Top Ten Favorite Movies Set During the 1500s

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

 

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET DURING THE 1500s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“GEORGE WASHINGTON” (1984) Review

 

“GEORGE WASHINGTON” (1984) Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top Five Favorite Episodes of “THE CROWN” Season One (2016)

Below is a list of my favorite episodes from Season One of the Netflix series, “THE CROWN”. Created by Peter Morgan, the series starred Claire Foy and Matt Smith as Queen Elizabeth II and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh: 

TOP FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “THE CROWN” SEASON ONE (2016)

1. (1.02) “Hyde Park Corner” – Due to King George VI’s poor health, Princess Elizabeth and her husband Philip, Duke of Edinburgh embark upon a tour of the Commonwealth on his behalf. However, a family tragedy forces the couple to end their tour in Kenya and return home to Britain.

2. (1.05) “Smoke and Mirrors” – This episode focuses on the death of Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth II’s grandmother and on her own coronation over two months later. Meanwhile, the Queen’s uncle, the Duke of Windsor, clashes with her private secretary, Tommy Lascelles, after being asked not to attend the coronation.

3. (1.08) “Pride & Joy” – While Elizabeth and Philip embark upon a stressful Commonwealth tour in 1954, the Queen’s younger sister Princess Margaret takes on more royal engagements, much to the consternation of Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

4. (1.07) “Scientia Potentia Est” – While the Soviet Union tests their new H-bomb, both Prime Minister Churchill and Deputy Prime Minister experience major health crisis, unbeknownst to the Queen. Meanwhile, she becomes aware of her limited education and hires a tutor.

5. (1.06) “Gelignite” – When Princess Margaret and her divorced lover, Peter Townsend, ask Elizabeth’s permission to get married, the latter promises to give her support. Unfortunately, Private Secretary Lascelles and the Queen Mother advise against supporting the marriage.

 

Top Ten Favorite Movies Set During the 1600s

Below is a list of my favorite movies set during the 1600s: 

 

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET DURING THE 1600s

1. “The Four Musketeers: Milady’s Revenge” (1974) – Richard Lester directed this adaptation of the second half of Alexandre Dumas père‘s 1844 novel, “The Three Musketeers”. The movie starred Michael York, Oliver Reed, Raquel Welch and Faye Dunaway.

2. “The Man in the Iron Mask” (1977) – Richard Chamberlain portrayed duel roles in this loose adaptation of Alexandre Dumas père‘s 1847-50 novel, “The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later”. Directed by Mike Newell, the movie co-starred Jenny Agutter, Patrick McGoohan and Ralph Richardson.

3. “The Three Musketeers” (1973) – Richard Lester directed this adaptation of the first half of Alexandre Dumas père‘s 1844 novel, “The Three Musketeers”. The movie starred Michael York, Oliver Reed, Raquel Welch and Faye Dunaway.

4. “Adventures of Don Juan” (1948) – Errol Flynn starred in this swashbuckling movie as the infamous Spanish nobleman and fencing master for King Philip III and Queen Margaret of Spain’s court, who comes to the aid of the couple when another nobleman plots to steal the throne from them. Vincent Sherman directed.

5. “The New World” (2005) – Terrence Malick wrote and directed this cinematic look at the founding of the Jamestown, Virginia settlement. The movie starred Colin Farrell, Q’orianka Kilcher, Christopher Plummer and Christian Bale.

6. The Three Musketeers” (1948) – George Sidney directed this adaptation of Alexandre Dumas père‘s 1844 novel. The movie starred Gene Kelly, Van Heflin, Lana Turner and June Allyson.

7. “Girl with a Pearl Earring” (2005) – Colin Firth and Scarlett Johansson starred in this adaptation of Tracy Chevalier’s 1999 historical novel about a Dutch housemaid; her employer, painter Johannes Vermeer; and the creation of his famous 1665 painting. Peter Webber directed.

8. “The Wicked Lady” (1945) – Margaret Lockwood starred in this adaptation of Magdalen King-Hall’s 1945 novel, “Life And Death of the Wicked Lady Skelton”. Directed by Leslie Arliss, the movie co-starred James Mason and Patricia Roc.

9. “Forever Amber” (1947) – Otto Preminger directed this adaptation of Kathleen Winsor’s 1944 novel about the rise of a 17th century English orphan. Linda Darnell and Cornel Wilde starred.

10. “The Crucible” (1996) – Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder starred in this adaptation of Arthur Miller’s 1953 stage play about the Salem Witch Trials. The movie was directed by Nicholas Hytner.

“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (2017) Review

 

“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (2017) Review

When news of Twentieth Century Fox releasing its own version of Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel, “Murder on the Orient Express”, many people groaned. In a way, I could understand their reaction. This new movie would mark the fifth adaptation of the novel – the second theatrical version. However, being a major fan of Christie’s story about a murder aboard the famed trans-European train, I was among those who did not groan. 

Directed by Kenneth Branaugh, who also starred as Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” begins in Jerusalem 1934, where Poirot has been asked to solve the theft of a valuable artifact from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. After achieving his goal, Poirot boards a boat that conveys him to Istanbul in Turkey. Among his fellow passengers is a British governess named Mary Debenham and a Afro-British former-Army soldier-turned-physician named Dr. John Abuthnot. Poirot plans to remain in Istanbul for a few days of rest. But he receives a telegram, summoning him to London to solve another case. Monsieur Bouc, a young friend of his who happens to serve as a director of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, manages to acquire a berth in one of the second-class compartments in the Calais coach of the Orient Express.

Both Poirot and Bouc are surprised to discover that the Calais coach is unusually full for the winter season. A day following the train’s departure from Istanbul, one of the passengers – an American “businessman” named Samuel Rachett – informs Poirot that he had received death threats and wants to hire the Belgian detective to serve as his bodyguard. Due to his instinctive dislike of Rachett, Poirot refuses the offer. During the second night of the train’s journey, the Orient Express becomes stranded somewhere between Vinkovci and Brod, thanks to an avalanche. The following morning, Rachett’s dead body is discovered with a dozen stab wounds. Bouc asks Poirot to discover the killer’s identity. Since each train car was locked at night, Poirot has focused his suspicions on those who were inside the Calais coach:

*Mary Debenham
*Dr. John Abuthnot
*Hector McQueen, Rachett’s secretary
*Edward Masterman, Rachett’s English valet
*Mrs. Caroline Hubbard, a middle-aged American tourist
*Pilar Estravados, a Spanish-born missionary
*Princess Dragomiroff, an exiled Russian princess
*Hildegarde Schmidt, Princess Dragomiroff’s German maid
*Biniamino Marquez, a Spanish-born automobile salesman
*Count Rudolph Andrenyi, a Hungarian aristocrat/acclaimed dancer
*Countess Helena Andrenyi, Count Andrenyi’s German-born wife
*Gerhard Hardman, a German scholar
*Pierre Michel, the Calais coach’s car attendant

Not long after he begins his investigation, Poirot discovers Rachett’s true identity – a gangster named Lanfranco Cassetti, who had kidnapped a three year-old heiress named Daisy Armstrong two years earlier. After Daisy’s parents had paid the ransom, Cassetti killed young Daisy and fled the United States. It becomes up to Poirot to discover which Calais coach passengers have connections to the Armstrong kidnapping case and find the killer.

What can I say about this adaptation of Christie’s 1934 novel? Of the five versions of “Murder on the Orient Express”, I have only seen four. But I am not here to discuss the other three versions I have seen . . . only this new adaptation.

“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” was not a perfect movie. Well to be honest, I have yet to see a perfect adaptation of Christie’s novel. But there were a few aspects of this film that I did not like. Most of those aspects had a lot to do with camera shots. I did not like how Branaugh had allowed his passengers to board through the dining car at the end of the train. Honestly? I did not care for that tracking shot of Poirot making his way through the train . . . with the camera focused on him through the windows. I found it rather distracting and slightly confusing. Nor did I care for how Branaugh and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos shot the scene featuring the discovery of Rachett’s body. From the moment when the victim’s valet discovered the body to Dr. Abuthnot examined it and conveyed his prognosis, Branaugh and Zambarloukos did the entire scene from a high angle shot from above in which I could barely, if at all, see the victim’s body. I found it very frustrating to watch. And rather unnecessary. I have one last complaint and it concerned a character. Namely . . . Count Rudolph Andrenyi. In Christie’s novel, Count Andrenyi was described as a hot-blooded Hungarian and a diplomat. In “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS”, the Count remained a hot-blooded Hungarian. But for some reason, Branaugh and screenwriter Michael Green had decided to change his profession from a diplomat to a professional dancer. Why? Other than showing Count Andrenyi in a fight with two men at the Sirkeci train station, I saw no earthly reason to change the character’s profession. Worse, while being questioned by Poirot, the latter brought up the matter of a diplomatic passport. Why would Poirot bring up this matter to a man who was a professional dancer?

Thankfully, I managed to enjoy “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” a great deal, despite its flaws. Thanks to Branaugh and a first-rate crew, the movie radiated a sharp rich elegance that struck me as different as the previous adaptations. And I have to give credit to cinematographer Zambarloukos for this look. There were others who had contributed to the film’s look and style. I especially have to commend production designer Jim Clay for his re-creation of the Orient Express – along with the help of the art direction team led by Dominic Masters and set decorator Rebecca Alleway:

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I doubt that the film’s re-creation of the famous luxury train at Longcross Studios was completely accurate. But I must admit that I was more than impressed by how people like Clay, Masters and Alleway still managed to re-create the style and ambiance of the famous train. My admiration for their work at Longcross also extends to their re-creation of the famous Sirkeci railway station. I found it rich in detail and atmosphere . . . and if I must be honest, slightly mind blowing:

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I suspect that none of crewmen who worked on “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” will receive any recognition from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for their work. Pity. As for Patrick Doyle’s score, I must be honest and admit that I did not find it particularly memorable. In fact, I found Doyle’s occasional use of 1930s tunes more memorable than his original work.

How did I feel about Branaugh and screenwriter Michael Green’s treatment of Christie’s novel? Aside from my nitpick about the Count Rudolph Andrenyi character, I had no problems with it. Yes, I realize that both Branaugh and Green had made some changes to Christie’s story. But you know what? So did the other versions I have seen. And there were no real changes to the plot, aside from allowing the Daisy Armstrong kidnapping to occur two years previously, instead of more. Most of the changes were made to some of the characters, instead of the plot. For instance:

*Although Hector McQueen had remained Rachett’s secretary, he was discovered to be embezzling from the latter.
*John Abuthnot is portrayed as an Afro-British doctor, who is also a former Army sniper, instead of a British Army colonel stationed in India
*Swedish-born missionary Greta Ohlsson becomes the Spanish-born missionary Pilar Estravados, whose name was borrowed from Christie’s 1938 novel, “Hercule Poirot’s Christmas”
*Italian-born car salesman Antonio Foscarelli becomes the Spanish-born salesman Biniamino Marquez
*Monsieur Bouc is portrayed as a much younger man, who profession is dependent upon family connections

As one can see, the changes in characterizations is based upon changes in ethnicity and nationality. Hell, I had more of a problem with the changes made by the Count Andrenyi character than I did with the above changes. And if I must be honest, I found the changes made to the John Abuthnot character rather impressive and interesting. Despite these changes, he remained intensely in love with Mary Debenham and protective of her. Another change I noticed is that Branaugh and Green had allowed Poirot to question the suspects in different parts of either the Calais coach, the dining car, the Pullman lounge car and various spots outside of the stranded train. I must admit that I found this variation in minor locations around the train rather refreshing. Watching Poirot question most of the suspects (with the exception of Princess Dragonmiroff and Hildegarde Schmidt) inside the Pullman coach had struck me as a bit repetitive in the 1974 and 2010 versions.

I would not be surprised if certain Christie fans and film critics had accused Branaugh of political correctness. Not only did the screenplay pointed out Dr. Abuthnot’s race via characters like Gerhard Hardman, but also Biniamino Marquez’s ethnicity via Hector McQueen. Considering that the movie is set in 1934, I did not mind. More importantly, it would have been odd if someone had not commented on Dr. Abuthnot’s race or Senor Marquez’s nationality. In fact, in Christie’s original novel, some characters made a big deal over the nationalities of the other suspects.

The important thing is that despite these changes, Michael Green’s screenplay more or less adhered to Christie’s novel. And he did so with style and a good deal of pathos in the film’s last half hour that I found more than satisfying. I was especially surprised by how the film treated Poirot’s character in the end. In the novel and previous adaptations, Poirot had remained on the train after solving the murder. Not in this adaptation. After exposing the crime and reporting his findings to the police in Brod, Poirot left the train. And I was thrilled. As I have stated numerous times, if I had been Poirot, I would have left that train myself.

I must admit that I had experienced a few qualms when I learned that Kenneth Branaugh had cast himself as the Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. The large moustache he had utilized for his performance did not comfort me, until I realized that it matched the description of the literary Poirot’s moustache. I have stated in the past that I believe that British actors with a Continental background – like Peter Ustinov, Alfred Molina and David Suchet – tend to give more believable portrayals of Poirot than English speaking actors. Branaugh ended up proving me wrong. He gave a very charming and energetic performance as Poirot, without wallowing in the occasional moments of hammy acting. I also enjoyed how he portrayed Poirot’s development in the story from a charming and intelligent man seeking a little peace before his next case to the slightly outraged man who found himself conflicted over how to handle the consequences of Rachett’s murder.

There were other performances that I found very interesting. One came from Johnny Depp, who gave an effectively slimy portrayal of the former kidnapper-turned-murder victim. His performance really impressed me, especially in one particular scene in which Rachett requested Poirot’s services as a bodyguard. Depp displayed his versatility as an actor by conveying his character’s attempt at friendliness and a sinister form of intimidation. I also appreciated Michelle Pfieffer’s portrayal of the extroverted Caroline Hubbard, which I found both humorous and sexy. And yet, Pfieffer’s finest moment came near the film’s end, when Poirot exposed her character’s deep secret. She gave a very emotional and effective performance. Leslie Odom Jr. and Daisy Ridley portrayed the two suspects that Poirot had first encountered – namely Dr. John Abuthnot and Mary Debenham. It is interesting that the literary versions of this pair proved to be more hostile (and bigoted) toward Poirot than the other passengers. In this version, both are more friendlier toward Poirot, yet both maintained a subtle wariness toward his presence. I also enjoyed how Odom and Ridley managed to convey more complexity into their performances, when confronted with their lies by Poirot and their willingness to fiercely protect each other.

I never thought I would say this, but I thought Josh Gad gave the most complex performance as Rachett’s secretary, Hector McQueen I have ever seen on screen. Thanks to Gad’s first-rate performance, his McQueen literally oozed with moral ambiguity – especially in the film’s second half. Another interesting performance came from Derek Jacobi, who portrayed Rachett’s English valet, Edward Masterman. I was particularly impressed at how Jacobi conveyed his character’s nervousness in being caught in a slip of character by Poirot. And there was Penelope Cruz’s performance as the Spanish missionary, Pilar Estravados. Cruz’s portrayal of the missionary was a far cry from the literary character by portraying her not only as intensely religious, but also intense and slightly intimidating. I found her performance very interesting. Judi Dench gave a very imperious and entertaining performance as the elderly Princess Dragonmiroff. The movie also featured first-rate performances from the rest of the cast that included Olivia Colman, Tom Bateman, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Willem Dafoe, Marwan Kenzari, Lucy Boynton and yes, Sergei Polunin. I may not have liked the change made to the Count Andrenyi character, but I cannot deny that Poluin gave an effective performance.

I recently learned that 20th Century Fox given approval for a sequel to “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS”. It may not have been a major box office hit, but it was financially successful. Personally, I am glad. I really enjoyed this new take on Christie’s 1934 novel. And I was not only impressed by the cast’s excellent performances in this film, but also by Kenneth Branaugh’s direction and his superb portrayal of the Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. If a sequel is being planned, I cannot wait to see him reprise his portrayal of the famous literary sleuth.

 

“POLDARK” Series Two (1977) Episodes One to Five

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“POLDARK” SERIES TWO (1977) EPISODES ONE TO FIVE

A very strange thing occurred some forty-four years ago. Twenty years following the publication of the fourth novel of his “POLDARK” series, “Warleggan: A Novel of Cornwall, 1792-1793”, Winston Graham’s fifth novel in the series was published – namely “The Black Moon: A Novel of Cornwall, 1794-1795” (1973). Producers Morris Barry and Anthony Coburn had already adapted Graham’s first four novels in 1975. The pair waited another two years before they adapted the next three novels in the series, including “The Black Moon” 

Most of the cast managed to return for the second series of “POLDARK”. At least those who characters were still alive by the end of Series One. Barry and Coburn were lucky to keep at least four actors from the 1975 series – Robin Ellis, Angharad Rees, Jill Townsend and Ralph Bates; along with several other cast members. Only two roles were replaced with different actors. Michael Cadman replaced Richard Morant as Dr. Dwight Enys, and Alan Tilvern (“WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?”) replaced Nicholas Selby as Nicholas Warleggan. The first five out of thirteen episodes for Series Two focused on the 1973 novel, “The Black Moon”. The following two novels – “The Four Swans: A Novel of Cornwall, 1795-1797″ (1976) and “The Angry Tide: A Novel of Cornwall, 1798-1799” (1977) were adapted within four episodes each. I found this surprising, considering that “The Black Moon” is not the longest of the three novels published in the 1970s. Why Coburn and Barry had decided to give this particular novel five episodes? I do not have the foggiest idea.

Episodes One to Five of “POLDARK” Series Two aka “The Black Moon” picked up several months after Episode Fifteen of the 1975 adaptation of “Warleggan: A Novel of Cornwall, 1792-1793” (1953). The series protagonist, Ross Poldark, has returned home after serving a few months as a British Army officer during the War of the First Coalition. Ross’ close friend, Dr. Dwight Enys, is serving as a surgeon for the Royal Navy and is secretly engaged to local heiress Caroline Penvenen. Demelza Carne Poldark’s two brothers – Sam and Drake Carne arrive in the Truro neighborhood to make their living. And Ross’ first love and former cousin-in-law, Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark Warleggan, recently married to wealthy banker George Warleggan, gives birth to her second son, Valentine Warleggan. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to George, Valentine was conceived when Ross had raped Elizabeth in the previous series.

Following Valentine’s difficult birth, Elizabeth summons her younger cousin Morwenna Chynoweth to serve as governess for her older son, Geoffrey Charles Poldark. Upon Ross’ return, he discovers to his dismay that his great-aunt Agatha Poldark is now living with Elizabeth and George at a third Poldark estate where she and her brother Benjamin Poldark use to live. Agatha had lost the estate when the Warleggan Bank had foreclosed on it. Ross’ cousin-in-law Verity Poldark Blamey informed him that Elizabeth had asked George to allow Agatha to live with them. Despite Elizabeth’s kind gesture, Agatha and George take an instant dislike to each other.

Episodes One to Five cover the following subplots:

*Ross Poldark’ efforts to find and rescue Dwight Enys, who ended up captured by the French
*The developing romance between Drake Carne and Morwenna Chynoweth
*Sam Carne’s efforts to create a Methodist church and congregation in the Truro neighborhood
*Elizabeth Warleggan’s concerns over her newly born son’s health
*George Warleggan and Aunt Agatha Poldark’s feud

I like the Dr. Dwight Enys character very much. Thanks to Winston Graham’s pen and Richard Morant’s performance in the 1975 series, Dwight managed to be complex and ambiguous without losing any sympathy from my perspective. And actor Michael Cadman, who took over the role in the 1977 series, did a solid job . . . at least from what I could garner from his performance in Episode Five. But I have to be honest. I simply could not summon enough interest in Ross Poldark’s efforts to rescue Dwight from France. One, I found Ross’ initial trip to France in Episode Three rather foolish, especially since he did not speak French. And sure enough, Ross was captured and nearly executed during that first trip. And when Ross returned to France with his brother-in-law, Drake Carne, and other men to literally rescue Dwight in the second half of Episode Four . . . I was simply bored with the entire sequence. There was no one to blame. The actors did their parts. Philip Dudley did an excellent job in directing the sequence. I realized that I was simply not that interested in watching another sequence in which Ross Poldark played action hero. Especially not after the events of the 1975 adaptation of “Warleggan”.

A more interesting story arc focused on the young star-crossed lovers, Morwenna Chynoweth and Drake Carne. This particular romance in the “POLDARK” saga seemed forbidden three-fold. One, the two lovers came from different classes. Morwenna was born into the impoverished, but upper-class Chynoweth family. Drake was the son of a working-class miner. Worse, their romance found itself smacked dab in the middle of the ongoing feud between Ross Poldark and George Warleggan. Morwenna was the cousin of Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark Warleggan and cousin-in-law to George. Drake was one of Demelza Carne Poldark’s younger brothers and brother-in-law to Ross. The situation of their romance grew worse, due to George’s determination to marry off Morwenna to a widowed and slightly plump young vicar named Reverend Osborne Whitworth in order to secure patronage from the latter’s powerful and elite family.

Looking back on this story arc, it was almost the most interesting aspect of the adaptation of “The Black Moon”. Thanks to the performances of Kevin McNally and Jane Wymack, who portrayed the young lovers, I found myself highly vested in this story arc. I have only two complaints about this story arc. One, instead of showing the audience that moment when Morwenna had decided to marry Whitworth, the episode’s screenwriter decided to convey this revelation to television audiences . . . after the wedding had occurred. In fact, audiences learned about Morwenna’s marriage to Whitworth following Ross and Drake’s return from France. Graham had not only conveyed the details of the wedding to readers in his 1973 novel, he also conveyed that on their wedding night, Whitworth raped his young bride, giving a hint to the marital horrors that Morwenna would face. Considering what Ross had done to Elizabeth in Episode Fourteen of the 1975 series, I suspect that Coburn and Barry wanted to skirt controversy by avoiding this incident. Only, I found their gesture rather irrelevant, considering that sooner or later, their writers would be forced to convey that Morwenna became a victim of marital rape.

The arrival of Demelza’s brothers also kick started another story arc – namely Sam Carne’s efforts to establish a Methodist congregation in the neighborhood. Look, I am a firm believer in religious freedom. And I thought the show runners did a mildly effective job of conveying the struggles that Sam, who had inherited his father’s conversion to Methodism, faced in dealing with local prejudices against a new religious sect. Mildly effective. There were times when I found it difficult to sympathize with Sam’s efforts . . . especially when he developed this habit of trying to enforce Methodist forms of worship upon a congregation inside the local Anglican church. I found it rather controlling. In fact, I was annoyed by this habit that there were times when I actually found myself sympathizing with the likes of George Warleggan, who felt outraged and threatened by Sam’s efforts. If Sam had wanted a congregation that badly, he could not conduct his own services in some outdoor location . . . at least until he could find a building to serve as the neighborhood’s first Methodist church?

Bad luck seemed overshadow the life of Elizabeth Warleggan’s second son, Valentine. One, he was born out of wedlock, thanks to Ross’ rape of Elizabeth near the end of the 1975 series. He was born on the evening when a black moon appeared in the sky, prompting Agatha Poldark to declare that he was cursed. In a way, the elderly Poldark was proven right for Valentine developed rickets in his legs either in Episode Three or Episode Four. Valentine’s illness produced some interesting reactions in his mother and stepfather.

George Warleggan became immediately upset over the idea that his “son” was not as perfect as he had hoped the latter would be. This led George to nearly go into panic mode summon the rigid thinking Dr. Behenna to help Valentine. The doctor’s treatment proved to be barbaric, when he insisted that Valentine be kept in a tight swaddling that proved to be painful for the infant. Valentine’s illness produced a different reaction in Elizabeth. In one of those rare moments, Elizabeth revealed how strong-willed and almost scary she could be when she took charge of Valentine’s “treatment”, allowing her son great comfort in a cleaner room. And when George protested, she knocked the socks off him by insisting on helping her son “her way”. Although Ralph Bates gave a first-rate performance in this scene, it was truly a great moment for actress Jill Townsend. And this scene proved to be the first among a few scenes that proved Elizabeth was a lot tougher than she had previously let on.

But aside from the Drake Carne/Morwenna Chynoweth romance, the real highlight of Episodes One to Five proved to be the feud between George Warleggan and his wife’s former great-aunt, Agatha Poldark. Ironically, this feud began with bad writing, thanks to Coburn and Barry’s 1975 adaptation of “Warleggan” that left Trenwith burned to the ground by a mob. Why did they include this scenario that was not in the novel? In order to divert the viewers’ attention from Ross’ rape of Elizabeth. Without Trenwith, Coburn and Barry had no way to get George and Aunt Agatha in the same house to carry out their feud. So what did they do? They created a third Poldark estate called Penrice. According to the new narrative, Agatha was living alone at Penrice, following the death of her brother Benjamin. The Warleggan Bank repossessed the estate and Elizabeth saved Agatha from a homeless state by convincing her husband to allow the old lady to live with them.

Did it work? To an extent. Despite the creation of a new estate, despite the fact that “The Black Moon” adaptation marked the first appearance of Agatha Poldark in the series . . . it worked. Somewhat. Thanks to Ralph Bates and Eileen Way’s intense and skillful performance, I nearly forgot about some of the questionable writing that surrounded this story arc. And that included the final confrontation between the pair.

The adaptation of “The Black Moon” ended with George and Agatha engrossed over a bitter quarrel. Agatha, who had been looking forward to a major birthday party to celebrate her 100th birthday, was informed by George that there would be no party due to his discovery that she was only 98 years old. Agatha retaliated by informing George that young Valentine’s birth father was her great-nephew Ross. Dramatically, this was a great moment that led to another outburst by George and Agatha’s eventual demise. However, I found myself wondering how Agatha knew that George was not Valentine’s father. She had never appeared in the 1975 series. Which meant she had not been at Trenwith on the night Ross had forced himself on Elizabeth. So how did she know? Throughout Episode One, Agatha contemplated on whether Elizabeth was eight or nine months pregnant. She based this upon the position of the younger woman’s baby bump. How would she have known? As a spinster and member of the upper-class, Agatha would have never been in a position to nurse a pregnant woman, let alone act as a midwife. This was simply more bullshit from Coburn and Barry in their attempt to rectify their mistakes from Series One. But I was willing to slightly overlook this, due to Bates and Way’s performances and dynamic manner in which the adaptation of “The Black Moon” ended.

Aside from Ross’ two trips to France, I really had nothing to say about him or his wife Demelza in these five episodes. They managed to conceive daughter named Clowance during the same month of Valentine Warleggan’s birth. Both Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees had one fantastic scene together in Episode Two (or Three) in which Demelza tried to convince idiot Ross not to travel to revolutionary France without the benefit of an interpreter. Before that, the pair and Caroline Penvenen attended a reception that included aristocratic refugees from France. Otherwise, they were not particularly interesting in these first five episodes. At least not to me.

What else can I say about Episodes One to Five of “POLDARK”? Not much. Both Ross and Demelza Poldark were not that particularly interesting in this adaptation of “The Black Moon”. If I must be honest, these five episodes really belonged to characters like George and Elizabeth Warleggan, Drake Carne, Morwenna Chynoweth and Agatha Poldark. Although Episodes Four and Five featured what many would regard as a rousing adventure in revolutionary France, I found myself more fascinated by the family dramas and romances that permeated. Overall, I was satisfied. I enjoyed this adaptation of “The Black Moon” a lot more than I did Coburn and Barry’s adaptation of “Warleggan” from two years earlier.

Dundee Cake

Below is an article on the Scottish dessert known as Dundee Cake

DUNDEE CAKE

For years, I have assumed there was only one kind of fruitcake. As it turned out, I was wrong.

The origin of fruitcake dates back to Imperial Rome. One form of the dessert that has developed over the years is one from Scotland called Dundee Cake. The dessert had originated in nineteenth-century Scotland, as a mass-produced cake by the marmalade company called James Keiller & Son. Keiller’s claimed to be the originator of the term, “Dundee Cake”, but there have been similar fruitcakes produced in Scotland . . . even before the nineteenth-century.

Dundee Cake consists of currants, sultanas almonds and malt whiskey. Sometimes, fruit peel may be added to the recipe. The top of the cake is typically decorated with concentric circles of almonds and glace cherries in the middle of each circle. As I had stated earlier, similar fruitcakes had been produced in Scotland before the nineteenth-century.Queen Mary of Scotland preferred her fruitcake without the cherries, since she did not like the glace fruit.

The cake is sold in supermarkets throughout Great Britain today. It was also produced and marketed in India – before and after its independence from Britain in 1947 by Britannia Industries and its successor firms. However, the cake was withdrawn from Indian markets in 1980. Yet, it continued to be supplied privately as a corporate Christmas gift by the maker. Dundee Cake is traditionally purchased and served for the Christmas holidays. However, Queen Elizabeth II is reported to enjoy the dessert during afternoon tea.

Below is a recipe for Dundee Cake from The Spruce website:

Dundee Cake

Ingredients

5 1/2oz/ 150g butter, slightly softened
5 1/2oz/ 150g soft, dark brown sugar
3 large free-range eggs
Grated zest of 1 large orange
8oz/225g plain flour or all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoons mixed spice (Pumpkin Pie mix makes a good alternative)
1 lb/450g dried fruit – sultanas, currants, and raisins
2oz/55g candied peel, chopped
2oz/55g glace cherries, halved (optional)
1 tablespoon malt whisky (or brandy if you prefer)
115g / 4 oz whole blanched almonds

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 300F/150C/Gas 2.

Line an 8½”/22cm cake tin with greaseproof paper or baking parchment and grease lightly with a little butter.

Place both the butter, sugar, and zest into a large roomy baking bowl. Cream the butter into the sugar until light, smooth and creamy using either a fork or electric hand whisk.

Mix the flour with the baking powder and mixed spice. Beat one egg into the creamed butter, then beat in a third of the flour. Repeat until all the eggs and flour are used up.

Add the fruits, citrus candied peel, and cherries (if using) to the mixture and stir well but gently – you don’t want to flatten the cake batter too much – until all the fruits are incorporated into the mixture.

Finally, stir in the whisky using a spoon or spatula.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin and gently level the surface. Cook in the preheated oven for 1½ hours, then arrange the blanched almonds into circles on the top and return the cake to the oven. Cook for another hour or until the cake is a deep, golden brown.

Remove the cake from the oven and place on to a cooling rack and leave the cake to cool in the tin. Once cooled it is ready to eat.

The cake keeps well when stored in an airtight tin.

Notes on Making a Dundee Cake:

Do not rush the baking of this cake, it is high in sugars and fruit and needs the longer slowing baking to make sure it does not burn. If you feel it is browning too quickly lower the heat, all ovens have their own idiosyncracies.