“VANITY FAIR” (2018) Review

“VANITY FAIR” (2018) Review

When I had first heard that the ITV channel and Amazon Studios had plans to adapt William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1848 novel, “Vanity Fair”, I must admit that I felt no interest in watching the miniseries. After all, I had already seen four other adaptations, including the BBC’s 1987 production. And I regard the latter as the best version of Thackeray’s novel I had ever seen.

In the end, my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to watch the seven-part miniseries. In a nutshell, “VANITY FAIR” followed the experiences of Rebecca “Becky” Sharp, the social climbing daughter of an English not-so-successful painter and a French dancer in late Georgian England during and after the Napoleonic Wars. The production also told the story of Becky’s school friend and daughter of a wealthy merchant, Amelia Sedley. The story begins with both young women leaving Miss Pinkerton’s Academy for Young Ladies. Becky managed to procure a position as governess to Sir Pitt Crawley, a slightly crude yet friendly baronet. Before leaving for her new position, Becky visits Amelia’s family. She tries to seduce Jos Sedley, Amelia’s wealthy brother and East India Company civil servant. Unfortunately George Osborne, a friend of Jos and son of another wealthy merchant, puts a stop to the budding romance.

While working for the Crawleys, Becky meets and falls in love with Sir Pitt’s younger son, Captain Rawdon Crawley. When Sir Pitt proposes marriage to Becky, she shocks the family with news of her secret marriage to Rawdon. The couple becomes ostracized and ends up living in London on Rawdon’s military pay and gambling winnings. They also become reacquainted with Amelia Sedley, who has her own problems. When her father loses his fortune, George’s own father insists that he dump Amelia and marry a Jamaican heiress. George refuses to do so and thanks to his friend William Dobbin’s urging, marries Amelia. Mr. Osborne ends up disinheriting George. However, the romantic lives of Becky and Amelia take a backseat when history overtakes them and their husbands with the return of Napoleon Bonaparte.

I wish I could say that the 2018 miniseries was the best adaptation of Thackery’s novel I had seen. But it is not. The production had its . . . flaws. One, I disliked its use of the song “All Along the Watchtower” in each episode’s opening credits and other rock and pop tunes during the episodes’ closing credits. They felt so out of place in the miniseries’ production. Yes, I realize that a growing number of period dramas have doing the same. And quite frankly, I detest it. This scenario barely worked in the 2006 movie, “MARIE ANTOINETTE”. Now, this use of pop tunes in period dramas strike me as awkward, ham-fisted, unoriginal and lazy.

I also noticed that producer and screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes threw out the younger Pitt Crawley character (Becky’s brother-in-law), kept the Bute Crawley character and transformed him from Becky Sharp’s weak and unlikable uncle-in-law into her brother-in-law. Hughes did the same with the Lady Jane Crawley and Martha Crawley characters. She tossed aside the Lady Jane character and transformed Martha from Becky’s aunt-in-law to sister-in-law. Frankly, I did not care for this. I just could not see characters like Bute and Martha suddenly become sympathetic guardians for Becky and Rawdon’s son in the end. It just did not work for me. I have one last problem with “VANITY FAIR”, but I will get to it later.

I may not regard “VANITY FAIR” as the best adaptation of Thackery’s novel, I cannot deny that it is first-rate. Gwyneth Hughes and director James Strong did an excellent job of bringing the 1848 novel to life on the television screen. Because this adaptation was conveyed in seven episodes, both Hughes and Strong were given the opportunity retell Thackery’s saga without taking too many shortcuts. The miniseries replayed Becky Sharp’s experiences with the Sedley family, George Osbourne, and the Crawley family in great detail. I was especially impressed by the miniseries’ recount of Becky and Amelia’s experiences during the Waterloo campaign – which is the story’s true high point, as far as I am concerned. Also, this adaptation had conveyed George’s experiences during Waterloo with more detail than any other adaptation I have seen.

Aside from the Waterloo sequence, there were other scenes that greatly impressed me. I really enjoyed those scenes that featured the famous Duchess of Richmond’s ball in the fourth episode, “In Which Becky Joins Her Regiment”; Becky’s attempts to woo Jos Sedley in the first episode, “Miss Sharp In The Presence Of The Enemy”; the revelation of Becky’s marriage to Rawdon Crawley in ” “A Quarrel About An Heiress”; and her revelation to Amelia about the truth regarding George in the final episode, “Endings and Beginnings”. There were people who were put off that the series did not end exactly how the novel did – namely the death of Jos, with whom Becky had hooked up in the end. I have to be honest . . . that did not bother me. However, I was amused that Becky’s last line in the miniseries seemed to hint that Jos’ death might be a possibility in the near future.

The production values for “VANITY FAIR” struck me as quite beautiful. I thought Anna Pritchard’s production designs did an excellent job in re-creating both London, the English countryside, Belgium, Germany, India and West Africa between the Regency era and the early 1830s. Not only did I find the miniseries’ production values beautiful, but also Ed Rutherford’s cinematography. His images struck me as not only beautiful, but sharp and colorful. I would not say that Lucinda Wright and Suzie Harman’s costume designs blew my mind. But I cannot deny that I found them rather attractive and serviceable for the narrative’s setting.

One of the production’s real virtues proved to be a very talented cast. “VANITY FAIR” featured some solid performances from it supporting players. Well . . . I would say more than solid. I found the performances of Robert Pugh, Peter Wight, Suranne Jones, Claire Skinner, Mathew Baynton, Sian Clifford, Monica Dolan, and Elizabeth Berrington to be more than solid. In fact, I would say they gave excellent performances. But they were not alone.

Michael Palin, whom I have not seen in a movie or television production in years, gave an amusing narration in each episode as the story’s author William Makepeace Thackeray. Ellie Kendrick gave a very poignant performance as Jane Osborne, who seemed to be caught between her loyalty to her bitter father and her long-suffering sister-in-law. Simon Beale Russell gave a superb, yet ambiguous portrayal of the warm and indulgent John Sedley, who also had a habit of infantilizing his family. Frances de la Tour was deliciously hilarious and entertaining as Becky Sharp’s aunt-in-law and benefactress Lady Matilda Crawley. I could also say the same about Martin Clunes, who gave a very funny performance as the crude, yet lively Sir Pitt Crawley. One last funny performance came from David Fynn, who gave an excellent portrayal of the vain, yet clumsy civil servant, Jos Sedley. Anthony Head gave a skillful performance as the cynical and debauched Lord Styne. I thought Charlie Rowe was superb as the self-involved and arrogant George Osborne. Rowe, whom I recalled as a child actor, practically oozed charm, arrogance and a false sense of superiority in his performance as the shallow George.

I have only seen Johnny Flynn in two roles – including the role of William Dobbin in this production. After seeing “VANITY FAIR”, it seemed that the William Dobbin role seemed tailored fit for him. He gave an excellent performance as the stalwart Army officer who endured years of unrequited love toward Amelia Sedley. Tom Bateman was equally excellent as the charming, yet slightly dense Rawdon Crawley. At first, I thought Bateman would portray Rawdon as this dashing, yet self-confident Army officer. But thanks to his performance, the actor gradually revealed that underneath all that glamour and dash was a man who was not as intelligent as he originally seemed to be. Amelia Sedley has never been a favorite character of mine. Her intense worship of the shallow George has always struck me as irritating. Thanks to Claudia Jessie’s excellent performance, I not only saw Amelia as irritating as usual, but also sympathetic for once.

Television critics had lavished a great deal of praise upon Olivia Cooke as the sharp-witted and manipulative Becky Sharp. In fact, many have labeled her performance as one of the best versions of that character. And honestly? I have to agree. Cooke was more than superb . . . she was triumphant as the cynical governess who used her charms and wit in an attempt to climb the social ladder of late Georgian Britain. I would not claim that Cooke was the best on-screen Becky I have seen, but she was certainly one of the better ones. I have only one minor complaint – I found her portrayal of Becky as a poor parent to her only son rather strident. Becky has always struck me as a cold mother to Rawdon Junior. But instead of cold, Cooke’s Becky seemed to scream in anger every time she was near the boy. I found this heavy-handed and I suspect the real perpetrator behind this was either screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes or director James Strong.

I have a few complaints about “VANITY FAIR”. I will not deny it. But I also cannot deny that despite its few flaws, I thought it was an excellent adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel. Actually, I believe it is one of the better adaptations. “VANITY FAIR” is also one of the best period dramas I have seen from British television in a LONG TIME. And I mean a long time. Most period dramas I have seen in the past decade were either mediocre or somewhere between mediocre and excellent. “VANITY FAIR” is one of the first that has led me to really take notice in years. And I have to credit Gwyneth Hughes’ writing, James Strong’s direction and especially the superb performances from a first-rate cast led by Olivia Cooke. It would be nice to see more period dramas of this quality in the near future.

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.

“Irene Adler in Modern SHERLOCK HOLMES Adaptations”

“IRENE ADLER IN MODERN SHERLOCK HOLMES ADAPTATIONS”

What is it about the Irene Adler character from the 1891 Sherlock Holmes novella, “A Scandal in Bohemia” that bothers a lot of filmmakers and television producers? What is it about her that drives them to enact nearly drastic changes upon the character, when either adapting Sherlock Holmes novels or creating new movie and television productions, based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters?

In Doyle’s original story, Irene was an American Opera singer who became involved in the King of Bohemia and ended up outwitting him and Sherlock Holmes over a photograph. The only movie or television adaptation I can think of that portrayed Irene any justice was the 1984 adaptation with Gayle Hunnicutt portraying the character in the BBC series, “THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES”.

But the other versions of the Irene Adler characters I have seen? Well:

*“SHERLOCK HOLMES IN NEW YORK” (1976) – Irene is an American actress who helps Sherlock Holmes solve a bank robbery planned by Professor James Moriarty in New York City. She becomes a “damsel-in-distress” when Moriarty kidnaps her son in order to prevent Holmes from solving the case.

*“SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE LEADING LADY” (1991) – Again, Irene is portrayed an American actress. In this television movie, she is performing at a theater in 1910 Vienna, when she has a reunion with Holmes and his companion, Dr. John Watson. She is merely portrayed as a former lover in this television movie.

*“SHERLOCK HOLMES” (2009)/”SHERLOCK HOLMES: GAME OF SHADOWS” (2011) – In the two films directed by Guy Ritchie, Irene is an American professional thief and femme fatale, who is occasionally hired by Professor Moriarty to assist in his schemes. Although she managed to outwit Holmes inside her London hotel room in the first film, Holmes eventually outwits her and she is transformed into a damsel in distress, despite her fighting abilities. Moriarty later kills her in the second film, after Holmes nearly interfered in the murder of another employee.

*“SHERLOCK” – “A Scandal in Belgravia” (2012) – Irene is a British dominatrix sex worker in this BBC series, who has incriminating information wanted by the British government. This was probably the most problematic portrayal of the character. In the end, she is not only outwitted by Holmes, but either loses or nearly loses her life to those who had hired her to acquire the information.

*“ELEMENTARY” (2013-15) – Irene is an American former lover of Holmes, who had apparently been killed by a serial killer. She is eventually revealed to be Jaime Moriarty, one of Holmes’ main nemesis.

Now, I realize that producers and directors like Guy Ritchie, Stephen Moffat, Mark Gatiss and Robert Doherty may have wanted to put some kind of twist on the Irene Adler character. But when they do, it is always to the character’s detriment. During the late 20th century, the filmmakers and television producers before them tend to thrust the role of main love interest upon her. After the turn of the 21st century, filmmakers like Ritchie and Moffat tend reduced Irene Adler to a damsel-in-distress, or transformed into a sex worker or criminal mastermind that required imprisonment.

But Irene Adler has never been the brilliant woman, who “rightly” had the last word on Sherlock Holmes since 1984. As far as today’s modern-day filmmakers and television producers are concerned, Holmes had to be the one who either saved or outwitted Irene. Or both. Is there something about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original creation that these filmmakers and producers find so threatening from a gender point of view? Apparently Mr. Conan Doyle did not.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Favorite Television Productions Set in the 1820s

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

FAVORITE TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS SET IN THE 1820s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“MAD MEN” RETROSPECT: Fans Dislike of Betty Draper

I first wrote the following article when the “MAD MEN” Season Three episode, (3.04) “The Arrangement”, first aired back in September 2009:

“MAD MEN” RETROSPECT: FANS DISLIKE OF BETTY DRAPER

I am angry. After watching the latest “MAD MEN” episode – (3.04) “The Arrangement” – and reading numerous comments about it, I have become angry over fans’ reaction to the character of Betty Draper.

Ironically, I am not angry at Matt Weiner. But I am angry at many fans for their continuing misreading of Betty Draper’s character. I just read this article on the episode and now find myself wondering if the fans of this show have ever understood the character. As of this moment, I am beginning to doubt it very much. Much of the fans’ vitriol toward Betty seemed to stem from her “treatment” of her two children, Sally and Bobby.

Ever since the airing of the Season Two episode, (2.02) “Flight 1”“MAD MEN” fans have been accusing Betty Draper (portrayed by January Jones) of being a poor mother. In this particular episode, they nitpicked over her complaint about Bobby’s lies about a drawing he had submitted in school. He had traced the drawing from another illustration and declared it as his own original work.

Matters became worse in (2.04) “Three Sundays” when Betty had demanded that Don punish Bobby for a series of infractions. After this episode had aired, many fans accused her of being a cold and abusive parent, especially since she had expressed anger at Don for refusing to discipline his son. To this day, I am shocked, not by Betty’s insistence upon disciplining her son, but by the fans’ reactions. Surely they realized that the episode was set in 1962? Before this decade and in the following two, parents had disciplined their children with spankings. Yet, fans had acted as if this was something rare and accused Betty of being an abusive mother.

In a later episode, (2.12) “The Mountain King”, Betty caught her daughter Sally smoking. She punished the girl by locking her in a closet for a few hours. Again, fans accused Betty of being abusive. They completely ignored the fact that Sally, a young girl under the age of 10, was smoking and focused upon Betty’s punishment. I find myself wondering how my parents would have reacted if they had caught me smoking. I suspect that they would have shown less restraint than Betty. Hell, I suspect I would also show less restraint. Betty eventually let Sally out of the closet and explained – somewhat – the situation between Don and herself (they were separated at the time). But the damage had been done. Betty was now a bad mother.

Finally, Season Three had premiered last month. And if the fans’ reaction to Betty had been hostile during certain episodes of Season Two, it became downright vitriolic during this season. In the season premiere, (3.01) “Out of Town”, fans complained about Betty’s curt dismissal of Bobby, as she and Don were prepared to discipline Sally for breaking into her father’s suitcase. They also complained of Betty’s desire to give birth to a second daughter, citing this as an example of her immaturity. They also accused her of being immature when she insisted that her ailing father, Gene Hofstadt, remain with the Drapers after his live-in girlfriend abandoned him. They claimed that Betty wanted to prevent her brother William from selling their father’s home and profiting from it. Again, they complained about Betty being curt to Sally, when she ordered the young girl to zip up the dress she wore at Roger Sterling’s garden party in (3.03) “My Old Kentucky Home”. But the fans’ hostility toward Betty hit an all time high for the first time, since “Three Sundays”, in this latest episode.

According to many hostile fans, Betty is guilty of the following in “The Arrangement”:

*Her refusal to discuss with Gene his plans to distribute his late wife’s furs to herself and her sister-in-law, which many saw as a sign of her immaturity.

*A few fans had accused her of closing the door on Sally, after the police officer had arrived with news of Gene’s death. Of course, this was untrue.

*Her dismissal of Sally from the kitchen, after the latter ranted at the adult Drapers and Betty’s brother William, over their “failure” to grieve over Gene’s death.

*Her failure to comfort Sally over Gene’s death.

Betty’s refusal to discuss Gene’s plans to distribute his late wife’s furs upon his death drew a great deal of critical fire. Personally, I do not understand why. Her refusal to discuss such matters seemed reasonable to me. Why would any grown child want to discuss a parent’s impending death, like it was part of a business discussion? That strikes me as morbid and too emotional for anyone to bear. Especially if that particular person was in the last trimester of her pregnancy. In one of his more lucid moments, Gene could have written down his wishes regarding inheritance and other arrangements in a signed letter. Instead, he decided to openly discuss the matter with Betty, who obviously found the subject disturbing. And I have a question. Why on earth did he wait so long to distribute his late wife’s furs? She had been dead for over three years.

Many fans pointed out that Gene’s disappointment in Betty was a clear indication of her shallow and immature nature. His main complaints seemed to center around her failure to become a professional, like her mother used to be (Ruth Hofstadt had been an engineer back in the 1920s); and her marriage to Don. Now, this man knew what kind of parent his wife used to be. There has never been any previous hint in past episodes that Gene and Ruth Hofstadt had encouraged Betty to acquire a profession. When she became a professional model, Mrs. Hofstadt called her a whore. And judging from Gene’s story about his wife’s efforts to reduce Betty’s weight, I suspect that he left his daughter solely in Ruth’s hands. As for Betty’s marriage to Don, had Gene become aware that his son-in-law had stolen someone else’s identity? Or was he simply disappointed that Betty had married a man from a working-class background who did not have any family? If Gene knew that Don was a phony, why has he never exposed the latter? And if Gene’s problem with Don had more to do with the younger man’s social background, then it would only lead me to believe that he may have been just as shallow as his daughter and just every other major character in the series – including the leading man.

Some fans have accused Betty of shutting the front door in young Sally’s face after learning about Gene’s death. Well, I have an easy response. The cop who had delivered the news about Gene was the one who had closed the door in Sally’s face, preventing her from following him and Betty into the house. And since I do not recall him locking the door, Sally could have easily went ahead and followed them inside.

We finally come to the one scene that caused a great deal of hostility from the fans – namely Betty’s dismissal of Sally, following the latter’s outbreak over her grandfather’s death. Many fans expressed outrage over Betty’s action, claiming it as another example of her cold attitude toward her children. The interesting thing about their reaction is that they were only willing to view the scene from Sally’s point-of-view. No one was willing to view it from Betty’s point-of-view, or anyone else. Very few seemed unwilling to consider that both Betty and her brother, William, were devastated from their father’s death. As far as I know, one person was able to understand both Betty and Sally’s point-of-views, due to her own personal experiences. William tried to hide his own grief through a mild joke and both Betty and Don had laughed. Sally, who had overheard the joke, had jumped to conclusions that none of them cared about Gene’s death. And because of this belief, she ranted against her parents and uncle. Upset and shaken by her daughter’s outburst, Betty ordered Sally to her room . . . before she began to cry. And instead of viewing the scene as another example of family conflict during a special occasion – a death in the family, in this case – many viewers saw this as another example of Betty Draper’s despicable nature. I even came across an article that failed to mention Betty’s grief over her father’s death.

What I cannot understand is why very few viewers failed to comment on Don’s actions. What exactly did he do? He laughed at William’s joke. He looked understandably stunned by Sally’s outburst. He mildly chastised Betty for eating one of the peaches found in Gene’s car, and she ignored him. Speaking of the peaches, many fans saw Betty’s consumption of one of them either as a sign of her immaturity . . . or some kind of malice toward Sally. Following William and Judy’s departure, Don comforted a grieving Betty inside their bedroom. And when she finally went to sleep, he peeked in on Sally. That is it. He hardly did anything to comfort Sally. And yet . . . I have not come across any criticism against his actions in this episode.

I wish I could explain why Betty has received the majority of criticism from the fans. She has become the Bobbie Barrett of Season Three – the female everyone loves to hate. Fans have yet to find this season’s Duck Phillips. But I suspect that it will not take them very long. Are fans so desperate to find a character to vilify every season that they are unwilling to examine the complexities of all characters? Why are they willing to excuse the flaws and mistakes of female characters like Peggy Olson and Joan Holloway Harris and dump all of their ire on the likes of Betty Draper? Is it because Peggy has managed to adhere to their ideals of the new feminist of the 1960s and 70? Or that they admire Joan’s sophistication, style and wit? Whatever.

Look . . . I realize that Betty Draper is not perfect. She is not the world’s greatest mother and at times, she can be rather immature and shallow. But you know what? None of the other characters are perfect. Don strikes me as an even worse parent than Betty. He seems obsessed with maintaining appearance. And he is a fraud. Despite her ambition and talent, Peggy strikes me as an immature woman who assumes facades and personas with more speed than her mentor. I still cannot fathom her reaction to that opening sequence of “BYE-BYE BIRDIE” in the episode, (3.02) “Love Among the Ruins”. Despite the strides he had gained during late Season Two, Pete Campbell failed to overcome his desire for approval . . . and he still acts like a prat when things do not go his way. Paul Kinsey is another poseur who is ashamed of his past as a middle-class or working-class New Jersey man; and of the fact that he had attended Princeton via a scholarship. As for Joan . . . I really do not know what to think of her. Why on earth would an intelligent and experienced woman of the world marry a man who had raped her? Why? I have asked this question on several blogs, message boards and forums. And instead of giving me an answer, fans either make excuses for Joan’s choice or gloss over it by expressing their anticipation for the day when she finally leaves her husband.

I realize that I cannot force or coerce fans to even like Betty. But I am finding it difficult to accept or embrace their view. I am beginning to suspect that fans have allowed their emotions and prejudices to get in the way of any possibility of a rational discussion on the series and its characters. And considering that the comments regarding Betty’s role in “The Arrangement” has managed to anger me, I realize I no longer can conduct a rational discussion, myself.

P.S. – The “MAD MEN” fandom’s hypocritical attitude toward Betty in compare to other characters failed to abate for a good number – probably not until the end.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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