“POLDARK” Series Two (2016): Episodes Five to Ten

 

“POLDARK” SERIES TWO (2016): EPISODES FIVE TO TEN

Sometime ago, I had expressed my feelings about “POLDARK”, the 1975 adaptation of Winston Graham’s 1953 novel, “Warleggan: A Novel of Cornwall, 1792-1793”. Needless to say, my opinions were not overall positive. Then I focused my attention of Debbie Horsfield’s recent adaptation of the novel. Considering the writer/television producer’s boast that this new adaptation would be more faithful to Graham’s literary saga, I found myself wondering how she would handle the writer’s most contoverisal entry in his series. 

Series Two of the new “POLDARK” stretched out in ten episodes. While the first four adapted the 1950 novel, “Jeremy Poldark: A Novel in Cornwall, 1790-1791” the last six episodes adapted “Warleggan”. Episode Five focused on the last months of the life of Francis Poldark, protagonist Ross Poldark’s cousin – his emotional reconciliation with his wife, Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark; his duties as a local magistrate; and his excitement over his investment in the Poldark family’s revived Wheal Grace. In the end, it was Francis’ interest in Wheal Grace and a possible copper lode that led him down into the mine and to his death by drowning.

Despite its tragic ending, I must confess that Episode Five might possibly be my favorite one from Series Two. In a way, it represented the “calm before the storm” that eventually overwhelmed the lives of Ross, Demelza, Elizabeth and other characters. Unlike certain fans of the saga, I never had a problem with the “storm” that overwhelmed the main characters in this chapter of the saga. I never had a problem, as long as it was well-written. And I believe Episode Five was truly a fantastic one, thanks to Debbie Horsfield’s writing and Kyle Soller’s last and superb performance as Francis Poldark. Episode Five also featured an engagement party in which Ray Penvenen held for his niece Caroline and her foppish fiance, a politician named Unwin Trevaunance. During this party, Elizabeth had quietly confessed in a misguided moment that she still harbored feelings for Ross and sometimes regret marrying Francis in the first place. It was a moment that would rear its ugly head, later in the season. As for the episode itself, it seemed to be the only one featuring the adaptation of “Warleggan” that really impressed me. Because Horsfield’s adaptation of the “storm” proved to be very disappointing to me. And I truly missed Soller’s presence in the series after this.

Following Francis’ death, Episodes Six to Ten focused on a collection of story arcs:

*Ross’s continuing financial struggles
*Ross’ continuing attempts to wield riches from the Wheal Grace mine
*the courtship between Ross’ close friend, Dr. Dwight Enys and heiress Caroline Penvenen
*Elizabeth’s financial struggles to manage the debt-ridden Trenwith estate
*Antagonist George Warleggan’s attempts to woo the widowed Elizabeth
*Ross and Elizabeth’s close relationship and its effect upon Demelza

Despite the six hundred pounds investment he had received from his cousin Francis for Wheal Grace, Ross continued to struggle with finding a cache of copper. And because of this failure, his financial problems continued to persist for the next several episodes. At one point, Ross found himself on the brink of financial disaster when his nemesis George Warleggan had purchased the promissory note he had signed after borrowing money from his banker, Harris Peascoe. Worse, Wheal Grace proved to be an unsafe working environment and collapsed, causing the deaths of two workers. And all because Ross was desperate to find the copper he believed would alleviate his financial woes.

Many fans and critics seemed to lack the patience to watch Ross struggle financially. They seemed more interested in his personal – especially his romantic – life. In a way, I could understand. But I thought Debbie Horsfield handled his financial struggles rather well. However, I was annoyed by two things. One, his mine workers seemed very reluctant to blame him for the Wheal Grace accident. I get the feeling that Horsfield seemed reluctant as well. I admire the fact that she allowed Ross to feel remorse for the accident. But I found it unrealistic that not one Poldark miner was willing to blame Ross, let alone resent him for failing to provide a safe working environment for them. This whole scenario smacked of some management-worker fantasy in order to make Ross look good in the eyes of the fans. As icing on the cake, Horsfield made sure – in a ham-fisted scene – that series villain George Warleggan criticized Ross over the Wheal Grace disaster. If it had been someone else, chances are the audience would be more inclined to criticize Ross.

Unsure over the value of Wheal Grace, Ross made a quick trip to the Isles of Scilly to seek out the fugitive Mark Daniels, the miner who had murdered his wife near the end of Series One. I wish I could say that I found this sequence rather interesting. But to be honest, it lacked the pathos of the 1975 adaptation. Frankly, I have to blame actor Matthew Wilson. For me, he simply failed to convey Mark’s guilt and grief over his wife’s murder with any real poignancy or effectiveness. The only interesting aspect of this story arc proved to be Ross’ return to Cornwall, where he found himself in the middle of a situation between the local smugglers using his cove as a landing spot and the militia. Frankly, I found it more than satisfying and rather exciting. The sequence ended on an exciting note with the death of informer Charlie Kempthorne. Ross managed to avoid the consequences of that night and his role in the smuggling by committing perjury in court and buying witnesses to do the same on his behalf. Unfortunately, poor Dwight Enys not only angered his blue-blooded fiancée by failing to rendezvous for their elopement, the local court fined him fifty pounds for starting a bonfire – which had alerted the smugglers to the presence of the militia.

In the end, a series of events helped Ross and Demelza rise above their poverty-stricken state. One, Caroline Penvenen secretly provided Ross with two thousand pounds, enabling him to pay off the promissory note that George had purchased from Harris Peascoe and prevent the former from eventually taking possession of the Nampara estate. Ross finally struck a lode withing the Wheal Grace . . . but it proved to be tin, not copper. And a neighbor to whom Ross had lent money years ago repaid his debt and allowed Ross to become an investor in his business. By Episode Ten, I came to the conclusion that Ross was not exactly an exceptional businessman and estate manager. It seemed pretty obvious that sheer blind luck was responsible his rising fortune by Episode Ten.

I realize that I had earlier stated that Episode Five was the last time I truly enjoyed Series Two. Well . . . perhaps not. I had no troubles watching the circumstances involving Ross, Elizabeth, Demelza and George unfold. And unlike the 1970s series, this current series did not rush through a good deal of the narrative in order to reach the sequence involving Ross’ return to Cornwall on the night of the smugglers’ conflict with the militia. I suspect that is due to the fact that the 1975 adaptation of “Warleggan” had stretched through four episodes and the 2016 adaptation stretched through six.

Amidst the turmoil that seemed to engulf the Poldark family and George Warleggan, the romance between the lowly-born Dr. Dwight Enys and upper-class heiress Caroline Penvenen continued its rocky path. Although the pair finally managed to admit their love for one another and become engaged (behind the back of Caroline’s uncle, Ray Penvenen). They even managed to form a plan to elope on the night of Ross’ arrival from France. However, their plans went nowhere when Dwight ditched them in order to warn the smugglers that a local named Charlie Kempthorne had ratted them out to Captain McNeil and the militia. Do not get me wrong. I do believe that Luke Norris and Gabriella Wilde have some kind of chemistry together. The problem is that I found it difficult to really care about their relationship. The problem was . . . Wilde. She did not strike me as a charismatic actress. There were times when I found her performance rather stiff and rote-like. Even when her character had expressed disappointment and anger over Dwight’s failure to rendezvous for an elopement, Wilde did not seemed to be selling these emotions with any real conviction. Series Two ended on a happy note for Dwight and Caroline, when Ross arranged their reconciliation before Dwight was scheduled to set sail with the Royal Navy. Sometime earlier, the War of the First Coalition had started, the first of several conflicts between Great Britain and France for the next twenty years or so.

Ross and Demelza were not the only members of the Poldark family who struggled financially. With Francis dead, Elizabeth and the other inhabitants at Trenwith found themselves in a financial bind. The six hundred pounds that Francis had received from George Warleggan were invested in Wheal Grace. This left Elizabeth cash poor and unable to hire a bailiff to manage the Trenwith estate. She could not manage it, due being only trained to manage a household as mistress of the house. Thanks to Ross’ never ending infatuation with her, he seemed willing to help her manage the estate every now and again. He even provided her and Geoffrey Charles with six hundred pounds from the money he had acquired through the sale of his remaining shares of Wheal Leisure. I believe these acts were Ross’ way of attempting to rekindle the romance between himself and Elizabeth, now that Francis was gone. Ross became so focused upon Elizabeth that he failed to notice Demelza’s growing awareness and concerns over his visits to Trenwith. But Ross was not the only one interested in romance with Elizabeth. George Warleggan, who has harbored romantic feelings for her since the beginning of the series, finally decided to make his move with her. At first, he used tentative steps – the occasional friendly visit to Trenwith, offering her advice on handling the estate’s employees and tenants and presenting gifts to young Geoffrey Charles. The only fly in George’s ointment was Francis’ great-Aunt Agatha Poldark, who disliked him just as much as he disliked her.

As much as I had enjoyed parts of the adaptation of “Warleggan”, it was not perfect. And where did it all go wrong for me? Well, the first hint occurred when Demelza complained to her cousin-in-law Verity Poldark Blamey about Ross ignoring her in favor of visits to Elizabeth. And what did Verity do? Talk to Ross about Demelza, which would have been the sensible and direct thing to do? No. She visited Elizabeth at Trenwith and gently convinced her sister-in-law to spend less time with Ross. Sigh. How passive-aggressive. And sexist. Matters grew worse with Horsfield’s ridiculous portrayal of Elizabeth as some incompetent woman incapable of maintaining the Trenwith estate matters. This was utterly ridiculous. As a woman and a member of the upper-class, Elizabeth was probably trained by her mother to be the wife of a landowner – namely manage the household of an estate manor. She was never trained to manage an estate or a mine. The same could be said for Verity and Caroline. And although Demelza, who was born into the working-class, could manage a smaller house without servants; also knew nothing about managing an estate. But thanks to Horsfield, only Elizabeth’s lack of experience in this matter was emphasized.

It grew worse. Horsfield treated viewers to this ridiculous sequence involving George Warleggan hiring some local thugs to frighten Elizabeth by squatting on Trenwith land. He hoped that this would finally drive Elizabeth to being opened to the idea of becoming Mrs. George Warleggan. I found this incredibly heavy-handed and unnecessary. In the novel, Elizabeth had already begun considering George as a potential spouse, thanks to her financial situation. Apparently, Horsfield thought Elizabeth required a more direct (and heavy-handed) reason to depend more on George. And why did she not turn to Ross? Well . . . she did. She had sent a note to Ross explaining the situation. And here, matters became very silly and childish. The Poldarks’ housekeeper, Prudie Paynter, did not bother to hand over the note to Demelza. Ross was at the Isles of Scilly at the time. The entire scenario smacked of a scene from a teen romance novel. A desperate Elizabeth appeared at Nampara asked for Ross’ whereabouts. Prudie kept her mouth shut and said nothing about keeping the note. And a cold and obviously jealous Demelza merely informed Elizabeth that the note was never received and Ross was away on business. Both Demelza and Prudie were so busy regarding Elizabeth as “the enemy” that they were obviously too stupid to notice Elizabeth’s desperate air. In the end, the latter turned to George to deal with the squatters. From George hiring thugs to squat on Trenwith land to Elizabeth’s desperate visit to Nampara – this was one of the silliest and unnecessary sequences I have ever seen in this series.

Then came Episode Eight, which I now regard as the nadir of this “POLDARK” series . . . so far. Earlier in the episode, Demelza encountered Elizabeth in Truro, where the following exchange occurred:

Elizabeth: I’ve been meaning to call upon you to thank you for your kindness these past few months.

Demelza: In lending you my husband?

Elizabeth: . . . in a manner of speaking.

Demelza: Oh, you’re welcome to him, just so long as you remember where he belongs and send him back to me when you’re done with him.

While many viewers were hooting with laughter at Elizabeth’s expense or raising their fists in the air crying, “Demelza! You go girl!”, I merely rolled my eyes in disgust. One, this scene was never in “Warleggan”. Two, once again, Debbie Horsfield managed to slut shame Elizabeth in preparation for what happened later in the episode. And three, she managed to make Demelza look like a passive-aggressive bitch. Good going, Ms. Horsfield!

But what happened between Demelza and Elizabeth was nothing in compare to what was to come. Mrs. Chynoweth, Elizabeth’s mother, fell ill and the latter realized she would have to care for her mother. At long last, George proposed marriage, promising both his riches and to clear the Trenwith estate of any debts for Geoffrey Charles. A very desperate Elizabeth accepted and very reluctantly, wrote a letter to Ross, informing him of her engagement. For once, Prudie did not withhold this second letter from Elizabeth and handed it over to Ross. Well, we all know what happened. He lost his temper and ignoring Demelza’s pleas, rode over to Trenwith in the middle of the night to end Elizabeth’s engagement to George.

The one good thing I could say about this scene between Ross and Elizabeth is that it featured outstanding performances from both Aidan Turner and Heida Reed. I found it interesting that only a few people managed to notice. Otherwise, I loathed it. The novel’s version of this scene was ugly enough, considering what Ross did to Elizabeth. But Horsfield’s version of the scene was uglier. As in the novel, Ross broke into the house, ignored Elizabeth’s protests and confronted her inside her bedroom. He tried to slut shame hr Then he forced himself upon her with kisses and later, forced her on the bed with the intent to rape her. Before he could rape her, Elizabeth embraced Ross, signalling her consent to have sex with him. What made this scene so ugly to me? By having Elizabeth consent at the last moment, Debbie Horsfield seemed to be endorsing the concept of “Rape Fantasy”. I had never felt so disgusted in my life.

With the exception of one particular scene, Horsfield provided others following the Ross/Elizabeth scene that either annoyed or disgusted me. Upon Ross’ return to Nampara the following morning, Demelza greeted him with a punch to the face and a great deal of hostility. The only aspect of this scene that would have made me cheer was Eleanor Tomlinson’s first-rate performance. In the end, I could not because this scene was never in the novel. Worse, Horsfield used this scene to transform Demelza from a passive-aggressive bitch to an anachronistic character. Sigh! In the novel, Elizabeth was reluctant to proceed with her marriage to George, due to the trauma of being raped. At the same time, she wanted Ross to explain himself and apologize . . . which never happened. In Episode Nine, Horsfield attempted to solidify Elizabeth’s guilt by having her spend her days at Trenwith, waiting for Ross to leave Demelza for her, thanks to Agatha Poldark’s ludicrous suggestion that Ross might actually do this. Despite Caroline Blakiston’s very skillful performance, Agatha Poldark proved to be very annoying to me, throughout this entire season. In the end, Elizabeth married George.

Demelza, on the other hand, made the misguided decision to punish Ross by attending a house party given by that old lech, Sir Hugh Bodrugan and engage in revenge sex with Captain McNeil of the militia. Remember that one scene of which I had no problems? Well, it was not Sir Hugh’s party. Unlike the 1975 version, it seemed to lack any atmosphere whatsoever of a debauched late Georgian party. Instead, the party sequence seemed to consist of every man admiring Demelza’s beauty and desiring her, transforming her into television’s ultimate Mary Sue. In the end, Demelza and McNeil retired to a room, where she decided that she did not want to engage in revenge sex, after all. Unlike the 1975 version, which featured McNeil attempting to rape Demelza, this version closely followed Graham’s novel by having McNeil deciding not to force himself on her. For once, Horsfield did the right thing. Like Graham, she was willing to show that unlike Ross Poldark, here was a man capable of not forcing himself on a woman.

Unfortunately, Episode Ten returned to the revised crap that Horsfield had inflicted upon Graham’s saga. Like the producers of the 1975 series, Horsfield had Demelza contemplating leaving Ross for his infidelity and lack of remorse. Worse, she planned to return to her father’s home . . . with young Jeremy. Was this scene in Graham’s novel? I do not remember. I do know that she would have never gotten away with taking Jeremy with her to Tom Carne’s home. As a man and a member of the landed gentry in the late 18th century, Ross could have easily used the courts to stop her. And I doubt very much that he would have tolerated Jeremy being raised in his father-in-law’s household. He detested Tom Carne’s bullying and religious fanaticism too much. Once again, Horsfield transformed Demelza into an anachronistic character. And like the 1975 series, Horsfield allowed Trenwith to be threatened by a mob after George had the estate closed off from its tenant farmers. This sequence began with Demelza confronting the newly married Elizabeth in the woods and slut shaming the latter for what happened on the night of May 9, 1793. Again, this was not in Graham’s novel. I found it misogynistic and unnecessary. And I suspect that Horsfield added another ham-fisted scene to solidify Elizabeth guilty of adultery in the viewers’ eyes.

In the end, the mob led by Jud Paynter did not burn down Trenwith. Demelza arrived at the Warleggans’ home to warn them about the mob. Horsfield had Ross behave like romance novel hero and appear at Trenwith – on a white horse (ugh!) – to prevent Demelza from getting swept up by the mob and to prevent the latter from burning Trenwith and harming the Warleggan newlyweds. By the time Episode Ten ended with another scene straight from a romance novel. It featured Ross and Demelza reconciling near the edge of a cliff . . . again. Ugh.

Episodes Five to Ten, which featured the adaptation of Graham’s 1953 novel, “Warleggan: A Novel of Cornwall, 1792-1793”, had started on such a promising note. But since the novel was controversial, due to the saga’s protagonist becoming a rapist, producer Debbie Horsfield and the BBC slowly transformed the adaptation of the novel into a pile of shit. Like their 1975 predecessors, Horsfield and the BBC lacked the balls to closely adhere to Winston Graham’s ambiguous portrayal of Ross Poldark. The worst they were willing to do was simply portray him as an adulterer. Because of this, Episodes Five to Ten of Series Two for “POLDARK”seemed to be filled with heavy-handed revisions of Graham’s novel and a rape fantasy scene that left me feeling completely disgusted.

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Five Favorite Episodes of “TURN: WASHINGTON’S SPIES” Season Two (2015)

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Below is a list of my five favorite episodes from Season Two of AMC’s “TURN: WASHINGTON’S SPIES”. Created by Craig Silverstein, the series stars Jamie Bell: 

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “TURN: WASHINGTON’S SPIES” SEASON TWO (2015)

1 - 2.05 Sealed Fate

1. (2.05) “Sealed Fate” – Abe Woodhull and his father, Judge Richard Woodhull clash over the former’s espionage activities. Fellow spy Ben Tallmadge discover some important information and Abe has supper with potential spy Robert Townsend and the latter’s father.

2 - 2.06 Houses Divided 1

2. (2.06) “Houses Divided” – Abe’s fellow spy, Anna Strong, takes action when he is captured by the British. Meanwhile, Lieutenant John Simcoe pushes himself back into Anna’s life, and Major John Andre discovers vital information for the British cause.

3 - 2.08 Providence

3. (2.08) “Providence” – Ben and fellow spy Caleb Brewster plot to free Abe from a British prison in New York City. British Army officer Major Edmund Hewlett struggle in the wilderness during his escape from an American prison. And General George Washington learns about the Continental Congress’ new alliance with France.

4 - 2.02 Hard Boiled

4. (2.02) “Hard Boiled” – While Abe continues his mission to recruit spies for the Culpeper Ring in New York City, Lieutenant Simcoe adjusts to reassignment as the new commander of the Queen’s Rangers. Meanwhile, Major Andre seduces Peggy Shippen, the daughter of a Philadelphia Tory businessman.

5 - 2.10 Gunpowder Treason and Plot

5. “Gunpowder, Treason and Plot” – In this season finale, Abe plots the assassination of Major Hewlett, much to Anna’s distress. And Ben participates in the Battle of Monmouth.

“THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE” (2004) Review

“THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE” (2004) Review

I have another of my many confessions to make . . . I have never been a big fan of Agatha Christie’s 1930 novel, “The Murder at the Vicarage”. Never mind that it featured the first appearance of elderly sleuth, Miss Jane Marple, in a feature-length novel. I am just not a big fan. 

One could assume that the novel’s setting – in the small village of St. Mary Mead – could be the reason why this particular tale has never rocked my boat. Not particularly. I can think of numerous Christie tales set in a small village – including St. Mary Mead – that really impressed me. The problem with “The Murder in the Vicarage” is that I never found it to be a particularly thought provoking tale. Nor did it include any special circumstances that made it unique. And my borderline apathy toward the 1930 novel even extended to the television movie adaptation that aired in 1986. Some eighteen years later, another adaptation of the novel aired on television. This particular version starred Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple. And its running time was at least eight minutes shorter.

In “THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE”, the citizens of St. Mary Mead are rocked by the murder of Colonel Protheroe, the local churchwarden and magistrate, whose body was found inside the study of the vicar, Reverend Len Clement. The man was disliked by many; including the vicar, the vicarage’s curate, Protheroe’s second wife Anne, her lover Lawrence Redding, Protheroe’s daughter from his first marriage Lettice, the vicar’s wife Grieselda Clement, and a mysterious new resident named Mrs. Lester who seemed to have produced a strange reaction from Protheroe. Not long after the vicar discovers the body, Lawrence Redding, who is a painter, confesses to the murder. Although he has been clashing with Colonel Protheroe over his painting of Lettice, it turns out that he has been Anne Protheroe’s lover for quite some time. Upon learning about his confession, Anne confesses as well. Miss Marple eventually points out to Inspector Slack that it was impossible for either to commit the murder and suggests that the latter search for the killer among other St. Mary’s Mead citizens.

As I had pointed earlier, I am not a big fan of Christie’s novel or its 1986 adaptation. But for some reason, I enjoyed this adaptation. For example, it is a bit more colorful than the previous version. I am aware that all of the Miss Marple television adaptations of the 1980s and early 1990s tend to look rather faded. But there are more reasons why I find this 2004 version more colorful. I realize that many tend to demand that a movie or television adaptation is faithful to its source novel. But I thought the changes made by Stephen Churchett made the production somewhat more lively for me. One, Churchett changed two characters (one of them an archeologist) by giving them a World War II connection to Protheroe and a reason to want him dead. And two, Churchett included World War I flashbacks of a brief love affair between Miss Marple and a married Army officer. At first glance, these flashback seemed irrelevant to the main story. In the end, they served as a tool in which Miss Marple managed to ascertain the murderer’s identity. But the best thing I can say about “THE MURDER IN THE VICARAGE” is its pacing. This is a well-paced film, thanks to Charlie Palmer’s direction. For me, this is an important element for a low-key mystery like “THE MURDER IN THE VICARAGE”.

But there are other aspects of the movie that I enjoyed. I was really impressed by Nigel Walters’ cinematography. It was sharp, colorful and perfect for the movie’s setting. The photography also enhanced Jeff Tessler’s production designs, which struck me as a perfect reflection of an English village in 1951. He also had the task of re-creating a London railway station circa 1915-1917. And he did a pretty good job. But I really enjoyed Phoebe De Gaye’s costume designs. I found them colorful and very spot-on for each particular character, based upon age, class, personality, etc. By the way, Ms. De Gaye had also served one of the two costume designers for the BBC’s “THE MUSKETEERS” and the 2002-2003 miniseries, “THE FORSYTE SAGA”.

The performances were first-class. I tried to think of one that seemed somewhat off. But . . . I thought they were all well-done. “THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE” marked Geraldine McEwan’s second time at the bat as Miss Jane Marple. I feel this particular performance might be one of her better ones. I found her performance intelligent, sharp and particularly poignant. Other performances that impressed me came from Janet McTeer and Jason Flemyng, the adulterous couple, who found themselves at the center of village gossip and police inquiries following Protheroe’s murder. On paper, television viewers should have been outraged at their infidelity. But both McTeer and Flemyng gave such poignant and passionate performances that they managed to allow viewers to care about their fate.

Rachael Stirling gave an exuberant performance as the vicar’s outgoing wife, Grisielda Clements. At first glance, it seemed as if Derek Jacobi’s portrayal of the victim, Colonel Protheroe, would come off as a one-note blustering idiot. Thankfully, there were moments when Jacobi infused a good deal of humanity into his performance – especially in scenes involving the mysterious Mrs. Lester. Mark Gatiss’ portrayal of the vicarage’s curate Ronald Hawes, who seemed torn over his past actions involving the embezzling of funds at his previous assignment struck me as rather emotional and a bit sad. I also have to commend Stephen Tompkinson for his complex performance as the irascible Detective Inspector Slack. I enjoyed how he slowly allowed Slack’s character to develop an admiration for Miss Marple’s detective skills. The television movie also featured solid performances from Tim McInnerny, Herbert Lom, Christina Cole, Jane Asher, Robert Powell, Angela Pleasance, Miriam Margolyes and especially, Julie Cox and Marc Warren, who gave affecting performances as the younger Jane Marple and her World War I lover.

I may not be a fan of Agatha Christie’s 1930 novel. But I cannot deny that I rather enjoyed its 2004 television adaptation. Thanks to director Charlie Palmer and screenwriter Stephen Churchett, “THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE” proved to be a colorful, yet emotional tale about love, passion and ghosts from the past. The production was also enhanced by some eye-catching behind-the-scenes artistry and excellent performances from a cast led by the incomparable Geraldine McEwan.

“THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE” (2000) Review

“THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE” (2000) Review

I never saw “THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE” in the movie theaters when it was first released years ago. I have a low tolerance of sports movies and there are only a few that I consider favorites of mine. Another reason why I never saw this film in the theaters is that my family simply had no desire to see it. 

Based upon Steven Pressfield’s 1995 novel and directed by Robert Redford, “THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE” was a box office flop. Worse, it had received mixed to negative reviews. Among the criticisms directed at the film was the accusation that the Bagger Vance character was basically a “Magical Negro” trope. I have to be honest. I was never aware of these criticisms or the film’s status as a flop. I barely noticed the film when it was first released. And I did not see it for the first time until a few years later on cable television.

Near the end of the 20th century, an old man from Savannah, Georgia named Hardy Greaves began experiencing his sixth heart attack, while playing golf. This led him to reminisce about his love of the game and how it connected to his childhood idol, one Rannulph Junuh. The latter turned out to be one of Savannah’s Junuh is the favorite son of early 20th century Savannah, Georgia and a highly regarded golfer. He became engaged to Adele Invergordon, a young socialite from a wealthy family before he went off to war. While serving as an Army captain during World War I, Junuh became tramatized when his entire company was wiped out during a battle. Although he earned the Medal of Honor, Junuh disappeared after the war for several years, before returning to Georgia to live a life of a drunk.

During this time, Adele’s father attempted to create a local golf resort. Mr. Invergordon finally opened the resort, but the Wall Street crash of 1929 and the Great Depression bankrupted him. In an effort to recover her family’s fortune before the banks could claim her land, Adele decided to hold a four-round, two-day golf match between At the start of the Great Depression (circa 1930-31), Adele is trying to recover her family’s lost fortune by holding a four-round, two-day exhibition match between two golf legends of the era – Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen with a grand prize of $10,000.

However, she needs a local participant to generate the city’s interest. The young Hardy Greaves (J. Michael Moncrief) speaks up for his golf hero, Junuh, prompting Adele to ask her estranged love to play. Junuh is approached by a mysterious traveler carrying a suitcase, who appears while Junuh is trying to hit golf balls into the dark void of night. The man identifies himself as Bagger Vance (Will Smith) and says he will be Junuh’s caddie. With Greaves as the young assistant caddie, Bagger helps Junuh come to grips with his personal demons and play golf again.

It was not that surprising that “THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE” was based upon Steven Pressfield’s 1995 novel. However, I was very surprised to learn that Pressfield had loosely based his novel on the Hindu sacred text, the Bhagavad Gita. In this text, Warrior/Hero Arjuna (R. Junuh . . . get it?) refuses to fight. And the god Krishna appears as Bhagavan (Bagger Vance) to help Arjuna (R. Junuh) follow the path of the warrior and hero (sports hero) that he was meant to take.

Considering that this movie was not that popular with moviegoers or critics, one would be hard pressed to even like it. I have my complaints about “THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE”. There were moments when the movie threatened to become a little saccharin, especially midway into the golf tournament when Junuh finally began displaying those exceptional golf skills that made him such a legend before the war. Savannah’s reaction to Junah’s golf game and yes . . . even the ending struck me as a tad syrupy. I realize that this movie is one of those feel-good movies wrapped up in sports, but I think Redford could have tone down the saccharin a bit. I also feel that he could have tone down some of the performances of the supporting cast. Overall, all of them gave solid performances. But there were times when the supporting cast – namely those portraying Savannah’s citizens – seemed to be chewing the scenery.

Despite the flashes of saccharin and hamminess, I have to admit that I enjoyed “THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE” as much as I did when I first saw it. There is so much to enjoy about this film. One of them is the movie’s production values. I wish I could say something about Rachel Portman’s score. Mind you, I thought it blended well with the movie’s narrative. But I did not find the particularly memorable. However, I thought hers and Redford’s use of early 20th century songs and music well done. As for the movie’s re-creation of early 20th century Savannah, I found it more than memorable. Frankly, I found it mind-blowing. Stuart Craig had managed to acquire a good number of awards and nominations for his work, but he never received any acclaim for his production designs for “THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE”. Personally, I find this rather criminal. His production designs were exquisite. And they were enhanced even further by Michael Ballhaus’ cinematography, which was nominated for Satellite Award. Yes, I realize that a Satellite Award is not the same as an Academy Award, a BAFTA or a Golden Globe Award. But at least someone acknowledged his work on this movie. Judianna Makovsky has done her share of costume designing for Marvel Films and other movies. And she has also received at least three Academy Award nominations. But she did not receive any for “THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE”. Again . . . criminal. Her costumes struck me as an exquisite recreation of the period between 1917 and 1931 – especially the latter. If you think I am exaggerating, take a look:

Hollywood always seemed to have difficulty in re-creating the 1930s in costumes and hairstyles. Thanks to Ms. Makovsky, “THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE” proved to be one of those movies that got that period – especially the early 1930s – right.

But I was really impressed by how director Robert Redford and screenwriter used the game of golf to portray Rannulph Junuh’s post-war struggles. Unlike many other sports films, Junuh had already achieved a reputation as a superb golfer in the opening scenes. This meant that the conflict was not about Junuh trying to prove to the world that he was a talented golfer. In fact, this movie was not even about Junuh trying to prove that despite the passage of fourteen years, he was still a top-notch golfer. That was proven by the tournament’s second day. World War I had left Rannulph Junuh traumatized and broken to the point that he returned home as an alcoholic – estranged from Adele Invergordon and many of Savannah’s citizens. It was the golf tournament that led Junuh to Bagger Vance, the story’s embodiment of a deity or spirit that not helped the former get back his groove as a top notch golfer. Bagger also helped Junuh, through the game of golf, regain that human spirit everyone thought he had lost during the war.

As I had earlier pointed out, “THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE” was not a box office hit. One of the main complaints charged by film critics and others was the Bagger Vance character portrayed by Will Smith. Many had accused the character of being a “Magical Negro” stereotype. Considering Bagger’s role in the film as spiritual guide for Rannulph Junuh and the fact that the character was portrayed by African-American actor Will Smith, it is not difficult to agree that Bagger Vance was a “Magical Negro”. I do find it ironic that a fictional character labeled as a “Magical Negro” was based upon a Hindu religious figure. Did that affect my viewing of the film? Honestly? No. I enjoyed Smith’s performance too much to really care. Was his Bagger Vance very saintly? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Smith did portray Vance as a friendly and soft-spoken man with a well of good advice on the game of golf. However, Smith also did a superb job in conveying Vance’s controlling and occasional sardonic nature underneath the soft-spoken manner.

Ironically, Matt Damon had the easier job portraying the damaged World War I veteran/golfer, Rannulph Junuh. His job was easier, due to the fact that he was never criticized for portraying a stereotype. Otherwise, Damon did an excellent job in conveying Junuh’s emotional journey from a happy-go-lucky sports figure to shell shocked war veteran, later an alcoholic community pariah and finally to a battered yet satisfied survivor who managed to regain his life after so many years. If I have to be perfectly honest, the Adele Invergordon has to be one of my favorite characters portrayed by Charlize Theron. Thanks to actress’ energetic performance, Adele proved to be a passionate and outgoing woman who had to resort to charm, guile, brains and God knows what else to overcome the traumas of losing her father to suicide and Junuh to his personal demons in order to save her family’s fortunes and plans for a golf resort. Theron practically lit up the screen whenever she appeared.

“THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE” also featured excellent performances from Bruce McGill, who did such a wonderful job in portraying the theatrical golfer, Walter Hagen; Joel Gretsch, who skillfully portrayed Bobby Jones as a man who hid a raging ambition behind a gracious persona; and Peter Gerety as the hard-nosed city councilman/businessman, Neskaloosa. I do not know if I could regard J. Michael Moncrief (who was 12 years old at the time) as an excellent child actor. But I must admit that I admired the enthusiasm and energy he poured into his portrayal of young Hardy Greaves. As for Jack Lemmon, he did an excellent job as the elderly Hardy and the movie’s narrator.

Overall, “THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE” had its few shares of flaws. And utilizing the “Magical Negro” probably hurt its chances to be a successful movie. But . . . “Magical Negro” or not, I really enjoyed this movie, thanks to director Robert Redford and the screenplay written by Jeremy Leven. The movie also benefited from a superb production design and a first-rate cast led by Will Smith, Matt Damon and Charlize Theron.

Five Favorite Episodes of “STAR TREK VOYAGER” Season One (1995)

Below is a list of my five favorite episodes from Season One of “STAR TREK VOYAGER”. Created by Rick Berman, Michael Piller and Jeri Taylor; the series starred Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway: 

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “STAR TREK VOYAGER” SEASON ONE (1995)

1. (1.11) “State of Flux” – Captain Kathryn Janeway and other senior members of Voyager’s crew Janeway attempt to flush out a spy who is sending information to a group of aggressive Delta Quadrant species called the Kazon-Nistrim. Martha Hackett and Josh Clark guest-starred.

2. (1.14) “Faces” – When Lieutenant B’Elanna Torres, Lieutenant Tom Paris and Ensign Pete Durst are captured by Vidiians during an Away mission, Torres is split into her human and Klingon halves in order for her captors to use her DNA to find a cure for their species. Brian Markinson guest-starred.

3. (1.01-1.02) “Caretaker” – While searching for a Maquis ship with a Starfleet spy aboard in the series premiere, the U.S.S. Voyager is swept into the Delta Quadrant, more than 70,000 light-years from home, by an incredibly powerful being known as the “Caretaker”. Gavan O’Herlihy and Basil Langston guest-starred.

4. (1.04) “Time and Again” – While investigating a planet just devastated by a polaric explosion, Janeway and Paris are engulfed by a subspace fracture and transported in time to before the accident. Nicolas Surovy guest-starred.

5. (1.07) “Eye of the Needle” – Voyager’s crew discover a micro-wormhole leads to the Alpha Quadrant and makes contact with a Romulan ship on the other side with ironic consequences. Vaughn Armstrong guest-starred.

“FORT APACHE” (1948) Review

 

“FORT APACHE” (1948) Review

Between 1948 and 1950, director John Ford made three Westerns that many regard as his “cavalry trilogy”. All three films centered on the U.S. Army Cavalry in the post-Civil War West. More importantly, all three movies were based upon short stories written by American Western author, James Warner Bellah. 

The first film in Ford’s “cavalry trilogy” was “FORT APACHE” released in 1948. Starring John Wayne and Henry Fonda, the movie was inspired by Bellah’s 1947 Saturday Evening Post short story called “Massacre”. Bellah used the Little Bighorn and Fetterman Fight battles as historical backdrop.

The movie began with the arrival of three characters to the U.S. Army post, Fort Apache, in the post-Civil War Arizona Territory – a rigid and egocentric Army officer named Lieutenant Owen Thursday; his daughter Philadelphia Thursday; and a recent West Point graduate named Second Lieutenant Michael O’Rourke, who also happened to be the son of the regiment’s first sergeant. The regiment’s first officer, Captain Kirby York, and everyone else struggle to adjust to the martinet style of Thursday. Worse, young Lieutenant O’Rourke and Philadelphia become romantically interested each other. But since O’Rourke is the son of a sergeant, the snobbish Thursday does not regard him as a “gentleman” and is against a romance between the pair. But Thursday’s command style, the budding romance and other minor events at Fort Apache take a back seat when the regiment is faced with a potential unrest from the local Apaches, due to their conflict with a corrupt Indian agent named Silas Meacham. Thursday’s command and his willingness to adapt to military command on the frontier is tested when he finds himself caught between the Meacham’s penchant for corruption and the Apaches’ anger and desire for justice.

“FORT APACHE” proved to be one of the first Hollywood films to portray a sympathetic view of Native Americans. This is surprising, considering that Bellah’s view of the Native Americans in his story is not sympathetic and rather racist. For reasons I do not know, Ford decided to change the story’s negative portrayal of the Apaches, via screenwriter Frank S. Nugent’s script. Although Ford and Nugent did not focus upon how most of the other characters regarded the Apaches, they did spotlight on at least three of them – Captain Kirby York, Lieutenant-Colonel Owen Thursday, and Captain Sam Collingwood. Both Thursday and Collingwood seemed to share the same negative views of the Apaches, although the latter does not underestimate their combat skills. York seemed a lot more open-minded and sympathetic toward the Apaches’ desire to maintain their lives in peace without the U.S. government breathing down their backs. In the case of “FORT APACHE”, York’s views seemed to have won out . . . for the moment.

As much as I enjoyed “FORT APACHE”, I must admit that I was frustrated that it took so long for it to begin exploring its main narrative regarding the Apaches and Meachum. The movie’s first half spent most of its time on three subplots. One of them featured the clash between Thursday and the men under his command. The second featured the budding romance between Philadelphia Thursday and Second Lieutenant O’Rourke. Do not get me wrong. And the third featured scenes of the day-to-day activities of the fort’s enlisted men and non-commission officers. I must admit that I found the last subplot somewhat uninteresting and felt they dragged the movie’s narrative. I had no problems with the Philadelphia-Michael romance, since it added a bit of romance to the movie’s plot and played a major role in Lieutenant-Colonel Thursday’s characterization. And naturally the York-Thursday conflict played an important role in the film’s plot.

The ironic thing about “FORT APACHE” is that the plot line regarding the Apaches does not come to the fore until halfway into the film. Due to this plot structure, I found myself wondering about the film’s main narrative. What exactly is “FORT APACHE” about? Worse, the fact that the Apache story arc does not really come to fore until the second half, almost making the film seem schizophrenic. There were plenty of moments in the first half that led me to wonder if director John Ford had become too caught up in exploring mid-to-late 19th century military life on the frontier.

Many have claimed that “FORT APACHE” is not specifically about life at a 19th century Army post in the Old West or the U.S. government’s relations with the Apaches. It is about the conflict between the two main characters – Captain Kirby York and Lieutenant-Colonel Owen Thursday. In other words, one of the movie’s subplots might actually be its main plot. Both York and Thursday were Civil War veterans who seemed to have conflicting ideas on how to command a U.S. Army post in the 19th century West and deal with the conflict between the American white settlers and the Apaches, trying to defend their homeland. Captain York had expected to become Fort Apache’s new commander, following the departure of the previous one. Instead, the post’s command was given to Colonel Thursday, an arrogant and priggish officer with no experience with the West or Native Americans. What makes the situation even more ironic is that while York had wanted command of Fort Apache, Thursday is both disappointed and embittered that the Army had posted him to this new assignment.

The problem I have with this theory is that movie did not spend enough time on the York-Thursday conflict for me to accept it. Thursday seemed to come into conflict with a good number of other characters – especially the O’Rourke men and his old friend Captain Sam Collingwood. York and Thursday eventually clashed over the Apaches’ conflict with Silas Meacham. And considering that a great deal of the movie’s first half focused on the day-to-day life on a frontier Army post and the Philadelphia-Michael romance, I can only conclude that I found “FORT APACHE” a slightly schizophrenic film.

Despite this, I rather enjoyed “FORT APACHE”. Well . . . I enjoyed parts of the first half and definitely the second half. While I found some of Ford’s exploration of life at a 19th century Army post rather charming, I found the movie’s portrayal of the entire Apaches-Meachum conflict intriguing, surprising and very well made. Instead of the usual Hollywood “white men v. Indians” schtick, Ford explored the damaging effects of U.S. policies against Native Americans. This was especially apparent in the situation regarding Silas Meacham. Ford and screenwriter Frank S. Nugent made it clear that both Captain York and Lieutenant-Colonel Thursday regarded Meachum as a dishonorable and corrupt man, whose greed had led to great unrest among the Apaches.

And yet . . . whereas York was willing to treat the Apaches with honor and consider getting rid of Meachum, Thursday’s rigid interpretation of Army regulations and arrogant prejudice led him to dismiss the Apaches’s protests and support Meachum’s activities because the latter was a U.S. government agent . . . and white. Worse, Thursday decided to ignore York’s warnings and use this situation as an excuse for military glory and order his regiment into battle on Cochise’s terms – a direct (and suicidal) charge into the hills. U.S. policy in the Old West at its worst. God only knows how many times a similar action had occurred throughout history. I might be wrong, but I suspect that “FORT APACHE” was the Hollywood film that opened the gates to film criticism of American imperialism in the West, especially the treatment of Native Americans.

Another aspect of “FORT APACHE” that I truly enjoyed was Archie Stout’s cinematography. What can I say? His black-and-white photography of Monument Valley, Utah and Simi Hills, California were outstanding, as shown below:

 

Thanks to Ford’s direction and Jack Murray’s editing, “FORT APACHE” maintained a lively pace that did not threatened to drag the movie. More importantly, the combination of their work produced a superb sequence that featured the regiment’s doomed assault on Cochise’s warriors. Richard Hageman’s score served the movie rather well. Yet, I must admit that I do not have any real memories of it. As for film’s costumes . . . I do not believe a particular designer was responsible for them. In fact, they looked as if they had come straight from a studio costume warehouse. I found this disappointing, especially for the movie’s female characters.

“FORT APACHE” featured some performances that I found solid and competent. Veteran actors like Dick Foran, Victor McLaglen and Jack Pennick gave amusing performances as the regiment’s aging NCOs (non-commissioned officers). Guy Kibbee was equally amusing as the post’s surgeon Captain Wilkens. Pedro Armendáriz was equally competent as the more professional Sergeant Beaufort, who was a former Confederate. Grant Withers was appropriately slimy as the corrupt Silas Meachum. Miguel Inclán gave a dignified performance as the outraged Apache chieftain Cochise. The movie also featured solid performances from Anna Lee and Irene Rich.

John Agar’s portrayal of the young Michael O’Rourke did not exactly rock my boat. But I thought he was pretty competent. I read somewhere that Ford was not that impressed by Shirley Temple as an actress. Perhaps he had never seen her in the 1947 comedy, “THE BACHELOR AND THE BOBBYSOXER”. Her character in that film was more worthy of her acting skills than the charming, yet bland Philadelphia Thursday. John Wayne also gave a solid performance as Captain Kirby York. But I did not find his character particularly interesting, until the movie’s last half hour.

I only found three performances interesting. One came from George O’Brien, who portrayed Thursday’s old friend, Captain Sam Collingwood. I thought O’Brien did a great job in portraying a man who found himself taken aback by an old friend’s chilly demeanor and arrogance. Ward Bond was equally impressive as Sergeant Major Michael O’Rourke, the senior NCO on the post who has to struggle to contain his resentment of Thursday’s class prejudices against his son. But for me, the real star of this movie was Henry Fonda as the narrow-minded and arrogant Lieutenant-Colonel Owen Thursday. I thought he gave a very brilliant and fascinating portrayal of a very complicated man. Thursday was not the one-note arrogant prig that he seemed on paper. He had his virtues. However, Fonda did an excellent job in conveying how Thursday’s flaws tend to overwhelm his flaws at the worst possible moment. I am amazed that Fonda never received an Oscar nomination for this superb performance.

How can I say this? I do believe that “FORT APACHE” had some problems. I found the movie slightly slightly schizophrenic due to its heavy emphasis on daily life on a frontier Army post in the first half. In fact, the movie’s first half is a little problematic to me. But once the movie shifted toward the conflict regarding the Apaches and a corrupt Indian agent, Ford’s direction and Frank S. Nugent’s screenplay breathed life into it. The movie also benefited from a first-rate cast led by John Wayne and Henry Fonda. I must admit that I feel “FORT APACHE” might be a little overrated. But I cannot deny that it is a damn good movie.

“POLDARK” Food Styles

Below are images of culinary dishes created by food stylist/chef, Genevieve Taylor, for the current BBC series, “POLDARK”

POLDARK” FOOD STYLES