“VANITY FAIR” (2018) Review

“VANITY FAIR” (2018) Review

When I had first heard that the ITV channel and Amazon Studios had plans to adapt William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1848 novel, “Vanity Fair”, I must admit that I felt no interest in watching the miniseries. After all, I had already seen four other adaptations, including the BBC’s 1987 production. And I regard the latter as the best version of Thackeray’s novel I had ever seen.

In the end, my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to watch the seven-part miniseries. In a nutshell, “VANITY FAIR” followed the experiences of Rebecca “Becky” Sharp, the social climbing daughter of an English not-so-successful painter and a French dancer in late Georgian England during and after the Napoleonic Wars. The production also told the story of Becky’s school friend and daughter of a wealthy merchant, Amelia Sedley. The story begins with both young women leaving Miss Pinkerton’s Academy for Young Ladies. Becky managed to procure a position as governess to Sir Pitt Crawley, a slightly crude yet friendly baronet. Before leaving for her new position, Becky visits Amelia’s family. She tries to seduce Jos Sedley, Amelia’s wealthy brother and East India Company civil servant. Unfortunately George Osborne, a friend of Jos and son of another wealthy merchant, puts a stop to the budding romance.

While working for the Crawleys, Becky meets and falls in love with Sir Pitt’s younger son, Captain Rawdon Crawley. When Sir Pitt proposes marriage to Becky, she shocks the family with news of her secret marriage to Rawdon. The couple becomes ostracized and ends up living in London on Rawdon’s military pay and gambling winnings. They also become reacquainted with Amelia Sedley, who has her own problems. When her father loses his fortune, George’s own father insists that he dump Amelia and marry a Jamaican heiress. George refuses to do so and thanks to his friend William Dobbin’s urging, marries Amelia. Mr. Osborne ends up disinheriting George. However, the romantic lives of Becky and Amelia take a backseat when history overtakes them and their husbands with the return of Napoleon Bonaparte.

I wish I could say that the 2018 miniseries was the best adaptation of Thackery’s novel I had seen. But it is not. The production had its . . . flaws. One, I disliked its use of the song “All Along the Watchtower” in each episode’s opening credits and other rock and pop tunes during the episodes’ closing credits. They felt so out of place in the miniseries’ production. Yes, I realize that a growing number of period dramas have doing the same. And quite frankly, I detest it. This scenario barely worked in the 2006 movie, “MARIE ANTOINETTE”. Now, this use of pop tunes in period dramas strike me as awkward, ham-fisted, unoriginal and lazy.

I also noticed that producer and screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes threw out the younger Pitt Crawley character (Becky’s brother-in-law), kept the Bute Crawley character and transformed him from Becky Sharp’s weak and unlikable uncle-in-law into her brother-in-law. Hughes did the same with the Lady Jane Crawley and Martha Crawley characters. She tossed aside the Lady Jane character and transformed Martha from Becky’s aunt-in-law to sister-in-law. Frankly, I did not care for this. I just could not see characters like Bute and Martha suddenly become sympathetic guardians for Becky and Rawdon’s son in the end. It just did not work for me. I have one last problem with “VANITY FAIR”, but I will get to it later.

I may not regard “VANITY FAIR” as the best adaptation of Thackery’s novel, I cannot deny that it is first-rate. Gwyneth Hughes and director James Strong did an excellent job of bringing the 1848 novel to life on the television screen. Because this adaptation was conveyed in seven episodes, both Hughes and Strong were given the opportunity retell Thackery’s saga without taking too many shortcuts. The miniseries replayed Becky Sharp’s experiences with the Sedley family, George Osbourne, and the Crawley family in great detail. I was especially impressed by the miniseries’ recount of Becky and Amelia’s experiences during the Waterloo campaign – which is the story’s true high point, as far as I am concerned. Also, this adaptation had conveyed George’s experiences during Waterloo with more detail than any other adaptation I have seen.

Aside from the Waterloo sequence, there were other scenes that greatly impressed me. I really enjoyed those scenes that featured the famous Duchess of Richmond’s ball in the fourth episode, “In Which Becky Joins Her Regiment”; Becky’s attempts to woo Jos Sedley in the first episode, “Miss Sharp In The Presence Of The Enemy”; the revelation of Becky’s marriage to Rawdon Crawley in ” “A Quarrel About An Heiress”; and her revelation to Amelia about the truth regarding George in the final episode, “Endings and Beginnings”. There were people who were put off that the series did not end exactly how the novel did – namely the death of Jos, with whom Becky had hooked up in the end. I have to be honest . . . that did not bother me. However, I was amused that Becky’s last line in the miniseries seemed to hint that Jos’ death might be a possibility in the near future.

The production values for “VANITY FAIR” struck me as quite beautiful. I thought Anna Pritchard’s production designs did an excellent job in re-creating both London, the English countryside, Belgium, Germany, India and West Africa between the Regency era and the early 1830s. Not only did I find the miniseries’ production values beautiful, but also Ed Rutherford’s cinematography. His images struck me as not only beautiful, but sharp and colorful. I would not say that Lucinda Wright and Suzie Harman’s costume designs blew my mind. But I cannot deny that I found them rather attractive and serviceable for the narrative’s setting.

One of the production’s real virtues proved to be a very talented cast. “VANITY FAIR” featured some solid performances from it supporting players. Well . . . I would say more than solid. I found the performances of Robert Pugh, Peter Wight, Suranne Jones, Claire Skinner, Mathew Baynton, Sian Clifford, Monica Dolan, and Elizabeth Berrington to be more than solid. In fact, I would say they gave excellent performances. But they were not alone.

Michael Palin, whom I have not seen in a movie or television production in years, gave an amusing narration in each episode as the story’s author William Makepeace Thackeray. Ellie Kendrick gave a very poignant performance as Jane Osborne, who seemed to be caught between her loyalty to her bitter father and her long-suffering sister-in-law. Simon Beale Russell gave a superb, yet ambiguous portrayal of the warm and indulgent John Sedley, who also had a habit of infantilizing his family. Frances de la Tour was deliciously hilarious and entertaining as Becky Sharp’s aunt-in-law and benefactress Lady Matilda Crawley. I could also say the same about Martin Clunes, who gave a very funny performance as the crude, yet lively Sir Pitt Crawley. One last funny performance came from David Fynn, who gave an excellent portrayal of the vain, yet clumsy civil servant, Jos Sedley. Anthony Head gave a skillful performance as the cynical and debauched Lord Styne. I thought Charlie Rowe was superb as the self-involved and arrogant George Osborne. Rowe, whom I recalled as a child actor, practically oozed charm, arrogance and a false sense of superiority in his performance as the shallow George.

I have only seen Johnny Flynn in two roles – including the role of William Dobbin in this production. After seeing “VANITY FAIR”, it seemed that the William Dobbin role seemed tailored fit for him. He gave an excellent performance as the stalwart Army officer who endured years of unrequited love toward Amelia Sedley. Tom Bateman was equally excellent as the charming, yet slightly dense Rawdon Crawley. At first, I thought Bateman would portray Rawdon as this dashing, yet self-confident Army officer. But thanks to his performance, the actor gradually revealed that underneath all that glamour and dash was a man who was not as intelligent as he originally seemed to be. Amelia Sedley has never been a favorite character of mine. Her intense worship of the shallow George has always struck me as irritating. Thanks to Claudia Jessie’s excellent performance, I not only saw Amelia as irritating as usual, but also sympathetic for once.

Television critics had lavished a great deal of praise upon Olivia Cooke as the sharp-witted and manipulative Becky Sharp. In fact, many have labeled her performance as one of the best versions of that character. And honestly? I have to agree. Cooke was more than superb . . . she was triumphant as the cynical governess who used her charms and wit in an attempt to climb the social ladder of late Georgian Britain. I would not claim that Cooke was the best on-screen Becky I have seen, but she was certainly one of the better ones. I have only one minor complaint – I found her portrayal of Becky as a poor parent to her only son rather strident. Becky has always struck me as a cold mother to Rawdon Junior. But instead of cold, Cooke’s Becky seemed to scream in anger every time she was near the boy. I found this heavy-handed and I suspect the real perpetrator behind this was either screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes or director James Strong.

I have a few complaints about “VANITY FAIR”. I will not deny it. But I also cannot deny that despite its few flaws, I thought it was an excellent adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel. Actually, I believe it is one of the better adaptations. “VANITY FAIR” is also one of the best period dramas I have seen from British television in a LONG TIME. And I mean a long time. Most period dramas I have seen in the past decade were either mediocre or somewhere between mediocre and excellent. “VANITY FAIR” is one of the first that has led me to really take notice in years. And I have to credit Gwyneth Hughes’ writing, James Strong’s direction and especially the superb performances from a first-rate cast led by Olivia Cooke. It would be nice to see more period dramas of this quality in the near future.

Favorite Television Productions Set in the 1870s

Below is a list of my favorite television productions set in the 1870s:

FAVORITE TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS SET IN THE 1870s

1. “The Buccaneers” (1995) – Maggie Wadey wrote this excellent adaptation of Edith Wharton’s last novel about four American young women who marry into the British aristocracy is also another big favorite of mine. Directed by Philip Saville, the miniseries starred Carla Gugino, Alison Elliott, Rya Kihlstedt and Mira Sorvino.

2. “Around the World in 80 Days” (1989) – Pierce Brosnan starred in this television adaptation of Jules Verne’s 1872 novel about an Englishman’s journey around the world. Directed by Buzz Kulick, the miniseries co-starred Eric Idle, Julia Nickson and Peter Ustinov.

3. “Lonesome Dove” (1989) – Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones starred in this excellent adaptation of Larry McMurty’s 1985 novel about a cattle drive from Texas to Montana. Simon Wincer directed.

4. “The Way We Live Now” (2001) – Andrew Davies wrote this television adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s 1875 novel about a Central European financier’s impact upon London society. Directed by David Yates, the four-part miniseries starred David Suchet, Matthew Macfayden, Shirley Henderson and Cillian Murphy.

5. “Daniel Deronda” (2002) – Andrew Davies adapted this television adaptation of George Eliot’s 1876 novel. Directed by Tom Hooper, the four-part miniseries starred Hugh Dancy and Romola Garai.

6. “The Sacketts” (1979) – Sam Elliott, Jeff Osterhage and Tom Selleck starred in this television adaptation of Louis L’Amour’s two novels – 1960’s “The Daybreakers” and 1961’s “Sackett”. Robert Totten directed.

7. “The Far Pavilions” (1984) – Ben Cross and Amy Irving starred in this adaptation of M.M. Kaye’s 1978 novel about the star-crossed romance between a British Army officer and a royal princess from Northern India. Peter Duffell directed.

8. “The Woman in White” (1997) – Tara Fitzgerald and Justine Waddell starred in this adaptation of Wilkie Collins’ 1859 novel about two half-sisters caught up in a grand conspiracy over a mysterious woman in white and a family fortune. Tim Fywell directed.

9. “Deadwood” (2004-2006) – Timothy Olyphant and Ian McShane starred in HBO’s series about the famous Dakota mining town during the late 1870s. The series was created by David Milch.

10. “The Crimson Petal and the White” (2011) – Romola Garai starred in this adaptation of Michel Faber’s 2002 novel about a London prostitute’s impact upon the lives of a wealthy family. Marc Munden directed.

“THE WAY WEST” (1967) Review

“THE WAY WEST” (1967) Review

Years ago, I had watched a 1952 movie called “THE BIG SKY”. The movie was an adaptation of a novel written by A.B. Guthrie Jr. I eventually learned that Guthrie had used some of the characters featured in “THE BIG SKY” and created a series of novels set between 1830 and the 1880s. One of them was the 1949 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, “The Way West”.

Twenty-eight years after the 1949 novel’s release, Harold Hecht produced an film adaptation of it. Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, “THE WAY WEST” told the story about an Oregon-bound wagon train being led west by a former U.S. senator. Throughout the journey, the wagon train emigrants endure weather, accidents, encounters with Native Americans and the usual personal dramas that beset a group of people forced to live with one another over a long period of time. Many film critics have dismissed “THE WAY WEST” over the years, comparing it unfavorably to the 1962 movie, “HOW THE WEST WAS WON”. I never understood this comparison. The 1962 film was about the history of one family during most of the 19th century West. Out of the film’s five segments – two had focused on members of the family emigrating to the West. “THE WAY WEST” told the story of the members of one Oregon-bound wagon train in the year 1843.

Before one starts speculating over how a film with a 122 minutes running time could tell the story about all members of a wagon train. It cannot. Guthrie’s novel, along with Ben Maddow and Mitch Lindemann’s screenplay focused on a group of people:

*William Tadock – former U.S. senator and captain of the “Liberty Wagon Train”
*Lije Evans – restless Missouri farmer who decides to move his family to the Oregon Territory at the last moment
*Rebecca Evans – Lije’s pragmatic wife
*Brownie Evans – Lije and Rebecca’s shy son
*Dick Summers – widowed mountain man and guide for the wagon train
*Mr. McBee – Georgia-born farmer hoping to start a peach farm
*Mrs. McBee – wife of Mr. McBee
*Mercy McBee – flirtatious only child of the McBees and the object of Brownie’s desire
*John “Johnnie” Mack – recently married emigrant and object of Mercy’s desire
*Amanda Mack – Johnnie’s sexually frigid bride

There are aspects of “THE WAY WEST” that I found unappealing. One of those aspects proved to be Bronislau Kaper’s score for the film. I found it bombastic, awkward and unmemorable. Enough said. I was also not that impressed by some of the performances found in the film – especially from some of the supporting cast and one of the major leads. And like many other historical or period dramas, “THE WAY WEST” suffered from a few historical inaccuracies. Wagon trains were usually pulled by either oxen or mules. The stock used to convey the “Liberty Wagon Train” from Missouri to Oregon proved to be a hodge podge of horses, mules and oxen. I realize that “THE WAY WEST” is basically a Western about overland travel, but I found the costumes designed by Norma Koch very disappointing. The costumes looked as if they came straight from a warehouse. None of the women wore any layers of petticoats or corsets. And Koch’s costume designs for the McBee family proved to be a real head scratcher. I got the feeling she was trying to convey the family’s background as Georgia dirt farmers barely able to afford the journey to Oregon. Their clothes looked threadbare in compare to their fellow emigrants. And it is a miracle that the McBees did not finish their journey nearly naked. If the McBees were able to afford the journey to Oregon, they could afford to wear better quality clothing than what they wore.

The biggest historical head scratcher occurred midway into the film. During a social gathering between the emigrants and a group of Sioux warriors, one of the emigrants mistook the Sioux leader’s son for a wolf. The emigrant killed the boy and failed to inform the others of the incident. This led the Sioux to later track down the wagon party and demand the killer face justice. Initially, the wagon emigrants refused to comply until they discovered that a very large party of warriors had accompanied the Sioux leader. I am sorry, but I found this scenario improbable. The only times I could recall that many Native Americans gathering at one spot in the history of the American West was at the council for the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie and the Battle of Little Bighorn. And considering that the Cheyenne nation were spread out from present-day southern North Dakota and Wyoming to northern Colorado, I found this encounter between the Tadlock wagon party and the Sioux historically improbable.

Despite its flaws, I actually enjoyed “THE WAY WEST”. Very much. I can see why the original novel won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in the first place. First of all, I enjoyed how the movie opened with a montage of westbound emigrants arriving and organizing in Independence to the movie’s The plot struck me as a solid psychological drama about how a group of strangers struggled to tolerate each other, while traveling long distance during a period between four to five months in a wagon train. Knowing myself, I would probably go crazy dealing with strangers who irritated me after more than two weeks. Perhaps less. And having to deal with a ruthless and controlling personality like former U.S. Senator William Tadlock? Good Lord!

In fact, I find it interesting how the megalomaniacal Tadlock seemed to have an impact on the other major subplots in this film, one way or the other. He and the easy-going farmer Lije Evans managed to consistently clash with each other from the beginning. Evans resents his controlling style of leadership, but seemed reluctant to replace him. The former senator’s attraction toward Lije’s wife Rebecca did not help matters. In onescene, Tadlock had offered himself as a potential wife to Rebecca . . . in case Lije failed to survive the journey to Oregon. I could not decide whether to be surprised or disgusted by his suggestion. Tadlock even had an impact on the Brownie Evans-Mercy McBee romantic quagmire with John and Amanda Mack.

And yet . . . despite being such a megalomaniacal personality, I must admit that I found some of Tadlock’s decisions. For example, Lije Evans and the other wagon party members wanted to fight the Sioux, instead of giving in to the latter’s demand for the Sioux boy’s killer. I suspect that a combination of racism and braggadocio led the emigrants believe it would be better to fight the Sioux than submit one of their own to justice. Tadlock, to his credit, realized it would be wiser to give in to the Sioux’s demand. I also found myself agreeing with his order that the emigrants ditch all non-essential possession in order to lighten the load for the stock that pulled their wagons. Unfortunately, Tadlock’s anger at Evans’ stubborn refusal to give up Mrs. Evans’ floor clock spun out of control and cost him his position as the wagon train’s leader. I would expand more about the human drama found in “THE WAY WEST”. But to do so would give away the plot.

Although I had a problem with the film’s music and costume designs, I certainly had none with its cinematography. “THE WAY WEST” was shot on location in Arizona and Oregon. And I found William H. Clothier’s cinematography outstanding, thanks to its sharp and colorful photography shown in the images below:

Another aspect of “THE WAY WEST” that impressed me, proved to be the sequence for its opening credits. This sequence was basically a montage of emigrants arriving in Independence, Missouri or forming wagon trains for the westbound journey. Despite Bronislau Kaper’s forgettable score and equally forgettable theme song, I thought the sequence permeated with atmosphere and strong sense of how Independence must have been during that period in history. The sequence’s strong atmosphere benefited from Andrew V. McLeglen’s skillful direction, Otho Lovering’s editing and Robert Priestley’s set direction.

For me, the performances in “THE WAY WEST” proved to be a mixed affair. A good number of the supporting performers gave some hammy performances. Most of them portrayed minor characters. But the two hammy performances that seemed to stand out belonged to Richard Widmark as Lije Evans and Jack Elam as Preacher Weatherby. Widmark seemed as if he was trying too hard to convey Evans’ good-natured personality . . . to the point that his performance seemed forced. I did not enjoy admitting that. Mind you, Widmark had some good moments, especially in those scenes in which Lije clashed with Tadlock. Otherwise . . . I found him just a tad over-the-top for my tastes. Elam portrayed a minister named Preacher Weatherby, who had sneaked aboard one of the wagons in an effort to join the wagon train. Not only did I find his portrayal of the “hell and brimstone” minister over-the-top, but also one-dimensional. On the other hand, there was one performance that seemed to go in the complete opposite direction. I am referring to Michael Witney, who portrayed John “Johnnie” Mack, one half of the newlywed couple and the object of Mercy McBee’s desire. Witney may have avoided giving a hammy performance, but he ended up being rather wooden – at least in my eyes. Watching his performance, I found myself wondering how his character managed to generate so much emotion from both Mercy McBee and his wife, Amanda.

Thankfully, “THE WAY WEST” had its share of good and excellent performances. Ironically, two of them came from Harry Carey Jr. and Connie Sawyer. Yes, I will admit they gave hammy performances as Mr. and Mrs. McBee. But their hamminess struck me as so entertaining that I could not dismiss the performances. It seemed as if both really enjoyed themselves. “THE WAY WEST” also featured solid performances from the likes of Patric Knowles, Stubby Kaye, Katherine Justice and Eve McVeagh.

But there were also exceptional performances in “THE WAY WEST”. One came from the likes of Lola Albright, who gave a competent performances as Rebecca Evans, a woman torn between her love for Lije. I thought Michael McGreevey, who gave a very skillful performance as the Evans’ shy and lovesick son, Brownie. Sally Field revealed signs of future stardom with a great performance as the ebullient, sexual and painfully naive Mercy McBee. Robert Mitchum seemed to be the film’s backbone, thanks to his portrayal of the wagon train’s warm, yet pragmatic scout Dick Summers. I especially enjoyed his scenes with McGreevey. But if I had to give the award for the film’s best performance, it would go to Kirk Douglas for his superb portrayal of the very complex and magnetic former Senator William Tadlock. Douglas’ performance struck me as so exceptionally complex that there were times I found myself wondering whether or not I should like him or not.

What else can I say about “THE WAY WEST”? Well, the movie had its flaws. I cannot deny it. But I feel that its virtues definitely outweighed its flaws. And I think that it does not deserve the lukewarm opinions it has received over the years. Thanks to screenwriters Ben Maddow and Mitch Lindemann; a first-rate cast led by Kirk Douglas, Richard Widmark and Robert Mitchum; and excellent direction from Andrew V. McLaglen; I believe “THE WAY WEST” is a lot better than it is reputed to be.

“Irene Adler in Modern SHERLOCK HOLMES Adaptations”

“IRENE ADLER IN MODERN SHERLOCK HOLMES ADAPTATIONS”

What is it about the Irene Adler character from the 1891 Sherlock Holmes novella, “A Scandal in Bohemia” that bothers a lot of filmmakers and television producers? What is it about her that drives them to enact nearly drastic changes upon the character, when either adapting Sherlock Holmes novels or creating new movie and television productions, based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters?

In Doyle’s original story, Irene was an American Opera singer who became involved in the King of Bohemia and ended up outwitting him and Sherlock Holmes over a photograph. The only movie or television adaptation I can think of that portrayed Irene any justice was the 1984 adaptation with Gayle Hunnicutt portraying the character in the BBC series, “THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES”.

But the other versions of the Irene Adler characters I have seen? Well:

*“SHERLOCK HOLMES IN NEW YORK” (1976) – Irene is an American actress who helps Sherlock Holmes solve a bank robbery planned by Professor James Moriarty in New York City. She becomes a “damsel-in-distress” when Moriarty kidnaps her son in order to prevent Holmes from solving the case.

*“SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE LEADING LADY” (1991) – Again, Irene is portrayed an American actress. In this television movie, she is performing at a theater in 1910 Vienna, when she has a reunion with Holmes and his companion, Dr. John Watson. She is merely portrayed as a former lover in this television movie.

*“SHERLOCK HOLMES” (2009)/”SHERLOCK HOLMES: GAME OF SHADOWS” (2011) – In the two films directed by Guy Ritchie, Irene is an American professional thief and femme fatale, who is occasionally hired by Professor Moriarty to assist in his schemes. Although she managed to outwit Holmes inside her London hotel room in the first film, Holmes eventually outwits her and she is transformed into a damsel in distress, despite her fighting abilities. Moriarty later kills her in the second film, after Holmes nearly interfered in the murder of another employee.

*“SHERLOCK” – “A Scandal in Belgravia” (2012) – Irene is a British dominatrix sex worker in this BBC series, who has incriminating information wanted by the British government. This was probably the most problematic portrayal of the character. In the end, she is not only outwitted by Holmes, but either loses or nearly loses her life to those who had hired her to acquire the information.

*“ELEMENTARY” (2013-15) – Irene is an American former lover of Holmes, who had apparently been killed by a serial killer. She is eventually revealed to be Jaime Moriarty, one of Holmes’ main nemesis.

Now, I realize that producers and directors like Guy Ritchie, Stephen Moffat, Mark Gatiss and Robert Doherty may have wanted to put some kind of twist on the Irene Adler character. But when they do, it is always to the character’s detriment. During the late 20th century, the filmmakers and television producers before them tend to thrust the role of main love interest upon her. After the turn of the 21st century, filmmakers like Ritchie and Moffat tend reduced Irene Adler to a damsel-in-distress, or transformed into a sex worker or criminal mastermind that required imprisonment.

But Irene Adler has never been the brilliant woman, who “rightly” had the last word on Sherlock Holmes since 1984. As far as today’s modern-day filmmakers and television producers are concerned, Holmes had to be the one who either saved or outwitted Irene. Or both. Is there something about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original creation that these filmmakers and producers find so threatening from a gender point of view? Apparently Mr. Conan Doyle did not.

Favorite Episodes of “THE GREAT” Season One (2020)

Below are images from Season One of the Hulu series, “THE GREAT”. Created by Tony McNamara, the series starred Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult as Empress Catherine and Emperor Peter III of Russia:

FAVORITE EPISODES OF “THE GREAT” SEASON ONE (2020)

1. (1.08) “Meatballs at the Dacha” – Empress Catherine’s political abilities are tested when she is given an opportunity to accompany Emperor Peter and General Velementov abroad to meet the King and Queen of Sweden.

2. (1.06) “Parachute” – After his near-death experience with a poison attempt, Peter is now open to Catherine’s progressive ideas and wants to focus on an heir. Courtier Orlo tries to figure out who had poisoned Peter and ends up faces demons of his own.

3. (1.09) “Love Hurts” – While Catherine continues to gather more supporters for her coup against Peter, a dead body is discovered. Peter decides to torture everyone at court to find the murderous traitors.

4. (1.05) “War and Vomit” – After Peter is nearly killed by the jealous husband of his mistress via poison, Catherine closer to either becoming sole ruler of Russia or being executed.

5. (1.04) “Moscow Mule” – While Catherine deals with the hostility from the ladies of the court over rumors about her virginity, Peter reluctantly deal with finding a new leader of the Russian Orthodox Church following the death of the old one.

“WHISPERING SMITH” (1948) Review

“WHISPERING SMITH” (1948) Review

For years, I had assumed that Alan Ladd starred in only three Westerns – one of them being the acclaimed 1953 movie, “SHANE”. Yet, while perusing his filmography, I discovered that he had either starred or co-starred in a good number of “oaters”. One of them was the 1948 film, “WHISPERING SMITH”.

Based upon Frank H. Spearman’s 1906 novel, “WHISPERING SMITH” told the story of a railroad detective named Luke “Whispering” Smith who is assigned to investigate a series of train robberies in late 19th century Wyoming Territory. However, the case becomes personal for Luke when his oldest friend, a local rancher and railroad employee named Murray Sinclair becomes involved with the gang responsible for the robberies.

Superficially, “WHISPERING SMITH” seemed like the typical Western made by Hollywood studios during the studio era. If I have to be honest with myself, Westerns with any real depth seemed rare to me during the so-called “Golden Age of Hollywood” and now. I seriously doubt that any movie critic would regard “WHISPERING SMITH” as something unique. The movie possessed traits one could easily find in mediocre Westerns and a few really good ones:

*Outlaw gang robbing either locals or businesses that dominate the neighborhood

*Corrupt local businessman or rancher leading the outlaws

*Rancher or businessman’s main henchman, who happens to be a proficient killer

*Lawman assigned to hunt down outlaws

*Posse chases outlaw around neighborhood/county

Yes, “WHISPERING SMITH” possessed these traits. It also possessed a first-rate dramatic narrative that elevated the movie from the usual Western tropes – namely the love triangle between Luke Smith, his best friend Murray Sinclair and Murray’s wife Miriam Sinclair. This triangle was set five years in the past when Miriam, frustrated by Luke’s reluctance to propose marriage to her, married Murray. The latter never realized that Luke and Miriam still harbored lingering romantic feelings toward each other . . . until the film’s midway point.

Between his resentment toward Luke and Miriam, and being fired by his railroad boss George St. Cloud – whom he disliked – Murray made a choice that proved to be disastrous for his marriage and his friendship with Luke. The developing estrangement between Luke and Murray also proved to be difficult for the former as well. This was especially apparent in the film’s second half of the film. Due to his close friendship with Murray; Luke not only struggled and failed to save the other man’s job, but also convince the latter to give up his new alliance with the main villain, rancher Barney Rebstock.

“WHISPERING SMITH” not only benefited from this complex narrative regarding the Luke-Miriam-Murray relationship, but also the fine performances from its cast. Once again, Alan Ladd proved he was a better actor than many believed he was in his performance of the leading character, Luke Smith. What made Ladd’s performance first-rate his ability to not only convey Luke’s contrasting personality traits – soft-spoken, yet friendly demeanor and an intelligent ruthlessness – but also his varying array of emotions with a fluidity that still impress me to this day. Another superb performance came from Robert Preston, who portrayed Luke’s best friend Murray Sinclair. Superficially, Murray came off as a one-note personality. But thanks to Preston’s performance, Murray proved to a complicated character that transformed from a genial, yet sometimes pushy man to an embittered one, who had allowed his bullheadedness and temper to lead him to a bad choice. Brenda Marshall’s portrayal of Miriam Sinclair also struck me as equally impressive. Her Miriam proved to be an emotional and complicated woman, who struggled to repress her lingering feelings for Luke and determined to save Murray and her marriage. Marshall conveyed these aspects of Miriam’s emotional state in two excellent scenes. One of them featured her never ending frustration and resentment toward Luke’s failure to propose marriage all those years ago. And other featured a quarrel between Miriam and Murray in which she finally convinced him to sell their ranch and move away from the neighborhood . . . and Barney Rebstock’s orbit.

There were other performances I enjoyed. One of them came from William Demarest, who gave an emotional, yet satisfying portrayal of Bill Dansing, a railroad employee who had been friends of Luke and Murray for years and served as their father figure. Donald Crisp gave an amusing and entertaining performance as Barney Rebstock, the rancher who hid his criminal and ruthless behavior behind a genial mask. Another came from John Eldredge, whose portrayal of George McCloud, the railroad official who clashed with Murray, struck me as subtle and intelligent. I also enjoyed the solid performances from the likes of Fay Holden, Murray Vye, Ward Wood and Will Wright.

I have to say a word about Ray Rennahan’s cinematography. What can I say? I thought it was beautiful looking. Rennahan, who had won an Academy Award for his work in 1939’s “GONE WITH THE WIND”, also shot “WHISPERING SMITH” in Technicolor. I have seen other films shot in Technicolor that struck me as rather garish. I cannot say the same about “WHISPERING SMITH”. I found the photography sharp and colorful, without being garish, as shown in the image below:

Although I found myself impressed by the narrative regarding Luke’s relationship with the Sinclairs, I cannot disregard some of the film’s action sequences. There were two that really impressed me. One proved to the final sequence that featured the posse chasing Murray, Rebstock and the latter’s gang around the countryside following a train robbery. Sure, I thought it was an unoriginal trope to use in a Western. But I thought it was exciting and well shot by director Leslie Fenton. However, I was more impressed by Fenton’s work in the sequence that featured Luke’s encounter with the Barton boys – members of Rebstock’s gang – at a rail junction in the rain. It featured good action, good acting and great editing by Archie Marshek.

As much as I enjoyed “WHISPERING SMITH”, there are some aspects of it that I found unappealing. One of them proved to be actor Frank Faylen’s portrayal of henchman Whitey DuSang. I realize that Faylen was a first-rate actor. I have seen him in other productions. But . . . I found his portrayal of DuSang rather one-dimensional. Faylen spent most of the film hovering around Donald Crisp with his arms folded and staring at people with squinting eyes. If this was his way of looking intimidating, I did not buy it. I do know whether to blame Faylen, the director Fenton, screenwriters Frank Butler and Karl Kamb or Frank Spearman’s portrayal of the character in his novel. Another major problem I had with “WHISPERING SMITH” proved to be Mary Kay Dodson’s costume designs for the female characters. Exactly what was this film’s setting? Some of Dodson’s costumes seemed to indicate the 1880s. And some of her costumes – especially for Brenda Marshall – seemed to indicate the 1890s. Nor did it help that the women’s hairstyles seemed to reflect the late 1940s.

Despite my quibbles with Frank Faylen and Mary Kay Dodson’s costume designs, I enjoyed “WHISPERING SMITH” very much. Not only does it happen to be one of my favorite films starring Alan Ladd, I actually like it more than his more famous film, “SHANE”. I am certain that many would find this sacrilegious. However, thanks to Leslie Fenton’s direction, a screenplay that conveyed a complex love triangle and excellent performances from a cast led by Ladd, Robert Preston and Brenda Marshall; I cannot help how I feel.

TIME MACHINE: Compromise of 1850

TIME MACHINE: COMPROMISE OF 1850

One hundred and seventy years ago marked the passage of the controversial document, the Compromise of 1850. The document was a package of five separate bills passed by the United States Congress in September 1850. These bills were used to defuse a political confrontation between slave and free states on the status of territories acquired after the Mexican–American War.

A new debate over slavery in the territories had erupted during the Mexican–American War. Many Southerners sought to expand slavery to the newly-acquired lands and many Northerners, wary of economic competition with slave owners in the West, opposed any such expansion. The new state of Texas’ claim to all former Mexican territory north and east of the Rio Grande, including areas that had never been effectively controlled, further complicated the debate. These issues prevented the passage of acts to create organized territorial governments for the land acquired during the recent war – lands that included the present-day states of California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada and western Colorado.

In early 1850, with the assistance of Democrat Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, Whig Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky had proposed a package of bills that would settle the more important issues before Congress. His proposals included:

*The cession by Texas of some of its northern and western territorial claims in return for debt relief
* The establishment of New Mexico and Utah territories
*Admission of California as a free state
*A ban on the importation of slaves into the District of Columbia (Washington D.C.) for sale
*A tougher fugitive slave law

Clay had originally favored voting on each of his proposals separately. However, Democrat Senator Henry S. Foote of Mississippi convinced him to combine the proposals regarding California’s admission and the disposition of Texas’s borders into one bill. Both Clay and Foote hoped this combination of measures would convince congressmen from both North and South to support the overall package of laws even if they objected to specific provisions.

Clay’s proposal had attracted the support of some Northern Democrats and Southern Whigs like Douglas and Vice-President Millard Fillmore. But the proposal lacked the backing necessary to win passage. President Zachary Taylor opposed the proposal and wanted both California and New Mexico to be admitted as free states. Democrat Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina and some other Southern leaders argued that the compromise was biased against the South because it would lead to the creation of new free states. Not long after expressing his opposition to the proposal, Calhoun died at the end of March. Northern politicians like Whig Senator William H. Seward of New York opposed the pro-slavery elements of the Compromise, especially a new fugitive slave law. During a speech on the Senate floor on March 11, 1850, Seward invoked a “higher law than the Constitution” argument to express his opposition against Clay’s proposals.

The debate over Clay’s proposal led to verbal sparring between Vice-President Fillmore and Democrat Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri (who opposed the pro-slavery elements of the proposal) over Texas’s borders. During the pair’s debate, Senator Foote drew a pistol on Benton. In early June, nine slaveholding Southern states sent delegates to the Nashville Convention to determine their course of action if the compromise passed. Some delegates preached secession, while the moderates ruled and proposed a series of compromises that included extending the Missouri Compromise of 1820’s dividing line to the Pacific Coast. The situation took a major turn when President Taylor suddenly died on July 9, 1850. His death led Fillmore to become the 13th President of the United States and the end of presidential opposition to the proposals.

The individual proposals were initially introduced as one “omnibus” bill. Despite Clay’s efforts, the bill failed to pass during a crucial vote on July 31, 1850. It was opposed by southern Democrats and by northern Whigs. Clay announced his intention to pass each part of the bill on the Senate floor the following day. However, the 73-year-old Clay became physically exhausted from the effects of tuberculosis, which would eventually kill him nearly two years later. After Senator Clay left the Senate to recuperate in Newport, Rhode Island; Senator Stephen A. Douglas took the lead in attempting to pass Clay’s proposals through the Senate.

Instead of presenting Clay’s proposals as one bill, Douglas ensured that the proposals were presented as separate bills:

*The Fillmore Administration and the Senate would deny Texas’s claims to New Mexico, asserting that the United States had promised to protect the territorial integrity of New Mexico in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. However, the compromise would allow the United States to assume Texas’s debts and set the state’s northern border at the 36° 30′ parallel north (the Missouri Compromise line) and much of its western border followed the 103rd meridian.

*California would be admitted as a free state on September 9, 1850.

*The Territories of New Mexico and Utah would be organized under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

*The nation’s capital, Washington D.C., would cease to become a major center for the domestic slave trade. However, slavery would continue to exist within its borders. Although all Southern politicians opposed this proposal, they were eventually outvoted.

*A new fugitive slave law would be created in the form of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Enacted on September 8, 1850; this new law would enforce Federal judicial officials in all states and Federal territories, including those states and territories in which slavery was prohibited, to assist with the return of escaped slaves to their masters from those states and territories that permitted slavery. Anyone who refused to assist in the capture of fugitive slaves or assisted a fugitive would be liable to a steep fine or imprisonment.

By September 1850, both the United States Senate and House of Representatives managed to form an agreement over all major issues and voted for the passage of the new Compromise of 1850. President Fillmore signed four of the proposals, with the exception of the Fugitive Slave Act. He signed that into law after Attorney General John J. Crittenden assured him that the law was constitutional. Many historians argue that the Compromise of 1850 had played a major role in postponing the American Civil War by at least a decade. However, one element of the new compromise – the establishment of the Fugitive Slave Act – led to legal abuses regarding the pursuit of fugitive slaves and the safety of free blacks throughout the country. The new law also led to growing support of the abolition movement and the re-opening of the slavery issue. This led to the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, a law drafted by Stephen Douglas that would help inflame the slavery issue until the eve of the U.S. Civil War.

Five Favorite Episodes of “GAME OF THRONES” Season Three (2013)

Below is a list of my favorite episodes from Season Three of “GAME OF THRONES”, HBO’s adaptation of the first half of George R. R. Martin’s 2000 novel from his A Song of Ice and Fire series, “A Storm of Swords”. The series was created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss:

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “GAME OF THRONES” SEASON THREE (2013)

1. (3.09) “The Rains of Castamere” – Robb Stark, his mother Catelyn and their entourage arrive at the Twins for the wedding of Robb’s Uncle Edmure Tully to one of Walder Frey’s daughter. Jon Stark is put to the test by the Freefolk to see where his loyalties truly lie. Daenerys Targaryen plans to invade the Essos city of Yunkai.

2. (3.04) “And Now His Watch Is Ended” – Jaime Lannister mopes over his hand that was chopped off by Stark bannerman Roose Bolton’s man-at-arms, Locke. Jaime’s sister, Queen Cersei is growing uncomfortable with the her family’s new allies, the Tyrells. The Night’s Watch is growing impatient with its Freefolk ally, Craster. Daenerys buys the Unsullied army.

3. (3.07) “The Bear and the Fair Maiden” – Jon and his Freefolk companions travel south of the Wall. Robb’s wife, Talisa Maegyr Stark, reveals that she is pregnant. Arya Stark runs away from the Brotherhood. Daenerys arrives at Yunkai. Jaime is forced to leave his traveling companion/captor Brienne of Tarth behind at Harrenhal by Bolton.

4. (3.10) “Mhysa” – Bran Stark and his companions travel north beyond the Wall. Crow Sam Tarly and Craster’s wife/daughter Gilly returns to Castle Black. Jon tries to escape from Ygritte and his other Freefolk compansion. Jaime and Brienne return to King’s Landing. The Night’s Watch asks for help from Stannis Barantheon and his army. In Essos, the freed Yunkai slaves receive Daenerys as their “mother”.

5. (3.03) “Walk of Punishment” – Robb and Catelyn arrive at Riverrun for the funeral of the latter’s father, Lord Hoster Tully. Hand of the King Tywin Lannister names younger son Tyrion as the new Master of Coin. The Night’s Watch returns to Craster’s Keep. Brienne and Jaime are taken prisoner by Locke and his men. Daenerys barters for the 8,000 Unsullied warriors and the translator Missandei in exchange for one of her dragons.

“POLDARK” Series Three (2017) Episodes Six to Nine

“POLDARK” SERIES THREE (2017) EPISODES SIX TO NINE

I have a confession to make. Viewing the BBC’s current adaptation of Winston Graham’s “Poldark” literary series has become increasingly difficult over the past year or two. Although I had expressed a good deal of admiration for show runner Debbie Horsfield’s adaptation of Graham’s first three novels, I began expressing a good deal of wariness as the series progressed into her adaption of the fourth and fifth novels.

I did not like Horsfield’s adaptation of the second half of Graham’s 1953 novel, “Warleggan: A Novel of Cornwall, 1792-1793”. My opinion of the show runner’s adaptation of Graham’s 1973 novel, “The Black Moon: A Novel of Cornwall, 1794-1795” was even lower. Because of this, I had faced Horsfield’s adaptation of the 1976 novel, “The Four Swans: A Novel of Cornwall, 1795-1797” with a great deal of trepidation.

Episode Six picked up where Episode Five left off – near the end of “The Black Moon”. Following Ross Polark’s rescue of Dwight Enys and other prisoners-of-war from France, he is regarded as a hero within his parish, much to the annoyance of his nemesis, banker George Warleggan. Even more annoying to George was the refusal of his cousin-in-law, Morwenna Chynoweth, to marry the man of his choice – the morally bankrupt and toe sucking Reverend Osborne Whitworth. But when Drake Carne, Morwenna’s love and Ross’ younger brother-in-law, is framed by George for stealing Geoffrey-Charles Poldark’s bible (it was a gift), the young woman caves in and agrees to marry Whitworth. Meanwhile, Dwight’s wedding to heiress Caroline Penvenen is delayed, due to his physical and emotional recovery from his ordeal. Several months later, a wedding is held for the couple and attended by the local gentry and aristocracy – including the Poldarks, the Warleggans and the Whitworths. Meanwhile, Ross is courted by a local baronet named Sir Francis Basset to run for office as a Member of Parliament (MP). The Warleggans and other local merchants clash with Sir Francis’ rival, the aristocratic Viscount Falmouth, by refusing to his candidate for political office. The Warleggans turned to Sir Francis, who agrees to support George’s campaign for MP. As for George, he has one last clash with Agatha Poldark over her desire to hold a birthday party to celebrate turning 100 years old. This clash leads to an exchange of spite in which George reveals that she will only turn 98 years old . . . and in which Agatha hints that his son Valentine was not an eight month-old baby and might have a different father – possibly Ross.

For reasons that still boggles me, Debbie Horsfield had decided to re-structure Winston Graham’s saga by mixing at least the last third of “The Black Moon” with the first third of “The Four Swans”. Why she thought this was necessary, I have no idea. Was this her way of attempting to trim the series’ adaptation of “The Four Swans”? Perhaps not, because she plans to complete her adaptation of “The Four Swans” in Series Four. But why did she feature Dwight’s post-war emotional problems, his and Caroline’s wedding reception, and Sir Francis Basset’s attempt to recruit Ross for Parliament, (all of which occurred in “The Four Swans”) before Aunt Agatha Poldark’s death (which occurred in “The Black Moon”)? Why did she do that? Was this supposed to improve Graham’s tale? Because it did not. It eventually occurred to me Horsfield had dragged “The Black Moon” narrative into the one for “The Four Swans”, because of her unnecessary and badly written additions that played out between Episodes One to Five.

The end of the series’ adaptation of “The Black Moon” made a good deal of Episodes Six and Seven seem a bit anti-climatic. But there were at least two or three scenes that impressed me. And they involved veteran actress Caroline Blakiston, who portrayed Agatha Poldark. One scene focused on Ross’ clandestine visit to Trenwith to see his great-aunt. The scene involved subtle and rather touching performances from both Blakiston and Aidan Turner, who did a great job in conveying the affection and love between the two characters. The next scene featured George’s decision not to hold Agatha’s birthday party and her toxic hint about young Valentine’s true father. The scene conveyed all of the dislike and spite that the pair held for each other, thanks to the marvelous performances of Blakiston and Jack Farthing. This particular scene was capped by another in which a dying Agatha tried to warn her former great-niece-in-law, Elizabeth Warleggan, about her act of indiscretion. This moment provided Blakiston with a great death scene and she was ably supported by a first-rate performance from Heida Reed.

Many fans of Winston Graham’s saga have regarded the title of his 1976 novel as a metaphor for the four major female characters in this story:

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

I must confess that I was not that impressed by the handling of Caroline Enys character in the 1977 adaptation. I hate to say this, but I found the portrayal of Caroline in this new adaptation equally problematic. Like the 1977 series, this adaptation failed to explore the problems that plagued the Enys couple. Yes, Horsfield touched upon Dwight’s problems with Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But his problem was quickly solved within one episode, thanks to Ross’ suggestion that fellow prisoner-of-war Hugh Armitage to provide some company to poor Dwight. I found Horsfield’s quick solution to Dwight’s emotional problem rather shallow and rushed. But what really irritated me was that she had failed to adapt the conflict that developed between Caroline and Dwight over his medical practice.

In “The Four Swans”, Dwight had been spending a great deal of his time with his patients – too much, as far as Caroline was concerned. In fact, the novel seemed to indicate that Caroline harbored a low opinion of Dwight’s profession and could not understand his reluctance to embrace the role of a landowner. Not once did Horsfield explore this story arc. And I understand why. It did not portray Caroline in a positive light and it made her look like a bigger snob than she did in “Jeremy Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1790-1791”. More importantly, this story arc revealed that even Ross could be a snob himself. Instead of understanding Dwight’s loyalty to his patients, Ross advised Dwight to adhere to Caroline’s wishes. In her never-ending efforts to whitewash popular characters like Caroline and especially Ross, Horsfield ignored this particular story arc.

Horsfield did a better job portraying Morwenna Chynoweth Whitworth’s marriage to the odious Reverend Osborne Whitworth. In Episode Six, Morwenna finally capitulated and married the upper-class vicar after her cousin-in-law, George Warleggan blackmailed her by threatening to charge her beloved Drake Carne with the theft of a bible that had been given to the latter by young Geoffrey Charles. I noticed that Horsfield changed the circumstances surrounding Morwenna’s decision to marry Osborne. Instead of George using Drake’s arrest for theft, Graham’s novel featured Morwenna’s mother being summoned to Trenwith for a long talk with the younger woman. In the end, Mrs. Chynoweth convinced (or coerced) Morwenna to become Mrs. Whitworth. I must admit that I slightly prefer Horsfield’s take on this story arc. I found it less complicated . . . even if it made George look like an ultimate villain.

But I have two complaints. One of them featured Morwenna and Osborne’s wedding night. Both the 1977 series and this recent adaptation conveyed Osborne’s sexual assault upon Morwenna after she had given birth to their son, Conan. But also like the previous adaptation, it had failed to adapt his sexual assault upon his bride on their wedding night, which was featured in “The Black Moon” novel:

“So supper ended, and in a panic she complained or sickness after the ride and asked if tonight she might go early to bed. But the time of waiting, the time of delay was over; he had already waited too long. So he followed her up the stairs and into the bedroom smelling of old wood and new paint and there, after a few perfunctory caresses. he began carefully to undress her, discovering and remov­ing each garment with the greatest of interest. Once she ­resisted and once he hit her, but after that she made no protest. So eventually he laid her naked on the bed, where she curled up like a frightened snail.

Then he knelt at the side of the”bed and said a short prayer before he got up and began to tickle her bare feet’ before he raped her.”

To this day, I never understood why this scene from “The Black Moon” was deleted from both the 1970s series and the current one. What were the reasons for Anthony Coburn, Morris Barry and Debbie Horsfield for deleting it from their adaptations of the novel? Because it featured rape? Yet, both adaptations had no problems with including Osborne’s rape of Morwenna after she gave birth to their son. In the case of the current “POLDARK” series, I would have found it difficult to believe the emotional and sexual distress that Morwenna had suffered during her marriage to Whitworth if it had not been for one scene that featured him intimidating the former into a sexual quickie before they could attend the Enys-Penvenen nuptials. Frankly, I found myself feeling slightly intimidated as well, thanks to Christian Brassington’s performance. But the ironic thing is that there was no such scene in “The Four Swans”. But . . . why did Horsfield add that scene, and yet deleted the Whitworths’ honeymoon scene from the novel? What was the point? My second problem with Morwenna’s story arc centered around the depiction of Osborne’s affair with his sister-in-law, Rowella Chynoweth. One, it felt slightly rushed in compare to how the 1977 series portrayed it. Also, Brassington’s screen chemistry with the actress who portrayed Rowella, Esme Coy, did not exactly impress me. While everyone contemplated on whether Rowella was truly attracted to Osborne or not, I just could not invest my interest in their affair.

I was very disappointed with Horsfield’s portrayal of Elizabeth Warleggan in Episodes One to Five of Series Three. Very disappointed. The only thing Horsfield got right about Elizabeth in those episodes was her support of George’s efforts to coerce her cousin Morwenna into marrying Osborne Whitworth. Otherwise, Horsfield subjected viewers to her portrayal of Elizabeth as a cold mother to her newborn Valentine and an alcoholic/drug addict. As everyone know, George and Elizabeth continued their efforts to coerce Morwenna to marry Osborne in Episode Six, until George finally succeeded by blackmailing Morwenna, when he threatened to have Drake convicted for theft. Unaware of George’s blackmailing scheme, Elizabeth seemed satisfied that Morwenna had settled into her marriage with Osborne. She also expressed concern for Morwenna’s health after the latter had given birth. I enjoyed how actress Heida Reed conveyed Elizabeth’s firm insistence that Dwight Enys examine poor Morwenna, instead of another doctor, after the latter gave birth to a son. And the actress’ chemistry with actor Harry Marcus, who portrayed the young Geoffrey Charles, struck me as very charming and spot on. There were two scenes in which Reed was given the chance to shine.

One of those scenes involved Elizabeth’s encounter with Ross at Sawle Church . . . the very encounter that Prudie Paynter had witnessed in Episode Eight. I have to be honest. I found this scene rather disappointing. Although this moment featured Elizabeth and Ross alone together, it struck me as rather mute. Come to think of it, neither Reed or Aidan Turner shone in this scene. And both have managed to create a very strong screen chemistry in the past. Reed and Turner’s performances seemed a bit too restrained for my tastes. And I believe the problem stemmed from Horsfield’s attempt to re-write Ross’ rape of Elizabeth in Series Two as consensual sex. For the Sawle Church yard scene, gone was Elizabeth’s bitter anger over the rape and Ross’ unwillingness to accept that he had done wrong. Instead, the scene was shot as a semi-romantic encounter between two former lovers discussing the child they had conceived. Not only did this scene failed to work for me, I found it very frustrating. It was clearly another effort made by Horsfield and the BBC to deny that Ross was guilty of rape. I find this effort to whitewash Ross’ character in this story arc increasingly repellent.

On the other hand, I was very impressed by the scene featuring Elizabeth’s emotional argument over Drake Carne, Ross and Agatha Poldark. Both Reed and Jack Farthing gave superb performances in which Elizabeth conveyed exactly how strong-willed she could be. While many have regarded Elizabeth as weak, I never did. I have always believed that she was willing to be the traditional and supportive wife, due to her upbringing. This willingness to be the traditional wife led Elizabeth to commit the second biggest mistake in her life (marrying Francis was the first) – support George’s efforts to marry her cousin Morwenna off to Osborne Whitworth. But I have noticed that the older she became, the more Elizabeth was willing to reveal the steel beneath. This was indicative in Elizabeth and Ross’ reunion at Sawle Church. And this especially seemed to be the case in Elizabeth’s showdown with her husband George in Episode Nine. A good deal of Elizabeth’s confrontation centered around her attempt to convince George that Valentine was his son. Personally, I do not blame her. It is bad enough that a good deal of the saga’s fandom seemed to regard her as some kind of manipulative whore and blame her for the night of May 9, 1793. George had already given an inkling of his cold behavior, following Agatha’s revelation about Valentine’s paternity. But Elizabeth also included her own disapproval of his treatment of Drake Carne and his use of Tom Harry as his personal henchman during their quarrel. The scene, thanks to Farthing’s emotional outburst, made me realize how much George loved Elizabeth.

It took me a while to even consider the following . . . that many of Debbie Horsfield’s changes to Graham’s story had a lot to do with the characters of three people – Ross Poldark, Demelza Poldark and George Warleggan. It seemed to me that most of Horsfield’s changes were all about idealizing both Demelza and Ross (to a certain extent); and magnifying George’s villainy.

Ross became dangerously close to becoming a Gary Stu (male version of Mary Sue) in these four episodes. Episode Six began with him raising crops on his estate to feed those out-of-work miners from the Warleggans’ Wheal Leisure. No such thing occurred in “The Black Swan”. All Ross did was offer jobs to some unemployed miners to work at his mine, Wheal Grace. Remember the story arc of George’s aversion to toads? Well, Ross’ actions clearly labeled him as a bully. And yet, Horsfield portrayed this revelation in a semi-comic moment. Why? Considering the present view of bullying, why expose Ross as a childhood bully in a semi-humorous manner? That was nothing in compare to what happened at Dwight and Caroline’s wedding. Instead of the reception being all about the happy couple, Horsfield used this event to celebrate Ross’ heroics in France. Yes, I realize that Ross was responsible for Dwight and Caroline being able to wed. But honestly? Why was it so necessary for her to pound this into audience by having the wedding guests celebrate Ross’ heroics, instead of the bride and groom?

Another aspect of Ross’ portrayal in these four episodes that I found laughable was this attitude toward him running as a candidate for Parliament. Everyone – from Demelza to Sir Francis Basset – seemed to regard Ross as a potential political savior for Cornwall. Even the media has been pushing this idea in various articles about the upcoming Season Four. And yet . . . Ross Poldark does not strike me as the type of who could be regarded as a successful politician. He has always struck me as too impatient, temperamental and judgmental. Lord Falmouth seemed to be the only person who did not regard Ross as some political savior. He simply wanted to use Ross as a tool to punish the Warleggans for rejecting his political clout.

Ross spent most of these four episodes rejecting the idea of running for Parliament. Do you want to know what finally led him to consider the job? Local miners threatening a riot for much needed grain. And yes . . . this did NOT happened in “The Four Swans”. There was riot in the novel. Miners even stole from the grain stores. However, Ross was ordered, as commander of the local militia, to arrest the leaders of riot. And one of them was hung. However, Horsfield changed this story arc by having Ross and his militia platoon confront the rioters before they could steal the grain. Ross used this moment to finally declare his intent to run for Parliament. By this point, I was ready to shove my fist into the television screen. Was Horsfield really that concerned over viewers seeing Ross arrest the rioters before one of them was hung? To the point that she had to create this ludicrous situation? I have always considered the hanging as a sign of the price Ross would be forced to pay for associating himself with political sponsors like Sir Francis Band Lord Falmouth. I am not saying that Horsfield had portrayed Ross as a perfect person. His personal flaws were on display. But I noticed that she only seemed willing to display his flaws whenever Demelza was concerned.

If it were not for the story arc that featured Demelza Poldark’s relationship with Royal Navy officer, Lieutenant Hugh Armitage, I believe I would have found it difficult to like her during the second half of Series Three . . . or to stop regarding her as the series’ Mary Sue. It seemed as if Horsfield tried too hard to transform Demelza into some 21st century feminist icon. And I found this rather odd, considering that she is a character from a story set during the late 18th century. There were scenes featuring Demelza that made my teeth clinch. They include:

*Demelza behaving like an action girl, as she raced through the countryside on horseback to prevent her younger brother Drake from being beaten by George Warleggan’s henchmen. No such scene was in “The Four Swans”. Drake’s unconscious body was found by some local people.

*Demelza sang at one of the soirees hosted by Sir Francis Basset. Horsfield has been giving actress Eleanor Tomlinson chances to display her singing talent throughout the series’ run. I had no problem with this during the Trenwith Christmas dinner sequence back in Series One. Her performance served the story. But after two years of Horsfield pausing the narrative to inject moments of Tomlinson’s singing skill for the sake of idealizing Demelza’s character has become too much to bear.

*One scene featuring Demelza offering tea and sympathy to Morwenna for the end of the latter’s relationship with Drake. The two characters never interacted with each other until the latter half of the 1977 novel,
 “The Angry Tide: A Novel of Cornwall, 1798-1799”. This little moment struck me as nothing more than another cheap and unnecessary change made by Horsfield to make Demelza’s character look sympathetic.

The story arc regarding her and Hugh Armitage made her seemed less of a Mary Sue . . . somewhat. The excellent performances of Eleanor Tomlinson and Josh Whitehouse certainly helped. The pair managed to create a first-rate screen chemistry. More importantly, I thought they did a great job in conveying Demelza and Hugh’s sexual interest in each other. After all, Hugh must have been the first man of her generation to harbor any sexual interest in her. Ross is a decade her senior and had married her in the first place for reasons other than love. Worse, Demelza had spent the previous seasons being pursued and pawed by lustful older men like Sir Hugh Bodrugan and Captain McNeil, who seemed to regard her as easy prey due to her class origins. Does this mean I supported Demelza’s act of adultery, like so many? No. I understood why she did it. But I still believe she did the wrong thing. I am not a supporter of the “eye for an eye” mentality. While a good number of fans cheered Demelza for paying back Ross for his infidelity in Series Two, I only felt contempt toward her. She had lowered herself to his level. Well . . . almost. At least Demelza’s act of infidelity was not tainted by rape.

But I also had two problems with this story arc. In “The Four Swans”, Demelza had made the decision to have that one afternoon of sex with Hugh on her own, despite Jud Paynter informing her of an interaction between Elizabeth Warleggan and Ross at the Sawle Church. In this adaptation, Demelza was egged on by Nampara’s housekeeper, Prudie Paynter, who had witnessed Ross’ interaction with Elizabeth. This twist by Debbie Horsfield not only struck me as unnecessary, but a lame attempt to shift some of the blame for Demelza’s infidelity to Prudie. I mean . . . come on! Really? Even worse, this entire sequence ended with Ross waiting at Nampara, confused by Demelza’s non-appearance. Now, I found this confusing. Why did Horsfield took a scene from near the end of “The Four Swans” and tacked it on the ending of Series Three – especially since she had not finished adapting the novel? Why did she do this? To end the season with a cliffhanger? To have everyone wondering if Demelza would return to Ross? Of course she would! Where in the hell else can she go? To Verity? To her stepmother? Caroline and Dwight? How long could Demelza’s “visits” to those households have lasted? Stay with Hugh? Considering his health issues, how long would that situation have lasted? I am still wondering why Winston Graham and Debbie Horsfield had Ross speculating on whether Demelza had left him or not in the first place. He should have known that an 18th century wife, her prospects outside of her position as his wife were not that great.

I have one last complaint about Demelza . . . and it concerns one of her costumes in the image below:

Why? Why did Demelza wear the above house dress that exposed her cleavage in this fashion during the daytime? And she wore this outfit so often . . . even away from the house. Why? No respectable woman during this period in history – regardless of class – would wear such a outfit. Unless she was prostitute displaying her wares. Costume designer Howard Burden should have known better . . . or done his homework.

During my article for Episodes One to Five, I had expressed my displeasure at what I saw was Debbie Horsfield transforming George Warleggan into a one-note villain. I never understood why Horsfield thought this was necessary. Fortunately, most of George’s questionable actions in Episodes Six to Nine could be traced to both “The Black Moon” and “The Four Swans” . . . including his emotionally distant behavior with Elizabeth and his violent harassment of Drake Carne. Blackmailing Morwenna into marrying Osborne seemed to be the only act that had been created by Horsfield. And I had already mentioned my only problem with it. I do have one major problem with Horsfield’s portrayal of George in these later episodes. Remember the grain riot that Ross was ordered to snuff out? The owners of the grain stores were nameless merchants in the 1976 novel. In “POLDARK”, George owned the grain stores. Why? I have not the foggiest idea. To magnify George’s villainy even further . . . when it was not necessary? To establish that Ross need to run for Parliament in order to single-handedly “save” Cornwall from the Warleggans? Sigh. I am afraid this might be the case. Horsfield seemed to have transformed this entire story arc into a morality play for ten year-olds.

There were other aspects of Series Three’s second half that I noticed. The four episodes also featured Drake Carne’s childish retaliation against George for disrupting his romance with Morwenna. He did so by placing toads – something that George loathed – into Trenwith’s pond. Horsfield added a twist to this story by establishing George’s revulsion to toads. Ross and a few others boys used to shove toads down his breeches when they were kids in order to punish George and the Warleggans for trying to attain a higher social position. Harry Richardson, who portrayed Drake Carne, gave a nice performance, but he did not exactly float my boat, so to speak. And Drake’s actions led to George retaliating in one of the worst possible ways – being framed for the theft of Geoffrey-Charles’ Bible. Sam Carne’s burgeoning attraction to Tholly Tregirls’ daughter Emma. Despite Tom York and Ciara Charteris’s competent performances, I must admit that I could not maintain any strong interest in this story arc. There were also the story arc regarding the political rivalry between Sir Francis Basset and Lord Falmouth. I have nothing against the performances of both John Hopkins and James Wilby as the two politically-inclined landowners. Both were excellent. But to be honest, this story arc really belonged to Ross and George.

In the end, Debbie Horsfield managed to disappoint me in her adaptation of Winston Grahams’ novels from the 1970s – “The Black Moon” and “The Four Swans”. These two novels, along with 1977’s “The Angry Tide: A Novel of Cornwall, 1798-1799”, are regarded by many as the best in his twelve-novel series. And yet, Horsfield has proven herself incapable of adapting these novels with any semblance of subtlety or intelligence. She has transformed two of Graham’s best novels into borderline romance novels. God only knows what she will do to “The Angry Tide” in Series Four.

Favorite Television Productions Set in the 1820s

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

FAVORITE TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS SET IN THE 1820s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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