“FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD” (1998) Review

“FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD” (1998) Review

For years, I had made an effort to avoid any novel written by Thomas Hardy and any movie or television production based upon his works. This has nothing to do with how I felt about the quality of his work. My attitude sprang from my reading of his 1886 novel, “The Mayor of Casterbridge”, when I was in my late teens. I found the latter rather depressing and suspected that most of his other works possessed the same downbeat tone. As I grew older, I discovered a tolerance for stories with a downbeat or bittersweet ending. This led me to try Hardy again and so, I focused my attention on the 1998 miniseries, “FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD”.

Based upon Hardy’s 1874 novel, “FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD” told the story about a young woman named Bathsheba Everdene, who had recently inherited her late uncle’s prosperous estate. Possessing a vain, yet independent and naïve personality, Bathsheba finds herself torn between three men who wish to marry her:

*Gabriel Oak – a failed sheep farmer who is hired by Bathsheba as a shepherd for her farm

*William Boldwood – a prosperous farmer and Bathsheba’s neighbor, who develops a romantic obsession toward her

*Sergeant Francis “Frank” Troy – a dashing Army sergeant, who turns to Bathsheba not long after his planned wedding to a local girl named Fanny Robin fails to take place.

The story begins with Bathsheba living on a farm with her aunt, Mrs. Hurst. She meets Gabriel Oak, a former shepherd who has leased and stocked a sheep farm. Although the pair develops a close friendship, Gabriel falls in love with Bathsheba and eventually proposes marriage. Valuing her independence too much, Bathsheba refuses and their relationship cools down. Gabriel’s fortunes take a worse for turn, when his inexperienced sheep dog drives his flock of sheep over a cliff, bankrupting him. Bathsheba, on the other hand, inherits her uncle’s prosperous estate in Westbury. Their paths crosses again, and she ends up hiring Gabriel as her new shepherd.

However, Bathsheba has also become acquainted with her new neighbor, the wealthy farmer, John Boldwood, who becomes romantically obsessed with her after she sends him a Valentine’s Day card as a joke. He sets about wooing her in a persistent manner that she finds difficult to ignore. But just as Bathsheba is about to consider Mr. Boldwood as a potential husband, Sergeant Frank Troy enters her life and she becomes infatuated with him. Unbeknownst to anyone, Frank was set to marry one of Bathsheba’s former servants, a young woman named Fanny Robin. Unfortunately, the latter showed up at the wrong church for the wedding. Humiliated and angry, Frank called off the wedding. While Bathsheba finds herself in the middle of a rather unpleasant love triangle between Boldwood and Frank, Gabriel can only watch helplessly as this situation develops into tragedy.

I might as well be honest. “FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD” did not strike me as completely tragic. It did not prove to be tragic at the same level as stories like “The Mayor of Casterbridge” or “Tess of the d’Urbervilles”. In fact, the story did not even have a tragic ending (for which I am grateful). But there was something . . . I cannot put my finger on it . . . there was an undertone to the story that I found both fascinating and disturbing. And it all revolved around the character of Bathsheba Everdene. Personally, I feel that she was one of Hardy’s best creations. Bathsheba proved to be a curious mixture of virtues and flaws that I fear is becoming increasingly rare among fictional female characters.

One one hand, Bathsheba was an intelligent woman who quickly learned to manage an estate and lead a group of workers who harbored doubts about her, due to her gender. She also had the good sense to realize she lacked the experience or talent to deal with some aspect of estate managing and turn to someone who could help her – usually Gabriel Oak. On the other hand, Bathsheba also proved to be a vain young woman, who seemed a bit too concerned about how others thought about her. This vanity led her to hide her previous friendship with Gabriel . . . to the point that she insisted they maintain an employer-employee distance from each other. Bathsheba also possessed a slightly cruel streak that led her to thoughtlessly play an unkind joke on John Boldwood by sending him a Valentine Day’s card with the words “Marry me” scribbled on it. Ironically, Bathsheba also proved she could be just as obsessive as Boldwood, when she fell for Frank Troy and realizes after their wedding that he had continued to love his former fiancée, Fanny Robin. It was this combination of positive and negative traits that made Bathsheba such an interesting and ambiguous character. And Bathsheba’s ambiguous nature seemed to have a strong impact on Hardy’s tale.

Through Bathsheba’s relationship with Gabriel Oak, audiences received glimpses of the day-to-day realities of business and life on a 19th century farm. Audiences also got a chance to view Bathsheba through Gabriel’s eyes – despite his love for her, he seemed to harbor a realistic view of her. Through her relationships with neighbor John Boldwood and husband Frank Troy, audiences got the chance to see Bathsheba deal with obsession from both sides of the fence – whether she was the object of Boldwood’s obsession or Frank was the object of hers. Now that I think about it, I find it odd that a major character would experience obsession from different perspectives in that manner. How strange . . . and yet, satisfying in a way.

Although the plot for “FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD” focused strongly on the romantic dynamics between Bathsheba, the three men in her life and the Fanny Robin character; I was pleased to discover that Philomena McDonagh’s screenplay also gave audiences many glimpses into the lives of the farmhands that worked for Bathsheba. The miniseries delved into her relationship with her workers and their own perspectives and hangups over whether she could handle being the owner of prosperous farm. As with her relationship with Gabriel, Bathsheba’s relationship with her workers allowed the audiences to appreciate the realities of life on a 19th century farm.

The production values for “FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD” seemed pretty top-notch. Well . . . most of them. I had no problems with Adrian Smith’s production designs. I thought he did an excellent job in re-creating mid 19th century Wessex. Rosie Hardwick and Paul Kirby’s art direction contributed to the movie’s overall look, along with Nic Ede’s costume designs. I find it interesting that this version is set between the late 1850s and 1860, especially since the other two adaptation are set in the 1870s . . . the same decade as the novel’s publication. Although I admire John Daly’s use of the locations in Derbyshire, Cheshire and Wiltshire as substitutes for Wessex, I did not care for the cinematography very much. I found it slightly too dark and the color did not hold up well in the following seventeen to eighteen years.

The cast, on the other hand, struck me as first-rate. It is a pity that very few ever comment on Paloma Baeza’s portrayal of Bathsheba Everdeen. Frankly, I thought she did an excellent job in conveying both the character’s ambiguities, charm and intelligence. More importantly, she did a first-rate job in carrying such a large production on her shoulders, at such a young age. Nathaniel Parker’s portrayal of Gabriel Oak proved to be the production’s emotional backbone. But the actor also did an excellent job in conveying his character’s quiet passion, along with his jealousy and growing despair over Bathsheba’s relationships with both John Boldwood and Frank Troy.

John Terry was at least a decade older than the John Boldwood character at the time this miniseries was filmed. However, I do not believe that this decade old age difference hampered his character one whit. He gave an outstanding performance as the love-sick, middle-aged farmer who developed a growing obsession over the young and pretty Bathsheba. At first, I had some difficulty is viewing Jonathan Firth as the dashing, yet egotistical Frank Troy. I fear this had to do with my inability to view the actor as the roguish type. And I was not that impressed by the sword demonstration scene between his his character and Baeza’s Bathsheba. But the more I watched Firth on the television screen, the more I found myself impressed by his performance . . . especially by the time his character had married Bathsheba and began to reveal his less than pleasant traits to his new wife. Natasha Little gave a very charming, yet sympathetic performance as the hard-luck Fanny Robin, whose mistake in showing up at the wrong church for her wedding to Frank, proved to be so disastrous. Fortunately for Little, the screenplay allowed her to portray Fanny as an individual with her own set of emotions, instead of the mere plot device that Hardy had portrayed in the novel. The production also benefited from solid performances by Tracy Keating, Gabrielle Lloyd, Linda Bassett, Phillip Joseph, Rhys Morgan, Reginald Callcott and Sean Gilder.

“FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD” may have suffered from questionable photography, but I certainly had no problems with other aspects of the productions. Its 216 minutes running time allowed screenwriter Philomena McDonagh and director Nicholas Renton to create a superb and detailed adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel. Also, top-notch production values (aside from the photography) and excellent performances from a cast led by Paloma Baeza and Nathaniel Parker added a great deal to already well done miniseries.

2.1104482

R.I.P. Nigel Terry (1945-2015)

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“POLDARK” Series One (1975): Episodes Thirteen to Sixteen

“POLDARK” SERIES ONE (1975): EPISODES THIRTEEN TO SIXTEEN

The fourth novel in Winston Graham’s “POLDARK” literary series, “Warleggan: A Novel of Cornwall, 1792-1793” (1953)proved to be a big game changer in the saga. The novel featured the death of a major character, which in turn, led to some surprising schisms within the family of the saga’s protagonist, Revolutionary War veteran and Cornish landowner Ross Poldark. More importantly, “Warleggan” also featured a major controversy that proved to be quite a challenge for the BBC’s adaptation of the novel. 

Producers Morris Barry and Anthony Coburn adapted “Warleggan” in Episodes Thirteen to Sixteen, the last four episodes of the series that aired in 1975. Ironically, this adaptation began where Episode Twelve left off – with Demelza Carne Poldark going into labor, as she reached the beach after interrupting a fishing trip. In the following scene, Ross, Demelza and their servants toasted the birth of the family’s newest member, Jeremy Poldark. At that point, the series’ adaptation of “Jeremy Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1790-1791” ended and its adaptation of “Warleggan”. Confused? I was after viewing the first five minutes of Episode Thirteen.

Not much really occurred in Episode Thirteen . . . at first. The romance between Dr. Dwight Enys and heiress Caroline Penvenen continued, despite her engagement to aspiring politician Unwin Trevaunance. Francis Poldark, Ross’ younger cousin, seemed to have a new lease on life now that the two cousins have reconciled and invested in an old Poldark copper mine, Wheal Grace. The only black spot in Francis’ life was his failed marriage with Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark. Despite his renewed relationship with Francis, a new son and the investment in Wheal Grace; Ross’ problems have not ended. He remained in debt. He continued to allow a local smuggling ring to use the cove on his land to hide goods. And his feelings toward Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark remained strong as ever. Elizabeth seemed to share his feelings. However, the episode ended on a tragic note when Francis fell and drowned, while investigating Wheal Grace for copper. Although grief-stricken over Francis’ death, Ross sold his Wheal Leisure shares and handed over 600 pounds (the same amount that Francis had invested in Wheal Grace) to financially help Elizabeth and her son, Geoffrey Charles. This act not only angered Demelza, but also increased her hostility toward her cousin-in-law.

The Poldark family drama took a back seat in Episode Fourteen. Instead, this episode focused on Wheal Grace and Ross’ involvement with the local smuggling ring. In the wake of Francis’ death, Ross traveled to France to question fugitive Mark Daniels about the copper ore that the latter had allegedly discovered while hiding from the law back in Episode Eight. However, Ross found it difficult to get any information, due to Mark’s bad health continuing obsession over his murder of his wife, Keren. During this time, Dwight Enys and Caroline Penvenen finally decided to elope. Unfortunately, Dwight discovers that a local man named Charlie Kempthorne had betrayed the smugglers to Captain McNeil and the militia. He sacrificed his marital plans with Caroline to warn the smugglers and Ross, who had just returned from France. The latter managed to evade being arrested by McNeil by hiding inside the Nampara manor.

While Ross dealt with his concerns over Wheal Grace and Trencomb’s smuggling operation, his nemesis George Warleggan courted the impoverished Elizabeth Poldark before finally proposing marriage to her. Elizabeth informed Ross about her upcoming nuptials in a letter. This drove Ross to ignore Demelza’s pleas to stay home and confront his widowed cousin-in-law at Trenwith about the engagement. Elizabeth made it clear that she intends to marry George. In retaliation, Ross took her by surprise by raping her. When he returned to Nampara the following morning, Demelza angrily guessed that Ross had sex with Elizabeth. Angry over his infidelity, Demelza accepted an invitation to a party hosted by Sir Hugh Bodugran. She planned to pay back Ross’ infidelity by having sex with Captain McNeil. However, at the last minute, Demelza could not go through with it and was forced to prevent herself from being raped by McNeil with a blow to his nether regions. And to avoid being sexually assaulted by Sir Hugh and another guest, she climbed out of the window and returned to Nampara.

The adaptation of “Warleggan” ended in Episode Sixteen. By this time, Elizabeth has married George, yet the couple continued to live at Trenwith. George closed off the Trenwith lands from its tenants against Elizabeth’s advice. Meanwhile, Demelza and Ross’ marriage deteriorated even further . . . to the point that she made plans to leave him and return to her father’s home. Discovering that Ross had went to Trenwith to castigate George for the enclosure of the estate, Demelza headed there as well. Not long after her arrival, both Demelza and Ross found themselves protecting George, Elizabeth and the other inhabitants at Trenwith from a mob bent upon expressing their displeasure at the enclosure. Although everyone got away – aside from a few servants, the mob burned Trenwith to the ground. By the end of the episode, the War of the First Coalition had started. Dwight Eyns joined the Royal Navy as a ship’s surgeon following his aborted elopement with Caroline. After fleeing the burnt out Trenwith manor together, Ross and Demelza finally reconciled on the beach before he could report to his regiment.

There were many aspects of Episodes Thirteen to Sixteen that I enjoyed or admired. I found the performances rather first-rate. Although there were moments that Robin Ellis’ portrayal of Ross Poldark struck me as cold and stiff, overall, I thought he gave a great performance – especially in Episodes Fifteen and Sixteen. Both he and Angharad Rees really stood out in one scene from Episode Sixteen in which they had a serious quarrel over his night with Elizabeth. The latter was also excellent in her scenes with actor Donald Douglas, who portrayed Captain McNeil. Episode Thirteen marked Clive Francis’ last performance as the doomed Francis Poldark. I realize that I have not always been that impressed by his performance in past episodes. That was due to the limited scenes given to him in the series’ first four episodes. But I thought Francis gave an excellent performance in his last episode – especially in his scenes with Rees and Jill Townsend. As always, the latter gave an excellent performance as Elizabeth Poldark Warleggan – especially in one scene with actress Norma Streader – in which Elizabeth expressed her disenchantment with the Poldark family to her sister-in-law, Verity Poldark Blamey. And Ralph Bates continued his smooth and cool performance as the ambitious George Warleggan, who seemed hellbent upon claiming Elizabeth as his wife and getting his hands on Poldark land.

The four episodes also marked memorable performances from Richard Morant and Judy Geeson, who continued to create sparks in their portrayal of the Dwight Enys-Caroline Penvenen romance. Donald Douglas gave a very lively and a times, rather intimidating performance as the Scottish-born militia officer, Captain McNeil. Pip Miller gave a very intense performance as Mark Daniels’ brother, Paul. And Martin Fisk returned to give a very poignant and effective performance as the dying fugitive, Mark Daniels. Other memorable performances also came from Patrick Holt (whose character’s name has been changed from Ray Penvenen to Benjamin Penvenen), Norma Streader as Verity Blamey, Mary Wimbush as Prudie Paynter, Peta Mason as Rosina Hoblyn and David Garfield as Jacka Hoblyn.

Episodes Thirteen to Fifteen also featured some memorable scenes and sequences. One interesting scene in Episode Thirteen featured Ross’ visit to Trenwith following Francis’ death and a rather poignant conversation between him and recently widowed Elizabeth, thanks to superb performances from Robin Ellis and Jill Townsend. I was rather surprised and impressed by how screenwriter Jack Russell and director Paul Annett utilized three separate story lines – Ross’ visit to Mark Daniels in France, Dwight Enys and Caroline Penvenen’s botched elopement, and the smugglers’ conflict with Captain McNeil and the militia – and managed to combine them into a suspenseful episode and strong story. I have already pointed out the scene in Episode Sixteen in which Ellis and Angharad Rees superbly conveyed a bitter quarrel between Ross and Demelza. I thought Annett did an excellent job in directing the mob attack upon Trenwith. I thought it was exciting and very detailed. But the most interesting sequence for me proved to be Sir Hugh Bodrugan’s house party. Thanks to Annett’s direction, I felt as if I was witnessing the upper-classes of 18th century Cornwall at its most decadent.

I had a good deal to praise about the 1975 series’ adaptation of “Warleggan”. But if I must be brutally honest, I did not like it in the end. I did not like it one bit. There were too many changes to Graham’s novel that I either did not like or rubbed me the wrong way. One problem I had with this adaptation was its use of the Verity Blamey character. When the series’ adaptation of “Jeremy Poldark” had failed to introduce Verity’s stepson and stepdaughter, I assumed they would appear in the “Warleggan” adaptation. Unfortunately, Coburn, Barry and Russell felt it unnecessary to provide audiences with a peak into Verity’s personal life with the Blameys. Instead, they used Verity in a scene with Elizabeth, involving a letter announcing the latter’s engagement to George Warleggan – a scene that I heartily disliked. I certainly did not like how the producers and Russell handled Francis Poldark’s death in Episode Thirteen. It seemed . . . rushed. Unnecessarily so. After a minute or two of exploring the depths of Wheal Grace, Francis slipped and felled. The camera then briefly focused on Francis’ dead body before the episode rushed to Ross paying the recently widowed Elizabeth a visit at Trenwith. The episode did not bother to focus on Francis’ struggles to stay alive before he drowned. Nor did it feature Francis’ funeral. I cannot help but feel that if Coburn and Barry had aired Jeremy Poldark’s birth in Episode Twelve – where it belonged – Episode Thirteen could have focused more time on Francis’ death.

I also disliked a scene from Episode Sixteen featured a scene that had Caroline Penvenen playing “Lady Bountiful” to abused and physically disabled Rosina Hoblyns by offering the latter a job as her personal maid. It never happened in the novel and the scene pointed a false portrait of Caroline, who was never that saintly in any of the novels. One other scene from Episode Sixteen had me rolling my eyes with contempt. In it, a still angry Demelza had decided she would leave Ross for good. She planned to leave their two year-old son Jeremy with Verity and Andrew Blamey . . . and return to her father’s home. I found this decision utterly laughable and anachronistic. Demelza was a character in a novel set in the early 1790s, not the mid 1970s. Since she was a woman, there is no way Ross would allow Demelza to dictate their son’s whereabouts without his consent. And since Demelza also had working-class origins, no judge throughout Great Britain would allow her to hand Jeremy over to the Blameys or keep him for herself without Ross’ consent. Chances are if Demelza had insisted upon leaving Ross for good, he would have assumed control over Jeremy and insure that Demelza never set eyes upon their son, while the latter remained a minor.

But what truly made me dislike the 1975 series’ adaptation of “Warleggan” was the manner in which it handled Ross Poldark’s rape of his cousin-in-law, Elizabeth Poldark in Episode Fifteen. I found it abominable. Producers Coburn and Barry, along with screenwriter Russell were willing to show Ross about to rape Elizabeth. The episode ended the scene in the same manner that Winston Graham did – with Ross about to force himself on Elizabeth, inside her bedroom at Trenwith. But Russell made so many changes – before and after the rape – to ensure that viewers would never castigate Ross for the rape.

One, the portrayal of Elizabeth underwent a drastic change in Episode Thirteen, when she was suddenly portrayed as this greedy and cold bitch. Many fans have accused the literary Elizabeth of being cold. Elizabeth was never really cold . . . just reserved. Introverted. Two, screenwriter Jack Russell drastically changed Elizabeth’s reason for marrying George Warleggan. Although she was satisfied with George’s promises of great wealth, more social clout and trips to London; Elizabeth’s true reason was to prevent her life and the lives of her immediate family from abject poverty and to prevent her son Geoffrey Charles from losing Trenwith in the future. This is what she had conveyed to Ross in her letter written to him. This did not happen in the 1975 series. Instead, Elizabeth literally boasted to her sister-in-law Verity that her only reason for accepting George’s proposal was for her to enjoy a life of great wealth. That is what she had conveyed to Ross in her letter. It seemed that Elizabeth was being “set up” to being punished by Ross for her “selfishness and greed”.

Ross read Elizabeth’s letter. He rushed over to Trenwith and tried to insist that she break her engagement to George. Then he raped her. The ironic thing is that the entire scene between Ross and Elizabeth was rushed. The pair barely exchanged three or four sentences before Ross threw her on the bed and proceeded to rape her. The attitude behind this entire rush job seemed to be one of “let’s hurry it up and get this scene over with”. But what happened in Episode Sixteen almost disgusted me as the actual rape did. Jack Russell created this entire scenario of Trenwith’s former tenants marching upon the estate’s manor house, attacking the inhabitants and burning it down. This was never in the novel. Yes, George did enclosed the Trenwith estate from its tenant farmers. But there was no mob scene created by Graham to give Ross the opportunity to play “hero” and save Elizabeth and George from being killed.

Worse, just before the outbreak of attack, Ross confronted the recently married couple about the enclosure. He had the nerve to confront Elizabeth and castigate her for her wedding to George. It . . . was . . . disgusting . . . to watch. I sat in front of my television set and watched a rapist slut shame his victim for marrying his rival. That moment was one of the most misogynist I have ever seen in my life. After Ross had saved Elizabeth and George from the mob, he slut shamed her again with a you are beneath me look, when she asked him why he had bothered to save George. He was disgusted? I was disgusted . . . with producers Morris Barry and Anthony Coburn for sanctioning this piece of misogynist shit. And I was disgusted with Jack Russell for writing it. There was only one scene in the entire four episodes adaptation of “Warleggan” that painted Elizabeth in a positive or sympathetic light – when she criticized George for enclosing the Trenwith land from the tenants. I am glad that the producers and screenwriter were willing to portray Elizabeth being capable of sympathy toward others. But apparently, they were unwilling for television viewers to sympathize with her being raped. Why? Because she was a woman and thanks to the leading man’s obsession with her . . . a threat to his marriage with the leading lady.

And if that was not enough, I found myself wondering if the producers and Russell had found another way to slut shame Elizabeth. I am referring to the scene featuring Demelza’s confrontation with Captain McNeil at Sir Hugh Bodrugan’s party. Following her initial intent to sleep with McNeil, she changed her mind. In the novel, McNeil eventually backed off, realizing that he was not the kind of man to force his unwanted attentions on a woman. In the 1975 adaptation, McNeil came to no such conclusion and tried to rape Demelza. She fought him off by kneeing him in the balls. Then she made her escape. The message I got from this version of Demelza and McNeil’s encounter was a criticism of Elizabeth for failing to fight off Ross, earlier in the story. Russell’s screenplay seemed to hint that Elizabeth could have done the same if she truly wanted Ross out of her bedroom. Hmmm . . . considering that only one or two people have ever complained about this change, I cannot help but realize that our society has truly embraced a rape culture.

I plan to continue my viewing of the 1970s version of the “POLDARK” series. Why? Well, I bought the entire box set for the series. And many people, including myself, believe that the next three novels that follow “Warleggan” are among the best in the series. But I will never like the 1975 adaptation of “Warleggan”. The producers and the screenwriters corrupted Winston Graham’s story and completely changed what he was trying to say about the consequences of rape through the Ross Poldark and Elizabeth Poldark Warleggan characters. For me, Episodes Thirteen to Sixteen were a damn travesty.

Five Favorite Episodes of “THE MUSKETEERS” Season Two (2015)

Below is a list of my five favorite episodes from Season Two of “THE MUSKETEERS”, the BBC’s historical action-drama based on Alexandre Dumas, père’s 1844 novel. Created by Adrian Hodges, the series stars Tom Burke, Santiago Cabrera, Howard Charles and Luke Pasqualino:

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “THE MUSKETEERS” SEASON TWO (2015)

1. (2.07) “A Marriage of Inconvenience” – In this episode, France’s premier minister and former spy, Comte de Rochefort, uses an assassin to kill of members of King Louis XIII’s council and advance his position at court; while he learns the truth about Queen Anne’s past relationship with Musketeer Aramis.

2. (2.10) “Trial and Punishment” – In the season finale, Musketeers Athos and d’Artagnan rescue Constance from the executioner’s sword; and with Treville they help Porthos to capture the Spanish spymaster Vargas. Meanwhile, Louis has signed Anne’s death warrant, leading to a confrontation between Rochefort and the Musketeers.

3. (2.02) “An Ordinary Man” – Wanting to experience the life of an ordinary citizen, the King Louis accompanies the Musketeers on the streets of Paris . . . before he and Musketeer d’Artagnan are kidnapped by slave traders.

4. (2.09) “The Accused” – After being rebuffed by the Queen, Rochefort produces a fake letter from her to her brother, the King of Spain, in an effort to frame her for treason. Meanwhile; the royal physician, Dr. Lemay and the Queen’s aide, Constance Bonacieux; are implicated in an attempt to poison the King.

5. (2.03) “The Good Traitor” – An ex-general from the Spanish army arrives in Paris to plead for help in rescuing his daughter, held by Spanish agents in Paris; in exchange for a coded formula and cypher machine of a deadly new gunpowder that the Spanish also want.

“WAR AND PEACE” (2016) Review

“WAR AND PEACE” (2016) Review

I have a confession to make. I have never seen a movie or television adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1869 novel, “War and Peace”. Never. Well . . . I once made an attempt to watch the 1956 movie adaptation directed by King Vidor. Unfortunately, I could never go the distance. In fact, I have never read the novel. 

However, many years passed. When I heard about the BBC’s latest adaptation of Tolstoy’s novel, my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to give “WAR AND PEACE” a chance. The six-part miniseries is simply about the experiences of five Russian families during the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century. Those families include the Bezukhovs, the Bolkonskys, the Rostovs, the Kuragins, and theDrubetskoys. The miniseries seemed to be divided into three segments during a period between 1805 and 1812-13. The first segment featured the introduction of the main characters and Russia’s preparation of a war against Napoleon’s France. This culminates into the Battle of Austerlitz in which two major characters – Prince Andrei Nikolayevich Bolkonsky and Count Nikolai Ilyich Rostov – participate.

The second segment featured the characters’ personal experiences at home. During this period, the miniseries explored Count Pyotr “Pierre” Kirillovich Bezukhov’s failed marriage with the beautiful, but vapid and unfaithful Princess Yelena “Hélène” Vasilyevna Kuragina; the Rostov family’s financial woes and how it affected Nikolai Rostov; the emotional strains within the Bolkonsky family; Prince Boris Drubetskoy’s efforts to advance his military career; and especially Countess Natalya “Natasha” Ilyinichna Rostova’s love life, which included both Andrei Bolkonsky and Prince Anatole Vasilyevich Kuragin. This segment also included news of Treaties of Tilsit of 1807, which ended hostilities between Imperial France and Imperial Russia and Prussia. The miniseries’ final segment focused on France’s invasion of Russia in 1812 and the characters’ efforts to survive it.

I could compare director Tom Harper and screenwriter Andrew Davies’ adaptation with Tolstoy’s novel, but it would be a useless effort. As I had earlier pointed out, I have never read the novel. But I do have at least two complaints about the productions. One of them revolved around the relationship between Natasha Rostova and Andrei Bolkonsky. I realize that the publicity machine on both sides of the Atlantic had undergone a great effort to build up the relationship between the pair. Frankly, I found the publicity campaign rather wasted. The Natasha/Andrei romance struck me as a disappointing and wasted effort. The majority of their story arc – which began with their meeting at a ball near the end of Episode Three, continued with Natasha’s brief romance with the slimy Anatole Kuragin, and ended with Natasha’s romances with both men crashing around her by the end of Episode Four; had moved . . . so damn fast that it left my head spinning. I cannot help but wonder if the entire arc could have been portrayed with more detail if the series had stretched a bit longer.

I also had a problem with Edward K. Gibbon’s costume designs. I found most of them very colorful, especially for the aristocratic characters. But I also found most of them rather troublesome. Well . . . to be honest, I found them either mediocre or historically questionable. One of them left me gritting my teeth:

But my jaw had literally dropped at the sight of a few costumes worn by actresses Tuppence Middleton and Gillian Anderson – including those shown in the images below:

 

WHAT IN THE HELL??? Their costumes looked more appropriate for present-day evening wear than the early 19th century. What was Mr. Gibbons thinking?

Despite the rushed Natasha Rostova/Andrei Bolkonsky romance and despite the rather questionable costumes, I managed to enjoy “WAR AND PEACE” very much. I am a sucker for family sagas, especially when they are seeped in a historical background. And “WAR AND PEACE” nearly pushed every one of my buttons when it comes to a well made saga. It had everything – romance, family struggles, historical events and personages. When I realized that Tolstoy had originally focused his tale on five families, I did not think Andrew Davies would be able to translate the author’s novel in a tight story without losing its epic quality.

There were certain sequences that really blew my mind, thanks to Davies’ writing and especially, Tom Harper’s direction. I thought Harper did an outstanding job of re-creating battles like Austerlitz and Borodino, along with the French Army’s retreat from Moscow. Harper also did a great job in directing large parties and ball scenes. My two favorites are the party held at St. Petersburg socialite Anna Pavlovna Scherer’s salon in Episode 1 and the ball where Natasha and Andrei met in Episode 3.

But it was not just the battle and crowd scenes that impressed me. “WAR AND PEACE” is – after all – a melodrama, even if many literary critics are inclined not to admit it. I never thought I would find myself getting caught up in the lives of the saga’s main characters. But I did. I must admit that I admire how Tolstoy . . . and Davies managed to allow the three main characters – Pierre, Natasha and Andrei – to interact with the five families, regardless of blood connection or marriage. I especially enjoyed the explorations into the lives of Pierre, the Rostovs and the Bolkonskys. At first glance, some might regard the miniseries’ ending that featured a picnic with the families of the three leads as a bit on the saccharine. It did have a “happily ever after” tinge about it. But I read in a newspaper article that complained about Tolstoy’s “realistic” ending – one that featured a less-than-happy view of the protagonists’ lives and a critique from Tolstoy on all forms of mainstream history. Thanks to Davies’ screenplay, audiences were spared of this.

“WAR AND PEACE” featured a good number of first-rate performances from a supporting cast that included Stephen Rea, Gillian Anderson, Tuppence Middleton, Callum Turner, Mathieu Kassovitz, Jessie Buckley, Adrian Edmondson, Aisling Loftus, Rebecca Front and Aneurin Barnard. However, I was especially impressed by certain supporting performances. One came from Greta Scacchi, who portrayed the Rostov family’s practical and sometimes ruthless matriarch Countess Natalya Rostova. I also enjoyed Brian Cox’s portrayal of the world weary General Mikhail Kutuzov, who has to contend with not only Napolean’s army, but also the amateurish interference of the Czar. Tom Burke did a great job in portraying the wolfish and ambitious army officer, Fedor Dolokhov, who eventually becomes a better man following Napoleon’s invasion. Jack Lowden’s portrayal of the young Count Nikolai Rostov really impressed me, especially when his character found himself torn between following his heart and marrying a wealthy woman to restore his family’s fortunes. And Jim Broadbent gave a very colorful performance as Prince Nikolai Bolkonsky, the mercurial and controlling patriarch of the Bolkonsky family.

And what about the production’s three leads? Lily James gave a very charming performance as Countess Natasha Rostova. Well . . . I take that back. Describing James’ performance as simply “charming” seemed to hint that I found it rather shallow. Yes, James handled Natasha’s “light” moments with her usual competence. More importantly, she did an excellent job in conveying Natasha’s personal struggles – especially during the series’ second half. There were times when I did not know what to make of the Prince Andrei Bolkonsky. He struck me as a very unusual protagonist. Although I found him rather honorable and filled with valor, Andrei did not always struck me as likable – especially in his relationship with adoring, yet ignored wife Lise. And Norton superbly captured the many nuances of Andrei’s character. If Andrei Bolkonsky struck me as an unusual protagonist, Count Pierre Bezukhov struck me as one of a kind. Well . . . one of a kind for a literary piece written in the 19th century. Sometimes, I get the feeling that someone like Pierre could easily translate into a late 20th century or early 21st century geek. Or perhaps not. I think Pierre is too kind and open-minded to be considered a geek. But he is very unusual for a leading man. And thanks to Paul Dano’s superb portrayal, Pierre has become one of my favorite fictional characters. He did a stupendous job in conveying Pierre’s character from this insecure and rather naive man to a man who learned to find wisdom and inner peace through his struggles. Dano was so good that I had assumed that his performance would garner him a major acting nomination. It did not and I am still flabbergasted by this travesty.

My taste in period dramas usually focused on stories set in the United States or Great Britain . . . with the occasional foray into France. I was very reluctant to tackle this latest adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s most famous novel. But I was in the mood for something new and decided to watch the six-part miniseries. I am happy to say that despite some flaws, I ended up enjoying “WAR AND PEACE” very much, thanks to Andrew Davies’ screenplay, Tom Harper’s direction and an excellent cast led by Paul Dano, James Norton and Lily James.

“BAND OF ANGELS” (1957) Review

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“BAND OF ANGELS” (1957) Review

I have been a fan of period dramas for a long time. A very long time. This is only natural, considering that I am also a history buff. One of the topics that I love to explore is the U.S. Civil War. When you combined that topic in a period drama, naturally I am bound to get excited over that particular movie or television production. 

I have seen a good number of television and movie productions about the United States’ Antebellum period and the Civil War. One of those productions is “BAND OF ANGEL”, an adaptation of Robert Warren Penn’s 1955 novel set during the last year of the Antebellum period and the first two years of the Civil War.

The story begins around 1850. The privileged daughter of a Kentucky plantation owner named Amantha Starr overhears one house slave make insinuations about her background to another slave. Before Amantha (or “Manthy”) could learn more details, she discovers that Mr. Starr had the offending slave sold from the family plantation, Starwood. He also enrolls her in a school for privileged girls in Cinncinati. A decade later in 1860, Amantha’s father dies. When she returns to Starwood, Amantha discovers that Mr. Starr had been in debt. Worse, she discovers that her mother had been one of his slaves, making her a slave of mixed blood. Amantha and many other Starwood slaves are collected by a slave trader and conveyed by steamboat to New Orleans for the city’s slave mart.

Upon her arrival in New Orleans, Amantha comes dangerously close to be purchased by a coarse and lecherous buyer. However, she is rescued by a Northern-born planter and slave owner named Hamish Bond, and becomes part of his household as his personal mistress. She also becomes acquainted with Bond’s other house slaves – his right-hand-man named Rau-Ru, his housekeeper and former mistress Michele and Dollie, who serves as her personal maid. Although Amantha initially resents her role as a slave and Bond’s role as her owner, she eventually falls in love with him and he with her. But the outbreak of the Civil War and a long buried secret of Bond’s threaten their future.

Many critics and film fans have compared “BAND OF ANGELS” to the 1939 Oscar winner, “GONE WITH THE WIND”. Frankly, I never understood the comparison. Aside from the setting – late Antebellum period and the Civil War, along with Clark Gable as the leading man, the two films really have nothing in common. “GONE WITH THE WIND” is a near four-hour epic that romanticized a period in time. Although “BAND OF ANGELS” have its moments of romanticism, its portrayal of the Old South and the Civil War is a bit more complicated . . . ambiguous. Also, I would never compare Scarlett O’Hara with Amantha Starr. Both are daughters of Southern plantation owners. But one is obviously a member of the Southern privileged class, while the other is the illegitimate and mixed race daughter of a planter and his slave mistress. Also, Gable’s character in “BAND OF ANGELS” is a Northern-born sea captain, who became a planter; not a semi-disgraced scion of an old Southern family.

Considering the political ambiguity of “BAND OF ANGELS”, I suppose I should be more impressed with it. Thanks to Warren’s novel, Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts’ screenplay and Raoul Walsh’s direction; the movie attempted to provide audiences with a darker view of American slavery and racism. For instance, Amantha’s journey from Kentucky to Louisiana as a slave proved to be a harrowing one, as she deals with a slave trader with plans to rape her, a traumatic experience at the New Orleans slave mart, Bond’s lustful neighbor Charles de Marigny and her attempts to keep her African-American ancestry a secret from a Northern beau later in the film. The film also touches on Rau-ru’s point of view in regard to slavery and racism. Despite being educated and treated well by Hamish Bond; Rau-ru, quite rightly, is resentful of being stuck in the role of what he views as a cosseted pet. Rau-ru also experiences the ugly racism of planters like de Marigny and slave catchers; and Northerners like some of the Union officers and troops that occupied New Orleans and Southern Louisiana in the movie’s last half hour. I also noticed that the movie did not hesitate to expose the ugliness of the slave trade and the system itself, the racist reveal the fate of a great number of slaves who found themselves being forced by Union forces to continue toiling on the cotton and sugar plantations on behalf of the North.

There are other aspects of the movie that I found admirable. Not all of “BAND OF ANGELS” was shot at the Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank. A good of the movie was shot on location in Louisiana. I have to give credit to cinematographer Lucien Ballard for doing an exceptional job for the film’s sharp and vibrant color, even if the film lacked any real memorable or iconic shot. If I must be honest, I can say the same about Max Steiner’s score. However, I can admit that Steiner’s score blended well with the movie’s narrative. Marjorie Best, who had received Oscar nominations for her work in movies like “ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN”and “GIANT”, served as the movie’s costume designer. I was somewhat impressed by her designs, especially for the male characters, ironically enough. However, I had a problem with her costumes for Yvonne De Carlo. Nearly dress that the Amantha Starr character possessed a low cut neckline that emphasized her cleavage. Even her day dresses. Really?

After reading a few reviews about “BAND OF ANGELS”, I noticed that some movie fans and critics were not that impressed by the film’s performances. I have mixed feelings about them. Clark Gable seemed to be phoning it in most of the film. But there were a few scenes that made it easy to see why he not only became a star, but earned an Oscar well. This was apparent in two scene in which the Hamish Bond character recalled the enthusiasm and excitement of his past as a sea captain and in another, the “more shameful” aspects of his past. At age 34 or 35, I believe Yvonne De Carlo was too old for the role of Amantha Starr, who was barely into her twenties in the story. Some would say that the role could have benefited being portrayed by a biracial actress and not a white one. Perhaps. But despite the age disparity, I still thought De Carlo gave a very strong performance as the passionate and naive Amantha, who suddenly found her life turned upside down. Ironically, I thought her scenes with Sidney Poitier seemed to generate more chemistry than her ones with Gable. Speaking of Poitier . . . I might as well say it. He gave the best performance in the movie. His Rau-ru bridled with a varying degree of emotions when the scene called for it. And the same time, one could easily see that he was well on his way in becoming the Hollywood icon that Gable already was at the time.

There were other performances in “BAND OF ANGELS”, but very few seemed that memorable. The movie featured solid performances from Rex Reason, who portrayed Amantha’s Northern-born object of her earlier infatuation Seth Parson; Efrem Zimbalist Jr., who not only portrayed Amantha’s later suitor Union officer Lieutenant Ethan Sears, but was already on the road as a television star; Carroll Drake, who portrayed Hamish Bond’s introverted and observant housekeeper Michele; Andrea King, who portrayed Amantha’s hypocritical former schoolmistress Miss Idell; William Schallert, who had a brief, but memorable role as a bigoted Union Army officer; and Torin Thatcher, who portrayed Bond’s fellow sea captain and friend Captain Canavan. Many critics had accused Patric Knowles of bad acting. Frankly, I found his performance as Bond’s neighbor and fellow planter Charles de Marigny effectively slimy . . . in a subtle way. Ray Teal was equally effective as the slimy and voracious slave trader Mr. Calloway, who conveyed Amantha to the slave marts of New Orleans. The only performance that hit a sour note from me came from Tommie Moore, who portrayed one of Bond’s house maids, the loud and verbose Dollie. Every time she opened her mouth I could not help but wince at her over-the-top and if I may say so, cliched performance as Dollie. I think I could have endured two hours in the company of Prissy and Aunt Pittypat Hamilton from “GONE WITH THE WIND” than five minutes in Dollie’s company. I guess I could have blamed the actress herself. But a part of me suspect that the real perputrators were screenwriter and Walsh.

I wish that was all I had to say about “BAND OF ANGELS”. I really do. But . . . despite the movie’s portrayal the ugliness of slavery and racism, it ended up undermining its attempt. Quite frankly, I found “BAND OF ANGELS” to be a very patronizing movie – especially in regard to race. And the figure of this patronization is centered around the character of Hamish Bond. Someone once complained that although the movie initially seemed to revolve around Amantha Starr, in the end it was all about Bond. I do not know if I could fully agree with this, but I found it disturbing that the character “growths” of both Amantha and Rau-ru revolved around Bond and their opinion of him.

One aspect of “BAND OF ANGELS” that I found particularly bizarre was Amantha’s opinion of Hamish Bond’s connection to slavery. At first, she simply resented him for being her owner. But she eventually fell in love with him and opened herself to being his mistress. Amantha certainly had no problems with that ridiculous scene that featured Bond’s field slaves lined up near the river side to welcome him back to his plantation with choral singing. Really? This was probably the most patronizing scene in the movie. Yet, when Amantha discovered that his past as a sea captain involved his participation in the Atlantic slave trade, she reacted with horror and left him. Let me see if I understand this correctly. Once she was in love with Bond, she had no problems with being his slave mistress or his role as a slave owner. Yet, she found his participation in the slave trade to be so awful that she . . . left him? Slave owner or slave trader, Hamish Bond exploited the bodies of black men and women. Why was being a slave trader worse than being a slave owner? Not only do I find this attitude hypocritical, I also noticed that it permeated in a good deal of other old Hollywood films set in the Antebellum era. Even more disturbing is that after becoming romantic with an Union officer named Ethan Sears, Amantha has a brief reunion with her former object of desire, Seth Parsons. He reveals knows about her mother’s ancestry and her role as Bond’s mistress, and tries to blackmail her into becoming his. In other words, Seth’s knowledge of her racial background and her history with Bond leads Amantha to run back into the arms of Bond. And quite frankly, this makes no sense to me. Why would Seth’s attempt to blackmail lead Amantha to forgive Bond for his past as a slave trader? The movie never really made this clear.

I found the interactions between Rau-ru and Hamish Bond even more ridiculous and patronizing. Rau-ru is introduced as Bond’s major-domo/private secretary, who also happens to be a slave. Despite receiving education from Bond and a high position within the latter’s household, Rau-ru not only resents Bond, but despises him. And you know what? I can understand why. I noticed that despite all of these advantages given to Rau-ru, Bond refuses to give him his freedom. Worse, Bond treats Rau-ru as a pet. Think I am joking? I still cannot think of the scene in which Bond’s friend, Captain Canavan, visited and demanded that Rau-ru entertain him with a song without any protest from Bond without wincing. This scene was really vomit inducing. What made the situation between Rau-ru and Bond even worse is that the former made an abrupt about face about his former master during the war . . . all because the latter had revealed how he saved Rau-ru’s life during a slave raid in Africa and – get this – some bigoted Union Army officer tried to cheat Rau-ru from a reward for capturing Bond. The former sea captain/planter ended up leaving his estate to Rau-ru in a will. How nice . . . but I suspect he did so after Amantha left him. If not, my mistake. And why did Bond failed to give Rau-ru his freedom before the outbreak of war? Instead, Rau-ru was forced to flee to freedom after saving Amantha from being raped by Charles de Marigny. In Robert Warren’s novel, Rau-ru eventually killed Bond. Pity this did not happen in the movie.

Overall, I see that my feelings for “BAND OF ANGELS” is mixed. There are some aspects of the movie that I found admirable. I might as well admit. The movie especially benefited from Lucien Ballard’s colorful photography, an interesting first act and an excellent performance by Sidney Poitier. Otherwise, I can honestly say that “BAND OF ANGELS” focused too much on the Hamish Bond character and was a bit too patronizing on the subject of race and slavery for me to truly enjoy it.

“POLDARK” Series Two (2016) Episodes One to Four

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“POLDARK” SERIES TWO (2016) EPISODES ONE TO FOUR

Following my viewing of the 1975 series, “POLDARK” and its adaptation of Winston Graham’s 1950 novel, “Jeremy Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1790-1791”, I decided to view Debbie Horsfield’s recent adaptation of the same novel, spread out in four episodes during its second series. Needless to say, my experience with this adaptation of “Jeremy Poldark” proved to be a different kettle of fish.

Series Two’s first episode began a day or two after the final scene of Series One – namely Ross Poldark’s arrest by the local militia for instigating a riot between his tenants/employees and the citizens of another town, who were salvaging the goods from a shipwrecked ship. The ship happened to belong to a noveau riche family named Warleggan and one of its members, one George Warleggan, went out of his way to ensure that the law would charge Ross with the crime. To make matters worse, Ross and his wife, Demelza Carne Poldark, had to endure the death of their only daughter from Putrid’s Throat.

At the beginning of the second series’ Episode One, Ross faced one of his old nemesis, the Reverend Dr. Halse , in court in order for the latter to determine whether Ross would stand trial for his crime. Considering the two men’s previous clashes, it was not surprising that Halse ordered Ross to stand trial during the next assize in Bodmin. Not only that – audiences were treated with an energetic scene between star Aidan Turner and former Poldark leading man, Robin Ellis. After Ross returned to his estate, Nampara, he set about getting his business in order. Meanwhile, Demelza tried to encourage him to seek help or patronage in order to ensure his acquittal. Being an incredibly stubborn and self-righteous ass, Ross refused. Demelza was forced to go behind his back to seek help from the judge assigned to his case and a wealthy neighbor named Ray Penvenen. Needless to say, Demelza failed to gather support from both men. Her cousin-in-law and Ross’ former love, Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark attempted to acquire George Warleggan’s help by arranging a meeting between the men at her husband’s estate, Trenwith. She also failed, due to Ross’ unwillingness to speak to the latter. George’s major henchman, Tankhard, managed to recruit Ross’ former farmhand, Jud Paynter, to testify against Ross. Although Jud had intially agreed to testify, he changed his mind at the last minute, while on the stand. Due to a rousing pro-labor speech, Ross was acquitted by the end of Episode Two.

During those first two episodes that focused on Ross’ trial, other events occurred. His close friend, Dr. Dwight Enys met Ray Penvenen’s flighty niece, Caroline Penvenen during the azzis and election in Bodmin and sparks flew between the pair … despite the latter’s arrogant demand that he treat her pug. Francis, while in despair over estrangement from Ross, Verity and Elizabeth, attempted suicide in Bodmin and failed, due to a falty pistol. Elizabeth also appeared in Bodmin for the trial. Although she had appeared to support Ross, she and Francis ended up reconciling. Unfortunately, I was not pleased by this development. I wish Elizabeth had never forgiven Francis, since he had never bothered to offer any apology for the five to six years of emotional abuse and the loss of his fortune and their son Geoffrey Charles’ future. Unless I am mistaken, Elizabeth never really forgave Francis in the novels, despite his “new lease on life”, following his suicide attempt. Good. I never thought he deserved forgiveness.

I have read a few articles and reviews of the episodes that covered the adaptation of “Jeremy Poldark”. While everyone else seemed impressed by the hullaballoo over Ross’ trial, I felt more impressed by the third and fourth episodes. One, I was never that impressed by the trial storyline in the first place. Due to Ross’ social standing as a member of the landed gentry, I suspected he would be acquitted, when I first read the novel. Unless he had committed murder (against someone from his own class) or treason against the Crown, I never really believed he would be convicted. If Ross had been a member of the working-class or middle-class, chances are his closing speech would have guaranteed conviction of the charges made against him. By the way, was that a closing speech? Or was that merely a speech inserted into Ross’ own testimonial? I hope it was the latter, because he seemed to possess a barrister who barely said a word.

And if I must be brutally honest, there was an aspect of the first two episodes – especially Episode Two – that I found disappointing. I had been more impressed by the 1975 adaptation of Ross’ trial, due to its strong ability to recapture the atmosphere of an assize during the eighteenth century. I never sense that same level of atmosphere from this latest adaptation. Showrunner Debbie Horsfield seemed more intent upon creating tension over the possibility conviction. In a way, this seemed appropriate considering that the story should matter. But would it have hurt for Horsfield to add a little color or flavor in her portrayal of the Bodmin assize? For me it would have made up for my disinterest in Ross’ trial.

While many complained about the “dullness” of Episodes Three and Four, I found it interesting. Once Ross and Demelza dealt with his arrest and trial, they were forced to deal with the aftermath of their daughter Julia’s death. While Demelza openly faced her grief, Ross finally got the chance to focus his attention on dealing with his possible financial ruin. But in doing so, he ended up emotionally distancing himself from his wife. It was easy to see that the honeymoon was over for Ross and Demelza. Like many couples in real life, they found it difficult to deal with a child’s death, which they were forced to face after Ross’ acquittal. And like many couples, their relationship suffered, due to their grief. Although Demelza had discovered she was pregnant, Ross made it clear that he was not ready to deal with another child before she could reveal her news. I have to commend both Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson in conveying the growing estrangement between Ross and Demelza with great skill and subtlety. And I suspect that they benefited from Debbie Horsfield’s writing, who managed to capture this roadblock in the couple’s relationship without turning it into an over-the-top ham fest.

Both Episodes Three and Four also focused on Ross’ financial problems. Many critics seemed uninterested in this turn of events. Apparently, they were more interested in watching Ross and Demelza behave like “the perfect couple”. I was not bored. It was interesting to watch an upper-class landonwer deal with looming poverty without the benefit of securing the hand of an heiress. You know … like aspiring politician Unwin Trevaunance. And what many had failed to point out was that the Nampara Poldarks’ financial situation was a result of Demelza’s matchmaking efforts for Verity, Francis’ resentment and anger, and George’s malice. The die was cast in Series One’s eighth episode and the consequences reared its ugly head in Series Two. Ross and Demelza were bound to face these consequences sooner or later. Worse, Ross found himself dealing with a vindictive George Warleggan, who was finally able to purchase enough shares to assume control over Wheal Leisure, Ross’ mine.

I never understood why Demelza had kept her fishing trips (to provide food for Nampara’s larder) a secret from Ross. Personally, I thought she could have informed him that someone needed to fish to prevent them from starving, due to their money problems. If Ross had dismissed the idea, then I could have understood her need for secrecy. But knowing Ross, he probably would not have supported the fishing trips or bothered to find someone to provide fish for Nampara’s inhabitants. He could be rather stubborn and proud. And I must admit that I did not care for how Debbie Horsfield changed the circumstances behind Demelza’s last fishing trip. Instead of allowing her to reach shore on her own, while going into labor; Horsfield had an angry Ross come to her rescue and carry her ashore:

 

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It looked like a scenario from a second-rate romance novel. And I found it a touch sexist. Ugh.

Other matters threatened to endanger Ross and Demelza’s marriage even further. One, Demelza seemed to have become the center of attraction for men like fellow landowner Sir Hugh Bodrugan, who has set his eyes on Demelza ever since the Warleggan ball back in Series One; and the Scottish-born militia officer, Captain McNeil, who happened to be one of Ross’ former military comrades from the Revolutionary War. Mr. Poldark seemed unaware of Sir Hugh’s attention, but did not seem particularly thrilled by Captain McNeill sniffing around his wife. Yet … he did nothing. Two, Ross gave permission to allow a smuggling ring led by a Mr. Trencomb to use the cove on his beach to store their stolen goods. Fearful that Ross might face arrest again and this time, prison, Demelza expressed her disapproval.

However, she seemed relieved that Ross and Francis had finally made their peace following their estrangement over Verity Poldark’s (Francis’ sister) marriage to a former alcoholic sea captain in Episode Three, thanks to Elizabeth’s machinations. In fact, she was more than happy to attend Francis’ harvest ball at Trenwith. What she did not like was the conversation she had overheard between Ross and Elizabeth, later that evening. A part of me was fascinated by Ross’ bold attempt to seduce Elizabeth. Especially since it featured some excellent acting from both Aidan Turner and Heida Reed. Another part of me felt disgusted by his actions. Ross had not merely flirted with his cousin-in-law. He made a strong effort to seduce her … after her husband had retired to his bedroom, upstairs. Fortunately, Elizabeth put a stop to his action before it could get any worse.

Interesting consequences resulted from Ross’ attempt at seduction. It finally led Demelza to reveal her pregnancy to Ross … who did not seem particularly thrilled. And although Demelza seemed willing to dismiss her husband’s behavior, her cool attitude toward Elizabeth during their encounter in the woods seemed to hint that she seemed willing to place most of the blame on her cousin-in-law. In other words, Demelza seemed willing to use Elizabeth as a scapegoat for Ross’ indiscretion. Or … perhaps Ross’ attempt to seduce Elizabeth had simply increased Demelza’s insecurity. After reading several articles on this story arc, I was … not particularly surprised that most fans and critics had ignored this little scene between the two cousins-in-law, especially since Demelza is such a popular character and Elizabeth is not. Many years have passed since I last read “Jeremy Poldark”. But I do not recall such a scene in the novel. What made Horsfield add it? Was this the producer’s attempt to portray Demelza in a more ambiguous light than she did in previous episodes? Or was this an attempt to set up Elizabeth as partially responsible for an upcoming event in a later episode? I have no idea. I am confused.

Many fans seemed thrilled by the budding romance between Dr. Dwight Enys and heiress Caroline Penvenen. Personally, I found it rather interesting … and romantic in a way. Both Luke Norris and Gabriella Wilde seemed to have a strong screen chemistry. My problem with this relationship is that I am not a fan of Caroline. I never have been. I have the oddest feeling that although she may be in love with Dwight, she also regards him as something new or different that she wants to acquire … or collect. Her constant requests for his medical services and her assistance in acquiring oranges to help him deal with an outbreak of scurvy strikes me as seductive foreplay on her part and nothing else.

However, the reunion between the Nampara and Trenwith Poldarks resulted in two positive consequences. Following the loss of Wheal Leisure, Ross recalled Mark Daniels’ (one of the saga’s two wife killers) claim of discovering copper inside his family’s other mine, Wheal Grace and managed to convince Francis in investing in the mine. And the latter invested the six hundred pounds that he had received from George Warleggan for exposing the Carnmore Copper Company investors (the majority of whom were indebted to the Warleggan Bank), back in Series One.

Speaking of Francis’ six hundred pounds, I am confused about something. When George Warleggan learned about Francis’ investment in Wheal Grace, he vindictively revealed to Ross how Francis had acquired the money in the first place. Naturally, Ross lost his temper and the pair engaged in a brawl. But I could have sworn that Ross had figured out Francis’ betrayal of the company ever since he learned about Demelza’s meddling in Verity’s love life around the same time that Carnmore Copper Company had folded. The sequence from Episode Eight seemed to hint this. Unless I had misread it. Judging from Ross’ reaction to George’s revelation in Episode Four of this season, apparently I did. However, I need to re-watch that Series One sequence again.

George’s revelation of Francis’ betrayal did give Ross the opportunity to manipulate the latter into finally accepting Verity’s marriage to Andrew Blamey in a very clever scene that featured first-rate performances from both Kyle Soller and Aidan Turner. As for that brawl between Ross and George … the scene sizzled from Aidan Turner and Jack Farthing’s performances. And many fans and critics cheered over Ross emerging victorious over his nemesis. However, I noticed that George made that victory difficult for Ross to achieve. I guess George’s boxing lessons proved to be beneficial after all. Some have expressed confusion over why George went through so much trouble to bring down Ross. Perhaps these fans had forgotten Ross’ rude and insulting response to George’s genuine offer of condolences over young Julia’s death near the end of Series One. Not only had Ross dismissed George’s sympathetic overture, he also insulted the latter’s cousin Matthew Stinson, who had drowned when the Warleggans’ ship foundered. Apparently George never did.

It was nice to see Ruby Bentall as Verity Poldark Blamey again … even though her presence in the production was diminished in compare to Series One. Verity served as a reminder of Francis’ unwillingness to accept her marriage to the former alcoholic (and wife killer) Captain Andrew Blamey … which I can understand. Episode Three (or was it Four) featured a minor story arc that featured Verity’s problems with her stepdaughter, Esther Blamey. I must admit that it was not that difficult to understand Esther’s hostility. Her father had killed her mother in a fit of alcoholic rage (during an argument). Although he had served a few years in prison, he was released, managed to rebuild his profession as a sea captain and marry a woman from an upper-class family. If dear Esther was seething with inner rage over this series of events, I honestly could not blame her. However, her brother James, a midshipman in the Royal Navy, seemed more than willing to accept Verity. Oh well.

I have one last topic to discuss … Jud Paynter. As many know, Jud was bribed by George Warleggan’s minion, Tankard, to testify against Ross about the riot on the beach. Instead, Jud refrained from doing so once he had reached the stand. In retaliation, George hired a couple of thugs to give him a beating. Only they went too far and nearly beat Jud to death. I say nearly, because for some stupid reason, everyone from his wife Prudie to both Ross and Demelza believed that Jud had died. No one had bothered to check his body to see whether he was alive or not. I have liked this little story arc. Mind you, it revealed that Jud had taken money from George to testify against Ross. But the whole “poor Jud is dead” routine struck me as completely ridiculous and hard to believe. I alway enjoy Phil Davis’ portrayal of Jud and even Beatie Edney gave a rather funny performance in this story arc as the “grieving” Prudie Paynter. But I still dislike this story arc. Yet, I am grateful that Horsfield did not allow it to stretch out over a long period of time, as the producers of the 1975-77 series did. Thank goodness for some miracles.

I might as well be frank. I am not really a fan of Winston Graham’s 1950 novel, “Jeremy Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1790-1791”. For me, it seemed like a transitional novel. It concluded the story arc that began with Ross’ arrest for inciting a riot and it set up the Poldark/Warleggan family drama that eventually exploded in Graham’s next novel. I realized that Debbie Horsfield and the cast did all they could to make this adaptation of “Jeremy Poldark” work. There were some scenes that I found interesting – especially in Episodes Three and Four. But I must be honest … I did not find it particularly captivating. How could I when the source material had failed to captivate me, as well?

Top Ten Favorite Movies Set Between 1700 and 1749

Below is my current list of favorite movies set between 1700 and 1749: 

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET BETWEEN 1700 AND 1749

1. “Tom Jones” (1963) – Tony Richardson directed this Best Picture Oscar winner, an adaptation of Henry Fielding’s 1749 novel, “The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling”. The movie starred Albert Finney and Susannah York.

2. “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” (2006) – Gore Verbinski directed this second entry in Disney’s “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN” franchise about the search for the chest that contains Davy Jones’ heart. The movie starred Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley.

3. “Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl” (2003) – Gore Verbinski directed this first entry in Disney’s “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN” franchise about a dashing pirate who forms an alliance with an apprentice blacksmith in order to save the latter’s beloved from a crew of pirates – the very crew who had mutinied against the former. The movie starred Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley.

4. “Kidnapped” (1960) – Peter Finch and James MacArthur starred in Disney’s 1960 adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novel about family betrayal in 1740s Scotland. Robert Stevenson directed.

5. “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” (2007) – Gore Verbinski directed this third entry in Disney’s “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN” franchise about the Pirate Lords’ alliance and their stand against the East Indian Trading Company and Davy Jones. The movie starred Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley and Geoffrey Rush.

6. “Against All Flags” (1952) – Errol Flynn and Maureen O’Hara starred in this swashbuckler about a British sea officer who infiltrates a group of pirates on behalf of the government bring them to justice. George Sherman directed.

7. “Rob Roy” (1995) – Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange starred in this adventure film about Scottish chieftain Rob Roy McGregor and his conflict with an unscrupulous nobleman in the early 18th century Scottish Highlands. Michael Caton-Jones directed.

8. “The Master of Ballantrae” (1984) – Michael York, Richard Thomas, Fiona Hughes and Timothy Dalton starred in this second adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1889 novel about two estranged Scottish noblemen, who are also brothers. Douglas Hickox directed.

9. “Swashbuckler” (1976) – Robert Shaw starred in this adaptation of Paul Wheeler’s story, “The Scarlet Buccaneer”, about a early 18th century pirate who forms an alliance with the daughter of a disgraced judge against an evil imperial politician. James Goldstone directed.

10. “The Master of Ballantrae” (1953) – Errol Flynn, Anthony Steel and Roger Livsey starred in an earlier adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1889 novel about two estranged Scottish noblemen, who are also brothers. William Keighley directed.