Five Favorite Episodes of “GAME OF THRONES” Season Three (2013)

Below is a list of my favorite episodes from Season Three of “GAME OF THRONES”, HBO’s adaptation of the first half of George R. R. Martin’s 2000 novel from his A Song of Ice and Fire series, “A Storm of Swords”. The series was created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss:

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “GAME OF THRONES” SEASON THREE (2013)

1. (3.09) “The Rains of Castamere” – Robb Stark, his mother Catelyn and their entourage arrive at the Twins for the wedding of Robb’s Uncle Edmure Tully to one of Walder Frey’s daughter. Jon Stark is put to the test by the Freefolk to see where his loyalties truly lie. Daenerys Targaryen plans to invade the Essos city of Yunkai.

2. (3.04) “And Now His Watch Is Ended” – Jaime Lannister mopes over his hand that was chopped off by Stark bannerman Roose Bolton’s man-at-arms, Locke. Jaime’s sister, Queen Cersei is growing uncomfortable with the her family’s new allies, the Tyrells. The Night’s Watch is growing impatient with its Freefolk ally, Craster. Daenerys buys the Unsullied army.

3. (3.07) “The Bear and the Fair Maiden” – Jon and his Freefolk companions travel south of the Wall. Robb’s wife, Talisa Maegyr Stark, reveals that she is pregnant. Arya Stark runs away from the Brotherhood. Daenerys arrives at Yunkai. Jaime is forced to leave his traveling companion/captor Brienne of Tarth behind at Harrenhal by Bolton.

4. (3.10) “Mhysa” – Bran Stark and his companions travel north beyond the Wall. Crow Sam Tarly and Craster’s wife/daughter Gilly returns to Castle Black. Jon tries to escape from Ygritte and his other Freefolk compansion. Jaime and Brienne return to King’s Landing. The Night’s Watch asks for help from Stannis Barantheon and his army. In Essos, the freed Yunkai slaves receive Daenerys as their “mother”.

5. (3.03) “Walk of Punishment” – Robb and Catelyn arrive at Riverrun for the funeral of the latter’s father, Lord Hoster Tully. Hand of the King Tywin Lannister names younger son Tyrion as the new Master of Coin. The Night’s Watch returns to Craster’s Keep. Brienne and Jaime are taken prisoner by Locke and his men. Daenerys barters for the 8,000 Unsullied warriors and the translator Missandei in exchange for one of her dragons.

“POLDARK” Series Three (2017) Episodes Six to Nine

“POLDARK” SERIES THREE (2017) EPISODES SIX TO NINE

I have a confession to make. Viewing the BBC’s current adaptation of Winston Graham’s “Poldark” literary series has become increasingly difficult over the past year or two. Although I had expressed a good deal of admiration for show runner Debbie Horsfield’s adaptation of Graham’s first three novels, I began expressing a good deal of wariness as the series progressed into her adaption of the fourth and fifth novels.

I did not like Horsfield’s adaptation of the second half of Graham’s 1953 novel, “Warleggan: A Novel of Cornwall, 1792-1793”. My opinion of the show runner’s adaptation of Graham’s 1973 novel, “The Black Moon: A Novel of Cornwall, 1794-1795” was even lower. Because of this, I had faced Horsfield’s adaptation of the 1976 novel, “The Four Swans: A Novel of Cornwall, 1795-1797” with a great deal of trepidation.

Episode Six picked up where Episode Five left off – near the end of “The Black Moon”. Following Ross Polark’s rescue of Dwight Enys and other prisoners-of-war from France, he is regarded as a hero within his parish, much to the annoyance of his nemesis, banker George Warleggan. Even more annoying to George was the refusal of his cousin-in-law, Morwenna Chynoweth, to marry the man of his choice – the morally bankrupt and toe sucking Reverend Osborne Whitworth. But when Drake Carne, Morwenna’s love and Ross’ younger brother-in-law, is framed by George for stealing Geoffrey-Charles Poldark’s bible (it was a gift), the young woman caves in and agrees to marry Whitworth. Meanwhile, Dwight’s wedding to heiress Caroline Penvenen is delayed, due to his physical and emotional recovery from his ordeal. Several months later, a wedding is held for the couple and attended by the local gentry and aristocracy – including the Poldarks, the Warleggans and the Whitworths. Meanwhile, Ross is courted by a local baronet named Sir Francis Basset to run for office as a Member of Parliament (MP). The Warleggans and other local merchants clash with Sir Francis’ rival, the aristocratic Viscount Falmouth, by refusing to his candidate for political office. The Warleggans turned to Sir Francis, who agrees to support George’s campaign for MP. As for George, he has one last clash with Agatha Poldark over her desire to hold a birthday party to celebrate turning 100 years old. This clash leads to an exchange of spite in which George reveals that she will only turn 98 years old . . . and in which Agatha hints that his son Valentine was not an eight month-old baby and might have a different father – possibly Ross.

For reasons that still boggles me, Debbie Horsfield had decided to re-structure Winston Graham’s saga by mixing at least the last third of “The Black Moon” with the first third of “The Four Swans”. Why she thought this was necessary, I have no idea. Was this her way of attempting to trim the series’ adaptation of “The Four Swans”? Perhaps not, because she plans to complete her adaptation of “The Four Swans” in Series Four. But why did she feature Dwight’s post-war emotional problems, his and Caroline’s wedding reception, and Sir Francis Basset’s attempt to recruit Ross for Parliament, (all of which occurred in “The Four Swans”) before Aunt Agatha Poldark’s death (which occurred in “The Black Moon”)? Why did she do that? Was this supposed to improve Graham’s tale? Because it did not. It eventually occurred to me Horsfield had dragged “The Black Moon” narrative into the one for “The Four Swans”, because of her unnecessary and badly written additions that played out between Episodes One to Five.

The end of the series’ adaptation of “The Black Moon” made a good deal of Episodes Six and Seven seem a bit anti-climatic. But there were at least two or three scenes that impressed me. And they involved veteran actress Caroline Blakiston, who portrayed Agatha Poldark. One scene focused on Ross’ clandestine visit to Trenwith to see his great-aunt. The scene involved subtle and rather touching performances from both Blakiston and Aidan Turner, who did a great job in conveying the affection and love between the two characters. The next scene featured George’s decision not to hold Agatha’s birthday party and her toxic hint about young Valentine’s true father. The scene conveyed all of the dislike and spite that the pair held for each other, thanks to the marvelous performances of Blakiston and Jack Farthing. This particular scene was capped by another in which a dying Agatha tried to warn her former great-niece-in-law, Elizabeth Warleggan, about her act of indiscretion. This moment provided Blakiston with a great death scene and she was ably supported by a first-rate performance from Heida Reed.

Many fans of Winston Graham’s saga have regarded the title of his 1976 novel as a metaphor for the four major female characters in this story:

*Caroline Penvenen Enys
*Morwenna Chynoweth Whitworth
*Demelza Carne Poldark
*Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark Warleggan

I must confess that I was not that impressed by the handling of Caroline Enys character in the 1977 adaptation. I hate to say this, but I found the portrayal of Caroline in this new adaptation equally problematic. Like the 1977 series, this adaptation failed to explore the problems that plagued the Enys couple. Yes, Horsfield touched upon Dwight’s problems with Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But his problem was quickly solved within one episode, thanks to Ross’ suggestion that fellow prisoner-of-war Hugh Armitage to provide some company to poor Dwight. I found Horsfield’s quick solution to Dwight’s emotional problem rather shallow and rushed. But what really irritated me was that she had failed to adapt the conflict that developed between Caroline and Dwight over his medical practice.

In “The Four Swans”, Dwight had been spending a great deal of his time with his patients – too much, as far as Caroline was concerned. In fact, the novel seemed to indicate that Caroline harbored a low opinion of Dwight’s profession and could not understand his reluctance to embrace the role of a landowner. Not once did Horsfield explore this story arc. And I understand why. It did not portray Caroline in a positive light and it made her look like a bigger snob than she did in “Jeremy Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1790-1791”. More importantly, this story arc revealed that even Ross could be a snob himself. Instead of understanding Dwight’s loyalty to his patients, Ross advised Dwight to adhere to Caroline’s wishes. In her never-ending efforts to whitewash popular characters like Caroline and especially Ross, Horsfield ignored this particular story arc.

Horsfield did a better job portraying Morwenna Chynoweth Whitworth’s marriage to the odious Reverend Osborne Whitworth. In Episode Six, Morwenna finally capitulated and married the upper-class vicar after her cousin-in-law, George Warleggan blackmailed her by threatening to charge her beloved Drake Carne with the theft of a bible that had been given to the latter by young Geoffrey Charles. I noticed that Horsfield changed the circumstances surrounding Morwenna’s decision to marry Osborne. Instead of George using Drake’s arrest for theft, Graham’s novel featured Morwenna’s mother being summoned to Trenwith for a long talk with the younger woman. In the end, Mrs. Chynoweth convinced (or coerced) Morwenna to become Mrs. Whitworth. I must admit that I slightly prefer Horsfield’s take on this story arc. I found it less complicated . . . even if it made George look like an ultimate villain.

But I have two complaints. One of them featured Morwenna and Osborne’s wedding night. Both the 1977 series and this recent adaptation conveyed Osborne’s sexual assault upon Morwenna after she had given birth to their son, Conan. But also like the previous adaptation, it had failed to adapt his sexual assault upon his bride on their wedding night, which was featured in “The Black Moon” novel:

“So supper ended, and in a panic she complained or sickness after the ride and asked if tonight she might go early to bed. But the time of waiting, the time of delay was over; he had already waited too long. So he followed her up the stairs and into the bedroom smelling of old wood and new paint and there, after a few perfunctory caresses. he began carefully to undress her, discovering and remov­ing each garment with the greatest of interest. Once she ­resisted and once he hit her, but after that she made no protest. So eventually he laid her naked on the bed, where she curled up like a frightened snail.

Then he knelt at the side of the”bed and said a short prayer before he got up and began to tickle her bare feet’ before he raped her.”

To this day, I never understood why this scene from “The Black Moon” was deleted from both the 1970s series and the current one. What were the reasons for Anthony Coburn, Morris Barry and Debbie Horsfield for deleting it from their adaptations of the novel? Because it featured rape? Yet, both adaptations had no problems with including Osborne’s rape of Morwenna after she gave birth to their son. In the case of the current “POLDARK” series, I would have found it difficult to believe the emotional and sexual distress that Morwenna had suffered during her marriage to Whitworth if it had not been for one scene that featured him intimidating the former into a sexual quickie before they could attend the Enys-Penvenen nuptials. Frankly, I found myself feeling slightly intimidated as well, thanks to Christian Brassington’s performance. But the ironic thing is that there was no such scene in “The Four Swans”. But . . . why did Horsfield add that scene, and yet deleted the Whitworths’ honeymoon scene from the novel? What was the point? My second problem with Morwenna’s story arc centered around the depiction of Osborne’s affair with his sister-in-law, Rowella Chynoweth. One, it felt slightly rushed in compare to how the 1977 series portrayed it. Also, Brassington’s screen chemistry with the actress who portrayed Rowella, Esme Coy, did not exactly impress me. While everyone contemplated on whether Rowella was truly attracted to Osborne or not, I just could not invest my interest in their affair.

I was very disappointed with Horsfield’s portrayal of Elizabeth Warleggan in Episodes One to Five of Series Three. Very disappointed. The only thing Horsfield got right about Elizabeth in those episodes was her support of George’s efforts to coerce her cousin Morwenna into marrying Osborne Whitworth. Otherwise, Horsfield subjected viewers to her portrayal of Elizabeth as a cold mother to her newborn Valentine and an alcoholic/drug addict. As everyone know, George and Elizabeth continued their efforts to coerce Morwenna to marry Osborne in Episode Six, until George finally succeeded by blackmailing Morwenna, when he threatened to have Drake convicted for theft. Unaware of George’s blackmailing scheme, Elizabeth seemed satisfied that Morwenna had settled into her marriage with Osborne. She also expressed concern for Morwenna’s health after the latter had given birth. I enjoyed how actress Heida Reed conveyed Elizabeth’s firm insistence that Dwight Enys examine poor Morwenna, instead of another doctor, after the latter gave birth to a son. And the actress’ chemistry with actor Harry Marcus, who portrayed the young Geoffrey Charles, struck me as very charming and spot on. There were two scenes in which Reed was given the chance to shine.

One of those scenes involved Elizabeth’s encounter with Ross at Sawle Church . . . the very encounter that Prudie Paynter had witnessed in Episode Eight. I have to be honest. I found this scene rather disappointing. Although this moment featured Elizabeth and Ross alone together, it struck me as rather mute. Come to think of it, neither Reed or Aidan Turner shone in this scene. And both have managed to create a very strong screen chemistry in the past. Reed and Turner’s performances seemed a bit too restrained for my tastes. And I believe the problem stemmed from Horsfield’s attempt to re-write Ross’ rape of Elizabeth in Series Two as consensual sex. For the Sawle Church yard scene, gone was Elizabeth’s bitter anger over the rape and Ross’ unwillingness to accept that he had done wrong. Instead, the scene was shot as a semi-romantic encounter between two former lovers discussing the child they had conceived. Not only did this scene failed to work for me, I found it very frustrating. It was clearly another effort made by Horsfield and the BBC to deny that Ross was guilty of rape. I find this effort to whitewash Ross’ character in this story arc increasingly repellent.

On the other hand, I was very impressed by the scene featuring Elizabeth’s emotional argument over Drake Carne, Ross and Agatha Poldark. Both Reed and Jack Farthing gave superb performances in which Elizabeth conveyed exactly how strong-willed she could be. While many have regarded Elizabeth as weak, I never did. I have always believed that she was willing to be the traditional and supportive wife, due to her upbringing. This willingness to be the traditional wife led Elizabeth to commit the second biggest mistake in her life (marrying Francis was the first) – support George’s efforts to marry her cousin Morwenna off to Osborne Whitworth. But I have noticed that the older she became, the more Elizabeth was willing to reveal the steel beneath. This was indicative in Elizabeth and Ross’ reunion at Sawle Church. And this especially seemed to be the case in Elizabeth’s showdown with her husband George in Episode Nine. A good deal of Elizabeth’s confrontation centered around her attempt to convince George that Valentine was his son. Personally, I do not blame her. It is bad enough that a good deal of the saga’s fandom seemed to regard her as some kind of manipulative whore and blame her for the night of May 9, 1793. George had already given an inkling of his cold behavior, following Agatha’s revelation about Valentine’s paternity. But Elizabeth also included her own disapproval of his treatment of Drake Carne and his use of Tom Harry as his personal henchman during their quarrel. The scene, thanks to Farthing’s emotional outburst, made me realize how much George loved Elizabeth.

It took me a while to even consider the following . . . that many of Debbie Horsfield’s changes to Graham’s story had a lot to do with the characters of three people – Ross Poldark, Demelza Poldark and George Warleggan. It seemed to me that most of Horsfield’s changes were all about idealizing both Demelza and Ross (to a certain extent); and magnifying George’s villainy.

Ross became dangerously close to becoming a Gary Stu (male version of Mary Sue) in these four episodes. Episode Six began with him raising crops on his estate to feed those out-of-work miners from the Warleggans’ Wheal Leisure. No such thing occurred in “The Black Swan”. All Ross did was offer jobs to some unemployed miners to work at his mine, Wheal Grace. Remember the story arc of George’s aversion to toads? Well, Ross’ actions clearly labeled him as a bully. And yet, Horsfield portrayed this revelation in a semi-comic moment. Why? Considering the present view of bullying, why expose Ross as a childhood bully in a semi-humorous manner? That was nothing in compare to what happened at Dwight and Caroline’s wedding. Instead of the reception being all about the happy couple, Horsfield used this event to celebrate Ross’ heroics in France. Yes, I realize that Ross was responsible for Dwight and Caroline being able to wed. But honestly? Why was it so necessary for her to pound this into audience by having the wedding guests celebrate Ross’ heroics, instead of the bride and groom?

Another aspect of Ross’ portrayal in these four episodes that I found laughable was this attitude toward him running as a candidate for Parliament. Everyone – from Demelza to Sir Francis Basset – seemed to regard Ross as a potential political savior for Cornwall. Even the media has been pushing this idea in various articles about the upcoming Season Four. And yet . . . Ross Poldark does not strike me as the type of who could be regarded as a successful politician. He has always struck me as too impatient, temperamental and judgmental. Lord Falmouth seemed to be the only person who did not regard Ross as some political savior. He simply wanted to use Ross as a tool to punish the Warleggans for rejecting his political clout.

Ross spent most of these four episodes rejecting the idea of running for Parliament. Do you want to know what finally led him to consider the job? Local miners threatening a riot for much needed grain. And yes . . . this did NOT happened in “The Four Swans”. There was riot in the novel. Miners even stole from the grain stores. However, Ross was ordered, as commander of the local militia, to arrest the leaders of riot. And one of them was hung. However, Horsfield changed this story arc by having Ross and his militia platoon confront the rioters before they could steal the grain. Ross used this moment to finally declare his intent to run for Parliament. By this point, I was ready to shove my fist into the television screen. Was Horsfield really that concerned over viewers seeing Ross arrest the rioters before one of them was hung? To the point that she had to create this ludicrous situation? I have always considered the hanging as a sign of the price Ross would be forced to pay for associating himself with political sponsors like Sir Francis Band Lord Falmouth. I am not saying that Horsfield had portrayed Ross as a perfect person. His personal flaws were on display. But I noticed that she only seemed willing to display his flaws whenever Demelza was concerned.

If it were not for the story arc that featured Demelza Poldark’s relationship with Royal Navy officer, Lieutenant Hugh Armitage, I believe I would have found it difficult to like her during the second half of Series Three . . . or to stop regarding her as the series’ Mary Sue. It seemed as if Horsfield tried too hard to transform Demelza into some 21st century feminist icon. And I found this rather odd, considering that she is a character from a story set during the late 18th century. There were scenes featuring Demelza that made my teeth clinch. They include:

*Demelza behaving like an action girl, as she raced through the countryside on horseback to prevent her younger brother Drake from being beaten by George Warleggan’s henchmen. No such scene was in “The Four Swans”. Drake’s unconscious body was found by some local people.

*Demelza sang at one of the soirees hosted by Sir Francis Basset. Horsfield has been giving actress Eleanor Tomlinson chances to display her singing talent throughout the series’ run. I had no problem with this during the Trenwith Christmas dinner sequence back in Series One. Her performance served the story. But after two years of Horsfield pausing the narrative to inject moments of Tomlinson’s singing skill for the sake of idealizing Demelza’s character has become too much to bear.

*One scene featuring Demelza offering tea and sympathy to Morwenna for the end of the latter’s relationship with Drake. The two characters never interacted with each other until the latter half of the 1977 novel,
 “The Angry Tide: A Novel of Cornwall, 1798-1799”. This little moment struck me as nothing more than another cheap and unnecessary change made by Horsfield to make Demelza’s character look sympathetic.

The story arc regarding her and Hugh Armitage made her seemed less of a Mary Sue . . . somewhat. The excellent performances of Eleanor Tomlinson and Josh Whitehouse certainly helped. The pair managed to create a first-rate screen chemistry. More importantly, I thought they did a great job in conveying Demelza and Hugh’s sexual interest in each other. After all, Hugh must have been the first man of her generation to harbor any sexual interest in her. Ross is a decade her senior and had married her in the first place for reasons other than love. Worse, Demelza had spent the previous seasons being pursued and pawed by lustful older men like Sir Hugh Bodrugan and Captain McNeil, who seemed to regard her as easy prey due to her class origins. Does this mean I supported Demelza’s act of adultery, like so many? No. I understood why she did it. But I still believe she did the wrong thing. I am not a supporter of the “eye for an eye” mentality. While a good number of fans cheered Demelza for paying back Ross for his infidelity in Series Two, I only felt contempt toward her. She had lowered herself to his level. Well . . . almost. At least Demelza’s act of infidelity was not tainted by rape.

But I also had two problems with this story arc. In “The Four Swans”, Demelza had made the decision to have that one afternoon of sex with Hugh on her own, despite Jud Paynter informing her of an interaction between Elizabeth Warleggan and Ross at the Sawle Church. In this adaptation, Demelza was egged on by Nampara’s housekeeper, Prudie Paynter, who had witnessed Ross’ interaction with Elizabeth. This twist by Debbie Horsfield not only struck me as unnecessary, but a lame attempt to shift some of the blame for Demelza’s infidelity to Prudie. I mean . . . come on! Really? Even worse, this entire sequence ended with Ross waiting at Nampara, confused by Demelza’s non-appearance. Now, I found this confusing. Why did Horsfield took a scene from near the end of “The Four Swans” and tacked it on the ending of Series Three – especially since she had not finished adapting the novel? Why did she do this? To end the season with a cliffhanger? To have everyone wondering if Demelza would return to Ross? Of course she would! Where in the hell else can she go? To Verity? To her stepmother? Caroline and Dwight? How long could Demelza’s “visits” to those households have lasted? Stay with Hugh? Considering his health issues, how long would that situation have lasted? I am still wondering why Winston Graham and Debbie Horsfield had Ross speculating on whether Demelza had left him or not in the first place. He should have known that an 18th century wife, her prospects outside of her position as his wife were not that great.

I have one last complaint about Demelza . . . and it concerns one of her costumes in the image below:

Why? Why did Demelza wear the above house dress that exposed her cleavage in this fashion during the daytime? And she wore this outfit so often . . . even away from the house. Why? No respectable woman during this period in history – regardless of class – would wear such a outfit. Unless she was prostitute displaying her wares. Costume designer Howard Burden should have known better . . . or done his homework.

During my article for Episodes One to Five, I had expressed my displeasure at what I saw was Debbie Horsfield transforming George Warleggan into a one-note villain. I never understood why Horsfield thought this was necessary. Fortunately, most of George’s questionable actions in Episodes Six to Nine could be traced to both “The Black Moon” and “The Four Swans” . . . including his emotionally distant behavior with Elizabeth and his violent harassment of Drake Carne. Blackmailing Morwenna into marrying Osborne seemed to be the only act that had been created by Horsfield. And I had already mentioned my only problem with it. I do have one major problem with Horsfield’s portrayal of George in these later episodes. Remember the grain riot that Ross was ordered to snuff out? The owners of the grain stores were nameless merchants in the 1976 novel. In “POLDARK”, George owned the grain stores. Why? I have not the foggiest idea. To magnify George’s villainy even further . . . when it was not necessary? To establish that Ross need to run for Parliament in order to single-handedly “save” Cornwall from the Warleggans? Sigh. I am afraid this might be the case. Horsfield seemed to have transformed this entire story arc into a morality play for ten year-olds.

There were other aspects of Series Three’s second half that I noticed. The four episodes also featured Drake Carne’s childish retaliation against George for disrupting his romance with Morwenna. He did so by placing toads – something that George loathed – into Trenwith’s pond. Horsfield added a twist to this story by establishing George’s revulsion to toads. Ross and a few others boys used to shove toads down his breeches when they were kids in order to punish George and the Warleggans for trying to attain a higher social position. Harry Richardson, who portrayed Drake Carne, gave a nice performance, but he did not exactly float my boat, so to speak. And Drake’s actions led to George retaliating in one of the worst possible ways – being framed for the theft of Geoffrey-Charles’ Bible. Sam Carne’s burgeoning attraction to Tholly Tregirls’ daughter Emma. Despite Tom York and Ciara Charteris’s competent performances, I must admit that I could not maintain any strong interest in this story arc. There were also the story arc regarding the political rivalry between Sir Francis Basset and Lord Falmouth. I have nothing against the performances of both John Hopkins and James Wilby as the two politically-inclined landowners. Both were excellent. But to be honest, this story arc really belonged to Ross and George.

In the end, Debbie Horsfield managed to disappoint me in her adaptation of Winston Grahams’ novels from the 1970s – “The Black Moon” and “The Four Swans”. These two novels, along with 1977’s “The Angry Tide: A Novel of Cornwall, 1798-1799”, are regarded by many as the best in his twelve-novel series. And yet, Horsfield has proven herself incapable of adapting these novels with any semblance of subtlety or intelligence. She has transformed two of Graham’s best novels into borderline romance novels. God only knows what she will do to “The Angry Tide” in Series Four.

Favorite Television Productions Set in the 1820s

Below is a list of my favorite television productions set during the 1820s:

FAVORITE TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS SET IN THE 1820s

1. “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” (1996) – Tara Fitzgerald starred in this superb 1996 adaptation of Anne Brontë’s 1848 novel. Directed by Mike Barker, the three-part miniseries co-starred Toby Jones and Rupert Graves.

2. “Wives and Daughters” (1999) – Andrew Davies adapted and Nicholas Renton directed this excellent adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1865 novel (her last one). The four-part miniseries starred Justine Waddell, Keeley Hawes and Francesca Annis.

3. “Brother Future” (1991) – Phil Lewis starred in this television movie about a Detroit teenager in 1991, who finds himself transported to 1822 South Carolina as a slave and swept up in Denmark Velsey’s failed rebellion in Charleston. Directed by Roy Campanella II, the television movie starred Phil Lewis, Carl Lumbly and Moses Gunn.

4. “Shaka Zulu” (1986) – William C. Faure directed this adaptation of Joshua Sinclair’s 1985 novel about the life of King Shaka of the Zulus. Henry Cele, Edward Fox and Robert Powell starred in this ten-part miniseries.

5. “Little Dorrit” (2008) – Claire Foy and Matthew McFadyen starred in this adaptation of Charles Dickens’ 1855-57 novel about a young woman who struggles to earn money for her family and look after her proud father, an inmate of the Marshalsea debtors’ prison. The fourteen-part miniseries was adapted by Andrew Davies.

6. “A House Divided: Denmark Vesey’s Rebellion” (1982) – Yaphet Kotto starred as Denmark Vessey in this television production about the latter’s attempt to start a slave rebellion in 1822 Denmark. Stan Lathan directed.

7. “Scarlet and Black” (1993) – Ewan McGregor starred in this adaptation of Stendhal’s 1830 novel, “The Red and the Black”. Directed by Ben Bolt, this three-part miniseries co-starred Rachel Weisz and Alice Kriege.

8. “Jamaica Inn” (2014) – Jessica Brown Findlay starred in this television adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s 1936 novel. Directed by Philippa Lowthorpe, the three-part miniseries co-starred Matthew McNulty and Sean Harris.

9. “The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby” (2001) – James D’Arcy starred in this adaptation of Charles Dickens’ 1838-39 novel, “Nicholas Nickleby”. Stephen Whittaker directed this television movie.

“EMMA” (2020) Review

“EMMA” (2020) Review

Between 2009 and 2020, Hollywood and the British film/television industries had created a handful of productions that either spoofed or were inspired by Jane Austen’s novels. Actually, I can only recall one movie that was more or less a straightforward adaptation – 2016’s “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP”, an adaptation of Austen’s novella, “Lady Susan”. So imagine my surprise when I learned a new and straightforward adaptation of an Austen novel hit the movie theaters back in February 2020.

I had been even more thrilled that this new movie turned out to be a straightforward adaptation of Austen’s 1815 novel, “Emma” . . . which happened to be my favorite written by her. This 2020 adaptation, helmed by Autumn de Wilde and written by Eleanor Catton, starred Anya Taylor-Joy in the title role. I am certain that many Austen fans are familiar with the 1815 novel’s narrative. “EMMA” is the story of a spoiled and over privileged young Englishwoman named Emma Woodhouse, who resides at her wealthy father’s country estate near the town of Highbury. Emma is not only spoiled and over privileged, but overestimates her own matchmaking abilities and is blind to the dangers of meddling in other people’s lives.

Ever since its release last year, film critics and moviegoers had been praising “EMMA” to the skies. In fact, the movie was so high on the critical list that I was surprised it failed to end up receiving major film award nominations during the 2020/2021 award season. A great deal of this praise was focused on the performances of Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn for his portrayal of George Knightley, Bill Nighy’s portrayal of Mr. Woodhouse; and Autumn de Wilde’s direction. Does the movie deserve such high praise? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

I certainly cannot deny that “EMMA” is a beautiful looking film. I found Christopher Blauvelt’s photography to be very sharp and colorful. In fact, the film’s color palette almost seemed similar to the color schemes found in Alexandra Byrne’s costume designs. Overall, the visual style for “EMMA” seemed to radiate strong and bright colors with a dash of pastels. Very stylized. But as much as I found all of this eye catching, I also found myself a little put off by this stylized artistry – especially for a movie in a period rural setting.

Speaking of artistry, there had been a great deal of praise for Byrne’s costumes. And I can see why. Granted, I am not fond of some of the pastel color schemes. I cannot deny I found her creations – especially those for the movie’s women characters – were eye catching, as shown below:

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I had a few complaints regarding the film’s costumes and hairstyles. The men’s trousers struck me as a little too baggy for the 1810s. I get it. Actors like Bill Nighy found historical trousers a bit tight. But I feel the trousers featured in “EMMA” struck me as a bit too comfortable looking from a visual viewpoint. And then there was the hairstyle used by Anya Taylor-Joy in the film. For some reason, I found her side curls a bit too long and rather frizzy looking. Instead of the mid-1810s, her hairstyle struck me as an example of hairstyles worn by women during the early-to-mid 1840s.

Someone had claimed that “EMMA” was a very faithful adaptation of Austen’s novel. Was it? Frankly, I thought it was no more or less faithful than any of the costumed versions. De Wilde and screenwriter Eleanor Catton followed the major beats of Austen’s novel, except for one scene – namely the Crown Inn ball. I will discuss that later. The movie also did an excellent job in capturing the comic nature of Austen’s novel. This was apparent in nearly every scene featuring Bill Nighy as Mr. Woodhouse. I also enjoyed those scenes featuring the introduction of Augusta Elton, Emma’s reactions to Jane Fairfax and her attempts to play matchmaker for Harriet Smith and Mr. Elton. But the movie also featured some good dramatic moments, thanks to De Wilde’s direction and the film’s cast. I am speaking of the scenes that featured Mr. Knightley’s scolding of Emma for her rudeness towards the impoverished Miss Bates at the Box Hill picnic; Mr. Knightley’s marriage proposal and the revelation of Harriet’s engagement to tenant farmer Robert Martin.

“EMMA” had received a great deal of acclaim from film critics, moviegoers and Jane Austen fans. Many had claimed it as the best adaptation of the 1815 novel. Do I feel the same? No. No, I do not. In fact, out of the five film and television adaptations I have seen, I would probably rank it at number four. Perhaps I had very high expectations of this movie. It is an adaptation of my favorite Austen novel. And it is the first straightforward Austen adaptation since the 2009 television miniseries of same novel. Perhaps this movie is better than I had original assume. Then again, looking back on some of the film’s aspects – I think not.

A good deal of my problems with “EMMA” stemmed from the portrayal of the main character, Emma Woodhouse. How can I say this? Thanks to Catton’s screenplay and De Wilde’s direction, Emma came off as more brittle and chilly than any other version I have ever seen. Granted, Emma Woodhouse was a snob. This was apparently in her strong sense of class status, which manifested in her erroneous belief that Harriet Smith was the illegitimate daughter of an aristocrat or gentry landowner, instead of someone from a lower class. Emma’s snobbery was also reflected in her contempt towards the impoverished Miss Bates, despite the latter being a “gentlewoman” and a member of the landed gentry. Emma’s snobbery, a product of her upbringing, also manifested in her own ego and belief that she is always right. Yes, Emma possessed negative traits. But she also had her share of positive ones. She possessed a warm heart, compassion for the poor (at least those not from her class), intelligence, and an ability to face her faults. This cinematic portrayal of Emma Woodhouse as a brittle and slightly chilly bitch struck me as a little off putting and extreme.

Another example of the exaggeration in this production was Mr. Knightley’s reaction to his dance with Emma at the Crown Inn ball. Many have not only praised the sensuality of the pair’s dance, but also Mr. Knightly’s reaction upon returning home to his estate, Donwell Abbey. What happened? George Knightley seemed to be in some kind of emotional fit, while he stripped off some of his clothes and began writhing on the floor. What in the fuck was that about? That scene struck me as so ridiculous. Other actors who have portrayed Knightley have managed to portray the character’s awareness of his love for Emma without behaving like a teenager in heat.

Speaking of heat, who can forget Harriet Smith’s orgasmic reaction to the idea of being Mrs. Elton? Many critics and Austen fans thrilled over the sight of a female character in a Jane Austen production having an orgasm. I will not castigate De Wilde for this directorial choice. I am merely wondering why she had included this scene in the first place. If Harriet was going to have an orgasm, why not have her bring up the subject to a possibly flabbergasted Emma? Why include this moment without any real follow through? Having an orgasm must have been something of a novelty for a young woman like Harriet, who was inexperienced with sexual thoughts or feelings.

And then there was Emma and Mr. Knightley’s dance at the Crown Inn ball. The latter sequence is usually one of my favorites in any adaptation of “EMMA”. The one exception proved to be the 1972 miniseries, which ended the sequence after Emma had suggested they dance. I almost enjoyed the sequence in this film . . . except it featured Emma obviously feeling attracted to Mr. Knightley during this dance. And I thought this was a big mistake. Why? Because Emma was never that consciously aware of her attraction to Mr. Knightley, until Harriet had confessed her crush on the landowner. And that happened near the end of the story. In other words, by showing Emma’s obvious feelings for Knightley during the ball, Autumn De Wilde rushed their story . . . and was forced to retract in the scene that featured Harriet’s confession. I feel this was another poor decision on the filmmaker’s part.

If I have to be honest, I think De Wilde, along with screenwriter Eleanor Catton, made a number of poor decisions regarding the film’s narrative. I have already pointed out three of those decisions in the previous paragraphs. But there were more. De Wilde and Catton changed the dynamics between Mr. Woodhouse and his older daughter and son-in-law, Isabella and John Knightley. In the novel and previous adaptations, the younger Mr. Knightley had always seemed more annoyed and at times, cankerous toward Mr. Woodhouse’s hypochondria. In this version, Isabella’s hypochondria is portrayed as more irritating. And instead of reacting to his wife’s complaints, John suppressed his reactions and ended up being portrayed as a henpecked husband. For some reason, De Wilde and Catton thought it was necessary to take the bite out of John Knightley, making him a weaker character. Why? I have not the foggiest idea, but I did miss the character’s biting wit.

In my review of the 1996 television version of “Emma”, I had complained how screenwriter Andrew Davies and director Diarmuid Lawrence had minimized part of Harriet’s character arc and focused just a bit too much on Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax. In the 1996 movie version, the opposite happened. Writer-director Douglas McGrath had focused more on Harriet’s arc than the Frank/Jane arc. Well De Wilde and Catton ended up repeating McGrath’s mistake by focusing too much on Harriet, at the expense of Frank and Jane. Worse, Frank and Jane’s arc seemed focused on even less than in the 1996 McGrath film. The couple barely seemed to exist. And a result of this is that Frank’s father, Colonel Weston, barely seemed to exist. Mrs. Weston fared better due to her being Emma’s former governess. But I was really shocked at how little De Wilde and Catton focused on Mr. Elton and his overbearing bride, Augusta Elton. The movie did focus a good deal on Mr. Elton in those scenes featuring Emma’s attempts to match him with Harriet. But following his marriage, his character – along with Mrs. Elton’s – seemed to slowly recede into the background following their tea at Hartfield with the Woodhouses. By allowing very little focus on these characters, De Wilde and Catton had left out so many good moments in their effort to streamline Austen’s story for theatrical film. Even more so than the two versions from 1996.

Because of this streamlining, a good deal of the cast had very little opportunity to develop their characters on screen. Oliver Chris and Chloe Pirrie gave solid comic performances in their portrayal of John and Isabella Knightley, despite my irritation at the changing dynamics of their relationship. Rupert Graves was pretty much wasted as the over-friendly Colonel Weston. Miranda Hart gave a funny performance as the impoverished spinster Miss Bates. Unfortunately, I was distracted by her less-than-impoverished wardrobe in several scenes. If you had asked for my opinion of Amber Anderson’s portrayal of Jane Fairfax, I would not have been able to give it to you. I have no memory of her performance. She made no impact on the movie or its narrative, other than coming off as uncharacteristically supercilious. Tanya Reynolds struck me as a rather funny Mrs. Elton . . . at least in the scene featuring the Eltons’ tea with the Woodhouses at Hartfield. Otherwise, I have no real memory of her other scenes in the movie. Callum Turner has always struck me as a memorable performer. And I have to admit that his portrayal of Frank Churchill certainly made an impression on me. But the impression was not always . . . positive. One, he did not have enough scenes in this movie and his character arc struck me as rather rushed. And two, I thought his Frank Churchill was a bit too smarmy for my tastes.

Thankfully, “EMMA” did feature some memorable supporting performances. Gemma Whelen gave a lovely and warm performance as Emma’s former governess and close friend, Mrs. Weston. Josh O’Connor gave an excellent performance as the social-climbing vicar, Mr. Elton. I must say that I found his comic timing impeccable and thought he gave one of the best performances in the movie. However, I thought there were times when his Mr. Elton came off as a sexual predator. I get it . . . Mr. Elton was basically a fortune hunter. But I thought O’Connor went too far in the scene that featured Emma’s rejection of his marriage proposal. For a moment, I thought he was going to sexually assault her. That was a bit too much. Mia Goth’s portrayal of the clueless Harriet Smith struck me as spot-on and very skillful. Granted, I did not care for the “Harriet has an orgasm” moment, but I cannot deny that Goth’s acting was excellent in the scene. Bill Nighy gave a skillfully comic portrayal as the hypochondriac Mr. Woodhouse. Yes, there were moments when his usual tics (found in many of his performances) threatened to overwhelm his performance in this film. But I think he managed to more or less keep it together.

One performance that had acquired a great deal of acclaim came from Johnny Flynn, who portrayed Mr. Knightley. In fact, many are regarding him as the best Mr. Knightley ever seen in the movies or on television. I believe Flynn is a pretty competent actor who did an excellent job of conveying his character’s decency, maturity and burgeoning feelings for Emma. I was especially impressed by his performance in the Box Hill sequence in which Mr. Knightley chastised Emma for her rude comments at Miss Bates. But I do not regard him as the best screen Mr. Knightley I have seen. If I must be honest, I do not regard his interpretation of the character as even among the best. My problem with Flynn is that his Knightley struck me as a bit of a dull stick. And Knightley has always seemed like a man with a dry sense of humor, which is why I have always regarded him as one of my favorite Austen heroes. For me, Flynn’s Knightley simply came across as humorless to me. Perhaps “humorless” was the wrong word. There were scenes of Flynn’s Mr. Knightley reacting to the comedic actions of other characters and uttering the occasional witty phrase or two. But there was something about Flynn’s demeanor that made it seem he was trying too hard. I guess no amount of ass display, singing, laughing or writhing on the floor like a lovesick adolescent could make him more interesting to me.

Then we have the film’s leading lady, Anya Taylor-Joy. Unlike Flynn, the actress was given the opportunity to display her skills as a comic actress. And she more than lived up to the task. Honestly, I thought Taylor-Joy displayed excellent comic timing. Yet . . . I could never regard her as one of my favorite screen versions of Emma Woodhouse. She was too much of a bitch. Let me re-phrase that. I thought Taylor-Joy overdid it in her portrayal of Emma’s bitchiness and snobbery. To the point that her performance struck me as very brittle. Yes, Emma Woodhouse was a snob. But she could also be a warm and friendly young woman, capable of improving her character. I saw none of this in Taylor-Joy’s performance. If Catton’s screenplay demanded that Emma became aware of her flaws, the actress’ conveyance of those moments did not strike as a natural progression. Otherwise, she made a satisfying Emma Woodhouse. I also have one more criticism to add – Taylor-Joy did not have great screen chemistry with her leading man, Johnny Flynn. Their on-screen chemistry struck me as pedestrian at best, if I must be honest.

One would think that I disliked “EMMA”. Honestly, I did not. The movie managed to stick with Austen’s narrative. And although it did not change Austen’s story, it did feature some changes in some of the characteristics and character dynamics, thanks to director Autumn De Wilde and screenwriter Eleanor Catton. And some of these changes did not serve the movie well, thanks to De Wilde’s occasional bouts of ham-fisted direction. However, I still managed to enjoy the movie and the performances from a cast led by newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy. And if it had not been for the current health crisis that has struck the world, I probably would have seen it again in theaters.

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“LITTLE WOMEN” (2019) Review

“LITTLE WOMEN” (2019) Review

Ever since its release in movie theaters back in December 2019, many moviegoers have been in rapture over “LITTLE WOMEN”, filmmaker Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel. The movie did acquire several acclaims, including Oscar nominations for two of the film’s actresses, Best Adapted Screenplay and an actual Oscar for costume design. I never got the chance to see it in theaters. I finally managed to see it on the HULU streaming service.

Anyone familiar with Alcott’s novel knows that it conveyed the tale of four sisters from a Massachusetts family and their development from adolescence and childhood to adulthood during the 1860s. The first half of Alcott’s tale covered the March sisters’ experiences during the U.S. Civil War. In fact, Alcott had based the March family on herself and her three sisters. Unlike previous adaptations, Gerwig incorporated a nonlinear timeline for this version of “LITTLE WOMEN”.

There were aspects of “LITTLE WOMEN” I truly admired. I did enjoy most of the performances. Or some of them. I thought Saoirse Ronan gave an excellent performance as the movie’s leading character Josephine “Jo” March. I thought she did a pretty good job of recapturing Jo’s extroverted personality and artistic ambitions. I do wish that Gerwig had allowed Jo to convey some of the less pleasant sides to her personality. Do I believe she deserved her Oscar nomination? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Although I thought she gave an excellent performance, I do not know if I would have considered her for an acting nomination.

But I was more than impressed by Eliza Scanlen, who portrayed third sister Elizabeth “Beth” March. Although her story more or less played out in a series of vignettes that switched back and forth between the period in which she first caught the scarlet fever and her death a few years later; Scanlen did a superb job in recapturing the pathos and barely submerged emotions of Beth’s fate. It seemed a pity that she had failed to acquire any acting nominations. One last performance that really impressed me came from Meryl Streep. I have always regarded the temperamental Aunt March as a difficult role for any actress. And although I do not regard Streep’s interpretation of the aging matriarch as the best I have seen, I must admit that for me, she gave one of the best performances in the film. The movie also featured solid performances from the likes of Emma Watson, Laura Dern, Chris Cooper, Tracy Letts, James Norton, Louis Garrel, Bob Odenkirk and Florence Pugh, who also received an Oscar nomination for her performance as the youngest March sister, Amy. About the latter . . . I really admired her portrayal of the older Amy March. But I found her performance as the younger Amy rather exaggerated. And a part of me cannot help but wonder why she had received an Oscar nomination in the first place.

Jacqueline Durran won the film’s only Academy Award – namely for Best Costume Design. Did she deserve it? I honestly do not believe she did. I did enjoy some of her designs, especially for the older Amy March, as shown below:

I found the costumes worn by Pugh, Streep and many extras in the Paris sequences very attractive and an elegant expression of fashion from the late 1860s. Otherwise, I found Durran’s costumes for this film rather questionable. I realize both she and Gerwig were attempting to portray the March family as some kind of 19th century version of “hippies”. But even non-traditional types like the Marches would not wear their clothing in such a slap-dash manner with petticoat hems hanging below the skirts, along with bloomers showing, cuts and styles in clothing that almost seemed anachronistic, and wearing no corsets. The latter would be the equivalent of not wearing bras underneath one’s clothing in the 20th and 21st centuries. Someone had pointed out that many of today’s costume designers try to put a “modern twist” to their work in period dramas in order to appeal to modern moviegoers and television viewers. I really wish they would not. The attempt tends to come off as lazy costuming in my eyes. And this tactic usually draws a good deal of criticism from fans of period dramas. So . . . how on earth did Durran win an Oscar for her work in the first place?

I understand that “LITTLE WOMEN” was filmed in various locations around Massachusetts, including Boston and Cambridge. A part of me felt a sense of satisfaction by this news, considering the story’s setting of Concord, Massachusetts. I was surprised to learn that even the Paris sequences were filmed in Ipswich, Massachusetts. However, I must admit that I was not particularly blown away by Yorick Le Saux’s cinematography. Then again, I can say that for just about every adaptation of Alcott’s novel I have ever seen.

There were scenes from “LITTLE WOMEN” that I found memorable. Those include Jo March’s initial meeting with her publisher Mr. Dashwood; Amy March’s conflict with Theodore “Laurie” Laurence over his behavior in Paris; Jo’s rejection of Laurie’s marriage proposal, and especially the montage featuring Beth March’s bout with scarlet fever and its consequences. However . . . I had some problems with Gerwig’s screenplay.

As I have stated earlier, “LITTLE WOMEN” is not the first movie I have seen that utilized the non-linear plot technique. I have seen at least two adaptations of Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel, “Jane Eyre”. Two more famous examples of this plot device were the 1995 film, “12 MONKEYS” and two of Christopher Nolan’s movies – 2000’s “MEMENTO” and 2017’s “DUNKIRK”. How can I put this? I feel that Greta Gerwig’s use of non-linear writing had failed the film’s narrative. It simply did not work for me. Except for the brilliant montage featuring Beth’s fate, it seemed as if Gerwig’s writing had scattered all over the place without any real semblance of following Alcott’s plot. If I had not been already familiar with Alcott’s story, I would have found “LITTLE WOMEN” totally confusing.

I also feel that because of Gerwig’s use of the non-linear technique, she managed to inflict a little damage on Alcott’s plot. Despite the excellent scene featuring Laurie’s marriage proposal, I felt that Gerwig had robbed the development of his relationship with Jo. I also believe that Gerwig had diminished Jo’s relationship with Professor Bhaer. In the film, Bhaer had expressed harsh criticism of Jo’s earlier writing . . . without explaining his opinion. But he never added that Jo had the potential to write better stories than her usual melodrama crap. Why did Gerwig deleted this aspect of Professor Bhaer’s criticism? In order to make him look bad? To set up the idea of Jo ending the story as a single woman, because that was Alcott’s original intent? Did Gerwig consider the original version of this scene a detriment to feminist empowerment? I am also confused as to why Gerwig allowed the March family to push her into considering Professor Bhaer as a potential mate for Jo? This never happened in the novel. Jo had come to her decision to marry the professor on her own perogative. She did not have to be pushed into this decision. Come to think of it, exactly how did Jo’s fate end in the movie? I am confused. Did she marry Bhaer after rushing to the train station in order to stop him from leaving for California? Or did she remain single? Whatever.

And why on earth did she position Amy and Laurie’s first meeting after the former’s hand had been caned by her school teacher? Gerwig had transformed an incident that had taught Amy a lesson about self-respect and generated the Marches’ righteous anger against a schoolteacher’s abuse to one of comic relief and a cute rom.com meet for Amy and Laurie. What the hell? Someone had once complained that Gerwig may have assumed that everyone was familiar with Alcott’s story when she wrote this screenplay. And I agree with that person. Earlier I had questioned the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ decision to award the Best Costume Design statuette to Jacqueline Durran and nominate Florence Pugh for Best Supporting Actress. But I also have to question the organization’s decision to nominate Gerwig’s writing for Best Adapted Screenplay. I honestly believe she did not deserve it.

There were aspects of “LITTLE WOMEN” that I found admirable. I was certainly impressed by some of the film’s dramatic moments. And there were a handful of performances from the likes of Saoirse Ronan, Eliza Scanlen and Meryl Streep that truly impressed me. But I cannot deny that the other members of the cast gave either first-rate or solid performances. In the end, I did not like the movie.

I believe “LITTLE WOMEN” should have never been nominated for Best Picture. Greta Gerwig’s use of the nonlinear technique did not serve Louisa May Alcott’s plot very well. If I had not been familiar with the novel’s plot, I would have found this movie confusing. Aside from Ronan’s Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, I feel that the other nominations and Best Costume Design win were undeserved. And a part of me feels a sense of relief that Gerwig had never received a nomination for Best Director.

“THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” (1977) Review

“THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” (1977) Review

I have seen my share of movie and television productions that are based on novels and plays by Alexandre Dumas père and his son Alexandre Dumas fils And for some reason, I never get tired of watching them – over and over again. And one of them is the 1977 television movie, “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK”.

Directed by Mike Newell and adapted by William Bast, “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” is loosely based on Alexandre Dumas père‘s 1847-50 novel, “The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later”. The novel was the third and last of the author’s “The d’Artagnan Romances” literary trilogy, following “The Three Musketeers” and “Twenty Years After”. The movie begins with Philippe Bourbon being snatched by a group of mysterious men from his small French estate and imprisoned at the Bastille. It turns out that the men behind this kidnapping is King Louis XIV’s finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert and the head of the Musketeers, D’Artagnan.

Aware that Philippe is the twin brother of the king (and the rightful monarch of France), the pair plan to conduct a bloodless coup to eventually switch Philippe with the corrupt and malicious Louis. However, their plans are stymied when the Chevalier Duval, an aide of the also corrupt Superintendent of Finances Nicolas Fouquet, stumbles across Philippe. Fouquet, via instructions from Louis, orders Duval to take Philippe from the Bastille and install him in another prison on the coast. Fortunately for Colbert and D’Artagnan, they learn of Philippe’s fate from Louis’ reluctant and disenchanted mistress Louise de La Vallière and plot to rescue the royal twin and continue with their plot to replace him with Louis.

When I saw “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” for the first time, I thought it was perfect. Flawless. And it became one of my favorite Alexandre Dumas adaptations and television movies for years. After my recent viewing of the television movie, I now realize that it is not perfect. I feel that screenwriter William Bast had changed one aspect of Dumas’ novel, “The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later”, that had an impact on the 1977 movie’s narrative. The novel had portrayed Louis as the older twin and rightful king of France. For some reason, Bast had made Philippe the oldest twin. Why? I have no idea. To justify Philippe’s theft of the French throne? Unfortunately, this narrative change left me wondering why Philippe, as the “older twin” was not allowed to be his father’s heir and later, successor. In one scene, Colbert explained that former French minister and lover of the twins’ mother Queen Anne, Cardinal Mazarin, had Philippe taken away following the latter’s birth, in order to manipulate then King Louis XIII. This explanation struck me as lame and confusing. And Bast should have never changed this aspect of Dumas’ plot.

Many moviegoers have become increasingly critical of any production that have not closely adhere to its literary source over the years. I have no idea how many of them felt about this 1977 television movie. But I have a pretty good idea how I feel about it. Although I found the major change mentioned in the above paragraph troubling, I had no problems with many of other Bast’s changes. I have read Dumas’ novel. It was interesting . . . to say the least. I have no problems reading or watching a story with a downbeat ending if it suits the narrative or if I am in the mood to embrace it. I have never been in the mood to embrace Dumas’ 1847-50 novel. Which would probably explain why I enjoyed the changes in this adaptation a lot. But wait . . . extreme changes had been made in other adaptations of “The Vicomte de Bragelonne”. What was it about this particular adaptation that I enjoyed? I found it better written than the other adaptations.

For me, “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” was a tight and well-written story that did not drag or rush the movie’s narrative. Which is more than I can say for Dumas’ story. Most Dumas’ adaptations tend to be part-dramas/part-swashbucklers. “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” – at least this version – seemed to be eighty-five percent drama and fifteen percent action. In fact, the only real action sequence in this production turned out to be D’Artagnan’s rescue of Philippe from the coastal prison. And if I must be honest, I thought Mike Newell’s direction, Freddie Young’s cinematography and Bill Blunden’s editing made that sequence a tense, yet exciting affair.

However, the meat of “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” centered around its dramatic scenes. Thanks to Newell’s direction, Bast’s screenplay and a talented cast, the television movie featured some very memorable scenes. Among my favorites are Philippe’s discovery that he is the King of France’s twin brother, Louis’ malicious reaction to his failure to impress Louise de La Vallière, a tense conversation between Philippe and Queen Marie-Therese, and the last verbal duel between Colbert and Fouquet. If I had to select my absolute favorite scene, it had to be the one that featured Louis’ “Sun King” ballet, Louise’s failure to be impressed and Louis’ malicious act of using the Queen as a scapegoat for his embarrassment.

As I had earlier stated, the dramatic scenes in “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” would have never been fully satisfying to me without its top notch cast. Yes, there were solid performances from the likes of Denis Lawson, Hugh Fraser and Brenda Bruce. But I found myself impressed by other members of the cast. They include Vivien Merchant, who did an excellent job in conveying Queen Marie-Therese’s mixed emotions toward her emotionally abusive spouse – whether it was desire, resentment or a combination of both. Ian Holm was excellent as Minister Fouchet’s aide, the Chevalier Duval, who seemed to be brimming with cunning intelligence and stealth. I would never associate Louis Jordan portraying a swashbuckling figure. But I must admit that he made an excellent man-of-action in his portrayal of the experienced, competent and quick-thinking D’Artagnan.

Jenny Agutter gave a sublime and passionate performance as Louise de La Vallière, Louis’ reluctant mistress who ended up falling in love with the latter’s twin. Ralph Richardson’s portrayal of France’s finance minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert struck me as one of the more entertaining performances in the production. I found Richardson’s Colbert cunning, intelligent, patient and more importantly – at least to me – witty. I have seen Patrick McGoohan in several heroic and villainous roles. But I must admit that his Nicolas Fouquet struck me as one of the most subtlety portrayed villains I have ever seen on screen. McGoohan’s Fouquet could put Sheev Palpatine from the STAR WARS saga when it comes to subtle villainy. And I like subtle villains. I find them more dangerous.

If I had to give an award for the best performance in “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK”, I would give it to its leading man, Richard Chamberlain. Mind you, Chamberlain had to portray two characters – the decent, yet slightly hot-headed Philippe Bourbon; and the vain and egotistic King Louis XIV. Mind you, I thought Chamberlain did an excellent job of conveying Philippe’s sense of confusion, anger and passion. But the actor’s portrayal of Louis literally knocked my socks off. Chamberlain’s performance was not over-the-top. He did a subtle job of conveying Louis’ villainy. And yet, he managed to inject a great deal of – how can I put it – a joie de vivre quality in his performance that I found truly entertaining. There was no doubt that Chamberlain’s Louis was a villain. But his Louis proved to be one of the most entertaining villains I have seen on screen.

I realize that I have yet to discuss the television movie’s production values. We are talking about the 1970s. Although I can recall a good number of television miniseries with first-rate production values, I cannot say the same about several period television productions from both sides of the Atlantic. And “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” is a television movie with a 100 minutes running time. However, I thought its production values were first-rate. Despite being a made-for-TV movie, “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” was shot on several locations in both France and Great Britain. Thankfully, Freddie Young’s photography did an excellent job in enhancing those locations. John Stoll took advantage of those locations and skillfully re-created France and Louis XIV’s court of the late 1660s or early 1670s. I am not an expert of 17th century fashion – in France or anywhere else. I have no idea whether Olga Lehmann’s costume designs or Betty Glasow’s hairstyle are historically accurate. But I cannot deny that I found the hairstyles satisfying and Lehman’s costumes beautiful, as shown below:

In the end, I am happy to state that “THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK” remains one of my all time favorite adaptations of an Alexandre Dumas père novel. Despite my quibble of one of William Bast’s changes in Dumas’ story, I feel more than satisfied with his other changes and thought he had presented a first-rate story. And my satisfaction also extends to Mike Newell’s top-notch direction and the excellent performances from a cast led by the always superb Richard Chamberlain.

Ranking of “HIS DARK MATERIALS” Season One (2019) Episodes

Below is my ranking of the Season One episodes of “HIS DARK MATERIALS”, HBO’s adaptation of Philip Pullman’s 1995 novel, “The Golden Compass” aka “Northern Lights” and the first part of his 1997 novel, “The Subtle Knife”. Written by Jack Thorne, the series stars Dafne Keen:

RANKING OF “HIS DARK MATERIALS” SEASON ONE (2019) Episodes

1. (1.02) “The Idea of North” – Orphan Lyra Belacqua starts a new life in London with the charming socialite, Mrs. Marisa Coulter; determined to find her missing friend, Roger Parslow. The Gyptians continue searching for their missing children and the elusive Gobblers, a group of government sanctioned child snatchers.

2. (1.06) “The Daemon-Cages” – Lyra discovers the horrific truth behind the Gobblers’ activities at a science station in the North called Bolvangar.

3. (1.08) “Betrayal” – As the Magesterium, a religious-political body, closes in; Lyra learns more about Lord Asriel’s rebellion. But her assistance to him comes at a great personal cost.

4. (1.01) “Lyra’s Jordan” – Lyra’s world at Jordan College in Oxford, is turned upside-down by the arrival of her long-absent uncle Lord Asriel from the North. Meanwhile, she meets the glamorous Mrs. Coulter for the first time.

5. (1.04) “Armour” – As Lyra and the Gyptians head up North, she searches for allies in her search for Lord Asriel. With the help of a balloonist named Lee Scoresby, she comes across an armored bear named Iorek Byrnison at a port town in Svalbard.

6. (1.03) “Spies” – Lyra is rescued from the clutches of the Gobblers by the Gyptians, who helps her piece together more about her past and keep her safe from the Magisterium.

7. (1.07) “Fight to the Death” – Separated from her friends and captured by the armoured bears ruled the usurper king Iofur Raknison, Lyra must use all of her methods of deception to thwart him in order to be rescued by Iorek Byrnison, the true king. Meanwhile, Mrs. Coulter plots her next move.

8. (1.05) “The Lost Boy” – On their journey to the Bolvangar Station, Lyra and the Gyptians finally discover what the Gobblers have been doing to the missing children. In the alternate World, an adolescent named Will Parry and his mentally ill mother Elaine are being stalked by Magisterium official Lord Carlo Boreal, who seeks Will’s father, a missing explorer named John Parry.

“THE IRREGULARS” (2021) Photo Gallery

Below are images from the Netflix limited series, “THE IRREGULARS”. Based upon the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the series was created by Tom Birdwell:

“THE IRREGULARS” (2021) Photo Gallery

Favorite Television Productions Set in the 1810s

Below is a list of my favorite television productions set during the 1810s:

FAVORITE TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS SET IN THE 1810s

1. “Pride and Prejudice” (1995) – Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth starred in this award winning adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel. The six-part miniseries was adapted by Andrew Davies and directed by Simon Langton.

2. “Emma” (2009) – Romola Garai, Jonny Lee Miller and Michael Gambon starred in this excellent adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel. The four-part miniseries was adapted by Sandy Welch and directed by Jim O’Hanlon.

3. “Vanity Fair” (1987) – Eve Matheson starred in this superb adaptation of William Makepeace Thackery’s 1848 novel. The sixteen-part miniseries was directed by Diarmuid Lawrence and Michael Owen Morris; and adapted by Alexander Baron.

4. “Pride and Prejudice” (1980) – Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul starred in this first-rate adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel. The five-part miniseries was adapted by Fay Weldon and directed by Cyril Coke.

5. “War and Peace” (2016) – Paul Dano, Lily James and James Norton starred in this excellent adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1869 novel. The six-part miniseries was adapted by Andrew Davies and directed by Tom Harper.

6. “Vanity Fair” (1998) – Natasha Little starred in this award winning adaptation of William Makepeace Thackery’s 1848 novel. The six-part miniseries was directed by Marc Munden and adapted by Andrew Davies.

7. “Emma” (1972) – Doran Godwin and John Carson starred in this first-rate adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel. The six-part miniseries was adapted by Denis Constanduros and directed by John Glenister.

8. “Davy Crockett and the River Pirates” (1956) – This sequel to the 1955 television movie, “Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier”, conveyed the experiences of Davy Crockett and George Russel with keelboat riverman Mike Fink and river pirates along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Picturesque and a lot of fun. Directed by Norman Foster, the TV movie starred Fess Parker, Buddy Ebsen and Jeff York.

9. “War and Peace” (1972) – Anthony Hopkins, Morag Hood and Alan Dobie starred in this superb adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1869 novel. The twenty-part miniseries was adapted by Jack Pulman and directed by John Davies.

10. “Poldark” (1996) – John Bowe and Mel Martin starred in this television adaptation of Winston Graham’s 1981 novel from his Poldark series, “The Stranger From the Sea”. The television movie was directed by Richard Laxton and adapted by Robin Mukherjee.

“TAP ROOTS” (1948) Review

“TAP ROOT” (1948) Review

I am sure that many are aware of Mississippi-born Confederate soldier-turned-Unionist Newton Knight and his formation of the “Free State of Jones”, which opposed Confederate forces during the U.S. Civil War. I first heard about Knight and his men while watching Ken Burns’ 1990 documentary, “THE CIVIL WAR”. But I had no idea that knowledge of this little corner of Civil War history went back even further.

Recently, Hollywood released a movie version about Knight and his followers in the 2016 historical drama, “FREE STATE OF JONES”. However . . . some seventy-four years earlier, a novel titled “Tap Roots”, which had been written by James H. Street, hit the bookstores. It told the story of a cotton planter, his family and a newspaper publisher; who had decided to remain neutral during the first year of the Civil War. Unfortunately, their decision to remain neutral led to disastrous consequences for the planter and his family, along with other local men who decided to follow them. Six years later in 1948, Universal Pictures made a movie adaptation of Street’s novel.

In a nutshell . . . “TAP ROOT” begins in the fall of 1860. Northern Mississippi plantation owner Big Sam Dabney and his son Hoab express concern over Abraham Lincoln’s election as the 16th president and the possibility of Southern states seceding from the Union. Both men begin to consider having Levington County in Lebanon Valley, location of the family’s cotton plantation, remain neutral if a civil war breaks out. Meanwhile, Hoab’s older daughter, Morna Dabney, becomes engaged with Army officer, Clay McIvor. Younger sister Aven is jealous, due to also being in love with Clay. As for Morna, local newspaper owner Keith Alexander becomes attracted to her.

Before 1860 ends, Big Sam dies, leaving Hoab in full control of the family’s neutral stance. And poor Morna has a riding accident, leaving her physically disabled and her engagement to Clay in jeopardy. Apparently, the latter is unable to maintain interest in a disabled woman and transforms his sexual interest to Morna’s younger sister, Aven. This gives Keith the opportunity to court Morna and help her recover from Clay’s rejection. However, Mississippi secedes from the Union, driving Hoab, Keith and the Dabney family’s Choctaw friend, Tishomingo, to organize Levington County’s neutral stance and secession from Mississippi.

There are aspects of “TAP ROOTS” that I found admirable. Alexander Golitzen’s production designs for a Northern Mississippi community between 1860 and 1861 struck me as pretty admirable, if not mind blowing. I could say the same about Yvonne Wood’s costume designs. However, there were some signs of 1940s fashion getting in the way, especially in the men’s costumes. The shoulders for Van Heflin’s jackets struck me as so wide that I found myself wondering if he had portrayed a time traveler from the 1940s. On the other hand, I found Winton C. Hooch and Lionel Lindon’s photography of the Southern California and North Carolina locations rather beautiful, thanks to its sharp color. And I thought director George Marshall did an admirable job with the film’s action scenes. I was especially impressed by the final conflict between Levington County’s “rebels” and the local Confederate forces. Between Marshall’s direction, Hooch and Lindon’s photography, and Milton Carruth’s editing, that final action sequence proved to be one of the film’s finer aspects.

If I must be honest, I did not have any problems with the performances featured in “TAP ROOTS”. Well . . . with most of the performances. Van Heflin gave an entertaining, yet commanding performance as the cynical newspaper editor Keith Alexander. Susan Hayward was equally commanding as Southern belle Moana Dabney, who endured her own trials while her own personal life fell apart. I did not care for the character of Clay McIvor, who struck me as something of a jerk; but I cannot deny that Whitfield Connor did a solid job in bringing his character to life. A very young Julie London really held her own as Moana’s younger sister, Aven Dabney, who managed to win Clay’s love from Moana, following the latter’s riding accident. Russell Simpson gave a entertaining performance as Moana’s colorful grandfather, Big Sam Dabney. Ruby Dandridge, mother of Dorothy Dandridge, gave a solid performance as the Dabneys’ housekeeper, Dabby. And I can say the same about Richard Long’s portrayal of Moana’s younger brother, Bruce Dabney; Arthur Shields as Reverend Kirkland; and Sondra Rogers as Shellie Dabney.

Despite the solid performances that permeated “TAP ROOTS”, two of them proved to be problematic for me. First, there was Ward Bond’s portrayal of Hoab Dabney, the Mississippi planter who not only inherit the family’s cotton plantation following his father’s death, but also the latter’s plans for a neutral Mississippi. I might as well say it. I found Bond’s performance to be an exercise in histrionics. I found this surprising since Bond has never struck me as a hammy acting. I wish that director George Marshall had found a way to rein in his acting – especially in one scene in which Hoab came into conflict with Moana over her past relationship with Clay McIvor. Alas, I thought Bond gave his hammiest performance in that one scene. The other problematic performance came from Boris Karloff, who portrayed the Dabney family’s Choctaw friend and retainer, Tishomingo. Mind you, Karloff gave a competent and subtle performance as one of the few sensible characters in this movie. And although many may have been put off by a British actor portraying a Native American, I was surprised to discover that Karloff had possessed both English and East Indian ancestry from both of his parents. I do not know if that gave the actor a pass, considering he still lacked any Native American ancestry. But if I really had a problem with Karloff’s performance is that he had portrayed Tishomingo as if the character was an Englishman. Even if Karloff had been portraying a white American, I still would have found his performance slightly problematic.

And what about the narrative for “TAP ROOTS”? Did I like it? Honestly? No. For me, the 1948 movie had failed to impress me. And this is a pity. I believe the problem stemmed from the movie’s original source, the 1942 novel. Author James H. Street had claimed he was inspired by the life of Newton Knight, when he wrote his novel. However, out of fear that Knight’s life was too controversial – namely his common-law marriage to former slave Rachel Knight – Street changed the nature of Knight’s story. The leading characters of “TAP ROOTS” were portrayed as members of Mississippi’s planter class. They opposed slavery – at least one or two characters had claimed this – but also owned slaves. But aside from the Dabneys’ “faithful” housekeeper Dabby, all other slaves were minor characters who barely spoke. If a movie is going to have its main characters claim to be anti-slavery, why ignore the topic for the rest of the film? Newton Knight’s grandfather was a major slave owner in northern Mississippi during the early 19th century. But Knight and his father had opposed slavery and became yeoman farmers who never owned slaves. Knight had been an Army deserter and managed to successfully opposed the Confederate authority in Jones County between 1863 and 1865. The Daubey family and Keith Alexander had no such success in “TAP ROOTS”. And I never understood this. Why did Street and later, the movie’s writers did not follow Knight’s Civil War experiences? What was the point of creating this story if they were not willing to closely follow Knight’s conflict with the Confederate authorities? Why not allow the Daubey family to be yeoman farmers who opposed slavery? Street and the filmmakers could have still kept out Newton Knight’s relationship with Rachel Knight.

Instead, I found myself watching a movie in which the main protagonists claimed they opposed slavery, yet practiced it and barely touched upon the subject for most of the film. The movie literally dragged its feet between Abraham Lincoln’s election in November 1860 and the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861. And although I disliked Moana Dabney’s romance with the unworthy Clay McIvor, I found Keith Alexander’s “courtship” of her rather troubling. In Keith’s attempt to get Moana to forget about Clay, he resorted to bouts of manhandling her that seemed to border on sexual assault. For some reason, this reminded me of the Scarlett O’Hara/Rhett Butler relationship from “GONE WITH THE WIND”. And not in a good way. I also had a problem with the film’s portrayal of Lebanon Valley’s citizens. I noticed that the film seemed to portray them as mindless citizens who followed the Dabneys’ anti-Confederate stance without any real explanation. Like the Dabney slaves, Hoab’s followers lacked any real agency. Did author James Street, along with the filmmakers of this movie really lacked the courage to convey a story about how a Southern-born yeoman farmer and others from his class had successfully fought against the Confederacy? Or even exploring his anti-slavery stance? Back in the 1940s?

In the end, this is my real problem with “TAP ROOTS”. James Street and producer Walter Wanger took a historical event from the Civil War and used fiction – a novel and its Hollywood adaptation – to render it toothless. Its main historical figure Newton Knight had been transformed into a borderline hysterical and controlling cotton planter and member of the elite. The story failed to explore what led many of the planter’s combatants to follow him. The story barely touched upon the topic of anti-slavery, while including slaves as minor and background characters. And the movie dumped some tepid attempt at a “GONE WITH THE WIND” clone romance to keep movie goers interested. The movie had some virtues. But in the end, the movie vague adaptation of Newton Knight’s Civil War experiences simply fell flat. I hope and pray I am never inclined to watch this film again.