Downton Abbey, the Film

I admit I was worried that the film wouldn’t meet my expectations. Perhaps it wouldn’t translate to the silver screen.

The main plot involves the Crawley’s hosting the King and Queen of England (Elizabeth II’s grandparents). Will they be up to the task? What will go wrong?

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By framing the story around this glorious event, writer Julian Fellowes hit the target. It’s a story that puts both the family and the servants in a tizzy. Since perfection’s required, Carson’s called out of retirement as the once sneaky Barrows isn’t experienced enough as butler. As the residents of Downton unite, conflict enters in the form of the supercilious royal servant staff. They elbow our favorite servants into a corner. No cooking for Mrs. Patmore. Poor Mr. Mosley, who’s taken time off from his teaching to return to serve, won’t get to. The royals bring all their food, drink and personnel.

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A suspicious stranger comes to town and starts sniffing around Tom, the Irish son-in-law. What is this man who booked a room over the parade path in town up to? How will he implicate Tom?

Other subplots include Violet’s scheming to get a cousin to leave her fortune and property to Robert. Violet is beside herself when it seems that a maid will get everything.

Lonely Thomas may at last find understanding and possibly love (in a sequel?) but not till after surviving a very close call.

Widower Tom is pivotal in the film. He’s tied up with the mysterious strangerr, befriends the maid who’s to inherit a fortune and offers sage advice to a distraught royal.

It’s good fun to see this familiar cast again. Edith’s life has improved dramatically now that she’s married. Her problems are manageable, rich girl problems now that she’s away from Mary and has moved out and upward in status.

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Violet and Isobel spar with wit. The saddest scene takes place towards the end between Violet and Mary.

The pacing was brisk and the film was clever and entertaining. With a such a large cast it’s hard to get everyone a good part. Mr. Bates didn’t have much to do and Mary’s husband was out of the country most of the time.

As usual the costumes and sets were amazing. Lots of delights for the eyes. It’s a film that’s sure to delight Downton fans, which is its aim.

Bohemian Rhapsody

I knew all the Queen hits, but didn’t know much about the band’s history or Freddie Mercury’s life. I just watched Bohemian Rhapsody this weekend figuring it would be more entertaining than a marathon awards show, since those usually drag on and on.

The film acquainted me with the general background of the band. I found it interesting that one musician was an astro-physicist, another studied dentistry and another studied electrical engineering. Of course, the big star was Freddie Mercury, who was a performer par excellence.

Born Farrokh Balsara, Freddie Mercury is the center of this film. The film goes through the band’s history which was inseparable from Mercury’s life. In many ways as unique on the surface Mercury seemed, the events and relationships he experienced follow that of many stars – parents who don’t understand, dissatisfaction with the ordinary life of study, followed by work and conventional family, joining a band, fighting for success, disagreements once success is attained, destructive excess and rebellion with the corporate types running things, Yet, while this was nothing new to anyone growing up in the era, who know this music scene and the biographies of its brightest stars, the film does entertain. Queen’s music still has wide appeal.

The film’s strength is its music and visuals. There’s a lot of color and glitz which fit Mercury. Actor Rami Malek won the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance and he did succeed in bringing Mercury back to life.

Yet this is not a film that would get a screenwriting award. I felt the story sped through the drama that shaped the band and Mercury. It’s as if it was written based on a checklist: quickly show conflict with stern father who doesn’t understand music, show meeting his wife and jump to their marriage. Check off requisite arguments between the band members and with the music business guy. I hoped for more depth and a closer look into Freddie.

Essentially, Freddie’s life was a sad one. Like many in his position, he trusted the snake, who is certain to appear once you’re successful and throwing big parties. He didn’t appreciate the people he could count on. Nothing was enough. Early on Freddie’s father tells him that he can’t get anywhere pretending you’re someone that you’re not. On the one hand, Freddie’s right to reject the message as his father’s ideas about getting a steady job, etc. aren’t what he was born to do. However, the tragedy of Mercury’s life was that he didn’t understand the wisdom in his father’s statement. Mercury perfected his role as performer, but his other facets were neglected and undeveloped. It’s a pity he didn’t grow as a mature friend, colleague, or intimate partner. He didn’t develop Farrokh Balsara; like Elvis and so many others, his life was tragic because he focused so much on his persona and not on his inner life or soul.

In short the movie was worth watching, but I’d love it if it were shorter and focused on particular areas of Mercury’s life rather than everything. The Steve Jobs film by Aaron Sorkin is a better example of how a biopic can show a person’s life concisely.

Victoria: Season 3, Coburg Quartet

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Ready for the ball

This week’s Victoria was fascinating. Storylines were:
 

  • To celebrate the christening of her youngest child, Victoria holds a Georgian era themed costume ball and Feodora is charged with doling out the invitations.
  • Uncle Leopold returns. I didn’t like him in the first two seasons as he’s got a reptilian personality. With Feodora in the palace, he comes off as more humane.
  • Albert is worried about Bertie’s behavior and his education. Even though Bertie went through a horrendous experience at the hands of his abusive tutor. Nevertheless Albert hires a quack phrenologist who measures Albert’s skull and concludes based on pseudo-science that Albert has a tendency towards madness like King George III. Albert buys into this “science” and goes on to say that it all makes sense since Victoria’s more emotional than logical. What a way to make matters worse with Victoria, Albert!
  • Sophie, the Duchess of Monmouth, whose husband is a complete churl, is in love and acting on it with the strapping new footman, Joseph. Their clandestine affair is getting hotter. Yet her indifferent, abusive husband is now suspicious. He believes Sophie is fooling around with Lord Palmerston. He can’t conceive of his noble wife loving a servant, but there you go. Throughout the episode, the Duchess obliviously fools around with Joseph unaware of how thin the ice she was skating on was. I feared she’d be found out, but she wasn’t. Perhaps in the next episode.
  • Victoria and Feodora’s conflicts boil up as Albert is enthralled with Feodora’s logic and Victoria wonders how her half-sister is affording new horses and other goodies. It turns out that Feo’s sold invitations to the ball, which turns out to have a slew of déclassé guests that Victoria doesn’t know.

 
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My Thoughts

My heart goes out to Bertie who picks up on his father’s displeasure with him. He and Alice, his older sister, try to fix his skull by wearing some sort of basin on his head. By the end of the show, he tells his mother that he knows his father doesn’t love him and they share their feelings brought on because it seems Albert’s disappointed with them as they aren’t logical enough.

I worry about what will happen to Sophie when her husband finds out she’s fooling around with the footman. He might have a heart attack, but more likely he’ll go ballistic. She’s been lucky so far, but that never lasts forever. Joseph will lose his job, but she can face worse consequences in this era.

The fact ball was over the top and interesting. I prefer the Victorian gowns. Sure they’re hard to move in, but the Georgians had even more hoops and fabric to manage. They all had the big powdered wigs, which must have taken hours to style and would have weighed a ton. Did you know that the term “big wig” came from the Georgian era?

Albert continues to find it hard to be Mr. Victoria. That’s understandable, but for someone so logical, he doesn’t apply that logic to himself, to his weakness dealing with his unusual role of having a wife with a higher level position. He’s not aware of how much hurt he’s causing Victoria and Bertie. I’m perplexed that he’s so blind to how conniving Feodora is.