“BUCCANEER’S GIRL” (1950) Review

11963133_629a_1024x2000

“BUCCANEER’S GIRL” (1950) Review

I have always been a sucker for old films – especially those that are costumed flicks. Between my late teens and late twenties, I had developed a habit of watching old movies on late night television. One of those films was the 1950 comedy swashbuckler, “BUCCANEER’S GIRL”.

Directed by Frederick De Cordova, the movie began with a ship commanded by a pirate named “Frederic Baptiste” attacking and ransacking a trader ship bound for New Orleans during the first decade of the 19th century. One of Baptiste’s victims is a Boston-born young woman named Deborah “Debbie” McCoy who also happens to be a stowaway. Although Baptiste’s first mate had ordered two crewmen to place Debbie in one of the long boats with the passengers, they decide to keep her aboard the pirate’s ship for . . . entertainment. However, Baptiste intercepts them and decides to keep Debbie on board before delivering her to Tortuga.

Although Debbie gets to know Baptiste’s crew, she stows away aboard the pirate’s long boat, when his ship arrives in New Orleans. Not long after her arrival in the Crescent City, Debbie is taken in by one Mademoiselle Brizar, the proprietor of a “School for Genteel Young Ladies”, who also serves as an agent for young women like Debbie with musical talent. After a few months of training, Debbie performs at a local tavern, where she learns that the pirate “Baptiste” is actually a local sea captain and trader named Captain Robert Kingston who has been using his piratical activities to plunder the ships of another wealthy shipping magnate named Alexander Narbonne, who had earlier used the real Baptiste (killed by Kingston) to get rid of his business competition. Debbie also discovers that Captain Kingston is engaged to the Governor’s niece, Mademoiselle Arlene Villon, who is also coveted by Narbonne.

One has to be blind, deaf and dumb not to realize that “BUCCANEER’S GIRL” is basically a B-movie. The plot, written by Samuel R. Golding, Joseph Hoffman, Joe May and Harold Shumate; does not exactly possess any real depth. In fact, I am rather surprised that so many writers had worked on screenplay for this movie. Nevertheless, “BUCCANEER’S GIRL” proved to be a very entertaining movie.

Did the movie have any faults? Well, since it is a B-movie, I would not describe the sets and production values as particularly top notch. And although I found Yvonne Wood’s costume designs very colorful and attractive, I cannot help but wonder if they were accurate depictions of fashion from the first decade of the 19th century.

However, I do have one major complaint about the film. But I do not really consider that to be a fault. I will admit that I found the movie’s ending rather vague and slightly confusing. The majority of the film centered on the conflict between Captain Robert Kingston aka the fake Baptiste and his business/romantic rival, Alexander Narbonne. Both men sought the hand of the Governor’s niece, Arlene Villon. Kingston used the “Captain Baptiste” persona to go after Narbonne’s ships in revenge for the latter using the real Baptiste to destroy shipping rivals. Well, Kingston eventually achieved his goal when he destroyed the last three ships in Narbonne’s fleet during a two-to-three minute montage in the movie’s second half. Unfortunately, the movie’s last act focused on Kingston being arrested for piracy and a scheme to spring him out of jail. And I found this last sequence rather anti-climatic and a little disappointing, if I must be frank.

But despite the film’s ending, I must admit that I enjoyed “BUCCANEER’S GIRL”. Very much. It is a very entertaining film, thanks to a rather clever screenplay. The 1950 film is one of the very few swashbucklers that starred a woman. And get this, the movie’s main protagonist – one Debbie McCoy – is not a pirate or a seaman of any kind. And . . . she is certainly no swordsman. Instead, Debbie McCoy is that rare protagonist in a swashbuckler film, whose possess a talent for singing, witty repartees, stowing aboard ships and clever thinking. Universal Studios was wise to cast Yvonne De Carlo in this role. Not only did the actress gave an excellent and entertaining performance, she also seemed to be up to the task for her musical numbers. I did notice that of the three songs she performed, only one of them were lip synced by a sorprano.

Since the movie’s protagonist turned out to be a singer from Boston, naturally she required a leading man who is more of a swashbuckling type. In another act of clever acting, the screenwriters created Captain Robert Kingston, a respectable sea captain who doubled as the pirate “Baptiste”. Due to her penchant for stowing away, Debbie not only becomes familiar with Kingston and his crew, she also becomes one of the few people who knows about his double act. The filmmakers went out of their way to hire Philip Friend, an actor with a credible screen presence, but one not as strong as the leading lady’s. The odd thing about “BUCCANEER’S GIRL” is that although the leading protagonist is a woman and entertainer, the movie’s narrative focused upon the conflict between the protagonist’s leading man and the film’s main villain.

The movie also featured very entertaining performances from Elsa Lancaster, who portrayed Debbie’s mentor Madame Brizar and Jay C. Flippen, who portrayed Kingston’s first mate, Jared Hawkens. Robert Douglas made an effective villain as shipping magnate Alexander Narbonne. Norman Lloyd, who eventually became well known to television audiences on NBC’s “ST. ELSEWHERE”, gave a sly performance as Narbonne’s slimy assistant, Patout. And Andrea King was sufficiently haughty as Kingston’s well born fiancée Arelene Villon. I was surprised to see Henry Daniell in this film as the local militia’s commander, Captain Duval. Five to ten years earlier, Daniell would have been cast as the main villain.

However, there is more to appreciate about “BUCCANEER’S GIRL”. It has a funny and very witty narrative, thanks to its four screenwriter. And although I found the historical accuracy of Yvonne Wood’s costumes a bit questionable, I cannot deny that I also found them colorful, as seen in the images below:

The movie also featured some mildly entertaining songs written by Walter Scharf and Jack Brooks. I especially enjoyed the last song performed in the film, “A Sailor Sails the Seven Seas”. Very jaunty. I was especially impressed by Russell Metty’s photography. It was unusually sharp and beautiful for B-movie. Metty put a lot of care into it.

In the end, “BUCCANEER’S GIRL” proved to be a surprisingly entertaining film. Yes, the ending struck me as slightly vague and anti-climatic. But everything else about the movie have so much to offer, including energetic direction from Frederick De Cordova, a clever narrative and excellent performances from a cast led by Yvonne De Carlo and Philip Friend. This is one film I have never grown tired of watching.

Top Favorite Episodes of “THE YOUNG RIDERS” Season One (1989-1990)

Below is a list of my top favorite episodes from ABC’s 1989-1992 Western television series called “THE YOUNG RIDERS”. Created by Ed Spielman, the series starred Ty Miller, Josh Brolin, Stephen Baldwin and Anthony Zerbe:

TOP FAVORITE EPISODES OF “THE YOUNG RIDERS” SEASON ONE (1989-1990)

YR - Speak No Evil

1. (1.04) “Speak No Evil” – When Pony Express rider Ike McSwain turns in the leader of a gang responsible for a stagecoach massacre, the other gang members try to kill him in order to prevent him from testifying. Albert Salmi guest-starred.

YR - Unfinished Business

2. (1.16) “Unfinished Business” – The estranged husband of the Sweetwater Express station caretaker Emma Shannon, survives a wagon train massacre and turns to her for shelter, while the men responsible searches for him. Cliff De Young and Frederick Coffin guest-starred.

YR - Black Ulysses

3. (1.06) “Black Ulysses” – The Express riders struggle over whether to obey the Fugitive Slave Law or protect a fugitive slave from a group of militiamen, who have been tracking him from Missouri. Stan Shaw and Tim Thomerson guest-starred.

YR - Gathering Clouds

4. (1.23-1.24) “Gathering Clouds” – Virginia-born The Kid is recruited by the U.S. government to infiltrate a group of Southern guerillas, while the town of Sweetwater deal with the ruthless methods of an Army captain, who is determined to capture the group. David Soul and Cynthia Nixon guest-starred.

YR - Bull Dog

5. (1.19) “Bulldog” – When the Pony Express owners plan to move the mail route north through Sioux burial lands, they send a recent college graduate, with a case of hero worship for James Hickok, to secure the arrangement. Fisher Stevens guest-starred.

YR - Bad Blood real

Honorable Mention: (1.05) “Bad Blood” – Express rider Louise “Lou” McCloud returns to the orphanage where she had been raised to visit her younger brother and sister and discovers that her estranged father, a ruthless gunrunner, had retrieved them. Jon De Vries guest-starred.

 

“POLDARK” Series One (1975): Episodes Five to Eight

“POLDARK” SERIES ONE (1975): EPISODES FIVE TO EIGHT

Last winter, I began watching the BBC’s 1975-77 adaptation of Winston Graham’s literary series about the life of a British Army officer and American Revolutionary War veteran, following his return to his home in Cornwall. The first four episodes proved to be adaptation of the first novel in Graham’s series, 1945’s “Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1783-1787”. Episodes Five to Eight focused on the series’ second novel, 1946’s “Demelza: A Novel of Cornwall, 1788-1790”.

Episode Four ended with Ross Poldark, a Cornish landowner and mine owner, discovering that his young kitchen maid, the 17 year-old Demelza Carne, is pregnant with his child. Abandoning his plan to reunite with his former fiancée, Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark, who had married his cousin Francis Polark; Ross decides to marry Demelza and take responsibility for their unborn child. Episode Five opened up six to seven months later with the birth of their daughter, Julia Poldark. Ross and Demelza decide to hold two christenings – one for his upper-crust family and neighbors and one for her working-class family. Unfortunately, fate upsets their plans when Demelza’s family crash the first christening. Episode Five also featured the introduction of new characters – a young doctor named Dwight Enys, who quickly befriends Ross; Keren Daniels, a young traveling actress who married a local miner named Mark Daniels; and George Warleggan, the scion of the Warleggan family, who became Ross’ archenemy.

The four episodes that formed the adaptation of “Demelza: A Novel of Cornwall” pretty much focused on the first two years of Ross’ marriage to Demelza. Their relationship seemed to thrive, despite the unromantic reasons why they got married in the first place. It was nice to see Ross and Demelza quickly settled into becoming an established couple. This was especially apparent in first christening for Ross and Demelza’s newborn, Julia, attended by Ross’ family and upper-class neighbors. However, this sequence also revealed that Ross and Demelza still had a long way to go, when Demelza’s religious and fanatical father and stepmother crashed the first christening. I enjoyed the sequence very much, even if it ended on an irritating note – namely Demelza and Mr. Carne’s shouting match that played merry hell on my ears. Although there were times when their relationship threatened to seem a bit too ideal, I have no other problems with it.

From a narrative point of view, the only hitch in Ross and Demelza’s relationship – so far – proved to be Demelza’s determination to help her cousin-in-law Verity Poldark’s renew the latter’s disastrous relationship with a Captain Andrew Blamey . . . behind Ross’ back. Following Blamey and Francis’ disastrous encounter in the second (or third) episode, Ross made it clear that he had no intention of helping Verity and Blamey’s romantic situation. Demelza, being young, romantic and naive; decided to intervene and help them continue their courtship. Her efforts were almost sidetracked when Francis and Elizabeth’s son, Geoffrey Charles, was stricken with Putrid Throat. Ross’ new friend, Dr. Enys, had recruited Verity to nurse Geoffrey Charles, believing that Elizabeth was incapable of serving as her son’s nurse. I must be honest . . . I found this plot line a bit contrived. One, it seemed like a theatrical way to inject tension into Verity’s romance with Captain Blamey and their plans to elope. And two, Elizabeth has never struck me as the type of woman incapable of nursing her own son, let alone anyone else. Nevertheless, Demelza’s efforts proved to be successful in the end when Verity and Captain Blamey finally eloped in Episode Seven.

Verity and Captain Blamey’s elopement also produced an ugly reaction from her brother Francis, who had been against their relationship from the beginning. That ugly reaction formed into an emotional rant against his sister that not only spoiled his wife Elizabeth and son Geoffrey Charles’ Christmas meal, but concluded with him succumbing to Putrid Throat. I will say this about Francis Poldark . . . his presence in Episodes Five to Eight proved to be a lot stronger than it was in the first four episodes. Viewers learned in the conclusion of Episode Six that he had betrayed the shareholder names of Ross’ new Carnmore Copper Company, an smelting organization formed to break the Warleggans’ monopoly on the mining industry in that part of Cornwall.

I am a little confused by why so many claim that Clive Francis had portrayed the character as less of a loser than Kyle Soller did in 2015. For example, in an article posted on the Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Two, the writer made this description of Francis in Episode Eight of the 1975 series – “I’ve come to realize that Francis is made considerably more appealing by Wheeler’s script: Graham’s Francis is witty, but his open self-berating and guilt are from Wheeler; also his generosity of spirit now and again.”.

That was not the Francis Poldark I saw in Episode Eight. Come to think of it, that was NOT the Francis I saw between Episodes Three and Eight. Well . . . I do recall Francis engaging in self-pitying behavior. I also recall Francis being half-hearted in his attempt to reconcile with Elizabeth, his occasionally self-defensive attitude and anger at Verity for eloping. The only sign of wit I can recall was Francis’ clumsy and slightly insulting reaction at the Warleggan ball to news of prostitute Margaret’s recent wedding. And although I enjoyed Clive Francis’ performance, there were moments when he was guilty of some really histrionic acting – especially in Episode Eight, when his character went into a rant against Verity’s elopement during his family’s Christmas dinner. Either these fans and critics had failed to notice how much of a loser Francis Poldark was in the 1975 series, they remembered the actor’s performance in the episodes that followed Episode Eight, or they were blinded by nostalgia for the 1975 series. Clive Francis’ portrayal of the character struck me as much of a loser as Soller’s portrayal.

The renewal of Verity and Captain Blamey’s romance was not the only relationship shrouded in secrecy. As I had earlier pointed a traveling actress named Keren had abandoned her tawdry profession life to remain in the area and marry local miner, Mark Daniels, after meeting him at the second christening for the newborn Julia Poldark. I admire how the production went out of its way to portray Keren’s growing disenchantment with life as a miner’s wife and her marriage to Mark. In doing so, screenwriter Mark Wheeler allowed audiences to sympathize with Keren’s emotions and understand what led her to pursue an extramarital affair with the neighborhood’s new physician, the quiet and charming Dr. Dwight Enys. Although this sequence featured solid performances from Richard Morant and Martin Fisk as Dwight Enys and Mark Daniels; the one performance that really impressed me came from Sheila White, who portrayed the unfortunate Keren Daniels. However, I was not particular thrilled by how the affair ended. Mark Daniels deliberately murdered Keren, when he discovered the affair. What really riled me was that both Ross and Demelza went out of their way to help Mark evade justice. Their actions seemed to justify and approve of Mark’s violent action against his wife. The entire scenario smacked of another example of misogyny in this saga.

Episode Six of “POLDARK” not only introduced the character of George Warleggan, it also featured one of my favorite segments in the series, so far – the Warleggan ball. I thought Wheeler and Paul Annett did a solid job in this particular sequence. It was not perfect, but it proved to be an elegant affair, capped by a tense situation when Ross engaged in a gambling showdown with the Warleggans’ cousin Matthew Sanson, before exposing the latter as a cheat. One aspect of the ball sequence that really impressed me were the costumes and the music provided by Kenyon Emrys-Roberts, which helped maintained the sequence’s atmosphere. I also enjoyed both Robin Ellis and Milton Johns’ performances as Ross Poldark and Matthew Sanson in the card game sequence. Both actors did a very good job of injecting more tension in what was already a high-wired situation. By the way, both actors, along with Clive Francis, had appeared in the 1971 adaptation of “SENSE AND SENSIBILITY”.

There were other moments and sequences that I enjoyed. Aside from the Warleggan ball, I was very impressed by two other scenes. One featured Demelza’s attempt to play matchmaker for Verity and Captain Blamey in Truro. Well, the sequence began with Demelza playing matchmaker before all three became swept into a food riot that led to a violent brawl between some very hungry townsmen and local military troops trying to prevent the men from breaking into Matthew Sanson’s grain storehouse. I found the entire scene rather well shot by director Paul Annett. I was also impressed by Annett’s work in Episode Seven that featured Ross’ attempt to help Mark Daniels evade arrest for Keren’s murder. I may not approved of what happened, but I was impressed by Annett’s direction. But I feel that the director did his best work in Episode Eight, which featured the wreck of the Warleggans’ ship on Poldark land. It began on a high note when the Paynters and other locals began pillaging the ship’s cargo for much needed food, clothing and other materials. But it really got interesting when a riot broke out between the Poldark workers, miners from a nearby estate and the local troops who tried to stop them. Again, Annett really did a first-rate job in making the sequence very exciting, despite the fact that it was shot in the dark.

I noticed that Paul Wheeler, who wrote the transcripts for these four episodes and Episode Eleven, made several changes from Graham’s novel. To be honest, I can only recall one major change that did not bother me one whit. In Episode Seven, young Geoffrey Charles Poldark was stricken with Putrid’s Throat before Verity had the chance to elope with Captain Blamey. Once Verity and Elizabeth helped the boy recover, she finally took the opportunity to elope. Yes, I am aware that Verity had eloped before the Putrid fever outbreak, but I see that Wheeler was trying to create a little tension for her situation. When Francis was struck with Putrid’s Throat on Christmas, Demelza arrived at Trenwith to help Elizabeth nurse him. The two women engaged in a warm and honest conversation that showcased both Jill Townsend and Angharad Rees as talented actresses they were. However, this conversation never occurred in the novel. In fact, the literary Elizabeth Poldark also came down with Putrid’s Throat. But this change did not bother me, due to the excellent scene between Townsend and Rees.

Unfortunately, I had problems with some of Wheeler’s other changes. One change originated back in Episode Four with the “Demelza gets knocked up” storyline that led to hers and Ross’ shotgun wedding. I had assumed that the Trenwith Christmas party sequence, which followed Ross and Demelza’s wedding, would appear in Episode Five. After all, it was one of my favorite sequences from the 1945 novel. But the sequence never appeared – not in Episode Four or Episode Five. Instead, the latter opened with Julia Poldark’s birth and the christening. And I felt very disappointed.

Another change involved Ross’ former employee, Jim Carter. Back in Episode Three, Jim was tried and convicted for poaching on another landowner’s estate. In Episode Six, Ross received word that Jim was severely ill inside Bodmin Jail. With Dwight Enys’ help, the pair break the younger man out. But instead of dying during Dwight’s attempt to amputate an infected limb, Jim survived . . . until Episode Seven. This change allowed Ross to indulge in a speech on the inequities suffered by the poor and working-class in British. Personally, I had difficulty feeling sympathetic, considering that he had fired Jud and Prudie Paynter, earlier in the episode. Mind you, Jud had deserved to be fired for his drunken behavior and insults to Demelza. But Prudie did not. She tried to stop Jud and ended up fired by Ross (who found her guilty by matrimony to the perpetrator). And I ended up regarding Ross as nothing more than a first-rate hypocrite.

Because Jim Cater had survived Episode Six, Ross did not attend the Warleggan ball angry and in a drunken state. Instead, he remained a perfect and sober gentleman throughout the sequence. Which was a pity . . . at least for me. Perhaps Wheeler had decided that Prudie’s fate was sufficient enough to expose Ross’ less pleasant side of his personality, I did not. The card game between Ross and Sanson provided some tension during the ball sequence, thanks to the skillful performances of Robin Ellis, Milton Johns and Ralph Bates. But it was not enough for me. I thought a good deal of the sequence’s drama was deleted due to “our hero” not having an excuse to get drunk and surly. I suspect that Wheeler, along with producers Morris Barry and Anthony Coburn, wanted to – once again – maintain Ross’ heroic image.

The Warleggan ball also featured another change. At the end of Episode Six, George Warleggan revealed to his father, Nicholas, that he knew the names of Ross’ Carnmore Copper Company. The revelation left me feeling flabbergasted. In the novel, Francis had not exposed the shareholders’ names to George until after Verity and Blamey’s elopement. He had believed Ross was responsible for arranging it and betrayed the latter in retaliation. Since Francis had obviously betrayed Ross before Episode Six’s final scene in the 1975 series, I found myself wondering why he had betrayed his cousin’s company in the first place. Why did he do it? Someone had hinted that Francis felt jealous over Elizabeth’s feelings for Ross. Yet, the relationship between those two had been particularly frosty since the revelation of Demelza’s pregnancy back in Episode Four. If Francis had been experiencing jealousy, what happened before the end of Episode Six that led him to finally betray Ross and the Carnmore Copper Company shareholders? It could not have been for money. Although George Warleggan had paid back the money that his cousin had cheated from Francis and the other gamblers at the ball, he did not dismiss Francis’ debt to the Warleggan Bank. If only Wheeler had followed Graham’s novel and allowed Francis to betray Ross following Verity’s elopement. This would have made more sense. Instead, the screenwriter never really made clear the reason behind the betrayal. Rather sloppy, if you ask me.

Overall, Episodes Five to Eight of “POLDARK” struck me as an interesting and very entertaining set of episodes. This is not surprising, considering that they were basically an adaptation of “Demelza – A Novel of Cornwall, 1788-1790”. Director Paul Annett and Paul Wheeler did a very solid job in adapting Graham’s novel. Yes, I had some quibbles with Wheeler’s screenplay – especially his handling of the Francis Polark character. But overall, I believe the two men, along with the cast led by Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees did an first-rate job. On to Episode Nine and the adaptation of the next novel in Graham’s series.

Five Favorite Episodes of “MANHATTAN” Season One (2014)

Below is a list of my favorite episodes from Season One of the WGN’s “MANHATTAN”. Created by Sam Shaw, the series starred John Benjamin Hickey:

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “MANHATTAN” SEASON ONE (2014)

1. (1.12) “The Gun Model” – Dr. Reed Akley, lead scientist for the Thin Man bomb design of the Manhattan Project, becomes vulnerable when he tries to fix the design’s shortcomings.

2. (1.02) “The Prisoner’s Dilemma” – When Dr. Frank Winter, lead scientist for the Manhattan Project’s implosion design, attempts to save his team from being shut down, his action leads to serious consequences for team member Dr. Sid Liao.

3. (1.05) “A New Approach to Nuclear Cosmology” – When Dr. Glenn Babbit’s past comes back to haunt him, Frank clashes with newcomer Dr. Charlie Isaacs to protect his mentor and team member.

4. (1.07) “A New World” – While visiting an off-site reactor in Tennessee, Charlie and Dr. Helen Prins race to prevent a meltdown. Meanwhile, Frank and his wife, Dr. Liza Winter; help the family of their maid Paloma.

5. (1.11) “Tangier” – The death of a German-born spy for the Allies in Germany re-invigorates the hunt for a spy on The Hill. Charlie and his wife, Abby Isaacs, make a sacrifice when the plan with Frank to develop the implosion project is threatened.

 

“THE PUBLIC EYE” (1992) Review

“THE PUBLIC EYE” (1992) Review

Over twenty years ago, I came across a small period drama, while perusing my local video rental store. I never had any intention of watching this movie. In fact, I had never heard of it before . . . despite being a fan of the two leading stars.

I read somewhere that “THE PUBLIC EYE” was inspired by the career of New York Daily News photographer Arthur “Weegee” Fellig. In fact, some of the photographs featured in the film had been taken by Fellig, himself. But the movie is not a biopic. Instead, “THE PUBLIC EYE” told the story of one Leon “Bernzy” Bernstein, a freelance crime and street photographer for the New York City tabloids, whose work is known for its realistic depiction of the city and all of its citizens. Due to his realistic photography and willingness to resort to any means to snap graphic shots of crime scenes, he is known as “the Great Berzini”.

Sometime during 1942, America’s first year into World War II, Bernzy is summoned by a widowed Manhattan nightclub owner named Kay Levitz. One of local New York mobs is trying to muscle in on her business. Kay asks Bernzy to investigate an individual she considers troublesome. Generally unsuccessful with women, Bernzy agrees to help Kay, as he slowly begins to fall in love with her. Bernzy talks to a few of his contacts, including journalist Arthur Nabler, and tracks down Kay’s troublesome man. Only the latter had been murdered. Bernzy’s activities attract the attention of the New York police, the F.B.I. and two rival mob leaders. Through a connection to a local gangster named Sal, Bernzy discovers that Kay’s husband had got involved with a mob turf war over illegal gas rationing and the Federal government.

“THE PUBLIC EYE” did not make much of an impact on the U.S. movie box office, when it hit the theaters during the fall of 1992. In fact, I do not believe that the studio that released it – Universal Studios – made any effort to publicize it. Worse, the movie eventually garnered mixed reviews. However, I had no idea of all of this until I saw the movie, years later. My first reaction to this lack of attention by Universal and the mixed reviews was surprised. My second reaction was . . . disappointment. Well, I was not that disappointed with the movie’s mixed reviews. After all, I believe in the old adage “to each his own”. But even to this day, I feel slightly disappointed that Universal Studios did very little to publicize this movie. Why? I thought “THE PUBLIC EYE” was a lot better than many assumed it to be – including the studio suits.

Was there anything about “THE PUBLIC EYE” that I disliked? Or found hard to swallow? To be honest . . . no. Let me correct myself – very little. After all, the movie was perfect. A part of me wishes it could have been a little longer than its 99 minute running time. And if I must be honest again, the mystery surrounding the death of Kay Levitz’s tormentor did not last very long. Not much time had passed before the story had revealed the gas rationing scandal behind the tormentor’s murder . . . or the identity of the movie’s main antagonist. Personally, I saw no reason why screenwriter-director Howard Franklin tried to present this plot as some kind of mystery.

And yet . . . I really enjoyed “THE PUBLIC EYE”. In fact, it is a personal favorite of mine. There seemed to be so much that I found enjoyable in this movie. Although Franklin’s plot did not prove to be much of a mystery, I must admit that I enjoyed how the corruption tale provided a strong link to civilian life during America’s early period in World War II. The plot also seemed to provide a strong historical background of life during this time in New York City’s history. I enjoyed how Franklin’s screenplay made such strong connections between the city’s major criminals, the Federal government and the goods rationing that dominated the lives of American citizens during the war. But what I really enjoyed about this movie is its final action sequence that featured a gangland mass murder inside a local Italian restaurant photographed by the main protagonist. Franklin did a superb job in capturing this sequence on film that it still gives me goosebumps whenever I watch it.

Some film critic – I forgot his name – once complained that the “noir” atmosphere for “THE PUBLIC EYE” seemed superficial and not particularly engaging. Personally, I loved the movie’s atmosphere. Not because I believe that it permeated with a sense of a “noir” film. I loved it because I thought it permeated with a sense of what life was for the many citizens of New York City during those early years of the war. The movie portrayed how different social groups based on class and ethnic differences are forced to live together in one metropolis during a difficult time in American history. Bernzy’s own background as a Jewish immigrant from Russia and his profession were used against him on several occasions. This especially seemed to be the case with the elitist book publisher who seemed disturbed by the former’s name and the realistic images he took; and Danny, the Irish-born doorman and snob who not only worked at Kay’s nightclub, but also regarded Bernzy as beneath him. Even Kay’s own background as a showgirl led people to regard her as some gold digger who had achieved some social status via marriage to a nightclub owner. This explained how two such diverse people managed to click on an emotional level throughout most of the movie.

Visually, “THE PUBLIC EYE” seemed like a treat. Watching it made me feel as if I had landed right in the middle of Manhattan, circa 1942, thanks to art directors Bo Johnson and Dina Lipton, set decorator Jan K. Bergstrom, and costume designer Jane Robinson, who had created some very interesting costumes for Barbara Hershey. I was especially impressed by the work of production designer, Marcia Hinds, who I believe more than anyone, contributed to the movie’s early 1940s setting and atmosphere.

I had checked Howard Franklin’s filmography and discovered that he had only directed three movies so far. Considering the first-rate performances featured in this film, it seemed a miracle that Franklin’s lack of real experience did not hamper them. I do not know which role I would consider to be my favorite performed by Joe Pesci. But I do know that Leon “Bernzy” Bernstein is one of my top three favorite characters he has ever portrayed. I thought Pesci did a superb job in portraying a character who is not only driven by his ambition for his profession, but also racked with loneliness, due to how others tend to perceive him. Barbara Hershey gave a very subtle and skillfully ambiguous performance as the widowed nightclub owner, Kay Levitz. Hershey’s Kay came off as a warm and compassionate woman who understood Bernzy, due to her own struggles over how others perceive her and at the same time, a reluctantly pragmatic woman who is forced, at times, to sacrifice her self-esteem for the sake of survival.

The movie also benefited from a collection of first-rate performance from major supporting cast members. One of those performances came from Jared Harris, who did an excellent job in conveying the snobbish aspect of his character, the Irish-born Danny, who worked at Kay’s nightclub as a doorman. Stanley Tucci gave a terrific and subtle performance as a low-level mobster named Sal, who provides the final link to Bernzy’s investigation into the gas ration scandal. Jerry Adler, whom I recall from the CBS series, “THE GOOD WIFE”, gave an emotional and complex performance as one of Bernzy’s few friends, a journalist named Arthur Nabler. Both Dominic Chianese and Richard Foronjy were excellent as the two mob warring bosses, Spoleto and Frank Farinelli. The movie also featured solid performances from the likes of Richard Riehle, Bob Gunton, Tim Gamble, Patricia Healy and Del Close.

I realize that many critics do not have a high opinion of “THE PUBLIC EYE”. Why? Well, I never did bother to learn the reason behind their attitude. Perhaps I never really bothered is because I enjoyed the movie so much. In fact, I fell in love with it when I first saw it. And my feelings for “THE PUBLIC EYE” has not changed over the years, thanks to Howard Franklin’s direction and script, along with a first-rate cast led by Joe Pesci and Barbara Hershey.

“POLDARK” Series One (2015): Episodes One to Four

image

“POLDARK” SERIES ONE (2015): EPISODES ONE TO FOUR

In the years between 2010 and 2015, I have not been able to stumble across a new British period drama that really impressed me. Five years. That is a hell of a long time for a nation with a sterling reputation for period dramas in both movies and television. Fortunately, the five-year dry spell finally came to an end (at least for me) with the arrival of “POLDARK”, the BBC’s new adaptation of Winston Graham’s literary series.

I am certain that some people would point out that during this five-year period, the ITV network aired Julian Fellowes’ family drama, “DOWNTON ABBEY”. I must admit that I enjoyed the series’ first season. But Seasons Two to Six merely sunk to a level of mediocrity and questionable writing. I had never warmed to “RIPPER STREET” or “THE HOUR”. And I have yet to see either “PEAKY BLINDERS” or “INDIAN SUMMERS”.

A few years ago, I had tried a stab at the first episode of the 1975-1977 series, “POLDARK”, which starred Robin Ellis. After viewing ten minutes of theatrical acting and dated photography in Episode One on You Tube, I gave up. Last summer, I read all of the hullaballoo surrounding this new adaptation with Aidan Turner in the lead. Utilizing Netflix, I tried my luck again with the 1975 series and ended up enjoying the first four episodes (I have yet to watch any further episodes) and quite enjoyed it. Then I tried the first two episodes of the 2015 series and found it equally enjoyable. I enjoyed both versions so much that I took the trouble to purchase both the entire 1975-77 series and the first series of the new version. In fact, I have decided to watch both versions simultaneously. But I am here to discuss the first four episodes of the 2015 series.

Series One of “POLDARK” . . . well the 2015 version . . . is based upon Winston Graham’s first two novels in the saga – 1945’s “Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1783-1787” and 1946’s “Demelza: A Novel of Cornwall, 1788-1790”. Episodes One to Four seemed to be an adaptation of the 1945 novel. The series begins with a young Ross Poldark serving with the British Army in 1781 Virginia, during the American Revolution. During an attack by American troops, Ross is struck unconscious in the head by a rifle butt. The episode jumps two years later with Ross returning home to Cornwall by traveling coach. He learns from a fellow coach passenger and later, his Uncle Charles Poldark at the latter’s Trenwith estate that his father had died broke. More bad news follow with Ross’ discovery that his lady love, Elizabeth Chynoweth, became engaged to Charles’ son, his cousin Francis, after receiving news of his “death”. The only possessions Ross has left is his father’s estate, the smaller estate Nampara, which is now in ruins, two copper mines that had been closed for some time and two servants – the drunken Jud and Prudie Paynter – to help him work the estate. Even worse, a family named Warleggan, who had risen from being blacksmiths to bankers, were gaining financial control over the neighborhood. Not long after his decision to remain in Cornwall, Ross rescues a miner’s daughter named Demelza Carne from a mob trying to use her dog Garrick as part of a vicious dogfight. Taking pity on her, he decides to hire her as his new kitchen maid.

There have been a few complaints that this first season for the new “POLDARK” series had moved a bit too fast, in compared to the first one in 1975. After all, the latter spanned sixteen episodes in compare to the eight ones for this new first season. However, what many failed to consider is that the first series from 1975 had adapted four novels ranging from “Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1783-1787” to Graham’s fourth novel, 1953’s “Warleggan”. Granted, the Demelza Carne character was first introduced in this version’s first episode, whereas she was introduced in the second episode of the 1975 series. This did not bother me at all . . . in compare to some other viewers.

There were other changes that did not bother me. Many have commented on the warmer nature of Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark, Ross’ former love and cousin-in-law. Frankly, I am glad that showrunner Debbie Horsfield had decided to go this route with Elizabeth. Unlike many, I have never considered Elizabeth’s character to be cold. Considering that Elizabeth was never a cold parent, I found it difficult to conceive her as a cold woman. I have always suspected that she was simply a very internalized character who kept her emotions close to her chest. Although actress Heida Reed portrayed Elizabeth as a reserved personality, the screenplay allowed more of her emotions to be revealed to the audience in compare to Winston Graham’s first four novels. Elizabeth’s erroneous decision to marry Francis and her personality flaws – namely her penchant for clinging to society’s rules – remained intact. But she was not portrayed as some walking icicle in a skirt, even though a good number of fans had a problem with this. I did not. I never saw the need to demand for this icy portrayal of Elizabeth in order to justify Ross’ love for Demelza. Apparently, neither did Horsfield. Some viewers have complained about Elizabeth’s husband, Francis Poldark, as well. He seemed too weak and hostile in compare to Graham’s portrayal of Francis in his novels. First of all, Francis never really struck me as a strong character to begin with. And thanks to the screenplay and Kyle Soller’s performance, Francis began the series as a rather nice young man who seemed genuinely relieved that Elizabeth had decided to continue with their wedding plans, despite Ross’ return from America. But it was easy to see how his character began its downward spiral, starting with the villainous George Warleggan’s poisonous insinuations that Ross and Elizabeth still had feelings for one another. And when you combine that with Charles Poldark’s equally negative comments regarding his nature, it was not difficult to see how Francis allowed his insecurities to eventually get the best of him.

Horsfield certainly stayed true to the story arc regarding the romance between Francis’ sister Verity Poldark and a hot-tempered sea captain named Captain Blamey. I must be honest . . . I have slightly mixed feelings about the whole matter. A part of me recognized Verity’s loneliness and the fact that her family seemed willing to use her spinster state as an excuse to nearly regulate her to the status of a housekeeper. My problem with this story arc is Captain Blamey. Why oh why did Graham made a character who had killed his wife in a fit of alcoholic rage during a domestic quarrel? When I first learned about his background, I could easily see why Charles and Francis Poldark were so against the idea of Verity becoming romantically involved in this guy. Yes, I realize that people need a second chance in life. Yes, I realized that Blamey was honest about his alcoholism and the details surrounding his wife’s death. But he became the first sympathetically portrayed male character who ends up committing an act of violence against a woman. The first of . . . how many? Two? Three? Frankly, I find this rather disturbing coming from a politically liberal writer like Graham, let alone any other writer.

But if there is one aspect of Graham’s saga that I wish Horsfield had not so faithfully adapted, it was the series of circumstances that led to Ross’ wedding to his kitchen maid, Demelza. By the beginning of Episode Three, audiences became aware of Demelza’s unrequited love for Ross. Audiences also became aware of Ross’ growing dependence of her presence in his household. I find this understandable, considering that both Jud and Prudie proved to be questionable servants. However, two things happened. First of all, one of Ross’ field hands, Jim Carter, got arrested for poaching on the property belonging to another landowner named Sir Hugh Bodrugan. Ross tried to prevent Jim from being sent to prison. Unfortunately, his temper got the best of him at Jim’s trial and he ended up in a heated debate with the narrow-minded judge, Reverend Halse. Meanwhile, Demelza received word from her abusive and newly religious father that he wanted her back in his home after hearing rumors that she and Ross were having an affair. So what happened? Demelza decided to spend her last day appreciating the finer household goods at Nampara . . . while wearing a gown that once belonged to Ross’ late mother. A drunken Ross returns home, finds her in his mother’s gown, chastises her before she seduces him into having sex. A day or so later, Ross decides to marry her in a private wedding ceremony with only Jud and Prudie as witnesses.

What on earth was Winston Graham thinking? What was he thinking? I have never come across anything so unrealistic in my life. What led Ross to marry Demelza in the first place? Many fans have tried to put a romantic sheen over the incident, claiming that subconsciously, Ross had already fallen in love with Demelza. Yeah . . . right. I knew better. I knew that Ross did not fall in love with her, until sometime after the wedding. So, why did he marry her? Someone named Tim Vicary posted a theory that Ross, drunk and still angry over Jim Carter being imprisoned, had married Demelza as a way of thumbing his nose at the upper-classes, whom he blamed for Jim’s fate. To me, this sounds like Ross had entered matrimony, while having a suppressed temper tantrum. Hmmm . . . this sounds like him. But despite Mr. Vicary’s theory, I still have a problem with the circumstances surrounding Ross and Demelza’s nuptials. Why? Let me put it this way . . . if I had returned home and found my servant roaming around the house wearing the clothes of my dead parent, I would fire that person. Pronto. The only way this sequence could have worked for me was if Ross had fallen in love with Demelza by Episode Three. Ross may have been fond of his kitchen maid and grown used to her presence. But he was not in love with her . . . not at this stage.

I really do not have many other complaints about these first four episodes. Well . . . I have two other complaints. Minor complaints . . . really. There was a scene in Episode Two in which Ross and a prostitute named Margaret discussed Elizabeth’s marriage to Francis. Margaret cheerfully consoled Ross with the prediction that he would find someone who will make him forget Elizabeth. The next scene shifted to Demelza strolling across Nampara with her dog Garrick closely at her heels. Talk about heavy-handed foreshadowing. And if there is nothing I dislike more it is ham-fisted storytelling . . . especially when it promises to be misleading. My other complaint centered around the Ruth Teague character and her mother. I could understand why Ruth would be interested in marrying Ross. He is young, extremely attractive, a member of the upper-class and the owner of his own estate – no matter how dilapidated. But why on earth would Mrs. Teague support her daughter’s desire to become Mrs. Ross Poldark? Despite Ross’ status as a member of the landed gentry and a landowner, he has no fortune. Thanks to his late father, he found himself financially ruined upon his return to Cornwall. Why would Mrs. Teague want someone impoverished as her future son-in-law? Especially when she seemed to be just as ambitious for her daughter as Mrs. Chynoweth was for Elizabeth?

Despite the circumstances surrounding Ross and Demelza’s wedding and that ham-fisted moment in Episode Two, I enjoyed those first four episodes of “POLDARK”. Enormously. Watching them made me realize that Winston Graham had created a rich and entertaining saga about complex characters in a historical setting. I have to confess. My knowledge of Great Britain during the last two decades of the 18th century barely exists. So, watching “POLDARK” has allowed me to become a little more knowledgeable about this particular era in Britain’s history. One, I never knew that Britain’s conflict with and the loss of the American colonies had an economic impact upon the country . . . a negative one, as a matter of fact. I had heard of the United States and France’s economic struggles during this period, but I had no idea that Britain had struggled, as well. More importantly for Cornwall, the price of tin and copper had fallen during the 1770s and 1780s, thanks to this economic depression. This economic struggle contributed to the slow decline of the aristocracy and the landed gentry for Cornish families like the Poldarks and the Chynoweths. I read somewhere that this period also marked the increased rise of Methodism throughout the country. Although this phenomenon will play a bigger role later in the series, Episode Three revealed the first hint through Demelza’s ne’er do well father, who ended up becoming a fanatic Methodist after remarrying a widow with children.

But the heart and soul of this series is the drama that surrounds Ross Poldark and the other major characters in the saga. When I say all of the major characters, I meant it. I realize that many would regard both Ross and his kitchenmaid-turned-bride Demelza as the heart and soul of this saga. Well . . . yes, they are. But so are the other characters – including Francis, his father Charles, Verity, Jud, Prudie Cary Warleggan, Jim and Jinny Carter, Captain Blamey, Ruth Teague and especially George Warleggan and Elizabeth. I found them all fascinating. I especially enjoyed how their stories enriched Ross’ own personal arc.

More importantly, these first four episodes provided some very interesting moments and scenes that left a strong impression . . even now. I am certain that only a few would forget that moment when Ross experienced both joy and disbelief when he reunited with his family after three years. And at the same time, discovered that his lady love had moved past the reports of his death and became engaged to his cousin Francis. Wow, what a homecoming. Other memorable moments featured the first meeting between Ross and Demelza at the local street market and the first meeting between Verity and Captain Blamey at an assembly dance. Despite my feelings regarding the circumstances surrounding Ross and Demelza’s wedding, I must admit that I found her seduction of him rather sexy. The scene featuring Demelza and Verity’s growing friendship in early Season Four struck me as very charming and entertaining. I also enjoyed the Episode Three montage that conveyed how Ross had grown accustomed to Demelza’s presence in his household and her ability to sense any of his particular needs. Another montage that I managed to enjoy, featured the community’s reaction to the couple’s wedding in early Episode Four, the poignant death of Charles Poldark in the same episode and the numerous conversations between Ross and George Warleggan that featured their growing enmity. But there were certain scenes – especially those that featured social gatherings – that stood out for me. They include:

*The assembly ball in Episode Two in which Verity met Captain Blamey for the first time. This scene also featured that very interesting and rather sexy dance between Ross and Elizabeth, which made it clear that the former lovers still harbored feelings for each . . . especially Ross. And this scene also marked the first time in which Francis became suspicious of those feelings, thanks to George’s poisonous insinuations.

*Charles and Francis’ confrontation with Ross regarding the latter’s support of Verity and Blamey’s courtship at Nampara. I found this scene to be very emotionally charged, due to the violent confrontation between Francis and Blamey that resulted in an ill-fated duel. It was capped by Elizabeth’s appearance at Nampara and her revelation that she was pregnant with Francis’ child.

*Ross tries to help his farm hand Jim Carter to avoid a prison sentence for poaching. This scene not only revealed Ross’ inability to control his temper and self-righteousness, but also featured a delicious confrontation between him and the judge, the Reverend Dr. Halse. And here is a lovely tidbit, the latter was portrayed by none other than Robin Ellis, who had portrayed Ross Poldark in the 1975-77.

*Episode Four also featured that marvelous Christmas at Trenwith sequence in which Ross and Demelza visit Francis and Elizabeth for the holidays. The entire cast involved in this sequence did a great job in infusing the tensions between the characters. I especially enjoyed the scene that featured the actual Christmas dinner.

Speaking of the cast, I have no complaints whatsoever. Everyone else have their favorites. But for me, the entire cast seemed to be giving it their all. Caroline Blakiston proved to be very witty as the elderly Aunt Agatha Poldark, who seemed bent upon making the other members of her family uncomfortable with her blunt comments. Warren Clarke gave a very memorable performance as Ross’ Uncle Charles. Unfortunately, he had passed away after filming his last scene in Episode Four. At least he went out with a first-rate role. Richard Harington made a very intense Captain Blamey and Harriet Ballard made an effectively bitchy Ruth Teague. “POLDARK” marked the first time I have ever really paid attention to Pip Torrens, who portrayed Cary Warleggan, George’s uncle. Which is not surprising, since he did a first-rate job in his portrayal of the greedy and venal banker, who seemed to be dismissive of both the upper and working classes. There were times when I could not decide whether to find Jud and Prudie Paynter funny or beneath contempt. This was due to the complex performances given by Phil Davis and Edney. I have already mentioned Robin Ellis, who was wonderfully intimidating and self-righteous as the bigoted Reverend Dr. Halse. Even after nine years away from the camera, he obviously has not lost his touch.

I first saw Ruby Bentall in the 2008 miniseries, “LOST IN AUSTEN”. But if I must be honest, I had barely noticed her. I certainly noticed her poignant and emotional performance as Verity Poldark, Ross’ “Plain Jane” cousin, who seemed doomed to spending the rest of her life serving her father’s and later, her brother’s household. Physically, Jack Farthing looks nothing like the literary George Warleggan from Graham’s novels. And I do not recall his character being featured so prominently in the first two novels. Personally, I do not care. I am really enjoying Farthing’s complex performance as the social climbing George, who seemed to resent the Poldarks’ upper-class status and especially Ross personally. Despite being as much of a greedy bastard as his uncle, Farthing did a great job in conveying George’s more humane nature. Fans have been so busy complaining that Kyle Soller’s portrayal of Ross’ cousin, Francis Polark, is nothing like the literary character, I feel they have been ignoring his superb performance. Personally, I suspect that Soller has been giving the best performance in the series. I have been really impressed by how he transformed Francis from a likable, yet mild young man to an embittered one filled with resentment and insecurities. I found myself wondering why Soller’s performance seemed familiar to me. Then it finally hit me . . . his portrayal of Francis reminded me of Robert Stack’s performance in the 1956 melodrama, “WRITTEN IN THE WIND”. Only Soller will be given the chance to take Francis’ character on another path before the series’ end.

The character of Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark seemed to produce a curious reaction from fans of Graham’s literary series. From my exploration of the Internet, I have noticed that many fans either tend to ignore the two actresses who have portrayed her – Heida Reed and Jill Townsend in the 1970s series – or criticize their performances. For this particular series, I feel that Reed has been knocking it out of the ballpark in her portrayal of the introverted Elizabeth. Yes, Debbie Horsfield’s production has allowed Reed to express Elizabeth’s inner feelings a bit more prominent to the television audiences. Yet at the same time, the actress managed to perfectly capture the internalized and complex nature of Elizabeth’s character. On the other hand, fans and critics have expressed sheer rapture over Eleanor Tomlinson’s portrayal of Demelza Carne Poldark, the kitchen maid who became Ross’ bride. Well, I certainly believe that Tomlinson is doing a hell of a job portraying the earthy Demelza. What makes me appreciate her performance even more is how she manages to combine Demelza’s feisty personality and the insecurities that lurk underneath.

Before “POLDARK” first aired in Great Britain, many of the country’s media outlets had speculated on whether actor Aidan Turner would be able to live up to Robin Ellis’ portrayal of Ross Poldark from the 1970s. I knew it the moment I had heard he had been cast in the lead of this new series, based upon his previous work in “DESPERATE ROMANTICS” and “THE HOBBIT” film series. And Turner prove me right. He turned out to be the right man for the right role. Turner seems obviously capable of carrying the series on his shoulders. He has a very strong presence and seems quite capable of conveying Ross’ strong will. But more importantly, he is doing a top-notch of portraying not only Ross’ virtues – the will to rebuild his life and especially his compassion for other – but also his personal flaws – namely his temper, his arrogance and self-righteousness (which were on full display during Jim Carter’s trial and his assumption that Demelza would immediately know how to become an upper-class wife), and especially his obsessive nature, which has been directed at Elizabeth ever since his return to Cornwall.

Considering that this article is mainly about the first four episodes of “POLDARK”, I am surprised that I have written such a great deal. To be honest, this series has really impressed me. I have not been this enthused about a story since John Jakes’ “NORTH AND SOUTH” series and its television adaptation. I suspect that it is not as highly regarded by critics, due to it being labeled a bodice ripper or a turgid melodrama. But for me . . . personally . . . “POLDARK” is more than that. Yes, it is a costumed melodrama. But it is also a good history lesson of life in Britain in the late 18th century. And more importantly, the melodrama and the historical drama serve as effective backdrops to a first-rate story filled with interesting and very complex characters – especially one Ross Poldark. I cannot wait to see how Debbie Horsfield handles the second half of this first season.

“EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON” (1978) Review

Edward-and-Mrs-Simpson-1978-period-drama-fans-38001323-500-400

“EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON” (1978) Review

I have noticed in the past decade or so, there have been an increasing number of television and movie productions that either featured the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (aka King Edward VIII and Mrs. Wallis Simpson), either as supporting characters or lead characters. Actually, only one production – the 2011 movie, “W.E.” – featured them as leads. And yet . . . with the exception of the 2011 movie, the majority of them tend to portray the couple as solely negative caricatures.

There have been other productions that portrayed Edward and Wallis as complex human beings. Well . . . somewhat complex. Television movies like 1988’s “THE WOMAN HE LOVED” and 2005’s “WALLIS & EDWARD” seemed to provide viewers with a highly romanticized view of the couple. Perhaps a bit too romanticized. And there was Madonna’s 2011 movie, “W.E.”, which seemed to offer a bit more complex view of the couple. But I thought the movie was somewhat marred by an alternate storyline involving a modern woman who was obsessed over the couple. I have seen a good number of productions about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Yet, for my money, the best I have ever seen was the 1978 miniseries, “EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON”.

Adapted by Simon Raven from Frances Donaldson’s 1974 biography, “Edward VIII” and directed by him, the seven-part miniseries is basically an account of Edward VIII Abdication Crisis in 1936 and the pre-marital romance of the king and American socialite, Wallis Simpson, that led to it. The story began in 1928, when Edward Windsor was at the height of his popularity as Britain’s Prince of Wales. At the time, the prince was courting two women – both married – Mrs. Freda Dudley Ward and Thelma Furness, Viscountess Furness. Some two or three years later, Thelma introduced Edward to Ernest and Wallis Simpson, a pair of American expatriates living in London. The couple became a part of the Prince of Wales’ social set. But when Thelma left Britain in 1934 to deal with a family crisis regarding her sister Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, Edward and Wallis grew closer. By the time Thelma returned to Britain, Wallis had become the Prince of Wales’ official mistress. And both Thelma and Mrs. Dudley Ward found themselves unceremoniously dumped.

The miniseries eventually continued with the couple’s growing romance between 1934 and 1935, despite disapproving comments and observations from some of the Prince of Wales’ official staff and members of the Royal Family. But the death of King George V, Edward’s father, led to the prince’s ascension to Britain’s throne as King Edward VIII. By this time, Edward had fallen completely in love with Wallis. And despite the opinion of his family, certain members of his social set and the British government, he became determined to marry and maker her his queen in time for his coronation.

“EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON” is not perfect. I do have a few complaints about the production. I realize that screenwriter Simon Raven wanted to ensure a complex and balanced portrayal of both Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. But there were times when I found his characterization a bit too subtle. This was most apparent in his portrayal of Edward’s admiration of the fascist governments of Germany and Italy. It almost seemed as if Raven was trying to tiptoe around the topic and I found it rather frustrating. On the other hand, Raven’s portrayal of Wallis at the beginning of her romance with Edward struck me as a bit heavy-handed. Quite frankly, she came off as some kind of femme fatale, who had resorted to deceit to maneuver Edward’s attention away from his other two mistresses – Freda Dudley Ward and Lady Furness, especially when the latter was in the United States visiting her sister, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt. The production’s screenplay did indicate that Lady Furness may have conducted a flirtation with the Prince Aly Khan on the voyage back to Great Britain. Yet, Raven’s screenplay seemed to hint that Wallis’ machinations were the main reason Edward gave up both Mrs. Dudley Ward and Lady Furness.

Otherwise, I have no real complaints about “EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON”. Ten or perhaps, twenty years ago, I would have complained about the last three or four episodes that focused on Edward’s determination to marry Wallis and the series of political meetings and conferences that involved him, her, her attorneys, the Royal Family, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, the king’s equerries, politicians, lawyers and journalists. Now, I found it all rather interesting. What I found interesting about these scenes were the various reactions to Wallis Simpson. Many of them – especially the Royal Family, the equerries and Baldwin – seemed to regard her as some kind of “Jezebel” who had cast some kind of spell over Edward. In its worst form, their attitude came off as slut shaming. The majority of them tend to blame her for Edward’s occasional lapses of duty and ultimate decision to abdicate. As far as I can recall, only two were willing to dump equal blame on Edward himself – Royal Secretary Alexander Hardinge and Elizabeth, Duchess of York, later queen consort and “Queen Mother”.

Another reason why I found this hardened anti-Wallis attitude so fascinating is that the Establishment seemed very determined that Edward never marry Wallis. I understand the Royal Marriages Act 1772 made it possible for the British government to reject the idea of Wallis becoming Edward’s queen consort, due to being twice divorced. But they would not even consider a morganatic marriage between the couple, in which Wallis would not have a claim on Edward’s succession rights, titles, precedence, or entailed property. I am not saying that both Edward and Wallis were wonderful people with no flaws. But . . . this hostile attitude toward the latter, along with this hardened determination that the couple never marry struck me as excessive. Were the British Establishment and the Royal Family that against Edward marrying Wallis, let alone romancing her? It just all seem so unreal, considering that the pair seemed to share the same political beliefs as the majority of the British upper class. And considering that Wallis was descended from two old and respectable Baltimore families, I can only conclude that the British Establishment’s true objection was her American nationality.

Although the political atmosphere featured in “EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON” seemed very fascinating to me, the social atmosphere, especially the one that surrounded Edward, nearly dazzled me. “EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON” is one of the few productions on both sides of the Atlantic that did a superb job in conveying the look and style of the 1930s for the rich and famous. This was especially apparent in the miniseries’ first three episodes that heavily featured Edward’s social life between 1928 and 1936. First, one has to compliment Allan Cameron and Martyn Hebert’s production designs for re-capturing the elegant styles of the British upper classes during the miniseries’ setting. Their work was ably enhanced by Ron Grainer’s score, which he effectively mixed with the popular music of that period and Waris Hussein’s direction, which conveyed a series of elegant montages on Edward’s social life – including his royal visit to East Africa with Thelma Furness, the weekend parties held at his personal house, Fort Belevedere; and the infamous 1936 cruise around the Adriatic Sea, aboard a yacht called the Nahlin. But if there was one aspect of “EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON” that truly impressed me were Jennie Tate and Diane Thurley’s costume designs. When any costume designer has two leading characters known as major clothes horses, naturally one has to pull out all the stops. Tate and Thurley certainly did with their sumptious costume designs – especially for actress Cynthia Harris – that struck me as both beautiful and elegant, as shown in the images below:

08

that I was I was not surprised to learn that they had won BAFTAs for their work. Come to think of it, Cameron and Herbert won BAFTAs for their production designs, as well. Which they all fully deserved.

“EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON” featured some solid and outstanding performances from the supporting cast. Cheri Lunghi and Kika Markham, who portrayed Edward’s two previous mistresses Thelma Furness and Freda Dudley Ward; along with Andrew Ray and Amanda Reiss as the Duke and Duchess of York; gave very charming performances. I could also say the same for Trevor Bowen, Patricia Hodge and Charles Keating as Duff Cooper, Lady Diana Cooper and Ernest Simpson. Veterans such as Peggy Ashcroft, Marius Goring, Maurice Denham and Jesse Matthews provided skillful gravitas to their roles as Queen Mary, King George V, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Aunt Bessie Merryman (Wallis’ aunt). And Nigel Hawthorne gave a warm and intelligent performance as Walter Monckton, who served as an adviser for both Edward and Wallis. And if you pay attention, you might spot Hugh Fraser portraying Anthony Eden in one particular scene.

But there were four performances that really impressed me. One came from John Shrapnel, who portrayed the King’s Private Secretary Alexander Hardinge. It seemed as if Shrapnel had the unenviable task of portraying a man who seemed bent upon raining on Edward’s parade . . . for the sake of the country and the Empire. There were times when I found his character annoying, yet at the same time, Shrapnel managed to capture my sympathy toward Hardinge’s situation. I was also impressed by David Waller, who portrayed Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. Waller also portrayed the politician in the 1988 television movie, “THE WOMAN HE LOVED”. But I felt more impressed by Waller’s performance in this production. I came away not only with Baldwin’s dislike of Wallis and frustration with Edward; but Waller also made me realize how much of a politician Baldwin truly was . . . especially when the latter tried to convince Wallis to disavow Edward.

The true stars of “EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON” proved to be the two leads – Edward Fox and Cynthia Harris. Of all of the actresses I have seen portray Wallis Warfield Simpson aka the Duchess of Windsor, I would say that Harris is the best I have ever seen. Not once did the actress succumb to hammy or heavy-handed acting . . . even when Simon Raven’s screenplay seem bent upon portraying the American-born socialite as some kind of gold digger in the first episode, “The Little Prince”. The late Art Buchwald and his wife Ann had recalled meeting the Duke and Duchess of Windsor at one of the latter’s dinner parties in post-World War II Paris. Although their recollection of Edward was not that impressive, they seemed very impressed by Wallis, whom they described as a cool, yet charming and savy woman. And that is exactly how Harris had portrayed the future Duchess. More importantly, Harris revealed – especially in the last three episodes – that Wallis was more than a cool and witty woman. She was also a complex human being. Edward Fox won a BAFTA for his portrayal of King Edward VIII, the future Duke of Windsor. As far as I am concerned, he more than deserved that award. I was really impressed by how Fox portrayed Edward as a complex individual, instead of some one-note hedonist, as many productions were inclined to do in the past decade. Fox recaptured all of the warmth, charm and charisma of the future Duke of Windsor. And the same time, the actor revealed his character’s frustration with his emotionally distant parents, his occasional bouts of immaturity, insecurity, self-absorption and single-minded love for Wallis. On one hand, Fox managed to skillfully express dismay at the economic conditions of the country’s working-class and in other scenes revel in his character’s luxurious lifestyle with abandonment. The actor’s performance struck me as a great balancing act.

If I must be honest, the real reason why I managed to enjoy “EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON” to this day is that it is almost a balanced portrayal of the British monarch and his lady love. Simon Raven, director Waris Hussein and a talented cast led by Edward Fox and Cynthia Harris managed to convey both the good and bad about the infamous royal pair without resorting to the cliches that have been apparent in other past and recent productions.