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.

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Casque D’or

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I didn’t know what to expect when I borrowed Casque D’or from the library. One surprise was that the heroine, Marie, was played by Simone Signoret, who gave a forceful performance in Army of Shadows. Marie is a a gangster’s moll and outshines her friends, not only with her cascading blonde hair, but with her vivacious spirit. The film opens with scenes that come right out of a Renoir painting. A party of young lovers rowing along a river followed by a lively dance hall scene. Marie stands out as she is the only woman who’s rowing a boat and she stands up to her boorish, abusive boyfriend.

(It was hard to believe that Marie, who’s so self-assured, would give such a churl the time of day, but the plot requires that.)

In the dance hall we first see a dozen or so upper class men and women enter to take a good look at their “inferiors.” From their comments it’s clear that they’re hear for the entertainment of watching how people who aren’t dripping in diamonds behave.

Soon the attention turns to Marie’s friends, the gangsters and their girls. Ever petulant, Marie’s boyfriend Roland takes an immediate dislike to Manda a carpenter who catches Marie’s eye. Manda is a friend of one of the gangsters and introduces himself to Marie’s set and holds his head high as they mock him because he’s a carpenter. He is confident enough to let their jokes roll of his back and he accepts Marie’s offer of a dance.

Hothead, Roland is furious and a fight with Manda ensues. Overseen by the gang’s boss, Felix, who also has a thing for Marie, Roland and Manda fight in a way I’ve never seen in a film. First both men are searched and any weapons are confiscated. The two men are spit far apart and Felix tosses a knife to the ground and the first man to get it,can use it on his opponent. Roland gets the knife. The fight is deftly shot with many close ups and felt realer than any I’ve seen. In the end Manda kills Roland, which sets up the story.

Banda must flee, but Marie pursues him and while Manda hides out Marie is with him and their romance grows. Smitten with spunky Marie, Felix plots to get Felix arrested and sacrifices one of his own men to lure Manda into captivity. The ending is bold and theme of loyalty and Marie’s life-giving spirit make this a must-see.

Gosford Park, No Downton Abbey

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I began watching Julien Fellows’ Gosford Park with high hopes. After all, I love Downton Abbey and Fellows won the Oscar for this screenplay.

I was disappointed. Sorely. Despite an all star cast, Gosford Park lacked a single character I found charming or likable. There was one Scottish maid who seemed mousy but nice. She wasn’t enough to carry a film of this length. The characters all came off as cold, greedy and indolent. The upperclass people spent money like water and had nothing but disdain for each other and got no joy from their money.

The downstairs servants weren’t much better. Though not as spoiled they were all out for themselves in a different way. No warmth at all. They just wanted to get their work done with as little fuss as possible. Anyone who upset their system was glared and scoffed at.

One theme that rose was how the servants felt overshadowed by their employers. I can see that, but the grass isn’t always greener. If they worked in offices, their lives would also be precarious and as one of my new colleagues asserts if you work for one company for a long time, that company forms your identity to a great extent. So if they traded their apron for a factory uniform it’s not sure that they’d be happier or more secure.

Sexual harassment was rampant as the lord of the manor couldn’t keep his hands to himself, but in a store, office or factory women run into that too.

For the first 75 minutes we see rich people bicker, whinge and finagle for money. Then the plot picks up when the lord who’s a churl gets murdered. Yet the investigation is so incompetently carried out that I just couldn’t buy it. In the end we do learn who did it, but by then I barely cared.

Fellows sure deepened his understanding about character and plot by the time he started Downton Abbey.

Mr Selfridge, Season 2

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Mr. Selfridge’s second season kicked off a couple weeks ago. The first episode picks up as Selfridges’ is about to celebrate its fifth anniversary. Time’s flown by and it shows for some and not for others, which is odd. I was glad to see my favorite characters/actors, but the first episode was strange because the story pretty much wipes aside, or minimizes the problems Harry faced at the end of season 1 when his wife, fed up with his philandering and the public ridicule of a satirical play about Harry, left as did his best friend and most talented colleague, Henri LeClere. As if that weren’t enough, Harry’s reporter pal childishly turned on him, because he wasn’t available mmm.

I found it implausible that Harry wasn’t more affected by isolation. He’s a gregarious man who needs his social network to make him who he is. Without that energy, Harry’s nothing. He’d have hit rock bottom and then had to find new friends as well as new loves. He did find new women to replace his lover Eva Love, but Henri and Frank’s friendships were left void. I didn’t buy that that wouldn’t have left a big hole or that Selfridge would have tried to fill it. I also found it odd that Rose,and Frank would all reappear at the same time. Yes, it’s the anniversary, but someone would have reconnected earlier and others might never have. A weakness in Mr. Selfridge’s scripts is that they build up a problem like Harry getting into a car accident (didn’t happen in real life by the way) with an uninsured Rolls Royce, and then we never hear of the consequences. In the end his big spending and profligate living do Selfridge in. Why not show it?

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It’s just weird that in pre-WWI era Agnes, Kitty and Vincent are still single. One of them would have married. It’s odd that we don’t really know why Henri hit the skids. If J. Walter Thompson, New York didn’t work out, why not return to Chicago’s Marshall Fields, or try Macy’s or Paris? Why would he wind up in squalor? It’s not like he’s a gambler or drinker. (Or is he?)I’m also surprised that Miss Mardle has chosen to stay on at Selfridges and work with her former  lover Mr. Grove as his new, young wife has baby after baby. Only a glutton for punishment would. Since she took a risk on Selfridge’s store, you’d think she’d have the pluck to get a new job.

Amanda Abbington

Amanda Abbington

The second episode, where Henri seems to return for good, had a better storyline. I’m glad that Miss Mardle has come into money. We’ve got some new villains this year. Poor Lady Mae is married to a wife beater, who’s destitute. He’s cut off her funds since he has no money. It’s good to see Harry defend Lady Mae and all women against this abusive blackguard.

Rose is back and has taken up with a new friend, Miss Day whom she met on the ship back to London. Rose needs a few more friends in London, but it’s just too convenient for the writers to make this one the owner of a risqué bar. Mr. Selfridge always tries to titillate in an anachronistic, implausible way.

Agnes’s character and storyline draw me in. I’m happy to see her back from Paris where she apprenticed at Galleries LaFayette. As the new head of display she’s got her hands full, particularly since the new head of fashion took an immediate dislike to her and is doing his best to sabotage her. Thank God, Harry knew that Henri would consider coming back if it were to help this damsel in distress, (whom he loved and left). Though I like Victor, I prefer to see Agnes with Henri. Most characters don’t get two fine young men to choose from. It’s an embarrassment of riches, in a way.

Downton Abbey, Season 4 Begins

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Mary with a rare smile in episode 1

I’ve seen the first two episodes of Downton Abbey and thought I’d weigh in with my thoughts and opinions. First it’s just so nice to see these characters again after a ten month break. I was eager to see what Julian Fellows would do with them, what everyone would be wearing, how Mary would cope with Matthew gone and what year we’d be in for season 4.

I was surprised and oddly disappointed that O’Brien’s gone. Of course, another villain can always pop up, but O’Brien hit the right note of despicability. Her relationship with Thomas also made her more of a danger. So now we have Edna, which annoyed me. I so wanted Cora to listen to Mrs. Hughes. Actually, I couldn’t believe she didn’t put more trust in Mrs. Hughes’ wisdom of giving Edna a good reference to work elsewhere. No wonder Cora wound up with O’Brien to begin with. She probably disregarded a servant in the past. Cora, I’m sure you’ll regret this.

The first episode seemed rather poorly structured. It didn’t make sense to bring in a troublesome nanny just to get rid of her so quickly. Why is it that getting a new nanny for two children isn’t a major concern at Downton when getting a new lady’s maid was? I can accept that Cora needs a maid as we’ve been shown that in that era it was crucial, but it seems the nanny would really be needed too. Today childcare is the one area where we still need extra paid help.

I thought Mary’s grief made sense. She would be deeply saddened by Matthew’s death and in time people would want to push her out of it. I think a culture signifying mourning through clothes’ color and defined mourning periods is wise. It cues people to be more respectful or patient with someone and while imperfect since grief will vary from person to person it does provide a norm, which helps loved one’s more or less know when it’s time to try to encourage someone to move on. Both Carson and the Dowager’s prompting were well done, though I’ve heard experts say a butler would never have addressed Mary as Carson did.

The question of inheritance was a big matter. No one knew of a will or any document that gave Mary any power over Downton. It looked like Lord Grantham would manage his portion and his grandson George’s, which doesn’t bode well since he has such a poor track record with money. The idea that as a lawyer whose life has been radically changed due to inheritance didn’t have a will was implausible (though Fellows does eventually address this). Luckily, due to some deux ex machina magic, a letter from Matthew expressing his desire that Mary inherit does arise. Perfect! Now Papa will have to listen to Mary, whose ideas differ. There’s sure to be some conflict and tension from this arrangement.

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The house party

The second episode shown in America revolved around a guest party at Downton where a famous Australian opera singer was invited to perform. Even the kitchen servants got to listen. The times they are a’ changing!

Throughout the three day party Tom Branson was very ill at ease with his clothes and making small talk. Violet gave him the occasional tip, but I wish others had done more. Edith, rather than focusing on how your father is ignoring your sweetheart, why not include Tom in a conversation. Both men are of lower social status and they’d probably have plenty to discuss. I’m sure Tom feels out of place, but everyone has his problems and this one isn’t that bad.  Edna’s the only one giving Tom much attention, which makes me nervous. I see her as an opportunist and big trouble. I do hope Tom’s character develops beyond the “fish out of water” character. Give him something to achieve. Show him as a remarkable father.

Edith’s beau did save the day by winning back poker money all the upper crust lost. Lord Grantham lost an unspecified amount, but it seemed hefty. The poor man has no luck or skill with money it seems.

A childhood neighbor came to the party and seems like a candidate for Mary’s heart. He is engaged, but that just adds some conflict to the drama. I’d be surprised if she found someone immediately after mourning Matthew, that seems way too convenient and life’s rarely like that. Also, while he’s handsome, he lacks that je ne sais quoi required of a suitor for Mary.

The biggest event of the party revolved around Anna. One of the guests’ servants was very jovial with her and Bates tut-tutted about the impropriety. Bates just took a disliking to this man. Rightly so, it seems because during the concert, when Anna stepped out for a drink, this miscreant followed her and raped her. It was a shocking scene well presented in that viewers could see how it played out and how no one was downstairs to possibly help. Yet the scenes weren’t graphic. Viewers know what happened to poor Anna, without explicit scenes, which is good since young girls do watch Downton.

I wish Anna didn’t feel she had to hide this crime fearing that Bates would kill the man and wind up in jail again. Anna, there is the option of having him arrested. I would have liked to see how such a crime would have been handled.

January 13th’s Downton Abbey

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Ahh, the house was abuzz as everyone quickly prepared for Edith’s wedding to the older Sir Anthony. What are my thoughts? Well, there will be spoilers below, so don’t say you weren’t warned. Here’s my 2 cents on an episode that kept me rivetted:

  • I’m wondering if Mrs. Hughes really is well or if she just hated all the fuss and told Mrs. Patmore she was.
  • Why didn’t Mrs. Levinson stay for Edith’s wedding? Was there some previous engagement? Isn’t she aware of Edith’s feelings of inferiority to Mary and therefore sensitive to the fairness of staying on? If she doesn’t like Downton, she could have gone to London or the Lake District to take in the sights and then returned to see Edith wed.
  • I did think Shirley MacLaine was poorly used last week. She sparred nicely with Violet, but that could have been better and she was one dimensional as the Yank who believes in change. She had few scenes with her daughter, which was weird. I wanted to know how Cora could be so different from her mother Martha. They seemed like acquaintances, not relatives, let alone mother and daughter. Very odd.
  • I’d glad the money issue will work out. I wasn’t ready to give up Downton and I’m like Mary in that I see the Countess of Grantham as living in Downton Abbey.
  • I hope someone divests Daisy of her fascination with fast women. It’s not her character and so she’s on thin ice. Trouble looms, my dear, when you stray from your true self.
  • There was a fair amount with the prison and Bates. It’s not looking good, but at least he was tipped off about the knife his cellmate planted.
  • What will O’Brien do to Thomas? He best be careful as she’s shrewd.
  • Edith will need to find something to do, something noble. Stop all this spinster talk. Mary was older when she married.
  • Sir Anthony, how could you?  it’s one thing for a hobbledehoy to jilt a bride at the altar with all her family and friends watching, with thousands spent for delicacies and libation, and quite another for a grown man. You’re no school boy and we all expect more character from a gentleman!