Maggie Smith’s Zingers

Three of the Downton Abbey cast members, Michele Dockery, Laura Carmichael and Allen Leech, review Maggie Smith’s best lines from the TV series.

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Poldark, Final Season, Ep. 2

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Much of the episode takes place in London, where Demelza and the two children just arrived. Ned is out of jail! But he needs to clear his name because he wasn’t exonerated, but just released it seems. Ross discovers that Ballentine, Ned’s former secretary just happens to be in London.  If Ross can find Balletine, then Ned’s sure to be in the clear.

When Ned is in the mood for fun and he takes his wife Kitty to the Pleasure Garden. Ross and Demelza, Caroline and Dwight join them. As you’d expect the Kitty, who’s African American is insulted and stared at. Kitty defuses a confrontation and Ned & Co. leave.

Back in Cornwall, Tess, a new snakelike servant that Demelza has helped by giving her a job, is plotting to seduce Ross. She dreams of being the lady of the house. Prudie is on to her though.

George is amenable to signing a contract with a devil, i.e. Hanson, who’s made a fortune across the pond trading who-knows-what and who has no problem with the slave trade. The ghost of Elizabeth convinces George not to sign, making Uncle Cary hit the ceiling. This grief-induced madness is not funny.

Geoffrey Charles and Hanson’s daughter Cecily are getting cozy. Both are going back to Cornwall, where they’ll picnic on the beach, but this romance is headed for rocky shores as Cecily’s father wants her to marry the rich George.

Ross finds Ballentine and eventually convinces him to do the right thing. Ballentine writes a letter to state what a noble, just man Ned is. Ross discreetly circulates the letter. He wants to protect Ballentine. However, Demelza figures all and sundry should know how great Ned is. She gets Kitty and Caroline to help her hand out copies of the letter, which given that some very powerful people oppose Ned and make a lot of money off of the slave trade, endangers Ballentine and Ned.

Morwenna shows her maternal side when Valentine, who’s the spitting image of Ross, tells her how he expects his mother Elizabeth to return. She tries to sympathetically break the truth to the boy. Drake dreams of starting a family, but Morwenna recoils much as she’d like to oblige. She’s still traumatized by odious Ossy’s fetishes. One day . . . In fact my guess is that the series may end with Morwenna giving birth or at least getting pregnant.

An incredible futurist, Dwight spoke about mental illness and how criminals should not be held culpable when they’re not of sound mind. Caroline beams with pride at his lecture. A lawyer hears him and gets him to testify at the trial for the man accused of attempting to assassinate the King. This does not go down well with the elite.

The episode had plenty to like and characters who infuriated. George is still dangerous and Tess should be sent packing. Ross better not give in to her “charms.” Ross and Dwight champion justice. Cecily’s complex so I don’t know if she belongs with Geoffrey Charles, but she seems to.

Dwight’s ideas about insanity seem too modern for the era.  The ghost of Elizabeth seems rather false, hard to buy, but I suppose the actress also had a five year contract, which doesn’t make much sense since if you read the books, you know she died.

SPOILER ALERT

Ballentine’s body washes up on the shore. That’s what you get for pointing a finger at the powerful.

Poldark, Final Season, Ep. 1

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It’s a bittersweet time with Poldark returning, but for the last year. What will 2020 bring from the BBC and PBS?

As I was viewing I was wondering if the storylines were based on the Winston Graham’s novels. I enjoyed the episode, but something seemed off. I was right. Deborah Horsfield explained that:

“we knew at the end of Season Four that we were not going to be able to finish all of the remaining five books, because the cast were only optioned for five series. So the options were to stop after Season Four, or to have a look at some of the events that might have taken place, some of which Winston Graham refers to in The Stranger from the Sea, and to cover a kind of similar time period that he would cover in each book, a period of about two years.”

So, we are getting a Horsfield story this year, which should be fine.

The episode began with a flashback to the American Revolutionary War when Ross is shot and a new character, his colonel and comrade Ned Despard finds him. We then move to Despard in jail giving his African American wife a note for Ross, his only hope. The governor of British Honduras, Despard is an abolitionist. He’s married his kitchen maid, Kitty. Kitty goes to England to get Ross’ help.

Geoffrey Charles has returned to Nappara and since his mother, Elizabeth has died has decided to quit school and enter the military academy. That takes money (seems there’s no GI Bill or ROTC yet). Ross takes him to see George, who sends his stepson packing. No surprise there unless you count Ross’ naivety. Who thought George would be generous.

Grief has driven George crazy. He’s isolated himself and left the Poldark estate. He’s seeing Elizabeth at the dinner table and hallucinating that the nursemaid is Elizabeth. While I’m glad to see Heida Reed back, I can’t buy her ghost. TV programs often have the ghost of a dead character and it rarely works for me.

All’s well with Demelza and Ross in terms of their marriage. When Kitty arrives asking Ross to accompany her to London to champion Ned’s cause Demelza knows she can’t stop him and I think admires his decision to stand up for what’s right. We’ll see a lot about abolition this season, which is set in 1800. The date emphasizes how long it took for slavery to end.

Another new character, Tess is the Norma Rae of the village. An out of work kitchen maid, Tess resents Demelza and tells her off. Tess is the spokeswoman for the unemployed miners who worked for George, but won’t accept his stingy lower wages. thus these poor folks are starving or close to it. Demelza promises to help and Tess replies with sarcasm. Not much later Demelza offers Tess a job, but the jaded maid snaps that she doesn’t want charity, forgetting that a job really isn’t charity.

It’s unclear whether Tess is involved soon after Ross leaves for London, a fire strikes late one night. Luckily, no one’s hurt and the fire’s put out, but Demelza (and the audience) wonder whether Tess is at all responsible. Tess should be watched. She’s hard to read.

Caroline is still mourning the death of her baby daughter and Morwenna recoils from Drake’s touch. Both women’s psychological states make sense, but I hope this season we seen them heal and move on. Both have exemplary husbands now and it’s nice to see their patience and love.

Two more new characters are Ralph Hanson, a merchant, and his daughter Cecily, who’s of marriageable age. Ralph is cut from a Warleggen cloth and I wouldn’t trade with him for all the tea in China. Cecily is a question mark. She’s shrewd and at first I thought trouble, but she shows up at the lecture against slavery so she may have some good in her. George’s uncle wants George to marry ASAP and clearly thinks Cecily would make a good match if only for her father’s money. Yet she bristles at such talk. A strong woman, Cecily is not about to do someone else’s bidding.

The premiere has set up some interesting themes and plot lines. I’m unsure about a story not based on the books, but I’ll be back this week and hope for the best.

Les Misérables, Ep. 4

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In a blink of an eye, Cosette has blossomed into a young lady. Her friends at school are dreaming of romance and marriage and make it clear that it’s awful that her Papa has agreed that Cosette become a nun and they continue living in the convent. Evidently, Cosette hadn’t thought much about that. She’s appalled and convinces Jean Valjean that she needs to see the real world.

He takes her out to the “real world,” the world of beggars, thieves, prostitutes, urchins and scoundrels. It’s pretty frightening. Jean Valjean didn’t need to go far to expose Cosette to these realities. They were right out their cloistered doorstep.

Jean Valjean finds housing in a poor neighborhood where the same nosy concierge with the bad powdered wig, who ratted out Cosette before she left Paris to find work, works. Hugo creates such a tiny world.

Marius learns all about how his grandfather has lied to him about his father. After confronting gramps, he leaves and finds his own room adjacent to . . . the Thenardiers. Ugh. Yes, Monsieur and Madame Thenardier are just as unctuous as before, if not more so. Their oldest daughter Éponine becomes smitten with Marius, but it’s a one-sided love. Ce Marius cultivé n’est pas exactement beau dans mon livre, donc il est difficile de croire que les filles vont tomber pour lui. 

Javert continues to brood over Jean Valjean. It’s amazing since he must have known and knows hundreds if not thousands of prisoners, but this makes the story work. Hugo voulait nous montrer un pharisien (Javert) comparé à un disciple du Christ (Jean Valjean).

We meet Marius’ friends. They’re young men eager for political change and more egalité in society. Peut-être que s’ils aidaient effectivement des gens pauvres eux-mêmes, ils verseraient une partie de l’égalité qu’ils désirent. These boys are a rougher bunch, in terms of bearing and language, than we saw in the musical, but they’re alright.

Valjean felt badly about shocking Cosette with the real world so he takes her to the Luxembourg Gardens, where Cosette crosses paths with Marius and they immediately fall in love. This part of the story was sped up quite a bit compared to other productions and I think that’s a shame. Jean Valjean notices this love connection and he’s not ready for his dear Cosette to grow up like that.

I was surprised by the many changes from the book in this episode. Some were long-winded explanations, that I didn’t think were needed. In fact, I think they weakened the story. One change was that Jean Valjean explains his criminal past to Cosette. This should make the later parts of the story less dramatic so I can’t see what’s gained.

The episode ended when after getting tricked by Monsieur Thenardier and fighting his way out of the ambush, Jean Valjean and Cosette narrowly escape getting captured by Javert. Each week ends with a real nail biter of a scene.

Yet, it’s impossible for me to not love Les Misérables and I haven’t had a good drama to watch on Sundays since Victoria ended in February, so I am pleased with the show as a whole. I admit I miss the songs, though.

Les Misérables, Ep 3

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The story moves on. Jean Valjean decides to go to the court to exonerate a man falsely accused of stealing and mistaken as Jean Valjean. It would be so easy to let this pass. Le Mayor (J.V.) could let this go and race to save Cosette, whom the Thenardiers abuse and neglect. But Jean Valjean (le Mayor) realizes he should free the man wrongly accused, even though that man is a thief. It’s a tough decision and few would sacrifice as J.V. does.

Cosette dies alone without seeing her daughter Cosette. She’s alone, emaciated and looks white as a ghost. A nun tries to pacify Fantine by lying that the doctor won’t let Cosette come because she’s so sick. Really, if Cosette was there, consider how zombie-like poor Fantine looked her daughter might have been traumatized for life. Better that Cosette remember her mother when she was healthy.

Jean Valjean entrusted his manager to rescue Cosette, but that grumpy, judgmental woman didn’t bother. Time passes and eventually JV manages to get free from jail and race ahead of Javert to get Colette.

At Thenardier’s we see how horribly they’ve treated Cosette. This production adds more suggestion that JV is buying Cosette for untoward reasons. It was particularly slimy. After JV departs with Cosette and her new porcelain doll, the Thenardiers report her as kidnapped. That was a strange, unnecessary addition. Then the Thenardiers are soon evicted from their inn. That was a change from the book and odd, because they had just received a windfall from JV.

JV and Colette make a life in a lower class neighborhood in Paris, where they live a quiet life, except for a nosy neighbor who wears an elaborate powdered wig, which I thought only rich people could afford. Any way this French Mrs. Kravitz suspects that JV isn’t Cosette’s kin and reports him to — da da da da –Javert. Hugo sure gives us a small world for this story.

Javert goes after JV, who manages to flee to a cloistered nunnery. In this story rather than a gardener, whom JV knew, helping him. The nuns do. The abbess agrees to let Colette attend school there, hires JV and lies to Javert.

I think it’s impossible to ruin this Victor Hugo’s story, but I could have done without a few of the changes that modernized or over-explained. Fantine’s make up was overdone IMHO and the added scenes on with Thenardier’s eviction and the nosy neighbor who suspected pedophilia didn’t improve the story. Nonetheless I enjoyed the episode.

Flambards

flambardsLast week I watched an old favorite, Flambards, a British historical drama set in 1910. I first saw this 1979 program in the 80’s and I wondered whether it was available on DVD. Thankfully through my library’s network, I could get them.

In this post-Downton Abbey or Poldark era, I thought perhaps I wouldn’t like Flambards as much as I remembered. While the film seems fuzzy and the sets aren’t as dazzling, I love this program.

Flambards begins with Christina, an orphan who’s been shuffled from aunt to aunt, comes to her uncle’s home. Confined to a wheelchair, Uncle Russell is gruff on a good day. He wakes up and goes to bed barking orders. The rest of the day he’s usually shouting or plotting while drinking port.

When Christina arrives in town, no one’s there to pick her up at the train. Only her cousin William remembered she was coming. Will and Christina are kindred spirits, but Mark, Will’s older brother, is an egotistical, status-conscious, hard drinking churl. Christina’s horrified to learn that the plan is that when she turns 21 in six years, she’s to inherit her money and would then marry Mark so her money may be used to prop up the Flambards estate.

A major conflict in the story is between Mark, the churl, who lives for fox hunting and drinking, and William, the younger brother, who’s fascinated by flying machines, and all things modern. Christina feels both challenged and safe around William, whereas Mark frustrates and maddens her.

Another crucial character is Dick, a stable worker, who teaches Christina to ride. He’s sweet on her, but well aware of his place. Christiana treats Dick as an equal forgetting the class difference. Will tries to get Dick to stop calling him “sir” because he doesn’t support the rigid class structure, but Will sees that such a gesture doesn’t really change anything. After helping Christiana save her old horse from getting eaten by the hounds, Will’s dismissed. The injustice is clear and swift. Though Christina owns up to her part, i.e. she came up with the plan and participated in it as much as Will or Dick, Dick is the online to pay a price. We see how cruel men like Uncle Russel could be, how they used their power.

Flambards has romance, history and conflict, i.e. all the ingredients I need in a good drama. Based on a novel by K.M. Peyton, Flambards is an ideal candidate for a remake. It worked for Poldark, for which next season is its last. The same writer should take on Flambards.

Look – I think you can watch Flambards here.

 

 

Les Misérables, Ep 2

lily les misLast night was the second episode of the Masterpiece/BBC production of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. I knew what was coming. I knew that Fantine was in for a tough timethis week. Her lover Felix had agandoned her and their baby Cosette and Fantine had no family or skills to support her well.

Last night we saw Madame Thenardier for the first time. Olivia Colman’s portrayal is both lusty as you’d expect, but also more likable because unlike the novel or the films, this Madame Thenardier tells her disreputable husband that he should be more honest because by getting a reputation for honesty, their inn would prosper. He slaps her for this. Later, another character makes the same point. I’m not sure why this production chose to white wash Madam Thenardier’s character when earlier productions succeeded with the character depicted as shown in the book.

As anyone who’s seen the films or read the novel know, in the next chapters Fantine experiences great hardship. She’s truly one of the “Les Misérables.” Though I wanted to be strong, I did have to look away at at one time mute the TV as Fantine’s fate takes a turn for the very worse.

The episode was unstinting in its depiction of Fantine’s fall. In fact the scribbler she uses to read letters from the Thenardier’s treats Fantine horribly suggesting, if not urging her to sell herself and criticizing her for selling her “assets,” i.e. her hair and teeth, before she turned to prostitution because with her cropped hair and toothless smile, she’s a less desirable object . . . . Ugh.

Fantine’s fall is worse than Jean Valjean’s and part of this is due to her extreme naivety. She never questions the Thenardier’s who constantly ask for more money to care for Cosette. She leaves her daughter with absolute strangers, though in this day there were orphanages for children with living parents. That would be the better route. In the book we’re told that Fantine had no parents at all and just grew up wandering about her small town and getting food, clothing and shelter from whoever felt generous. (Not sure why she wasn’t in an orphanage.) So that information explains a lot about why Fantine lacks common sense and has no one, no aunt, cousin, parent, etc. to turn to for help.

Cleaned up and dignified, Jean Valjean has moved upward gaining wealth and power now that his factory is prospering and he’s become mayor. The people love him. But soon Jalvert turns up and recognizes his old prisoner. Naturally Valjean gets nervous, but he remains true to the Bishop. He’s found God and honesty, though he still errors (in terms of firing Fantine, mainly because he didn’t know her full story). This production does a better job than the musical showing how much Valjean agonizes over saving the thief who’s about to die in his place. The musical certainly shows us how easy it would be for Jean Valjean to keep quiet and continue to live his new life, but this drama accentuates the dilemma.

There’s one sequence with Marius as a young boy. Somehow time hasn’t effected him as much as it has Cosette. His growth is a lot slower than hers in the interim between this and last week. Anyway, what struck me was the powered wig he sports and is worn by his grandpa and his cronies. It’s a stark, grandiose contrast to the prosperous Jean Valjean’s hair. I can’t remember if Hugo’s book makes the upperclass this contemptible.

All in all, I’m enjoyed episode 2, though it had some scenes of great suffering that I couldn’t bear. Things are bad, but not this bad in the weeks ahead. I will add that this is not an episode I advise kids watching. It might even be considered R rated for Fantine’s struggles in the streets.