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Career interests based around photography and general craftwork.
Flowers in the Attic (1987)
They had a go, but they should have made a miniseries instead
I only saw the last hour of Flowers in the Attic - having read the book as a teenager, I found the narrative entertaining at the time but slightly over-dramatic as I got older, although it is a decent novel for the teenager/young adult market. I have, however, also read less than flattering reviews of this film and now I can see why. It reduced the storyline a little too much - the drama is never really at any sort of peak. You feel as though they filmed a longer version but cut out the most dramatic turning points to fit the estimated running time. Strange choice too, to feature the wedding considering that - at the point in the novel where Chris revealed the fate of his grandfather - all they really wanted to do was get away. The last thing the siblings wanted in the book (and, I thought, in the film - up to this moment) was to be around their mother.
Chris is oddly cast - he talks like a teenager but he looks about 27, I presume they substituted him calling her "Momma" for "Mom" because the first name sounds too old-fashioned, given the date when the film was released but it doesn't give the film any sense of time. Cathy looks very "80s" in the second hour - she could almost look like the girl in the Take On Me video by a-Ha with her hair cut (at least in the earlier part of the film, her hair is a convincing 1950s type of style) but she has got that self-preservation ethos and manner of asking the very questions that a teenager would ask and which a mother like hers wouldn't want to have to answer, so the personality is captured quite well. She seems a bit whiny at times, but then, so was the Cathy in the book.
The grandmother's dresses are very like they are described in the book and they have got some continuity with Carrie's hair getting longer and longer.The twins aren't badly cast, but the mother seems moronic (I know she was in the book, but she is always talking in this breathy "excited whisper", although her tantrums when the kids get fed up with her show at least one other emotion and she is a very "spoilt brat" - very like in the book, in fact). The wardrobe department must have had a massive stock of white material that they had to use up, though. In the book Cathy is always describing her mother as wearing richly coloured clothes yet in the evening ball or dance (or whatever it was) scene, all the extras are in white - it seems odd.
The "dramatic" bits seemed too obvious - darkness, people hiding behind doors, thumping piano music that somebody obviously equated with "scary". The nearly-escape scene contains every cliché going - guard dogs barking, man with a gun on patrol (he was slow to react, given that the dogs had been barking for about five minutes), rope breaking. It's almost Sylvester and Tweety Pie.
The vocal, semi-Gregorian chanting gets annoying - I think it's supposed to be creepy. The shot of Cory's grave being filled in looked convincing enough to start with but the idea of a further three graves being dug out and waiting to be filled seems contrived and frankly stupid - if you're going to kill somebody (especially if you're trying to keep it a secret) I don't think most intelligent killers would have ready-made graves on standby to be filled in as the body count rose. We are then supposed to believe that Corrine's new husband had no idea that she had children with her first husband! (In the book this is true.) Had he gone for a walk around the estate shown in this film, he couldn't have failed to note three gaping holes in the earth! Overall, I suppose the film makers made an attempt at telling the story, but they didn't seem to have a clear vision of its purpose. Too dramatic and eerie in parts for little children yet the more adult themes from the novel (obviously, the incestuous relationship between Chris and Cathy, and the violent beatings and/or whippings inflicted on Corrine Foxworth and her children - which are, to my mind, memorable events from the original novel) are ignored so completely that it is becomes just another "dysfunctional family" film.
The real problem, though, is that you can't effectively dramatise Flowers In The Attic in the two-hour time frame of the average film. You need a miniseries for that - perhaps the film makers recognised this here and that was why they cut out so much of the content?
The Good Life (1975)
Perhaps in today's consumer culture, we could learn something?
It’s not easy to describe this series quickly - there are so many elements that make it work, from the constant ideas and setbacks surrounding Tom and Barbara’s self-sufficient life to the benefits and regrets it brings, to the excellent contrast between the simpler existence of the Goods and their social-climbing neighbours, the Leadbetters.
The relationships between the two couples (Tom and Barbara, Margo and Jerry) is interesting - although this was of course made in the 1970s when the second wave of the women’s movement was coming into swing, Tom often comes across as a little bit domineering and ready to overrule Barbara. The gut reaction of today’s viewer might be to dismiss him as a bit of a male chauvinist or someone who can’t understand how women think (one episode that springs to mind is when he cannot fathom why it is so disastrous to Barbara when her best dress is accidentally ruined - although she is happy to live the self-sufficient life alongside him, like most of us she is only human and wants to get “dressed up” just occasionally) but on the other hand, are Margo and Jerry any happier? In some ways, I suspect not. Yes, Jerry has a good job, a nice car, a house that the snobbish Margo keeps in immaculate order (to be more precise, as Jerry once mentions, the Pearsons keep it in order - Mrs. Pearson cleans the place, Mr. Pearson does the garden), many friends to entertain and they are seen in the right social circles (Margo makes much of being in the music society - perhaps because she hasn’t got a paid job and needs to fulfil herself somehow?) but the man is henpecked and harangued to within an inch of his life by his somewhat spoiled wife. (She overdramatises, in one instance, his “cruelty” in refusing to sign a cheque for an ornamental spinning wheel that she wants - it is possibly the only time he ever denies her anything!) So although Barbara and Tom don’t have the most glamorous existence, their struggles are arguably more elemental, more crucial. The harvesting of vegetables being threatened by stormy weather actually could be the difference between them getting through winter and going hungry. And their positive moments - the survival of the piglet, for instance - are all the more positive because of it.
The Supersizers Go... (2007)
Now here's something that makes the licence fee worth it!
This series finished only a couple of weeks ago and I still miss it. Originally there was a one-off about how the Edwardians ate, shown some time ago, and clearly some genius had the foresight to expand on the idea. In some ways this is even better than costume drama - as a child, I was always writing stories about historical times because I wanted characters who lived in a time when flouncy dresses, cravats and top hats were the latest in fashion, but where I always fell apart was not knowing enough about how my characters might have lived.
So for someone to come up with this idea was not just informative but educational and entertaining, too. I think Sue Perkins rather enjoyed herself making this - the episode that instantly springs to mind is the one including a Victorian dinner party where she, as the crinolined lady of the house got what can only be described as hammered on all the alcohol being served. But after the entertainment for the viewers at home came some education as the makers used Sue's hungover remorse to show how a well-off lady might salve her social conscience by helping out in a soup kitchen for the poor.
True, there were some revolting things on offer - a whole boiled sheep's head served up at the dinner table could have put even me off, and I'm a committed meat eater. The Regency cheese with complimentary maggots was another great example. But everything was shown in context - each week set out as a week in the life of a Regency or World War Two or Stuart or Elizabethan or Victorian or 1970s couple might have been - and Giles and Sue were brutally honest about the effects the diets had on their digestive system, energy levels, mental state and general wellbeing.
Which must mean that old line is true - the past would be nice to visit but you wouldn't want to live there. (Except perhaps the Victorian era - it was uncanny just how similar some meals and some groceries were to what you might find in your local supermarket today.)
Mansfield Park (1983)
Simple look but no lack of substance
On the surface, sitting down to watch this miniseries, I can understand why the modern viewer (accustomed to film instead of videotape, and filming budgets and schedules that go more for locations than sets) might think this Mansfield Park a little dated and less than exciting, but - on the other hand - it was made twenty-five years ago and arguably still has something about it.
Fanny Price, admittedly, is not the most wild or exciting of Austen's heroines. She isn't self-centred and a bit spoilt (as Emma Woodhouse is), she isn't the brave soul who doesn't think twice about walking three miles and turning up muddy at grand houses (as Elizabeth Bennet did at Netherfield) and she doesn't flout convention and leave herself open to gossip and potential ridicule when things go wrong (as Marianne Dashwood did).
Yet the key to Fanny - well played by Sylvestra Le Touzel, I think - is to see how others see her as a walkover. Everybody - even her own brother - seems to want her for their own devices. When the issue of marrying Mr. Crawford comes up, you want to scream for her - nobody believes she is serious about saying no. Lady Bertram (who sounds as if she is possibly slightly under the influence of some kind of drug all the time) manages to be casually manipulative. The other aunt, Mrs. Norris, is such a hypocrite - when things come to a head and Maria and Crawford cause scandal, she has the front to say it's Fanny's fault for refusing to marry Crawford. As Sir Thomas points out, it is Mrs. Norris' neglect. It is good to see that somebody respects Fanny's moral standards. Although wordy, the dialogue used by the aunts is very Austen-like - they start out intending to do one thing, then talk themselves out of it and feel good about the result. Perhaps this isn't the most dramatic adaptation of Austen's work, but the biting edge of her writing is still intact, however nicely dressed up.
Fanny's brother is no better - he says he is glad she is coming home, but all he wants is to utilise her "nice upbringing" to make their home better. Her family talk to her - seeing that she gets in out of the cold and making her tea - but it's all superficial. She has been away for years and nobody asks how she is, what interests her, whether she likes it at the park. She is very much an overlooked character and in this adaptation you cannot help but sense that.
One strong point is the costume department. There is a good distinction between Mary's ultra-fashionable look and Fanny's simple wardrobe and plainer hairstyle. And yet, looking closely, without changing her hair, Fanny looks comparatively more decorated and dressed up when put next to her sister Susan at home. The older ladies - while trimmed up appropriately if wealthy - keep to the 1780s clothing and hairstyles that they must have worn when young whereas the younger women have more up-to-the-minute empire line looks. You could say that the colours of clothing are quite drab and uninteresting, but this probably period-correct as the Regency made the pale colours of the classical period very fashionable and artificial dyes had not been invented. Similarly, the choice of furnishings are excellent - contrast the laden tables at Mansfield Park with the simple china and the tin plates of the Prices' home.
Overall, although not as exciting perhaps as the 1999 film version, this adaptation is much more faithful to the book and I think takes more time over the subtleties of the plot.
Pride & Prejudice (2005)
Still trying to make up my mind
I don't immediately think this is my favourite interpretation of Jane Austen's novel, but I do not hate it either.
The look is good - rustic England - but the Bennets' home seems a little "farmy". The assembly room (I assume that to be the setting for the first ball) does have a good atmosphere, though - noisy, rowdy, informal, fun English country dancing. (Not in the maypole and morris dancers sense - the type of dancing favoured at this time was actually known as "English Country Dance".) A tiny point I noticed is how "of the period" the windows at the Collins' parsonage look. The one jarring thing was that blue, white and orange ceiling at Pemberley - surrounded by the other decor it seemed tacky in such a grand house.
The wardrobe department doesn't give an impression of any kind of co-ordination. The dress Lizzy wears to the first ball isn't dressy enough (to say balls and such functions were a chance for the unmarried to meet potential partners) - she looks like she should be gardening in it! The Netherfield ball is odd - Caroline Bingley wearing an unusual sleeveless number and Lizzy without gloves, where every other lady (even the extras) is in both gloves and sleeved dresses. Saying that, the striking costume difference when they first arrive at the ball marks them out instantly as "high fashion" people compared to the locals, but their entrance is possibly too dramatic.
Jane looks pretty but Lizzy seems to have coiled her hair, stuck a few hairpins in and hoped for the best. Mary is plain enough to melt into the background - but the family looks mixed when Bingley returns to visit Longbourn - Jane is "dressed up", Kitty and Lizzy are middling and Mary looks like she should be scrubbing the steps.
The Lizzy I envisage doesn't listen at doors to her parents talking (Lydia and Kitty maybe, but not Lizzy) but she is kind - ie. trying to get Jane the carriage to visit Netherfield. Jane listening at the door with her sisters during Mr. Collins' proposal also seems out of character - quite an extroverted action for someone described by Charlotte Lucas as not affectionate enough with Bingley. I missed the absence of Lizzy giving a clear indication after Wickham and Lydia are married that she knows that the story he spun her had a few holes in it.
None of Austen's witty satire on Mr. and Mrs. Bennet's incompatibility is present. I also missed Mr. Bennet's dry wit - he sounds so laid-back, almost half-asleep in some scenes. Although she looks desperate pushing her daughters under Bingley and Darcy's noses as soon as they arrive, Mrs. Bennet obviously cares about their futures - although not shrieky as in the 1995 adaptation, you can see why Darcy finds her behaviour vulgar. When Mr. Collins discreetly asks to speak to Lizzy (as with Bingley and Jane), her haste to clear the room seems like overkill. (Incidentally, why go to the kitchen in the latter scene? Surely they had another "good" room to sit in?) Lydia and Kitty having their hair down adds to their youthful look. They both look about fourteen so it seems odd when Kitty states that she is older by two years. I'm not sure why Mary wears so much black and grey - is she in mourning? Her tears at Netherfield after her piano performance isn't very "Mary-like" - I always thought of her as vain enough to think herself brilliant. There is a nice montage of them all showing themselves up at Netherfield - in a film, time is of the essence and this is an effective way to show a lot in a very short moment.
My crucial issue with the script and dialogue is that, while it is well crafted from Austen's source material, it seems rushed. Darcy (who, incidentally, didn't strike me as handsome) speaks in a rude, clipped, unfriendly way even when surrounded by friends. The Bennets' maid sounds like she's reading her line (although I liked the contrast of this young girl laying out shoes and dresses for girls her own age to attend the Netherfield ball, an occasion she would never be grand enough to attend - it was sad and poignant somehow) and the Bingley footman's "Miss Bennet" introduction sounds silly - I'm sure "Mrs. Bennet and her daughters" would have sufficed.
At Rosings, Lizzy and Lady Catherine seem to be "reading" their lines. Lady Catherine's confrontation with Lizzy regarding Darcy's proposal is also rushed - it's like the film crew only had five minutes of time free in the schedule before lunch to film it. Lizzy's snappy response to her family afterwards is not in keeping with the character Keira Knighley has shown this far - more sulky teenager than witty female. When Darcy first proposes, I think they were hurrying through the script to get out of the rain. They did include many brilliant lines from the book - I especially liked Mr. Collins turning his enquiry about which cousin was responsible for the food into a kind of backhanded compliment by being pleased that the estate can generate enough to afford servants. The only downside is his voice - the "violence of his affection" for Lizzy described in a monotone was ironic.
One small thing I'm not certain of - why is the travelling in this film often done at night? Lady Catherine visits Longbourn at night, Lizzy and the Gardiners come home from Derbyshire at night - do the film makers realise that this was still an era when highwaymen were lurking around at night? I like what the film makers were trying to do - I just can't make up my mind as to whether they achieved it.
My Super Sweet 16 (2005)
There are struggling actors out there who deserve the media exposure more than these brats
What a frightening programme! This type of programme has got to signal the death throes of reality television (please, broadcasters, take the hint). One girl even gets her braces taken off her teeth for the occasion.
The phrase "more money than sense" leaps to mind - maybe it's more a case of "how the other half lives". Watching the TV over my sister's shoulder, I am seeing a teenage girl go into an "I'm going to look stupid in front of all my friends" mood just because the entertainment is cancelled. Because, in essence, this is what it's about - looking good in front of friends and outdoing them. I overhear one girl tell the camera "This is what Priscilla's party is going to be like. Mine will be better" - another is obsessed with making a good impression in front of her friends - why can't she just enjoy her birthday party? Gratitude to the parents for organisation and the funds for such overindulgence doesn't get a look in.
These silly kids, as someone else said, then throw tantrums at the slightest problem, so clearly they are not mature enough to handle such setbacks and probably haven't done enough in their lives to justify having such expense and attention being showered on them. This people truly must have more money than sense - when I was sixteen, my main occupation was keeping on top of my school work in preparation for my GCSEs, but these kids must be extremely lucky. School work doesn't even get a mention - obviously these people are wealthy enough that they don't have to care. (It wouldn't occur to them, for instance, that somewhere in the world, there are people living in the worst poverty imaginable, who would give anything for a fraction of the wealth spent on them. It wouldn't occur to them that there are 16 year olds waiting on tables or stacking supermarket shelves to make themselves a bit of spending money because their families are on the breadline. It wouldn't occur to them that there are people like me, trying to establish their own businesses, who go to local craft fairs selling home-made lavender bags and greetings cards who can come home with as little as £7.50 in earnings on a bad day. They live in another world entirely.) I don't know whether the parents of these girls are being walked all over in their children's quest to hire rappers and MCs and goodness knows what else as entertainment for what is basically a birthday party, whether they are knowingly overindulging their spoilt offspring or whether it is just that they are so rich that the expense of this kind of event is a drop in the ocean. Either way, it is scary beyond belief.
Sense & Sensibility (2008)
A bit rushed in places but otherwise perfect, a great-looking serial
I very much enjoyed this adaptation of Jane Austen's novel. I believe the trick to reviewing adaptations is to compare them with the book and not to any earlier filmed offerings. While I love the 1995 version, there are some parts of this adaptation that are as good as (sometimes better than) that film.
A strong point is the casting of Elinor. While she acts with great maturity, Hattie Morahan looks as young as Elinor should. Her portrayal of the character is excellent - her facial expressions so subtle yet so clear. Just as Col. Brandon looks as if he's been shot on hearing of Marianne's presumed engagement, her Elinor manages the same thing hearing of Lucy's history with Edward. I also approve of her having her painting as an occupation - Marianne had her interests, so Elinor should have hers. Poor Elinor, though, is always picking up the pieces of Marianne's mistakes - after warning Marianne to behave more discreetly, she is left to fend off Mrs. Jennings' insinuations just before her sister gets the letter from Willoughby.
Marianne is just as good - Charity Wakefield looks the innocent seventeen Marianne should be. A touch I love is the way her hairstyle is curly where the sensible Elinor's is straighter, yet after her illness the style becomes more subdued. She captures the naive character perfectly - genuinely can't see anything wrong with her open approval of Willoughby. And she and Mrs. Dashwood not only act in similar ways but look as though they could be mother and daughter. She does act like a teenager would - I don't know if I would call it selfish - but when Willoughby causes her such heartbreak, she asks "Can we go tomorrow?" in the way a teenager believes the world revolves around her.
I'm not keen on Willoughby. I always thought the point of Willoughby was that he was supposed to bowl Marianne over and charm everybody else. He isn't handsome, rather he seems to be at that awkward phase some teenagers go through before they mature into stunning adults, and he just hasn't got there yet. At times, he comes across as smarmy and even arrogant. When he is rude to Mrs. Jennings' enquiries over where he and Marianne slipped away to unchaperoned, he isn't justified - considering how improper such an outing was. When - in another scene - Marianne leaves the room in tears, he doesn't seem remorseful but almost looks pleased. While I felt for Marianne at the ball, I was glad he was made to feel uncomfortable. The 1995 film gave rise to comments from some viewers about how they wished Marianne had ended up with Willoughby - seeing this version, I wouldn't wish him on anyone.
I am glad that the duel was put in - it is skimmed over in one line in the book so it's easy to miss - because it shows that, deep down, Brandon does have the passion and deep feelings that Marianne wants in a partner.
The minor characters are wonderfully cast - the footman has such pride in being able to give Marianne some post after all her pestering, Mr. Palmer conveys bored displeasure in one look. Lucy Steele does the innocence so well yet I hated her within a couple of scenes - so many of her words have double meanings which hurt Elinor. At the dinner party in episode three there was much tension - realising Mrs. Ferrars, Robert, Fanny, John, the Steeles and the Dashwoods were about to dine together, I knew it would be a hellish evening before the food was even served. Fanny is terrifying in some scenes - her interrogation of Anne Steele (whose accent came right off the page) was like a shark circling a boat. Her tightly styled hair is period perfect and so right for her character - no mercy. I think a mention should be made of Mrs. Jenning's scathing line about her daughter's intelligent - on pointing out Charlotte's embroidery she remarks, "Seven years at a great school and that's all we have to show of it". The good lady seems to walk out of the book when she offers food and drink as cures for a broken heart.
The look of the film is excellent, too. The shells in the opening sequence and the crashing waves give a suitably spartan feel, while the clothes and soft furnishings look correct for the Regency period (particularly the soft colours) - Miss Grey has just the Grecian look of a Regency fashion-plate. The party scene looks like it's lit by candlelight - often evening scenes in period films are unrealistically bright. There are also some beautiful landscape and scenery shots.
The only downside is that certain parts feel a little rushed - Brandon's mysterious departure from Delaford is filmed so abruptly it looks hurried, not mysterious - and the ending is over a little too quickly. I'm sure they could have stolen a minute or two of screen time from Willoughby and Marianne's unchaperoned trip to add it to the end, but other than that I found the adaptation very satisfying.
A tragedy caused by their own time
How to summarise Jude? They say that in the late Victorian era there was a school of thought that almost glorified the state of childhood, believing it to be a perfect time in a person's life when innocence reigned, but I don't believe Thomas Hardy followed this line of thinking. No matter how young, both Jude the father and Jude the son seem weighed down by doom and misery in this film.
I think this film fell under the category of "independent film", which is just as well. Following the Thomas Hardy convention whereby nothing can end happily, Jude ultimately ends with a miserable mood, but in a sense this is perfect. Although it's not the sort of film anyone would want to watch on a "down" day, I'm sure that - had this film been given the Hollywood treatment, the storyline would have been mercilessly rearranged to have a loving happy ending. The problem is, if that happened, it wouldn't be Hardy.
There is something stark about the opening of the film - the scratchy music, the loneliness of the solitary young Jude, the clattering noise of the bird-scarer and yet, combined with the black-and-white filming, it evokes the appropriate mood for the film so easily and so early on. In amongst the winter scenes and the aerial shots that show only a tiny bit of movement in an otherwise still landscape, Jude and Arabella's wedding is possibly the busiest, most colourful scene in the whole film.
Of course, there are also many interesting social and sometimes political issues raised, partly because of the time in which the film is set. Had the story been moved forward a hundred years, there would be nothing remarkable about Sue attending lectures, smoking cigarettes, drinking beer in the pub, visiting Jude without a chaperone. There would be nothing surprising about being educated when you had a job - like Jude's - that didn't require it. But Jude and Sue are tragic in a way - both impulsive people in a world and a time when a commitment like marriage was not to be taken lightly.
There are many bad omens in the film - Aunt Drusilla remarking that "The Fawleys were not meant for marrying" - and the particular tragedy of Jude's character is the way he rushes into things only to regret them later. Though Jude is tragic, his cousin and partner Sue is equally blighted - to watch her change during the film from an irreverent, sparky, impertinent, independent single woman into a tortured, guilty (in her own eyes) shadow of her former self is heartbreaking. Although in some ways women's lives and opportunities were limited in various ways in the nineteenth century, as a female with a job, no husband and no parents or other family, she did have quite a lot of freedom.
Oddly, Jude's wife Arabella is not so different from Sue - she is as forward and daring physically as Sue is intellectually. During their marriage, she and Jude almost reverse roles - she goes out to kill a pig single-handedly when he is too sensitive to do so. There is an interesting contrast between Jude's sex scenes with Arabella and the one he has with Sue. The wedding night with Arabella is warmly lit and cosy, whereas the scene with Sue is stark, almost grey, with a cold feeling and yet in some ways Sue and Jude are more necessary to each other than Arabella and Jude ever were.
On the costume side I note that - as with the more recent Kate Winslet film Finding Neverland - the costumes don't look like fashion plates, they look like real clothes (occasionally none too clean but when you take into account how time-consuming and labour-intensive it must have been to wash them, it's hardly surprising). It seems strange now that Kate must only have been twenty or twenty-one when this film was made - in her first scene she looks mature whereas in others she seems very, very young.
This isn't the easiest film to watch - there are a few sections I almost always fast-forward - but that is not to say it's not good. Every time I watch it, a bit of me wants things to end happily, but - as I said before - that just wouldn't be Hardy.
Finding Neverland (2004)
Sometimes we need some magic
Being as I am something of a historical costume fanatic, I loved the look of this film. Quite often I see period films where the period costumes either look perfect but unflattering or have been re-interpreted, for want of a better word, (the recent series The Tudors leaps to mind) to give them some kind of sex appeal for today's audience. But Finding Neverland bowled me over with its wardrobe department - it has achieved that rare status where it combines the image of the typical Edwardian outfits with a kind of wearability and yet the clothes still manage to flatter ever character. Even the four small Llewellyn Davies boys look comfortable and natural in their little suits.
The cinematography looks similarly "antique", and I mean that in the complimentary sense. There is a softness to the look of the film, the colours look like you would expect Edwardian colours to look, nobody has quickly dipped a dress into some bizarrely vivid dye then put it on an extra and hoped it wouldn't be noticed. There is great attention to detail - when Barrie and another character walk down a street, even the extras are immaculately dressed.
Returning to the small boys, whoever cast these children made an incredible decision. They don't even seem to be acting, they behave - whether playing, arguing or just interacting - as though they really are brothers. It's as though they couldn't care less whether the camera is there or not. The set-up of their room - whether by accident or design (I suspect the latter) - is eerily reminiscent of the animated film Peter Pan. The moment when Barrie is summoned into another room by Sylvia's mother and one of the children pipes up, "Is he in trouble? Because I've been alone with Grandmother and I know what it's like," is perfect - just the sort of thing a child might say.
Barrie's discussion with Arthur regarding the appropriateness or otherwise of the time he spends with the boys is something I half-expected. Perhaps then, as now, society's awareness of paedophilia has reached such an extreme point that we look for it where it doesn't exist. (I recall a similar quote from the commentary of another Kate Winslet film, Sense and Sensibility, where the writer and producer are keenly aware that the innocent friendship of a young man and a little girl of twelve would most likely cause panic and questioning of the young man's character if it occurred today. From what I have read of J.M. Barrie, the comments made by the real Llewelyn Davies family and from viewing this film, I don't leave with any impression that there was an inappropriate relationship between Barrie and the young boys but I think it sad that such conclusions are often leapt to just because some outsiders see a situation as potentially sinister.
What I felt Depp's Barrie gained from his association with the children was the ability to explore and indulge his "inner child" in a way that the Edwardian society he lived in would not accept and that his very prim and proper wife did not approve of. It was interesting and rather sad that Mary Barrie seemed partly to want to belong to her husband's world but knew she just couldn't access it as he could. It is almost like Barrie can see into the children's world. There is a whimsical quality to Johnny Depp's performance that reminds me of his character Sam in the 1993 film Benny and Joon - it has exactly the same light touch.
People often think writers, composers and other followers of artistic pursuits are prone to be a little eccentric. As an artist and writer, I love the way Depp's Barrie is so disrespectful of his own work and I can relate to the way the film shows his imagination taking over - I have had countless conversations with my own literary creations.
There were some genuinely touching moments in this film - I don't cry easily watching films and few have moved me to tears. I really believe you can only have this reaction to a film if the characters have been fleshed out sufficiently that you can empathise with them and in Sylvia's final scene (a role in which Kate Winslet looked realistically Edwardian and yet still accessible and aesthetically right to modern eyes) I was in tears. I also liked the way Mrs. Du Maurier softens at the end, realising she should have shown her daughter more respect - she could easily have just been a caricature, a stereotypical "Victorian" grandmother bossing her daughter and grandsons around and ignoring everyone's needs, but she wasn't. A lighter, but still touching, moment came when Barrie revealed what he wanted his twenty-five reserved seats for - the reactions of those audience members who were inconvenienced so that the occupants could sit down were priceless.
On a final note, in this world of ours where we're bombarded with technical wizardry and ever more complex expensive special effects, it should be impossible for me - a person born in the mid-1980s - to imagine how magical the sight of "flying" children would have appeared to Peter Pan's theatre audience in 1903, but somehow I not only understand why the audience find it so, but feel it myself.
I wouldn't have watched this film otherwise - I never saw it at the cinema - but I'm glad I didn't miss it.
For me, this works
Although it hasn't had very positive reviews so far on this site, this series is one that I am quite partial to. I actually find that the clips from the live shows being interwoven with Billy's musings on the places he goes to quite a good approach - indeed, it's a very interesting way to take in as many "snapshot" views of England, Ireland and Wales as possible.
The only thing I find remotely frustrating is when I play my video of the series (for it came out so long ago that we were still buying things on video back then) is trying to find certain bits at random - some of my favourite segments include Billy discussing Jeffrey Dahmer the serial killer and his fears over what his daughters finding his collection of Bob Dylan records might lead them to do. (On the other hand, that is not a fault of the series at all - rather, it is the effects of changing technology.) But returning to the positive side, what I most love is being able to pick out places that I myself have visited, be they Portmeirion in Wales or (closer to home) the visit Billy makes to the church where the family of Alice Nutter, one of the "Pendle Witches" from the early 1600s, is buried. You certainly get the feeling - as you do when Billy goes to the Irish prisons where political prisoners were held and then executed - that Billy is the kind of person who learns things from the past, the sort of person whose attitude to life has developed from discovering these historical events and injustices. More importantly, I think Billy shows a keen interest in many of the quirky and original features of the places he goes to - I have never watched this series with the impression that the filming was a chore for him.
So, overall, the format chosen for this series is one that appeals to me and personally I find the combination of stand-up and travelogue works.
The Tudors (2007)
One of the more difficult things I've tried to summarise
Having had an interest in Henry VIII and his various wives since I was small, I was keen to see The Tudors. The series (half-way through over here) provides food for thought for someone with Tudor interests and I am retrospectively grateful to my A Level in History for its exploration of the power that the king wielded.
Johnathan Rhys-Meyers does well at capturing the complex figure and personality that we know as Henry the Eighth. Far from seeing an obese monster inclined to separate bodies from heads, the viewer glimpses the qualities of a Renaissance king, ie. his diplomatic refusal to be recognised as King of France. Henry was merely eighteen when his reign began so I feel divided over Rhys-Meyers' portrayal. Kings could easily become tyrants then and something the actor captures perfectly is the feeling that Henry's mood could change from good to bad (or vice versa) in an instant. On the other hand the youthful element has its drawbacks. Wrestling with King Francis at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, he seems not so much vain as a hot-headed teenager trying to look macho. (Incidentally, the Field of the Cloth of Gold was well-dramatised, just the sort of Tudor extravagance and showing-off I imagined, and Henry - wanting physical comparisons with Francis - certainly gets his chance to be vain.)
An excellent example of the fine balance between favour and cruelty present in Rhys-Meyers' Henry is the treatment of his children. He recognises his illegitimate son with Bessie Blount by making the child Duke of Richmond, thus parting him heart-wrenchingly from his mother. When Queen Catherine suggests that he favours this child over their daughter Mary, Henry craftily gives Mary the same kind of independent establishment, so dividing two mothers from their beloved children. He is equally calculating when, after Catherine asks him to come to her at night, he does exactly that at a time when he knows she is at prayer, enabling him to blame her.
I note that the scriptwriters have adhered to that old film cliché about how no woman can give birth on screen (referring here to Bessie Blount) without screaming frantically, and in case we weren't sure what was going on, her waters are shown breaking. But then, her "newborn" baby is enormous.
I have a keen interest in historic costumes and am a little disappointed by the wardrobe department. Lady Blount's shoulderless dress seems anachronistic - in a time when showing too much hair was unseemly, shoulder skin seems unusual (the same impression that Catherine of Aragon's uncovered hair, while a short-sleeved dress worn by Anne Boleyn in the fourth episode looks completely wrong.) I hate to sound pedantic or picky, but there are plenty of surviving Tudor portraits - the costume designers must have studied one or two of them. For this reason, I also criticise that common mistake - the assumption that Catherine of Aragon had dark hair because she was Spanish. I was impressed, however, that she looked older than Henry without looking too old.
The editing is a little choppy in places. In the first episode, I think fifteen minutes passed where Catherine was not seen, so it was puzzling when the possibility of divorce was introduced. The dialogue balances fairly well between modern English and what we think of as "Tudor" English, although the use of "fashionably late" jarred.
The beginning warrants a little basic criticism. In spite of the dating early in the first episode, my first impression of Rhys-Meyers was a mental question over which Tudor he portrayed. Henry the Eighth had reddish hair; portraits of his father Henry the Seventh show a man with longer, brown hair so the image Rhys-Meyers presented didn't suit the look of either, although he acts the part of Henry the Eighth very well.
So I find a summary difficult. Intriguing aspects of history are eliminated - the fact that Henry VII spent 24 years on the throne cementing his position by increasing his powers and lessening those of the nobles (this could have been used to show why Henry VIII was so powerful - he needed to be to ward off usurpers, prior to Henry VII's accession had been thirty years of civil war) while more average events (ie. the marriage of Princess Margaret to the King of Portugal which never actually happened) are spiced up unnecessarily. The writers appear to have misunderstood which events were truly dramatic and which were not. We have recorded the series in our house, which is handy because my mum keeps pausing it for me to explain who the characters are, how they are related and what they did - surely the series is meant to do this, not the viewer?
I had hoped the title of this series indicated that they were going to look at the story of all of the Tudors. Henry VIII may be the most famous but that doesn't make the others boring or unimportant. Had Henry VII not passed the laws that he did, Henry VIII could not have been the potential tyrant that he was.
Proof that theatre can be more fulfilling than scripted drama
One of my favourite versions, if not my favourite, of Wuthering Heights. I am also very fond of the 1992 version, but in a different way. Perhaps what draws me to this one is the live-action theatrical element - there are a few musicals that I am especially fond of (which approval I know has been reached when I find I know the words to the songs). To review this, I am watching my video for perhaps the first time in five years yet the song lyrics are as familiar to me as when I last saw it.
I can't say how much time has been "smoothed out" during the filming of this version but it is well done, no waiting for something else to happen. The story flows together very well, so credit must go to the editors for this. No aspect of the story is hammered home, just a few specific scenes are sufficient to show, for instance, Cathy's increasing favour for the Lintons' over Heathcliff. Another good stage device - the soliloquy - is put to such great effect that I didn't actually notice the missing character of Nelly Dean until Cathy's "eternal rocks beneath speech", and even then it seems more appropriate for Cathy to voice her thoughts to herself.
Heathcliff's tortured angst could easily be over-acted (Ralph Fiennes glowering in doorways being a great example) but you genuinely feel that Cliff's Heathcliff is tortured by grief for and envy of his lost Cathy. The addition of his character to the wooing scenes between Cathy and Edgar (where she is turning from one man to another), strangely, doesn't seem too much, instead providing a reason for his consuming jealousy. The characterisation of Cathy as a happy-go-lucky, girlish personality is suitable - I think it's easy to forget on film that, according to the book, she died aged nineteen. Similarly, when Isabella Linton first sees Heathcliff, you can see the teenage-crush sort of enthusiasm in her face, an innocence helped along by casting a blonde actress.
There is a great energy, whether conveying love or hatred, in the relationships between Hindley, Cathy and Heathcliff - no one is apathetic. I do appreciate the effort the actors made with the Yorkshire accent - as a northern English person, I would find it jarring to hear this story told with perfect "Queen's English" accents. An interesting exception is Hindley, but his attempt as more "received pronunciation" speech illustrates how superior he imagines himself. Interestingly, the malevolent, vengeful character so associated with Heathcliff only starts to emerge after his return from travel, suggesting better than some versions I have seen that this comes from Cathy's rejection and subsequent unavailability.
An unusual twist this version takes - which I quite like - is that, by telling the story from Heathcliff's point of view, it enables us to be taken (through vibrant costumes, music and dance) to those far away places he travels to which are only really referred to indirectly in other versions. It gives us a better idea than most adaptations of the exotica he could have witnessed.
As a costume enthusiast, I must also applaud the clothes - one point that sticks out early on is the arrival of the boy Heathcliff. Old Mr. Earnshaw's rugged clothes and appearance seem to welcome the child just as much as his son Hindley's dandyish clothes recoil from him. The ball scene, too, seems to have quick costume changes, reflecting the changing fashions of the late eighteenths century. Obviously visuals are important in the theatre so it seems fitting for Cathy's ball dress to be a vivid green, the most vibrant colour in the scene, and often she is dressed in a similarly vivid shade when surrounded by supporting actresses - it makes her stand out when she could easily be lost in the crowd.
Without giving too much away, what I find hugely effective is the increasing build-up of drama, tragedy and agonies the characters suffer towards the end - all gentility is swept away, conveying a sense of the passion I think Emily Bronte wanted to infuse her story with.
The 1900 House (1999)
Life beyond the sepia photographs
As an enthusiast for historic costumes and historic times, I found this programme eye-opening and - having become an amateur genealogist in the time since this programme aired, I can draw retrospective comparisons with at least one set of great-grandparents, who would have been rearing their families at this time.
We often look at old photographs - I do it myself - and think how elegant the sitters looked, but this programme almost breaks through the camera and shows us what the photograph can't. It had never occurred to me, for instance, how people washed their hair and - as I watched the Bowlers struggle with their eggy attempts at home-made shampoo - it strikes me that we are possibly more image conscious now than our ancestors could have been a century ago.
I loved watching the day-to-day things they had to contend with, the struggles they had with the confines of their Victorian life (and their clothes, in the case of Joyce and Kathryn) and also found it interesting that we have possibly become so reliant on electric and running water being available at all times that we don't think about the problems the people of the time could have had. (The Bowlers, I think, in one instance had difficulty getting the range to heat which resulted in a cake taking 14 hours to bake.) I was also fortunate enough to see an extra programme connected to The 1900 House during Christmas 2000, where they had a bit of extra footage on the families who volunteered, and I'm glad they chose the thoroughly modern Bowlers. One potential family (who I think was invited to comment on the Bowlers' experiences) presented themselves on the trial footage dressed in period clothing and acting the Victorian family for all they were worth. A family like that wouldn't have been as interesting, I feel, as putting a more modern-thinking, modern-living group in that situation.
If you get a chance, do see it. It was a good bit of TV from a time when "reality" TV was still fresh and interesting.
10 Years Younger (2004)
A side effect of the obsession with appearance, I feel
I have mixed feelings about this programme - while I think it is a good opportunity for people (assuming they are willing participants) to overhaul their look and wardrobe and consider what really suits them in the fashion sense, I do find the programme's methods a bit brutal. On the other hand, I am not the most neutral of observers - I have certainly never bought into the idea that I can't go out in public unless my hair and clothes are immaculate.
Another problem is that it sometimes tries too hard to make people "fashionable" when the viewer can see that the person doesn't really want to, for example, trying to encourage people to wear bolder coloured make up when it is obvious that, if given such shades, the guinea pig will never wear them again after this programme The presenter can be patronising in an irritatingly nice way, as though all the criticism is in the subject's best interests - one programme I have seen subtly mocks someone for having "a hairstyle that hasn't been fashionable since Boney M" - the fact that maybe it actually suits them doesn't count, the presenters think their guinea pig should be "modernised", so modernised they're going to be. They aren't asked what they want; the presenter and hairdresser or make up artist seem to confer over their subject's head, oblivious to whether they are prescribing make up regimes etc that the guinea pig is never likely to stick to.
Every single programme seems to involve the guinea pig going into surgery for some cosmetic improvement - be it chemical peel or skin-plumping treatments, there is always the subtle feeling from the programme that - if the guinea pig doesn't undergo surgery, they aren't trying hard enough to look their best.
In conclusion I think the makeover idea is a good idea, but the "all or nothing" attitude gets a little hard to take after a while.
The Jeremy Kyle Show (2005)
Why is this on television?
I completely fail to see the point of programmes of this nature - how anyone can think going on a TV programme is a better way to deal with family or relationship or general personal problems than seeing a counsellor is utterly beyond me - but something about The Jeremy Kyle Show taps into my irritation sensors more than most.
The presenter himself is unbelievable. He is rude, ignores or talks over his "guests" (however much they have done wrong I feel sorry for them that they have made the misguided choice to air their problems on this show) and whenever he is determined to make his point, he shouts over the silent guests in the sort of way that makes you think he believes himself to be performing Shakespeare in a big hall and needs to make the people at the back hear him.
Maybe I'll sound snobbish but I have overheard so many episodes of this that I don't know how people can watch them through choice. What is the point of having a talk show like this when the presenter clearly isn't interested in the problems he hears? He just wants to make himself heard.
The more annoying episodes I have seen include those where some teenaged youth brings his girlfriend on so they can discuss the paternity of the child she has just given birth to. It frightens me that there are people in the world who would come onto programmes like this rather than sit down together like adults to discuss their personal problems.
If you haven't seen it, don't bother. (And I have never rated anything I reviewed on this site as less than five stars before.)
Jack & Sarah (1995)
More substantial than your average 'romantic comedy'
One of the strengths of this film is its subtlety. The first ten or fifteen minutes are a great example. Few words are needed yet volumes of emotion are communicated through those scenes. Another - later - example is where Jack and his father are in the park when it's snowing. The weather seems to exaggerate the raw, emotional pain Jack is going through but no words are needed because the viewer knows exactly what he is feeling.
The scene where the grief hits Jack is very poignant - he has been almost in a trance until then, trying to carry on as normal and yet what finally gets him in touch with his grief for Sarah is the almost ordinary combination of her lipstick on the wine glass and her voice on the answerphone. He tried to be so prepared, so involved in his wife's pregnancy but never came close to being prepared for the real outcome.
I hate to say it, but there are points during Jack's early mourning period where the character comes across as what I believe non-English people think of the stereotypical Englishman - blocking out any emotion. Perhaps this is a disadvantage of the story starting when it does - we don't get any idea of what he was like before his wife Sarah was pregnant. The baby next to the sleeping Jack is an interesting metaphor. At that point, both are helpless in their own way, both only in tune with their own feelings, but baby Sarah at least has the excuse of not knowing any better. Jack's selfishness is entirely self-induced.
There are some interesting attempts to explode stereotypes, which I think should be applauded. The characterisation of Jack's boss Anna is interesting - the assumption that just because she is female, she will be more sympathetic would be natural but she comes across as so work-driven that she almost becomes heartless. I think Jack is a bit overwhelmed by Anna, perhaps too much so - there are moments when she is quite cutting and when Jack would be right to correct her. There is a curious comparison with Amy, who - although superficially like other females in that she cooes over Sarah - is sufficiently vague at first that she doesn't even notice which sex baby Sarah is. Jack also tackles another himself over the issue of whether he can use the nursing mothers' room to change Sarah's nappy.
In keeping with the theme of stereotypes, it is interesting how the opinions of the other characters try to influence the main ones. Jack's mum thinks Anna is outwardly great for him when she is really a selfish character, while Amy - who is a far kinder person - is written off as a "dreadful American girl". The baby alarm worked rather well as a plot device - it's an overlooked but very useful piece of equipment. There are quite a lot of twists and turns in this plot - I think most are an intricate combination of clever writing and artful camera angles - but a lot of the plot development hinges on the budding relationship between Jack and Amy and when and how he treats her as a nanny or as a friend. It is obviously a grey area for them.
On the surface, this film looks to be just your typical British romantic comedy but this one has some features that make it satisfyingly substantial. In terms of basic romantic plot it is broadly like Four Weddings and a Funeral, but unlike that film it is deeper and the characters are better written and investigated.
American Wedding (2003)
Fulfils some stereotypes while turning others on their head
I found it quite hard to review this film thoroughly - the pace moves faster than you think and the film itself is not particularly long. Admittedly some scenes are pretty crude, but this isn't meant to be an especially high brow film, especially when the demographic it's aimed at is probably the teenage/ twenty something audience and the characters themselves are in the older end of this demographic.
Michelle is such a brilliant character - she is written to be so "sweet and innocent" and then she does something like get intimate with Jim at the restaurant. There is a sort of endearing honesty about her character - she's not affected, she says what she wants but her voice is so innocent and honest it tones down her content.
I sympathise with Jim - he's desperately trying to do the right thing, he knows Michelle's parents probably won't think he's good enough and he's trying to prove that he is, but he's still got his hormones and needs and urges raging all over the place. I also feel for him and his father in different ways - his father wants to help and give advice, but so often this comes across as a "too much information" moment. (Equally funny is when he tries to help Michelle with her vows.) Jim is too embarrassed about such topics as sex, as you might expect his father to be, yet his father is quite open and ready to talk, and this makes for an interesting role-reversal.
His friends are a bit cruel but I suppose in a good natured way. Stifler manages to make fun of him not only for not being able to dance but also for looking at him in a certain way during their first dance attempt ("lesson" seem over-generous). I suppose this highlights, or maybe even parodies, the idea of men being scared to show their emotions.
There is an interesting intimacy between Jim and his male friends - at times they sincerely talk about personal grooming, as such, which you would expect to be more in the realms of a female platonic friendship. Sad indeed that it is stifled by one or the other worrying that it might be too intimate.
On balance, I liked this film very much. I can't compare it to either of the previous two because I haven't seen them all the way through, but judging it on its own merits, I can't find anything lacking.
You know when you like something when . . .
. . . you time your evening shower so that you are putting your pyjamas on when it starts on TV. And I do this with Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps.
As some people have pointed out, bits of it are pretty crude (this is no Keeping Up Appearances) but then, when the central characters are all twenty-something, I'd be surprised if it wasn't.
Some of the situations are slightly mad and you have to suspend your disbelief, like Janet talking to the unborn baby via the hoover, as I recall - the said baby actually has some wonderful close-up shots. Obviously we'll never be able to get babies to act, but the expressions on the face of this little thing are priceless. It looks like he thinks being named Corinthian McVitie Keogh is the very least of his problems.
On the other hand, other situations are almost plausible. The occasion of Louise getting a job where she can access anyone's personal information is like a little goldmine - I'm sure she didn't mean for it to turn out as it did, but wouldn't anyone in that position be even a little bit tempted to find out more about their friends and associates? I think I'd find it difficult to resist.
What gives Two Pints of Lager all the more credit is that the characters are human. As a twenty-something, I'll freely admit to being drawn to childish things when I need comfort, and I think of Johnny and his addiction to Jammie Dodgers as an example. It's not trying to be intellectual, it's not obviously judgemental, it's just showing the lives of young people in an average lifestyle.
The more I watch it, the more I want to watch it.
The Amazing Mrs Pritchard (2006)
Can someone find a real Ros Pritchard to stand as MP?
I'm a little surprised to have seen so many negative comments about The Amazing Mrs Pritchard. Considering that voter turnout at the 2005 election was estimated at around 60%, I should have thought someone new and dynamic like Ros Pritchard was precisely what we needed in British politics. If we could all get half this passionate about one political viewpoint, maybe politics could finally shake off its boring, our-vote-won't-count-so why-bother image. Watching this, I thought, "We could actually make this happen if we could get interested enough".
On the occupational side, I would have liked to have seen more than just a few shots of Ros walking around talking to her staff to represent her work in the supermarket. Apparently Jane Horrocks visited my boss at the supermarket I work in for tips and ideas, and I felt there wasn't enough on Ros's old job. A few scenes on the shopfloor, then she decided to stand for election and that's it (bar a couple of other scenes).
Politicians have a fantastic reputation for lying, so it was refreshing when Ros made a remark about the European constitution, "which to be quite frank is no better than the last one". Any other MP would say half as much with twice as many words. The only thing I would criticise was that things seemed to be tidied up very quickly, although the case of the suspected terrorist attack (topical indeed) this might be out of sensitivity to the victims and relatives of London's 2005 bombings.
Equally different was when Ros actually offered to resign if her idea didn't work out. Admittedly, it might not have been the brightest thing to say in the House of Commons, but at least she was honest. Certainly she also found the clever people to join her cabinet. Miranda, for instance, negotiated with the journalist in a way that would have scared me and I was most surprised when it backfired. I must give credit to Jodhi May - I've seen her in lots of productions and I didn't recognise her in this until half way through.
There were a lot of family scenes that I found humorous. It wasn't so much the idea of the prime minister finding a condom in her daughter's pocket that tickled me, but the fact that Ros only found it because she was looking for her iPod, which said daughter had borrowed. In spite of Tony Blair's "Cool Britannia" thing, I just can't imagine him with an iPod. On that note, the characterisation of Emily and Georgina is excellent. When a preoccupied Emily takes her little sister out for lunch and says, "You can have anything you want", Georgina seizes the moment and drinks her sister's wine.
Much of Ros' personal background comes out towards the end. The reason why her girls are obviously so important to her is incredibly sad, especially in the context that she discloses it to Catherine. It's interesting, too, that political tension seems to build just as tension in the Pritchard family builds, too.
Without giving anything away, the ending was a bit of a let-down. Close to the end, Ros wakes up after talking with her husband and - at the crack of dawn - has a secretary talking non-stop about her appointments for the day and I wondered, "How is this woman still functioning?" There are a lot of twists and turns, all the time you are expecting Ros to be ousted and the ending was just too anti-climactic. So anti-climactic, in fact, that I thought there would be another episode the following week.
Overall, an interesting, thought-provoking, optimistic series that was sadly let down by the very end of the last episode.
ASBO Teen to Beauty Queen (2006)
What is actually important in life?
I may well be missing the whole point of this programme but I switched it off half way through the first episode through irritation, anger and frustration. It's quite fair enough that the aim of the programme is to transform these tomboyish girls into teenage princesses but it doesn't stop there.
The precise reason I dislike it lay in one little comment, where one of these girls was pulled up for wearing no make up, and replied that she never wore it usually. I can relate to this very much - I take care of my appearance but I don't consider make up to be an essential. As I say, I may be seeing it from the wrong angle, but I think this programme is perpetuating the idea that you have to be attractive and heavily made-up to be successful in life and I think that is the last thing they should be encouraging teenage girls to think. I know from my own teenage years that that period in your life is one where you find out who you really are, so why on earth are they trying to force them all to fit basically the same ideals? I definitely won't make a point of catching this again.
Ladette to Lady (2005)
More interesting than it first appears
In spite of the criticism about this series, I've actually quite enjoyed it. I don't think it's that the teachers are patronising so much as that they and the girls are from completely different backgrounds. If they weren't, there would be no tension and therefore no point in the series.
I don't know if the series was inspired by the musical My Fair Lady, but I'm tempted to compare it. The difference here, however, is that the girls can't just switch to ladylike perfection in the space of five minutes because they are real people, taking part in a real experiment. Following that logic, it makes sense, as they're at the school, to put them in situations (parties, holidays etc) that they are used to, in order to assess whether they're putting their new social skills to good use or not.
At university, I often come up against people whose social behaviour would certainly shock the teachers at Eggleston Hall, and sometimes I think that this sort of finishing school experience is exactly the thing some people need. I'm only twenty-two, but sometimes I'm actually shocked by people in my own generation (male and female). I think I might be atypical of girls in my age range, but I've never fitted into the stereotype of the hard-drinking, partying teenager, so I actually wish I could do something like this for myself (for the experience as much as social improvement) and I don't often think that about much that I see on television. I'll definitely be watching the series until the end.
Jane Eyre (2006)
Some positives, a few negatives but overall a pleasing result. (Spoilers in this review.)
It took me a while to get into the idea behind the beginning of Jane Eyre. I've never seen a version that started with a scene set in a far-away land, but in the opening scenes it becomes more evident that it represents the young Jane's mental escape from her world. The school scenes were well done, but I think another five minutes screen time would have benefited it. If you hadn't read the book, you'd think Helen Burns died because she had a cough. Her last scene, though, seemed to encapsulate the Victorian ideal that children needed saving from their own sin.
Once Jane got to Thornfield, it seemed a little strange that Mrs. Fairfax appeared on first impression to be the cook. Clearly Jane and Rochester had a connection almost straight away, but she jumped to conclusions so fast - a strange thing to come across in a four hour adaptation. As soon as Mrs. Fairfax mentions Rochester's infatuation with Blanche Ingram, there's Jane writing letters to look for another job before she even knows if they are engaged. Since Lady Ingram is so scheming and critical of others, it seemed to me that Blanche had no chance of marrying Rochester. One other area where she makes her mind up too fast is about Grace Poole. At that point, we don't know why Grace works at Thornfield, but Jane is unnecessarily rude to her. It's as though Jane is more scared by Grace than Grace is presented as being scary to the viewer.
There are a lot of flashback scenes in the series - some confusing and some less so. I particularly liked the way Jane reminisced about Gateshead when she returned to her dying aunt. Occasionally, she is a bit outspoken about her feelings about Rochester, but I was hugely impressed that so much of Charlotte Bronte's dialogue was kept in the proposal scene - it seemed a lot more natural than in other versions. Obviously, the revelation about Bertha is a huge shock to Jane and I felt for her in the scene when she takes her wedding dress off and puts her everyday one back on, but there seemed too many hints that Bertha was there - views as seen from upper windows. You could almost guess before the plot reached that point.
At the opening of the last episode, I really liked the scenes with Jane wandering on the moors. Everyone always talks about the Brontes' novels being set on the moors, yet in most adaptations Jane is always found almost instantly. There is, of course, a great chunk of the story that takes place between the abandoned wedding and the end and it was certainly enough to spend an hour of screen time on - most scripts seem to skip this part. I felt that Jane got a sense of who she was and - despite the flashbacks - that she could face life even if she never saw Rochester again. The reason I criticise these particular flashback scenes is that they're confusing - is she back with Rochester or is she dreaming? The final half-hour was particularly good because, although she clearly didn't want the inheritance her uncle left, when she returned to Thornfield, she had obviously bought new clothes. Ruth Wilson should take a huge amount of credit for her role as Jane - we think of Jane as being plain and not outstandingly attractive and she does blend in when she's not the main focus, but during the wedding preparations she almost visibly glows with happiness. I especially loved the expression on her face when she returns to Rochester - she's dying to let it slip. Equally, you sometimes think of Rochester as being older and not especially attractive, but Toby Stephens makes you understand why Blanche Ingram is desperate to trap him. The ending pleasantly surprised me - I was expecting the credits to rolls as the camera panned from Jane and Rochester to the river - because it made me think of that line in the book about Rochester being able to see their first child after his eventual marriage, and it felt like Jane had finally got the family she never had.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Perfect Christmas Fare - and not just for kids
The really clever thing about the way the script for this was written is that a viewer can appreciate it in many different ways. If you're a fan of Dickens' writing, you'll like the way that much of the dialogue is lifted from his original novel and yet can still be understood by the audience, whatever their age. (Of course, Rizzo's literary observations don't hurt, either.) If you're into costumes you'll appreciate that the "present" cast are dressed in the typical 1840s Dickensian wardrobe, whereas in the Ghost of Christmas Past segment, the boy Scrooge wears Georgian clothing and the young man (who looks uncannily like a younger Michael Caine) dresses in Regency attire. And pretty much everybody can appreciate those wonderful Muppets.
Although the tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge is well known as a simple Christmas parable, it's clear just how much work went into making this film really work - using Fozzie Bear as Fozziwig, for instance. I wonder if that's why the Hensons decided to make this particular story in the Muppet style. In the school scenes, the walls are covered in busts of Aristotle, Shakespeare and others, all made to look like Muppets. The fake snow looks better and adds more Christmas atmosphere than real snow ever could, and I like the darkness of Scrooge's office - if he was too mean to provide lighting, it would have looked like that.
I do like the interaction between Gonzo and Rizzo - "Should we be worried about the kids in the audience?", "No, this is culture" - and the way they retreat from the scary Ghost of Christmas Future by hiding in the church. It surprises me - given the way that the Ghost of Christmas Present was designed - that nobody ever seems to have made a toy out of him.
The inimitable Miss Piggy is a wonderful (and, dare I say it, borderline psycho) Mrs. Cratchit - it seems so right that she's enormous compared to Kermit, with all her curly blonde hair and her mob cap.
One thing I was really sad to hear of is that some new DVD versions (I was watching my thirteen year old video) have cut the song When Love Is Gone. It may seem soppy to some, but I think it's an important bit of the story because it shows that Scrooge lost people he loved because he was so concerned with money.
Blackadder's Christmas Carol (1988)
The Anti-Scrooge (as only Blackadder knows how)
If I had to sum up Blackadder's Christmas Carol, I'd say it was Dickens' traditional festive parable turned unashamedly inside out. We know of Edmund Blackadder's selfish, self-centred nature so what better way to approach the tale of seasonal personal epiphany than by turning the good man into an evil one.
Edmund is set to spend another year with no money at all - and this is the only Blackadder I've seen, incidentally, where Baldrick is nearly on the same social footing (Edmund calls him "Mr. Baldrick") - until he is visited by the Christmas Spirit (brilliantly played by Robbie Coltrane. I particularly like the way the Spirit's plan to praise Edmund by showing the evil deeds of his ancestors backfires so badly, but I will reveal no more.
It's not only Dickens' characters who get parodied here ("Mrs. Scratchit, Tiny Tim is seventeen stone and built like a brick privy! If he eats any more heartily he will burst") but that most iconic of nineteenth century figures, Queen Victoria herself. It is well known that she and her husband Albert truly loved each other and poor Albert is so enthusiastic about the presents he buys that he can keep nothing secret.
It is a great tribute to Rowan Atkinson and Ben Elton that I can think of few other writers and actors who can parody a certain time in history so well. Refreshingly entertaining in an entirely different way to most seasonal TV.
Citizen Ruth (1996)
A great way to come to your own decision about an issue
I was initially unsure what to make of this film, having missed the beginning, but it did make an impression on me. I have heard comments that this film is too unbiased but I actually find it refreshing when dealing with a subject like abortion. I don't like the "pregnancy advisory" section - as someone who is adopted, I've always been aware that it should be a woman's choice. I don't take one side or another because I don't see abortion as a black or white issue and this section of the film was almost "Brave New World", also there is a big link made between pro-life and religion, which might possibly offend some Christians. I'm a Catholic but I believe every individual woman in this situation should make their own decision, so it seems Ruth is living in some sort of parallel universe (not because of her own personality but because of those around her).
Abortion seems - from all I can gather - to be a polarised issue in the States, I can't imagine anyone protesting so fiercely in Britain, although I'm sure they do. (There are some definite stereotypes in this film, whichever side of the fence they're on.) It seems that Ruth's trying to make her own decisions and no one else will let her - at one point Diane says "Let me try and control her" and that's spot on. Whatever her problems, she's a grown woman and she clearly has a mind of her own, and you certainly get that impression through the set-up of some shots in the film. People are always bearing down on her or pushing her in a particular direction.
Without giving anything away, I think it is quite sad how the story ends up (or appears to as she leaves Diane's house) - there is the briefest hint that the whole issue being debated, through a short scene when Ruth gets up one morning, suddenly becomes irrelevant. I think the public reaction demonstrates how far this issue has moved from being a personal one. The ending feels like a little triumph for Ruth because people are so wrapped up in the issue that she is ultimately unimportant, which is what she wants all along.