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.

Favorite Episodes of “OUTLANDER” Season One (2014-2015)

Below is a list of my favorite episodes from Season One of “OUTLANDER”, STARZ’s adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s 1991 novel and literary series of the same name. Developed by Ronald D. Moore, the series stars Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan:

FAVORITE EPISODES OF “OUTLANDER” SEASON ONE (2014-2015)

1. (1.02) “Castle Leoch” – Former World War II nurse and time traveler Claire Beauchamp Randall is brought to Castle Leoch by a group of Highlanders that include Jamie Fraser and his maternal uncle Dougal MacKenzie. The Highlanders suspect she might be an English spy. Discovering she had traveled back to 1743, Claire tries to arrange travel back to the standing stones.

2. (1.11) “The Devil’s Mark” – Claire and the wife of the local procurator fiscal, Geillis Duncan, stand trial for witchcraft. Claire also learns a secret about Geillis’ past.

3. (1.08) “Both Sides Now” – Back in 1945, Claire’s husband, Frank Randall, continues to search for her; but he starts to lose hope of ever finding her. Meanwhile, Claire is trying to come to terms with her marriage to Jamie in 1743 Scotland.

4. (1.05) “Rent” – Claire joins Jamie and Dougal on the road with other members of Clan MacKenzie, as they collect the tenants’ rent on behalf their laird, Colum MacKenzie. She becomes aware of Dougal’s involvement in trying to raise money for the Jacobite rebellion.

5. (1.01) “Sassenach” – In this series premiere, Claire and Frank reunite after five years of war apart in 1945. Their second honeymoon in Scotland goes awry when she falls back through time to the 1740s.

Honorable Mention: (1.12) “Lallybroch” – Old family wounds reopen when Jamie returns to his family estate, Lallybroch, with new wife Claire in tow.

“HERCULE POIROT’S CHRISTMAS” (1994) Review

“HERCULE POIROT’S CHRISTMAS” (1994) Review

I have been a fan of Agatha Christie’s 1938 novel, “Hercule Poirot’s Christmas” aka “A Holiday for Murder” for years – ever since I was in my early adolescence. When I learned that the producers of the “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” series aired its adaptation of it back in 1994, I looked forward to watching it.

Written as a “locked room” mystery, “HERCULE POIROT’S CHRISTMAS” focused on Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot’s investigation of the murder of Simeon Lee, a tyrannical patriarch of a wealthy family. The mean-spirited Lee, who had made his fortune in South African diamonds, summons his offspring to his country manor house for a Christmas gathering. He also requests that Poirot attend the reunion, but fails to give a full explanation for the latter’s presence. Those gathered for Lee’s Christmas reunion are:

*Alfred Lee, his dutiful oldest son

*Lydia Lee, Alfred’s wife

*George Lee, Simeon’s penny-pinching middle son, who is also a Member of Parliament

*Magdalene Lee, George’s wife, a beauty with a mysterious past

*Harry Lee, Simeon’s ne’er do well son, who has been living abroad

*Pilar Estavados, Simeon’s Anglo-Spanish granddaughter

The sadistic Lee treats his family with cruelty and enjoys pitting them against each other. This is apparent in a scene in which he summons his family to his sitting room and fakes a telephone call to his solicitor, announcing his intentions to make changes to his will. Later that evening, a scream is heard by the manor’s inhabitants before Lee’s throat is cut in an apparent locked room. Although the old man was wheelchair bound, there is evidence of a great struggle between him and his murder. It is up to Poirot, assisted by Chief Inspector Japp of Scotland Yard and a local investigating officer named Superintendent Sugden to find Simeon Lee’s murderer before the latter can strike again.

I would never view “HERCULE POIROT’S CHRISTMAS” as one of the better Christie adaptations I have seen. But I still managed to enjoy it. One, the television movie is rich with a holiday atmosphere, despite the presence of murder. In fact, I can honestly say that Rob Harris’ production designs really impressed me. Along with Simon Kossoff’s photography, they gave the movie an atmosphere of Olde England that suited the story’s setting very well. I also enjoyed Andrea Galer’s costume designs for the film. Instead of the early or mid-1930s, her costume designs for the female characters seemed to hint that the movie was set during the late 1930s.

“HERCULE POIROT’S CHRISTMAS” also benefited from a solid cast. David Suchet gave a first rate performance as Hercule Poirot, with his usual mixture of subtle humor and intelligence. He was ably supported by a very wry performance from Philip Jackson as Chief Inspector Japp. The rest of the cast, aside from four, gave solid but unmemorable performances. For me, there were three standouts that really impressed me. Brian Gwaspari was a hoot as Simeon Lee’s outspoken prodigal son, Harry. And he had great chemistry with Sasha Behar, who was charming and frank as Simeon’s Anglo-Spanish granddaughter, Pilar Estravados. The producers cast veteran character actor Vernon Dobtcheff as the poisonous Simeon Lee. And he portrayed the hell out of that role, giving the character a richness and sharp wit that allowed him to practically own it. The only performance that failed to impress me came from Mark Tandy, who portrayed Superintendent Sudgen. I hate to say this, but Tandy’s take on a character as memorable and imposing as Sudgen seemed lightweight. He almost seemed overshadowed by Suchet and Jackson and I suspect that the role would have succeeded better with a more imposing actor.

As I had stated earlier, I have always been a fan of Christie’s 1938 film. This adaptation could have been first rate. But it had one main problem – namely Clive Exton’s screenplay. He made two major changes to the plot that nearly undermined the story. I did not mind that he had reduced the number of characters by eliminating the David Lee, Hilda Lee and Stephen Farr characters. I DID mind when he substituted the Colonel Johnson character for Chief Inspector Japp as the case’s senior investigator. As a member of Scotland Yard, Japp was out of his jurisdiction, which was limited to Greater London. This is a mistake that has appeared in a handful of other Exton adaptations. The screenwriter’s bigger mistake proved to be the addition of a prologue set in 1896 South Africa. The prologue included a scene featuring Simeon Lee’s murder of his partner and his seduction of a young Afrikaaner woman named Stella. Even worse, Stella reappeared as a mysterious guest at a local hotel in 1936 England. The addition of the South African sequence and the Stella character made it easier for viewers to eliminate a good number of characters as potential suspects . . . and dimmed the mystery of Simeon Lee’s murder.

I managed to enjoy “HERCULE POIROT’S CHRISTMAS” very much. It featured excellent characterizations and a rich, holiday atmosphere, thanks to Simon Kossoff’s production designs and Andrea Galer’s costume designs. Director Edward Bennett did a great job with a superb cast led by a superb David Suchet. But several changes to Christie’s plot made by screenwriter Clive Exton prevented this movie from being the first-rate adaptation it could have been.

Five Favorite Episodes of “GAME OF THRONES” Season Two (2012)

Below is a list of my favorite episodes from Season Two of “GAME OF THRONES”, HBO’s adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s 1998 novel from his A Song of Ice and Fire series, “A Clash of Kings”. The series was created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss:

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “GAME OF THRONES” SEASON TWO (2012)

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1. (2.09) “Blackwater” – King Robert Baratheon’s younger brother, Stannis Baratheon, arrives at Westeros’ capital, King’s Landing, to battle for the city and the Iron Throne.

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2. (2.06) “The Old Gods and the New” – Former Stark hostage Theon Greyjoy seizes control of Winterfell to please his father, Balon Greyjoy of the Iron Islands. Jon Snow captures a wildling named Ygritte. And the people of King’s Landing begin to turn against King Joffrey during a riot in the capital’s streets. Daenerys Targaryen looks to buy ships to sail for the Seven Kingdoms.

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3. (2.10) “Valar Morghulis” – In this season finale, Joffrey ends his engagement to Sansa Stark in favor for an engagement to Renley Baratheon’s widow, Margery Tyrell, in the wake of the Lannisters’ new alliance with her family. Daenerys seeks to rescue her baby dragons from the warlocks of Qarth.

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4. (2.05) “The Ghost of Harrenhal” – Temporary Hand of the King Tyrion Lannister investigates a secret weapon that King Joffrey and his mother, Queen Cersei, plan to use against Stannis’ invasion force. Meanwhile, as a token to Arya for saving his life on the road from King’s Landing, an assassin named Jaqen H’ghar offers to kill three people that she chooses.

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5. (2.04) “Garden of Bones” – Sansa is nearly punished by Joffrey following her brother Robb Stark’s latest victory over the Lannister forces. Lord Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish arrives at Renly’s camp just before the latter can face off against Stannis. Daenerys and her company are welcomed into the city of Qarth. Arya and her travel companions – Gendry and Hot Pie – find themselves imprisoned at Harrenhal Castle.

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Sexist Tropes in “POLDARK” (2015-2019)

SEXIST TROPES IN “POLDARK” (2015-2019)

After watching the recent “POLDARK” television series for the past few years and reading the commentaries on these episodes and especially two particular characters – Demelza Carne Poldark and Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark Warleggan – I have come to a disturbing conclusion. Despite the advent of the feminist movement, we still live a sexist society. Because our society remains sexist to this day, many people – women included – tend to view female fictional characters from a sexist view. This was especially apparent with the opinions of the two major female characters in “POLDARK”.

I have noticed that producer Debbie Horsfield and many of the series’ fans and critics seemed hellbent upon viewing both Demelza and Elizabeth through some Whore/Madonna trope. The situation regarding Demelza and Elizabeth strikes me as rather ironic. In many works of fiction and sometimes in real life, women of working-class backgrounds are usually perceived as sexually permissive or a “whore”. And women from a middle-class or upper-class background are usually perceived as virtuous or “the Madonna”. Not only do a good number of men apply this type of categorization upon women, other women do as well.

What made this trope ironic in “POLDARK”? The low-born Demelza – a miner’s daughter who became main protagonist Ross Polark’s servant and later, wife – has been regarded by many fans as virtuous or . . . “the Madonna”. In contrast, Elizabeth Chynoweth, a landowner’s daughter, has been more less labeled as a “whore” by said fans. Elizabeth, who had originally been courted by Ross before he left to serve in the British Army during the American Revolution, ended up marrying his cousin Francis Poldark. She later married Ross’ neighbor and nemesis, George Warleggan after Francis’ death.

I suspect that if Demelza had not married Ross and become the main protagonist, she would not have become so highly regarded by the fans. After all, she was low born. And she had sex with Ross, while serving his household as a kitchen maid. Right before their marriage. Ross ended up coercing her into marrying him in order to put a stop to the rumors about them. But I believe what really saved Demelza from being labeled “the whore” by readers and television viewers was the presence of the one woman she regarded as her nemesis – namely her cousin-in-law and Ross’ first love, Elizabeth Poldark Warleggan née Chynoweth. In the fans’ eyes, Elizabeth had made the mistake of rejecting Ross upon his return from the American Revolutionary War and marrying his cousin Francis. The literary Elizabeth honestly thought she had loved Francis and felt that Ross would not be the right husband for her. The recent series depicted Elizabeth as a woman torn by her feelings for Ross and slightly coerced into marrying Francis by her mother. To make matters worse, following Francis’ death, Elizabeth had married Ross’ nemesis, banker George Warleggan for his money. She needed his money to save the Trenwith estate for hers and Francis’ son, Geoffrey Charles.

I have a confession. Originally, I had believed this sexist view of both women stemmed from Demelza being the saga’s main female protagonist and Elizabeth’s rejection of Ross and her decisions to marry Francis and George. While Demelza was portrayed as this near perfect woman, especially in the series by show runner Debbie Horsfield; she was constantly praised by fans and critics for not only being “ideal”, but also the “ideal” mate for Ross. Elizabeth was portrayed with a more negative tone. As I had stated earlier, Debbie Horsfield changed the nature of her reason for rejecting Ross and marrying Francis. Horsfield used Demelza’s class origin as some kind of “Cinderella” fairy tale. Elizabeth was subtlety criticized for being a member of the upper-class and marrying Francis to maintain the lifestyle she was accustomed to. She was also portrayed as a woman who could not make up her mind about whom she wanted to marry. And then came that night of May 9, 1793.

Any fan of Winston Graham’s novels or the two television adaptations of his saga knows what happened that month – Ross and Elizabeth conceived his third child and her second – Valentine Warleggan. For years, many fans have asserted that Valentine’s conception was an act of consensual sex between the pair. The 1975-1977 series had portrayed Ross raping Elizabeth before pretending that rape never happened. The 2015-2019 series proved to be worse. It had Ross assaulting Elizabeth and on the verge of raping her. Before he could, she consented to sex at the last moment, transforming their encounter into a “rape fantasy”. Only Winston Graham’s 1953 novel, “Warleggan”, portrayed the encounter as rape. The author condemned Ross’ act for the rest of his literary series – something that many fans refuse to acknowledge.

Yet, even before the rape, Horsfield did her level best to set up sympathy toward Demelza and condemn Elizabeth at the same time. As in the novels, Ross had spent a good deal of time at Trenwith, helping the recently widowed Elizabeth deal with estate debts. But in the series, Demelza, her cousin-in-law Verity Poldark Blamey and the audience blamed Elizabeth instead of Ross; who seemed hellbent upon enjoying Elizabeth’s company as much as possible. Horsfield even added a scene in which Demelza made a snarky, yet hostile comment about Ross’ time at Trenwith that clearly blamed Elizabeth. And fans, to my utter disgust, cheered this moment of misogyny. Horsfield included another scene after the rape that featured an encounter between Demelza and Elizabeth in the woods (this also never happened in the novel) in which the former accused the latter of having a sexually illicit encounter with Ross. Again, I found myself disgusted by this obvious attempt by Horsfield to demonize Elizabeth for something that was never her fault. I felt equally disgusted by the fans’ cheers over Demelza’s words.

After the series’ adaptation of “Warleggan”, I thought I would see the last of this less than ambiguous handling of both Demelza and Elizabeth. I did not. Horsfield provided other examples of idealizing Demelza’s character and vilifying Elizabeth’s. In the novels that followed “Warleggan”, both women had committed major mistakes.

Elizabeth had supported her second husband George Warleggan’s attempt to force a marriage between her cousin Morwenna Chynoweth and a highborn vicar from Truro, the Reverend Osbourne Whitworth. Who proved to be an abusive husband. Mind you, Elizabeth was not solely to blame for this marriage. One, it was George’s idea and he was the one who finally coerced Morwenna into marrying Osbourne – at least in the series. Morwenna’s mother was the one who finally coerced her in the novel. But Elizabeth did support his action. It was probably the worst thing she truly ever did. Unfortunately, Horsfield felt this need to portray Elizabeth as a cold and scheming woman, who proved to be initially cold to her younger son Valentine. This never happened in the novel. Worse, Horsfield had transformed Elizabeth into both an morphine addict and alcoholic as a means to express the struggles she suffered as George’s wife. Again . . . this never happened in the novel. Why Horsfield thought this was necessary. I have no idea. The literary Elizabeth had found George’s paranoia over Ross rather stressful, but not to the point of her becoming an addict.

On the other hand, Horsfield had went out of her way to portray Demelza as this perfect lady, who sang whenever the screenplay allowed actress Eleanor Tomlinson to display her singing ability. There was a moment of Demelza racing across the countryside on horseback like some Harlequin Romance heroine in an effort to save her younger brother Drake Carne from being set upon by George’s bullies. Actually, some locals came to Drake’s rescue in the novel. There was also the matter of Demelza’s initial refusal to support her brother Drake romance with Morwenna. Demelza used the differences in Drake and Morwenna’s classes as an excuse for her lack of support, claiming she did not want to see both of them suffer in an unhappy marriage. I found this rather hypocritical, considering Demelza had married outside of her class. The series had went out of its way to avoid conveying Demelza’s unwillingness to contemplate the idea of Elizabeth’s cousin as her future sister-in-law. Although she had ended up supporting Drake and Morwenna’s relationship in the end, Demelza had never really let go of this wish of her brother marrying another woman of her choice instead of Morwenna, despite their happy marriage – at least in one of Winston Graham’s later novels. The one true terrible act that Demelza had committed was her brief affair with Royal Navy officer Hugh Armitage. Actually, they only had sex once. But once was enough, as far as I am concerned. Many viewers had excused Demelza’s infidelity as an act of bad writing from Graham or Horsfield. One blogger used Demelza’s rushed romance/marriage to Ross as excuse for her to experience an actual romance with someone of her age. And there were those who used Ross’ infidelity – namely the “eye for an eye” – as an excuse. Frankly, revenge sex has never struck me as a good excuse to cheat on one’s spouse, unless he was a serial abuser like the Justin LaMotte character from the “NORTH AND SOUTH” series . . . or Osbourne Whitworth. Ross may have been guilty of raping Elizabeth, but he had never ever abused Demelza in that manner. Also, I do not recall anyone slut shaming Demelza for her affair with Hugh.

I might as well be frank. Neither Demelza or Elizabeth were perfect. And neither were monsters. Both women possessed flaws and virtues. And yet . . . the fans and writer Debbie Horsfield seemed incapable of accepting both as complex women. Fans had behaved as if Demelza was the greatest thing since the invention of the wheel. They regarded Elizabeth as “the Whore of Babylon” or worse, a weak and manipulative woman. They seem incapable of facing Demelza’s faults – other than her naivety in late Season One. And they seem unwilling to acknowledge Elizabeth’s virtues. Horsfield’s writing for the series did a lot to support their reactions.

I find myself wondering if this inability to accept the ambiguity of both women stemmed from a refusal to acknowledge the idea of Ross Poldark harboring love for two different women at the same time. I do not know. Perhaps this scenario went against their ideals of “true love”, marriage and a Harlequin Romance-style story. The unfortunate thing is that producers like Debbie Horsfield of the current series and the producers of the 1970s series – Anthony Coburn and Morris Barry – had seemed more than willing to constantly feed this “Whore/Madonna” mentality regarding Demelza Poldark and Elizabeth Warleggan.

“ORDEAL BY INNOCENCE” (2007) Review

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“ORDEAL BY INNOCENCE” (2007) Review

Many people would be surprised to learn that not many of Agatha Christie’s novels featured another one of her famous literary sleuths, Miss Jane Marple. The latter served as the lead in at least twelve novels, in compare to the thirty-three novels that starred her other famous sleuth, Hercule Poirot. It is because of this limited number of novels that the producers of “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S MARPLE” featured adaptations of Christie novels in which she appeared in the television films, but not in the novels. One of them is “ORDEAL BY INNOCENCE”.

Based upon Christie’s 1958 novel, “ORDEAL BY INNOCENCE” opened with the murder of the Argyle family’s controlling matriarch, Rachel Argyle. Mrs. Argyle was a wealthy heiress who had adapted several children, due to her inability to have her own. She also proved to be a controlling – almost tyrannical – mother who managed to alienate her adoptive children and husband. It did not take the police very long to focus upon one suspect – the family’s black sheep, Jack “Jacko” Argyle. Apparently, the latter quarreled with the victim over money. Jacko claimed that he had been given a lift by a stranger, when Rachel was murdered. But said stranger never stepped up to give him an alibi and Jacko was hanged for the crime. Two years later found the Argyle family celebrating the family’s patriarch Leo Argyle to his secretary, Gwenda Vaughn. The latter had invited her former employer, Jane Marple, to attend the wedding. A day or two before wedding, a stranger named Dr. Arthur Calgary appeared at the family estate, claiming to be the stranger who had given Jacko a lift on the night of Rachel’s murder. Due to Dr. Calgary’s confession, the Argyle family and Gwenda found themselves under suspicion for murder.

As I have stated in other movie reviews, I never had a problem with changes in adaptations of novels and/or plays, as long as these changes worked. “ORDEAL BY INNOCENCE” featured a few changes. The biggest change featured in the inclusion of Jane Marple as the mystery’s main investigator. Arthur Calgary served in that role in the novel. The television film also featured the addition of a character that was not in the novel – Jacko’s fraternal twin Bobby Argyle. Another major change featured the film’s second murder victim. Screenwriter Stewart Harcourt switched the identity of the story’s second victim. And how did these changes work?

I have to be frank. The addition of Bobby Argyle to the story did not seemed to have much of an impact upon me. The character became the executor of his adopted mother’s will, which placed him in charge of her money and his siblings’ trust funds. The problem I had with his story arc is that audiences were left in the dark on whether he had lost their money when he committed fraud . . . or he simply lost his own money. As I had previously stated, Harcourt and director Moira Armstrong had switched the identity of the story’s second victim. I will not reveal the identities of both the old and new identities. But I must admit that the second victim’s death – at least in this television movie – added a rather sad and poignant touch to this adaptation. The last major change featured Jane Marple as the story’s major investigator. Arthur Calgary, the man who could have provided Jacko Argyle an alibi, was the main investigator in Christie’s novel. In this film, he was more or less regulated to the role of a secondary character. Ironically, this change did not diminish his role, for Calgary more or less served as Miss Marple’s eyes, ears and feet; while remained at the Argyle estate. And this meant several scenes that featured Calgary engaging in a good deal of investigations on Miss Marple’s behalf.

Despite these changes, “ORDEAL OF INNOCENCE” more or less retained the main narrative Christie’s story. More importantly, I thought both Harcourt’s screenplay and Armstrong’s direction did an excellent job in maintaining the story’s angst, poignancy and more importantly, irony. Thanks to the director and screenwriter, “ORDEAL BY INNOCENCE” conveyed how Rachel Argyle’s presence managed to cast a shadow upon her family. And how her absence lifted that shadow, until Dr. Calgary’s revelation about Jacko’s innocence. I was also impressed at how the television movie did an effective, yet subtle job in conveying the bigotry faced by the family’s only person of color – Christina “Tina” Argyle.

While watching “ORDEAL OF INNOCENCE”, it occurred to me that Christie’s tale would not have worked if it had not been for the cast’s exceptional performances. All of them, I believe, really knocked it out of the ballpark. Mind you, there were solid performances from supporting cast members like Reece Shearsmith, Andrea Lowe, Camille Coduri, Pippa Haywood, and James Hurran. But I must confess that I was really impressed by those who portrayed members of the Argyle household. Burn Gorman radiated a mixture of charm and slime as the doomed Jacko Argyle. Richard Armitage was equally memorable as the avaricious and bitter ex-R.A.F. pilot who had married into the Argyle family, Philip Durrant. Singer Lisa Stansfield gave a subtle performance as Philip’s emotional, yet reserved wife Mary Argyle Durant, blinded by intense love for her husband. I enjoyed Bryan Dick’s portrayal of the volatile Micky Argyle, but there were moments when he threatened to be over-the-top. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, on the other hand, gave a performance that matched Stansfield’s subtlety as the blunt Tina Argyle, who hid her resentment of the racism she faced behind a sardonic mask. Stephanie Leonidas gave an effectively tense performance as the family’s youngest member, Hester Argyle, struggling to face her past involvement with brother-in-law Philip. And the always reliable Tom Riley did an excellent job with his portrayal of morally questionable Bobby Argyle.

But the performances that really impressed me came from the cast’s more veteran performers. Geraldine McEwan was marvelous as always in conveying the quiet intelligence of Miss Jane Marple. Despite being on the screen for only a few minutes, Jane Seymour really knocked it out of the park and domineering and sharp-tongued Rachel Argyle. She made it easy to see how the character managed to cast a shadow over the Argyle family. Julian Rhind-Tutt struck me as both entertaining and effective as the scholarly Dr. Arthur Calgary, who gave Jacko Argyle his alibi two years too late. What I found impressive about Rhind-Tutt’s performance is that he managed to convey his character’s intelligence and strength behind the nebbish personality. Alison Steadman’s portrayal of the Argyle’s judgmental housekeeper struck me as both subtle and frightening – especially in her stubborn belief that Gwenda Vaughn was Rachel’s killer. Denis Lawson has my vote for the best performance in “ORDEAL OF INNOCENCE”. There . . . I said it. And I stand by this. Lawson did a brilliant job in conveying the weak and suggestible personality of Leo Argyle. There were moments when I could not decide whether I liked him or despised him. It is not every day one comes across a fictional character brimming with quiet charm and unreliability.

It has been years since I saw the 1984 television adaptation of Christie’s 1958 novel. So, I have no memories of it. And I have seen the recent 2018 television adaptation. But I must be honest. I really enjoyed this 2007 adaptation. Yes, it has a few flaws. But I really believe that it did a superb job in conveying the poignant and ironic aspects of the novel. And I have director Moira Armstrong, screenwriter Stewart Harcourt and a superb cast led by Geraldine McEwan to thank.

“This Is a Mistake”

“THIS IS A MISTAKE”

I have heard that in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and the recent protests against police brutality, Disney Parks have decided to change the theme of its Splash Mountain attraction in all of its theme parks. Instead of an attraction based on the 1949 animated film, “SONG OF THE SOUTH” and the Uncle Remus stories by Joel Chandler Harris, Disney Parks has decided to change the attraction’s theme to one based on the 2009 animated film, “THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG”. And I believe this is a big mistake.

First of all, why can Disney Parks not consider the idea of maintaining the present theme of Splash Mountain and create a new one based on “THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG”? What is the point of erasing the “SONG OF THE SOUTH” theme from its Splash Mountain attraction? “THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG” theme . . . with a mountain setting? That does not make any sense to me, considering the 2009 movie was set in late 1920s New Orleans and the swamps of Southern Louisiana. “SONG OF THE SOUTH” was set near the region of Stone Mountain, somewhere between Northern and Central Georgia.

If Disney thinks it is being politically correct in the wake of the Black Lives Matters movement, they are mistaken. The Brer Rabbit stories are basically AFRICAN-AMERICAN folklore,which served as a metaphor for the struggles of African-American slaves before and immediately after the Civil War. Three African-Americans on a Georgia plantation had told these stories to Joel Chandler Harris, a white teenager they had befriended during and after the Civil War. Harris had worked for their owner and later, employer. When he later became a journalist and a writer, Harris took those stories and had them published under the “Uncle Remus Tales” title between 1880 and 1907. The character of Uncle Remus served as a metaphor for those three slaves-turned-freedmen, whom Harris had befriended. What Disney Parks is doing is misguided lip service to the Black Lives Matter movement. If Disney Parks really want to pay tribute to the movement, it would maintain Splash Mountain’s original theme and create a new attraction based on “THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG”.

Now that I think about it, what is really racist about “SONG OF THE SOUTH”? The Uncle Remus character? The fact that he is a former slave? Or that he was friendly with two white kids? Or that he still lived on a plantation after the Civil War? Uncle Remus was based on the three slaves that Joel Harris had befriended on a plantation. How else does anyone thinks Harris had found out about the Brer Rabbit stories? By eavesdropping on the plantation workers? Are people upset that Uncle Remus had served as a narrator, telling these stories to white kids? I also noticed two other aspects of this situation. The 1946 movie was set during the post-Civil War era. One of the film’s main protagonists, a young Georgian white boy named Johnny, who happened to be the son of an Atlanta newspaper journalist in post-Civil War Georgia. Aside from Uncle Remus, Johnny had befriended a poor white girl and the son of a black sharecropper during his family’s visit to his grandmother’s plantation. The movie has nothing to do with reinforcing the so-called “glories” of the pre-Civil War Old South. None of the live-action characters in “SONG OF THE SOUTH” – including Uncle Remus – or the film’s actual plantation setting is featured inside Splash Mountain. So again . . . why does Disney Parks feel it needs to change the attraction’s theme?

The Brer Rabbit stories are metaphors about how generations black Americans had SURVIVED the horrors of American slavery, after they and their ancestors had been dragged to North American and to different parts of the South and forced to work for nothing against their will. Do many people have a problem that comedy was an element in the stories? That is how the original stories were framed. At least “SONG OF THE SOUTH” is actually based on African-American culture or folklore. Despite having an African-American woman as its leading character, “THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG” is not. It is a movie based on “The Frog Princess”, a 2002 novel written by E.D. Baker, a white American woman. She had based her novel on who based her story on “The Frog Prince”, the 1812 novel written by the Brothers Grimm . . . two white European men.

By replacing the “SONG OF THE SOUTH” theme inside Splash Mountain attraction at the Disney theme parks with one from “THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG”, Disney Parks is erasing one theme based on African-American culture and replacing it with one based on European culture. Replacing “THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG” lead character from a white European woman to an African-American woman does not change that fact.