Favorite Television Productions Set in the 1820s

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

FAVORITE TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS SET IN THE 1820s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“EMMA” (2020) Review

“EMMA” (2020) Review

Between 2009 and 2020, Hollywood and the British film/television industries had created a handful of productions that either spoofed or were inspired by Jane Austen’s novels. Actually, I can only recall one movie that was more or less a straightforward adaptation – 2016’s “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP”, an adaptation of Austen’s novella, “Lady Susan”. So imagine my surprise when I learned a new and straightforward adaptation of an Austen novel hit the movie theaters back in February 2020.

I had been even more thrilled that this new movie turned out to be a straightforward adaptation of Austen’s 1815 novel, “Emma” . . . which happened to be my favorite written by her. This 2020 adaptation, helmed by Autumn de Wilde and written by Eleanor Catton, starred Anya Taylor-Joy in the title role. I am certain that many Austen fans are familiar with the 1815 novel’s narrative. “EMMA” is the story of a spoiled and over privileged young Englishwoman named Emma Woodhouse, who resides at her wealthy father’s country estate near the town of Highbury. Emma is not only spoiled and over privileged, but overestimates her own matchmaking abilities and is blind to the dangers of meddling in other people’s lives.

Ever since its release last year, film critics and moviegoers had been praising “EMMA” to the skies. In fact, the movie was so high on the critical list that I was surprised it failed to end up receiving major film award nominations during the 2020/2021 award season. A great deal of this praise was focused on the performances of Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn for his portrayal of George Knightley, Bill Nighy’s portrayal of Mr. Woodhouse; and Autumn de Wilde’s direction. Does the movie deserve such high praise? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

I certainly cannot deny that “EMMA” is a beautiful looking film. I found Christopher Blauvelt’s photography to be very sharp and colorful. In fact, the film’s color palette almost seemed similar to the color schemes found in Alexandra Byrne’s costume designs. Overall, the visual style for “EMMA” seemed to radiate strong and bright colors with a dash of pastels. Very stylized. But as much as I found all of this eye catching, I also found myself a little put off by this stylized artistry – especially for a movie in a period rural setting.

Speaking of artistry, there had been a great deal of praise for Byrne’s costumes. And I can see why. Granted, I am not fond of some of the pastel color schemes. I cannot deny I found her creations – especially those for the movie’s women characters – were eye catching, as shown below:

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I had a few complaints regarding the film’s costumes and hairstyles. The men’s trousers struck me as a little too baggy for the 1810s. I get it. Actors like Bill Nighy found historical trousers a bit tight. But I feel the trousers featured in “EMMA” struck me as a bit too comfortable looking from a visual viewpoint. And then there was the hairstyle used by Anya Taylor-Joy in the film. For some reason, I found her side curls a bit too long and rather frizzy looking. Instead of the mid-1810s, her hairstyle struck me as an example of hairstyles worn by women during the early-to-mid 1840s.

Someone had claimed that “EMMA” was a very faithful adaptation of Austen’s novel. Was it? Frankly, I thought it was no more or less faithful than any of the costumed versions. De Wilde and screenwriter Eleanor Catton followed the major beats of Austen’s novel, except for one scene – namely the Crown Inn ball. I will discuss that later. The movie also did an excellent job in capturing the comic nature of Austen’s novel. This was apparent in nearly every scene featuring Bill Nighy as Mr. Woodhouse. I also enjoyed those scenes featuring the introduction of Augusta Elton, Emma’s reactions to Jane Fairfax and her attempts to play matchmaker for Harriet Smith and Mr. Elton. But the movie also featured some good dramatic moments, thanks to De Wilde’s direction and the film’s cast. I am speaking of the scenes that featured Mr. Knightley’s scolding of Emma for her rudeness towards the impoverished Miss Bates at the Box Hill picnic; Mr. Knightley’s marriage proposal and the revelation of Harriet’s engagement to tenant farmer Robert Martin.

“EMMA” had received a great deal of acclaim from film critics, moviegoers and Jane Austen fans. Many had claimed it as the best adaptation of the 1815 novel. Do I feel the same? No. No, I do not. In fact, out of the five film and television adaptations I have seen, I would probably rank it at number four. Perhaps I had very high expectations of this movie. It is an adaptation of my favorite Austen novel. And it is the first straightforward Austen adaptation since the 2009 television miniseries of same novel. Perhaps this movie is better than I had original assume. Then again, looking back on some of the film’s aspects – I think not.

A good deal of my problems with “EMMA” stemmed from the portrayal of the main character, Emma Woodhouse. How can I say this? Thanks to Catton’s screenplay and De Wilde’s direction, Emma came off as more brittle and chilly than any other version I have ever seen. Granted, Emma Woodhouse was a snob. This was apparently in her strong sense of class status, which manifested in her erroneous belief that Harriet Smith was the illegitimate daughter of an aristocrat or gentry landowner, instead of someone from a lower class. Emma’s snobbery was also reflected in her contempt towards the impoverished Miss Bates, despite the latter being a “gentlewoman” and a member of the landed gentry. Emma’s snobbery, a product of her upbringing, also manifested in her own ego and belief that she is always right. Yes, Emma possessed negative traits. But she also had her share of positive ones. She possessed a warm heart, compassion for the poor (at least those not from her class), intelligence, and an ability to face her faults. This cinematic portrayal of Emma Woodhouse as a brittle and slightly chilly bitch struck me as a little off putting and extreme.

Another example of the exaggeration in this production was Mr. Knightley’s reaction to his dance with Emma at the Crown Inn ball. Many have not only praised the sensuality of the pair’s dance, but also Mr. Knightly’s reaction upon returning home to his estate, Donwell Abbey. What happened? George Knightley seemed to be in some kind of emotional fit, while he stripped off some of his clothes and began writhing on the floor. What in the fuck was that about? That scene struck me as so ridiculous. Other actors who have portrayed Knightley have managed to portray the character’s awareness of his love for Emma without behaving like a teenager in heat.

Speaking of heat, who can forget Harriet Smith’s orgasmic reaction to the idea of being Mrs. Elton? Many critics and Austen fans thrilled over the sight of a female character in a Jane Austen production having an orgasm. I will not castigate De Wilde for this directorial choice. I am merely wondering why she had included this scene in the first place. If Harriet was going to have an orgasm, why not have her bring up the subject to a possibly flabbergasted Emma? Why include this moment without any real follow through? Having an orgasm must have been something of a novelty for a young woman like Harriet, who was inexperienced with sexual thoughts or feelings.

And then there was Emma and Mr. Knightley’s dance at the Crown Inn ball. The latter sequence is usually one of my favorites in any adaptation of “EMMA”. The one exception proved to be the 1972 miniseries, which ended the sequence after Emma had suggested they dance. I almost enjoyed the sequence in this film . . . except it featured Emma obviously feeling attracted to Mr. Knightley during this dance. And I thought this was a big mistake. Why? Because Emma was never that consciously aware of her attraction to Mr. Knightley, until Harriet had confessed her crush on the landowner. And that happened near the end of the story. In other words, by showing Emma’s obvious feelings for Knightley during the ball, Autumn De Wilde rushed their story . . . and was forced to retract in the scene that featured Harriet’s confession. I feel this was another poor decision on the filmmaker’s part.

If I have to be honest, I think De Wilde, along with screenwriter Eleanor Catton, made a number of poor decisions regarding the film’s narrative. I have already pointed out three of those decisions in the previous paragraphs. But there were more. De Wilde and Catton changed the dynamics between Mr. Woodhouse and his older daughter and son-in-law, Isabella and John Knightley. In the novel and previous adaptations, the younger Mr. Knightley had always seemed more annoyed and at times, cankerous toward Mr. Woodhouse’s hypochondria. In this version, Isabella’s hypochondria is portrayed as more irritating. And instead of reacting to his wife’s complaints, John suppressed his reactions and ended up being portrayed as a henpecked husband. For some reason, De Wilde and Catton thought it was necessary to take the bite out of John Knightley, making him a weaker character. Why? I have not the foggiest idea, but I did miss the character’s biting wit.

In my review of the 1996 television version of “Emma”, I had complained how screenwriter Andrew Davies and director Diarmuid Lawrence had minimized part of Harriet’s character arc and focused just a bit too much on Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax. In the 1996 movie version, the opposite happened. Writer-director Douglas McGrath had focused more on Harriet’s arc than the Frank/Jane arc. Well De Wilde and Catton ended up repeating McGrath’s mistake by focusing too much on Harriet, at the expense of Frank and Jane. Worse, Frank and Jane’s arc seemed focused on even less than in the 1996 McGrath film. The couple barely seemed to exist. And a result of this is that Frank’s father, Colonel Weston, barely seemed to exist. Mrs. Weston fared better due to her being Emma’s former governess. But I was really shocked at how little De Wilde and Catton focused on Mr. Elton and his overbearing bride, Augusta Elton. The movie did focus a good deal on Mr. Elton in those scenes featuring Emma’s attempts to match him with Harriet. But following his marriage, his character – along with Mrs. Elton’s – seemed to slowly recede into the background following their tea at Hartfield with the Woodhouses. By allowing very little focus on these characters, De Wilde and Catton had left out so many good moments in their effort to streamline Austen’s story for theatrical film. Even more so than the two versions from 1996.

Because of this streamlining, a good deal of the cast had very little opportunity to develop their characters on screen. Oliver Chris and Chloe Pirrie gave solid comic performances in their portrayal of John and Isabella Knightley, despite my irritation at the changing dynamics of their relationship. Rupert Graves was pretty much wasted as the over-friendly Colonel Weston. Miranda Hart gave a funny performance as the impoverished spinster Miss Bates. Unfortunately, I was distracted by her less-than-impoverished wardrobe in several scenes. If you had asked for my opinion of Amber Anderson’s portrayal of Jane Fairfax, I would not have been able to give it to you. I have no memory of her performance. She made no impact on the movie or its narrative, other than coming off as uncharacteristically supercilious. Tanya Reynolds struck me as a rather funny Mrs. Elton . . . at least in the scene featuring the Eltons’ tea with the Woodhouses at Hartfield. Otherwise, I have no real memory of her other scenes in the movie. Callum Turner has always struck me as a memorable performer. And I have to admit that his portrayal of Frank Churchill certainly made an impression on me. But the impression was not always . . . positive. One, he did not have enough scenes in this movie and his character arc struck me as rather rushed. And two, I thought his Frank Churchill was a bit too smarmy for my tastes.

Thankfully, “EMMA” did feature some memorable supporting performances. Gemma Whelen gave a lovely and warm performance as Emma’s former governess and close friend, Mrs. Weston. Josh O’Connor gave an excellent performance as the social-climbing vicar, Mr. Elton. I must say that I found his comic timing impeccable and thought he gave one of the best performances in the movie. However, I thought there were times when his Mr. Elton came off as a sexual predator. I get it . . . Mr. Elton was basically a fortune hunter. But I thought O’Connor went too far in the scene that featured Emma’s rejection of his marriage proposal. For a moment, I thought he was going to sexually assault her. That was a bit too much. Mia Goth’s portrayal of the clueless Harriet Smith struck me as spot-on and very skillful. Granted, I did not care for the “Harriet has an orgasm” moment, but I cannot deny that Goth’s acting was excellent in the scene. Bill Nighy gave a skillfully comic portrayal as the hypochondriac Mr. Woodhouse. Yes, there were moments when his usual tics (found in many of his performances) threatened to overwhelm his performance in this film. But I think he managed to more or less keep it together.

One performance that had acquired a great deal of acclaim came from Johnny Flynn, who portrayed Mr. Knightley. In fact, many are regarding him as the best Mr. Knightley ever seen in the movies or on television. I believe Flynn is a pretty competent actor who did an excellent job of conveying his character’s decency, maturity and burgeoning feelings for Emma. I was especially impressed by his performance in the Box Hill sequence in which Mr. Knightley chastised Emma for her rude comments at Miss Bates. But I do not regard him as the best screen Mr. Knightley I have seen. If I must be honest, I do not regard his interpretation of the character as even among the best. My problem with Flynn is that his Knightley struck me as a bit of a dull stick. And Knightley has always seemed like a man with a dry sense of humor, which is why I have always regarded him as one of my favorite Austen heroes. For me, Flynn’s Knightley simply came across as humorless to me. Perhaps “humorless” was the wrong word. There were scenes of Flynn’s Mr. Knightley reacting to the comedic actions of other characters and uttering the occasional witty phrase or two. But there was something about Flynn’s demeanor that made it seem he was trying too hard. I guess no amount of ass display, singing, laughing or writhing on the floor like a lovesick adolescent could make him more interesting to me.

Then we have the film’s leading lady, Anya Taylor-Joy. Unlike Flynn, the actress was given the opportunity to display her skills as a comic actress. And she more than lived up to the task. Honestly, I thought Taylor-Joy displayed excellent comic timing. Yet . . . I could never regard her as one of my favorite screen versions of Emma Woodhouse. She was too much of a bitch. Let me re-phrase that. I thought Taylor-Joy overdid it in her portrayal of Emma’s bitchiness and snobbery. To the point that her performance struck me as very brittle. Yes, Emma Woodhouse was a snob. But she could also be a warm and friendly young woman, capable of improving her character. I saw none of this in Taylor-Joy’s performance. If Catton’s screenplay demanded that Emma became aware of her flaws, the actress’ conveyance of those moments did not strike as a natural progression. Otherwise, she made a satisfying Emma Woodhouse. I also have one more criticism to add – Taylor-Joy did not have great screen chemistry with her leading man, Johnny Flynn. Their on-screen chemistry struck me as pedestrian at best, if I must be honest.

One would think that I disliked “EMMA”. Honestly, I did not. The movie managed to stick with Austen’s narrative. And although it did not change Austen’s story, it did feature some changes in some of the characteristics and character dynamics, thanks to director Autumn De Wilde and screenwriter Eleanor Catton. And some of these changes did not serve the movie well, thanks to De Wilde’s occasional bouts of ham-fisted direction. However, I still managed to enjoy the movie and the performances from a cast led by newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy. And if it had not been for the current health crisis that has struck the world, I probably would have seen it again in theaters.

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Favorite Pre-Gilded Age American History Books

Below is a list of my favorite books that covered the history of the United States from the late British Colonial period to the end of the U.S. Civil War:

FAVORITE PRE-GILDED AGE AMERICAN HISTORY BOOKS

1. “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism” (2014) by Edward E. Baptist – This book centers on how slavery and the cotton industry helped develop the rise of U.S. capitalism.

2. “1861: The Civil War Awakening” (2011) by Adam Goodheart – This book depicts the last months of the United States’ Antebellum period and the first months of the U.S. Civil War.

3. “1858: Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant and the War They Failed to See” (2008) by Bruce Chadwick – The book focuses on the historical events in the United States during the year, 1858.

4. “Thomas Jefferson & Sally Hemings: An American Controversy” (1997) by Annette Gordon-Reed – This book won the Pulitzer Prize for its in-depth exploration of President Thomas Jefferson and one of slaves, Sally Hemings.

5. “The Town That Started the Civil War” (1990) by Nat Brandt – This book is an in-depth study of Oberlin, Ohio during the 19th century and its role in one of the most famous slave rescues in U.S. history.

6. “Slavery and the Making of America” (2004) by James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton – This book is a detailed account of the history of slavery in the U.S. from the Colonial period to the end of the Civil War.

7. “The World Rushed In: The California Gold Rush Experience” (1981) by J.S. Holliday – This book is an in-depth study of the California Gold Rush between 1848 and 1855.

8. “The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War” (2018) by Andrew Delbanco – This book focuses on slavery and especially the abolition movement from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War.

9. “John Adams” (2001) by David McCullough – This book is a biography of President John Adams and won a Pulitzer Prize.

10. “Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad” (2015) by Eric Foner – This book is a detailed account on the history of the Underground Railroad and the abolition movement in New York City.

11. “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” (2005) by Doris Kearns Goodwin – This biography is about the life of President Abraham Lincoln and the more prominent members of his Cabinet before and during the Civil War. It won both the Lincoln Prize and the inaugural Book Prize for American History of the New-York Historical Society.

12. “A Southern Odyssey: Travelers in the Antebellum North” (1976) by John Hope Franklin – This book is an account of the experiences of Southern travelers in the Northern states during the years before the Civil War.

Favorite Television Productions Set in the 1810s

Below is a list of my favorite television productions set during the 1810s:

FAVORITE TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS SET IN THE 1810s

1. “Pride and Prejudice” (1995) – Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth starred in this award winning adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel. The six-part miniseries was adapted by Andrew Davies and directed by Simon Langton.

2. “Emma” (2009) – Romola Garai, Jonny Lee Miller and Michael Gambon starred in this excellent adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel. The four-part miniseries was adapted by Sandy Welch and directed by Jim O’Hanlon.

3. “Vanity Fair” (1987) – Eve Matheson starred in this superb adaptation of William Makepeace Thackery’s 1848 novel. The sixteen-part miniseries was directed by Diarmuid Lawrence and Michael Owen Morris; and adapted by Alexander Baron.

4. “Pride and Prejudice” (1980) – Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul starred in this first-rate adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel. The five-part miniseries was adapted by Fay Weldon and directed by Cyril Coke.

5. “War and Peace” (2016) – Paul Dano, Lily James and James Norton starred in this excellent adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1869 novel. The six-part miniseries was adapted by Andrew Davies and directed by Tom Harper.

6. “Vanity Fair” (1998) – Natasha Little starred in this award winning adaptation of William Makepeace Thackery’s 1848 novel. The six-part miniseries was directed by Marc Munden and adapted by Andrew Davies.

7. “Emma” (1972) – Doran Godwin and John Carson starred in this first-rate adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel. The six-part miniseries was adapted by Denis Constanduros and directed by John Glenister.

8. “Davy Crockett and the River Pirates” (1956) – This sequel to the 1955 television movie, “Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier”, conveyed the experiences of Davy Crockett and George Russel with keelboat riverman Mike Fink and river pirates along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Picturesque and a lot of fun. Directed by Norman Foster, the TV movie starred Fess Parker, Buddy Ebsen and Jeff York.

9. “War and Peace” (1972) – Anthony Hopkins, Morag Hood and Alan Dobie starred in this superb adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1869 novel. The twenty-part miniseries was adapted by Jack Pulman and directed by John Davies.

10. “Poldark” (1996) – John Bowe and Mel Martin starred in this television adaptation of Winston Graham’s 1981 novel from his Poldark series, “The Stranger From the Sea”. The television movie was directed by Richard Laxton and adapted by Robin Mukherjee.

Favorite Episodes of “OUTLANDER” Season One (2014-2015)

Below is a list of my favorite episodes from Season One of “OUTLANDER”, STARZ’s adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s 1991 novel and literary series of the same name. Developed by Ronald D. Moore, the series stars Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan:

FAVORITE EPISODES OF “OUTLANDER” SEASON ONE (2014-2015)

1. (1.02) “Castle Leoch” – Former World War II nurse and time traveler Claire Beauchamp Randall is brought to Castle Leoch by a group of Highlanders that include Jamie Fraser and his maternal uncle Dougal MacKenzie. The Highlanders suspect she might be an English spy. Discovering she had traveled back to 1743, Claire tries to arrange travel back to the standing stones.

2. (1.11) “The Devil’s Mark” – Claire and the wife of the local procurator fiscal, Geillis Duncan, stand trial for witchcraft. Claire also learns a secret about Geillis’ past.

3. (1.08) “Both Sides Now” – Back in 1945, Claire’s husband, Frank Randall, continues to search for her; but he starts to lose hope of ever finding her. Meanwhile, Claire is trying to come to terms with her marriage to Jamie in 1743 Scotland.

4. (1.05) “Rent” – Claire joins Jamie and Dougal on the road with other members of Clan MacKenzie, as they collect the tenants’ rent on behalf their laird, Colum MacKenzie. She becomes aware of Dougal’s involvement in trying to raise money for the Jacobite rebellion.

5. (1.01) “Sassenach” – In this series premiere, Claire and Frank reunite after five years of war apart in 1945. Their second honeymoon in Scotland goes awry when she falls back through time to the 1740s.

Honorable Mention: (1.12) “Lallybroch” – Old family wounds reopen when Jamie returns to his family estate, Lallybroch, with new wife Claire in tow.

Sexist Tropes in “POLDARK” (2015-2019)

SEXIST TROPES IN “POLDARK” (2015-2019)

After watching the recent “POLDARK” television series for the past few years and reading the commentaries on these episodes and especially two particular characters – Demelza Carne Poldark and Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark Warleggan – I have come to a disturbing conclusion. Despite the advent of the feminist movement, we still live a sexist society. Because our society remains sexist to this day, many people – women included – tend to view female fictional characters from a sexist view. This was especially apparent with the opinions of the two major female characters in “POLDARK”.

I have noticed that producer Debbie Horsfield and many of the series’ fans and critics seemed hellbent upon viewing both Demelza and Elizabeth through some Whore/Madonna trope. The situation regarding Demelza and Elizabeth strikes me as rather ironic. In many works of fiction and sometimes in real life, women of working-class backgrounds are usually perceived as sexually permissive or a “whore”. And women from a middle-class or upper-class background are usually perceived as virtuous or “the Madonna”. Not only do a good number of men apply this type of categorization upon women, other women do as well.

What made this trope ironic in “POLDARK”? The low-born Demelza – a miner’s daughter who became main protagonist Ross Polark’s servant and later, wife – has been regarded by many fans as virtuous or . . . “the Madonna”. In contrast, Elizabeth Chynoweth, a landowner’s daughter, has been more less labeled as a “whore” by said fans. Elizabeth, who had originally been courted by Ross before he left to serve in the British Army during the American Revolution, ended up marrying his cousin Francis Poldark. She later married Ross’ neighbor and nemesis, George Warleggan after Francis’ death.

I suspect that if Demelza had not married Ross and become the main protagonist, she would not have become so highly regarded by the fans. After all, she was low born. And she had sex with Ross, while serving his household as a kitchen maid. Right before their marriage. Ross ended up coercing her into marrying him in order to put a stop to the rumors about them. But I believe what really saved Demelza from being labeled “the whore” by readers and television viewers was the presence of the one woman she regarded as her nemesis – namely her cousin-in-law and Ross’ first love, Elizabeth Poldark Warleggan née Chynoweth. In the fans’ eyes, Elizabeth had made the mistake of rejecting Ross upon his return from the American Revolutionary War and marrying his cousin Francis. The literary Elizabeth honestly thought she had loved Francis and felt that Ross would not be the right husband for her. The recent series depicted Elizabeth as a woman torn by her feelings for Ross and slightly coerced into marrying Francis by her mother. To make matters worse, following Francis’ death, Elizabeth had married Ross’ nemesis, banker George Warleggan for his money. She needed his money to save the Trenwith estate for hers and Francis’ son, Geoffrey Charles.

I have a confession. Originally, I had believed this sexist view of both women stemmed from Demelza being the saga’s main female protagonist and Elizabeth’s rejection of Ross and her decisions to marry Francis and George. While Demelza was portrayed as this near perfect woman, especially in the series by show runner Debbie Horsfield; she was constantly praised by fans and critics for not only being “ideal”, but also the “ideal” mate for Ross. Elizabeth was portrayed with a more negative tone. As I had stated earlier, Debbie Horsfield changed the nature of her reason for rejecting Ross and marrying Francis. Horsfield used Demelza’s class origin as some kind of “Cinderella” fairy tale. Elizabeth was subtlety criticized for being a member of the upper-class and marrying Francis to maintain the lifestyle she was accustomed to. She was also portrayed as a woman who could not make up her mind about whom she wanted to marry. And then came that night of May 9, 1793.

Any fan of Winston Graham’s novels or the two television adaptations of his saga knows what happened that month – Ross and Elizabeth conceived his third child and her second – Valentine Warleggan. For years, many fans have asserted that Valentine’s conception was an act of consensual sex between the pair. The 1975-1977 series had portrayed Ross raping Elizabeth before pretending that rape never happened. The 2015-2019 series proved to be worse. It had Ross assaulting Elizabeth and on the verge of raping her. Before he could, she consented to sex at the last moment, transforming their encounter into a “rape fantasy”. Only Winston Graham’s 1953 novel, “Warleggan”, portrayed the encounter as rape. The author condemned Ross’ act for the rest of his literary series – something that many fans refuse to acknowledge.

Yet, even before the rape, Horsfield did her level best to set up sympathy toward Demelza and condemn Elizabeth at the same time. As in the novels, Ross had spent a good deal of time at Trenwith, helping the recently widowed Elizabeth deal with estate debts. But in the series, Demelza, her cousin-in-law Verity Poldark Blamey and the audience blamed Elizabeth instead of Ross; who seemed hellbent upon enjoying Elizabeth’s company as much as possible. Horsfield even added a scene in which Demelza made a snarky, yet hostile comment about Ross’ time at Trenwith that clearly blamed Elizabeth. And fans, to my utter disgust, cheered this moment of misogyny. Horsfield included another scene after the rape that featured an encounter between Demelza and Elizabeth in the woods (this also never happened in the novel) in which the former accused the latter of having a sexually illicit encounter with Ross. Again, I found myself disgusted by this obvious attempt by Horsfield to demonize Elizabeth for something that was never her fault. I felt equally disgusted by the fans’ cheers over Demelza’s words.

After the series’ adaptation of “Warleggan”, I thought I would see the last of this less than ambiguous handling of both Demelza and Elizabeth. I did not. Horsfield provided other examples of idealizing Demelza’s character and vilifying Elizabeth’s. In the novels that followed “Warleggan”, both women had committed major mistakes.

Elizabeth had supported her second husband George Warleggan’s attempt to force a marriage between her cousin Morwenna Chynoweth and a highborn vicar from Truro, the Reverend Osbourne Whitworth. Who proved to be an abusive husband. Mind you, Elizabeth was not solely to blame for this marriage. One, it was George’s idea and he was the one who finally coerced Morwenna into marrying Osbourne – at least in the series. Morwenna’s mother was the one who finally coerced her in the novel. But Elizabeth did support his action. It was probably the worst thing she truly ever did. Unfortunately, Horsfield felt this need to portray Elizabeth as a cold and scheming woman, who proved to be initially cold to her younger son Valentine. This never happened in the novel. Worse, Horsfield had transformed Elizabeth into both an morphine addict and alcoholic as a means to express the struggles she suffered as George’s wife. Again . . . this never happened in the novel. Why Horsfield thought this was necessary. I have no idea. The literary Elizabeth had found George’s paranoia over Ross rather stressful, but not to the point of her becoming an addict.

On the other hand, Horsfield had went out of her way to portray Demelza as this perfect lady, who sang whenever the screenplay allowed actress Eleanor Tomlinson to display her singing ability. There was a moment of Demelza racing across the countryside on horseback like some Harlequin Romance heroine in an effort to save her younger brother Drake Carne from being set upon by George’s bullies. Actually, some locals came to Drake’s rescue in the novel. There was also the matter of Demelza’s initial refusal to support her brother Drake romance with Morwenna. Demelza used the differences in Drake and Morwenna’s classes as an excuse for her lack of support, claiming she did not want to see both of them suffer in an unhappy marriage. I found this rather hypocritical, considering Demelza had married outside of her class. The series had went out of its way to avoid conveying Demelza’s unwillingness to contemplate the idea of Elizabeth’s cousin as her future sister-in-law. Although she had ended up supporting Drake and Morwenna’s relationship in the end, Demelza had never really let go of this wish of her brother marrying another woman of her choice instead of Morwenna, despite their happy marriage – at least in one of Winston Graham’s later novels. The one true terrible act that Demelza had committed was her brief affair with Royal Navy officer Hugh Armitage. Actually, they only had sex once. But once was enough, as far as I am concerned. Many viewers had excused Demelza’s infidelity as an act of bad writing from Graham or Horsfield. One blogger used Demelza’s rushed romance/marriage to Ross as excuse for her to experience an actual romance with someone of her age. And there were those who used Ross’ infidelity – namely the “eye for an eye” – as an excuse. Frankly, revenge sex has never struck me as a good excuse to cheat on one’s spouse, unless he was a serial abuser like the Justin LaMotte character from the “NORTH AND SOUTH” series . . . or Osbourne Whitworth. Ross may have been guilty of raping Elizabeth, but he had never ever abused Demelza in that manner. Also, I do not recall anyone slut shaming Demelza for her affair with Hugh.

I might as well be frank. Neither Demelza or Elizabeth were perfect. And neither were monsters. Both women possessed flaws and virtues. And yet . . . the fans and writer Debbie Horsfield seemed incapable of accepting both as complex women. Fans had behaved as if Demelza was the greatest thing since the invention of the wheel. They regarded Elizabeth as “the Whore of Babylon” or worse, a weak and manipulative woman. They seem incapable of facing Demelza’s faults – other than her naivety in late Season One. And they seem unwilling to acknowledge Elizabeth’s virtues. Horsfield’s writing for the series did a lot to support their reactions.

I find myself wondering if this inability to accept the ambiguity of both women stemmed from a refusal to acknowledge the idea of Ross Poldark harboring love for two different women at the same time. I do not know. Perhaps this scenario went against their ideals of “true love”, marriage and a Harlequin Romance-style story. The unfortunate thing is that producers like Debbie Horsfield of the current series and the producers of the 1970s series – Anthony Coburn and Morris Barry – had seemed more than willing to constantly feed this “Whore/Madonna” mentality regarding Demelza Poldark and Elizabeth Warleggan.

Jerk Cooking

Below is an article about a cooking style known as Jerk cooking:

JERK COOKING

There is a cooking style for a variety of meats that has become basically immortalized for many around the world. This cooking style, which originated on the island of Jamaica is known as Jerk cooking. This cooking style involves meat that is dry-rubbed or wet marinated with a hot spice mixture called Jamaican jerk spice.

Many historians believe this Jamaican jerk seasoning was developed by escaped enslaved Coromantee Africans in Jamaica. But other historians have unearthed evidence that jerked meat was actually created by local indigenous people called the Tainos. When the British had invaded Jamaica in 1655, the Spanish colonists fled and left behind a large number of African slaves. Rather than be re-enslaved by the British, the Coromantees escaped into Jamaica’s mountainous regions where they mixed in with the local Taínos. It appears that these runaway slaves, who became the island’s first Jamaican Maroons, learnt this cooking practice from the Tainos.

Many believe that while the Tainos developed the style of cooking and seasoning, the Maroons introduced the marinade and use of cooking pits. All racial groups hunted the wild hog in the Jamaican interior and used the practice of jerking to cook it in the seventeenth century. However, by the end of the eighteenth century, most groups had switched to imported pork products. Only the Maroons continued the practice of hunting wild hogs and jerking the pork.

When the Maroons found themselves in new surroundings on Jamaica, they were forced to use what was available to them. As a result, they adapted to their surroundings and used herbs and spices available to them on the island such as cloves, cinnamon, scallions, nutmeg, thyme, garlic, brown sugar, ginger, salt and especially Scotch bonnet pepper; which is largely responsible for the heat found in Caribbean jerks. They also cooked their seasoned wild hogs over pimento wood, which was native to Jamaica at the time. This wood is still the most important ingredient in the taste of the meat.

Jerk cooking and seasoning has followed the Caribbean diaspora all over the world. Jerk seasoning is not only used on pork; but also chicken, tofu, fish, shrimp, shellfish, beef, sausage, lamb, goat and vegetables. All forms of jerk can now be found at restaurants almost anywhere a significant population of Caribbean descent exists. They include such locations as the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States. Inhabitants on the French-speaking Caribbean islands developed the poulet boucané (“smoked chicken”), which is quite similar to traditional Jamaican jerk chicken.

Here is a recipe for Jerk Pork Shoulder from thespruceeats.com website:

Jerk Pork Shoulder

Ingredients

*1/2 cup ground allspice berries
*1/2 cup brown sugar (packed)
*6 to 8 garlic cloves
*4 to 6 Scotch bonnet chile peppers (trimmed and seeded, wear gloves)
*1 tablespoons ground thyme (or 3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves)
*2 bunches scallions (green onions, greens included, trimmed and chopped into 2-inch pieces)
*1 teaspoons ground cinnamon
*1/2​ teaspoons ground nutmeg
*2 teaspoons Kosher salt
*Freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
*2 tablespoons soy sauce (to moisten)
*1 (6- to 9-pound) pork picnic shoulder roast

Preparation

*Gather the ingredients.

*Place allspice, brown sugar, garlic, Scotch bonnet peppers, thyme, scallions, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and soy sauce in a food processor. Blend until smooth.

*With a sharp knife, score the thick fat on the pork shoulder into a diamond pattern, but do not cut into the meat.

*Using gloved hands, press and massage a thick coating of the jerk sauce on the exterior of the pork so it is completely covered with a thick coat. Refrigerate any leftover sauce. It will keep for a month or more.

*Place the pork in a roasting pan and cover with a lid, foil, or plastic wrap. Refrigerate to marinate at least 24 hours or for up to two days.

*When ready to cook, let the pork sit at room temperature at least one hour or until it reaches room temperature. Then, preheat oven to 450 F.

*Line a roasting pan with heavy foil and insert a roasting rack.

*Roast pork uncovered for 30 minutes at this high heat, and then lower the temperature to 325 F.

*Bake an additional 3 1/2 to 4 hours, depending on the size of your pork shoulder. If you notice the pork is starting to burn, place aluminum foil over it.

*Let roast rest at least 30 minutes before carving.

*Serve.

Tip: Jamaican jerk pork is not a dish to leave to the last minute. This recipe requires that you plan in advance. You need to let the pork marinate for at least 24 hours before roasting it.

“EMMA” (2020) Review

“EMMA” (2020) Review

Between 2009 and 2020, Hollywood and the British film/television industries have created a handful of productions that either spoofed or were inspired by Jane Austen’s novels. Actually, I can only recall one movie that was more or less a straightforward adaptation – 2016’s “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP”, an adaptation of Austen’s novella, “Lady Susan”. So imagine my surprise when I learned a new and straightforward adaptation of an Austen novel was due to hit the theaters.

I was even more thrilled that this new movie would be a straightforward adaptation of Austen’s 1815 novel, “Emma” . . . which happened to be my favorite written by her. This new adaptation, helmed by Autumn de Wilde and written by Eleanor Catton, starred Anya Taylor-Joy in the title role. I am certain that many Austen fans are familiar with the 1815 novel’s narrative. “EMMA” is the story of a spoiled and over privileged young Englishwoman named Emma Woodhouse, who resides at her wealthy father’s country estate near the town of Highbury. Emma is not only spoiled and over privileged, but overestimates her own matchmaking abilities and is blind to the dangers of meddling in other people’s lives.

Ever since its release in February 2020, film critics and moviegoers have been praising “EMMA” to the skies. In fact, the movie is so high on the critical list that I would not be surprised if it ends up receiving major film award nominations next winter. A great deal of this praise has been focused on the performances of Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn for his portrayal of George Knightley, Bill Nighy’s portrayal of Mr. Woodhouse; and Autumn de Wilde’s direction. Does the movie deserve such high praise? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

I certainly cannot deny that “EMMA” is a beautiful looking film. I found Christopher Blauvelt’s photography to be very sharp and colorful. In fact, the film’s color palette almost seemed similar to the color schemes found in Alexandra Byrne’s costume designs. Overall, the visual style for “EMMA” seemed to radiate strong and bright colors with a dash of pastels. Very stylized. But as much as I found all of this eye catching, I also found myself a little put off by this stylized artistry – especially for a movie in a period rural setting.

Speaking of artistry, there has been a great deal of praise for Byrne’s costumes. And I can see why. Granted, I am not fond of some of the pastel color schemes. I cannot deny I found her creations – especially those for the movie’s women characters – were eye catching, as shown below:

I had a few complaints regarding the film’s costumes and hairstyles. The men’s trousers struck me as a little too baggy for the 1810s. I get it. Actors like Bill Nighy found historical trousers a bit tight. But I feel the trousers featured in “EMMA” struck me as a bit too comfortable looking from a visual viewpoint. And then there was the hairstyle used by Anya Taylor-Joy in the film. For some reason, I found her side curls a bit too long and rather frizzy looking. Instead of the mid-1810s, her hairstyle struck me as an example of hairstyles worn by women during the early-to-mid 1840s.

Someone had claimed that “EMMA” was a very faithful adaptation of Austen’s novel. Was it? Frankly, I thought it was no more or less faithful than any of the costumed versions. De Wilde and screenwriter Eleanor Catton followed the major beats of Austen’s novel, except for one scene – namely the Crown Inn ball. I will discuss that later. The movie also did an excellent job in capturing the comic nature of Austen’s novel. This was apparent in nearly every scene featuring Bill Nighy as Mr. Woodhouse. I also enjoyed those scenes featuring the introduction of Augusta Elton, Emma’s reactions to Jane Fairfax and her attempts to play matchmaker for Harriet Smith and Mr. Elton. But the movie also featured some good dramatic moments, thanks to De Wilde’s direction and the film’s cast. I am speaking of the scenes that featured Mr. Knightley’s scolding of Emma for her rudeness towards the impoverished Miss Bates at the Box Hill picnic; Mr. Knightley’s marriage proposal and the revelation of Harriet’s engagement to tenant farmer Robert Martin.

“EMMA” has received a great deal of acclaim from film critics, moviegoers and Jane Austen fans. Many are claiming it as the best adaptation of the 1815 novel. Do I feel the same? No. No, I do not. In fact, out of the five film and television adaptations I have seen, I would probably rank it at number four. Perhaps I had very high expectations of this movie. It is an adaptation of my favorite Austen novel. And it is the first straightforward Austen adaptation since the 2009 television adaptation of same novel. Perhaps this movie is better than I had original assume. Then again, looking back on some of the film’s aspects – perhaps not.

A good deal of my problems with “EMMA” stemmed from the portrayal of the main character, Emma Woodhouse. How can I say this? Thanks to Catton’s screenplay and De Wilde’s direction, Emma came off as more brittle and chilly than any other version I have ever seen. Granted, Emma Woodhouse was a snob. This was apparently in her strong sense of class status, which manifested in her erroneous belief that Harriet Smith was the illegitimate daughter of an aristocrat or gentry landowner, instead of someone from a lower class. Emma’s snobbery was also reflected in her contempt towards the impoverished Miss Bates, despite the latter being a “gentlewoman” and a member of the landed gentry. Emma’s snobbery, a product of her upbringing, also manifested in her own ego and belief that she is always right. Yes, Emma possessed negative traits. But she also had her share of positive ones. She possessed a warm heart, compassion for the poor (at least those not from her class), intelligence, and an ability to face her faults. This cinematic portrayal of Emma Woodhouse as a brittle and slightly chilly bitch struck me as a little off putting and extreme.

Another example of the exaggeration in this production was Mr. Knightley’s reaction to his dance with Emma at the Crown Inn ball. Many have not only praised the sensuality of the pair’s dance, but also Mr. Knightly’s reaction upon returning home to his estate, Donwell Abbey. What happened? George Knightley seemed to be in some kind of emotional fit, while he stripped off some of his clothes and began writhing on the floor. What in the fuck was that about? That scene struck me as so ridiculous. Other actors who have portrayed Knightley have managed to portray the character’s awareness of his love for Emma without behaving like a teenager in heat.

Speaking of heat, who can forget Harriet Smith’s orgasmic reaction to Mr. Knightley’s company? Many critics and Austen fans thrilled over the sight of a female character in a Jane Austen production having an orgasm. I will not castigate De Wilde for this directorial choice. I am merely wondering why she had included this scene in the first place. If Harriet was going to have an orgasm, why not have her bring up the subject to a possibly flabbergasted Emma? Why include this moment without any real follow through? Having an orgasm must have been something of a novelty for a young woman like Harriet, who was inexperienced with sexual thoughts or feelings.

And then there was Emma and Mr. Knightley’s dance at the Crown Inn ball. The latter sequence is usually one of my favorites in any adaptation of “EMMA”. The one exception proved to be the 1972 miniseries, which ended the sequence after Emma had suggested they dance. I almost enjoyed the sequence in this film . . . except it featured Emma obviously feeling attracted to Mr. Knightley during this dance. And I thought this was a big mistake. Why? Because Emma was never that consciously aware of her attraction to Mr. Knightley, until Harriet had confessed her crush on the landowner. And that happened near the end of the story. In other words, by showing Emma’s obvious feelings for Knightley during the ball, Autumn De Wilde rushed their story . . . and was forced to retract in the scene that featured Harriet’s confession. I feel this was another poor decision on the filmmaker’s part.

If I have to be honest, I think De Wilde, along with screenwriter Eleanor Catton, made a number of poor decisions regarding the film’s narrative. I have already pointed out three of those decisions in the previous paragraphs. But there were more. De Wilde and Catton changed the dynamics between Mr. Woodhouse and his older daughter and son-in-law, Isabella and John Knightley. In the novel and previous adaptations, the younger Mr. Knightley had always seemed more annoyed and at times, cankerous toward Mr. Woodhouse’s hypochondria. In this version, Isabella’s hypochondria is portrayed as more irritating. And instead of reacting to his wife’s complaints, John suppressed his reactions and ended up being portrayed as a henpecked husband. For some reason, De Wilde and Catton thought it was necessary to take the bite out of John Knightley, making him a weaker character. Why? I have not the foggiest idea, but I did miss the character’s biting wit.

In my review of the 1996 television version of “Emma”, I had complained how screenwriter Andrew Davies and director Diarmuid Lawrence had minimized part of Harriet’s character arc and focused just a bit too much on Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax. In the 1996 movie version, the opposite happened. Writer-director Douglas McGrath had focused more on Harriet’s arc than the Frank/Jane arc. Well De Wilde and Catton ended up repeating McGrath’s mistake by focusing too much on Harriet, at the expense of Frank and Jane. Worse, Frank and Jane’s arc seemed focused upon even less than in the 1996 McGrath film. The couple barely seemed to exist. And a result of this is that Frank’s father, Colonel Weston, barely seemed to exist. Mrs. Weston fared better due to her being Emma’s former governess. But I was really shocked at how little De Wilde and Catton focused on Mr. Elton and his overbearing bride, Augusta Elton. The movie did focus a good deal on Mr. Elton in those scenes featuring Emma’s attempts to match him with Harriet. But following his marriage, his character – along with Mrs. Elton’s – seemed to slowly recede into the background following their tea at Hartfield with the Woodhouses. By allowing very little focus on these characters, De Wilde and Catton had left out so many good moments in their effort to streamline Austen’s story for theatrical film. Even more so than the two versions from 1996.

Because of this streamlining, a good deal of the cast had very little opportunity to develop their characters on screen. Oliver Chris and Chloe Pirrie gave solid comic performances in their portrayal of John and Isabella Knightley, despite my irritation at the changing dynamics of their relationship. Rupert Graves was pretty much wasted as the over-friendly Colonel Weston. Miranda Hart gave a funny performance as the impoverished spinster Miss Bates. Unfortunately, I was distracted by her less-than-impoverished wardrobe in several scenes. If you had asked for my opinion of Amber Anderson’s portrayal of Jane Fairfax, I would not have been able to give it to you. I have no memory of her performance. She made no impact on the movie or its narrative. Tanya Reynolds struck me as a rather funny Mrs. Elton . . . at least in the scene featuring the Eltons’ tea with the Woodhouses at Hartfield. Otherwise, I have no real memory of her other scenes in the movie. Callum Turner has always struck me as a memorable performer. And I have to admit that his portrayal of Frank Churchill certainly made an impression on me. But the impression was not always . . . negative. One, he did not have enough scenes in this movie and his character arc struck me as rather rushed. And two, I thought his Frank Churchill was a bit too smarmy for my tastes.

Thankfully, “EMMA” did feature some memorable supporting performances. Gemma Whalen gave a lovely and warm performance as Emma’s former governess and close friend, Mrs. Weston. Josh O’Connor gave an excellent performance as the social-climbing vicar, Mr. Elton. I must say that I found his comic timing impeccable and thought he gave one of the best performances in the movie. However, I thought there were times when his Mr. Elton came off as a sexual predator. I get it . . . Mr. Elton was basically a fortune hunter. But I thought O’Connor went too far in the scene that featured Emma’s rejection of his marriage proposal. For a moment, I thought he was going to sexually assault her. That was a bit too much. Mia Goth’s portrayal of the clueless Harriet Smith struck me as spot-on and very skillful. Granted, I did not care for the “Harriet has an orgasm” moment, but I cannot deny that Goth’s acting was excellent in the scene. Bill Nighy gave a skillfully comic portrayal as the hypochondriac Mr. Woodhouse. Yes, there were moments when his usual tics (found in many of his performances) threatened to overwhelm his performance in this film. But I think he managed to more or less keep it together.

One performance that seemed to be garnering a great deal of acclaim came from Johnny Flynn, who portrayed Mr. Knightley. In fact, many are regarding him as the best Mr. Knightley ever seen in the movies or on television. I believe Flynn is a pretty competent actor who did an excellent job of conveying his character’s decency, maturity and burgeoning feelings for Emma. I was especially impressed by his performance in the Box Hill sequence in which Mr. Knightley chastised Emma for her rude comments at Miss Bates. But I do not regard him as the best screen version of Mr. Knightley I have seen. If I must be honest, I do not regard his interpretation of the character as even among the best. My problem with Flynn is that his Knightley struck me as a bit of a dull stick. And Knightley has always seemed like a man with a dry sense of humor, which is why I have always regarded him as one of my favorite Austen heroes. For me, Flynn’s Knightley simply came across as humorless to me. Flynn’s portrayal of the character almost reminded me of his portrayal of the William Dobbin character from the 2018 miniseries, “VANITY FAIR”. Perhaps “humorless” was the wrong word. There were scenes of Flynn’s Mr. Knightley reacting to the comedic actions of other characters and uttering the occasional witty phrase or two. But there was something about Flynn’s demeanor that made it seem he was trying too hard. I guess no amount of ass display, singing, laughing or writhing on the floor like a lovesick adolescent could make him more interesting to me.

Then we have the film’s leading lady, Anya Taylor-Joy. Unlike Flynn, the actress was given more opportunity to display her skills as a comic actress. And she more than lived up to the task. Honestly, I thought Taylor-Joy displayed excellent comic timing. Yet . . . I could never regard her as one of my favorite screen versions of Emma Woodhouse. She was too much of a bitch. Let me re-phrase that. I thought Taylor-Joy overdid it in her portrayal of Emma’s bitchiness and snobbery. To the point that her performance struck me as very brittle. Yes, Emma Woodhouse was a snob. But she could also be a warm and friendly young woman, capable of improving her character. I saw none of this in Taylor-Joy’s performance. If Catton’s screenplay demanded that Emma became aware of her flaws, the actress’ conveyance of those moments did not strike as a natural progression. Otherwise, she made a satisfying Emma Woodhouse. I also have one more criticism to add – Taylor-Joy did not have great screen chemistry with her leading man, Johnny Flynn. Their on-screen chemistry struck me as pedestrian at best, if I must be honest.

One would think that I disliked “EMMA”. Honestly, I did not. The movie managed to stick with Austen’s narrative. And although it did not change Austen’s story, it did feature some changes in some of the characteristics and character dynamics, thanks to director Autumn De Wilde and screenwriter Eleanor Catton. And some of these changes did not serve the movie well, thanks to De Wilde’s occasional bouts of ham-fisted direction. However, I still managed to enjoy the movie and the performances from a cast led by newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy. And if it had not been for the current health crisis that struck the world, I probably would have seen it again in theaters.

“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.