“COPPER”: Top Five Favorite Season One (2012) Episodes

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Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season One of the BBC America series “COPPER”. Created by Tom Fontana and Will Rokos, the series stars Tom Weston-Jones, Kyle Schmid and Ato Essandoh: 


“COPPER”: Top Five Favorite Season One (2012) Episodes

1-1.02 Husbands and Fathers

1. (1.02) “Husbands and Fathers” - In this brutal episode, New York City detective Kevin “Corky” Corcoran set about rescuing child prostitute/abused wife Annie Sullivan from a Manhattan brothel and her perverse customer, a wealthy businessman named Winifred Haverford.



2-1.09 A Day to Give Thanks

2. (1.09) “A Day to Give Thanks” - Following the reappearance of his missing wife Ellen in an asylum, Corky tracks down her former lover in order to learn what really happened to their dead daughter, while he was in the Army. Meanwhile, Confederate agents blackmail Robert Morehouse’s wealthy father into helping their plot to set New York City on fire, following the re-election of Abraham Lincoln. 



3-1.06 Arsenic and Old Cake

3. (1.06) “Arsenic and Old Cake” - Corky investigate the death of the dentist of one of his men, who died by arsenic poisoning. Widow Elizabeth Haverford tries to discipline an unruly Annie and return the latter to her abusive husband, a Mr. Reilly. An exhibition boxing match between a young African-American and an Irish-American local politician end with racial tension.



4-1.03 In the Hands of an Angry God

4. (1.03) “In the Hands of an Angry God” - Corky investigates the death of a notoriously racist Irish immigrant and clashes with his African-American friend, Dr. Matthew Freeman when a local black minister becomes the prime suspect. 



5-1.07 The Hudson River School

5. (1.07) “The Hudson River School” - Annie struggles with escape from the abusive Mr. Reilly. Elizabeth turns to Robert, when Corky reacts violently to the news that she had turned Annie over to Mr. Reilly.

“THE MIRROR CRACK’D” (1992) Review

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“THE MIRROR CRACK’D” (1992) Review

Many critics tend to look upon Agatha Christie’s later novels with less favor. Among those novels viewed with less than any real enthusiasm was her 1962 novel, “The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side”. I find this interesting, despite the fact that one movie and two television adaptations have been made from this story. 

“THE MIRROR CRACK’D” delved into the world of Hollywood movies through the new tenants of Gossington Hall, the former home of Colonel Arthur and Dolly Bantry. After the death of Colonel Bantry, Mrs. Bantry sold the manor to Hollywood movie star Marina Gregg and her husband, director Jason Rudd. Marina and Jason host a fête for the citizens of St. Mary Mead. Miss Jane Marple is one of the guests. Another is Heather Badcock, an annoying housewife and St. John Ambulance helper with a penchant for being self involved. During the reception inside the manor, Heather dies after drinking a poisoned cocktail. When the local police and Scotland Yard investigate Heather’s death, they realize that the cocktail had been meant for Marina Gregg. And they have plenty of suspects:

*Jason Rudd

*Dr. Gilchrist – Marina’s personal doctor

*Ella Zeilinsky – Jason’s lovesick secretary

*Lola Brewster – Hollywood starlet and Marina’s rival

*Ardwyck Fenn – Hollywood producer and Lola’s husband

*Margot Bence – Professional photographer and Marina’s former adopted daughter

*Arthur Badcock – Heather’s milequoast husband, who might had a reason to kill her

It is quite obvious that T.R. Bowen’s screenplay for “THE MIRROR CRACK’D” remained faithful to Christie’s 1962 novel. However, I did notice a few differences. The main police investigator, Dermot Craddock, turned out to be Miss Marple’s nephew, as he was in the 1980 adaptation with Angela Landsbury. And Marina and Jason’s Italian butler, Giuseppe Murano, had been murdered in the novel. In this movie, he was regulated to a minor supporting character and survived. Most fans would view the movie’s close similarity to Christie’s novel as a sign of its superiority as an adaptation. Faithfulness to the source material is not a sign of superior adaptation for me. I will admit that “THE MIRROR CRACK’D”is a pretty damn good adaptation. But I feel it had a few problems.

One of my problems with “THE MIRROR CRACK’D” is the casting of Judy Cornwell as Heather Badcock. Upon reading Christie’s novel, I had the impression that Heather must have been at least in her mid-30s or early 40s when she was killed, and in her 20s when she first met Marina Gregg during World War II. However, Judy Cornwell was in her early 50s when this movie was made and looked it. And since “THE MIRROR CRACK’D” took place in the 1950s – at least a little over a decade before Heather and Marina’s first meeting – I found it hard to accept Cornwell as the clueless Heather. I was also not that enamored of the scene featuring the revelation of the murderer very unsatisfying. But if I must be honest, the killer revelation scenes have never impressed me in most of the Miss Marple movies that starred Joan Hickson. They tend to be rather badly written. And what made revelation in this movie unsatisfying was T.R. Bowen and director Norman Stone’s decision to have Miss Marple reveal the killer’s identity to a cab driver, who was driving her to Gossington Hall. What on earth were they thinking? Talk about ruining a pretty good movie with a bad ending.

My biggest problem with “THE MIRROR CRACK’D” turned out to be Detective Inspector Dermot Craddock’s character background. As I had stated earlier, Bowen’s screenplay revealed Craddock as one of Miss Marple’s nephew, repeating the 1980 film’s characterization of him. If this had been John Castle’s first appearance as Detective-Inspector Craddock, I would not be making this complaint. But the actor first portrayed the character in 1985′s “A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED”, which also starred Joan Hickson as the elderly sleuth. And in that movie, Miss Marple and Craddock were strangers who had met for the first time, not blood relations. This was truly sloppy writing on Bowen’s part.

Fortunately, I still managed to enjoy “THE MIRROR CRACK’D” very much. I have to attribute this to Norman Stone’s lively direction. Most of the Jane Marple adaptations that starred Hickson had a tendency to drag in many parts. Aside from a few productions, I usually have difficulty staying alert, while watching them. I can thankfully say that I had no such problems with “THE MIRROR CRACK’D”. Not only did the movie benefited from Stone’s pacing, but also Bowen’s screenplay, and the cast. But I suspect that the movie’s subject matter – Hollywood in Britain – really helped to make“THE MIRROR CRACK’D” a lively affair. Not only did the story delved into the world of small town life in mid-20th century Britain, but also the Hollywood movie system during the same era. The movie featured some humorous interactions between the citizens of St. Mary Mead and its Hollywood visitors, along with a tension-filled dinner party featuring Marina, Jason, the latter’s secretary Ella Zeilinsky, producer Ardwyck Fenn and rival starlet Lola Brewster. Mind you, the movie lacked the entertaining bitch fest from the 1980 film, the script still managed to provide a few moments of bitchery from Marina, Ella and Lola. “THE MIRROR CRACK’D” also featured an amusing subplot featuring a companion hired by Miss Marple’s other nephew to take care of her. It seems the companion Miss Knight possessed a condescending manner that irritates the elderly woman.

I have to say that I found the movie’s production values very impressive. Merle Downie and Alan Spalding did an excellent job of re-creating 1950s Britain through their production designs. I suspect they had to add a bit of glamour to the movie, due to the story’s subject matter. The costumes for Hickson’s Miss Marple movies have always been first-rate. And Judy Pepperdine did a marvelous job in not only creating costumes for the St. Mary Mead citizens, but also the Hollywood characters. Cinematographer John Walker contributed to the movie’s sleek look with his colorful, yet sharp photography.

“THE MIRROR CRACK’D” featured Joan Hickson’s last performance as Jane Marple. Needless to say, she proved to provide her usual above-average performance. I was especially impressed by her comedic skills in the scenes featuring Miss Marple’s exasperation with the condescending Miss Knight. Claire Bloom gave a complicated and very skillful performance as the talented, yet high-strung Marina Gregg. I did not find this surprising. Only a first-rate actress like Bloom could portray a high-maintenance character like Marina, without resorting to hamminess. I was equally impressed by Barry Newman, who was marvelous as Marina’s husband, Jason Rudd. He did an excellent job of portraying an emotional and passionate character with great subtlety. Despite my annoyance at Dermot Craddock being written as one of Miss Marple’s nephews, I must admit that I was happy to see John Castle back in the role. I really enjoyed his performance as the intelligent and cool Craddock in “A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED”. When he failed to appear in 1987′s“4.50 TO PADDINGTON”, I must admit that I felt very disappointed. Thankfully, my disappointment was eradicated by his appearance and performance in this film.

Aside from the 1980 miniseries, “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” and one or two other films, I have rarely seen Elizabeth Garvie in other film or movie productions. I certainly enjoyed her portrayal of Ella Zeilinsky, Jason Rudd’s sarcastic, yet love struck secretary. I may have had issues with Judy Cornwell being cast as Heather Badcock, but I have to admit that she did a pretty damn good job in portraying the self-involved woman. David Horovitch returned as Superintendent Slack. I found his appearance in the movie unnecessary, since he was not in the novel, but I must admit that Horovitch gave a rather funny performance. Margaret Courtenay was even funnier as the condescending companion, Miss Knight, who treated Miss Marple like a brainless child. The movie also featured solid performances from the likes of Glynis Barber, Ian Brimble, Norman Rodway and Gwen Watford. However, I found Constantine Gregory’s portrayal of Hollywood producer Ardwyck Fenn to be ridiculously over-the-top. One, he seemed to think that all Hollywood producers sounded and acted like gangsters from an old Warner Brothers film. And two, his American accent sucked. It is a pity that he did not study the American-born Newman, when he had the chance.

“THE MIRROR CRACK’D” had its flaws. But they were only a few. Overall, I found it entertaining and well-paced, thanks to Norman Stone’s direction and the movie’s production values. In the end, it proved to be a well made epilogue to Joan Hickson’s tenure as the cinematic Jane Marple.


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“COPPER”: Top Five Favorite Season One (2012) Episodes

Copper-Episode4-Billboard-Locket

Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season One of the BBC America series “COPPER”. Created by Tom Fontana and Will Rokos, the series stars Tom Weston-Jones, Kyle Schmid and Ato Essandoh: 

 

“COPPER”: Top Five Favorite Season One (2012) Episodes

1-1.02 Husbands and Fathers

1. (1.02) “Husbands and Fathers” - In this brutal episode, New York City detective Kevin “Corky” Corcoran set about rescuing child prostitute/abused wife Annie Sullivan from a Manhattan brothel and her perverse customer, a wealthy businessman named Winifred Haverford.

2-1.09 A Day to Give Thanks

2. (1.09) “A Day to Give Thanks” - Following the reappearance of his missing wife Ellen in an asylum, Corky tracks down her former lover in order to learn what really happened to their dead daughter, while he was in the Army. Meanwhile, Confederate agents blackmail Robert Morehouse’s wealthy father into helping their plot to set New York City on fire, following the re-election of Abraham Lincoln.

3-1.06 Arsenic and Old Cake

3. (1.06) “Arsenic and Old Cake” - Corky investigate the death of the dentist of one of his men, who died by arsenic poisoning. Widow Elizabeth Haverford tries to discipline an unruly Annie and return the latter to her abusive husband, a Mr. Reilly. An exhibition boxing match between a young African-American and an Irish-American local politician end with racial tension.

4-1.03 In the Hands of an Angry God

4. (1.03) “In the Hands of an Angry God” - Corky investigates the death of a notoriously racist Irish immigrant and clashes with his African-American friend, Dr. Matthew Freeman when a local black minister becomes the prime suspect.

5-1.07 The Hudson River School

5. (1.07) “The Hudson River School” - Annie struggles with escape from the abusive Mr. Reilly. Elizabeth turns to Robert, when Corky reacts violently to the news that she had turned Annie over to Mr. Reilly.

“A ROOM WITH A VIEW” (1985-86) Review

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“A ROOM WITH A VIEW” (1985-86) Review

Ah, Merchant and Ivory! Whenever I hear those particular names, my mind usually generates images of Britons in Edwardian dress, strolling along a London street, across a wide lawn or even along some city boulevard in a country other than Great Britain. In other words, the images from their movie, “A ROOM WITH A VIEW” usually fills my brain. 

Ishmail Merchant and James Ivory produced and directed this adaptation of E.M. Forster’s 1908 novel, which first hit the theaters in Great Britain during the early winter of 1985. Four months later, the movie was released in American movie theaters. Forster’s tale is basically a coming-of-age story about a young Edwardian woman, who finds herself torn between her superficial and snobbish fiancé and the free-thinking son of a retired journalist, whom she had met during her Italian vacation. The movie begins with the arrival of young Lucy Honeychurch and her cousin/chaperone Charlotte Barlett to a small pensionein Florence, Italy. Not only does Lucy have a reunion with her family’s local clergyman, the Reverend Mr. Beebe; she and Charlotte meet a non-conformist father and son pair named Mr. Emerson and his son, George. The Emersons agree to exchange their room – which has a view – with the one occupied by Lucy and Charlotte. Lucy becomes further acquainted with George after the pair witness a murder in the city’s square and he openly expresses his feelings to her. Matters come to a head between the young couple when George kisses Lucy during a picnic for the pensione‘s British visitors, outside of the city. Charlotte witnesses the kiss and not only insists that she and Lucy return to the pensione, but also put some distance between them and the Emersons by leaving Florence.

A few months later finds Lucy back at her home in Windy Corners, England. She had just accepted a marriage proposal from the wealthy, yet intellectually snobbish Cecil Vyse; much to her mother and brother Freddy’s silent displeasure. Matters take a turn for the worse when George and Mr. Emerson move to an empty cottage in Windy Corners, she soon learns that both George and his father have moved to her small village, thanks to Cecil’s recommendation. With George back in her life, Lucy’s suppressed feelings return. It is not long before she is internally divided between her feelings for George and her growing fear that Cecil might not be the man for her.

What can I say about “A ROOM WITH THE VIEW”? It was the first British-produced costume drama I had ever seen in the movie theaters. Hell, it was the first Merchant-Ivory production I had ever seen . . . period. Has it held up in the past twenty-eight years? Well . . . it is not perfect. The problem is other than Julian Sands’ performance, I cannot think of any real imperfections in the movie. A view have pointed out that its quaintness has made it more dated over the years. Frankly, I found it fresh as ever. Who am I kidding? I loved the movie when I first saw it 28 years ago, and still loved it when I recently watched it.

One would think that the movie’s critique of a conservative society would seem outdated in the early 21st century. But considering the growing conservatism of the past decade or so, perhaps “A ROOM WITH A VIEW” is not as outdated as one would believe, considering its Edwardian setting. Mind you, I found some the Emersons’ commentaries on life rather pretentious and in George’s case, a bit long-winded. But I cannot deny that their observations, however long-winded, struck me as dead on. More importantly, Foster’s novel and by extension, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s screenplay, makes Foster’s observations more easy to swallow thanks to a very humorous and witty tale. Another aspect that I enjoyed about “A ROOM WITH A VIEW” was how Foster’s liberalism had an impact on the love story between Lucy and George. I find it interesting how Foster managed to point out the differences between genuine liberals like the Emersons and pretenders like Cecil Vyse, who use such beliefs to feed his own sense of superiority.

While watching “A ROOM WITH A VIEW”, it seemed very apparent to me, that it is still a beautiful movie to look at. The movie not only won a Best Adapted Screenplay award for screenwriter, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala; but also two technical awards for the movie’s visual style. Gianni Quaranta, Brian Ackland-Snow, Brian Savegar, Elio Altamura served as the team for the movie’s art direction and won an Academy Award for their efforts. The art designs they created for the movie’s Edwardian setting is stunning. I can also say the same about the Academy Award winning costume designs created by Jenny Beavan and John Bright. Below are two examples of their work:

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And Tony Pierce-Roberts earned a much deserved Oscar for his beautiful and lush photography of both Tuscany in Italy and various English locations that served as the movie’s settings.

One of the best aspects of “A ROOM WITH A VIEW” has to be its cast of entertaining, yet flawed characters. First of all, the movie featured rich, supporting characters like Lucy’s charming, yet gauche brother Freddy; the very verbose and open-minded Reverend Beebe; the always exasperated Mrs. Honeychurch; the indiscreet and pretentious novelist, Eleanor Lavish (in some ways another Cecil); and the snobbish and controlling Reverend Eager. And it is due to the superb performances of Rupert Graves, the always entertaining Simon Callow, Rosemary Leach, the even more amazing Judi Dench and Patrick Godfrey that allowed these characters to come to life.

Both Maggie Smith and Denholm Elliot earned well-deserved Academy Award nominations for their unforgettable performances as Charlotte Barlett, Lucy’s passive-aggressive cousin; and George’s brash and open-minded father, Mr. Emerson. Charlotte must be one of the most fidgety characters ever portrayed by Smith, yet she conveyed this trait with such subtlety that I could not help but feel disappointed that she did not collect that Oscar. And Elliot did a marvelous job in portraying Mr. Emerson with the right balance of humor and pathos. Daniel Day-Lewis did not earn an Oscar nomination for his hilarious portrayal of Lucy’s snobbish and pretentious fiancé, Cecil Vyse. But he did win the National Board of Review award for Best Supporting Actor. Although there were moments when I found his performance a bit too mannered, I cannot deny that he deserved that award.

The role of Lucy Honeychurch made Helena Bonham-Carter a star. And it is easy to see why. The actress did an excellent job of not only portraying Lucy’s quiet, yet steady persona as a well-bred Englishwoman. And at the same time, she also managed to convey the character’s peevishness and a passive-aggressive streak that strongly reminded me of Charlotte Barlett. The only bad apple in the barrel proved to be Julian Sands’ performance as the overtly romantic, yet brooding George Emerson. Too be honest, I found a good deal of his performance rather flat. This flatness usually came out when Sands opened his mouth. He has never struck me as a verbose actor. However, I must admit that he actually managed to shine in one scene in which George openly declared his feelings for Lucy. And with his mouth shut, Sands proved he could be a very effective screen actor.

Looking back on “A ROOM WITH A VIEW”, I still find it difficult to agree with that blogger who stated that it had become somewhat dated over the years. Not only does the movie seem livelier than ever after 28 years or so, its theme of freedom from social repression still resonates . . . something I suspect that many would refuse to admit. Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, along with Oscar winner screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala created a work of art that has not lost its beauty and its bite after so many years.

“THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE” (1984) Book Review

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“THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE” (1984) Book Review

Several years ago, I once posted a list of my top ten favorite historical fiction novels of all time. Susan Howatch’s 1984 novel,“THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE” made the list. In fact, I would go as far to say that it would have also made the list of my top favorite novels . . . period. I love it that much. 

Back in the 1970s, Howatch wrote several family sagas in which the main characters were based upon members from a certain group from Britain’s Royal Family known as House of Plantagenet, which ruled the country between 1154 and 1485. The characters from 1971′s “PENMARRIC” were based upon the Plantagenet line that began with King Henry II and ended withKing John. 1974′s “CASHELMARA” featured characters based the line that began with Edward I and ended with his grandson,Edward III“THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE” also featured a character based upon Edward III, but he turned out to be a supporting one. The novel’s main characters were based on his children, two of his grandsons and a great-grandson, starting withEdward, the Black Prince and ending with Henry V“THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE” followed the fortunes of the Godwins, an Anglo-Welsh upper-class family that lived on an estate called Oxmoon, located near Gower in South Wales. The novel is divided into six major chapters, narrated by the following:

*Robert Godwin – oldest son in the family and a successful barrister who becomes a Member of Parliament
*Ginevra “Ginette” Godwin – Robert’s wife, distant cousin and childhood obsession, who was previously married to an Irishman named Conor Kinsella
*John Godwin – third son in the family and a diplomat with the Foreign Office
*Christopher “Kester” Godwin – Robert and Ginerva’s second son, who becomes master of Oxmoon upon his grandfather’s death
*Henry “Harry” Godwin – John’s oldest living son and Kester’s rival
*Henry “Hal” Godwin – Harry’s oldest son and a musician

“THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE” spanned at least fifty to sixty years – from 1913 to the late 1960s or early 1970s, covering at least four generations and two world wars. Although the novel is told from the point of view of six major characters, it also featured other never-to-be-forgotten characters from the Godwin family. The ones that really come to mind are Robert and John’s complicated parents – the emotionally unstable Bobby and his very disciplined wife Margaret; Declan Kinsella, Ginette’s oldest son from her first marriage; Bronwen Morgan, John’s mistress and third wife; Robert and John’s youngest brother, the somewhat coarse and unimaginative Thomas Godwin; and Harry’s first wife, the sexy and not-so-bright Belinda “Bella” Stourham Godwin, who becomes obsessed with conceiving a girl after an aborted teenage pregnancy.

What I found amazing about “THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE” is that it more or less continued the de Salis family saga from“CASHELMARA”, but with different characters. A family scandal involving Bobby’s mother and a sheep farmer named Owen Bryn-Davies ends up having a major impact upon the Godwin family. Both Bobby and Margaret spend most of their married lives trying to overcome the past with an ideal family life, living up to the twin creeds - “doing the done thing” and “drawing the line”. Unfortunately, Bobby’s ability to project an ideal image also leads him to become an emotional time bomb, with a penchant for womanizing. This penchant also leads to another family scandal – one that not only has an impact on Robert and Ginette’s relationship, but also on the question of Oxmoon’s true master, which culminates into an ugly rivalry between cousins Kester and Harry.

It is a skill to Ms. Howatch’s talents that I found the novel’s first two chapters fascinating. She did an excellent job in creating the novel’s setting and characters, and delving into the fascinating, yet problematic marriage between Robert and Ginette. But the chapters featuring John, Kester and Harry’s narrations prove to be the novel’s highlights. Howatch allows the readers to see how Bobby and Margaret’s efforts to maintain an ideal family fractured John’s personality – almost transforming him into some kind of Jekyll-and-Hyde. The ironic thing is that his “Hyde” persona proved to be a lot more beneficial for him. But John’s fractured personality, along with his twisted efforts to live up to his parents’ (actually, I should say his mother’s) creeds of “doing the done thing” and “drawing the line” seemed to have a negative impact on both his son Harry and nephew Kester.

The last chapter, which featured Hal’s narration, proved to be less fascinating than the previous chapters. This particular chapter featured a murder mystery within the family and Hal’s efforts to revive the family fortunes. Mind you, this story line did not strike me as compelling as the previous chapters, but I had no problems with it. But I did have a problem with two aspects of the novel. One, Howatch had an annoying habit of labeling certain characters via their nationalities. Celtics – especially the Welsh and the Irish – seemed to be described as emotional or almost fey. And the English are described as emotionally stunted, yet rational and clear-minded. I found this penchant rather infantile for a first-rate novelist like Howatch. Nor did I care for some the dialogue she had created for Bronwen. It almost seemed as if Howatch tried to transform John’s Welsh mistress (later third wife) into some kind of Celtic mystic. And I really found it annoying. It is a miracle that Bronwen managed to remain one of my favorite characters.

Although I can honestly say that “THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE” is not perfect, I can also state that it is also one of my favorite novels of all time. In fact, I became so fascinated with it after my last reading that I found myself re-reading some of of the passages over and over again, until I realized that I need to put it down. It really is one of the best family sagas I have ever read . . . period. And I am amazed that there has been no television adaptation of this novel. A movie adaptation would be out of the question. The time constraints on the latter would make an adaptation out of the question. But as a television adaptation . . . “THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE” could prove to be as exceptional as the novel itself.

“12 YEARS A SLAVE” (2013) Review

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“12 YEARS A SLAVE” (2013) Review

I first learned about Solomon Northup many years ago, when I came across a television adaptation of his story in my local video story. One glance at the video case for “HALF-SLAVE, HALF-FREE: SOLOMON NORTHUP’S ODYSSEY” made me assume that this movie was basically a fictional tale. But when I read the movie’s description on the back of the case, I discovered that I had stumbled across an adaption about a historical figure. 

Intrigued by the idea of a free black man in antebellum America being kidnapped into slavery, I rented “HALF-SLAVE, HALF-FREE: SOLOMON NORTHUP’S ODYSSEY”, which starred Avery Brooks, and enjoyed it very much. In fact, I fell in love with Gordon Park’s adaption so much that I tried to buy a video copy of the movie. But I could not find it. Many years passed before I was able to purchase a DVD copy. And despite the passage of time, I still remained impressed by the movie. However, I had no idea that someone in the film industry would be interested in Northup’s tale again. So, I was very surprised to learn of a new adaptation with Brad Pitt as one of the film’s producer and Briton Steve McQueen as another producer and the film’s director.

Based upon Northup’s 1853 memoirs of the same title, “12 YEARS A SLAVE” told the story of a New York-born African-American named Solomon Northup, who found himself kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. Northup was a 33 year-old carpenter and violinist living in Saratoga Springs, New York with his wife and children. After Mrs. Northup leaves Saratoga Springs with their children for a job that would last for several weeks, Northup is approached by two men, who offered him a brief, high-paying job as a musician with their traveling circus. Without bothering to inform Northup traveled with the strangers as far as south as Washington, D.C. Not long after his arrival in the capital, Northup found himself drugged and later, bound in the cell of a slave pen. When Northup tried to claim he was a free man, he was beaten and warned never again to mention his free status again.

Eventually, Northup and a group of other slaves were conveyed to the slave marts of New Orleans, Louisiana and given the identity of a Georgia-born slave named “Platt”. There, a slave dealer named Theophilus Freeman sells him to a plantation owner/minister named William Ford. The latter’s kindness seemed to be offset by his unwillingness to acknowledge the sorrow another slave named Eliza over her separation from her children. When Northup has a violent clash with one of Ford’s white employees, a carpenter named John Tibeats, the planter is forced to sell the Northerner to another planter named Edwin Epps. Unfortunately for Northup, Epps proves to be a brutal and hard man. Even worse, Epps becomes sexually interested in a female slave named Patsey. She eventually becomes a victim of Epps’ sexual abuse and Mrs. Epps’ jealousy. And Epps becomes aware of Patsey’s friendship with Northup.

“12 YEARS A SLAVE” gained a great deal of critical acclaim since its release. It won three Academy Awards, including one for Best Picture; and two British Academy Awards (BAFTAs).  Many critics and film goers consider it the truest portrait of American slavery ever shown in a Hollywood film. I have to admit that both director Steve McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley have created a powerful film. Both did an excellent job of translating the basic gist of Solomon Northup’s experiences to the screen. And both did an excellent job re-creating a major aspect of American slavery. I was especially impressed by certain scenes that featured the emotional and physical trauma that Northup experienced during his twelve years as a Southern slave.

For me, one of the most powerful scenes featured Northup’s initial experiences at the Washington D.C. slave pen, where one of the owners resorted to physical abuse to coerce him into acknowledging his new identity as “Platt”. Other powerful scenes include the slave mart sequence in New Orleans, where fellow slave Eliza had to endure the loss of her children through sale. I found the revelation of Eliza’s mixed blood daughter being sold to a New Orleans bordello rather troubling and heartbreaking. Northup’s encounter with Tibeats struck me fascinating . . . in a dark way. But the film’s most powerful scene – at least for me – proved to be the harsh whipping that Patsey endured for leaving the plantation to borrow soap from a neighboring plantation. Some people complained that particular scene bordered on “torture porn”. I disagree. I found it brutal and frank.

I have to give kudos to the movie’s visual re-creation of the country’s Antebellum Period. As in any well made movie, this was achieved by a group of talented people. Adam Stockhausen’s production designs impressed me a great deal, especially in scenes featuring Saratoga Springs of the 1840s, the Washington D.C. sequences, the New Orleans slave marts and of course, the three plantations where Northup worked during his twelve years in Louisiana. In fact, the entire movie was filmed in Louisiana, including the Saratoga Springs and Washington D.C. sequences. And Sean Bobbitt’s photography perfectly captured the lush beauty and color of the state. Trust the movie’s producers and McQueen to hire long time costume designer, Patricia Norris, to design the film’s costumes. She did an excellent job in re-creating the fashions worn during the period between 1841 and 1852-53.

Most importantly, the movie benefited from a talented cast that included Garrett Dillahunt as a white field hand who betrays Northup’s attempt to contact friends in New York; Paul Giamatti as the New Orleans slave dealer Theophilus Freeman; Michael K. Williams as fellow slave Robert, who tried to protect Eliza from a lustful sailor during the voyage to Louisiana; Alfre Woodward as Mistress Shaw, the black common-law wife of a local planter; and Bryan Batt as Judge Turner, a sugar planter to whom Northup was loaned out. More impressive performances came from Paul Dano as the young carpenter John Tibeats, who resented Northup’s talent as a carpenter; Sarah Poulson, who portrayed Edwin Epp’s cold wife and jealous wife; and Adepero Oduye, who was effectively emotional as the slave mother Eliza, who lost her children at Freeman’s slave mart. Benedict Cumberbatch gave a complex portrayal of Northup’s first owner, the somewhat kindly William Ford. However, I must point out that the written portrayal of the character may have been erroneous, considering Northup’s opinion of the man. Northup never judged Ford as a hypocrite, but only a a good man who was negatively influenced by the slave society. But the two best performances, in my opinion, came from Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o and especially Best Actor Oscar nominee and BAFTA winner Chiwetel Ejiofor.  Nyong’o gave a beautiful performance as the abused slave woman Patsey, whose endurance of Epps’ lust and Mrs. Epps’ wrath takes her to a breaking point of suicidal desire.  Chiwetel Ejiofor, whom I have been aware for the past decade, gave the definitive performance of his career – so far – as the New Yorker Solomon Northup, who finds himself trapped in the nightmarish situation of American slavery. Ejiofor did an excellent job of conveying Northup’s emotional roller coaster experiences of disbelief, fear, desperation and gradual despair.

But is “12 YEARS A SLAVE” perfect? No. Trust me, it has its flaws. Many have commented on the film’s historical accuracy in regard to American slavery and Northup’s twelve years in Louisiana. First of all, both McQueen and Ridley took historical liberty with some of Northup’s slavery experience for the sake of drama. If I must be honest, that does not bother me. The 1984 movie with Avery Brooks did the same. I dare anyone to find a historical movie that is completely accurate about its topic. But what did bother me was some of the inaccuracies featured in the movie’s portrayal of antebellum America.

One scene featured Northup eating in a Washington D.C. hotel dining room with his two kidnapper. A black man eating in the dining room of a fashionable Washington D.C. hotel in 1841? Were McQueen and Ridley kidding? The first integrated Washington D.C. hotel opened in 1871, thirty years later. Even more ludicrous was a scene featuring a drugged and ill Northup inside one of the hotel’s room near white patrons. Because he was black, Northup was forced to sleep in a room in the back of the hotel. The death of the slave Robert at the hands of a sailor bent on raping Eliza struck me as ludicrous. One, it never happened. And two, there is no way some mere sailor – regardless of his color – could casually kill a slave owned by another. Especially a slave headed for the slave marts. He would find himself in serious financial trouble. Even Tibeats had been warned by Ford’s overseer about the financial danger he would face upon killing Northup. I can only assume that Epps was a very hands on planter, because I was surprised by the numerous scenes featuring him supervising the field slaves. And I have never heard of this before. And I am still shaking my head at the scene featuring Northup’s visit to the Shaw plantation, where he found a loaned out Patsey having refreshments with the plantation mistress, Harriet Shaw. Black or white, I simply find it difficult to surmise a plantation mistress having refreshments with a slave – owned or loaned out. Speaking of Patsey’s social visit to the Shaw plantation, could someone explain why she and Mistress Shaw are eating a dessert that had been created in France, during the late 19th century? Check out the image below:

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The image features the two women eating macarons. Now I realize that macarons had existed even before the 1840s. But the macarons featured in the image above (with a sweet paste creating a sandwich with two cookies) first made their debut, thanks to a pair of Parisian bakers in the late 19th century, decades after the movie’s setting. This was a very sloppy move either on the part of Stockhausen or the movie’s set decorator, Alice Baker.

And if I must be frank, I had a problem with some of the movie’s dialogue. I realize that McQueen and Ridley were attempting to recapture the dialogue of 19th century America. But there were times I felt they had failed spectacularly. Some of it brought back painful memories of the stilted dialogue from the 2003 Civil War movie, “GODS AND GENERALS”. The words coming out of the actors’ mouths struck me as part dialogue, part speeches. The only thing missing was a speech from a Shakespearean play.

Not only did I have a problem with the dialogue, but also some of the performances. Even those performances I had earlier praised nearly got off tracked by the movie’s more questionable dialogue. But I was not impressed by two particular performances. One came from Brad Pitt, who portrayed a Canadian carpenter hired by Epps to build a gazebo. To be fair, my main problems with Pitt’s performance was the dialogue that sounded like a speech . . . and his accent. Do Canadians actually sound like that? In fact, I find it difficult to pinpoint what kind of accent he actually used. The performance that I really found troubling was Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of the brutal Edwin Epps. Mind you, he had his moments of subtle acting that really impressed me – especially in scenes featuring Epps’ clashes with his wife or the more subtle attempts of intimidation of Northup. Those moments reminded me why I had been a fan of the actor for years.  Perhaps those moments led him to earning an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.  But Fassbender’s Epps mainly came off as a one-dimensional villain with very little subtlety or complexity. Consider the image below in which Fassbender is trying to convey Epps’ casual brutality:

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For me, it seemed as if the actor is trying just a little too hard. And I suspect that McQueen’s direction is to blame for this. I blame both McQueen and Ridley for their failure to reveal Epps’ insecurities, which were not only apparent in Northup’s memoirs, but also in the 1984 movie. Speaking of McQueen, there were times when I found his direction heavy-handed. This was especially apparent in most of Fassbender’s scenes and in sequences in which some of the other characters’ dialogue spiraled into speeches. And then there was Hans Zimmer’s score. I have been a fan of Zimmer for nearly two decades. But I have to say that I did not particularly care for his work in “12 YEARS A SLAVE”. His use of horns in the score struck me as somewhat over-the-top.

Do I feel that “12 YEARS A SLAVE” deserves its acclaim? Well . . . yes. Despite its flaws, it is a very good movie that did not whitewash Solomon Northup’s brutal experiences as a slave. And it also featured some exceptional performances, especially from Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o. But I also feel that some of the acclaim that the movie has garnered, may have been undeserved, along with its Oscar and BAFTA Best Picture awards.  As good as it was, I found it hard to accept that “12 YEARS A SLAVE” was the best movie about American slavery ever made.

Top Ten Favorite BRITISH EMPIRE Novels

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Below is a list of my current favorite novels set during the British Empire: 

 

TOP TEN FAVORITE BRITISH EMPIRE NOVELS

1 - Flashman in the Great Game

1. “Flashman in the Great Game” (1975) by George MacDonald Fraser - Set between 1856 and 1858, this fifth novel in the Flashman Papers Series is about cowardly British Army officer Harry Flashman’s experiences during the Sepoy Rebellion.

2 - Shadow of the Moon

2. “Shadow of the Moon” (1957/1979) by M.M. Kaye - This is a love story between an Anglo-Spanish heiress and a British Army officer before and during the Sepoy Rebellion.

3 - The Bastard

3. “The Bastard” (1974) by John Jakes - Set during the final five years before the American Revolution, this tale is about Phillipe Charbaneau aka Philip Kent, the Anglo-French bastard of a nobleman forced to seek a new life in the American Colonies.

4 - Flashman and the Dragon

4. “Flashman and the Dragon” (1985) by George MacDonald Fraser - The eighth novel of the Flashman Papers reveals Harry Flashman’s experiences in China during the Taiping Rebellion and the British march to Peking during the Second Opium War.

5 - Noble House

5. “Noble House” (1981) by James Clavell - Set during two weeks in August 1963, this novel is about a British businessman in Hong Kong, who struggles to save his family’s company from financial ruin through a deal with an American corporate raider.

6 - Zemindar

6. “Zemindar” (1982) by Valerie Fitzgerald - This novel is about a young Englishwoman named Laura Hewitt, who accompanies her cousin and cousin-in-law to India to meet the latter’s wealthy half-brother. All three get caught up in the outbreak of the Sepoy Rebellion.

7 - Tai-pan

7. “Tai-Pan” (1966) by James Clavell - Set during the immediate aftermath of the First Opium War, this novel is about a British trader and his dealings with his family and enemies during the formation of Britain’s Hong Kong colony.

8 - Liberty Tavern

8. “Liberty Tavern” (1976) by Thomas Fleming - This novel is about a former British Army officer, who operates a New Jersey tavern and serves as guardian to his stepchildren during the American Revolution.

9 - The Far Pavilions

9. “The Far Pavilion” (1978) by M.M. Kaye - This bestseller is about a 19th century British Army officer, who had spent his childhood believing he was Indian. He experiences love with an Indian princess and war during the Second Anglo-Afghan War.

10 - Forget the Glory

10. “Forget the Glory” (1985) by Emma Drummond - This novel chronicled the experiences of an unhappily married British Army officer, who falls in love with wife’s maid during a long journey from India to the Ukraine during the Crimean War.

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