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.

 

 

Victoria, Season 2, Week 5

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The King over the Water

The episode begins with an assassination attempt while Victoria and Albert are out for a carriage ride. When talking with Lord Peel, the PM, Victoria suggests she smoke out the assassin by going for another carriage ride. Albert’s astonished and thinks it’s foolish, but Peel agrees and admires the queen all the more for her courage. Seems like a genius double win for Victoria.

So off they go for another ride and this time Victoria’s got a super, bullet-proof parasol, which Albert made. He sure is handy.

The assassin, who’s an unfortunate, poor man with a club foot and a hump back, again tried to shoot the queen. He was quickly arrested and the palace security is increased, which is tedious.

Needing a change of pace, Victoria proposes a trip to Scotland, where she always wished she could go when she was growing up. Off they go to a Duke’s home where there’s lots of “foreign” food and dancing in the woods. Still as host, the Duke keeps a tight schedule including the blaring of bagpipes for an alarm clock and mind-numbingly boring poetry readings for the visit.

To cure the boredom, while on an outing, Victoria and Albert quickly tell the Duke they’re riding home separately. Albert assures the Duke they’ll be fine because he has a great sense of direction. (Famous last words.) Off they gallop into the highlands. We’re treated to beautiful scenery.

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Scenic Schotland – I’d love to see this

Turns out Albert’s sense of direction isn’t that keen. With no compass or map and with gray clouds looming, our royals realize they’re lost. No matter which way they turn, they can’t find the way back to the castle. As night falls, they realize they must find shelter and wide up staying with an old crotchety couple in their cottage. Plenty of humor is drawn from the peasant farmer and his wife not knowing who their visitors are. Victoria learns to darn socks and Albert tells the farmer that he works at a big factory. The night is a true vacation from their real roles. (This trip with the night in the cottage is pure fiction. Victoria’s diaries show no such experience and there’s no reason her daughter would have expunged it.)

At the castle everyone’s in a state because the queen is lost. The next day, Victoria and Albert are “rescued” by dozens of guards and soldiers. The farmer and his wife learn that they were hosting royals.

As for some subplots:

  • Mrs. Skerret dances night after night with a dashing Scottish lad, who’s smitten. She will not let him write to her in London. So she’s leaving herself open to Mr. Francatelli’s advances, though she’s also been snippy with him.
  • Ernst, who’s seemingly come to terms with his illness, offers Harriet, his lover, condolences for her husband’s death. She’s in no mood for this and rebuffs him. Their relationship is dead though Harriet doesn’t know Ernst has syphilis. So we’re treated to this impossible tension about a relationship that can’t be. It’s tough being all all-knowing spectator. We can try calling out to the TV, but we know that doesn’t work.
  • The assassin, a character based on “Hunchback William Bean,” gets off lightly with a jail sentence rather than execution since there were no bullets in his gun. He was homeless and prison was a home.
  • The Duchess hoomphs and comments sourly once or twice, so nothing’s moving forward there. She doesn’t get lines that are all that funny. A lot of the dialog, that’s meant to be funny is just cliché.
  • The two gay noblemen have a romantic moment in the Highlands, though the blonde man is quite jealous that his lover is engaged to be married. I can see the jealousy, but doubt anyone in his shoes would be surprised. I bet what would normally happen is both men would marry and they’d carry on their relationship in secret. The only thing that would endanger the situation would be if one had to move far from the other because of family property that had to be managed.
  • Albert is increasingly critical of Lehzen, Victoria’s maid and governess. She wasn’t allowed to go to Scotland. Albert sees her as a threat and doesn’t like how she does things.

After the serious Irish Potato Famine episode, this week we had a pastoral vacation and some light entertainment. While the assignation attempt was real, the night at the farm wasn’t. Thanks to the Internet we can know what’s historic and what’s not and enjoy a night of fine British drama.

Earrings of Madame de . . .

Directed by Max Ophuls, Earrings of Madame de . . . is a film dripping in style. The earrings have a magical power, power to return to a married couple that grow apart and power to represent a range of emotions.

The beautiful Countess Louisa is married to an older general. While she’s hidden her debts from him and thus decides to sell a pair of earrings he gave her, their marriage isn’t bad. They are distant from each other, but he seems to understand her and marriage. In their social circle, I don’t believe anyone has an ideal marriage between soulmates. Here we see a marriage where there’s a lot of freedom. The general seems icy, but he does care about Louisa.

After she sells her earrings and reports them missing at the opera, the jeweler informs her husband and he buys them back. He then proceeds to give them to a lover as a farewell gift. When the lover must sell them to cover a gambling debt, you wonder just when they’ll return to Paris and to the countess.

Louisa soon meets an Italian diplomat named Donati. Their relationship goes from cordial to flirtatious to romantic obsession. As you’d expect, Donati has bought the earrings and gives them to Louisa, who’s already made a spectacle of herself when like Anna Karennina collapses when Donati falls from a horse during a hunt. People have been talking, but the sophisticated General brushes aside such possible indignities. He’s above such trifles.

However, things begin to fall apart when Louisa thinks she can fool her husband into thinking she’s found the earrings in her drawer.

The film is a masterpiece of cinematography and style. I constantly reevaluated what I thought of Louisa, the General and Donati. I had sympathy for each at various points. The film’s mastery is that they’re all likable and all in the wrong. Because of their social standing and their inability to sympathize much with each other or put aside social façades, the ending was inevitable. Louisa’s fate was due in large part to her distance from reality and her own lies.

It’s an intriguing and stunning film, but it’s also easy to remain aloof from the aloof characters.

I started to listen to the commentary that’s available on the Criterion Collection DVD, but the pedantic theories got old fast.

Buccaneers

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Adapted from Edith Wharton‘s last, unfinished novel, Buccaneers follows the lives of four rich young women from  New World families (three from the U.S. and one from South America). None of the girls can penetrate New York’s staunch, established society so they head for England to find husbands.

While not on par with Downton Abbey, this five part BBC miniseries, takes place when Cora would have been looking for a husband in England. The story does not feature the servants’ lives and the wit doesn’t compare to Julian Fellows’ dialog. Still it’s an enjoyable period piece that helps Downton fans make through till season 4 begins in January, 2014.

Film review: The Chicago 8

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The Chicago 8 dramatizes the infamous trial of Bobby Seale, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Lee Weiner, Rennie Davis and John Froines, who were accused of violating anti-riot laws and conspiracy in connection with the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. The film shows Judge Julius Hoffman’s bias and the defendant’s defiance as is reported in the court transcripts. It’s a film of a chapter of American history of great import as it shows how derailed our justice system can get.

In an article about a play on the trial that the Remains Theater was doing in 1997, the event was summarized as follows:

It went down something like this.

By the summer of 1968, Chicago had been rocked by wide-scale rioting on the city’s West Side after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Mayor Richard J. Daley had issued his infamous “Shoot to kill” arsonists order during that time and he publicly vowed that when the national convention of his beloved Democratic party came to Chicago in August, “outside agitators” would not be allowed to disrupt his city again.

Sen. Robert Kennedy was murdered several weeks before the convention, anti-war protests had continued unabated even though incumbent President Lyndon Johnson had announced he would not seek re-election and his vice president, Hubert Humphrey, marched toward the Democratic convention as his likely successor.

When the convention convened in a heavily guarded International Amphitheater on the Southwest Side, thousands of young demonstrators gathered in Lincoln and Grant Parks, engaging in five nights of violent clashes with Chicago police.

Early in 1969, after months of finger-pointing and blame, eight of those demonstrators, representing a cross-section of the anti-war movement in the country, were charged with conspiring to come to Chicago to stage riots and with rioting. It was the first major use of a new federal anti-conspiracy law that was decried as an unconstitutional violation of Freedom of Speech.

By September 1969, the stage was set for a replay of the Democratic convention, this time in an austere courtroom on the 23rd floor of the Dirksen Federal Building at 219 N. Dearborn St. and presided over by crusty Federal Judge Julius J. Hoffman. (Davis, 1997)

The film captures the feeling of the five month long trial, though it leaves out parts that would have been good like “folk singer Judy Collins having her mouth covered by the hands of a federal marshal as she tried to sing, “Where have all the flowers gone?” in an impromptu concert during her testimony . . . .and Beat poet Allen Ginsberg chanting a mantra-“ommmm, ommmm”-while on the witness stand in a humorous attempt to restore tranquility when the court broke out in one of its frequent bursts of shouting” (Davis, 1997).

We forget how fragile our justice system is and how one judge can contort it to his own ends. The movie starts a little slow and includes some footage of an orgie that just doesn’t belong as there’s no follow up, but the second and third act are more tightly put together and the historical event should be understood by all.

References

Davis, R. (1991, Sep 15). Return of the Chicago 7: the trial was great theater, but will it work on stage? Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from search.proquest.com on April 22, 2013

N.B. Since Bobbie Seale was removed from this trial, in a very racist manner, some call it the Chicago 7 and others the Chicago 8.