“SILAS MARNER” (1985) Review

“SILAS MARNER” (1985) Review

I have seen a handful of television and movie adaptations of novels written by George Eliot. But the very first adaptation I ever saw was “SILAS MARNER”, the 1985 version of Eliot’s third novel published back in 1861. My recent viewing of the production led me to reasses it.

“SILAS MARNER” begins with an English weaver living with a small Calvinist congregation in Lantern Yard, a slum street in a Northern England city. His life falls apart when he is framed for stealing the church’s funds, while watching over the congregation’s ill deacon. Worse, his fiancee leaves him for his so-called best friend, the very man who may have framed him. Shattered and embittered, Silas leaves Lantern Yard and arrives at a rural village in the Midlands called Raveloe. Although he resumes his trade as a weaver, Silas’ traumatized past leads him to achieve a reputation as a miser and a loner in the community.

Silas’ move to Raveloe eventually leads him to cross paths with the community’s leading citizens, the Cass family. The head of the latter is the elderly Squire Cass who has two sons – Godfrey and Dunstan. Godfrey, who is the squire’s heir is secretly married to one Molly Farren, a lower-class woman and opium addict from another town, who has given birth to his young daughter. Godfrey is also engaged to a young middle-class woman named Nancy Lammeter. Dunstan is a dissolute wastrel who constantly loses money via excessive gambling. One night, a drunken Dunstan breaks into Silas’ cottage, steals the gold coins that the latter has been hoarding and disappears. Through a series of events, Molly plots to expose her marriage to Godfrey and their child during the Cass family’s New Year party, but dies in the snow before she can reach it. Silas, who is emotionally upset over the loss of his coins, finds both the dead Molly and the child. Although he informs the partygoers of Molly’s death and the child, he assumes guardianship of the latter (renamed Hephzibah “Eppie”), much to the relief of Godfrey, who can now legally marry Nancy. All goes well until Godfrey and Nancy’s failure to have children threaten Silas’ newfound happiness as Eppie’s father years later.

What can I say about “SILAS MARNER”? I can honestly say that it was not one of the best adaptations of a George Eliot novel. Then again, I do not consider the 1861 novel to be one of her best works. I realized that Eliot had set the story either around the end of the 18th century or around the beginning of the 19th century. It was her prerogative. But both the novel and the movie seemed to reek of Victorian melodrama that I found myself feeling that Eliot or any adaptation could have set the story around the time it was originally written and published – the mid 19th century. The story is, at best, a good old-fashioned Victorian melodrama. I would never consider it as particularly original in compare to the likes of “MIDDLEMARCH” or “DANIEL DERONDA”.

“SILAS MARNER” tries its best to be profound on the same level as the other two Eliot stories I had mentioned. But I had a few problems with the narrative. What was the point behind Dunstan Cass’ disappearance and theft? Yes, he stole Silas’ hard earned money before he disappeared. I got the feeling that the stolen coins seemed to serve as a prelude to Silas’ emotional attachment to Eppie. But why have Dunstan take it? How else did his disappearance serve the story . . . even after his dead remains were found close by, years later? In Eliot’s novel, the discovery of Dunstan led brother Godfrey to form a guilty conscience over his own secret regarding young Eppie and confess to his wife. But in the movie, it was Godfrey and Nancy’s inability to conceive a child that seemed to finally force the former to confess. Unless my memories have played me wrong. Frankly, Dunstan struck me as a wasted character. Anyone else could have stolen Silas’ money.

I also noticed that Giles Foster, who had served as both screenwriter and director for this production, left out a few things from Eliot’s novel. I have never expect a movie or television to be an accurate adaptation of its literary source. But I wish Foster had shown how Eppie’s presence in Silas’ life had allowed him to socially connect with Raveloe’s villagers. Eliot did this by allowing her to lead him outside, beyond the confines of his cottage. The only person with whom Silas managed to connect was neighbor Dolly Winthrop, who visited his cottage to deliver him food or give advice on how to raise Eppie. I also noticed that in the movie, Silas had never apologized to another villager named Jem Rodney for his false accusation of theft. And Jem had never demanded it. How odd. I also wish that Foster could have included the segment in which Silas had revisited his former neighborhood, Lantern Yard. In the novel, Silas’ visit revealed how the neighborhood had transformed into a site for a factory and its citizens scattered to other parts. Silas’ visit to his old neighborhood served as a reminder of how his life had improved in Raveloe and it is a pity that audiences never saw this on their television screens.

Yes, I have a few quibbles regarding “SILAS MARNER”. But if I must be really honest, I still managed to enjoy it very much. Eliot had written a very emotional and poignant tale in which a lonely and embittered man finds a new lease on life through his connection with a child. Thanks to George Eliot’s pen and Giles Foster’s typewriter, this story was perfectly set up by showing how Silas Marner’s life fell into a social and emotional nadir, thanks to the betrayal of a “friend” and the easily manipulated emotions of his neighbors.

Once Silas moved to Raveloe, the television movie did an excellent, if not perfect, job of conveying how he re-connected with the world. It was simply not a case of Silas stumbling across a foundling and taking her in. Even though he had formed a minor friendship with Mrs. Winthrop, having Eppie in his life managed to strengthen their friendship considerably. The movie’s narrative also took its time in utilizing how the Cass family dynamics played such an important role in Silas’ life in Raveloe. After all, Godfrey’ secret marriage to Molly Farren brought Eppie into his life. And Dunstan’s theft of his funds led Silas to re-direct his attention from his missing coins to the lost Eppie. And both Godfrey and Nancy Cass proved to be a threat to Silas and Eppie’s future relationship.

The production values for “SILAS MARNER” proved to be solid. But if I must be honest, I did not find any of it – the cinematography, production designs and costume designs – particularly memorable. The performances in the movie was another matter. “SILAS MARNER” featured solid performances from the likes of Rosemary Martin, Jim Broadbent (before he became famous), Nick Brimble, Frederick Treves, Donald Eccles, Rosemary Greenwood; and even Elizabeth Hoyle and Melinda White who were both charming as younger versions of Eppie Marner.

Angela Pleasence certainly gave a memorable performance as Eppie’s drug addicted mother, Molly Farren. Patsy Kensit not only gave a charming performance as the adolescent Eppie, I thought she was excellent in one particular scene in which Eppie emotionally found herself torn between Silas and the Casses. Freddie Jones gave his usual competent performance as the emotional Squire Cass, father of both Godfrey and Dunstan. I was especially impressed by Jonathan Coy’s portrayal of the dissolute Dunstan Cass. In fact, I was so impressed that it seemed a pity that his character was only seen in the movie’s first half.

I initially found the portrayal of Nancy Lammeter Cass rather limited, thanks to Eliot’s novel and Foster’s screenplay. Fortunately, Nancy became more of a central character in the film’s second half and Jenny Agutter did a skillful job in conveying Nancy’s growing despair of her inability to have children and her desperation to adopt Eppie. I thought Patrick Ryecart gave one of the two best performances in “SILAS MARNER”. He did an excellent job of conveying Godfrey Cass’ moral ambiguity – his secrecy over his marriage to Molly Farren, the passive-aggressive manner in which he “took care” of Eppie through Silas and his willingness to use Eppie as a substitute for his and Nancy’s failure to have children. Ryecart made it clear that Godfrey was basically a decent man . . . decent, but flawed. The other best performance in “SILAS MARNER” came from leading man Ben Kingsley, who portrayed the title character. Kingsley did a superb job of conveying Silas’ emotional journey. And it was quite a journey – from the self-satisfied weaver who found himself shunned from one community, to the embittered man who stayed away from his new neighbors, to a man experiencing the joys and fears of fatherhood for the first time, and finally the loving man who had finally learned to re-connect with others.

Overall, “SILAS MARNER” is more than a solid adaptation of George Eliot’s novel. I did not find its production designs particularly overwhelming. I did enjoy Eliot’s narrative, along with Giles Foster’s adaptation rather enjoyable . . . if not perfect. But I cannot deny that what really made this movie work for me were the first-rate performances from a cast led by the always talented Ben Kingsley. Victorian melodrama or not, I can honestly say that I have yet to grow weary of “SILAS MARNER”.

Five Favorite Episodes of “TURN: WASHINGTON’S SPIES” Season Three (2016)

Below is a list of my five favorite episodes from Season Three of AMC’s “TURN: WASHINGTON’S SPIES”. Created by Craig Silverstein, the series starred Jamie Bell:

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “TURN: WASHINGTON’S SPIES” SEASON THREE (2016)

1. (3.06) “Many Mickles Make a Muckle” – General George Washington attends General Benedict Arnold’s ball in Philadelphia, while the latter seeks help for his upcoming court martial. Meanwhile, British Lieutenant John Simcoe and his Rangers continue their hunt for the unit’s former leader, Robert Rogers, whom the former believes is a Rebel spy.

 

2. (3.10) “Trial and Execution” – Both Culper Ring spy Abraham Woodhull and British Army spy Major John André experience tense marches to gallows at the hands of their captors. Meanwhile, Arnold demands glory and revenge from his new leaders.

 

3. (3.03) “Benediction” – Loyalist Philadelphia socialite Peggy Shipton manipulates Arnold into contacting the British. Caleb sets an ambush for Simcoe. Meanwhile, Anna tries to save Major Hewlett’s life. Culper Ring spy Caleb Brewster plans an ambush for Simcoe; and his colleague Anna Strong tries to save British Army Major Edmund Hewlett.

 

4. (3.09) “Blade on the Feather” – Arnold plots to turn over the American post, West Point, to the British. André negotiates for Peggy. And Abe plots a revolt against Simcoe in Setauket.

 

5. (3.08) “Mended” – The Culper Ring is resurrected in time to save Washington’s army at Middleton from a British attack. Simcoe terrorizes Setauket as he hunts for Rogers. Meanwhile, Anna infiltrates New York.

Favorite Miniseries Set in 19th Century Britain

Below is a list of my favorite movies and television miniseries set in Britain of the 19th century (1801-1900):

FAVORITE MINISERIES SET IN 19TH CENTURY BRITAIN

1. “North and South” (2004) – Sandy Welch wrote this superb and emotional adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1855 novel about the well-born daughter of a former English clergyman, who is forced to move north to an industrial city after her father leaves the Church of England and experiences culture shock, labor conflict and love. Daniela Danby-Ashe and Richard Armitage made a sizzling screen team as the two leads.

 

 

2. “Pride and Prejudice” (1995) – Even after twenty-four years, this adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel, which stars Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehrle, remains my all time favorite Austen adaptation, thanks to Andrew Davies’ excellent screenplay and the cast’s performances. I cannot describe it as anything else other than magic.

 

 

3. “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. I especially enjoyed the performances of Carla Gugino, Cherie Lughi, James Frain and Greg Wise.

 

 

4. “Emma” (2009) – Sandy Welch struck gold again in her superb adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel about a genteel young woman with an arrogant penchant for matchmaking. Directed by Jim O’Hanlon, Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller starred in this fabulous production.

 

 

5. “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” (1996) – Tara Fitzgerald, Toby Stephens and Rupert Graves are fabulous in this excellent adaptation of Anne Brontë’s 1848 novel about a woman attempting to evade an abusive and alcoholic husband. Mike Barker directed this three-part miniseries.

 

 

6. “Wives and Daughters” (1999) – Andrew Davies wrote this excellent adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1865 unfinished novel about the coming-of-age of a country doctor’s daughter. Justine Waddell and Keeley Hawes starred in this four-part miniseries.

 

 

7. “Jane Eyre” (1983) – Alexander Baron wrote this excellent adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s 1847 novel about a destitute, but strong-willed governess who falls in love with her mysterious employer. Zelah Clarke and Timothy Dalton made a superb screen team in my favorite adaptation of the novel.

 

 

8. “Middlemarch” (1994) – Andrew Davies adapted this superb adaptation of George Eliot’s 1871 novel about the lives of the inhabitants of an English town during the cusp of the Industrial Revolution. The superb cast includes Juliet Aubrey, Douglas Hodge, Robert Hardy and Rufus Sewell.

 

 

9. “Jack the Ripper” (1988) – This two-part miniseries chronicled the investigations of Scotland Yard inspector Fredrick Abberline of the infamous “Jack the Ripper” murders of the late 1880s. Excellent production and performances by Michael Caine, Lewis Collins, Jane Seymour and the supporting cast.

 

 

10. “Bleak House” (2005) – Once again, Andrew Davies struck gold with his excellent adaptation of Charles Dickens’ 1852-53 novel about the pitfalls of the 19th British legal system and a family mystery. Anna Maxwell-Martin, Gillian Anderson, Denis Lawson and Charles Dance led a cast filled with excellent performances.

 

“ADAM BEDE” (1991) Review

“ADAM BEDE” (1991) Review

Recently, I had come across an old BBC production that I have not seen in years. The production was a television movie based upon author George Eliot’s first novel, “Adam Bede”.

This adaptation of Eliot’s 1859 novel told the story of four young people from the rural English community of Hayslope around the end of the 18th century. This “love rectangle” revolved around a local carpenter named Adam Bede; a beautiful, yet self-absorbed milkmaid named Hetty Sorrel; the local squire’s charming grandson and heir, Captain Arthur Donnithorne; and Hetty’s cousin Dinah Morris, a beautiful Methodist lay preacher who is also attracted to Adam. How did this “rectangle” come about? Although highly regarded by the Hayslope community as an intelligent and talented carpenter, Adam has a weakness . . . namely his passionate and unrequited love for the beautiful Hetty. Unfortunately for Adam, Hetty was deeply in love, lust or simply dazzled by the handsome and charming Arthur. Did Arthur love Hetty? I honestly do not know.

As I had stated earlier, “Adam Bede” was George Eliot’s first novel. Eliot’s earlier skill as a writer is very apparent in this television adaptation. Do not get me wrong. I rather enjoyed “ADAM BEDE” very much. But it did not strike me as . . . fascinating or complex as other George Eliot adaptations I have seen. If one must be honest, the whole “servant girl get seduced by rich young man” scenario is not particularly new. I suspect that it was not new when Eliot wrote this novel back in the 1850s. I believe that Eliot had used this trope again when she wrote “Silas Marner”, which was published two years after this first novel. Both stories featured “fallen women” and both portrayed the latter in a slightly unsympathetic light. Mind you, Eliot did a good job in conveying Hetty’s struggles between the discovery of her pregnancy and the verdict during her trial. But I could not help but suspect a slight taint of Victorian morality in Eliot’s portrayal of Hetty. I believe screenwriter Maggie Wadey tried her best to overcome that rigid morality, but thanks to the narrative, I do not think she had fully succeeded. Especially when one considers how “ADAM BEDE” ended.

If I have a real problem with “ADAM BEDE”, it is the ending. If the production had been a two-part movie, perhaps . . . You know what? I suspect that stretching out the running time would not have solved what I believe was the narrative’s main problem. I believe changing the ending would have helped. One problem proved to be Hetty’s fate. After being found guilty of infanticide, Hetty was sentenced to execution. Her sentence was commuted to penal transportation to Australia at the last moment, thanks to Arthur Donnithorne. Ye-ee-ea-ah . . . I found this scenario a bit improbable. It seemed as if Eliot had tacked on this last minute fate for Hetty to avoid a truly tragic ending. Another problem I had with the ending proved to be the main protagonist’s relationship with the Dinah Morris character. The movie featured a brief scene in which Adam Bede regarded Dinah as an attractive woman. Despite this, he spent most of the production harboring a passionate, almost possessive love for Hetty Sorrel. Once Hetty was sent away for transportation, Adam became romantically interested in Dinah. Rather fast. Too fast, if you want my opinion. I realize that he was urged to consider Dinah as a romantic partner by others, but . . . yeah, I thought the final romance between the pair happened too fast.

However, “ADAM BEDE” had its virtues. One, the production did an excellent job in conveying the mores and traditions of a rural town in Britain at the end of the eighteenth century. I found it amazing how the town’s middle and lower classes were judged a bit more harshly than the upper-class residents. I noticed that although Adam is not regarded as morally questionable, many others tend to judge him based upon his moral compass . . . a lot. I also noticed that many seemed to regard Arthur’s morals with a wary eye, they seem willing to give him a pass. I doubt they would have been that generous with Adam. But that is always the case, is it not . . . at least for those who are not part of an elite social group.

If middle and lower-class men had it bad, women of all classes had it worse. Dinah Morris is portrayed as a decent and pious woman. Yet, there seemed to be a slight air of disapproval directed toward Dinah, due to her role as a Methodist lay preacher. But no one is judged more harshly than Hetty Sorrel. Even by Eliot. Audiences are expected to harshly judge Hetty for her desire for a life “above her station”. But I will give credit to both Eliot and screenwriter Maggie Wadey for injecting a great deal more of ambiguity and sympathy toward Hetty . . . especially after she became pregnant.

I also have to commend the movie’s performances. There was not a bad one in the bunch. Susannah Harker made a very serene Dinah Morris, even I did not find the character particularly interesting. James Wilby had a more interesting character to portray, namely the shallow and sensual Arthur Donnithorne. However, I do not think Wadey’s screenplay really gave the actor much of a chance to explore Arthur’s ambiguity, aside from one or two scenes. “ADAM BEDE” also featured excellent performances from Jean Marsh, Paul Brooke, Robert Stephens, Freddie Jones, Michael Percival and Alan Cox.

Julia McKenzie struck me as particularly memorable as Mrs. Poyser, the aunt of both Dinah and Hetty. Although Eliot had written her as a comic figure, the actress managed to inject a good deal of pathos and emotion into the character, thanks to the screenplay. Patsy Kensit was superb as the flighty, yet hard-luck Hetty Sorrel, who proved to be the most interesting character in this tale. Kensit managed to skillfully rise the character’s one-dimensional portrayal in the movie’s first half and embrace the ambiguous quagmire that poor Hetty ended up in the second half. Superficially, Adam Bede did not seem as ambiguous as Hetty. Superficially. But underneath the stalwart and industrious carpenter existed a proud and emotional man, whose world centered around a woman who did not love him. And man did the producers select the right man to portray young Adam – namely Iain Glen. I have been aware of the actor for several decades. And I have noticed that whether he was playing a hero, a villain, anti-hero – you name it – Glen has always managed to convey the emotional depths behind his characters on a level that very few actors have managed to achieve . . . whether through his voice or expressions. Or perhaps both. And he utilized the same level of skill in his portrayal of the emotional and lovelorn Adam. No wonder I have been a fan of his for years.

Overall, I would never regard “ADAM BEDE” as one of my favorite George Eliot adaptations. The problem is that the movie reflected too much of the novel’s narrative flaws. But not all was lost with Maggie Wadey’s adaptation. I still managed to enjoy the movie, thanks to its intriguing plot and first-rate cast led by Iain Glen. In the end, I believe it had more virtues and flaws.

Ranking of “GARROW’S LAW” Series Two (2010) Episodes

Below is my ranking of the Series Two episodes of the period legal drama, “GARROW’S LAW”. Created by Tony Marchant and based upon the life of 18th century English barrister William Garrow, the series starred Andrew Buchan:

RANKING OF “GARROW’S LAW” SERIES TWO (2010) Episodes

1. (2.02) “Episode Two” – William Garrow defends an Army captain accused of sexually assaulting a young man who works at a London shoemaker’s shop. Sir Arthur Hill hires a slimy lawyer to prove that is wife Lady Sarah Hill and Garrow are guilty of infidelity. Andrew Scott and Matthew McNulty guest star.

2. (2.04) “Episode Four” – While suffering from guilt over his failure to save a twelve year-old mute boy from the gallows, Garrow enters the civil court to hear Sir Arthur’s accusation of adultery against him and Lady Sarah. Samuel West and Emma Davies guest star.

3. (2.01) “Episode One” – The directors of the Liverpool Assurance insurance Company hire Garrow to prosecute a ship’s captain for committing fraud by throwing 133 African slaves overboard during a voyage to Jamaica. A jealous Sir Arthur accuses his wife of adultery and giving birth to Garrow’s son. Jasper Britton, and Danny Sapani guest star.

4. (2.03) “Episode Three” – Garrow defends one Captain Baillie, who is charged with malicious libel after he reports the abuse of retired British sailors at the charitably-run Greenwich Hospital to the Admiralty. Ron Cook, David Robb, Simon Dutton and Brian Pettifer guest star.

Favorite Television Productions Set in the 1800s

Below is a list of my favorite television productions set during the decade between 1800 and 1809:

 

FAVORITE TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS SET IN THE 1800s

1. “Death Comes to Pemberley” (2013) – Anna Maxwell Martin and Matthew Rhys starred in this adaptation of P.D. James’ 2011 mystery novel, set six years after the events of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel, “Pride and Prejudice”, featuring the style and characters of the latter. Daniel Percival directed.

 

 

2. “Sense and Sensibility” (2008) – Andrew Davies wrote this adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1811 novel about the experiences of two well-born, yet impoverished sisters following the death of their father. Directed by John Alexander, the miniseries starred Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield.

 

 

3. “War and Peace” (2016) – Andrew Davies wrote this adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1869 novel about a group of noble families during the Napoleonic Wars. Directed by Tom Harper, the miniseries starred Paul Dano, Lily James and James Norton.

 

 

4. “War and Peace” (1972) – David Conroy created this adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1869 novel about a group of noble families during the Napoleonic Wars. Directed by John Davies, the miniseries starred Anthony Hopkins, Morag Hood and Alan Dobie.

 

 

5. “Mansfield Park” (1983) – Sylvestra Le Touzel and Nicholas Farrell starred in this adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1814 novel about a young impoverished girl sent to live with her aunt and uncle at their elegant estate. The six-part miniseries was written by Kenneth Taylor and directed by David Giles.

 

 

6. “Jack of All Trades” (2000) – Bruce Campbell and Angela Dotchin starred in this syndicated comedy series about two spies – one American and one British – who operate on a French-controlled island in the East Indies.

 

 

7. “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (2015) – Bertie Carvel and Eddie Marsan starred in this adaptation of Susanna Clarke’s 2004 novel about the return of magic to Britain through two men during the early 19th century. The series was created by Peter Harness.

 

 

8. “Mansfield Park” (2007) – Billie Piper and Blake Ritson starred in this adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1814 novel about a young impoverished girl sent to live with her aunt and uncle at their elegant estate. The television movie was written by Maggie Wadey and directed by Iain B. MacDonald.

Favorite Television Productions Set in the 1700s

Below is a list of my favorite television productions (so far) that are set in the 1700s:

 

FAVORITE TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS SET IN THE 1700s

 

1. “John Adams” (2008) – Emmy winners Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney starred as John and Abigail Adams in this award winning HBO miniseries about the second U.S. President from his years as a Boston lawyer to his death. Tom Hooper directed.

 

 

2. “Turn: Washington’s Spies” (2014-2017) – Jamie Bell starred in this television series that is an adaptation of Alexander Rose’s 2006 book, “Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring”. The series was created by Craig Silverstein.

 

 

3. “The Scarlet Pimpernel” (1982) – Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour starred in this television adaptation of Baroness Emmuska Orczy’s novels about a British aristocrat who adopts a secret identity to save French aristocrats from the guillotine during France’s Reign of Terror. Directed by Clive Donner, Ian McKellen co-starred.

 

 

4. “The History of Tom Jones – A Foundling” (1997) – Max Beesley and Samantha Morton starred in this adaptation of Henry Fielding’s 1749 novel about the misadventures of an illegitimate young man in the mid-1700s, who had been raised by a landowner. Metin Hüseyin directed.

 

 

5. “The Book of Negroes” (2015) – Aunjanue Ellis starred in this television adaptation of Laurence Hill’s novel about the experiences of an African woman before, during and after the American Revolution; after she was kidnapped into slavery. Clement Virgo directed.

 

 

6. “Black Sails” (2014-2017) – Toby Stephens starred in this television series, which was a prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, “Treasure Island”. The series was created by Jonathan E. Steinberg
and Robert Levine.

 

 

7. “Garrow’s Law” (2009-2011) – Tony Marchant created this period legal drama and fictionalized account of the 18th-century lawyer William Garrow. Andrew Buchan, Alun Armstrong and Lyndsey Marshal starred.

 

 

8. “Poldark” (1975/1977) – Morris Barry and Anthony Coburn created this series, an adaptation of the first seven novels in Winston Graham’s Poldark literary series. Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees starred.

 

 

9. “Outlander” (2014-present) – Ronald Moore developed this series, which is an adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s historical time travel literary series. Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan starred.

 

 

10. “Poldark” (2015-2019) – Debbie Horsfield created this series, an adaptation of the first seven novels in Winston Graham’s Poldark literary series. Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson stars.

“VANITY FAIR” (1987) Review

“VANITY FAIR” (1987) Review

I found myself wondering how many adaptations of William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1847-1848 novel there have been. As it turned out, this is one piece of literature that has been adapted countless number of times – in film, radio and television. I have seen at least five adaptations myself. And one of them turned out to be the sixteen-part television miniseries that aired on the BBC in 1987.

Since Thackeray’s novel is a very familiar tale, I will give a brief recount. Adapted by Alexander Baron and directed by Michael Owen Morris, “VANITY FAIR” told the story of one Rebecca “Becky” Sharp, an impoverished daughter of an English art teacher and French dancer in late Georgian Britain. Determined to climb her way out of poverty and into society, Becky manages to befriend Amelia Sedley, the daughter of a wealthy London merchant. When both finally graduate from Miss Pinkerton’s School for Girls, Becky is invited to spend some time with Amelia’s family, before she has to assume duties as a governess to the daughters of a minor baronet and landowner named Sir Pitt Crawley. During her time with the Sedleys, she almost manages to snare Amelia’s older brother, Jos, a “nabob” from India, as a husband. But the interference of George Osborne, the son of another merchant who happens to Amelia’s heart desire, leaves Becky single and employment as a governess. However, upon her arrival at Queen’s Crawley, the Crawleys’ estate, Becky’s charm and wiles inflict a shake-up with the family that would influence lives for years to come.

While viewing “VANITY FAIR”, it occurred to me that it is really a product of its time. Although not completely faithful to Thackeray’s novel, it struck me as being more so than any adaptation I have seen. Most literary adaptations on television tend to be rather faithful – at least between the 1970s and the 1990s. Especially during the decade of the 1980s. Another sign of this miniseries being a product of its age is the quality of its photography. It is rather faded – typical of many such productions during the 1970s and 1980s. But for me, complete faithfulness to a literary source is not a true sign of the quality of a television adaptation. Nor the quality of the film it was shot on. So, how do I feel about “VANITY FAIR”?

Remember the miniseries’ faded look I had commented upon? I really wish it had been shot on better film stock. Stuart Murdoch and Mickey Edwards’ visual effects struck me as too eye-catching to be wasted on film stock that quickly faded with time. Another problem I had proved to be the episode that centered around the Battle of Waterloo. I realize that it would make sense for the most of episode’s narrative to be told from Becky Sharp Crawley’s point of view. Yet, considering that it was able to feature the discovery of one dead character on the battlefield, I wish the episode had been willing to embellish the sequence a bit more. The sequence featured a great deal on Becky and Amelia saying good-bye to their respective spouses, along with Becky bargaining with Jos Sedley over her husband’s horses. Overall, the entire sequence . . . nearly the entire episode seemed to lack a sense of urgency over the entire Waterloo campaign and how it affected the main characters. I have one last complaint about “VANITY FAIR” . . . namely the Maquis of Steyne. To be honest, my complaint against him is rather minor. I have a complaint against his physical appearance. Thanks to Lesley Weaver’s makeup, I could barely make out actor John Shrapnel’s features. He seemed to be a whole mass of hair and whiskers plastered on a slightly reddish countenance.

On the other hand, I really enjoyed how the production went into full detail of Thackeray’s novel. Was it completely faithful? I rather doubt it. I noticed how Alexander Baron’s screenplay did not adhere to Thackeray’s rather nasty portrayal of non-white characters such as Miss Schwartz. Thankfully. On the other hand, Baron, along with director Michael Owen Morris did an excellent job in their portrayals of the novel’s main characters – especially Rebecca Sharp, Rawdon Crawley, Amelia Sedley, Jos Sedley, George Osborne, Mr. Osborne and William Dobbin. I will be honest. My favorite segments of the production . . . are basically my favorite segments of the novel. I enjoyed the production’s re-creation of Becky’s story that began with her departure from Miss Pinkerton’s School for Girls to hers and Amelia’s adventures during the Waterloo campaign.

Despite the miniseries’ limited photography, I must admit there are other aspects of “VANITY FAIR” that impressed me. I enjoyed Gavin Davies and Sally Engelbach’s production designs. Both did an admirable of re-creating the production’s setting of early 19th century Britain, Belgium, France and Germany. They were ably assisted by set decorations created by the art department, led by David Ackrill and Tony Fisher. But I really must commend Joyce Hawkins’ costume designs. I found them colorful and tailor-made. I also thought Ms. Hawkins did an excellent job in her re-creation of the early 19th century fashions.

There is one segment in Thackeray’s story I found difficult to enjoy – namely Becky’s rise in British society, her relationship with the Maquis of Steyne, the exposure of her as a cold parent and ending with the destruction of her marriage to Rawdon. It is not the fault of Baron, Morris or Thackeray. It is simply my least favorite part of the story. During this segment, Becky transformed from a morally questionable anti-heroine to an outright villainess. Perhaps this is why I found it difficult to revel in Becky’s eventual fall. One, I found this portrayal of Becky a bit too one-dimensional for my tastes. Two, there seemed to be this underlying theme in Becky’s downfall that she deserved it for being too ambitious, not knowing her place and not being the ideal woman. I realize that I should sweep these feelings away in the wake of her last crime. But for some reason, I cannot. A part of me wonders, to this day, if Thackeray had went too far in this transformation of Becky’s character.

I did not have a problem with the performances featured in “VANITY FAIR”. If I must be honest, I found them to be very competent. Morris handled his cast very well. The miniseries featured solid performances from Fiona Walker, Shaughan Seymour, Gillian Raine, Tony Doyle, Malcolm Terris, Vicky Licorish, Eileen Colgan, Irene MacDougall, Alan Surtees, and David Horovitch. I also enjoyed the performances from the likes of Freddie Jones, who made a very lively Sir Pitt Crawley; John Shrapnel, who gave an intimidating portrayal of the Maquis of Steyne, underneath the makeup and wig; Siân Phillips, who struck me as a very entertaining Matilda Crawley; David Swift, whose portrayal of Mr. Sedley seemed to reek with pathos; and Philippa Urquhart, who was excellent as the malleable Mrs. Briggs.

But there were those performances that truly impressed me. Robert Lang gave an excellent performance as the ruthless and ambitious Mr. Osborne, who seemed to be handicapped by his own stubborness. Benedict Taylor did a superb job in portraying the varied nature of George Osborne – his charm, his shallowness and selfish streak. James Saxon was equally impressive as the insecure, yet vain Joseph “Jos” Sedley. Simon Dormandy gave a very complex and skillful performance as the priggish William Dobbin, a character I have always harbored mixed feelings about. I personally think that Jack Klaff made the best on-screen Rawdon Crawley I have seen on-screen, so far. Although his character has always been described as an affable, yet empty-headed man who eventually realized he had married a woman beyond his depth. Klaff did an excellent job of conveying those traits more than actor I have seen in the role.

Rebecca Saire seemed perfectly cast as the demure, yet shallow Amelia Sedley, who spent years infatuated with a man she never really knew or understood. It is not often I find an actress who does an excellent of portraying a girl in a woman’s body, who at the end, is forced to grow up due to an unpleasant realization. If Saire seemed perfectly cast as the childish Amelia, Eve Matheson struck me as even more perfect as the charming and manipulative Rebecca Sharp. Unlike other actresses who have portrayed Becky, I would never describe Matheson as a beauty, despite being physically attractive. What I found impressive about Matheson’s performance is the manner in which she conveyed Becky’s ability to charm and seduce others, utilizing her eyes, mannerisms, the ability to cry on cue and her voice. Matheson managed to portray Becky as the most desirable woman around.

I have never seen another on screen Becky Sharp who managed to ooze charm and seduction the way Matheson did. And yet, she also managed to convey Becky’s unpleasant side without being theatrical about it. Someone had once described Matheson’s Beck as “spunky”. Oh please. Spunky? The 1987 Rebecca Sharp was a lot more than that, thanks to Matheson’s performance. Dammit, the woman should have received some kind of award for her performance. She was that good.

I have a few quibbles about “VANITY FAIR”. Basically, I wish the miniseries had been shot on better film stock. And I wish that the Waterloo sequence had been a bit more . . . embellished. Otherwise, I feel that this 1987 adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel is the best I have seen so far. I am flabbergasted at how close I came to ignoring this production altogether.

“FRONTIER” Season One (2016) Episode Ranking

Below is my ranking of the Season One episodes of the Discovery (Canada)/Netflix series called “FRONTIER”. Created by Brad Peyton, Rob Blackie, and Peter Blackie; the series stars Jason Momoa: 

 

“FRONTIER” SEASON ONE (2016) EPISODE RANKING

1. (1.06) “The Gallows” – Irish-born immigrant Michael Smyth and Cree warrior/trader Sokanon conspire to free the imprisoned half-Cree trader/outlaw Declan Harp from the clutches of Hudson Bay Company official Lord Benton and send the Fort James settlement into a state of chaos.

 

2. (1.03) “Mushkegowuk Esquewu” – Following an unexpected attack on their camp, one of the leaders of the Lake Walker trappers, Machk, lead his men to retaliate against a group of Scottish trappers known as the Brown Brothers. Meanwhile, Harp sets out to find the truth, while tensions increase.

 

3. (1.04) “Wolves” – An unexpected arrival to Fort James puts Lord Benton and his military aide, Captain Chesterfield on edge. Ale house owner Grace Emberly conspires to rid herself of a problem. And Michael is shocked when he sees his past love, Clenna Dolan, in Canada; when he last saw her being arrested as a stowaway in Britain.

 

4. (1.02) “Little Brother War” – When a Cree boy is taken hostage by Lord Benton, the tribe allows Harp the chance to find him. Meanwhile, Grace drums herself up a deal with Captain Chesterfield behind closed doors.

 

5. (1.05) “The Discipline” – A shrewd new entrepreneur contrives to topple American fur merchant Samuel Grant and the Brown brothers alike. Lord Benton’s obsession with Harp disintegrates into a ruthless interrogation and torture.

 

6. (1.01) “A Kingdom Unto Itself” – In this series opener about the North American fur trade in the late 1700s, Lord Benton voyages to Canada to restore the Hudson Bay Company’s fur trade and stamp out the trapper activities of Declan Harp. Also on the journey is stowaway Michael Smyth.

 

 

Kedgeree

kedgeree

Below is an article about the dish called Kedgeree

 

KEDGEREE

One of the aspects that developed from the British presence and later, occupation of the India subcontinent was the Anglo-Indian cuisine. This form of cooking developed when British wives interacted with the Indian cooks employed by them. One form of Anglo-Indian cuisine that became popular was the dish known as Kedgeree. 

What is Kedgeree? It is basically a legume-and-rice dish that consists of flaked fish, boiled rice, parsley, hard-boiled eggs, curry powder, butter or cream, and occasionally sultana raisins. Smoked haddock is traditionally used in Kedgeree, but salmon or tuna can also be used. Kedgeree also consists of a spice mixture and is cooked either dry-toasted or fried in oil.

The dish is believed to have originated with an Indian rice-and-lentils dish called Khichri, which was first mentioned by a Muslim scholar named Ibn Battuta around 1340. Khichiri was not prepared with fish in Gujarat, a region where the dish remains popular. However, fish is sometimes eaten with Khichdi in coastal villages where seafood is plentiful.

When the British first arrived in India during the early 1600s, they established trading posts under the control of the East India Trading Company. It was just a matter of time before they became familiar with Khichdi. By the late eighteenth century, Khichdi (at least for the British) became Kedgeree – Khichdi with no lentils, eggs, fish, butter or cream. A recipe for Kedgeree was featured as early as 1790 in a book by Stephana Malcolm of Burnfoot, Dumfriesshire. The National Trust for Scotland’s book called “The Scottish Kitchen” by Christopher Trotter notesthat the Malcolm recipe expressed the belief that Kedgeree was devised by Scottish regiments hankering for the tastes of India. The dish was eventually introduced to the British Isles as a breakfast dish during the Victorian Age.

Below is a recipe for Kedgeree from the TheSpruceEats.com website:

Kedgeree

Ingredients

4 large fresh free-range eggs
6 oz. rice (Basmati works well)/175 g
1/2 pint of cold water
Salt and pepper to taste
2 0z. butter/55 g
2 large onions (peeled and finely sliced)
1 lb smoked haddock/450 g
7 fl oz. milk/200 ml
4 teaspoon curry powder6 Cardamom pods
2 bay leaves
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 oz./15 g flat leaf parsley (finely chopped)

Preparation

*Bring a small saucepan of water to the boil, add the eggs and turn down to a gentle simmer for 3 minutes. Remove the eggs from the heat, cover with a tight-fitting lid and leave for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes remove the eggs from the water, peel, and keep to one side.

*In another large saucepan put the rice with 1/2 pint of cold water and a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, turn the heat down to a simmer, cover with a lid and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and keep covered for a further 10 minutes.

*Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large roomy pan or casserole dish, add the onion, cover with a lid and cook gently until the onions are soft, approx 10 minutes.

*While the onions are cooking, you should place the fish in another large saucepan, and cover it with the milk. If the milk doesn’t cover the fish, add little boiling water. Bring to the boil, turn the heat down and cook the fish, uncovered for 6 minutes or until the thickest part of the fish turns opaque. Take the fish from the milk and remove any skin and bones.

*To the onions add the curry powder, cardamom, and bay leaves. Cook for 2 minutes then add the rice. Stir well. You should now have a lovely golden color throughout.

*Flake the fish into large chunks, add to the rice and onions. Quarter the cooked eggs, add to the rice and stir gently, reserving 4 of the quarters for decoration. Add the lemon juice, season with a little salt and pepper and stir again. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and serve immediately garnished with the eggs and lemon wedges if using.

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