“POLDARK” Series Three (2017) Episodes One to Five

 

“POLDARK” SERIES THREE (2017) EPISODES ONE TO FIVE

Series Two of “POLDARK” ended on a dark note for me. The last six of its ten episodes featured the adaptation of Winston Graham’s 1953 novel, “Warleggan: A Novel of Cornwall, 1792-1793”. And if I must be brutally honest, I was not happy with it. Not one bit. Due to my low opinion of Series Two’s second half, I did not look forward to Series Three. 

The first five episodes of Series Three focused on showrunner Debbie Horsfield’s adaptation of Graham’s 1973 novel, “The Black Moon: A Novel of Cornwall, 1794-1795”. That is correct. Following the publication of “Warleggan”, Graham waited twenty years to continue his “Poldark” series. Many fans of Graham’s novels consider “The Black Moon” and the two novels that followed as the best in the series. I certainly did. I still do.

Episode One of Series Three picked up after Series Two’s last episode. The episode opened with a very pregnant Elizabeth Warleggan and her husband George Warleggan galloping across the countryside. When it looked as if Elizabeth’s horse might be in danger of running away, up popped a concerned Ross Poldark, the series’ protagonist, to come to her rescue. Only Elizabeth was not in the mood to offer her gratitude. She remained angry over the events of late Series Two. Ross’ feelings for Elizabeth and the fact that she might be carrying his child, has not disappeared. While the War of the First Coalition raged on, Ross arranged for the secret wedding of his close friend, Dr. Dwight Enys to heiress Caroline Penvenen. Before the newlyweds could enjoy their honeymoon, Elizabeth went into labor, forcing Dwight to deliver the new Warleggan offspring, Valentine Warleggan . . . on the night of a “black moon”. And Caroline’s Uncle Ray Penvenen passed away on the same after giving his blessing to the newly married couple.

The first five episodes of Series Three also introduced several new characters. One of them happened to be Morwenna Chynoweth, Elizabeth Warleggan’s younger cousin. She was hired by the Warleggans to serve as governess to Elizabeth’s older son, Geoffrey Charles Poldark. Demelza Carne Poldark’s two brothers, Sam and Drake Carne, were also introduced in Series Three. Following the death of the Carne family’s patriarch, Tom Carne, the pair decided to seek their fortunes in the parish where Ross and Demelza resided. Not long after their introductions, both Morwenna and Drake became acquainted with one another and fell in love . . . fully supported by the young Geoffrey Charles. Other newcomers included the Reverend Osborne Whitworth, a young vicar from an local elite family; Tholly Tregirls, an old roguish friend of Ross’ late father; Sir Francis Basset, a high-born landowner who wants to sponsor Ross as a political candidate; Lord Falmouth, a local aristocrat also interested in finding a political candidate to sponsor; and Hugh Armitage, Dwight Enys’ fellow prisoner of war, a Royal Navy officer and kinsman to Lord Falmouth. However, there seemed to be a missing character in Series Three – namely Ross’ old servant, Jud Paynter. Due to showrunner Debbie Horsfield and the BBC deciding that dear old Jud would be underused, they gave actor Phil Davis the boot.

I noticed that a few story arcs had emerged between Episodes One and Five:

*Dwight Enys’ capture by the French and Ross’ efforts to find and rescue him
*Sam Carne’s efforts to establish a Methodist congregation in the parish
*The growing romance between Morwenna Chynoweth and Drake Carne
*The effect upon Valentine Warleggan’s birth upon the Trenwith household
*George Warleggan’s efforts to acquire political office

I like Dwight Enys. A lot. One of the reasons why I like him so much is that he has been willing to accept responsibility for his actions – namely his affair with Keren Daniels back in Season One. But for some reason, I could not get excited over Ross’ efforts to both find and rescue him from a French military prison. One, I knew he would be eventually rescued. And two, it is possible that I was not that interested in watching Ross Poldark play “Action Jackson in France” – not in Episode Three or Episode Five. One major result from the rescue mission proved to be the death of Captain Henshawe, Ross’ right hand man. Episode Five made a big deal of his death. So did the media and a good number of fans. However, I just could not summon any sense of grief on my part. I barely remember the guy. I am sorry, but I did not. All I remember is Captain Henshawe’s funeral, which Horsfield had transformed into a major production scene, and gave Ross another opportunity to engage in more of his brooding man pain.

And unless I am mistaken, I do not recall Ross’ first trip to France (shown in Episode Two) being that eventful . . . or long. Nor did it help that during Episode Five, Horsfield’s transcript had shifted between scenes of the actual rescue mission in France, and a soirée hosted by Lord Falmouth that the Warleggans, Morwenna, Demelza and Caroline attended. Why Horsfield made this narrative decision, I have no idea. It merely increased my disinterest in the rescue mission. The only aspect of this story arc that I found interesting were Horsfield’s additional scenes featuring Dwight’s struggles as a prisoner of war. I thought these scenes effectively conveyed the urgency for his rescue. But as I had earlier stated, I found it difficult to experience any interest in the actual rescue sequence.

Horsfield made even more additions to this story arc by having both Caroline Penvenen (Dwight’s lady love) and Verity Blamey (Ross’ cousin) discover that their significant others were missing at sea in Episode Three. However, this failed to drum up my interest in this story arc. And why did Horsfield allow Caroline and Dwight to get married in Episode One? The pair did not become man and wife until one of the early chapters of “The Four Swan”. And their wedding was a large one that included George and Elizabeth Warleggan as guests. So . . . what was the point of this secret wedding ceremony? So that Ray Penvenen would have the opportunity to give his blessing to the union before he died? How maudlin.

Then there was Sam Carne’s religious fervor and his desire to establish a Methodist congregation in the local neighborhood. I sympathized with Sam, especially when he tried to find a building for his growing congregation. But I found his earlier efforts to enforce Methodist worshiping practices during an Anglican service struck me as slightly off putting. There were moments when I found myself supporting George Warleggan’s opposition to Sam’s efforts – for a different reason. On the other hand, I found it odd that Ross had originally expressed no interest in helping Sam. He seemed to regard his two brothers-in-law as nuisances and mere extended versions of his father-in-law, Tom Carne. I should not have been surprised by Demelza’s willingness to help one of her younger brothers. But I was. For in Graham’s 1973 novel, she barely made any effort to help Sam find a building for his new congregation. I can only assume this was one of Horsfield’s excuses to push Demelza’s character to the forefront of this adaptation.

As for the younger Carne brother, Drake, an interesting story emerged, featuring his romance with Elizabeth Warleggan’s cousin, Morwenna Chynoweth. From a cold eye, Drake and Morwenna’s relationship seemed to be a remake of William Shakespeare’s play, “ROMEO AND JULIET”. None of the other major characters seemed to be interested in supporting this relationship, due to the ever lasting feud between Ross and George. Ross’ interest in Drake’s feelings for Morwenna seemed to be as non-existent as his interest in helping Sam. At least not until after Drake had accompanied him on the rescue trip to France in Episode Five. Apparently, poor Drake had to prove his manhood in order to attract Ross’ sympathy. George simply wanted to use Morwenna to further his own ambitions. Eager to find an elite sponsor to help him kick start a political career, George pushed Morwenna forward as a possible bride to a widowed vicar named the Reverend Osborne Whitworth. As his wife, Elizabeth naturally was willing to help him in his efforts.

Morwenna and Drake also received no support from Aunt Agatha Poldark and Demelza. Both had pointed out that marriage would difficult or near impossible between two people from different classes. I had expected this from an old snob like Aunt Agatha. Demelza’s opposition to the romance – at least according to Horsfield – proved to be mind-boggling and a little false to me. Especially since she had married a man outside of her class and supported another mixed marriage involving class – Dwight and Caroline. Drake and Morwenna’s only support came from Elizabeth and Francis’ son, Geoffrey Charles. However, the latter seemed more focused on Morwenna’s feelings, instead of Drake’s. Considering that Geoffrey Charles was only nine to ten years old at the time, the young couple’s desire to be together struck me as doomed. It did not surprise me that Morwenna eventually caved in and decided to end her romance with Drake. Her decision to end the romance led him to join Ross’ rescue expedition to France.

One of the aspects of Debbie Horsfield’s adaptation of “Warleggan” that I had despised so much was her handling of the night Ross and Elizabeth conceived their only son, Valentine Warleggan. I still despise it because Horsfield had transformed an act of rape on Ross’ part to barely disguised consented sex in order to save his reputation with the series’ viewers. In doing so, Horsfield managed to rob some of the tragic aspects of Elizabeth’s story – aspects filled with a gender theme. Thanks to Ross’ male ego and rage, Elizabeth found herself trapped in a situation in which she was forced to pass off his son as George’s. At least in the novel. In Horsfield’s version, Elizabeth is not really a victim of Ross’ ego, but merely of her own lust. In other words, Elizabeth brought upon this situation regarding Valentine upon herself. Horsfield managed to literally rob the gender aspect of Graham’s story arc for Elizabeth . . . for the sake of the leading man’s reputation. That a woman would write such a thing struck me as rather disgusting. But what Horsfield did to Elizabeth in regard to the latter’s relationship with Valentine lowered my opinion of the show runner even further. For reasons I cannot explain, Horsfield thought it would be more dramatic if Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark Warleggan was portrayed as a cold parent, who resented her newly born son for forcing her to constantly lie to her husband George about his paternity. Elizabeth Warleggan . . . a cold parent? What a joke! I certainly do not recall her being a cold parent to either of her sons – not in the novels or in the 1975-77 series. More on this character arc later.

Horsfield also changed Ross’ reaction to Valentine’s birth. Following his rape of Elizabeth and Valentine’s birth in the novel, Ross went out of his way to ignore his second son. He wanted nothing to do with Valentine. Yet, Horsfield had Ross galloping after a pregnant Elizabeth in some effort to save her and make up for ignoring her following the night of Valentine’s conception. What on earth? On the night of Valentine’s birth – the night of the “black moon” – Ross spent most of his time silently brooding not far from Trenwith like some emotionally immature schoolboy. Aunt Agatha’s gloom-filled declaration that young Valentine was cursed, due to being born on the night of a “black moon” added what I believe was one ridiculous element to this story arc. There was another aspect of Ross’ character arc that I disliked and it had a lot to do with his relationship with Francis and Elizabeth’s son, Geoffrey Charles. In “The Black Moon”, young Geoffrey Charles had developed a hero worship of Drake Carne, while Morwenna Chynoweth was serving as his governess. This led him to be the sole supporter of the pair’s romance. However, Horsfield seemed to believe it was necessary to have Geoffrey Charles develop a hero worship of Ross . . . to the point that his attitude toward his stepfather reeked with as much snobbery as Ross and Aunt Agatha’s. And Geoffrey Charles’ relationship with Drake, which remained relevant even in the series’ later novels, seemed to have diminished a bit. Why? Why did Horsfield do this? To make Ross’ role in this adaptation of “The Black Moon” more relevant? To further ease the taint of rapist that clouds his character? Who knows.

Following the birth of his “son”, George Warleggan took the opportunity to kick start his political ambitions. I never understood why Graham had George follow this path. The character was an extremely wealthy man and the owner (or part-owner) of one of the most powerful banks in Cornwall. If anything, George has always struck me as the type who would financially sponsor a politician to serve his needs in Parliament. Instead, George attempted to court the attention of the likes of Lord Falmouth and Sir Francis Basset to finance his candidacy in Parliament. He had already managed to become a magistrate after Ross had rejected the position. George’s new role as a magistrate featured him handing down judgments – including one in which he dismissed rape charges against a scion of a high-born family. When I viewed this scene, I could only shake my head in a mixture of disgust and disbelief. One, I believe this . . . rape trial was never in “The Black Moon”. And two, it struck me as nothing more than a hypocritical attempt by Horsfield to erase the rape or rape-fantasy taint of Ross’ actions against Elizabeth in Series Two. George’s role as a magistrate also struck me as odd, considering that he seemed to be the lead magistrate during the Truro assize. Despite being the youngest . . . and least experienced man on the bench.

After becoming a magistrate, George eventually set his sights upon becoming a Member of Parliament (M.P.). His efforts to do so led to his attempt to push his cousin-in-law into a marriage with the Reverend Whitworth, who has blood connections to the Godolphin family. However, his and Elizabeth’s efforts at matchmaking hit a roadblock, thanks to Morwenna’s romance with Drake Carne and her refusal to regard the widowed vicar as a future husband. Instead, George turns to Lord Falmouth as a possible sponsor and manages to secure invitations for himself, Elizabeth and Morwenna at the peer’s soirée in Episode Five. Needless to say, between George’s clumsy attempts at character assassination of Ross and the news of the latter’s rescue of Dwight and other prisoners of war, his efforts to impress Lord Falmouth failed. Especially since one of those prisoners happened to be one Hugh Armitage, a relative of the peer. Horsfield’s portrayal of George’s embarrassment at Lord Falmouth’s soirée seemed rather heavy-handed to me. And I found it odd that Falmouth was introduced in the story by this point. He was first introduced in “The Four Swans: A Novel of Cornwall, 1796-1797” . . . and Horsfield has yet to finish her adaptation of “The Black Moon”. Very confusing.

Episode Four also featured a ridiculous sequence in which Caroline Penvenen tried to raise money to purchase food for locals starving from a drought and failed crops. In the novel, George and other local landowners donated money and the food was purchased. In this version, George did donate money to the fund. And then . . . oh God, I cannot believe I am writing this. Ross used the money to purchase goods that had to be smuggled on shore. This led to a contrived scenario in which George organized a troop of militia to catch and arrest Ross and the smugglers for free trading. Needless to say, George’s plans failed and he ended up looking like a fool. And I ended up shaking my head in disbelief in this heavy-handed and puerile attempt by Horsfield to villify George even further. Ever since Series Three began, Horsfield seemed hellbent upon transforming George into a one-note moustache-twirling villain. The complex man from Series One and Two seemed seemed to have disappeared. And poor Jack Farthing sometimes looks as if he is drowning in Horsfield’s gradual one-note portrayal of his character.

Some of the characters in the series seemed to have change for the worst in Series Three. Well, in Ross’ case, he had regressed to the Gary Stu hero from Series One and early Series Two. Well . . . not completely. His refusal to serve as a local magistrate (giving George the opportunity to fulfill the position) and unwillingness to help his brothers-in-law may have saved him from being a complete Gary Stu. And yet, I thought that Horsfield had focused a bit too much on Ross’ French adventures – especially in Episode Three. Most people would wonder why I found this unsatisfying. One, I found the portrayal of his first trip to France rather laughable. I do not know. Perhaps I see this regression as some effort by Horsfield to make him heroic and ideal in the viewers’ eyes, following his transgression against Elizabeth in Series Two.

Ross may not have completely regressed into a Gary Stu. But I thought Demelza Poldark had become the epitome of a Mary Sue during these first five episodes of Series Three. Before Series Three had aired in Britain, Horsfield had complained about the limited number of scenes featuring the leading lady in Graham’s 1973 novel. However, I suspect that Horsfield may have overdone it a bit . . . to the point of Demelza emerging as a world-class Mary Sue. The show runner had allowed Demelza become more involved in helping her brother Sam establish a Methodist church than she was in the novel. Instead of Caroline collecting funds to purchase food for the starving locals, Horsfield had Demelza joining her in this endeavor. Demelza also recruited the help of Caroline, her brothers and Sam’s Methodist congregation to divert George and the militia from Ross’ smuggling operation for the starving locals. I also noticed that Demelza seemed rather controlling in these episodes – especially toward Ross. I suppose this was Horsfield’s idea of Demelza paying back Ross for that night with Elizabeth. In fact, Demelza’s whole demeanor in these first five episodes seemed to be that of an early 21st century female, instead of a late 18th century wife and mother. Not only has Demelza become a Mary Sue, but also an anachronism.

For reasons that still astound me, Horsfield had added scenes of Demelza trying to convince Morwenna to end her romance with Drake. I found this mind boggling for two reasons. One, Demelza and Morwenna did not interact with each other until the second half of the 1977 novel, “The Angry Tide”. And two, Horsfield’s efforts to paint Demelza with as much sympathy as possible in these scenes did not work for me. Considering that Morwenna was Elizabeth’s cousin and Demelza remained hostile toward her former cousin-in-law, the series’ leading lady came off as hypocritical to me. Apparently, she believed there was nothing wrong with her, a former miner’s daughter and kitchen maid, to marry a landowner. It was okay for an heiress like Caroline Penvenen to marry an impoverished doctor from a working-class family. But apparently, her working-class brother marrying a young woman from an impoverished, yet upper-class family was a bad idea. If Demelza had simply used the current feud between Ross and George as a reason, I could understand. But she never did. According to Horsfield, Demelza believed Morwenna was too fragile to withstand a marriage to someone from Drake’s class. Many viewers bought this argument. I did not. Demelza did not know Morwenna well enough to make this assumption.

One of the aspects of Horsfield’s adaptation of “The Black Moon” that I found puzzling was her decision to switch back and forth between scenes of the rescue mission in France and Lord Falmouth’s soirée. What was suppose to be the connection between the two scenes? The only connection I could summon was that one of the prisoners rescued by Ross was Lord Falmouth’s kinsman, Lieutenant Hugh Armitage. And George learned about this piece of bad news (for him) from Elizabeth during the soirée. But George, Elizabeth and Morwenna were not the only guests at the soirée. Demelza and Caroline also attended. And from the moment when Demelza first laid eyes upon Elizabeth and George, she made a snide comment, criticizing the couple for attending a party during wartime. I do not believe Demelza could ever be more hypocritical than she was at that moment. Especially since she was also attending the soirée . . . during wartime. But Horsfield needed another moment to make George look bad and Demelza to seem more ideal. What is even worse is that many fans lapped up this shit.

WHAT IN THE HELL DID DEBBIE HORSFIELD DO TO THE CHARACTER OF ELIZABETH WARLEGGAN? Why did Horsfield inflict these extreme changes upon the character? Why? What was the point of portraying Elizabeth in this ugly manner? It was bad enough that Horsfield refused to allow Elizabeth to remain angry at Ross for the rape. Oh I forgot. We are supposed to believe that he did not rape her, despite the fact that he had literally forced himself on her,until the last moment. Instead, Elizabeth is angry at Ross for abandoning her, following that night on May 9, 1793. And here is where I shake my head in disbelief at Horsfield’s failure to remember that this story is set in the late 18th century and not the 20th or 21st centuries. I have already complained about Horsfield portraying Elizabeth as an indifferent and cold parent to her second son. Why did the show runner do this? Someone had tried to explain that Elizabeth was suffering from postnatal depression. For how long? She had remained indifferent to Valentine months after his birth – even when he was diagnosed with rickets. Are we supposed to believe that this negative portrayal of Elizabeth was supposed to make her interesting? I did not find it interesting. I found this portrayal heavy-handed and infantile. Right now, I find myself doubting Debbie Horsfield’s talent as a writer.

I am not stating that Elizabeth was an ideal or perfect person. She was not. Elizabeth was definitely guilty of supporting George’s efforts to convince Morwenna to marry the odious Reverend Osborne Whitworth. In the novel, Elizabeth genuinely thought Whitworth would be a fine match for Morwenna – being unaware of the man’s true nature. She also believed that an arranged marriage for Morwenna would work as well as her marriage of convenience to George had worked for her. And to be honest, I believe that Elizabeth did not want to get into a conflict with George, especially since they had only been married for two years. But this production seemed to hint that Elizabeth’s efforts to play matchmaker for Morwenna and Whitworth stemmed from her resentment and jealousy toward Geoffrey Charles’ regard for her young cousin. Which was never the case in the novel.

But there was one change to Elizabeth’s character that truly irritated me. Horsfield had transformed Elizabeth into an addict who relied upon laudanum and wine to help her endure her marriage to George. Despite her occasional bouts of insecurity, Elizabeth never had to resort to using drugs and alcohol to endure marriage to George or her life in general. Two, Elizabeth may have been insecure at times, but I have always regarded her as a strong-willed person, despite her “fragile” appearance. Three, she never had to “endure” being married to George. Elizabeth realized that George was no picnic and had his flaws in the novel. But she found her second marriage more satisfying than she did being married to Francis. Unfortunately, Debbie Horsfield seemed incapable of understanding this. And apparently, so did many fans. Perhaps Horsfield and the fans could not endure any character preferring marriage to George over Francis . . . or any Poldark.

And I cannot help but wonder if was this addiction story line Horsfield’s way of kowtowing to those fans who wanted Elizabeth punished for marrying the wealthy George Warleggan in the first place? Was it really a crime to marry someone for money . . . especially when that person is aware that he or she has been chosen for their wealth? In the late 18th century, when such a marriage was common? Once more, Horsfield failed to understand that the “POLDARK” series was set in the Georgian Era and not in modern times? Ross did not marry Demelza for love. I believe he had married her as some middle-finger gesture to his upper-class neighbors, following Jim Carter’s conviction for poaching. And he would have never married her back in Series One if Demelza had not seduced him in the first place. Demelza’s reason for her act of seduction had more to do with giving Ross a reason to keep her at Nampara (as a kitchen maid and mistress) and not send her back to the home of her abusive father. Yet, neither Ross or Demelza has ever been condemned for their actions by Winston Graham, the producers from the 1970s series, Debbie Horsfield or the saga’s fans. Personally, I found Elizabeth’s reason to marry George a lot more practically and easier to understand than Ross’ reason for marrying Demelza.

Most of the performances in these first five episodes of Series Three seemed to be solid. I noticed that Robin Ellis made another appearance as the Reverend Doctor Halse in a scene in which he expressed regret at Ray Penvenen’s death. I like Ellis, but I find myself wondering over his continued appearances in this series, considering that Halse is no longer relevant in the saga, by this point. Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson were competent as usual. But there were moments when I found Tomlinson’s portrayal of Demelza rather anachronistic. I do not know whether to blame the actress or Horsfield’s writing. I read somewhere that the BBC and Horsfield had fired Phil Davis, who had portrayed Jud Paynter, because they felt that his character was no longer relevant. I found this assumption rather odd, considering that Jud played a major role in a plot development in “The Four Swans”. Ellise Chappell, Harry Richardson, Harry Marcus, Josh Whitehouse, Tom York and especially veteran James Wilby all made solid debuts in the series. But I found Christian Brassington’s debut as the slimy Reverend Osborne Whitworth rather fascinating. I understood he gained a few pounds for the role. I hope he will be able to lose those pounds, once the series ends. However, I have to give special kudos to Jack Farthing and Heida Reed for their portrayals of George and Elizabeth Warleggan. It must have been difficult for both actors to rise above the shitty material dumped into their laps by Horsfield. They may have struggled at times, but in the end, I believe they may have risen above it.

You know, it is one thing to make occasional changes, while adapting a novel, play, etc. for a movie or television production. With her adaptation of “The Black Moon”, Debbie Horsfield no longer seemed to be making the occasional changes. She seemed to be rewriting Winston Graham’s 1973 novel into this barely recognizable tale reeking with ham-fisted melodrama. And I find myself wondering know how long I can put up with this crap.

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Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1930s

Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1930s:

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1930s

1. “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” (1984) – In this exciting second installment of the Indiana Jones franchise, the intrepid archaeologist is asked by desperate villagers in Northern India to find a mystical stolen stone and rescue their children from a Thuggee cult practicing child slavery. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the movie starred Harrison Ford as Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones.

2. “The Sting” (1973) – Paul Newman and Robert Redford starred in this excellent Oscar winning movie about a young drifter who teams up with a master of the big con to get revenge against the gangster who had his partner murdered. George Roy Hill directed.

3. “Death on the Nile” (1978) – Peter Ustinov made his first appearance as Hercule Poirot in this superb adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1937 novel about the murder of an Anglo-American heiress during a cruise on the Nile. John Guillermin directed.

4. “Chinatown” (1974) – Roman Polanski directed this outstanding Oscar nominated film about a Los Angeles private detective hired to expose an adulterer, who finds himself caught up in a web of deceit, corruption and murder. Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway starred.

5. “Gosford Park” (2001) – Robert Altman directed this Oscar nominated film about a murder that occurs at shooting party in 1932 England. The all-star cast includes Helen Mirren, Kelly MacDonald, Clive Owen and Maggie Smith.

6. “Evil Under the Sun” (1982) – Once again, Peter Ustinov portrayed Hercule Poirot in this entertaining adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1941 novel about the murder of a stage actress at an exclusive island resort. Guy Hamilton directed.

7. “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” (2000) – Ethan and Joel Coen directed this very entertaining tale about three escaped convicts who search for a hidden treasure, while evading the law in Depression era Mississippi. George Clooney, John Tuturro and Tim Blake Nelson starred.

8. “Murder on the Orient Express” (1974) – Albert Finney starred as Hercule Poirot in this stylish adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel about the Belgian detective’s investigation into the death of a mysterious American aboard the famed Orient Express. Sidney Lumet directed.

9. “Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981) – Harrison Ford made his first appearance as Dr. “Indiana” Jones in this classic movie, as he races against time to find the iconic Ark of the Covenant that contains the Ten Commandments before the Nazis do in 1936 Egypt. Steven Spielberg directed.

“Seabiscuit” (2003) – Gary Ross directed this excellent adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand’s 2001 book about the famed race horse from the late 1930s. Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper and Elizabeth Banks starred.

Honorable Mention: “Road to Perdition” (2002) – Tom Hanks, Tyler Hoechlin and Paul Newman starred in this first-rate adaptation of Max Collins’ 1998 graphic comic about a Depression era hitman who is forced to hit the road with his older son after the latter witnesses a murder. Sam Mendes directed.

“THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” (2006) Review

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“THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” (2006) Review

I have never read Agatha Christie’s 1931 novel, “The Sittaford Mystery”. And I have read a lot of her novels. But since the novel did not feature Hercule Poirot, Miss Jane Marple, or Tommy and Tuppence Beresford; I never took the trouble to read it. Well, that is not fair. I can think of at least two or three Christie novels that did not feature any of these sleuths that I have read. But I have never read “The Sittaford Mystery”.

So, imagine my surprise when I discovered that the ITV channel had aired an adaptation of the novel in which Geraldine McEwan appeared as Jane Marple. Okay. This is not the first time this has happened, considering that Christie did not write that many Miss Marple novels. “THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” revolved around the murder of a politician who is viewed as a potential Prime Minister in the 1950s. The story begins in the 1920s Egypt, where Clive Trevelyan and a few companions stumble across an important archaeological discovery. Then the story jumps nearly thirty years later when Trevelyan, now a politician, returns to his home Sittaford House in Dartmoor with his aide John Enderby, while Parliament decides on whether he will become Britain’s new Prime Minister, following the retirement of Sir Winston Churchill. Due to his friendship with the novelist Raymond West, Trevelyan finds himself forced to accept the latter’s elderly aunt, Miss Jane Marple, as a house guest.

Much to Miss Marple and Enderby’s surprise, Treveylan decides to chance the snowy weather outside and stay at a local hotel six miles away. The hotel include guests who seemed to be very familiar with Treveylan or familiar with an escapee from the local Dartmoore prison. One of the guests conduct a séance using a Ouiji board, which predicts Treveylan’s death. Hours later, the politician is found stabbed to death in his room. With Miss Marple stuck at Sittaford House (temporarily); Enderby; a young journalist named Charles Burnaby; and Emily Trefusis, the fiancee of Treveylan’s wastrel ward James Pearson; set out to find the murderer. However, it is not long before the trio find themselves seeking Miss Marple’s help.

“THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” strikes me as a rather confusing tale. I have a deep suspicion that in his effort to somewhat change the plot from Christie’s original novel, screenwriter Stephen Churchett ended up creating a very convoluted story . . . right up to the last reel. I have seen this movie twice and for the likes of me, I still have no real idea of what was going on . . . aside from the first fifteen minutes and the movie’s denouement. I was aware that the hotel featured guests that had connections with or knew Treveylan, including a former lover, her wallflower daughter, a middle-aged woman who seemed to be a fan of Treveylan, and an American businessman and his aide.

Churchett created a script filled with so many red herrings – unnecessary, as far as I am concerned – that I simply gave up in trying to guess the murderer’s identity and waited for Miss Marple to expose him or her. Upon my first viewing. Upon my second viewing, I tried to examine the plot for any hints or clues that would lead to the killer’s identity. Unfortunately, that did not happen until at least fifteen minutes before Miss Marple revealed the killer. I was also disappointed with how the movie resolved the romantic entanglements of Emily Trefusis, Charles Burnaby, James Pearson and a fourth character. I found it so contrived, for it came out of left field with no set up or hint whatsoever. What I found even more unconvincing was the last shot of the murderer staring at the camera with an evil grin. This struck me as an idiotic attempt by director Paul Unwin to channel or copy Alfred Hitchcock’s last shot of Anthony Perkins in the 1960 movie, “PYSCHO”. I found that moment so ridiculous.

I will give kudos to Rob Harris, the movie’s production designer. I thought he did a competent job in creating the movie’s setting – a snowbound English community in the early-to-mid 1950s. But do to the majority of the film being limited to either Treveylan’s home and the hotel, Harris really did not have much to work with. Frances Tempest certainly did with her costume designs. I found nothing outstanding about them. But I must admit that I found them rather attractive, especially the costumes that actress Zoe Telford wore. On the other hand, I found Nicholas D. Knowland’s cinematography rather odd . . . and not in a positive way. I did not like his photography, if I must be brutally honest. His unnecessary close-ups and odd angles struck me as an amateurish attempt by him and Unwin to transform “THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” into an independent film or Hammer-style horror flick.

The performances in “THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” proved to be a mixed bag. I have usually been a fan of Geraldine McEwan’s portrayal of Miss Jane Marple. But I feel that she took the whole “verbose elderly lady” act a bit too far . . . especially in her scenes with Timothy Dalton during the first fifteen to twenty minutes. If I must be honest, most of the performances in the film seemed to be either over-the-top or close to being over-the-top. This was especially the case for Michael Brandon, Zoe Telford, Laurence Fox and Patricia Hodge. James Murray managed to refrain himself during most of the film. But even he managed to get into the act during the movie’s last fifteen minutes or so. Carey Mulligan’s performance seemed competent. She did not blow my mind, but at least she did not annoy me. Robert Hardy made a cameo appearance as Prime Minister Winston Churchill. This marked the eighth or ninth time the actor portrayed the politician and honestly, I could see this appearance was nothing more than a walk in the park for him. There were only four performances I truly enjoyed. One came from Mel Smith, who gave a very competent performance as Treveylan’s right-hand man, John Enderby. I could say the same about Rita Tushingham, who gave a nuanced performance as a mysterious woman with knowledge of an ugly part in Treveylan’s past. The role proved to be his last, for he passed away not long after the film’s production. James Wilby was satisfyingly subtle as the town’s local hotel owner, who had a secret to maintain. For me, the best performance came from Timothy Dalton, who was dazzling at the story’s main victim, Clive Trevelyan. Considering that he was portraying a somewhat theatrical character, it is amazing that he managed to keep his performance under control, and struck a tight balance between theatricality and subtlety.

It is obvious to anyone reading this review that I did not like “THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY”. I could complain about the changes made to Agatha Christie’s novel. But I have never read it, so I saw no point in making any comparisons. But I still cared very little for the movie. I found the direction and photography rather amateurish. And aside from a few first-rate performances, I was not that impressed by the majority of the cast’s acting – including, unfortunately, Geraldine McEwan’s.

“THIRD GIRL” (2008) Review

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“THIRD GIRL” (2008) Review

Looking back on her career, I suspect that Agatha Christie was not at the top of her game as a novelist during the last decade-and-a-half of her life. There were a handful of novels during the period of 1960-1976 that I found unique. However, her 1966 novel, “Third Girl” was not one of them.

I take that back. I did find “Third Girl” rather unique . . . to a certain extent. I thought Christie did a pretty good job in re-capturing the Swinging Sixties atmosphere in her novel. Unfortunately, her streak of conservatism and a too complex plot made it difficult for me to truly savor this story. Forty-two years after the novel’s initial release, ITV network adapted the novel as a television movie for “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT”. Since the series is usually set in 1930s, screenwriter Peter Flannery changed the novel’s mid-1960s setting in accordance with the rest of the series. I was slightly disappointed by this change in setting, because I was slightly impressed by Christie’s portrayal of mid-Sixties London. But . . . I pushed my aside my disappointment and decided to see how Flannery and director Dan Reed adapted Christie’s story.

“THIRD GIRL” begins with a slightly high-strung heiress seeking Belgian-born detective Hercule Poirot’s help in regard to a murder she believes she may have committed. However, she takes one look at Poirot and decides he may be too old to help her before leaving. Since his friend, novelist Ariadne Oliver, had been the one to recommend him to the girl, Poirot seeks information on the latter’s identity from the novelist. According to Mrs. Oliver, the name of Poirot’s visitor is Norma Restarick, who happens to be the “third girl” in a trio of young women sharing an apartment (flat). Mrs. Oliver happens to be a neighbor and met all three roommates at a party in the building. Norma’s other two roommates are Claudia Reece-Holland, who is the secretary to Norma’s father, Andrew Restarick; and Frances Cary, an actress and acquaintance of Norma’s love interest, artist David Baker. Both Poirot and Mrs. Oliver discover that Norma believes she had murdered her former nanny, Lavinia Seagram, who had also lived in the building. Poirot also discovers a good deal about Norma’s family background. Her estranged father, Andrew, had abandoned his family for South Africa, twenty years ago; and his now estranged with his daughter. Norma also has an elderly great-uncle, Sir Roderick Horsfield, who is romancing his secretary and is near blind. Sir Roderick is also staying at the family estate on Norma’s largess. Poirot begins to suspect that Norma might be innocent of Lavinia Seagram’s murder. More importantly, she might be the target of the real murderer’s machinations.

With the change in the story’s setting and the various changes made to Christie’s story, I was prepared to dislike “THIRD GIRL”. In fact, I had failed to warm up to the movie when I first saw it. One, I did not care for the change in the story’s setting from the mid-1960s to the late 1930s. Two, Flannery and director Dan Reed changed the number of murderers in the story. And I did not care for that. I thought this latest change unnecessarily complicated the story. Three, Reed and Flannery decreased the number of murder victims and gave the Norma Restarick character a new love interest. I did not like that. Four, I noticed that drugs DID NOT play a role in Norma’s victimization. And five, I also noticed that Flannery had changed the name of the murder victim. Then I re-read Christie’s novel . . . and realized that Reed and Flannery had actually improved the story. My latest reading of the novel made me realize that Christie’s plot was even more unnecessarily complicated that Flannery’s screenplay. I also realized that once again, Christie had fallen back on her conservative outlook by giving Norma a very safe and conformist love interest . . . one who did not really pay a major role in the story. I realized that I did not mind the changes regarding the victim(s), the lack of drugs and Norma’s love interest. However, I still wish that “THIRD GIRL” had been set in the 1960s.

Despite my disappointment in the movie’s setting, I actually managed to enjoy “THIRD GIRL” during my latest viewing. I do not consider it to be one of the best movie adaptations from the series. But it struck me as a hell of a lot better than the novel. And despite the movie being set in the 1930s, I must admit to being impressed by Jeff Tessler’s production designs, which did a pretty good job in re-creating the late 1930s. I also have to say the same about Andrea Galer’s tasteful costume designs, along with Miranda Cull and Nic Pallace’s art designs. And cinematographer Paul Bond beautifully captured their work in glorious color photography. I have only two quibbles . . . namely the makeup created by Alison Elliott and her team, and the hairstyles designed for cast members Clemency Burton-Hill, Matilda Sturridge and Tom Mison. I have only word to describe them . . . UGH!

I will give credit to Reed’s direction for the excellent performances featured in “THIRD GIRL”. David Suchet as Hercule Poirot was excellent, as usual. I can also say the same for Zoë Wanamaker’s entertaining portrayal of the colorful novelist Ariadne Oliver. More importantly, both Suchet and Wanamaker created the same electrifying screen chemistry that was obvious in their previous work together. Jemima Rooper gave an emotional and satifying performance as the seemingly neurotic Norma Restarick, without resorting to histronics worthy of an amateur. I was also impressed by James Wilby’s cool and subtle portrayal of Norma’s estranged father, Andrew Restarick. And Peter Bowles, whom I first remembered from the television series “TO THE MANOR BORN”, gave the most entertaining performance as Norma’s blunt and outgoing great-uncle, Sir Roderick Horsfield. The movie also featured fine performances from the likes Clemency Burton-Hill, Matilda Sturridge, Tom Mison, Lucy Liemann and John Warnaby.

“THIRD GIRL” is not perfect. Nor do I consider it to be one of the better Poirot adaptations I have seen. However, my initial impression of the movie has changed following two more viewings. One, it is a handsome-looking production. It also featured excellent performances from a cast led by David Suchet as Hercule Poirot. More importantly, after a recent reading of Christie’s 1966 novel, I now realize that the changes featured in director Dan Reed and Peter Flannery’s adaptation, actually improved Christie’s story.

Favorite Films Set in the 1900s

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Below is a list of my favorite movies (so far) that are set in the 1900s decade:

 

FAVORITE FILMS SET IN THE 1900s

1 - Howards End

1. “Howard’s End” (1992) – Ismail Merchant and James Ivory created this exquisite adaptation of E.M. Forster’s 1910 novel. The movie starred Oscar winner Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins, Helena Bonham-Carter, Samuel West and Oscar nominee Vanessa Redgrave.

 

2 - The Assassination Bureau

2. “The Assassination Bureau” (1969) – Oliver Reed, Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas starred in this delicious adaptation of Jack London’s unfinished novel about a woman journalist who uncovers an organization for professional assassins. Basil Dearden directed.

 

3 - A Room With a View

3. “A Room With a View” (1985-86) – Ismail Merchant and James Ivory created this excellent adaptation of E.M. Forster’s 1908 novel. The movie starred Helena Bonham-Carter, Julian Sands, Daniel Day-Lewis and Oscar nominees Maggie Smith and Denholm Elliot.

 

4 - Gigi

4. “Gigi” (1958) – Oscar winner Vincente Minelli directed this superb adaptation of Collette’s 1944 novella about a young Parisian girl being groomed to become a courtesan. Leslie Caron and Louis Jordan starred.

 

5 - The Illusionist

5. “The Illusionist” (2006) – Neil Burger directed this first-rate adaptation of Steven Millhauser’s short story, “Eisenheim the Illusionist”. The movie starred Edward Norton, Jessica Biel, Paul Giamatti and Rufus Sewell.

 

6 - The Great Race

6. “The Great Race” (1965) – Blake Edwards directed this hilarious comedy about a long-distance road race between two rival daredevils. The movie starred Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood.

 

7 - Flame Over India aka North West Frontier

7. “Flame Over India aka North West Frontier” (1959) – Kenneth More and Lauren Bacall starred in this Imperial adventure about a British Army officer who serves as escort to a young Hindu prince being targeted by Muslim rebels. J. Lee Thompson directed.

 

8 - Meet Me in St. Louis

8. “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944) – Judy Garland starred in this very entertaining adaptation of Sally Benson’s short stories about a St. Louis family around the time of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition World’s Fair in 1904. Vincente Minelli directed.

 

9 - The Golden Bowl

9. “The Golden Bowl” (2000) – Ismail Merchant and James Ivory created this interesting adaptation of Henry James’ 1904 novel about an adulterous affair in Edwardian England. The movie starred Uma Thurman, Nick Nolte, Kate Beckinsale and Jeremy Northam.

 

10 - North to Alaska

10. “North to Alaska” (1960) – John Wayne, Stewart Granger and Capucine starred in this surprisingly fun Western about how a mail-to-order bride nearly came between two partners during the Nome Gold Rush. Henry Hathaway directed.

“GOSFORD PARK” (2001) Review

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“GOSFORD PARK” (2001) Review

In 1999, actor Bob Balaban had approached director Robert Altman with the idea of developing a film together. Altman suggested a whodunit set at an English country estate. The two approached actor/writer Julian Fellowes if he could take their concept and write a screenplay. Their collective efforts resulted in the 2001 comedy-drama, “GOSFORD PARK”.

In the movie, a group of wealthy Britons, a British actor/entertainer, an American movie producer and their servants gather at Gosford Park, the country estate of a wealthy industrialist named Sir William McCordle, for a shooting party over the weekend. Sir William is not a popular man. His wife and most of his in-laws despise him. And most of his servants (aside from one or two) dislike him. When Sir William is found murdered inside his study during the second night of the weekend, there seemed to be a list of suspects who have a very good reason to kill him:

*Lady Sylvia McCordle – Sir William’s bitchy wife, who despises him and had married Sir William for his money

*Commander Anthony Meredith – One of Sir William’s brothers-in-law, who is desperate for the industrialist’s financial backing in a venture regarding shoes for Sudanese soldiers

*Raymond, Lord Stockbridge – Sir William’s snobbish brother-in-law, whose wife might be having an affair with him

*Lady Lavinia Meredith – Sir William’s younger sister-in-law and devoted wife to Commander Meredith

*Mrs. Croft – Gosford Park’s head cook and former employee at one of Sir William’s factories, who despised him

*Mrs. Wilson – Gosford Park’s housekeeper, Mrs. Croft younger sister and another former employee of one of Sir William’s factories

*Lord Rupert Standish – a penniless aristocrat who wants to overcome Sir William’s opposition and marry his only child, Isobel McCordle

*Constance, Countess of Trentham – Sir William’s aunt-in-law, who is dependent upon a regular allowance from him

The weekend party include other guests and servants, such as:

*Mary Maceachran – Lady Trentham’s lady maid

*Elsie – Head housemaid whom Mary befriended, and who was definitely having an affair with Sir William

*Ivor Novello – Famous actor/singer and Sir William’s cousin

*Morris Weissman – Producer from Fox Studios

*Henry Denton – Weissman’s valet, who is actually a Hollywood minor actor studying for an upcoming role

*Robert Parks – Lord Stockbridge’s new valet

*Jennings – Major domo of Gosford Park, who has a secret to hide

*Honorable Freddie Nesbitt – A local impoverished aristocrat who had earlier seduced Isobel. At the shooting party, he tries to blackmail her into convincing Sir William to give him a job

*Mabel Nesbitt – The daughter of a self-made glove manufacturer whom Freddie married for her money, before spending the latter.

*Louisa, Lady Stockbridge – Sir William’s other sister-in-law, with whom he might have had an affair

*Probert – Sir William’s personal valet and one of the few who actually grieved him.

Needless to say, the list of characters is a long one. Following Sir William’s murder, the local police in the form of one Inspector Thompson and Constable Dexter arrive to solve the murder. Being incompetent and a complete snob, Inspector Thompson seemed to regard the higher class guests as worthy suspects for the murder of Sir William. Constable Dexter, on the other hand, seemed more interested in Jennings’ World War I past and the clues at hand. In fact, Dexter managed to ascertain that Sir William had been poisoned by one person, before another drove an ax into his back. But it was lady’s maid Mary Maceachran who managed to figure out the culprits in the end.

I cannot deny that after ten years or so, “GOSFORD PARK” remains a big favorite of mine. When the movie first reached the movie screens in December 2001, many admitted to enjoying the film, but predicted that it would age with time. There are perhaps some critics who believe this has actually happened. But I do not agree. Considering the increasingly bleak social landscape of today, I believe that the theme behind “GOSFORD PARK” has remained relevant as ever. Despite my love for the film, would I consider it perfect? Honestly? No. Other critics may be able to find more than two flaws in the film. On the other hand, I was able to find two that bothered me.

The pacing for most of “GOSFORD PARK” seemed to be on spot . . . at least for me. It possessed a great set-up for introducing the characters, the setting’s atmosphere and the revelation of the suspects’ motives for wanting Sir William dead. However, the murder did not occur until two-thirds into the movie. Once Inspector Thompson appeared on the scene, the movie’s pacing began to drag. And it did not pick up again until the movie’s last twenty minutes. For me, the pacing during the last third of the film struck me as merely a minor flaw. There was another that proved to be a bigger one for me – namely the Henry Denton character.

I have nothing against Ryan Phillipe’s performance as Denton. Trust me, I thought he did a superb job. But Julian Fellowes’ portrayal of the character left me shaking my head in confusion. According to the script, Denton was an American actor for Fox Studios who accompanied Morris Weissman as his Scottish valet in order to study British servants for a role in a “CHARLIE CHAN” movie. This little deception strikes me as something actors did for a role during the past thirty or forty years . . . certainly not in 1932. The deception ended when Henry admitted his true identity to the police. But the one thing that really disturbed me about the character was his attempted rape of Mary Maceachran during the first night of the weekend. Why did Fellowes include that scenario in the first place? Henry had already made a date for some nocturnal activity with Lady Sylvia McCordle, several minutes earlier. If he had already scheduled a night for sex with the mistress of the house, why have him assault Mary a few mintues later? I suspect that Fellowes wanted to establish a character that most of the characters – aristocratic and lower-class – would dislike. Both aristocrats and servants alike reacted with glee when one of the servants, portrayed by Richard Grant, dumped a cup of hot tea (or coffee) on Henry’s lap. With Henry being an American, I can only assume he made an easier target for the derision of everyone. I can only wonder why Altman and Balaban did not question this heavy-handed characterization of Henry. Regardless of Fellowes’ reason for vilifying Henry, I found the rape attempt as an example of clumsy and unnecessary writing on his part.

Thankfully, most of “GOSFORD PARK” proved to be quite a cherished gem. Not even the flaws I had pointed out in the above paragraphs can overcome my appreciation of this movie. Altman, Balaban and Fellowes took a classic literary device – “country house mystery” – and used it to explore the British class system of the early 1930s. “GOSFORD PARK” revealed the changes that affected Britain’s social landscape by 1932. Aside from Lord Stockbridge, most of the aristocratic characters seemed to be struggling to make ends meet financially in order to maintain a lifestyle they had been born into. Those from a middle-class or working-class background like Sir William McCordle, his “cousin” Ivor Novello, Morris Weissman and Mabel Nesbitt have become successful, wealthy or in the case of Mabel, the offspring of a self-made man. Their success and wealth has allowed them to socialize amongt the aristocracy and upper-class. But their origins continue to attract scorn from the likes of Lady Sylvia, her sister Lady Lavinia and their aunt, the Countess of Trentham. The servants featured in “GOSFORD PARK” seemed to be divided into three categories – those who are blindly loyal to their employers; those like Elsie, Robert Parks and Mrs. Croft, who despise their employers; and those like Mary, Jennings and Mrs. Wilson who do not love or hate their employers, but simply take pride in their professionalism.

What I found interesting about “GOSFORD PARK” is that both servants and guests possessed both positive and negative traits. The exceptions to the rule proved to be Mary, who struck me as a bit too ideal for my tastes; and of course, Henry Denton, whose portrayal I had already complained about. Most people would add that Sir William had also been portrayed as a one-dimensional villain. But the humiliations he endured under the snobbish Lady Sylvia and Elsie’s warm recollections of him saved the character from such a fate.

Another aspect about “GOSFORD PARK” that I truly enjoyed was its overall production design. Stephen Altman did a superb job of re-creating the atmosphere of a country manor home in the early 1930s. He was ably supported by Anna Pinnock’s set decorations, along with John Frankis and Sarah Hauldren’s art direction. For me, it was Jenny Bevan’s costumes and the women’s hairstyles that made me realize that the production team really knew what they were doing. I have rarely come across a movie or television production set in the 1930s that was completely accurate – especially in regard to costumes and hairstyles.

There were plenty of first-rate performances in “GOSFORD PARK”. But there were a handful that stood out for me. Both Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith earned Academy Award nominations for their portrayals of Mrs. Wilson and the Countess of Trentham, respectively. Mirren was superb as the no-nonsense housekeeper, whose stoic personality hid a passionate nature that would eventually be revealed upon a discovery she made. In my review of Season One of “DOWNTON ABBEY”, I had complained that Maggie Smith’s portrayal of the Dowager Countess of Grantham bore a strong resemblance to her Lady Trentham in “GOSFORD PARK”. I stand by that observation. But there is something about Smith’s portrayal of Lady Trentham that struck me as a lot more subtle and a little more poisonous in her class bigotry. Clive Owen gave a charismatic performance as the mysterious valet, Robert Parks, whose past attracts the attention of both Mary Maceachran and Mrs. Wilson.

Michael Gambon gave one of his more interesting performances as the mystery’s main victim, Sir William McCordle. Superficially, he was as crude and cold-blooded as many regarded the character. Yet, Gambon injected a certain charm into his performance that made it easier for me to see why Sir William had a way with the ladies. Bob Balaban provided some fine comic moments as the droll Hollywood producer that harbored a slight contempt toward his aristocratic hosts behind a polite veneer. I have already pointed out Ryan Phillipe’s portrayal of Henry Denton. I must admit that he did a first-rate job in conveying the portrait of a smooth hustler. Many have commented on Maggie Smith’s wit in the movie. However, I thought that Emily Watson’s portrayal of head housemaid Elsie was equally sharp and sardonic. Alan Bates gave one of his last best performances as the stuffy, yet likable major domo of the McCordle household, who harbored a secret about his past as a conscientious objector during World War I. At the same time, Watson was wonderfully poignant as one of the few people who not only mourned Sir William, but appreciated his friendship and words of wisdom to her. I found it surprising that the movie’s moral center proved to the be the sweet and eventually wise Mary Maceachran, Lady Trentham’s new personal maid. Kelly MacDonald was in her mid-20s when she did this movie and her character was not particularly flashy in compare to many of the other roles. Yet, not only did she held her own against the likes of Maggie Smith and Emily Watson, she did a great job in becoming the movie’s emotional anchor . . . even if her character was a bit too ideal for my tastes.

“GOSFORD PARK” earned a good deal of accolades after its release. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won a Best Original Screenplay for Julian Fellowes. It also earned five Golden Globe awards and Robert Altman won for Best Director. Would I have voted “GOSFORD PARK” as the Best Picture of 2001? Not really. I was more impressed by Peter Jackson’s adaptation of the first “LORD OF THE RINGS” movie. But thanks to a superb cast, Julian Fellowes’ screenplay and Robert Altman’s direction, it not proved to be one of the cinematic gems of 2001, but also of the entire decade.