Grantchester

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When it first was broadcast, I didn’t bother with Grantchester. I’m not a fan on the Father Brown series and I thought it might be of the same ilk. (Also, I’ve been watching Downton Abbey at my aunt’s rehab center. Visitors must leave at 9pm.)

I’ve seen the lead actor in Happy Valley, where he plays a rapist, kidnapper, drug user and murderer. So seeing James Norton as a vicar, even a vicar who drinks and is quite a stretch.

But I’ve seen 4 episodes so far and I like this show. It’s not a top of the line must-see series, but it’s better than most and watching the young vicar grapple with war memories and pine for his true love, while trying to do the right thing by Hildegard, a lovely widow whom he’s dating does capture my interest.

The big problem with a detective series set in the country, and not the drug infested modern country town we see in Happy Valley, is how many murders do you expect occur in such a place? In the town I grew up in there was one. One murder in 30 years. In the town I’m in now I don’t think there’s been even that. Still so far the show has managed to be convincing and one of the cases took place in London and was plausible in why the vicar would have to solve it.

After getting hooked on Downton Abbey, The Paradise and Mr. Selfridge, I’ve gotten to a point where I think post-WWII is quite modern. Almost too modern for my liking, still Grantchester has been well worth watching.

I wonder if Amanda will call off her wedding or if Sidney will declare his love for her. I think Sunday’s episode is the finale.

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Recap & Comments: Mr Selfridge Finale, Part 2

Victor and Agnes resign

Victor and Agnes resign

The second part of the finale in the US (or episode 10 in Britain) begins with lively conversation at the Selfridge dinner table and Rose asking everyone to count on a traditional family dinner for Thanksgiving. The girls and Harry’s mother are back and the mood is elated. Then the mopey musician, Florian, knocks on Miss Mardle’s door. He asks about why she’s ending their affair and she explains it’s age. Really, I just don’t see this earnest violist as making anyone all that happy. It seems a matter of convenience. Whoever the agency would have sent would eventually have wooed Miss Mardle.

Harry has quite a morning. First Henri learns the charges in the U.S. are all dropped so he’ll sign up to go off to war for the French. Given what he knows about how the war is really going, I’d expect Harry to sit his friend down and try to talk him out of fighting. A little later both Agnes and Victor resign as they’re getting married while George is on leave. Like last season’s finale, Harry loses a lot of those he counts on at once. He did offer Agnes the chance to stay on, which she refused. Big mistake Agnes. Though the real Selfridge seemed more conservative and didn’t hire or promote as many women as we see on the show, this chance to bend the British rules of not letting married women work should have been considered.

The Palm Court looks elegant and I wish department stores had such lovely restaurants, not only food courts. Henri goes to Victor to apologize for speaking out of turn about Agnes’ belief in George’s well being when he was missing. He also mentioned that he’s signing up for the army. I did notice that Victor didn’t apologize for grabbing Henri’s arm and almost coming to blows. This is one reason I’ve wanted Agnes to choose Henri. She was upset to learn that Henri’s off to fight. She does care.

Rose's doctor

Rose’s doctor

The saddest thread of the story is Rose’s diagnosis. Her doctor tells her her condition is fatal. We don’t get all the details. We just get stunned as she does. The scene in the doctor’s office is short and well done. Just enough to convey the severity and provide tension.

George is overwhelmed by his colleagues as the flock around him when he visits the store. They mean well, but a mob is not what he needs. Gordon saves George saying that he should go talk with his father. I wish Henri and Gordon, who’s so keen to serve, sat in on this talk. George describes refers to the horrors of war. News and letters are censored so the public’s in the dark about the truth. It’s still a bit oblique. I wish he’d gone into more detail since we don’t see actual battle scenes. That could have been more powerful. By the end, George has inspired the store’s new displays “The Comforts of Home” about all the things that keep the soldiers going. Agnes’ swan song.

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The best image in the episode, I think, was of Rose letting the water in the fountain go over her hand when she’s at home. What a beautiful way to depict how she’s needing soothing after hearing her doctor’s diagnosis. Mr Frasier, the butler, enters and asks if all’s well. Stoically, Rose says it is and mentions that she needs to discuss Thanksgiving with him. She needs this holiday more than ever.

There’s a flurry of activity at the store as all departments prepare for the Comforts of Home campaign. A good series of scenes showing how creative and cooperative everyone is and how well Harry knows his business. At home, Rose shows the same vigor and finesse in planning Thanksgiving. Announcing that she’ll make her own pecan pies, Rose amazes Mae, who’s still staying with them. Lois, Harry’s mother, senses that something’s awry with Rose. This holiday’s getting more than the usual attention. At Victor’s Agnes, Victor and Franco plan for the wedding as a quiet George looks on. Agnes suggest putting pine needles on the floor to give the space aroma. It sounds splendid, but everyone–Victor, George and Agnes — is distracted and in their own world keeping their concerns and worries to themselves, which made for a good scene.

Following Miss Calthorpe’s advice to take action, Miss Mardle arranged for Florian to audition with an orchestra up north. He’s ticked off. He’d rather sit and brood in his room. How attractive. He sends her out of his room. It wouldn’t be the least bit hard for him to take action and contact his agency to get moved. Again, I feel there’s got to be someone better for her, someone with a pulse.

 

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Mr. Selfridge, Season 2

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In the third episode of Mr. Selfridge’s second season, Delphine Day (Polly Walker) organizes a card game with some of the influential movers and shakers she knows including Harry and Lord Loxley. It’s wonderful to see the smug Loxley lose to Harry.

People are coming to terms with the war. Agnes receives a letter from her brother George and though it’s been redacted he seems chipper. Miss Mardle takes in a Belgian refugee. She expects Florian to be a woman’s name, but it turns out that her refugee is a young man, a rather innocent and attractive Belgian. If he brings any chocolate into the house, she’ll be putty in his hands. This mix up is rather weak. Of course, Miss Mardle could arrange to have a woman live with her and someone else could take in Mr. Florian.

I’m worried about Henri who’s very mysterious this episode. His secret life remains so, to a larger extent. He’s giving lots of money to a suspicious looking man, who’s supposed to track a woman down for him. Since he’s gotten on Mr. Thackery’s bad side, Thackery follows him around town looking for dirt. Henri had best watch out. My guess is that while the problem may not be innocent it’s not as bad as it seems. Thackery expects that Henri is a German spy. Poppycock, Thackery. Poppycock.

Things are looking up for Lady Loxley as her husband’s finances are going up since he’s getting kick backs for army procurement deals. She’s been authorized to get a new wardrobe. It’s a pity that Mr. Thackery just couldn’t pick up on the newer trends. All he could show her seemed dated, though I thought the gowns were stunning, just not right for wartime.

Rose was used nicely in this episode. She saved the day as the store must employ women in the warehouse. Their garments made work nearly impossible. No one at the store really knew what to do, but Rose stepped in and figured it all out. Later when Mr. Crab organized shooting practice for store employees, Rose impressed her son Gordon with her expertise. I love seeing these new facets of hers and I’m glad to see she and Harry’s marriage is improving. Yet I do fear Daphne is up to something with Harry. She was needlessly secretive about the card game when she saw Rose.

All in all, the season’s shaping up nicely. The new characters are intriguing, though troublesome and having the mother and girls away makes the cast size more manageable for the writer. I don’t miss Miss Love at all or Harry’s philandering. While that will no doubt return, I’m glad the show isn’t all about infidelity and illicit romance.

Downton Abbey, Episode 4

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If Thomas (a.k.a. Mr. Burton) cries during an episode of Downton Abbey, you know there’s tragedy. I happened upon news of Sybil’s death last fall when I did a search for some other Downton matter and a British site popped up.

Still as Bresson asserts in good drama knowing the outcome won’t diminish the engagement with a story. I know how Casablanca ends and yet I get caught up in the story time after time.

So I was actually all the more rapt as Sybil lost her life in childbirth. Any viewer could tell the city-fied, modern Sir Whatshisname, was wrong and that Lord Grantham should listen to Dr. Clarkson. It was odd, but believable, that this tradition-bound lord didn’t. I kept thinking, “Listen to the women. Listen to Cora on this, Robert!”

The tone of the emotion was just right. Characters were devastated, but there was some reserve. This is not a telenova. And that’s why we viewers feel all the more emotion. When I see say a Malaysian soap opera everyone’s screaming, crying and flailing about in hysteria. I feel nothing because that “works” been done by the actors. When you witness tragedy and there’s been restraint because the situations so sad that words and actions won’t suffice, that’s when the audience feels the most.

One of the most beautiful scenes in this season so far was when we saw Branson at the window holding his daughter. No words and it just lasted a minute, but we knew (or projected) everything his grieving husband must feel. He’s got to be strong and committed to his daughter in spite of his own grief.

We’re in store for a lot of drama. Branson’s role in the family is even more tenuous. He’s still connected by a female the Grantham’s love, but she’s a baby and can’t act as a mediator. Where will they live? What work will Branson, who can’t return to Ireland, take on that won’t humiliate the Grantham’s?

Bravo to Isobel for hiring Ethel. I can see why Mrs. Bird left, but it’s a shame she didn’t try to stay and work through her prejudices. I think Isobel’s great sacrifice isn’t going to be her reputation, but rather her palate. It’ll take Ethel a while to learn to cook.

Congratulations to Edith for the newspaper column. I hope she surprises everyone with her insights and writing. Edith, yes your father and granny disapprove, but don’t flee the breakfast table each time he does. Women need their rights, but they also need to learn to stand their ground.

Robert, it’s true you didn’t cause Sybil’s death, but to get back into Cora’s good graces, you ought to blame yourself as much as possible.(The trailers suggest you won’t.) If you descend into depression than Cora would probably consider rescuing you her mission. If you aren’t huber-contrite and grief-stricken you’ll be sleeping solo ad infinitum.

Thoughts on Downton Abbey, Season 3, Episode 1

Season 3 Cast

Season 3 Cast

I can’t recall anticipating the return of a television show more than I have Downton Abbey‘s Season 3. Perhaps Sherlock, when it comes but that’s way off in the distance. I’ve re-viewed several of the episodes from the previous seasons when they were re-broadcast and noted little details that I’d missed.

At last on the 6th, we got to meet Cora’s mother, the brash American, Mrs. Martha Levinson, played with great panache by Shirley MacLaine. Talk about a bull in a china shop and someone to set Violet’s teeth on edge. How did Cora develop such grace? Her father must have been more reserved.

Julian Fellow’s story drew me in as I wanted to tell Branson, the ex-chauffer to lighten up, put on the Downton clothes and make his case by drawing on people’s sympathy rather than jumping on a soap box every chance he got. I did feel sorry for him when Sybil’s old suitor sneered at him and slipped him a mickey.

Another great story element was the announcement that Lord Grantham has lost his fortune, well, Cora’s fortune. That news, hushed up as it has been, charges every scene with tension. What will all the characters do when they find out? For now only a few know.

Thomas never ceases to devilishly plot and this time he got on O’Brien’s bad side. By making her nephew get in trouble by marring Mathew’s dinner jacket, Thomas became the victim of O’Brien’s prank of hiding all Lord Gratham’s good shirts thus adding to the ruin of the episode’s most significant social event and making the Lord look like a waiter or a Chicago bootlegger, take your pick.

We got glimpses of Bates in jail and Anna trying to do a bit of detective work to get him out. We also see that if he doesn’t keep his cool with his cellmate, Bates may get himself into further trouble.

As usual, the two hours went fast and tantalized fans with great character development and plot points. It looks like Edith’s going to marry Sir Anthony, the old geezer she’s so fond of. He’ll treat her well, it seems, and she is keen on him, but generally when the groom’s so luke warm, that doesn’t bode well for a marriage. Time will certainly tell.

Great Expectations

This month’s book club selection was Great Expectations. I admit I haven’t read much Dickens. Dickens is the sort of writer who’s works are so well known that even if you’ve never read any, you know his stories and characters.

I expected to like Great Expectations and found I liked the travails of Pip, a young boy growing up blessed or cursed by an anonymous patron’s wealth, more than expected. I loved the characters of Joe, Pip’s brother-in-law, who’s down to earth blacksmith and Biddy, a girl who tutors Pip in the early chapters. Miss Havisham and her dark,neglected mansion spooked me while Estella annoyed me. How can Pip not see through her? Not see how cold and egotistical she’ll always be? (I realize Freud was just starting up and hadn’t had the popularity he now does so Pip wouldn’t examine his relationships in light of psychology’s findings.)

Dickens wrote two endings for this novel, a sad and a happy one. He first went with the happy one, which got him loads of criticism from fellow writers like Shaw. Lately, books publish both endings. My ebook had the sad ending and it does fit better, I think.

The story offered so much more suspense and intrigue than I expected. Each page was a treat. Later this fall there’s to be a new film version. Will they get it right?