldine Shermann). The political background of Lloyd George's resignation marks this contrast even more powerfully. While the political correctness among the rich is transparent, the financial despair is evident among the poor. The Bickets live in poor conditions, to make a living, he sells balloons in the street but...what is quite eye-catching in their relationship is childlike honesty and childish dependence. Poverty makes them alert. At the same time, Fleur and Michael's relationship differs quite a lot. Luxury makes them idle, especially Fleur. In one memorable scene full of clever, cutting remarks which combines humour and sarcasm, Sir Lawrence Mont utters to Soames with simultaneous humor and worry: "I'd like a baby come before a dog. Dogs and poets distract young women..." They have a cute little dog and the poet...?
Here comes a dilemma. A young poet Wilfred Desert played with desirable passion, a neurotic instability and wild intensity by Robin Phillips. In love, or more in lust for Fleur whom he calls 'the flower he mustn't touch" (with reference to the French meaning of 'fleur'), he is a dangerous sensation, a new sensation, a temptation incarnate that Fleur, at first, seems to ignore but later finds really hard to resist. Along with her experience with Jon and, perhaps, true love to him (which will be displayed in later episodes more clearly), she is tormented by memories, passion and duties that are enforced upon her. Fleur and Wilfred's scenes display lovely chemistry and are played with vibrant emotions. Very worth seeing.
And Soames? In spite of his presence at the wedding and of Fleur's happiness at heart, we have a lovely development of his personality in slightly different circumstances. He is a member of the so called PPRS (the Providential Premium Reassurance Society) and, as a member of the board together with Sir Lawrence Mont, he displays his 'suspicious mind' even more dominantly than within the realms of family life. There is one Elderson (Derek Francis) whose doings prove striking ambiguity... Soames, as we all predict, is uncompromising and expresses his views with a stiff-neck revolving around doubts rather than confidence.
A sad touch though not deprived of a bit of sarcasm and amusement in the episode is the plot of cousin George (John Barcroft) labeled as 'a wit of the family.' We might be surprised as well as shocked a bit by the scene of his death. In a scene that combines a bit of gloom with a mixture of drama and comedy, Soames visits dying George. Not to tell him 'goodbye' but to put down his last will and testament. That moment of seriousness is also not deprived of cutting remarks. Anyway, it wouldn't be George, after all. His cigar and a perfect sense of humour conclude to a rather 'unconventional' picture of a dying man.
Some resort to their worlds, others move to their places of 'golden opportunities'. Yet others are absorbed by passion for a family darling, Soames' darling... Not a nice thing for a newly wed husband to hear from another man, a new Bossiney-like character: "I'll take her from you if I can..."
Great supporting performances by Brenda Cowling and Robin Phillips.
Mary Poppins (1964)
Musically and Artistically Perfect Almost in Every Way
Pamela Lyndon Travers, the life and motives of whom we can get to know more usefully from the film SAVING MR BANKS, with her vision of Mary Poppins' character managed to instill certain understanding among the younger and older readers alike. By creating a subtle world of fantasy, she at the same time captivated us with 'a wonderfully agile spirit with a gift for expansion and fun' (Bosley Crowther about Mary Poppins). Dreams might be fulfilled, life may truly be beautiful, little minor things hold an almost immense significance: a key for happiness. Nevertheless, a literary vision filled with such rich imagination back in the 1960s must have occurred quite a challenge to be put on screen. How to handle the theme? Who to cast in the leading roles? How to develop the magnificent world of Mary Poppins within the possibilities of the medium at the time. One thing was certain: it was only Walt Disney who could dare that project.
The success was smashing and the impressive number of awards the movie got proves that perfectly. But now, in the 2010s? With surprising effects, we can admit more than half a century later that MARY POPPINS truly belongs to the very best classics of the period. I would even daresay it may accurately be considered as one of the most absorbing, touching films ever made. This film has not dated whatsoever and though certain technical effects might seem a little bit naive, they are never and probably never will be laughable. Nothing of the sort! Quoting the words of the reviewer Martin Chilton who proves the film's universal appeal, this movie is 'curiously enjoyable to watch for the modern viewer.' Curiously...I would focus a little bit on this single word...curiously.
We may come across many viewpoints these days that dare claim sentimentality is of no use in any form of art. Abstraction, pseudo-futuristic labyrinth of thoughts and perceptions, surreal confusion appear primarily superior to childish, laughable sentimentality. Here, one of the key ideas that Mary Poppins communicates is her famous utterance that "practically perfect people never permit sentiment to muddle their feelings." I think that one of the crucial reasons why this film is 'curiously' popular nowadays is its heart. In fact, the very core of the film is its message, it can truly address the viewers of today, is able to touch them and bring out the very best of them, as Mary Poppins does in relation to Mr George Banks, the banker. Bosley Crowther in his review on the film (1964), he calls MARY POPPINS 'irresistible' stating further that it can boast of 'the enchantments of a beautiful production, some deliciously animated sequences, some exciting and nimble dancing and a spinning musical score.'
It would be hard not to agree with all those points, especially if one has a privilege to see the movie on the big screen in a restored version. The images are stunning, the animation memorable (much to the dismay of Ms Travers who wanted no animation whatsoever), particularly the hilarious penguins, dancing vibrant and dynamic and the score easily identifiable. But, primarily, these are the cast who made my day when I saw the film for the first time. Let me start with the woman who could truly 'become' the role she played with the most unforgettable childlike attitude and enchanting respect for the audiences, young and old alike, JULIE ANDREWS.
Just before playing another of her milestone role in SOUNDS OF MUSIC (the film I called a movie of childlike hearts in my review), she portrays Mary Poppins with enormously heartfelt attitude. She plays her role with incredible ease and evident inspiration. 'Unrealism' of fantasy is combined with 'realism' of subtlety. Her scenes with the children are transparently affectionate and dynamic to the great extent. Almost, we get to a point that the illusion of cinema becomes the most powerful 'make-believe' though some scenes may be considered as 'ridiculous' to the eye of a 'down-to-earth' viewer. Ms Andrews has a power to employ various hidden emotions in her viewers and bring them out in the best way possible: to amuse, to soothe, to comfort.
Others do play their roles with no less commitment. Van Dyke is marvelously funny as Bert and, later, the old bank proprietor supplying us with some hilarious moments of genuine amusement; Elsa Lanchester delivers certain memorable lines; Mr Banks is also believable as a character who undergoes the most 'unexpected' change of heart. Time referred to the cast of the movie as 'only a pinfeather short of perfection' and there is much truth in that statement.
The songs generations know and sing, the ever present positive atmosphere of the movie make it a pleasure to watch now and will do so as long as there are viewers who don't merely watch something with their eyes.
In short, MARY POPPINS may still soothe the stagnant gravitation of everyday routine and help us go fly a kite up to the realms of clearer atmosphere where heart and mind may find a state described by one simple epithet: 'supercalifragilisticexpialidocious'