Poor Dwight and Morwenna

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Sunday’s Poldark episode began by showing the villagers poorer and starving. Yet, and this should come as no surprise, George had no mercy or compassion for them. He rounded up those he could and sentenced them to 15 years in prison.

Also, the program included the fastest, no fuss, birth I’ve ever seen on television. In one scene Demelza’s digging potatoes and a bit later she’s got her new daughter Clowance  in her hands.  I didn’t actually mind the abbreviated birth because the episode was packed with other events.

Dwight is stuck in a dank, dark, decrepit prison which rivaled the Les Misérables Paris sewers for hygiene. Yet despite the starvation and mental anguish of his imprisonment, heroic Dwight manages to perform surgery in his cell.

carpe diem morwenna

Carpe diem, Morwenna

Morwenna and Drake, both reserved by nature, tentatively get closer. Yet as Morwenna’s charge Geoffrey speaks up to George and is found to have gone to Clowance’s baptism on the sly, George and Elizabeth feel it’s time for her to marry. Poor Morwenna. The Warleggan’s don’t bother to find anyone at all suitable. They settle for the first slimy widower to come along, a much older and very greasy Rev. Osborne Whitworth. Morwenna should run for the hills! But there’s no one who can rescue her. It’s out of the question socially that she could marry Dwight who lives in a dark, old building with a dirt floor with his brother. Even Demelza thinks Morwenna could never marry down.

George doesn’t brook opposition, no matter how wise or how true. Thus he’s exiling Aunt Agatha to the dungeon of the coldest, darkest part of the house. He makes sure that she gets no letters, including Ross’ invitation to Clowance’s christening.

As so many people are starving Caroline and Demelza team up to get them grain. Ross finds a way to trick George so that he’s fooled into thinking the villages stole when in fact they were given grain through donations. Ross’ trick backfires as it prompts George to get even by closing his mine, which was once a Poldark mine just out of spite. The result is 70 breadwinners will be out of work and their families may starve, but George has no compassion and he doesn’t care. Be careful George, look what the French did to their upper class.

The episode was brisk and moved a long with lots of emotion and action. The hour whipped by and I didn’t want the show to end. We’re left hanging to see what will become of Dwight, Morwenna and all the others in this splendid cast. I find I like Geoffrey Charles more and more.

Victoria

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Masterpiece’s new drama, Victoria, stars Jenna Coleman as the famed British queen. Beginning when Victoria’s uncle dies and she changes her name from Alexandrina to use Victoria, her middle name, and she becomes the monarch.

From the start Jenna Coleman’s Victoria stands up for herself opposing the manipulative Sir John and her plotting uncle.

After two episodes, I’m drawn in and eager to see how Victoria handles her power and how she and Albert finally end up together. In episode two the focus is on the question of whom Victoria will marry. Her heart, she believes, belongs to Lord Melbourne, her prime minister whose wife ran off with Lord Byron, the poet. In the drama, he lets Victoria know that they can never be together.

The first episodes feature sumptuous costumes and settings. The story moves along nicely. There’s a B story focused on a maid, who’s hiding her past working in a bordello. I’m not sure where that’s going. The maid is elusive and stand offish with the cook, who tries to get to know her. That story hasn’t grabbed me, but perhaps in time, I’ll develop more of an interest.

Victoria has a different feel and tone than Downton Abbey or Poldark, so it shouldn’t be judged on their terms. In its own right it’s a fine drama.

 

 

Feedback

About a year ago I submitted my pilot script for an American Downton Abbey series to a well known television actor via his sister, who’s a family friend. I’m profoundly grateful to have that opportunity since Hollywood is a very closed system. To get someone to read a script you must have an agent and to get an agent you must have sold something already. There are far fewer opportunities for American writers compared to British ones who can avail themselves of the BBC’s open solicitations. (Could that be part of the reason the Brits produce such quality television?)

On Sunday I met with the sister to hear what her brother thought. I had hoped for specific suggestions that I could use to revise. I’d be foolish to think I’d get an immediate acceptance. Now like me, this woman isn’t a neat freak. (But in my creative chaos I can find stuff.) After sharing some tea and getting up to date on our families, she stood up and said, “Where did I put my notes from my talk with B____?” As I scanned the numerous piles of papers, books, etc. I thought, “Dear God, she’ll never find it.” And she didn’t. Oh, well.

However, she did remember his main comments.

  1. The writing was good, better than most he sees. That’s encouraging.
  2. Hollywood wants Star Wars — in everything. They want Star Wars plots cloaked in whatever genre you’re writing in. Oh, no. Where does that leave me since I have no desire to offer Star Wars with horse-drawn carriages, hoop skirts and top hats.
  3. While the BBC and itv have produced period dramas for decades, it’s not an American genre. B____ did share the idea with some network folks, but they thought “Period pieces are too expensive” and hence not easy to sell. Well, perhaps Mercy Street will be popular and that will change, though I doubt it. Also, Julian Fellowes is supposed to be creating an NBC series set in the past.
  4. To save money, the number of regular characters should be no more than six. I have the family, servants and people who work with the hero. I’ll cut some servants and colleagues. One friend suggested eliminating the servants completely. Hmm. I’ll mull that over and think I’ll keep a few. If I show this to someone else who wants more cut, I’ll comply. But I do like showing the differences between servants in the US and the UK.

There were one or two more suggestions, which I can work on, but this mania for Star Wars vexes me. I had heard the theory that Star Wars’ big profits put an end to the development of sophisticated films, which the 1970s was known for. Now that the latest Star Wars film has broken box office records, I can see that greed gets stepped up. No doubt it’s the buzz in Hollywood and the way to ensure your career is to find the next Star Wars or simply copy the original.

I haven’t seen Star Wars’ latest film yet. I suppose I should, though my pettier side thinks, “Why give them more money and thereby add to the box office numbers?”

 

Man in Grey

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James Mason’s debut movie, Man in Grey (1943) is part of the Criterion Collection. I wasn’t sure what I was getting when I picked it up at the library. Certainly, it would be a love triangle and it was described as a melodrama, so I expected big emotions.

The film opens at an auction in a mansion where a dashing WWII soldier More than anything Man in Grey focuses on a friendship between the kind, popular, generous Clarissa and Hester, a skeptical, poor girl who meets Clarissa at a boarding school where she’s taken on as a charity case. Clarissa is a friend to all and makes a point of reaching out to Hester, who’s aloof and snubbed by the others.

Hester runs off with the first boy she meets and brings a little scandal to the school. Clarissa somehow loses her fortune and her godmother encourages her to marry the wealthy, cold hearted Lord Rohan (James Mason). Rohan spends his time fighting and betting on dog fights and ignores Clarissa telling her right after their wedding that once they have an heir, they’ll live separate lives.

Later Clarissa sees Hester, who’s become an actress with a mediocre theater troupe. She convinces Hester to come visit her to relieve the boredom and isolation she suffers. Clarissa’s also brought Toby, a servant at the boarding school home with her.

Clarissa appreciates staying in Clarissa’s mansion and when she meets Lord Rohan is attracted to his dark, brooding personality. They’re more or less kindred spirits and an affair ensues.

As chance would have it Hester’s co-star, another 2-bit actor, is smitten with Clarissa and pursues her by taking jobs that put them in contact. He sees through Hester’s schemes.

Unwilling to play second fiddle to Clarissa, Hester takes action to get her out of the way.

I had an odd response to the film. I can’t recommend it, it seems dated and isn’t so bad it’s good. Still it was interesting enough to finish and see what would happen. Clichés abound as the dark haired woman, Hester is bad and unlikeable throughout and Clarissa, the blond is more virtuous. Toby is meant to be Black, but weirdly enough they hired a white boy to play the role and covered him in make up that looked like shoe polish. Clarissa has him dressed as if he was at an Indian court or like a 17th century footman.

The film was melodramatic somewhat like a cheap romance novel. I didn’t understand why this was a Criterion Collection film. I did read on their website that it was a highly successful film due to the racy story, which seems pretty tame, though most Hollywood films now don’t show the “fair-haired girl” cheating on her husband.

The essay on Criterion’s site offered this explanation:

With its overheated emotions and air of bodice-ripping unrefinement, The Man in Grey both flouted new guidelines from Parliament encouraging studios to produce tales of nobility and sacrifice for wartime audiences and disgusted critics, who saw it as the stuff of cheap paperbacks. This mattered little to moviegoers, who not only gobbled up the film’s plot twists, making it one of the year’s ten highest-grossing films, but also delighted in its fresh crop of stars, especially Mason, whose sensually cruel Rohan made him an overnight sensation. Despite its guilty pleasures, though, The Man in Grey is hardly frivolous: beneath its pulpy exterior, there’s a sophisticated depiction of the ways class and gender inform social interaction.

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 Finale, Part 1

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I wanted to see more, but also dreaded the end of this season of Mr Selfridge, probably my favorite new show hands down. Miss Mardle and Florian are together in bed at the start of the show. Newspapers still won’t print Harry’s side of the procurement scandal, though they do print that Mae has left Lord Loxley. Agnes waits for news from George, but there is none. Rose convinces Harry to hear Mae out, perhaps she should be forgiven for vouching for her evil husband. Here we see Rose and Harry’s marriage it all it’s glory.

Mr Groves sees Florian and Miss Mardle together and thinks it’s untoward. Kissing goodbye on the street. Really! Also, Miss Mardle, who’s way too maternal towards Florian for my tastes, gives him lunch money as he heads off to his factory job. I’d like her to find a nice widower. It’s not just that Florian’s younger, but that he’s got so little personality. He’s part ESL student, part son, part lover. You can do better, Josie. Mr Groves agrees, this relationship isn’t right for her, but he’s far less tactful. He later calls Miss Mardle to his office and scolds her for impropriety and insults her calling her an “old fool.” For the chief of staff, Groves isn’t very good with people.

Winifred Black, journalist

Winifred Black, journalist

To help the store out of its slump, Delphine proposes bringing the spirit of her nightclub to Selfridge’s. Mr Crabb is skeptical, with good cause. Henri doesn’t say either way, but offers a different proposal, which one could take as skepticism about “The Spirit of Delphine’s at Selfridge.”  Still Harry goes with it and soon Delphine’s busy giving the Palm Court an Arabian makeover. Meanwhile Henri proposes asking journalist Winifred Black Bonfils to do an article on Selfridge’s. Since she wants carte blanche and has a huge following, it’s risky, but Harry doesn’t flinch from risk. Thackeray and Delphine expect to dazzle Winifred, but neither succeed. Instead Winifred writes about Agnes, her gumption, determination and rise through the ranks at Selfridges. The story’s a hit connecting with readers who identify with a young woman getting successful through creativity, determination and pluck. Thackeray’s envy is sure to have a long shelf life. He’s not the sort to forget a slight.

Kitty convinces Frank to investigate Loxley. Finally, it dawns on Frank that perhaps Loxley used him. Indeed, Frank. Perhaps Kitty should take your job and you could sell perfume. His editor refuses to look into another side of the story, so Frank quits. Frank and Mae team up to root out the truth.

The most ominous scenes in the show were with Rose at the doctors. Anyone who’s read Wikipedia or Lindy Woodhouse’s  Shopping, Seduction  and Mr Selfridge  knows that Rose dies in 1918. I didn’t expect to get hints of this in 1914. She’s become one of my favorite characters. Harry’s not an easy man to be married to and Rose isn’t a real assertive woman, but she isn’t a doormat either. It’s a complex, fascinating and loving relationship. Rose has gotten more involved in the store and surprised us with her shooting skill, her good decision making, and her leadership when Harry was gone. I realize she wouldn’t be in Season 4, but I hope she’s alive throughout most of Season 3. At least give us that.

When Delphine learns that Rose has a congestive problem she encourages Rose to go off to the country (so she can seduce him). Rose, you need better friends, dear.

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Mr Selfridge Comments and Recap

Kitty tells everyone how to do their job

Kitty tells everyone how to do their job

The opening this Mr. Selfridge episode with the removal of all German products was a great way to show the patriotism and anti-German sentiment of the day.

Poor Franco, Victor’s dashing brother, got rejected when the brown-haired girl at the cosmetics counter wouldn’t go out with him because her father forbids her to date “foreign” men. Mind you Franco was born in Britain. Seems she could have been more diplomatic.

The weasel-y Thackery spies outside the store to see what Henri’s up to. He disapproves of Henri’s hat, a Hamburg, though we learn that during the war they were renamed. Agnes was still upset with Henri, who does owe her an apology for being so abrupt and rude the day before.

At home Harry finishes an early morning interview with his reporter friend Frank. Harry makes it clear that he disapproves of the U.S. profiting from war by selling to both the Germans and British. I do agree and didn’t realize we did that. We also learn from Rose that Americans are hurrying home to the U.S.

Gordon, who’s now promoted to the tea department, is getting friendly with Miss Calthorpe, the young lady who’s training him. They do make a good couple and he’s gallant enough to buy her sister a beautiful doll after remembering something she mentioned in passing.

In a department meeting Kitty manages to take a compliment and turn it around to put down all the other department heads. I enjoy her lack of self-knowledge and her usually harmless egotistical quips that just make her look silly in spite of herself. Miss Mardle’s heavy sigh said it all. I love how the shows humor surfaces from Kitty, Mr. Crabb and sometimes Mr. Grove’s little blunders. Harry shares a nice moment with Miss Mardle encouraging her to enjoy her money. Yes, live a little, Miss Mardle. “Your brother would have wanted it.”

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