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.

“THE A.B.C. MURDERS” (2018) Review

“THE A.B.C. MURDERS” (2008) Review

Years ago, I had once compiled a list of my favorite novels written by Agatha Christie. One of those novels was her 1936 mystery, “The A.B.C. Murders”. The novel led to a movie adaptation, a radio adaptation and two television adaptations. One of the latter was the three-part miniseries that was adapted by Sarah Phelps for the BBC.

“THE A.B.C. MURDERS” is a rare tale from Christie. In it, Belgian-born sleuth Hercule Poirot helps Scotland Yard investigate a possible serial killer named “A.B.C.”. The killer uses this moniker in the letters sent to Poirot before committing a murder; and leaves an ABC railway guide beside each victim. Although there are several mysteries written by Christie that features more than one victim, “THE A.B.C. MURDERS” marked the first of two times in which the victims have nothing in common whatsoever.

Phelps made some significant changes to Christie’s novel. One, this version omitted Captain Arthur Hastings from the plot. I found this incredible, considering Hastings had served as the first-person narrator for the 1936 novel. Chief Inspector Japp made an appearance, but his character was killed off via a heart attack in the miniseries’ first episode and Poirot found himself working solely with Inspector Chrome, who was also in the novel. The Mary Drower character, who was related to the first victim, Alice Ascher, was also eliminated. Phelps made changes to the Donald Fraser and Thora Grey characters. Phelps included more detail than Christie in the story’s Doncaster murder and added a fifth murder (at Embsay) to the story. She also added a romance for the Alexander Bonaparte Cust character in the form of his landlady’s daughter. Phelps explored and changed Poirot’s World War I backstory. She also made sure that the first three murder locations had some relevance to Poirot. He had helped deliver a baby aboard a refugee train that stopped in Andover. He had visited the Bexhill café where the second victim, Betty Barnard, would later work. And he had once attended a party at the home of Sir Carmichael Clarke, the third victim.

I was surprised at how beautiful the miniseries’ production looked. Although the novel was first published in 1936, Phelps had decided to set her adaptation in 1933. I thought Jeff Tessler’s production designs did a superb job in re-creating 1933 England. A beautiful job. And his work was supported by Joel Devlin’s excellent photography, which struck me as colorful and sharp; along with Andrew Lavin and Karen Roch’s excellent art direction. Another aspect of “THE A.B.C. MURDERS” that impressed me were Lindsay Pugh’s costume designs. I thought she did an excellent job in creating costumes for characters that varied in both class and gender in 1933 Britain. This also included costumes for characters that were impacted by the Great Depression, regardless of class.

When it comes to Sarah Phelps’ adaptations of Agatha Christie novels, I have mixed views. I really enjoyed her 2015 adaptation of Christie’s 1939 novel, “And Then There Were None”. I cannot say the same about her adaptation of the author’s two other stories, “Witness For the Prosecution” and Ordeal By Innocence”. How did I feel about “THE A.B.C. MURDERS”? I am very grateful that Phelps had basically stuck to Christie’s main narrative from the 1936 novel. Unlike “ORDEAL BY INNOCENCE”, she did not completely revise the narrative by changing the murderer’s identity or motive. And unlike “WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION”, she did not change the fate of the story’s main protagonist.

However, there were a few changes that I liked. One, she included more detail into the story’s fourth murder at Doncaster . . . at least more detail than Christie did. In doing so, she prevented this part of the narrative from being irrelevant. And two, she included a fifth murder. Phelps did not have to do this, but I thought it filled the narrative rather nicely. I noticed that the movie went out of its way to get rid of both Arthur Hastings and Chief Inspector Japp. I thought I would be upset about this, but . . . I was not. Their lack of presence did not harm the narrative. More importantly, it allowed Poirot’s relationship with Japp’s replacement, the slightly xenophobic Inspector Crome to develop from a conflict to a working relationship with a hint of a possible friendship. This did not bother me since Poirot had to deal with a hostile Crome in the novel. And I feel that Phelps’ portrayal of their relationship was better handled in this miniseries.

Unfortunately, Phelps used minor changes in the story to continue her campaign to make her Christie adaptations more edgy and angst-filled. These minor changes included transforming the Donald Fraser character into this publicity hound trying to profit from the death of his fiancée, Betty Barnard. What was the purpose of this change? To criticize those who try to profit from the death of others via publicity? I found this irrelevant and unnecessary to the story. The miniseries also featured a potential romance between stocking salesman Alexander Bonaparte Cust and his landlady’s daughter, Lily Marbury. In the novel, Lily was Cust’s friend and nothing more. For some reason, Phelps thought it was necessary to create a romance in order to convey the idea of Lily walking on his back in heels as a means to release some psycho-sexual need to remove his pain. What was the point of this? To make Cust more interesting? What really irritated me was how Phelps changed the character of one of the supporting character by making that person knowledgeable of the killer’s identity long before Poirot . . . and an accessory. Why? To make that character more interesting perhaps? It made me realize that this change made it easier for viewers to identify the killer before Poirot’s revelation.

The movie made one last change that I disliked . . . Poirot’s personal background. Christie had indicated in many of her novels and short stories that before becoming a private detective, Poirot was a police officer in Belgium. For reasons that still astound me, Phelps had changed Poirot’s background from former police detective to Catholic priest. Worse, she had created this mystery surrounding some major trauma during World War I that led him to leave the Church and become a crime fighter. What on earth? The problem with this character arc is that it had nothing to do with the main narrative. It played no role in Poirot’s discovery and revelation of the actual killer.

I will say this about “THE A.B.C. MURDERS”. It did feature some excellent performances, save for one. John Malkovich was the second American actor to portray Hercule Poirot, the first being Tony Randall in 1965. I found his Gallic accent slightly questionable. But I still admire his portrayal of the Belgian-born detective and found it refreshingly subtle without any theatrics or histronics. Many have complained about Malkovich portraying the most dour Poirot on screen. I do not agree. The actor did an excellent job of conveying Poirot’s grief over Japp’s death, his weariness from the never ending encounters of British xenophobia and his personal ghosts from World War I. But I never regarded his Poirot as “dour”. Frankly, I found David Suchet’s portrayal of Poirot in the 2010 television movie, “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” rather depressing. I thought Rupert Grint gave the second best performance as the slightly xenophobic Inspector Crome of Scotland Yard. I have a confession. I have always been impressed by Grint as an actor and at times, thought the HARRY POTTER franchise did not provide any real opportunities for him to convey his skills, aside from one particular movie. But I was really impressed by how he had conveyed Crome’s journey from an angry and narrow-minded police officer to someone more open-minded, less angry and more willing to trust Poirot.

There were other performances from “THE A.B.C. MURDERS” that impressed me. Eamon Farren gave a first-rate performance as the beleaguered Alexander Bonaparte Cust, a bedraggled traveling salesman who seemed to suffer from epileptic seizures. Anya Chalotra struck me as equally impressive in her portrayal of Lily Marbury, the daughter of Cust’s landlady, who has been forced by the latter to prostitute herself for extra money. Tara Fitzgerald gave a very emotional performance as Lady Hermione Clarke, the ailing widow of the killer’s third victim, Sir Carmichael Clarke. I could also say the same about Bronwyn James’ portrayal of Megan Barnard, the sister of the second victim, Betty Barnard. James did an excellent job of conveying Megan’s initial infatuation of Betty’s fiancé, Donald Fraser and her jealousy. I found Eve Austin’s portrayal of the shallow yet flirtatious Betty rather skillful and memorable. Freya Mayor gave an interesting and complex performance as Sir Carmichael’s ambitious secretary Thora Grey. And Andrew Buchan seemed to be the personification of the literary Franklin Clarke, the sexually charming, yet eager younger brother of Sir Carmichael. The miniseries also featured first-rate performances from Jack Farthing as Donald Fraser, Michael Shaeffer as Sergeant Yelland, Lizzy McInnerny as Betty’s mother, Mrs. Barnard, Christopher Villiers as Sir Carmichael Clarke and Kevin R. McNally as Japp. If I could name one performance that I found unsatisfying, it would Shirley Henderson’s portrayal of Cust’s landlady, Rose Marbury. I found her performance rather theatrical and filled with too many exaggerated mannerisms.

I did not dislike “THE A.B.C. MURDERS”, but I did not love it. There are aspects of it that I admired, including the production’s visual style, writer-producer Sarah Phelps’ adherence to the story’s main narrative and an excellent cast led by John Malkovich. But I also feel that Phelps had added too many unnecessary minor changes to some of the characters and the story. And I suspect that she did this in another attempt to relive the glory of 2015’s “AND THEN THERE WERE NONE”. The 1939 novel was a rare creation of Christie’s. If Phelps wants to write and produce another mystery on that level, I suggest she consider adapting a novel from another writer . . . perhaps P.D. James. Or she should consider creating her own mystery.

 

Favorite Television Productions Set in the 1700s

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

 

FAVORITE TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS SET IN THE 1700s

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: Consequences”

“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: Consequences”

Has anyone noticed something odd about the main characters in the 2007 movie, “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END”? Most or all of them either ended up with a less than happy ending or with their fates up in the air. 

If one must be brutally honest, the franchise’s main characters had committed some kind of questionable act or one dangerous to others. Jack Sparrow was a pirate, who had no qualms about using others for his own personal gain. And that included bartering the former blacksmith apprentice Will Turner to Davy Jones in 2006’s “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN’S CHEST”in order to avoid paying his debt to Jones . . . and lying to Will’s fiancee, Elizabeth Swann, about it. Captain Hector Barbossa, as well all know, was a murderous pirate who led a mutiny against Jack, threatened the lives of many and also double-crossed sorceress Tia Dalma by tossing her into the Black Pearl’s brig in “AT WORLD’S END”. And then there is the straight arrow Will, who turned out to be not so straight in terms of morality. He had left Jack to the mercies of Barbossa and the latter’s crew in 2003’s “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL” and double-crossed the Pearl’s crew to pirate Captain Sao Feng and the East India Trading Company in order to get his hands on the ship in the 2007 movie. Will’s beloved and future Pirate King – Elizabeth committed one of the worst acts by leaving Jack shackled to the Black Pearl in order for the latter to be killed by Davy Jones’ pet, the Kracken, near the end of “DEAD MAN’S CHEST”. And in that same movie, former Royal Navy commodore James Norrington betrayed his new crew members from the Black Pearl, by stealing Davy Jones’ heart and handing it over to the villainous Lord Cutler Beckett of the East India Trading Company in order to regain his military position in society.

Not exactly a sweet bunch, are they? Many societies, religious and what-have-you, seemed to believe in the old adage of what goes around, comes around. Or paying the consequences of one’s actions. My favorite happens to be – “Payback’s a bitch”. And judging from the fates of the major characters in the franchise, all of them – in one form or the other – seemed to have paid the consequences of their actions.

For Norrington, payback came in the form of death at the hands of Will’s poor deluded pirate father “Bootstrap” Bill Turner, when he helped Elizabeth and Sao Feng’s crew escape from the Flying Dutchman’s brig. After marrying Will during a battle against Jones and his crew, Elizabeth found herself nearly a widow and facing twenty years of marriage . . . without her husband. And where was Will? During that battle, Jones stabbed him with the sword he had made for Norrington. And when Jack helped him stab Jones’ heart before he could die, Will became the new captain of the Flying Dutchman, ferrying souls lost at sea to “the other side” . . . and apart from Elizabeth for every ten years. Barbossa seemed to have had it made in the end. He managed to get back the Black Pearl from Jack. Unfortunately, he found himself facing a possible mutiny due to Jack’s theft of Sao Feng’s chart that could lead them all to a new treasure. Later, he lost both the Black Pearl and his leg to the even more notorious pirate, Blackbeard in the 2011 film, “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES”, and went through a great deal of trouble to get revenge and a new ship. And yet . . . fate caught up with Barbossa again when he and Jack faced Captain Armando Salazar. And what about dear old Jack? Well . . . he found himself left behind at Tortuga, after Barbossa took the Black Pearl from him again. It took him quite a while to get the Black Pearl back, but not without being hunted by British justice and shanghaied by Blackbeard, who needed Jack to find the Fountain of Youth. It took Jack even longer to return the Black Pearl to its original size.

Mind you some of the characters like Norrington and Will suffered a more severe consequence than the other characters. But not one of them had the glowingly “happily ever after” that was seen in the conclusion of “AT WORLD’S END”. Will and Elizabeth’s “happily ever after” in the 2007 movie’s post-credits was only temporary. The couple had to wait at least two decades before they were finally reunited permanently in near the end of “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES”. A part of me found myself wondering they had encountered any problems in their reunion. After all, Will and Elizabeth had to adjust being together as husband and wife. And Will had to learn to be a father . . . something of which Elizabeth had at least twenty years of experience.

“POLDARK” Series Two (1977) Episodes Six to Nine

“POLDARK” SERIES TWO (1977) EPISODES SIX TO NINE

I had earlier pointed out, twenty years after the fourth “POLDARK” novel was published, author Winston Graham continued with eight more novels for the series. In 1977, producers Morris Barry and Anthony Coburn adapted the fifth novel, “The Black Moon: A Novel of Cornwall, 1794-1795” with Episodes One to Five. The two producers continued with Episodes Six to Nine, which featured the adaptation of the sixth “POLDARK” novel, “The Four Swans: A Novel of Cornwall, 1795-1797”

Episodes Six to Nine picked up the saga by conveying the consequences of what had occurred in the previous five episodes. The adaptation of “The Black Moon” ended with protagonist Ross Poldark, his brother-in-law Drake Carne and several other men rescuing Ross’ friend Dr. Dwight Enys and other British military types from a prisoner-of-war camp in France. Drake’s love of his life and Elizabeth Warleggan’s cousin, Morwenna Chynoweth, married a young widowed vicar named the Reverend Osborne Whitworth. Also, Ross’ nemesis, George Warleggan, learned from the former’s great-aunt, Agatha Poldark that the father of his infant son Valentine might be Ross and not him.

Due to his rescue of Dwight Enys and a few other military prisoners in France, Ross has become something of a hero in the eyes of many locals. Due to his popularity and his position as a member of the upper-class, Ross is being considered as a political candidate for Parliament by a very prominent landowner named Sir Francis Basset. However, the Warleggans and other business/political colleagues are at odds with Sir Francis’ rival, a political patron and aristocrat named Viscount Falmouth, who seemed to have taken their past support for granted. When Ross refuses to consider running for Member of Parliament (MP), Sir Francis turns to the Warleggans and supports George’s run for the office.

Most fans of the “POLDARK” series have expressed little or no interest in the story arc revolving around the political happenings of late 18th century southeastern Cornwall. In a way, I could understand how they felt. Despite Ross’ occasional rants against the members of his class and concern for the working-class, the saga has never struck me as overwhelmingly political. Graham’s saga seemed to delve more into the saga’s setting from a sociological viewpoint. And to be frank, the saga’s melodramatic narrative has always been the most interesting thing about it. I will say about the 1977 series’ adaptation of “The Four Swans”, it tried to make the story’s political narrative as interesting as possible.

This adaptation featured two scenes that I personally found interesting. One scene featured Nicholas Warleggan informing Viscount Falmouth that he and certain fellow businessmen resented waiting hours for an audience with the peer and the latter’s lack of concern for their interests. I enjoyed how actor Alan Tilvern conveyed Warleggan’s resentment and anger in this scene. The other scene – from Episode Nine – featured the actual election that pitted a victorious Ross against George. The ironic thing is that this particular scene featured the two men and their running mates waiting in a room for the election’s results. And yet . . . the entire scene brimmed with excitement, tension and anticipation, thanks to Robin Ellis and Ralph Bates’ performances. Before the election, Ross found himself designated by Sir Francis as head of the local militia to face the threat of a possible French invasion. The only “threat” Ross and his men ended up facing was local mob violence instigated by starving locals who broke into a miller’s warehouse for much needed grain. This incident led to a disagreement between Ross, who was reluctant to punish those desperate for food and a determined Sir Francis, who wanted the ringleaders arrested. Both Robin Ellis and Mike Hall infused a great deal of energy into this scene. Also, I could not help but wonder if the sight of the hanged body of one of the ringleaders was a foreshadow of the consequences Ross might pay with his newly formed alliance with his two political sponsors – former adversaries Sir Francis and Viscount Falmouth.

Another story arc that materialized in these four episodes proved to be the potential romance between Demelza’s other brother – Sam Carne – and one Emma Tregirls, the daughter of Trolly Tregirls, an old friend of Ross’ father. I had no problems with the performances of David Delve and Trudie Styler. Ironically, both managed to produce a pretty solid screen team. But I could not get emotionally invested in a romance between the pious Sam and the free-spirited Emma, who gave the impression of being free-spirited and sexually independent. I could easily see that they were not that temperamentally not suited for one another. Emma also seemed interested in Drake, who obviously did not return her feelings. Drake remained constantly devoted to Morwenna Whitworth. On the other hand, Emma also seemed to harbor a penchant for the company of Sid Rowse, George Warleggan’s right-hand thug. More importantly, I found myself questioning her taste in clothes:

Could someone explain why the show runners of this series allowed Emma to walk around half-dressed in this ridiculous costume? It is a miracle that she was never arrested for indecent exposure.

However, Episodes Six to Nine are supposed to be the adaptation of “The Four Swans”. The title served as a metaphor for the four major female characters in this particular story:

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

I have a confession to make. The story arc involving Caroline Enys and her husband, Dr. Dwight Enys, proved to be something of a disappointment. The arc began with a large, society wedding in which nearly all of the major characters attended. As much as I enjoyed this scene, which I tend to do for those that feature social gatherings, I came away with the feeling that the Penvenen-Enys wedding was more about the guests than the newly wedded couple. Once the series moved past their wedding, it barely explored the first two years of their marriage. While Episodes Six to Nine explored the lives of the other major characters, Dwight and Caroline seemed to be utilized as minor supporting characters who either appeared at social gatherings or used as ready made therapists for Ross and Demelza. At this point of the story, Caroline had replaced Verity Poldark Blamey as Demelza’s best friend. The only time the narrative touched upon Dwight and Caroline’s personal lives was when the topic of her ability to carry a child came up. In the end, I felt that Judy Geeson and Michael Cadman were truly wasted in these four episodes.

Otherwise, their presence in Episodes Six to Nine proved to be inconsequential. And I believe I know why. Coburn and Barry, along with the four episodes’ screenwriter, deleted the narrative regarding the Caroline and Dwight’s troubles during the early years of their marriage. In “The Four Swans”, this story arc involved Caroline insisting that Dwight give up being a local doctor and behaving like a prosperous landowner. As Caroline’s husband, Dwight assumed full control of the estate she had inherited from her uncle. This story arc revealed that despite her marriage to Dwight, Caroline’s class bigotry and her low regard for his profession had not abated. It had a negative effect on Morwenna Whitworth, who had depended upon him to keep her over-amorous husband from her bed. More importantly, the story arc exposed Ross’ slight infatuation for Caroline and his own class bigotry. For it was Ross who finally convinced Dwight to give up his medical practice and adhere to Caroline’s wishes. Being a member of the elite himself, Ross genuinely believed Dwight’s marriage to Caroline finally gave the latter the opportunity to move up the social ladder and solidify his standing among the upper-class. And while it did, the marriage eventually deprived the neighborhood of a very competent doctor – at least in this story. I personally found the deletion of this aspect in Caroline and Dwight’s narrative very disappointing . . . and cowardly.

Episodes Six to Nine’s handling of Morwenna Whitworth’s story arc proved to be a different kettle of fish. May I be frank? I believe it was one of the two best narratives within the four episodes. There were certain aspects of the portrayal of the Morwenna-Osborne marriage that I found questionable. One, the showrunners of this series seemed a bit reluctant to convey that Morwenna had endured marital rape at the hands of her husband on a regular basis. It also failed to convey that Osborne had raped Morwenna on their honeymoon night during the series’ adaptation of “The Black Moon”. There was a scene of husband and wife having sex on the night following the Penvenen-Enys’ nuptials. It revealed Morwenna quietly submitting to Osborne. And when he turned on his side to sleep, she tried to initiate a conversation with him. Huh? If being married to him was that horrible, why would the series convey this? In fact, there was no sign of marital rape until Episode Seven or Episode Eight, when Osborne assaulted his wife, while she was recovering from childbirth. Why did Corburn and Barry waited so long to portray Osborne as a rapist? And why . . . by this point in the series, merely portray Osborne as a one-time rapist?

Despite this, Morwenna’s pregnancy advanced the story in a way that I found explosive. Enter Morwenna’s younger sister, Rowella Chynoweth. Morwenna came up with the idea to recruit Rowella to help her raise Osborne’s two daughters, while she dealt with her pregnancy. What followed . . . turned out to be rather mind blowing. In a nutshell, Osborne became attracted to his young sister-in-law, especially after Dr. Behenna instructed him to refrain from sexual relations with Morwenna, following the rape. Surprisingly, Rowella became attracted to Osborne and began an affair with him. By Episode Eight (or was it Episode Nine), Rowella revealed to Osborne that she pregnant. He tried to pretend that he was not responsible, but Rowella proved to be a tough, ruthless and persistent adversary. One, she provided Osborne with her plan to marry a local librarian named Arthur Solway, so that he could provide a name for her unborn child. Two, she managed to convince Osborne – via blackmail – to provice her and Arthur with a dowry of five hundred pounds. And three, not long after her wedding to Arthur, Rowella revealed that she had “miscarried” the baby. In other words, she was never pregnant . . . and she had scammed him. I found this scenario rather delicious to watch. And when Osborne attempted to enforce his “marital rights”, Morwenna revealed her knowledge of the affair and threatened to kill their new born son if he touched her again. Osborne took her threat seriously. Like I said . . . despite a few quibbles, I was very impressed by the handling of this narrative. And if I must be honest, the first-rate performances of Jane Wymarck, Christopher Biggins and Julie Dawn Cole contributed to the story arc’s dynamics.

I have mixed feelings about how Coburn and Barry handled Elizabeth Warleggan’s narrative in its adaptation of “The Four Swans”. Let me explain. Following Agatha Poldark’s revelation to George Warleggan that he might not be the biological father of his young son Valentine, the wealthy banker went out of his way to find anyone who could verify his suspicions that his wife had an affair with his nemesis, Ross Poldark. Although George failed to verify his suspicions, he began emotionally distancing himself from both Elizabeth and young Valentine and concentrated on beginning his political career. Elizabeth was initially surprised by George’s chilly attitude. Eventually, she began to suspect that the mystery of Valentine’s paternity was responsible. This led to an effort on her part to save her marriage. However, George’s jealousy toward Ross led him to mistreat the latter’s younger brother-in-law, Drake Carne by ordering his henchman, Sid Rouse, to beat the young blacksmith and torch his place of business. Ironically, it was George’s mistreatment of Drake and not his distant behavior that led to a serious quarrel between the couple.

Elizabeth’s struggles with George led to what I believe were two magnificent scenes between the two characters. The first featured Elizabeth’s attempt to coerce George into revealing the cause behind his chilly behavior. This scene featured a first-rate performance by Ralph Bates, as he conveyed George’s struggle to keep his emotions in check and an excellent performance by Jill Townsend, as she conveyed Elizabeth’s bewilderment and desperation to discover George’s motive behind his reserve. But it was the second scene in Episode Nine that truly impress me. But following Drake’s visit to Penrice, the confrontation between husband and wife proved to be an acting showcase for both Townsend and Bates, leading me to regard them as the most valuable players of this adaptation of “The Four Swans”. It also revealed that Elizabeth could be an intimidating powerhouse, when she chooses to be.

Between these two scenes, Elizabeth had an encounter with Ross at the Sawle churchyard. It was their first scene alone since he had raped her in Episode Fifteen in the 1975 series. Despite the excellent performances from Townsend and Robin Ellis, it left me feeling disappointed. Quite frankly, the screenwriter (whose name evades me) failed to faithfully adapt the scene from the novel, when doing so would have been more interesting . . . and honest. Instead of berating Ross for the rape (which she did in the novel), Elizabeth tried to avoid Ross, due to her fear that George would learn the truth about Valentine’s paternity. This made no sense to me, considering that the series had actually depicted the rape back in 1975. In fact, the 1977 series began with Elizabeth harboring anger at Ross. And yet . . . suddenly, the producers had decided to avoid the topic of the rape by pretending that it never happened? What the hell? They even had the screenwriter changed the scene’s ending by allowing Elizabeth to kiss Ross after he offered her a rather ridiculous solution to abate George’s suspicions. Guess what? In the novel, Ross took Elizabeth by surprise by ending the conversation with a few kisses on her face. Jesus Christ! Once again, Coburn and Barry inflicted another attempt to whitewash Ross’ character for the sake of his reputation.

Ross and Elizabeth’s meeting at the Sawle churchyard also played a role in Demelza Poldark’s story arc. A major role. So did Ross’ rescue of Dwight Enys in “The Black Moon”. One of the prisoners-of-war who returned to France with Ross and Dwight was a young Royal Navy officer named Lieutenant Hugh Armitage, who also happened to be a kinsman of the aristocratic Viscount Falmouth. Television audiences finally got to meet young Hugh in Episode Six, during one of Sir Francis Bassett’s dinner parties, attended by Ross and Demelza. Both the latter and Hugh were immediately attracted to one another and engaged in a friendship with strong romantic overtones. Ross became aware of the attraction between the pair and occasionally made caustic remarks about their friendship. Otherwise, he did nothing. But Demelza eventually learned about Ross’ meeting with Elizabeth at Sawle Church from Jud Paynter in Episode Seven. When Hugh urged her to join him on a walk to a local beach to view sea lions in Episode Eight, the pair’s friendship immediately transformed into a romance that was consummated on that beach, leading Demelza to commit adultery.

Overall, I thought this story arc was well handled by the series’ producers, director Roger Jenkins and screenwriter John Wiles. The story proved to be melodramatic, but in a positive way. More importantly, it was not unnecessarily sensationalized, despite the topic of adultery. And I also found this story arc was well paced – from the moment when Demelza and Hugh first met; to his death from a brain tumor. The story arc also benefited from the performances of three people – Robin Ellis, who conveyed Ross’ jealousy with great subtlety; Angharad Rees, who portrayed Demelza as a woman experiencing a genuine romance for the first time in her life; and Brian Stirner, who gave a complex performance as a charming, young Royal Navy officer who had no qualms about romancing another man’s wife. And yet . . . there was something about this story arc that seemed odd to me.

Most “POLDARK” fans claimed that it was against Demelza’s character to be an adulteress. I found that claim hard to swallow. Unlike many fans, I have never regarded Demelza as some ideal woman who belonged on a pedestal. Like the other characters in the saga, she was a complex individual with both virtues and flaws. Am I giving her an excuse for her adultery? No. But there was a certain aspect to this story arc that struck me. One has to account for the fact that Hugh was the first man who had seriously courted Demelza. Ross had jumped up and married her for a reason other than love after a brief, sexual encounter. Worse, he was in love with another woman at the time. Demelza also had to deal with lustful types like Sir Hugh Bodrugan and Captain McNeil, who viewed her as easy sexual prey, due to her lower-class origins. My problem with this version of the Demelza-Hugh romance is that it failed to match how it was portrayed in “The Four Swans”. Hugh was the first (and only) man of her age to romance Demelza, giving their relationship an aura of youthful aura. I found it difficult to view their relationship in a similar manner in this adaptation. The problem is that Rees looked her age at that time – 33 years old. And Brian Stirner looked younger, which I suspect he was. Because of this, their relationship seemed to have more of a borderline May-December vibe to me, instead of a romance between two young people in their twenties.

Aside from two occasions of whitewashing in order to salvage the Ross Poldark character and a few other quibbles, I must admit that I enjoyed Episodes Six to Nine. Producers Morris Barry and Anthony Coburn, along with director Roger Jenkins and screenwriter John Wiles did a more than satisfactory job in adapting Winston Graham’s 1976 novel, “The Four Swans: A Novel of Cornwall, 1795-1797”. Their work was well supported by an excellent cast led by Robin Ellis in the lead role. This particular adaptation reminded me “The Four Swans” became one of my favorite novels in Graham’s literary series in the first place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Episodes One to Five cover the following subplots:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Favorite Episodes of “TURN: WASHINGTON’S SPIES” Season Two (2015)

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

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “TURN: WASHINGTON’S SPIES” SEASON TWO (2015)

1 - 2.05 Sealed Fate

1. (2.05) “Sealed Fate” – Abe Woodhull and his father, Judge Richard Woodhull clash over the former’s espionage activities. Fellow spy Ben Tallmadge discover some important information and Abe has supper with potential spy Robert Townsend and the latter’s father.

2 - 2.06 Houses Divided 1

2. (2.06) “Houses Divided” – Abe’s fellow spy, Anna Strong, takes action when he is captured by the British. Meanwhile, Lieutenant John Simcoe pushes himself back into Anna’s life, and Major John Andre discovers vital information for the British cause.

3 - 2.08 Providence

3. (2.08) “Providence” – Ben and fellow spy Caleb Brewster plot to free Abe from a British prison in New York City. British Army officer Major Edmund Hewlett struggle in the wilderness during his escape from an American prison. And General George Washington learns about the Continental Congress’ new alliance with France.

4 - 2.02 Hard Boiled

4. (2.02) “Hard Boiled” – While Abe continues his mission to recruit spies for the Culpeper Ring in New York City, Lieutenant Simcoe adjusts to reassignment as the new commander of the Queen’s Rangers. Meanwhile, Major Andre seduces Peggy Shippen, the daughter of a Philadelphia Tory businessman.

5 - 2.10 Gunpowder Treason and Plot

5. “Gunpowder, Treason and Plot” – In this season finale, Abe plots the assassination of Major Hewlett, much to Anna’s distress. And Ben participates in the Battle of Monmouth.