“I, TONYA” (2017) Review

 

“I, TONYA” (2017) Review

Like others who had grown up in the mid-to-late 20th century, I remember the sports scandal that surrounded Olympic figure skaters, Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding. The media wallowed in the scandal on television screens, newspapers and magazines. It all culminated when both women participated in the 1994 Winter Olympics Games in Lillehammer, Norway.

Several months after the ’94 Olympic Games, NBC aired the 1994 television movie, “TONYA AND NANCY: THE INSIDE STORY”. Actually, the television movie appeared two months after the Lillehammer games. Did I see it? No. In fact, I did not even bother to watch the two skaters’ compete in the Olympic Games. I barely gave Harding or Kerrigan a thought through those years in which the scandal was mentioned or spoofed in a series of television episodes, movies, songs and documentaries. However, during the fall of 2017, I found myself watching the trailer for biopic about Harding called “I, TONYA”. The trailer seemed so intriguing and somewhat off-the-wall that for the first time in twenty-three years, I found myself intrigued by the subject and decided to watch it.

Directed by Craig Gillespie and written by Steven Rogers (one of the film’s co-producers), “I, TONYA” is basically a biography about Tonya Harding and her connection to the January 6, 1994 attack on rival Nancy Kerrigan. To be honest, Kerrigan played a supporting role – and not a very big one – in this biopic. This movie was all about Tonya. Starring Margot Robbie in the title role, “I, TONYA” followed Harding’s life from the age of four to the immediate aftermath of the Lillehammer Games. The movie was written a mockumentary style that featured fictional interviews of Harding and others who had a major role in her life:

*Ex-husband Jeff Gillooly
*LaVona Golden, Tonya’s husband
*Diane Rawlinson, Tonya’s first and last skating coach
*Shawn Eckhardt, Gillooly’s close friend and Tonya’s so-called bodyguard
*Martin Maddox, a fictional character who is basically a composite of many television producers that exploited the 1994 scandal

Ironically, Nancy Kerrigan is the only major character in this movie who was not interviewed. Perhaps Gillespie and Robbie, who served as one of the film’s other three producers, felt that the real Kerrigan would be offended at the thought of her cinematic counterpart being featured as a supporting character in a film about Harding. Judging from Kerrigan’s reaction to the movie, they were right. Another aspect of this film that I found surprising is that it was basically a biopic about Harding. The latter did not share top billing with her rival in this film, unlike the 1994 television film. It turns out that screenwriter/co-producer Steven Rogers found Harding’s personal life more complex and compelling. He also noticed that both Harding and her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, had very conflicting accounts of what really happened with Kerrigan and realized this would make an interesting narrative for a film.

Was “I, TONYA” an interesting film? Well . . . yes. Yes, it was. But it had its flaws. Actually, I could only find one major flaw in the film’s narrative. For a film that allegedly was supposed to be about Harding from the viewpoints of several people, it seemed to me that aside from trainer Diane Rawlinson, only Harding’s point-of-view really seemed to matter. Or the one audiences were expected to take seriously. Most of Jeff Gillooly’s account of his relationship with Harding were portrayed with a grain of salt. At the same time, audiences were expected to accept his account of his relationship with Shawn Eckhardt as the real deal. This . . . contradiction seemed a bit hard to swallow at times. Look . . . I realize that Tonya Harding is at the center of this tale. But if one is going to utilize the narration of more than one character, all viewpoints should be equally judged on whether to take them seriously or not.

But you know what? I still found “I, TONYA” rather interesting. I also found it entertaining. One, screenwriter Steven Rogers and director Craig Gillespie took what could have been a basic Hollywood biopic and created what turned out to be one of the most original and somewhat bizarre film biographies I have ever seen, hands down. As I had earlier pointed out, Rogers and Gillespie utilized the “mockdocumentary” style to include scenes that feature interviews of the main characters. I thought this movie device was utilized with great wit, along with a dash of dark humor and great satisfaction for me. This was especially the case when both the screenwriter and director used it to break the “fourth wall” – a narrative device used when a character breaks away from the story to address the audience.

Many people have wondered why Rogers had focused his screenplay on Tonya Harding. Why not write a movie about both Harding and Nancy Kerrigan? Well . . . as I had earlier pointed out, such a story had already been told in that 1994 NBC television movie I had earlier mentioned. Rogers could have done a movie about Kerrigan and her family’s struggles to support her skating career. It probably would have been a very uplifiting film. But if one looks into Harding’s personal history . . . well, I might as well be frank . . . it is the stuff from which movie biopics are made. Between Harding’s contentious and abusive relationships with both her mother La Vona Golden and first husband Jeff Gillooly, her earthy and frank personality and her more aggressive and modern style of skating that led her to clash with the judges . . . I mean, honestly, can you really blame both Steven Rogers and Craig Gillespie for choosing to do a movie about her? I certainly cannot. Between the off-the-wall directorial style that Gillespie had utilized and Rogers’ sharp screenplay, is it any wonder that I found this movie so fascinating to watch?

What I found even more fascinating is that the movie put the screws to everyone – Harding’s mother, ex-husband, his friend Shawn Eckhardt, the men recruited to attack Kerrigan, the ice skating organizations (both national and international) and yes . . . even Harding herself. Whenever the script had the former ice skating making excuses for some of her questionable actions, it also revealed her excuses or comments as lies. But the most interesting moment occurred when Harding (as narrator) turned to the camera and made this comment about the media and the public’s reaction to her legal travails:

” It was like being abused all over again. Only this time it was by you. All of you. You’re all my attackers too.”

Now . . . one could dismiss this as petulant complaining from the leading character’s part. Perhaps it is. Perhaps it is not. But I could not help thinking there was a great deal of truth in those words. As much as the media and the public loves worshiping a celebrity, once the latter slips or make a mistake, both will bash or drag that celebrity through the mud for as long as they can. It almost seemed as if they revel in that celebrity’s misfortune. Like I said, Harding and those close to her were not the only ones skewered in this film.

In order to make a movie work, one needs a first-rate story, director and cast. “I, TONYA” was very lucky to have Steven Rogers and Craig Gillespie as its screenwriter and director. It was also blessed with a first-rate cast. The movie featured solid performances from the likes of Julianne Nicholson, Mckenna Grace, the very entertaining Bobby Cannavale, Bojana Novakovic and Caitlin Carver. However, the performances that really impressed me came from four people – Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Paul Walter Hauser and Allison Janney.

Paul Walter Hauser gave a very funny performance as the clueless Shawn Eckhardt, whose enthusiasm toward his role as Harding’s “bodyguard” may have led him to go too far. Sebastian Stan gave a very complex performance as Harding’s first husband, Jeff Gillooly. Stan portrayed his character with a combination of quiet charm and violent intensity. Frankly, he should have been nominated for his performance. The wonderful Allison Janney won both a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award for her portrayal of Harding’s sharp-tongued and abrasive mother, La Vona Golden. I could never decide whether the character was funny or horrifying. But thanks to Janney’s performance, she was very interesting. Margot Robbie (who also served as one of the film’s producers) is the last actress I could see portraying Tonya Harding. If I must be blunt, she is taller and better looking than the Olympic skater. And yet . . . she gave one of the best performances of her career (so far) as the ambitious and aggressive Harding. I really admire how Robbie managed to convey so many aspects of the skater’s personality without being overwhelmed. She really earned her Golden Globe and Oscar nominations.

Aside from the story, the direction and performances, there were other aspects of “I, TONYA” that I admired. My mind was not particularly blown away by Nicolas Karakatsanis’ cinematography. But I thought his work served both the film’s story and setting rather well. I could also say the same about Jennifer Johnson’s costume designs, which more than an adequate job of serving both the film’s late 20th century setting and Harding’s historic skating costumes. I do not recall Peter Nashel’s score. But I must admit that I admire how he utilize well known tunes from the late 20th century throughout the film. The one technical aspect of “I, TONYA” that I truly admired was Tatiana S. Riegel’s editing. I thought she did a superb job in the way she shaped Harding’s tale from Gillespie’s narrators, fourth walls and sequences on the ice rink. For her work, Riegel earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Editing and won the American Cinema Editors Award for Best Edited Feature Film – Comedy or Musical.

I never thought I would find myself watching a movie about Olympic ice skater, Tonya Harding. Hell, I never thought I would end up enjoying it. Yet, I did enjoy “I, TONYA” very much. I thought it was one of the most bizarre and fascinating biopics I have ever seen. In fact, thanks to director Craig Gillespie, screenwriter Steven Rogers and a superb cast led by Margot Robbie, “I, TONYA” proved to be one of my favorite movies of 2017.

 

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“There’s no such thing as truth. It’s bullshit. Everyone has their own truth, and life just does whatever the fuck it wants.”

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Top Five Favorite Episodes of “COPPER” (2012-2013)

Below is a list of my five favorite episodes from the 2012-2013 BBC America series, “COPPER”. Created by Tom Fontana and Will Rokos, the series starred Tom Weston-Jones, Kyle Schmid and Ato Essandoh: 

TOP FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “COPPER” (2012-2013)

1-1.02 Husbands and Fathers

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

1 - 2.05 A Morning Song

2. (2.05) “A Morning Song” – Major counterfeiter Philomen Keating takes over the Sixth Ward precinct and hold hostages in an effort to retrieve his confiscated counterfeiting plates back.

2-1.09 A Day to Give Thanks

3. (1.09) “A Day to Give Thanks” – Following the reappearance of his missing wife Ellen in an asylum, Corky tracks down her former lover in order to learn what really happened to their dead daughter, while he was in the Army. Meanwhile, Confederate agents blackmail Robert Morehouse’s wealthy father into helping their plot to set New York City on fire, following the re-election of Abraham Lincoln.

3 - 2.03 The Children of the Battlefield

4. (2.03) “The Children of the Battlefield” – While Kevin searches for the person responsible for the kidnapping and murder of young Five Points men, Robert Morehouse and the widowed Elizabeth Haverford exchange wedding vows before the latter reveals an unpleasant surprise.

3-1.06 Arsenic and Old Cake

5. (1.06) “Arsenic and Old Cake” – Corky investigate the death of the dentist of one of his men, who died by arsenic poisoning. Widow Elizabeth Haverford tries to discipline an unruly Annie and return the latter to her abusive husband, a Mr. Reilly. An exhibition boxing match between a young African-American and an Irish-American local politician end with racial tension.

Top Ten Favorite Movies Set During the 1500s

Below is a list of my favorite movies set during the 1500s: 

 

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET DURING THE 1500s

1. “The Sea Hawk” (1940) – Errol Flynn starred in this exciting, but loose adaptation of Rafael Sabatini’s 1915 novel about an Elizabethan privateer. Directed by Michael Curtiz, the movie starred Brenda Marshall and Henry Daniell.

2. “Shakespeare in Love” (1998) – John Madden directed this Best Picture winner about how an imaginary love affair between playwright William Shakespeare and a wealthy merchant’s daughter that led to his creation of “Romeo and Juliet”. Joseph Fiennes and Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow starred.

3. “Anne of the Thousand Days” (1969) – Richard Burton and Oscar nominee Geneviève Bujold starred in this historical drama about Anne Boleyn’s relationship with King Henry VIII of England. Charles Jarrott directed.

4. “A Man for All Seasons” (1966) – Oscar winner Fred Zinnemann directed this Best Picture winner, an adaptation of Robert Bolt’s play about the final years of Sir Thomas More, Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor. Oscar winner Paul Scofield starred.

5. “Captain From Castile” (1947) – Tyrone Power starred in this adaptation of Samuel Shellabarger’s 1945 novel about a Spanish nobleman’s experiences during the Spanish Inquisition and Hernan Cortez’s conquest of the Aztecs in Mexico. Directed by Henry King, the movie co-starred Jean Peters and Cesar Romero.

6. “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex” (1939) – Bette Davis, Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland starred in this adaptation of Maxwell Anderson’s 1930 Broadway play, “Elizabeth the Queen”, a fictionalized account of the relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and the 2nd Earl of Essex. Michael Curtiz directed.

7. “Elizabeth” (1998) – Golden Globe winner Cate Blanchett starred in this highly fictionalized account of the early years of Elizabeth I’s reign. Directed by Shekhar Kapur, the movie co-starred Geoffrey Rush, Joseph Fiennes and Richard Attenborough.

8. “Ever After” (1998) – Drew Barrymore starred in this loose adaptation of “Cinderella”. Directed by Andy Tennant, the movie co-starred Anjelica Houston and Dougray Scott.

9. “Mary, Queen of Scotland” (1971) – Vanessa Redgrave starred in this biopic about the life of Queen Mary of Scotland. Directed by Charles Jarrott, the movie co-starred Timothy Dalton, Nigel Davenport and Glenda Jackson.

10. “Anonymous” (2011) – Roland Emmerich directed this interesting and highly fictionalized biopic about Elizabethan courtier, Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. The movie starred Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, Joely Richardson and David Thewlis.

Second Look: “MANDINGO” (1975)

 

SECOND LOOK: “MANDINGO” (1975)

About forty-three years ago, Paramount Pictures released an adaptation of Kyle Onscott’s 1957 novel of the Old South, ”MANDINGO”. This movie, which has developed a reputation as lurid, exploitive and racist, is considered to be one of the worst films to be released in the 1970s. Directed by Richard Fleischer, it starred Perry King, Ken Norton, James Mason, Brenda Sykes, Susan George and Ben Masters. 

However, there are recent film critics who refuse to dismiss ”MANDINGO” as simply lurid trash. They contend that despite its melodramatic tone, the movie offered a portrait of the antebellum South that may have been a lot more accurate than shown in Hollywood movies before or since. I have found two articles on the movie you might find interesting:

““Expect the Truth”: Exploiting History with Mandingo 

NOTCOMING.COM: “Mandingo”

“The Greatest Film About Race Ever Filmed in Hollywood”: Richard Fleischer’s Mandingo

“SLIFR: ‘Mandingo'”

“MANDINGO” (1975) Images

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“GEORGE WASHINGTON” (1984) Review

 

“GEORGE WASHINGTON” (1984) Review

Twenty-four years before the award-winning HBO miniseries “JOHN ADAMS” aired, the CBS network aired a miniseries about the first U.S. President, George Washington. Simply titled “GEORGE WASHINGTON”, this three-part miniseries was based upon two biographies written by James Thomas Flexner – 1965’s “George Washington, the Forge of Experience, 1732–1775” and 1968’s “George Washington in the American Revolution, 1775–1783”

“GEORGE WASHINGTON” spanned at least forty years in the life of the first president – from 1743, when his father Augustine Washington died from a sudden illness; to 1783, when Washington bid good-bye to the officers who had served under him during the American Revolutionary War. The miniseries covered some of the major events of Washington’s life:

*His training and profession as a surveyor of Western lands
*His experiences as an officer of the Virginia militia during the Seven Years War
*His friendship with neighbors George William and Sally Cary Fairfax between the 1750s and the 1770s
*The romantic feelings between him and Sally Fairfax
*His marriage to widow Martha Dandridge Custis and his role as stepfather to her two children
*His life as a Virginia planter
*His role as a member of Virginia’s House of Burgesses
*His growing disenchantment with the British Parliament
*His brief experiences as a representative of the Second Continental Congress
*And his experiences as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army

Actually, one half of the miniseries covered Washington’s life from his childhood to his years as a Virginia planter. The other half covered his experiences during the American Revolution. Glancing at the list above, I realized that “GEORGE WASHINGTON”covered a great deal in Washington’s life. More importantly, Jon Boothe and Richard Fielder did a first-rate job by delving into the many aspects of the man’s life and his relationships with great details and depth. This was especially apparent in Washington’s relationships with his controlling mother, Mary Ball Washington; his friendship with George William Fairfax; his light romance with Sally Fairfax; his relationships with his military aides during the American Revolution and especially his marriage to Martha Custis.

I found it interesting that the miniseries managed to convey how difficult and controlling Mary Washington was as a parent. However, I found it slightly disappointing that the miniseries did not further explore Washington’s relationship with his mother, once he became swept up into the Seven Year’s War – especially since she had survived long enough to witness him become the first U.S. president.

Washington’s relationship with George William “Will” Fairfax proved to be a complex matter for two reasons. One, Will Fairfax had remained loyal to the British Crown throughout his life. During the decade leading to the outbreak of the American Revolution, that relationship threatened to fall apart due to the two friends’ different political belief – something I was happy to see that the miniseries had conveyed. Another aspect that posed a threat to Washington’s friendship with Fairfax was his romantic feelings for the man’s wife, Sally Fairfax . . . and her feelings for him. There have been rumors that Washington’s relationship with Sally had led to physical adultery, but no proof. But there is proof that they had strong feelings for one another and the miniseries; due to Fiedler and Boothe’s screenplay, along with the performances of Barry Bostwick and Jaclyn Smith; did an excellent job of conveying the pair’s emotional regard for each other in a subtle and elegant manner. What I found even more amazing was the miniseries’ portrayal of Washington’s courtship of and his marriage to Martha Custis. I was surprised that Boothe and Fiedler had portrayed Washington’s feelings toward her with such ambiguity. This left me wondering if he had married her for love . . . or for her fortune. By the last half hour or so of the miniseries, Washington finally admitted to Martha that he did love her. However, the manner in which Bostwick portrayed that scene, I found myself wondering if Washington was himself amazed by how much his feelings for Martha had grown.

I do not know what to say about the miniseries’ portrayal of Washington’s relationships with his military aides during the American Revolution. I do not doubt that his aides were loyal to him or probably even worship him. But I must admit that it seemed the miniseries’ portrayal of this relationship seemed to make Washington’s character just a touch too ideal for my tastes. In fact, one of the miniseries’ main problems seemed to be its idealistic portrayal of the main character. Aside from Washington’s bouts of quick temper, his ambiguous affections for his wife Martha, and his cold relationship with his less than ideal stepson, John “Jacky” Parke Custis; the miniseries made very little effort to portray Washington in any negative light. In fact, Washington’s demand for higher rank within the Virginia militia and British Army during the Seven Years War is portrayed as justified, thanks to Fiedler and Boothe’s screenplay. Personally, I found his demand rather arrogant, considering his young age (early to mid-20s) and limited training and experience as a military officer at the time. Not only did I found his demand arrogant, but also rather astounding. What I found even more astounding was the miniseries’ attitude that television viewers were supposed to automatically sympathize with Washington’s demands.

The miniseries’ portrayal of Washington in the second half – the period that covered the American Revolution – nearly portrayed the planter-turned-commander as a demigod. Honestly. Aside from his occasional bursts of temper, General George Washington of the Continental Army – at least in this miniseries – was a man who could do no wrong. And at times, I found this rather boring. I cannot recall any moment during the miniseries’ second half that questioned Washington’s decisions or behavior. Most of his military failures were blamed on either military rivals or limited support from the Continental Congress.

And then . . . there was the matter of black soldiers serving in the Continental Army. According to “GEORGE WASHINGTON”, Southern representative in Congress wanted blacks – whether they were former slaves or freemen – banned from serving in the army. It was Washington who demanded that Congress allow black men to fight alongside white men in the country’s rebellion against the British Empire. By the way . . . this was a complete lie. Despite black men fighting in the Massachusetts militias during the Battles at Lexington and Concord and the Battle of Bunker Hill, Washington signed an order forbidding them to become part of the Continental Army when the white New England militiamen did. Come to think of it, when it came to racism and slavery, “GEORGE WASHINGTON” presented a completely whitewashed portrait of the future president. The miniseries even featured a pre-war scene in which Washington prevented his overseer from breaking apart slave families at Mount Vernon by selling some of the slaves for needed funds for the plantation. In reality, Washington was not above selling off slaves or breaking up families for the sake of profit or punishing a slave. At a time when historians and many factions of the American public were willing to view the Founding Fathers in a more ambiguous light; Fiedler and co-producers Buzz Kulik and David Gerber lacked the guts to portray Washington with a bit more honestly . . . especially in regard to race and slavery. If they had been more honest, they could have portrayed Washington’s growing unease over slavery and race, following Congress’ decision to allow them within the ranks of the Continental Army in 1777. Unfortunately, putting Washington on a pedestal seemed more important than allowing him some semblance of character development.

Production wise, “GEORGE WASHINGTON” struck me as first-rate. The miniseries had been shot in locales in Virginia and Southern Pennsylvania, adding to the production’s 18th century Colonial America atmosphere. I cannot say whether Harry Stradling Jr.’s cinematography also contributed to the miniseries’ setting. If I must be honest, I did not find his photography that memorable. But I was impressed by Alfred Sweeney’s production designs, along with Sig Tingloff’s art direction and Arthur Jeph Parker’s set decorations. However, I had a problem with the costume choices selected by a costume team supervised by Michael W. Hoffman. To be honest, I did not have much trouble with the costumes for the men. The women’s costumes proved to be another man. A good deal of the story is set among the colonial Virginia gentry. I hate to say this, but I found a good deal of the women’s costumes less than impressive. They looked as if they came straight from a costume warehouse in the middle of Hollywood. I especially had a problem with Jaclyn Smith’s wardrobe as Sally Fairfax. I realize that she is supposed to be an 18th century version of a Southern belle. But there were one or two costumes that seemed to be some confusing mixture of mid 18th and mid 19th centuries. Yikes.

I certainly had no problem with the performances featured in the 1984 miniseries. The latter featured solid performances from legendary actors like Lloyd Bridges, Jose Ferrer, Trevor Howard, Jeremy Kemp, Clive Revill, Anthony Zerbe, Robert Stack and Hal Holbrook. However, I really enjoyed James Mason’s energetic portrayal of the doomed General Edward Braddock; Rosemary Murphy’s skillful performance as the future president’s demanding mother, Mary Ball Washington; Richard Kiley’s emotional portrayal of Washington’s neighbor, planter George Mason; and John Glover’s ambiguous performance as the ambitious Revolutionary officer, Charles Lee. I was also impressed by Stephen Macht’s performance as the ambitious and volatile Benedict Arnold. I could also say the same about Megan Gallagher’s portrayal of Arnold’s wife, Peggy Shippen. Ron Canada provided a good deal of depth in his limited appearances as Washington’s slave valet, Billy Lee. Philip Casnoff, who was a year away from his stint in the “NORTH AND SOUTH” miniseries, gave a very charming and humorous performance as Washington’s French-born aide and close friend, the Marquis de Lafayette. And Leo Burmester gave an excellent performance as Eban Krutch, the New England born Continental soldier, who served as the viewers’ eyes of both Washington and the war throughout the miniseries’ second half.

I really enjoyed David Dukes’ performance as Washington’s neighbor, mentor and close friend, Will Fairfax. I found it quite energetic and charming. And he managed to develop a first-rate chemistry with Barry Bostwick. Come to think of it, so did Jaclyn Smith, who portrayed Fairfax’s wife and the object of Washington’s desire, Sally Fairfax. I also found Smith’s performance rather complex as she had to convey her character’s feelings for Washington in a subtle manner. At first, I found Patty Duke’s portrayal of the future First Lady, Martha Washington, solid but not particularly interesting. Thankfully, the last quarter of the miniseries allowed Duke to prove what a first-rate actress she could be, as it explored Mrs. Washington’s reaction to the privations suffered by the Continental Army’s rank-and-file. Her performance led to an Emmy nomination. And finally, I come to the man of the hour himself, Barry Bostwick. Despite the miniseries being guilty of whitewashing some of Washington’s character, I cannot deny that Bostwick gave a superb performance. The actor skillfully conveyed Washington’s character from the callow youth who was dominated by his mother and his ambition to the weary, yet iconic military general who carried the rebellion and the birth of a country on his shoulders. It is a pity that he did not receive any award nominations for his performance.

I may have my complaints about “GEORGE WASHINGTON”. Despite its detailed account of the first president’s life, I believe it went out of its way to protect his reputation with occasional whitewashing. And some of the miniseries’ production values – namely the women’s costumes – struck me as a bit underwhelming. But despite its flaws, “GEORGE WASHINGTON” proved to be a first-rate miniseries that delved into the history of the United States during the mid-and-late 18th century, via the life of one man. It also benefited from excellent direction from Buzz Kulik and superb performances led by the talented Barry Bostwick. Not surprisingly, the miniseries managed to earn at least six Emmy nominations.

Top Favorite HISTORICAL NOVELS

Below is a current list of my top favorite historical novels: 

 

TOP FAVORITE HISTORICAL NOVELS

1. “North and South” (1982) by John Jakes – This is the first of a trilogy about two wealthy American families – the Hazards of Pennsylvania and the Mains of South Carolina – during the mid-19th century. This superb novel is set during the two decades before the U.S. Civil War.

 

2. “Flashman and the Redskins” (1982) by George MacDonald Fraser – This excellent novel from the Flashman series picks up where the 1971 novel, “Flash For Freedom” left off . . . with British Army officer Harry Flashman stuck in New Orleans in 1849. He eventually joins a wagon train bound for the California gold fields. The story concludes 27 years later, on the Little Bighorn battlefield.

 

3. “The Wheel of Fortune” (1984) by Susan Howatch – This excellent saga tells the story of a wealthy Anglo-Welsh family named the Goodwins between 1913 and the early 1970s.  Filled with family feuds, traumas, insanity, murder and romance; I regard this as the best of Howatch’s family sagas.

 

4. “Love and War” (1984) by John Jakes – The saga of the Hazards and the Mains continues in this story about their experiences during the U.S. Civil War. I regard this as one of the best Civil War novels I have ever read, despite being underappreciated by some critics.

 

5. “Shadow of the Moon” (1956; 1979) by M.M. Kaye – Set against the backdrop of mid-19th century India and the Sepoy Rebellion, this novel tells the story of a young Anglo-Spanish woman named Winter de Ballesteros and her love for British Army officer, Alex Randall.

 

6. “Voodoo Dreams” (1993) by Jewell Parker-Rhodes – The novel is a fictional account of the famous Voodoo priestess, Marie Laveau, in early 19th century New Orleans. Despite a slow start, the novel unveiled a very engrossing tale.

 

7. “Flashman and the Dragon” (1985) by George MacDonald Fraser – This entry in the Flashman series is an account of Harry Flashman’s experiences during the Taiping Rebellion and the March to Pekin in 1860 China. A personal favorite of mine.

 

8. “Centennial” (1974) by James Michner – A superb, multi-generational saga about the history of a small northern Colorado town, between the 1790s and the 1970s. I regard this superb novel as one of Michner’s best.

 

9. “The Bastard” (1974) by John Jakes – The first novel in Jakes’ Kent Family Chronicles series, this story is about Philip “Charbanneau” Kent, the illegitimate offspring of a French actress and a British nobleman during the years leading to the American Revolution. A personal favorite of mine.

 

10. “Flashman in the Great Game” (1975) by George MacDonald – This fifth entry in the Flashman series follows Harry Flashman’s harrowing adventures during the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857-58. Another one of Fraser’s best, which features plenty of drama, action and some pretty funny moments. A must read.

 

11. “The Killer Angels” (1974) by Michael Shaara – This Pulitzer Prize winning novel about the Gettysburg Campaign is considered one of the finest Civil War novels ever written. And I heartily agree.

 

12. “Lonesome Dove” (1985) by Larry McMurty – This Pulitzer Prize winning novel tells the story about two former Texas Ranges who lead a cattle drive on a perilous journey from South Texas to Montana in the late 1870s.

Shepherd’s Pie

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Below is an article about the British dish known as Shepherd’s Pie

SHEPHERD’S PIE

One of the most well-known dishes from Great Britain is what could easily be regarded as comfort food – namely Shepherd’s Pie. It is basically a meat pie that came into creation, due to the introduction of a certain vegetable to the British Isles. Meat pies have been a tradition in England since the Middle Ages. Game pie, pot pie and mutton pie were very popular and served in pastry shells or “coffyns”. These pies were usually cooked for hours in a slow oven, and topped with rich aspic jelly and other sweet spices.

But in the 16th century, the Spanish discovered the potato in the New World – somewhere in the Andes Mountains region. However, potatoes could be found anywhere in the Americas from the present-day United States to Chile. The Spanish eventually introduced the potato to the British Isles. But the British did not really embrace the plant until the 18th century. Sometime during that century, Shepherd’s Pie may have been created by some frugal housewife looking for a new way to serve leftover meat to her family. It is also believed that the dish either originated in Northern England or Scotland.

Shepherd’s Pie consisted of minced lamb or mutton that was cooked in a gravy with onions and sometimes vegetables like peas, celery or carrots. The dish was usually topped with a crust made from mashed potatoes. Early cookbooks featured instructions to line the pie dish with more mash potatoes and use any kind of of leftover roasted meat. Recent recipes include the addition of grated cheese on top of the potatoes. Although the dish dates back to the 18th century, the “Shepherd Pie” name originated sometime during the mid-Victorian Age. Another variation of the dish is the “Cottage Pie”, which consisted of minced beef, instead of lamb or mutton. Ironically, its named originated in 1791 . . . decades earlier.

Below is the recipe for Shepherd’s Pie from the Epicurious.com website:

Shepherd’s Pie

Ingredients

*1 tablespoon vegetable oil
*1 large onion, peeled and chopped
*1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
*1 pound ground lamb (or substitute half with another ground meat)
*1 cup beef or chicken broth
*1 tablespoon tomato paste
*1 teaspoon chopped fresh or dry rosemary
*1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
*1 cup frozen peas
*2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
*6 tablespoons unsalted butter
*1/2 cup milk (any fat content)
*Kosher salt to taste

Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
2. In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, heat the oil, then add the onion, carrot, and meat. Cook until browned, 8 to 10 minutes.
3. Drain the fat and add the broth, tomato paste, and herbs. Simmer until the juices thicken, about 10 minutes, then add the peas.
4. Pour the mixture into a 1 1/2-quart baking dish; set aside.
5. Meanwhile, bring the potatoes to a boil in salted water. Cook until tender, about 20 minutes; drain.
6. Mash the potatoes with the butter, milk, and salt.
7. Spread them over the meat mixture, then crosshatch the top with a fork.
8. Bake until golden, 30 to 35 minutes.

Tip

• Instead of using a baking dish for the Shepherd’s Pie, keep the filling in the (ovenproof) sauté pan in which you cook it, top with the crust, and bake it all in the oven for a skillet version that won’t dirty another dish.