Favorite Episodes of “WHY WOMEN KILL” Season One (2019)

Below is a list of my favorite episodes from Season One of the CBS All Access series, “WHY WOMEN KILL”. Created by Mark Cherry, the series starred Lucy Liu, Ginnifer Goodwin and Kirby Howell-Baptiste:

FAVORITE EPISODES OF “WHY WOMEN KILL” SEASON ONE (2019)

1. (1.09) “I Was Just Wondering What Makes Dames Like You So Deadly” – A surprising confrontation reveals a secret that shocks 1963 housewife Beth Ann Stanton to her core. In 1984, socialite Naomi Harte reacts with rage upon discovering her teenage son Tommy’s affair with fellow socialite Simone Grove. After being angrily rejected by her screenwriter husband Eli Cohen in 2019, attorney Taylor Harding uncovers the dark truth about former lover Jade’s past.

2. (1.06) “Practically Lethal in Every Way” – Beth Ann and her aerospace engineer husband Rob Stanton throw a housewarming party. Secrets come to light when Simone and her art dealer husband Karl Grove have dinner with the conservative future in-laws of Simone’s daughter Amy. Taylor begins to question her living arrangement with Eli and Jade.

3. (1.10) “Kill Me as if It Were the Last Time” – Beth Ann devises a plan for revenge against Rob for his infidelity and lies. As Karl’s health worsens, Simone’s commitment to their relationship is tested. With Jade allegedly out of the picture, Taylor and Eli are hopeful the past is far behind them.

4. (1.01) “Murder Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry” – Beth Ann learns of Rob’s affair with local waitress April Warner. Simone is blindsided by her her discovery that Karl is a closet homosexual. Taylor’s open marriage with Eli expands when she introduces Jade into the household.

5. (1.05) “There’s No Crying in Murder” – Beth Ann’s budding friendship with April leaves her feeling conflicted. Simone and Tommy get stuck in a precarious situation during one of their meetings. With Taylor out of town, Eli and Jade’s relationship enters new territory when she helps him with his script.

Favorite Television Productions Set in the 1870s

Below is a list of my favorite television productions set in the 1870s:

FAVORITE TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS SET IN THE 1870s

1. “The Buccaneers” (1995) – Maggie Wadey wrote this excellent adaptation of Edith Wharton’s last novel about four American young women who marry into the British aristocracy is also another big favorite of mine. Directed by Philip Saville, the miniseries starred Carla Gugino, Alison Elliott, Rya Kihlstedt and Mira Sorvino.

2. “Around the World in 80 Days” (1989) – Pierce Brosnan starred in this television adaptation of Jules Verne’s 1872 novel about an Englishman’s journey around the world. Directed by Buzz Kulick, the miniseries co-starred Eric Idle, Julia Nickson and Peter Ustinov.

3. “Lonesome Dove” (1989) – Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones starred in this excellent adaptation of Larry McMurty’s 1985 novel about a cattle drive from Texas to Montana. Simon Wincer directed.

4. “The Way We Live Now” (2001) – Andrew Davies wrote this television adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s 1875 novel about a Central European financier’s impact upon London society. Directed by David Yates, the four-part miniseries starred David Suchet, Matthew Macfayden, Shirley Henderson and Cillian Murphy.

5. “Daniel Deronda” (2002) – Andrew Davies adapted this television adaptation of George Eliot’s 1876 novel. Directed by Tom Hooper, the four-part miniseries starred Hugh Dancy and Romola Garai.

6. “The Sacketts” (1979) – Sam Elliott, Jeff Osterhage and Tom Selleck starred in this television adaptation of Louis L’Amour’s two novels – 1960’s “The Daybreakers” and 1961’s “Sackett”. Robert Totten directed.

7. “The Far Pavilions” (1984) – Ben Cross and Amy Irving starred in this adaptation of M.M. Kaye’s 1978 novel about the star-crossed romance between a British Army officer and a royal princess from Northern India. Peter Duffell directed.

8. “The Woman in White” (1997) – Tara Fitzgerald and Justine Waddell starred in this adaptation of Wilkie Collins’ 1859 novel about two half-sisters caught up in a grand conspiracy over a mysterious woman in white and a family fortune. Tim Fywell directed.

9. “Deadwood” (2004-2006) – Timothy Olyphant and Ian McShane starred in HBO’s series about the famous Dakota mining town during the late 1870s. The series was created by David Milch.

10. “The Crimson Petal and the White” (2011) – Romola Garai starred in this adaptation of Michel Faber’s 2002 novel about a London prostitute’s impact upon the lives of a wealthy family. Marc Munden directed.

A Victorian Christmas Dinner

Below is a list of dishes that were traditionally served for a Christmas dinner during the Victorian Era:

A VICTORIAN CHRISTMAS DINNER

Mince Pie – A small, sweet-savory pie filled with a mixture of dried fruits, spices and sometimes minced meat.

Oyster Soup – A soup or stew made from oysters, milk, cream and sometimes mushrooms and chives.

Roast Turkey – The name says it all. It is usually served with chestnut stuffing and gravy.

Sugar Plums – Dragée or hard candy made from hardened sugar and has a round or oval shape.

Potato Croquettes – Small, shaped cylinder of food consisting of a thick binder made from mashed potatoes and a filling. It is usually breaded and deep-fried.

Game Pie – A meat pie with a molded crust that is filled with cooked game – partridge, pheasant, deer, and hare. It is usually chilled before serving.

Spiced Beef – A form of salt beef that is cured with spices before it is braised or boiled.

Nesselrode Pudding – A thick custard cream with sweet puree of chestnut, raisins, candied fruit, currants, cherry liquor and whipped cream. The mixture is molded and served chilled as a bombe with Maraschino custard sauce.

Roast Goose – A roast bird that is an old Christmas staple that is usually accompanied by onion and sage stuffing.

Plum Pudding aka Christmas Pudding – A boiled pudding made from flour, fruits, suet, sugar, eggs and spices.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

“THE WAY WEST” (1967) Review

“THE WAY WEST” (1967) Review

Years ago, I had watched a 1952 movie called “THE BIG SKY”. The movie was an adaptation of a novel written by A.B. Guthrie Jr. I eventually learned that Guthrie had used some of the characters featured in “THE BIG SKY” and created a series of novels set between 1830 and the 1880s. One of them was the 1949 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, “The Way West”.

Twenty-eight years after the 1949 novel’s release, Harold Hecht produced an film adaptation of it. Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, “THE WAY WEST” told the story about an Oregon-bound wagon train being led west by a former U.S. senator. Throughout the journey, the wagon train emigrants endure weather, accidents, encounters with Native Americans and the usual personal dramas that beset a group of people forced to live with one another over a long period of time. Many film critics have dismissed “THE WAY WEST” over the years, comparing it unfavorably to the 1962 movie, “HOW THE WEST WAS WON”. I never understood this comparison. The 1962 film was about the history of one family during most of the 19th century West. Out of the film’s five segments – two had focused on members of the family emigrating to the West. “THE WAY WEST” told the story of the members of one Oregon-bound wagon train in the year 1843.

Before one starts speculating over how a film with a 122 minutes running time could tell the story about all members of a wagon train. It cannot. Guthrie’s novel, along with Ben Maddow and Mitch Lindemann’s screenplay focused on a group of people:

*William Tadock – former U.S. senator and captain of the “Liberty Wagon Train”
*Lije Evans – restless Missouri farmer who decides to move his family to the Oregon Territory at the last moment
*Rebecca Evans – Lije’s pragmatic wife
*Brownie Evans – Lije and Rebecca’s shy son
*Dick Summers – widowed mountain man and guide for the wagon train
*Mr. McBee – Georgia-born farmer hoping to start a peach farm
*Mrs. McBee – wife of Mr. McBee
*Mercy McBee – flirtatious only child of the McBees and the object of Brownie’s desire
*John “Johnnie” Mack – recently married emigrant and object of Mercy’s desire
*Amanda Mack – Johnnie’s sexually frigid bride

There are aspects of “THE WAY WEST” that I found unappealing. One of those aspects proved to be Bronislau Kaper’s score for the film. I found it bombastic, awkward and unmemorable. Enough said. I was also not that impressed by some of the performances found in the film – especially from some of the supporting cast and one of the major leads. And like many other historical or period dramas, “THE WAY WEST” suffered from a few historical inaccuracies. Wagon trains were usually pulled by either oxen or mules. The stock used to convey the “Liberty Wagon Train” from Missouri to Oregon proved to be a hodge podge of horses, mules and oxen. I realize that “THE WAY WEST” is basically a Western about overland travel, but I found the costumes designed by Norma Koch very disappointing. The costumes looked as if they came straight from a warehouse. None of the women wore any layers of petticoats or corsets. And Koch’s costume designs for the McBee family proved to be a real head scratcher. I got the feeling she was trying to convey the family’s background as Georgia dirt farmers barely able to afford the journey to Oregon. Their clothes looked threadbare in compare to their fellow emigrants. And it is a miracle that the McBees did not finish their journey nearly naked. If the McBees were able to afford the journey to Oregon, they could afford to wear better quality clothing than what they wore.

The biggest historical head scratcher occurred midway into the film. During a social gathering between the emigrants and a group of Sioux warriors, one of the emigrants mistook the Sioux leader’s son for a wolf. The emigrant killed the boy and failed to inform the others of the incident. This led the Sioux to later track down the wagon party and demand the killer face justice. Initially, the wagon emigrants refused to comply until they discovered that a very large party of warriors had accompanied the Sioux leader. I am sorry, but I found this scenario improbable. The only times I could recall that many Native Americans gathering at one spot in the history of the American West was at the council for the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie and the Battle of Little Bighorn. And considering that the Cheyenne nation were spread out from present-day southern North Dakota and Wyoming to northern Colorado, I found this encounter between the Tadlock wagon party and the Sioux historically improbable.

Despite its flaws, I actually enjoyed “THE WAY WEST”. Very much. I can see why the original novel won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in the first place. First of all, I enjoyed how the movie opened with a montage of westbound emigrants arriving and organizing in Independence to the movie’s The plot struck me as a solid psychological drama about how a group of strangers struggled to tolerate each other, while traveling long distance during a period between four to five months in a wagon train. Knowing myself, I would probably go crazy dealing with strangers who irritated me after more than two weeks. Perhaps less. And having to deal with a ruthless and controlling personality like former U.S. Senator William Tadlock? Good Lord!

In fact, I find it interesting how the megalomaniacal Tadlock seemed to have an impact on the other major subplots in this film, one way or the other. He and the easy-going farmer Lije Evans managed to consistently clash with each other from the beginning. Evans resents his controlling style of leadership, but seemed reluctant to replace him. The former senator’s attraction toward Lije’s wife Rebecca did not help matters. In onescene, Tadlock had offered himself as a potential wife to Rebecca . . . in case Lije failed to survive the journey to Oregon. I could not decide whether to be surprised or disgusted by his suggestion. Tadlock even had an impact on the Brownie Evans-Mercy McBee romantic quagmire with John and Amanda Mack.

And yet . . . despite being such a megalomaniacal personality, I must admit that I found some of Tadlock’s decisions. For example, Lije Evans and the other wagon party members wanted to fight the Sioux, instead of giving in to the latter’s demand for the Sioux boy’s killer. I suspect that a combination of racism and braggadocio led the emigrants believe it would be better to fight the Sioux than submit one of their own to justice. Tadlock, to his credit, realized it would be wiser to give in to the Sioux’s demand. I also found myself agreeing with his order that the emigrants ditch all non-essential possession in order to lighten the load for the stock that pulled their wagons. Unfortunately, Tadlock’s anger at Evans’ stubborn refusal to give up Mrs. Evans’ floor clock spun out of control and cost him his position as the wagon train’s leader. I would expand more about the human drama found in “THE WAY WEST”. But to do so would give away the plot.

Although I had a problem with the film’s music and costume designs, I certainly had none with its cinematography. “THE WAY WEST” was shot on location in Arizona and Oregon. And I found William H. Clothier’s cinematography outstanding, thanks to its sharp and colorful photography shown in the images below:

Another aspect of “THE WAY WEST” that impressed me, proved to be the sequence for its opening credits. This sequence was basically a montage of emigrants arriving in Independence, Missouri or forming wagon trains for the westbound journey. Despite Bronislau Kaper’s forgettable score and equally forgettable theme song, I thought the sequence permeated with atmosphere and strong sense of how Independence must have been during that period in history. The sequence’s strong atmosphere benefited from Andrew V. McLeglen’s skillful direction, Otho Lovering’s editing and Robert Priestley’s set direction.

For me, the performances in “THE WAY WEST” proved to be a mixed affair. A good number of the supporting performers gave some hammy performances. Most of them portrayed minor characters. But the two hammy performances that seemed to stand out belonged to Richard Widmark as Lije Evans and Jack Elam as Preacher Weatherby. Widmark seemed as if he was trying too hard to convey Evans’ good-natured personality . . . to the point that his performance seemed forced. I did not enjoy admitting that. Mind you, Widmark had some good moments, especially in those scenes in which Lije clashed with Tadlock. Otherwise . . . I found him just a tad over-the-top for my tastes. Elam portrayed a minister named Preacher Weatherby, who had sneaked aboard one of the wagons in an effort to join the wagon train. Not only did I find his portrayal of the “hell and brimstone” minister over-the-top, but also one-dimensional. On the other hand, there was one performance that seemed to go in the complete opposite direction. I am referring to Michael Witney, who portrayed John “Johnnie” Mack, one half of the newlywed couple and the object of Mercy McBee’s desire. Witney may have avoided giving a hammy performance, but he ended up being rather wooden – at least in my eyes. Watching his performance, I found myself wondering how his character managed to generate so much emotion from both Mercy McBee and his wife, Amanda.

Thankfully, “THE WAY WEST” had its share of good and excellent performances. Ironically, two of them came from Harry Carey Jr. and Connie Sawyer. Yes, I will admit they gave hammy performances as Mr. and Mrs. McBee. But their hamminess struck me as so entertaining that I could not dismiss the performances. It seemed as if both really enjoyed themselves. “THE WAY WEST” also featured solid performances from the likes of Patric Knowles, Stubby Kaye, Katherine Justice and Eve McVeagh.

But there were also exceptional performances in “THE WAY WEST”. One came from the likes of Lola Albright, who gave a competent performances as Rebecca Evans, a woman torn between her love for Lije. I thought Michael McGreevey, who gave a very skillful performance as the Evans’ shy and lovesick son, Brownie. Sally Field revealed signs of future stardom with a great performance as the ebullient, sexual and painfully naive Mercy McBee. Robert Mitchum seemed to be the film’s backbone, thanks to his portrayal of the wagon train’s warm, yet pragmatic scout Dick Summers. I especially enjoyed his scenes with McGreevey. But if I had to give the award for the film’s best performance, it would go to Kirk Douglas for his superb portrayal of the very complex and magnetic former Senator William Tadlock. Douglas’ performance struck me as so exceptionally complex that there were times I found myself wondering whether or not I should like him or not.

What else can I say about “THE WAY WEST”? Well, the movie had its flaws. I cannot deny it. But I feel that its virtues definitely outweighed its flaws. And I think that it does not deserve the lukewarm opinions it has received over the years. Thanks to screenwriters Ben Maddow and Mitch Lindemann; a first-rate cast led by Kirk Douglas, Richard Widmark and Robert Mitchum; and excellent direction from Andrew V. McLaglen; I believe “THE WAY WEST” is a lot better than it is reputed to be.

Favorite Episodes of “THE GREAT” Season One (2020)

Below are images from Season One of the Hulu series, “THE GREAT”. Created by Tony McNamara, the series starred Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult as Empress Catherine and Emperor Peter III of Russia:

FAVORITE EPISODES OF “THE GREAT” SEASON ONE (2020)

1. (1.08) “Meatballs at the Dacha” – Empress Catherine’s political abilities are tested when she is given an opportunity to accompany Emperor Peter and General Velementov abroad to meet the King and Queen of Sweden.

2. (1.06) “Parachute” – After his near-death experience with a poison attempt, Peter is now open to Catherine’s progressive ideas and wants to focus on an heir. Courtier Orlo tries to figure out who had poisoned Peter and ends up faces demons of his own.

3. (1.09) “Love Hurts” – While Catherine continues to gather more supporters for her coup against Peter, a dead body is discovered. Peter decides to torture everyone at court to find the murderous traitors.

4. (1.05) “War and Vomit” – After Peter is nearly killed by the jealous husband of his mistress via poison, Catherine closer to either becoming sole ruler of Russia or being executed.

5. (1.04) “Moscow Mule” – While Catherine deals with the hostility from the ladies of the court over rumors about her virginity, Peter reluctantly deal with finding a new leader of the Russian Orthodox Church following the death of the old one.

TIME MACHINE: Compromise of 1850

TIME MACHINE: COMPROMISE OF 1850

One hundred and seventy years ago marked the passage of the controversial document, the Compromise of 1850. The document was a package of five separate bills passed by the United States Congress in September 1850. These bills were used to defuse a political confrontation between slave and free states on the status of territories acquired after the Mexican–American War.

A new debate over slavery in the territories had erupted during the Mexican–American War. Many Southerners sought to expand slavery to the newly-acquired lands and many Northerners, wary of economic competition with slave owners in the West, opposed any such expansion. The new state of Texas’ claim to all former Mexican territory north and east of the Rio Grande, including areas that had never been effectively controlled, further complicated the debate. These issues prevented the passage of acts to create organized territorial governments for the land acquired during the recent war – lands that included the present-day states of California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada and western Colorado.

In early 1850, with the assistance of Democrat Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, Whig Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky had proposed a package of bills that would settle the more important issues before Congress. His proposals included:

*The cession by Texas of some of its northern and western territorial claims in return for debt relief
* The establishment of New Mexico and Utah territories
*Admission of California as a free state
*A ban on the importation of slaves into the District of Columbia (Washington D.C.) for sale
*A tougher fugitive slave law

Clay had originally favored voting on each of his proposals separately. However, Democrat Senator Henry S. Foote of Mississippi convinced him to combine the proposals regarding California’s admission and the disposition of Texas’s borders into one bill. Both Clay and Foote hoped this combination of measures would convince congressmen from both North and South to support the overall package of laws even if they objected to specific provisions.

Clay’s proposal had attracted the support of some Northern Democrats and Southern Whigs like Douglas and Vice-President Millard Fillmore. But the proposal lacked the backing necessary to win passage. President Zachary Taylor opposed the proposal and wanted both California and New Mexico to be admitted as free states. Democrat Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina and some other Southern leaders argued that the compromise was biased against the South because it would lead to the creation of new free states. Not long after expressing his opposition to the proposal, Calhoun died at the end of March. Northern politicians like Whig Senator William H. Seward of New York opposed the pro-slavery elements of the Compromise, especially a new fugitive slave law. During a speech on the Senate floor on March 11, 1850, Seward invoked a “higher law than the Constitution” argument to express his opposition against Clay’s proposals.

The debate over Clay’s proposal led to verbal sparring between Vice-President Fillmore and Democrat Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri (who opposed the pro-slavery elements of the proposal) over Texas’s borders. During the pair’s debate, Senator Foote drew a pistol on Benton. In early June, nine slaveholding Southern states sent delegates to the Nashville Convention to determine their course of action if the compromise passed. Some delegates preached secession, while the moderates ruled and proposed a series of compromises that included extending the Missouri Compromise of 1820’s dividing line to the Pacific Coast. The situation took a major turn when President Taylor suddenly died on July 9, 1850. His death led Fillmore to become the 13th President of the United States and the end of presidential opposition to the proposals.

The individual proposals were initially introduced as one “omnibus” bill. Despite Clay’s efforts, the bill failed to pass during a crucial vote on July 31, 1850. It was opposed by southern Democrats and by northern Whigs. Clay announced his intention to pass each part of the bill on the Senate floor the following day. However, the 73-year-old Clay became physically exhausted from the effects of tuberculosis, which would eventually kill him nearly two years later. After Senator Clay left the Senate to recuperate in Newport, Rhode Island; Senator Stephen A. Douglas took the lead in attempting to pass Clay’s proposals through the Senate.

Instead of presenting Clay’s proposals as one bill, Douglas ensured that the proposals were presented as separate bills:

*The Fillmore Administration and the Senate would deny Texas’s claims to New Mexico, asserting that the United States had promised to protect the territorial integrity of New Mexico in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. However, the compromise would allow the United States to assume Texas’s debts and set the state’s northern border at the 36° 30′ parallel north (the Missouri Compromise line) and much of its western border followed the 103rd meridian.

*California would be admitted as a free state on September 9, 1850.

*The Territories of New Mexico and Utah would be organized under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

*The nation’s capital, Washington D.C., would cease to become a major center for the domestic slave trade. However, slavery would continue to exist within its borders. Although all Southern politicians opposed this proposal, they were eventually outvoted.

*A new fugitive slave law would be created in the form of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Enacted on September 8, 1850; this new law would enforce Federal judicial officials in all states and Federal territories, including those states and territories in which slavery was prohibited, to assist with the return of escaped slaves to their masters from those states and territories that permitted slavery. Anyone who refused to assist in the capture of fugitive slaves or assisted a fugitive would be liable to a steep fine or imprisonment.

By September 1850, both the United States Senate and House of Representatives managed to form an agreement over all major issues and voted for the passage of the new Compromise of 1850. President Fillmore signed four of the proposals, with the exception of the Fugitive Slave Act. He signed that into law after Attorney General John J. Crittenden assured him that the law was constitutional. Many historians argue that the Compromise of 1850 had played a major role in postponing the American Civil War by at least a decade. However, one element of the new compromise – the establishment of the Fugitive Slave Act – led to legal abuses regarding the pursuit of fugitive slaves and the safety of free blacks throughout the country. The new law also led to growing support of the abolition movement and the re-opening of the slavery issue. This led to the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, a law drafted by Stephen Douglas that would help inflame the slavery issue until the eve of the U.S. Civil War.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Favorite Television Productions Set in the 1820s

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

FAVORITE TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS SET IN THE 1820s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gooey Butter Cake

Below is an article about a dessert known as Gooey Butter Cake:

GOOEY BUTTER CAKE

The city of St. Louis, Missouri is known for the creation of several popular dishes and desserts. One of the latter is a dessert that was created nearly a century ago called the Gooey Butter Cake.

Gooey Butter Cake is a flat and dense cake made from wheat cake flour, butter, sugar and eggs. Upon completion, the dessert is usually dusted with powdered sugar. The cake usually stand at nearly an inch tall. And while sweet and rich, it also stood somewhat firm, and is able to be cut into pieces similarly to a brownie. Gooey butter cake is generally served as a type of coffee cake and not as a formal dessert cake. There are two distinct versions of the gooey butter – a traditional cake usually created by bakers and a version made from cream cheese and yellow cake mix. As far as I know, there are two origin versions of the Gooey Butter Cake.

In one version, a German-American baker in the St. Louis area named John Hoffman owned the bakery where the cake was originally created by accident. The story is there were two types of butter “smears” used in his bakery – a gooey butter and a deep butter. The gooey butter was used as an adhesive for pastries like Danish rolls and Stollens. The deep butter was used for deep butter coffee cakes. Hoffman had hired a new baker, who was supposed to make deep butter cakes. But the new baker got the butter smears mixed up. Hoffman did not catch the mistake until after the cakes came out of the proof box. Rather than throw them away, Hoffman went ahead and baked them. Hoffman had no choice. The baking mistake had occurred during the Great Depression, when baking ingredients supplies were low. The new cake sold so well that Hoffman kept baking and selling them and soon, so did the other bakers in the St. Louis area.

The second version of the Gooey Butter Cake’s creation also occurred during the 1930s in St. Louis. Another St. Louis baker named Fred Heimburger remembers that someone – he never named Hoffman – had accidentally created the Gooey Butter Cake during the Depression. According to Heimburger, the cake became a popular hit and local acquired taste. After serving in the Korean War, Heimburger worked as a baker at the old Doerring Bakery, where he learned his trade and learned how to make the Gooey Butter Cake. He liked the cake so much that he tried to promote it by presenting samples of the cake to bakers outside of St. Louis, when he traveled. These bakers liked the dessert, but they could not get their customers to purchase it, regarding it as looking like too much like a mistake, and “a flat gooey mess”. And so it remained as a regional favorite for many decades. Heimburger opened his own bakery in 1954 and his interpretation of the cake, along with the bakery, became a local institution.

There are other stories surrounding the cake’s creation, but none have been historically verified. The St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission includes a recipe for the cake on its website, calling it “one of St. Louis’ popular, quirky foods”. The Commission’s recipe for the cake includes yellow cake batter and cream cheese, unlike the original recipe. Gooey butter cake is also commonly known outside of the St. Louis area as “Ooey Gooey Butter Cake,” due to its popularization by TV celebrity and cooking show host, Paula Deen.

Below is a recipe for the classic Gooey Butter Cake from the Taste Better From Scratch website:

Gooey Butter Cake

Ingredients:

Crust
1 3/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 Tablespoons + 1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/3 cup warm milk
6 Tablespoons butter – room temperature
1 large egg
pinch of salt
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

Topping
3 Tablespoons light corn syrup
2 Tablespoons water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
12 Tablespoons butter
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
pinch of salt
1 large egg
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

Preparation

Crust
*In a small bowl combine yeast, 1/4 tsp sugar and warm milk. Set aside for 5 minutes.
*In a stand mixer cream together the butter and 3 Tbsp of sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
*Add the yeast mixture, egg, salt and flour and mix on low until combined.
*Increase speed and mix/knead for about 7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and has pulled away from the sides of the bowl.
*Press the dough into an ungreased 9×13” baking dish. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 2 hours.

Topping
*Whisk together light corn syrup, water and vanilla until combined.
*In a separate bowl cream together the butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
*Add egg, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add a little of the flour, alternating with adding the corn syrup mixture, until both are combined.
*Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
*Drop large spoonfuls of topping all over the risen dough. Use a spatula to gently smooth it into an even layer.
*Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the top has set and is golden brown. The center should still seem soft when it comes out of the oven. Allow to cool on a wire cooling rack to room temperature.
*Serve sprinkled with powdered sugar. This cake is best enjoyed the day it is made.

“LITTLE WOMEN” (2019) Review

“LITTLE WOMEN” (2019) Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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