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Aparição (1991)
One of Most Accurate Movies, 21 May 2017

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.

All His Life He Was Waiting For Her..., 23 April 2017

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.

Little Girl-Wife, 17 April 2017

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.

A Woman like That..., 9 April 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

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 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.

Man of Many Talents, 2 April 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

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.

Destruction of Old Order, 26 March 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

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.

A New Star, 19 March 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

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.

"A Mrs Strauss", 12 March 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

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.

Did One Do For the Best?, 5 March 2017

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...

True Feast for History Buffs, 26 February 2017

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.

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