Top Five Favorite Episodes of “THE CROWN” Season Two (2017)

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Below is a list of my favorite episodes from Season Two of the Netflix series, “THE CROWN”. Created by Peter Morgan, the series starred Claire Foy and Matt Smith as Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh:

 

 

TOP FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “THE CROWN” SEASON TWO (2017)

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1. (2.05) “Marionettes” – After Queen Elizabeth II makes a tone-deaf speech at a Jaguar factory, she and the British monarchy come under public attack by an outspoken liberal peer named Lord Altrincham.

 

 

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2. (2.03) “Lisbon” – Palace insiders try to prevent the scandalous divorce of the Duke of Edinburgh’s aide, Lieutenant-Commander Mike Parker, that could reflect poorly on the former and the monarchy. Prime Minister Anthony Eden faces censure from his cabinet and the press over the Suez Crisis.

 

 

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3. (2.09) “Paterfamilias” – Prince Philip insists that Prince Charles attend Gordonstoun, his alma mater in Scotland. Also, he reminisces about the life-changing difficulties he experienced there as a student.

 

 

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4. (2.07) “Matrimonium” – A heartbreaking letter from former lover Peter Townsend spurs Princess Margaret to make a bold proposal to her current lover, photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones. The Queen has good news that causes complications for Margaret.

 

 

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5. (2.02) “A Company of Men” – Elizabeth feels disconnected from Philip during his five-month royal tour in the South Pacific. Meanwhile, Eden copes with ill health and international pressure to withdraw British troops from Egypt during the Suez Crisis.

 

 

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“JUDITH KRANTZ’S TILL WE MEET AGAIN” (1989) Review

“JUDITH KRANTZ’S TILL WE MEET AGAIN” (1989) Review

One of the most popular romance novelists to emerge during the 1970s and 1980s was Judith Krantz, whose series of novels seemed to be part romance/part family saga. At least six (or seven) of her novels were adapted as television miniseries. One of them was the 1988 novel, “Till We Meet Again”, which became the 1989 CBS miniseries, “JUDITH KRANTZ’S TILL WE MEET AGAIN”

Set between 1913 and 1952, the early 1950s, “JUDITH KRANTZ’S TILL WE MEET AGAIN” (aka “TILL WE MEET AGAIN”) focused on the lives of Eve, the daughter of a French provincial middle-class doctor and her two daughters, Delphine and Marie-Frederique ‘Freddy’ de Lancel. The story began in 1913 when Eve met a traveling music hall performer named Alain Marais. When she learned that her parents planned to agree to an arranged marriage for her, Eve joined Alain on a train to Paris and the pair became lovers and roommates. Within a year, Alain became seriously ill and Eve was forced to find work to maintain their finances. With the help of a neighbor and new friend, Vivianne de Biron, Eve became a music hall performer herself and Paris’ newest sensation. Out of jealousy, anger and embarrassment, Alain ended their romance.

During World War I, Eve met Paul de Lancel, the heir to an upper-class family that produces champagne who had been recently widowed by a suicidal wife. Following Eve’s marriage to Paul, the couple conceived Delphine and Freddy and Paul became a diplomat. The latter also became estranged from his son Bruno, who was eventually raised by his maternal aristocratic grandparents, who blamed Paul for their daughter’s suicide. By 1930, Eve and Paul found themselves in Los Angeles, where he served as that city’s French consul. And over the next two decades, the de Lancel family dealt with new careers, love, the rise of fascism, the movie industries, World War II, post-war economics, romantic betrayals and Bruno’s villainous and malicious antics.

“JUDITH KRANZ’S TILL WE MEET AGAIN” is not what I would call a television masterpiece. Or even among the best television productions I have ever seen. Considering its source, a period piece romance novel – something most literary critics would dismiss as melodramatic trash – it is not surprising that I would regard the 1989 this way. Then again, the 1972 Academy Award Best Picture winner, “THE GODFATHER”, was based on what many (including myself) believe was pulp fiction trash. However, “TILL WE MEET AGAIN” did not have Francis Ford Coppola to transform trash into Hollywood gold. I am not dismissing the 1989 miniseries as trash. But I would never regard it as a fine work of art.

And I did have a few problems with the production. I found the pacing, thanks to director Charles Jarrott, along with screenwriters Andrew Peter Marin and (yes) Judith Krantz; rather uneven. I think the use of montages could have helped because there were times when the miniseries rushed through some of its sequences . . . to the point that I found myself wondering what had earlier occurred in the story. This seemed to be the case with Eve’s backstory. Her rise from the daughter of a provincial doctor to Parisian music hall sensation to a diplomat’s wife struck as a bit too fast. It seemed as if Jarrott, Marin and Krantz were in a hurry to commence on Freddy and Delphine’s story arcs. Another problem I had was the heavy emphasis on Freddy’s post war story arc. Both Delphine and Eve were nearly pushed to the background, following the end of World War II. It is fortunate that the miniseries’ focus on the post-war years played out in its last 20 to 30 minutes.

I also had a problem with how Marin and Krantz ended Delphine’s relationship with her older half-brother Bruno. In the novel, Delphine ended her friendship with Bruno after his attempt to pimp her out to some German Army official during the Nazi’s occupation of France. This also happened in the miniseries, but Marin and Krantz took it too far by taking a page from Krantz’s 1980 novel, “Princess Daisy” . . . by having Bruno rape Delphine after her refusal to sleep with the German officer. I found this unnecessary, considering that the two screenwriters never really followed up on the consequences of the rape. If this was an attempt to portray Bruno a monster, it was unnecessary. His collaboration of the Nazis, his attempt to pimp out Delphine, his sale of the de Lancels’ precious stock of champagne and his participation in the murders of three locals who knew about the sale struck me as enough to regard him as a monster.

My remaining problems with “TILL WE MEET AGAIN” proved to minor. Many of Krantz’s novels tend to begin as period dramas and end in the present time. I cannot say the same about her 1988 novel. The entire story is set entirely in the past – a forty-year period between pre-World War I and the early 1950s. Yet, I managed to spot several anachronisms in the production. Minor ones, perhaps, but anachronisms nevertheless. One of the most obvious anachronisms proved to be the hairstyles for many of the female characters – especially the de Lancel sisters, Delphine and Freddy. This anachronism was especially apparent in the hairstyles they wore in the 1930s sequences – long and straight. Most young girls and women wore soft shoulder bobs that were slightly above the shoulders during that decade. Speaking of anachronism, the actor who portrayed Armand Sadowski, a Polish-born director in the French film industry, wore a mullet. A 1980s-style mullet during those same 1930s sequences. Sigh! The make-up worn by many of the female characters struck me as oddly modern. Another anachronistic popped up in the production’s music. I am not claiming that late 1980s songs were featured in the miniseries. The songs selected were appropriate to the period. However, I noticed that those songs were performed and arranged in a more modern style. It was like watching television characters performing old songs at a retro music show. It simply felt . . . no, it sound wrong to me.

Despite my complaints, I did enjoy “TILL WE MEET AGAIN”. In fact, I believe that its virtues were strong enough to overshadow its flaws. One, Judith Krantz had created a first-rate family saga . . . one that both she and screenwriter Andrew Peter Marin did justice to in this adaptation. Two, this is the only Krantz family saga that I can remember that is set completely in the past. Most of her family sagas start in the past and spend at least two-thirds of the narrative in the present. Not “TILL WE MEET AGAIN”. More importantly, this family saga is more or less told through the eyes of three women. I have noticed how rare it is for family sagas in which the narratives are dominated by women, unless it only featured one woman as the main protagonist. And neither Eve, Delphine or Freddy are portrayed as instantaneous ideal women. Yes, they are beautiful and talented in different ways. But all three women were forced to grow or develop in the story.

Being the oldest and the mother of the other two, Eve was forced to grow up during the first third of the saga. However, she spent a great deal of emotional angst over her daughters’ lives and the fear that her past as a music hall entertainer may have had a negative impact on her husband’s diplomatic career. Eve and Freddy had to deal with a disappointing love (or two) before finding the right man in their lives. Delphine managed to find the right man at a young age after becoming an actress with the film industry in France. But World War II, and the Nazi regime’s anti-Semitic policies managed to endanger and interrupt her romance. Freddy’s love life involved a bittersweet romance with an older man – the very man who taught her to become a pilot; a quick romance and failed marriage to a British aristocrat; and the latter’s closest friend, an American pilot who had harbored years of unrequited love for Freddy until she finally managed to to notice him.

Despite the saga being dominated by Eve, Delphine and Freddy; the two male members of the de Lancel family also had strong roles in this saga. I thought both Krantz and Marin did an excellent job in their portrayal of the complex relationship between Paul de Lancel and his only son and oldest child, Bruno de Lancel, who also happened to be Delphine and Freddy’s half-brother. I also found it interesting how Bruno’s unforgiving maternal grand-parents’ over-privileged upbringing of him and their snobbish regard for Eve had tainted and in the end, torn apart the relationship between father and son. Mind you, Bruno’s own ugly personality did not help. But he was, after all, a creation of the Marquis and Marquise de Saint-Fraycourt. Ironically, Paul also had his troubles with both Delphine and Freddy – especially during their late adolescence. Between Delphine’s forays into Hollywood’s nighttime society behind her parents’ backs and Freddy’s decision to skip college and become a stunt pilot, Paul’s relationships with his daughters endured troubled waters. And I thought the screenwriters did an excellent job in conveying the diplomat’s complex relationships with both of them.

And despite my low opinion of the hairstyles featured in “TILL WE MEET AGAIN”, I cannot deny that the production values featured in the miniseries struck me as quite impressive. Roger Hall did an excellent job in his production designs that more or less re-created various locations on two continents between the years of 1913 and 1952. His work was ably supported by Rhiley Fuller and Mike Long’s art direction, Donald Elmblad and Peter Walpole’s set decorations, and Alan Hume’s cinematography, which did such an exceptional job of capturing the beauty and color of its various locations. However, I must admit that I really enjoyed Jerry R. Allen and Robin Fraser-Paye’s costume designs. I thought they did an excellent job of recapturing the fashions of the early-to-mid 20th century.

If I must be honest, I cannot think of any performance that blew my mind. I am not claiming that the acting featured in “TILL WE MEET AGAIN” were terrible, let alone mediocre. Frankly, I believe that all of the major actors and actresses did a great job. Courtney Cox gave a very energetic performance as the ambitious and aggressive Freddy de Lancel. Bruce Boxleitner also gave an energetic performance as Jock Hampton, the best friend of Freddy’s husband . . . but with a touch of pathos, as he conveyed his character’s decade long unrequited love for the red-headed Mademoiselle de Lancel. Mia Sara gave a spot-on portrayal of Delphine de Lancel from an ambitious, yet insecure adolescent to a sophisticated and more mature woman. And again, I can the same about Lucy Gutteridge’s portrayal of Eve de Lancel, who developed the character from an impulsive adolescent to a mature woman who proved to be her family’s backbone. Hugh Grant was sufficiently sophisticated and hissable as the villainous Bruno de Lancel without turning his performance into a cliche. Charles Shaughnessy skillfully managed to convey to portray the worthy man behind director Armand Sadowski’s womanizing charm. John Vickery gave a interested and complex portrayal of Freddy’s British aristocrat husband, Anthony “Tony” Longbridge. And Maxwell Caufield was excellent as the charming, yet ego-driven singer Alain Marais. I believe one of the best performances came from Michael York, who was excellent as the emotionally besieged Paul de Lancel, struggling to deal with a stalled diplomatic career, two strong-willed daughters and a treacherous son. I believe the other best performance came from Barry Bostwick, who was excellent as Freddy’s first love Terrence ‘Mac’ McGuire. I thought he did a great job of portraying a man torn between his love for Freddy and his guilt over being in love with someone who was young enough to be his daughter.

Look, I realize that “JUDITH KRANTZ’S TILL WE MEET AGAIN” is basically a glorified period piece melodrama disguised as a family saga. I realize that. And I realize that it is not perfect. Nor would I regard it as an example of the best American television can offer. But at its heart, I thought it was basically a well written family saga that centered around three remarkable women. Thanks to Judith Krantz and Andrew Peter Marin’s screenplay; Charles Jarrott’s direction and a first-rate cast, the 1989 miniseries proved to be first-rate piece of television drama.

 

“STAR TREK DISCOVERY” Commentary: (2.01) “Brother”

“STAR TREK DISCOVERY” COMMENTARY: (2.01) “Brother”

I just recently viewed the Season Two premiere of “STAR TREK DISCOVERY”(2.01) “Brother” on CBS All Access. On one hand, the episode struck me as a solid entry for a Trek show that set up the second season’s story arc and introduction of new characters. This is nothing knew. I have witnessed similar set ups for shows like “BABYLON 5” and “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”. But what I did not count on were some differences and characters that would leave me scratching my head. 

I do not think I have ever encountered a Trek show that has generated so much conflict and controversy as “STAR TREK DISCOVERY”. I take that back. There has been one other series that has generated controversy close to the same level as “DISCOVERY” . . . namely “STAR TREK VOYAGER”. This does not strike me as surprising, since both shows featured leading characters who are women. “DISCOVERY” took it to another level in which its leading character, Commander (formerly Specialist) Michael Burnham, is not only portrayed by an African-American actress, but is not the starship/space station’s commanding officer.

I noticed that a great deal of what struck me as vague and nitpicking complaints had been inflicted upon “STAR TREK DISCOVERY” during and after its first season. One of those complaints proved to be certain characters, including Michael Burnham, lacked full development by the end of Season One. I found myself scratching my head over this complaint. I mean . . . what on earth? I have never heard of a fictional character in a television show that is fully developed by the end of its first season, let alone before the end of its run. Never. And “DISCOVERY” had only finished its first season. Why on earth were so many of the franchise’s fans either criticizing that most of its characters are not fully developed or demanding that they should be after one season? This is not miniseries or television show. If “STAR TREK DISCOVERY” is allowed to complete its full run and the characters are still “not fully developed”, then I believe they would have something to complain about.

Another complaint that left me scratching my head was the lack of humor during its first season. In fact, this particular complaint has led many to compare “STAR TREK DISCOVERY” with another science-fiction series that had begun around the same time – “THE ORVILLE”. The Trek franchise has never been a franchise that was dominated by humor. And I do recall a good deal of humor in Season One of “STAR TREK DISCOVERY”, especially in episodes like (1.07) “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” or in scenes featuring Mary Wiseman as Cadet Sylvia Tilly. Aside from those scenes featuring Wiseman and even Rainn Wilson (as con man Harry Mudd), most of the humor featured in Season One tend to be more subtle.

I am relieved to notice that in regard to character development, the show runners for “STAR TREK DISCOVERY” did not rush to portray Michael Burnham or any of the other characters fully developed. The Season Two premiere, “Brother”, hinted that the show planned to explore Burnham’s past experiences as a member of Ambassador Sarek’s household and especially, her relationship with adoptive brother Spock. Judging from the Season Two previews I have seen, Burnham’s relationship with Ash Tyler/Voq will also be touched upon. So, if Season Two does not feature the full character development of the series’ leading lady and the other supporting characters, I will not be disappointed. If anything, I might feel a sense of relief. The last thing I want is for the series to engage in rushed storytelling.

But one aspect of the Season Two premiere that left me scratching my head was the level of humor featured in the episode. It almost struck me as out of place. Now, “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” featured some rather heavy humor. I found nothing wrong with this. Many of the Trek series have aired the occasional humorous episode. The problem with the humor in “Brother” is that there was nothing about the plot or the characters that should have marked it as a humor-filled episode. Many of the familiar characters – including Burnham – were either spouting lines or reacting to situations that made me wonder if screenwriters Ted Sullivan, Gretchen J. Berg and Aaron Harberts may have went a bit too far.

“Brother” also featured the introduction of Commander Denise “Jett” Reno, Chief Engineer of the U.S.S. Hiawatha, who had been rescued by a landing party from the Discovery after spending ten months caring for wounded crew members on an asteroid, during the Federation-Klingon War. Reno, portrayed by actress-comedian Tig Notaro, managed to spout more jokes in a space of five minutes than any other actor or actress who had appeared in a Trek series or movie. I think Notaro might proved to be a rival for Wiseman on who can be the funniest member of the cast. In the end, the humor in “Brother” struck me as a bit over-the-top, especially for an episode that is not obviously a humorous one like “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad”.

So what were the screenwriters thinking? Did they change the tonal style of “STAR TREK DISCOVERY” to appease those fans who had complained that the series was “too serious” or “too angsty”? If so, they have made a mistake. I found this tonal shift for Season Two rather forced and mind boggling. I do not see the necessity of changing the series’ tonal style. I want to watch “STAR TREK DISCOVERY”, not some borderline copycat of “THE ORVILLE”. Not even the other Trek series from the past had such a drastic tonal shift. After all, the edgier style of Season One did not prevent “STAR TREK DISCOVERY” from being a hit or creating an entire new stable of fans. Had the show runners forgotten this? Or were they too busy paying attention to the narrow-minded fans who wanted the series to simply re-create the past?

I noticed that the introduction of Anson Mount as Captain Christopher Pike of the U.S.S. Enterprise had also contributed to this tonal shift. Mount’s Pike came off as slightly humorous and yet, somewhat bland. To me, Pike seemed like the epitome of the white male leading man that so many science-fiction/fantasy geeks seemed to long – especially in the past three to four years. The problem I have with this is that as an old fan of the AMC series, “HELL ON WHEELS”, I know that the talented Mount is capable of portraying a character more interesting than Pike. At one point in “Brother”, Pike had expressed his regret that the Enterprise did not participate in the Federation-Klingon War. Was this regret a consequence of survivor’s guilt? Or is this nothing more than the regret of someone in the military, who wished he or she could have been in the center of the action. I hope that it is the former. On the other hand, watching Pike participate in the landing party that found Reno and the remains of the Hiawatha makes me wonder otherwise. As the Discovery’s current temporary captain, his presence in the Away team struck me as questionable. This is not “STAR TREK” circa 1966-68. And so far, I do not find the character’s regret for not participating in the war against the Klingons as not very interesting.

And why is the Christopher Pike character a regular on this show? Why is he a regular for Season Two? Why was Pike, along with two Enterprise officers, needed to investigate those seven red bursts that had appeared in the Alpha Quadrant? The Discovery is originally a science vessel. The Enterprise is not. Why did the show runners have Starfleet order Pike to take command of Discovery in the first place? Mount could have been cast as the Discovery’s new captain who was other than Pike. Or Saru could have been promoted as the Discovery’s new commander. He deserved it. After all, ever since the discovery that Captain Gabriel Lorca was an imposter from the Mirror Universe, Saru had more or less acted as the ship’s captain. He was the one who led Discovery and its crew out of the Mirror Universe. And he stood behind Burnham, Tilly and Tyler when they exposed Starfleet’s plot to destroy the Klingon homeworld. Instead, either Alex Kurtzman or Aaron Harberts and Gretchen J. Berg drummed up some lame reason to brng Pike aboard the Discovery so that the show can have some slightly bland and familiar character as the main authority figure in order to soothe the nerves of some very loud and negative fans.

Is it possible that these fans could not deal with the chaotic Gabriel Lorca as captain or who still cannot deal with the non-white Michael Burnham as the show’s lead. Or do they simply want to recapture the past? Right now, it seems as if Kurtzman, Harberts and Berg want to please these fanboys, who want the show to recapture the past. After watching “Brother”, I blame them for listening to these fanboys, instead of basking in the success of Season One and moving forward with more innovative stories. It just seems a crime that producers like Kurtzman, Harberts, Berg, the Warner Brothers suits and Kathleen Kennedy are so afraid of the loud and narrow-minded fanboys that they would rather keep their respective franchises either mired in the past or borderline bland to please these fans. And in doing so, they end up ignoring the fact that when their franchises were innovative, they were also box office or ratings successes.

Right now, I find the Trek fandom, along with those for other franchises, rather frustrating and narrow-minded. These fans would rather cling to the past, rather than enjoy something different or innovative. And when producers and show runners like Harberts, Berg or Kurtzman kowtow to the loud and rather conservative-minded fans and critics, entertainment and art in pop culture becomes in danger of declining into a sad affair. Does this mean that Season Two of “STAR TREK DISCOVERY” await such a fate? I hope not. I hope that the season’s future episodes might prove to be just as fascinating and innovative as those from Season One. I hope so. Because if I have to be honest, I found “Brother”to be jarring and something of a head scratcher.

 

“VICTORIA” Season Two (2017) Episode Ranking

Below is my ranking of the Season Two episodes of the ITV series called “VICTORIA”. Created by Daisy Goodwin, the series stars Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria: 

“VICTORIA” SEASON TWO (2017) EPISODE RANKING

1. (2.06) “Faith, Hope & Charity” – Horrified by the Great Famine in Ireland, both Queen Victoria and the Reverend Robert Traill try to persuade Prime Minister Robert Peel’s government and the British clergy in the country to take action.

2. (2.09) “Comfort and Joy” – In this Christmas episode, a pregnant Victoria receives a “gift” from King Gezo of Dahomey in the form of a young African princess who had been his political prisoner. Meanwhile, Prince Albert desperately tries to introduce the German Christmas custom to the British court, despite the tension from unwelcome guests and personal problems.

3. (2.01) “A Soldier’s Daughter” – While Victoria deals with postnatal depression following the birth of her oldest child, Princess Victoria, Albert and Peel scramble to hide the grisly details of the Retreat From Kabul near the end of the First Anglo-Afghan War.

4. (2.07) “The King Over the Water” – Following two assassination attempts, Victoria and Albert travel to the Scottish Highlands becomes guests at the 6th Duke of Atholl’s home, Blair Castle, for a private retreat. However, the retreat is nearly ruined when the couple ends up lost in the countryside.

5. (2.08) “The Luxury of Conscience” – Albert unwittingly creates more political problems for Peel, when he supports the latter’s efforts to repeal the Corn Laws.

6. (2.04) “The Sins of the Father” – Victoria gives birth to a second child, Prince Albert-Edward (future King Edward VII). While she deals with postnatal depression for the second time, Albert’s father dies. Albert travels to Coburg and learns an ugly family secret from his uncle, King Leopold of the Belgians.

7. (2.05) “Entente Cordiale” – Victoria drags Albert and the British Court to France in an effort to convince the country’s King Louis Phillippe I to deter the latter from arranging a marriage between his son Duke of Montpensier and Queen Isabel II of Spain.

8. (2.03) “Warp and Weft” – Moved by the plight of a silk weaver in Spitalfields, Victoria throws a lavish medieval ball at Buckingham Palace with all attendees wearing outfits made in the impoverished area. Meanwhile, she becomes aware of former Prime Minister Lord Melbourne’s failing health.

9. (2.02) “The Green-Eyed Monster” – Victoria becomes pregnant with her second child and develops a jealous suspicion that Albert might be attracted to Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, who is a mathematician associated with the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge.

“THE CLOCKS” (2009) Review

“THE CLOCKS” (2009) Review

While perusing the list of novels written by Agatha Christie between 1957 and 1973, I noticed that only five of them featured Belgian detective Hercule Poirot as the main detective. Five out of sixteen novels during this period. Considering how the author used to churn out Poirot novels and short stories like nobody’s business in the previous decades, I could not help but wonder if the author’s interest in the Belgian detective was on the wane. 

This certainly seemed to be the case for her 1963 novel, “The Clocks”. Although Poirot was the investigator who solved the mystery, he barely played a role in this investigation. Major supporting characters like Colin Lamb and Inspector Richard Hardcastle visited the crime scenes and questioned the suspects and other witnesses. They fed the information to Poirot, who exercised his “little grey cells” and solved the case. This is one reason why the 1963 novel was not a particular favorite of mine. Thankfully, the 2009 adaptation of “The Clocks” proved to be a different kettle of fish. Unlike his literary version for this tale, actor David Suchet’s Poirot was, without a doubt, the mystery’s main character.

Although the 2009 television movie, “THE CLOCKS”, provided some minor changes to Christie’s novel, it also featured two major changes. I have already commented on how Poirot had a bigger role (as he should) in this television adaptation. The setting for “THE CLOCKS” also underwent a major change. Instead of being set during the heyday of the Cold War, the 2010 television movie was set near the end of the 1930s, with Europe (and eventually the rest of the world) on the cusp of World War II. And the narrative’s B-plot reflected this. In “THE CLOCKS”, the character of Colin Lamb has been changed to Colin Race, conveying the idea that he is the son of of an old friend of Poirot’s. And instead of being an MI-5 (Special Branch) agent investigating a pro-Communist spy ring, Colin is a Royal Navy officer working for MI-6 and investigating a possible pro-Nazi spy ring in Dover. Also, the character of Richard “Dick” Hardcastle has become a slightly xenophobic police officer, who resented Poirot’s presence in the investigation. Despite these changes, the core of Christie’s narrative managed to survive for this adaptation.

“THE CLOCKS” began as a spy story in which MI-6 operative Colin Race finds himself investigating the theft of classified documents from a naval base at Dover Castle. Apparently, Colin’s girlfriend had spotted the thief/German spy, but was killed by a speeding car before she could apprehend the thief. Colin’s girlfriend left a clue, leading Colin to a neighborhood in Dover. Upon reaching one house on a street shaped like a crescent, a young woman named Sheila Webb races out of it, screaming that she had found a murdered man inside, along with a collection of clocks. Colin seeks Poirot’s help to solve the murder mystery, in case the murder proves to be connected with the spy ring he had been investigating and his girlfriend’s death.

As I had earlier stated, I am not a big fan of Christie’s 1963 novel. While some might find the idea of Poirot being reduced to a minor character who solves the mystery in an armchair rather amusing, I did not. I could not, especially if this was supposed to be a “Poirot” mystery. And as I had earlier pointed out, screenwriter Stewart Harcourt director Charlie Palmer ensured that Poirot would be the main character in this adaptation. I also enjoyed how the narrative allowed Poirot and Colin’s search for the spy ring and missing document overshadow their efforts to find the killer responsible for the mystery man’s death, along with the deaths of two other characters – Edna Brent, a typist and colleague of Sheila Webb’s; and Merlina Riva, a former stage actress who claimed to be the widow of the dead man discovered by Colin and Sheila. Throughout the story, those viewers unfamiliar with Christie’s novel might find themselves wondering if Sheila was responsible for the deaths, if the deaths had anything to do with the German spy ring, or if the three victims had been killed for another reason. Overall, I believe “THE CLOCKS” is a solid adaptation of Christie’s novel, but also an improvement.

However, there is one aspect of Harcourt and Palmer’s adaptation that I do not regard as an improvement. I refer to the character of Colin Race. One, this secondary lead character came off as less than intelligent than his literary counterpart. Colin was able to solve the mystery of the spy ring without Poirot’s help. And two, in the television movie, he struck me as a slightly shallow man who was able to transfer his affections from one woman to another within a few days. I found this rather tacky. I believe Harcourt’s screenplay made the mistake of having Colin involved with the doomed Fiona Hanbury, whose activities led him to another clue regarding the spy ring, at the beginning of the story. Worse, it did not take Colin very long to develop romantic feelings for Sheila Webb after meeting her. And he met Sheila in less than a week after Fiona’s death. Even when he was still mourning Fiona’s death, he was falling in love with Sheila. Really? This is just tackiness beyond belief. Colin’s romantic relationships in this movie made him look like a shallow idiot who seemed to have this need for romance in his life 24/7.

The television movie’s production values struck me as very impressive. I thought Jeff Tessler’s production designs did a great job in recreating Dover circa 1939. His work was ably supported by Miranda Cull’s art direction and Sheena Napier’s costume designs. I have mixed feelings about Peter Greenhalgh’s cinematography. On one hand, I found movie’s photography very colorful and beautiful. In fact, I thought it did justice to the production’s locations in London and Kent. But I did not care for the hazy veneer that I felt almost spoiled the photography. I found it an unnecessary device for indicating that this story was set in the past. And it reminded me of numerous period dramas in the 1970s that also used this camera device . . . unnecessarily.

I certainly had no problems with the movie’s cast. David Suchet, as always, gave a sharp and elegant portrayal of Hercule Poirot. In fact, his performance reinforced my relief that the screenwriter and director had given Poirot a bigger presence in this adaptation than in Christie’s novel. Despite my irritation with the Colin Race character, I cannot deny that Tom Burke gave an exceptionally skillful performance. He almost made me believe in the plausibility of Colin falling in love with one woman, while still grieving for another. I was very impressed by Jaime Winstone’s portrayal of the ambiguous Sheila Webb. I thought she did an excellent job in conveying both the character’s desperate need for everyone to believe in her innocence and her occasional lapses in morality. Phil Daniels was excellent as the slightly aggressive and xenophobic Inspector Richard “Dick” Hardcastle. Lesley Sharp gave a very subtle performance as Sheila’s no-nonsense boss Miss Martindale. And I was very impressed with Anna Massey’s performance as Miss Pebmarsh, the blind owner of the house that contained the dead man and the actress’s final role before her death. Like Winstone, Massey did an excellent job of portraying a very complicated and ambiguous character, who was haunted by the deaths of her sons during World War I. The television movie also featured excellent performances from Geoffrey Palmer (father of the director), Tessa Peake-Jones, Jason Watkins, Beatie Edney, Abigail Thaw, Guy Henry, Stephen Boxer, and Frances Barber.

In the end, I believe that “THE CLOCKS” was a solid adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1963 novel, thanks to a first-rate script by Stewart Harcourt and first-rate direction by Charlie Palmer. My only true complaint was their handling of the Colin Race character. The television movie also featured excellent performances by a talented cast that included David Suchet, Anna Massey and Jaime Winstone.

Five Favorite Episodes of “STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE” Season Two (1993-1994)

Below is a list of my five favorite episodes from Season Two of “STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE”. Created by Rick Berman and Michael Piller; the series starred Avery Brooks as Commander Benjamin Siesko: 

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE” SEASON TWO (1993-1994)

1. (2.23) “Crossover” – First Officer Major Kira Nerys and Dr. Julian Bashir accidentally cross into an alternate world known as the Mirror Universe, where a Klingon-Cardassian alliance rules over the quadrant’s former rulers, Terrans (Humans), who are now the enslaved.

2. (2.24) “The Collaborator” – When a Bajoran collaborator named Kubus Oak announces his intentions to return home from exile and is denied passage by Kira Nerys; he contacts Vedek Winn, who is engaged in a power play to become Kai against Vedek Bareil, with evidence that the latter may have been partially responsible for a Cardassian massacre during the latter’s occupation of Bajor.

3. (2.10) “Sanctuary” – The Skrreea, displaced humanoid farmers and political refugees from the Gamma Quadrant, seek to make Bajor their new home, despite opposition from the Bajoran government.

4. (2.22) “The Wire” – Dr. Bashir fights to save the life of former Cardassian spy-turned-tailor when a device implanted in the latter’s brain, designed to alleviate pain in the event of torture, begins to malfunction and slowly kill him.

5. (2.08) “Necessary Evil” – When Deep Space Nine’s local bar owner Quark is shot, the station’s constable Odo relives memories of a five year-old investigation when he served under the Cardassians.

“DOCTOR THORNE” (2016) Review

 

“DOCTOR THORNE” (2016) Review

Two years ago, the ITV aired “DOCTOR THORNE”, Julian Fellowes’ four-part television adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s 1858 novel. As it turned out, the latter was the third novel in Trollope’s literary series known as the Chronicles of Barsetshire

From what I know, the 1858 novel seemed to have little in common to the rest of Trollope’s Barstshire series. Dr. Thomas Thorne, the main character in “DOCTOR THORNE”, was a distant cousin of Mr Wilfred Thorne, a minor character in “Barchester Towers”. Aside from that, the rest of the characters in “DOCTOR THORNE” seemed to have very little or no connections to the remaining Barstshire series.

The plot for “DOCTOR THORNE” seemed pretty straightforward. Our main protagonist is a respected doctor who has been raising his niece, Mary Thorne, on his own. Years earlier, Doctor Thorne’s ne’er-do-well older brother Henry had seduced one Mary Scatcherd. When her stonemason brother Roger Scatcherd had learned about his sister’s pregnancy, he engaged in a fight with Henry and killed him. Scatcherd ended in prison for several years, his sister gave birth to a daughter before moving to Australia with a new husband, and Doctor Thorne ended up raising his niece and keeping her parents’ identities a secret.

Following his release from prison, Roger Scatcherd becomes wealthy as railway project undertaker, got married, became a father and acquired a baronet. He also becomes a chronic alcoholic. Thorne becomes the family doctor to the Greshams, a local family of the landed gentry. He he persuades Scatcherd to lend money Mr. Francis Greshams, the local squire, who has troubles managing his finances. Within time, much of the Gresham estate is put up as collateral. Meanwhile, Mary forms a close friendship with the Gresham children and falls in love with Frank Gresham, Squire Gresham’s only son and heir of the squire, and he with her. But due to the family’s finances, Squire Gresham’s wife, Lady Arabella, plots to end Mary and Frank’s romance and find a wealthy wife for her son. However, Sir Roger’s only son and heir, Louis Scatcherd, also falls in love with Mary. And like his father, Louis has also acquired a drinking habit. Dr. Thorne is forced to struggle to help his niece find happiness, while at the same time, deal with Lady Arabella’s scheming for her son, and the tenuous financial situation between the Scatcherds and the Greshams.

“DOCTOR THORNE” received mixed reviews when it aired on both British and American television. I suspect that many critics believed that the production seemed to lack the bite of previous Trollope adaptations. And if I must be honest, I agree with them. Overall, “DOCTOR THORNE” struck me as a fluff piece into the life of Victorian society, despite the social snobbery portrayed in the miniseries, along with the fact that two of the characters were alcoholics. I believe it had something to do with the production’s tone. Thanks to Julian Fellowes’ writing, the miniseries felt more like a light comedy with flashes of melodrama. Especially for a story that featured social bigotry, family secrets and alcoholism.

It did not help that the only characters in this story who truly suffered in the end were the members of the Scatcherd family. Personally, I wish that Lady Arabella Gresham had suffered a lot more than a slight embarrassment over the discovery of Mary Thorne’s newly inherited wealth by the end of the story. I found the aristocratic matriarch’s efforts to break up Frank Jr.’s romance with Mary a lot more perfidious than the Scatcherds’ financial hold over the Greshams or even the malice and hostility that Sir Roger’s son Louis had harbored toward the high-born family. After all, the Greshams had found themselves in financial difficulties, thanks to Squire Gresham’s mishandling of the family’s income and the family’s spending habits.

But despite my qualms over the production, I still managed to enjoy it. “DOCTOR THORNE” proved to be a humorous and romantic story about Mary Thorne’s relationship with Frank Gresham Jr. and the obstacles – both socially and emotionally – they were forced to overcome. I also enjoyed the humorous subplot involving the political going-ons in Barsetshire and the upcoming election between Sir Roger Scatcherd and Mr. Moffat, another self-made man who had managed to gain support from the Gresham family. The miniseries also proved to be a poignant family drama involving the Thorne and Scatcherd families, with a big emotional payoff. And all of this romance and family drama was witnessed by the always dependable Doctor Thorne, who seemed to serve as the story’s backbone.

The production values for “DOCTOR THORNE” proved to be top-notch. Production designer Kristian Milsted did a solid job in re-creating Barsetshire, the fictional mid-19th century community (for its middle-class and upper-class citizens) featured in this story. Her efforts were ably assisted by Caroline Story’s art direction and Jan Jonaeus’s sharp and colorful photography, which did justice to various locations utilized in various counties in Southern England. I especially enjoyed the costumes created by Colleen Kelsall as shown below:

However, I felt a bit disturbed when I noticed that the day dresses worn by some of the women characters exposed a bit of cleavage:

Unless I happened to be wrong, 19th century women did not reveal any cleavage during the daytime. It was considered appropriate to do so in the evening for formal dinners and parties. I also noticed in the image above that actress Gwyneth Keyworth is also wearing a flower crown. A flower crown with daytime casual wear? I do not think so. Flower crowns – popularized by Queen Victoria during her wedding to Prince Albert – were usually worn by brides and bridemaids during wedding ceremonies, formal dinners and parties. I have one last complaint. The mid 19th century hairstyles worn by the women cast members seemed spot on to me . . . with one exception:

What on earth was the production’s hairstylist thinking by allowing this modern touch to actress Stefanie Martini’s hairstyle? Or was the hairstylist trying to copy the following look?

The problem is that the above style was prevalent in the 1840s, a decade before the setting for “DOCTOR THORNE”. And Ms. Martini’s “curls” are a tad too short.

The miniseries featured a mixture of solid and excellent acting. I can honestly say that there was not a bad performance in the production. Performers such as Nicholas Rowe, Alex Price, Cressida Bones, Janine Duvitski, Danny Kirrane, Tim McMullan, Nell Barlow all provided solid performances. More solid performances came from Edward Franklin, who seemed a tad over-the-top as the hostile and alcoholic Sir Louis Scatcherd; Harry Richardson, whose portrayal of Frank Gresham Jr. struck me as a bit bland; and Stefanie Martini’s performance as Mary Thorne struck me as charming, but not quite interesting. The real problem proved to be the character, who seemed to lack any interesting personality traits.

One of the more interesting performances came from Rebecca Front, who did an excellent job in conveying Lady Arabella Gresham’s snobbish and ruthless nature. Phoebe Nicholls’ Countess de Courcy (Lady Arabella’s sister-in-law) proved to be equally snobbish and ruthless. However, Nicholls skillfully conveyed how Lady de Courcy’s ruthlessness proved to be more subtle. Richard McCabe did an excellent job of portraying Francis Gresham’s likable, yet slightly weak nature. Gwyneth Keyworth gave an excellent performance as Frank Jr.’s complex and slightly mercenary sister, Augusta Gresham. Kate O’Flynn gave a skillful performance as Augusta’s equally mercenary cousin, Lady Alexandrina de Courcy, who proved to be a lot more manipulative. Alison Brie gave a very charming, yet sly performance as the wealthy American heiress Miss Dunstable, who proved to be a very sensible and wise woman. One of two best performances in the miniseries came from Ian McShane, who gave a superb performance as the alcoholic, yet proud and loyal Sir Roger Scatcherd. The other best performance came from Tom Hollander, who did a superb job as the leading character, Doctor Thomas Thorne, a sensible and put upon man, who constantly struggles to look after his niece from the likes of Lady Arabella and keep Squire Gresham from folding under the weight of debts.

What else can I say about “DOCTOR THORNE”? It is not one of the best television productions I have seen. It is probably the least impressive Anthony Trollope I have ever come across. But despite its flaws, I rather enjoyed it. I found it rather charming and likable, thanks to Julian Fellowes’ screenplay and the excellent cast led by Tom Hollander.