“THE CHISHOLMS” (1979): Chapter II Commentary

“THE CHISHOLMS” (1979): CHAPTER II Commentary

The first episode of the 1979 miniseries, “THE CHISHOLMS” – otherwise known as Chapter I had focused on the Chisholm family’s last year at their western Virginia farm. The episode also explored the circumstances that led to patriarch Hadley Chisholm’s decision to move the family west to California during the spring of 1844 and their journey as far as Evansville, Indiana. This second episode focused on the next stage of their journey.

This new episode or Chapter II focused on a short period of the Chisholms’ migration to California. It covered their journey from southeastern Illinois to Independence, Missouri. Due to the addition of a guide named Lester Hackett, who had agreed to accompany them as far as Missouri, the Chisholm family experienced its first crisis – one that led to a temporary split within the family ranks. The family’s journey seemed to be smooth sailing at first. They managed to become used to the routine of wagon train traveling. Lester proved to be an agreeable companion who helped with both hunting for game and cooking. He even managed to save Bonnie Sue Chisholm, who briefly found herself trapped in the family’s wagon being pulled away by their pair of skittish mules. Eventually, Bonnie Sue and Lester began expressing romantic interest in each other.

But alas, the family’s luck began to fade. A lone rider began trailing the Chisholm party. Lester discovered that he was a friend of someone named James Peabody, who believes Lester was responsible for the theft of some valuables that include a pair of Spanish pistols . . . the same pistols that Lester had claimed he lost in a poker match in Louisville. He and Bonnie Sue enjoyed a night of intimacy together before he abandoned the Chisholms . . . while riding Will Chisholm’s horse. Around the same time, Hadley’s violent encounter with a drunken Native American at a local tavern fully revealed his deep-seated bigotry towards all Native Americans and foreshadowed the problems it will cause. Then Hadley made one of the worst decisions of his life by allowing Will and middle son Gideon to pursue Lester to Iowa and recover the former’s stolen horse.

Upon their arrival in Iowa, Will made an equally disastrous decision. Instead of requesting information and help from the local sheriff, he and Gideon appeared at the Hackett farm, asking for Lester’s whereabouts. The two brothers ended up being arrested for the theft of chicken eggs and trespassing. Although the charges of theft were dropped, Will and Gideon were convicted of trespassing and ordered to serve on a prison work gang for a month. This left the rest of the family to continue on to Independence, Missouri – the jump-off point for all westbound wagon trains. During their journey through Missouri, the Chisholms joined with the Comyns, a family from Baltimore. Upon their arrival in Independence, the Chisholms and the Comyns discover that most of the wagons trains had already departed. However, they managed to form a wagon party with a plainsman named Timothy Oates and his Pawnee wife, Youngest Daughter. Unaware that Will and Gideon have been sentenced to a prison work gang, and aware that they are already behind schedule, the Chisholms have no choice but to head west into the wilderness.

For an episode that began in a light-hearted manner, Chapter II ended on a rather ominous note. You know, I have seen this production so many times. Yet, it never really occurred until recently how the turmoil caused by Lester Hackett in this episode, ended up causing so much turmoil for the family. What makes this ironic is that it all began with the sexual attraction that had sprung up between him and Bonnie Sue Chisholm back in Louisville. The first sign of this turmoil manifested in Lester’s abandonment of the family and especially, his theft of Will Chisholm’s horse. The horse theft led to the separation of the family at a time when it would have been more imperative for them to be together as a unit.

Hadley did not help matters by allowing Will and Gideon to search for Lester in Iowa. And the two brothers made the situation worse by failing to immediately contact the local sheriff before appearing at the Hackett farm – an act that led them to be sentenced one month on a prison work gang. Will and Gideon’s situation made it impossible for them to catch up with the rest of the family on the trail. And as Beau Chisholm had pointed out to Hadley in Independence, they were not in a position to wait for the other two. The Chisholms had no choice but to leave with two other westbound parties – the Comyns from Baltimore and the frontiersman Timothy Oates and his wife, Youngest Daughter. Two families and a couple does not seem large enough for a safe journey on the overland trail. But considering they were all behind schedule, they could either take the risk continue west or hang around Independence until the next year.

But I did notice that despite all of this turmoil, the light-hearted atmosphere of the episode’s beginning seemed to have persisted. More importantly, Chapter II seemed to be marked by a good deal of humor. The episode included humorous moments like Hadley’s negative comments about the Illinois and Missouri landscapes, Will and Lester’s lively debate over using mules or oxen to pull wagon overland, Lester’s attempts to win over the family – especially Minerva, and especially his sexy courtship of Bonnie Sue.

Once Lester had abandoned the family near St. Louis, the humor continued. Will and Gideon’s experiences in Iowa were marked with a good deal of sardonic humor. That same humor marked Hadley and Minerva’s low opinion of the Comyn family. Even Hadley’s quarrel with the Independence saloon owner permeated with humor and theatricality. Looking back on Chapter II, I can only think of two moments that really emphasized the gravitas of the Chisholms’ situation – Hadley’s violent encounter with the Native American inside an Illinois tavern and that final moment when the family continued west into the wilderness without Will and Gideon.

When the Chisholms left Virginia in Chapter I, their journey was marked with a good number of interesting settings. That episode featured a detailed re-creation of Louisville and travel along the Ohio River. There seemed to be no such unusual settings for Chapter II. The entire episode focused on the family’s journey through Illinois, Iowa and Missouri. Not once did the episode featured the family in St. Louis. And a few set pieces (or buildings) served as Independence, Missouri circa 1844.

The performances from Chapter I held up very well. Robert Preston and Rosemary Harris, as usual, gave excellent performances as the family’s heads – Hadley and Minerva Chisholm. I was especially impressed by Preston’s performance in the scene involving Hadley’s encounter with the intoxicated Native American. In it, the actor did a superb job in conveying both Hadley’s racism toward all Native Americans and his poignant regret over the tragic circumstances (Allen Chisholm had been killed by a Native American in a drunken fight over a slave woman from the Bailey plantation) behind his toxic attitude. Both Ben Murphy and Brian Kerwin clicked rather well during those scenes that involved Will and Gideon Chisholm’s search for Lester. The episode also featured solid performances from James Van Patten, Susan Swift, Katie Hanley (as the amusingly mild-mannered Mrs. Comyn) and David Heyward (as Timothy Oates). Veteran character actor Jerry Hardin gave an excellent performance the slightly proud, yet finicky Mr. Comyn, who seemed to run his life by his pocketwatch.

But if I must be honest, this episode belonged to Stacy Nelkin and Charles Frank, who did superb jobs in conveying Bonnie Sue Chisholm and Lester Hackett’s burgeoning romance. I was impressed by how both of them developed Bonnie Sue and Lester’s relationship from sexual attraction to playful flirtations and finally, to a genuine romance that was sadly cut short by Lester’s need for self-preservation from a charge of theft.

Overall, I enjoyed Chapter II. In a way, it seemed to be the calm before the storm that threatens to overwhelm the Chisholm family on their trek to California. The episode seemed to be filled with a good deal of humor and romance. On the other hand, Lester Hackett’s past and current choices in this episode seemed to hint an ominous future for the family by the end of the episode.

 

Favorite Miniseries Set in 19th Century Britain

Below is a list of my favorite movies and television miniseries set in Britain of the 19th century (1801-1900):

FAVORITE MINISERIES SET IN 19TH CENTURY BRITAIN

1. “North and South” (2004) – Sandy Welch wrote this superb and emotional adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1855 novel about the well-born daughter of a former English clergyman, who is forced to move north to an industrial city after her father leaves the Church of England and experiences culture shock, labor conflict and love. Daniela Danby-Ashe and Richard Armitage made a sizzling screen team as the two leads.

 

 

2. “Pride and Prejudice” (1995) – Even after twenty-four years, this adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel, which stars Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehrle, remains my all time favorite Austen adaptation, thanks to Andrew Davies’ excellent screenplay and the cast’s performances. I cannot describe it as anything else other than magic.

 

 

3. “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. I especially enjoyed the performances of Carla Gugino, Cherie Lughi, James Frain and Greg Wise.

 

 

4. “Emma” (2009) – Sandy Welch struck gold again in her superb adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel about a genteel young woman with an arrogant penchant for matchmaking. Directed by Jim O’Hanlon, Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller starred in this fabulous production.

 

 

5. “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” (1996) – Tara Fitzgerald, Toby Stephens and Rupert Graves are fabulous in this excellent adaptation of Anne Brontë’s 1848 novel about a woman attempting to evade an abusive and alcoholic husband. Mike Barker directed this three-part miniseries.

 

 

6. “Wives and Daughters” (1999) – Andrew Davies wrote this excellent adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1865 unfinished novel about the coming-of-age of a country doctor’s daughter. Justine Waddell and Keeley Hawes starred in this four-part miniseries.

 

 

7. “Jane Eyre” (1983) – Alexander Baron wrote this excellent adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s 1847 novel about a destitute, but strong-willed governess who falls in love with her mysterious employer. Zelah Clarke and Timothy Dalton made a superb screen team in my favorite adaptation of the novel.

 

 

8. “Middlemarch” (1994) – Andrew Davies adapted this superb adaptation of George Eliot’s 1871 novel about the lives of the inhabitants of an English town during the cusp of the Industrial Revolution. The superb cast includes Juliet Aubrey, Douglas Hodge, Robert Hardy and Rufus Sewell.

 

 

9. “Jack the Ripper” (1988) – This two-part miniseries chronicled the investigations of Scotland Yard inspector Fredrick Abberline of the infamous “Jack the Ripper” murders of the late 1880s. Excellent production and performances by Michael Caine, Lewis Collins, Jane Seymour and the supporting cast.

 

 

10. “Bleak House” (2005) – Once again, Andrew Davies struck gold with his excellent adaptation of Charles Dickens’ 1852-53 novel about the pitfalls of the 19th British legal system and a family mystery. Anna Maxwell-Martin, Gillian Anderson, Denis Lawson and Charles Dance led a cast filled with excellent performances.

 

“NORTH AND SOUTH” Trilogy Locations

Below are images of locations used in the television adaptation of John Jakes’ “NORTH AND SOUTH” Trilogy. The three miniseries aired between 1985 and 1994:

 

 

“NORTH AND SOUTH” TRILOGY LOCATIONS

Boone Hall Plantation; Mount Pleasant, South Carolina – This plantation had served as the exterior shots for the Main family’s South Carolina plantation, Mont Royal in “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOKS I & II”:

 

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Stanton Hall; Natchez, Mississippi – This mansion was used for the interior shots of the Main family’s South Carolina plantation house, Mont Royal in “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOKS I & II” :

 

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Calhoun Mansion; Charleston, South Carolina – This manor house served as the Hazard family’s Lehigh Station, Pennsylvania mansion, Belvedere in “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOKS I & II”:

 

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Greenwood Plantation; St. Francisville, Louisiana – This plantation had served as the South Carolina plantation, Resolute; which was owned by the Mains’ neighbor, Justin LaMotte in “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOKS I & II”:

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Jefferson College; Washington, Mississippi – The rooms at this former all-male college had served as the barracks at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York in “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I”:

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Sunset Station; San Antonio, Texas – This historic train station had served as the rail terminal station in St. Louis, Missouri in “HEAVEN AND HELL – NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK III”:

 

“THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL” Season One (2017) Episode Ranking

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Below is my ranking of the Season One episodes of the Amazon Prime series, “THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL”. Created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, the series stars Rachel Brosnahan as Miriam “Midge” Maisel:

 

“THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL” SEASON ONE (2017) EPISODE RANKING

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1. (1.08) “Thank You and Good Night” – Housewife-turned-stand up comic Miriam “Midge” Maisel and her manager, former cafe employee Susie Myerson deal with the repercussions of Midge’s off-script take down of famous comedienne Sophie Lennon. Midge and her estranged husband Joel Maisel briefly reunite for their son’s birthday.

 

 

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2. (1.02) “Ya Shivu v Bolshom Dome Na Kholme” – Midge’s life falls into a tailspin in the wake of Joel leaving her. Their parents butt heads in an attempt to keep the couple together. Susie pushes Midge to seek a career as a stand-up comic.

 

 

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3. (1.07) “Put That on Your Plate” – With Susie’s help, Midge hones her act at the Gaslight Cafe. Midge’s father, Abe Weissman, surprises the women with a dinner guest, sending her mother Rose into an emotional spiral. Midge stirs up controversy after meeting a big-time comic, Sophie Lennon.

 

 

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4. (1.01) “Pilot” – Midge seemed to lead the perfect life with Joel and their children. But when his dreams of becoming a stand-up comic bombs at the Gaslight, Joel blames Midge and leaves her. A drunken Midge returns to the club and engages in a comic routine that leads to her arrest.

 

 

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5. (1.04) “The Disappointment of the Dionne Quintuplets” – Susie shows Midge the ropes during a tour of New York comedy clubs. Rose takes a bit too much pleasure in Midge and the children moving in with the Weissmans.

 

 

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6. (1.06) “Mrs. X at the Gaslight” – Susie becomes upset when she learns that Midge has been performing her act at private parties. Abe is thrilled when he receives a job offer from Bell Labs. The Weissman family celebrate Abe’s job offer at a local Chinese restaurant, where they encounter Joel and his mistress, Penny Pann.

 

 

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7. (1.03) “Because You Left” – After her second arrest, Midge finds herself in legal trouble when she is forced to face a judge in court. Abe approaches Joel’s father, Moishe Maisel, with an interesting proposition. Legendary comic Lenny Bruce offers some unconventional inspiration for Midge’s act.

 

 

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8. (1.05) “Doink” – Midge gets a job at B. Altman, a Manhattan department store, where she makes new friends. She also hires an unemployed comedy writer, an act that proves disastrous for her budding career. Joel’s relationship with Penny Pann meets with disapproval from his parents, along with the wife of his friend/co-worker Archie Cleary.

“STAR TREK DISCOVERY” Season Two Musings

“STAR TREK DISCOVERY” SEASON TWO MUSINGS

There have been plenty of articles on the Internet that many television shows with successful first seasons usually decline in quality with its second season. This is known as the “second season curse”. I do not There have been plenty of cases when the quality of a television series has improved with each succeeding season. However, I do believe there are some shows that adhere to this theory. When it comes to Season Two of the CBS All Access series, “STAR TREK DISCOVERY”, some believe it had .

Most Trek fans either believe that Season One of “DISCOVERY” was a disaster. Many were put off by Michael Burnham, who is portrayed by an African-American actress, as the series’ lead. Many had complained about the series’ serialized format. And there were numerous complaints about the season’s ambiguous portrayal of its main characters and the Federation. Despite these complaints, “STAR TREK DISCOVERY” managed to become a big hit and attract many fans. Unfortunately, the show runners had listened to these disenchanted fans who considered themselves “veteran” Trekkers and made certain changes to the series for its second season. I usually have no problems with a series making some kind of changes. It is necessary for a series to develop. However, some of the changes or additions to Season Two of “DISCOVERY” . . . bothered me.

Season Two began with the episode called (2.01) “Brother”, when Captain Christopher Pike of the U.S.S. Enterprise, took emergency command of the U.S.S. Discovery after his ship was damaged during the crew’s investigation of seven mysterious red signals. The last signal led Pike and the Discovery crew to an asteroid made of non-baryonic matter, where they discovered the U.S.S. Hiawatha, damaged during the Federation-Klingon War of last season. How did the Hiawatha crew’s rescue play a role in the season’s overall arc? Were the events of “Brother” more about rescuing Commander Reno and adding a new character to the series? If so, this was a piss-poor and vague way to do it. Reno could have easily been transferred to Discovery as its new chief engineer without this convoluted set-up to bring her aboard the ship. Also, she had played a very limited role in the second season’s narrative. By mid-season, I found myself wondering why she had not returned to Starfleet Headquarters on Earth, following her rescue. I did not learn until after the finale had aired that she had been officially assigned to Discovery. Huh? And there was the matter of a primitive Human colony on a planet called Terralysium. The Red Angel had led the Discovery to the colony and prevented its inhabitants from being destroyed by an extinction-level radiation shower. How did this play a role in Season Two’s overall arc?

Burnham and the Discovery crew eventually discovered that the signals came from a time travel sentient being called “the Red Angel”. And the Red Angel turned out to be Michael’s presumed dead mother, Dr. Gabrielle Burnham. Since viewers learned that Dr. Burnham’s overall goal was to make the Federation aware of dangerous artificial intelligence called “Control”, why did she go out of her way to bring attention to the Hiawatha crew and Terralysium’s inhabitants? As it turned out, Dr. Burnham was not involved in those situations. Michael was. Michael had ended up using the Red Angel suit in the season’s finale, (2.14) “Such Sweet Sorrow, Part II”. And she was the one who had sent the seven signals, including the two that led Starfleet to both the Hiawath and Terralysium. Really? Was that show runners’ way of explaining why the Red Angel led the Discovery crew to situations that had no major impact upon Season Two’s narrative? Frankly, I found this rather a waste of time. Perhaps Michael wanted to save Commander Reno and allow Terralysium to survive when Discovery arrived in the future. But honestly, the show runners and their writers could have handled this with tighter writing.

Or perhaps the above scenarios were inevitable, since the show runners had planned to send the U.S.S. Discovery over nine hundred years into the future. Imagine, a serialized television show’s format or setting undergoing an extensive change in the middle of its run – during its third season. The series went from being about a Starfleet science vessel during the 2250s to one that is exploring the future. Why? Alex Kurtzman claimed that he had wanted to take the series into a new setting so that the writers would not have to work hard to connect the series’ narrative with the 1966-1969 series, “STAR TREK”. Especially since the latter series is set a decade after “DISCOVERY” and so many fans have been crying plot holes upon discovering that Michael Burnham was the adoptive daughter of Spock’s parents, Sarek and Amanda Grayson. Pop culture fans can be incredibly stupid sometimes. And so are the television show runners who listen to them.

Taking the U.S.S. Discovery some 900 years into the future struck me as one of the most unnecessary moves the show runners could have made. I also find the whole idea ridiculous. “STAR TREK DISCOVERY” began in 2256 – a decade earlier than “STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES” and aboard another Starfleet ship . . . with a different crew. There would have been NO NEED for the series to make a concerted effort to connect with the 1966-69 series, despite Michael Burnham being the adopted sister of Spock. At best, Spock, Sarek and Amanda can make the occasional appearance on the show. If “DISCOVERY” ever lasts as long as those shows between 1987 and 2001 – “STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION”“STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE” and “STAR TREK VOYAGER” – the series’ setting would have ended in 2263 or 2264 – at least two to three years before the beginning of “THE ORIIGNAL SERIES” setting. Did any of the show runners ever considered this? By changing the premise, “DISCOVERY” will only end up being some kind of time travel version of “VOYAGER”. And that does not strike me as particularly original.

There is another problem with the new direction that the series had undertaken in the Season Two finale – namely the former Most Imperial Majesty, Mother of the Fatherland, Overlord of Vulcan, Dominus of Qo’noS, Regina Andor, Philippa Georgiou Augustus Iaponius Centarius of the Mirror Universe. As everyone knows, mirror Philippa eventually impersonated the deceased Captain Georgiou prime as a retired Starfleet officer and later became a Section 31 operative. Midway during the airing of Season Two, it was announced that Michelle Yeoh, who portrayed Georgiou, would headline a new Trek series in the near future about Section 31. Why is this a problem? Georgiou was one of the Starfleet personnel aboard Discovery when it followed Michael in the Red Angel suit . . . into the future. If Discovery being 900 years in the future is the series’ new premise, how will Georgiou return to the 2250s in order to continue her story with Section 31? Someone had suggested that she will command Section 31 in the 32nd century? Really? Why on earth would anyone in Earth’s future allow a woman from the 23rd century assume command of an organization like Section 31?

There were aspects of Season Two that I liked. I found Starfleet’s conflict with the A.I. entity known as Control rather interesting . . . and frightening. Many Trek fans had complained that “Control” should have been portrayed as the origin story for the Borg. What they had forgotten was that around this period in Trek history, the Borg had existed for quite some time and had wiped out the El-Aurian home world. Using “Control” as the Borg’s origin story was out of the question. I also enjoyed how the writers used the spore drive’s mycelial plane to bring Dr. Hugh Culber back from the dead and how this resurrection had affected his relationship with Lieutenant Paul Stamets. I especially enjoyed Michael’s reunion with her missing mother, Gabrielle Burnham. In fact, I could honestly say that I had truly enjoyed the episodes of mid-Season Two – from (2.05) “Saints of Imperfection” to (2.11) “Perpetual Infinity”. However, I did not like the finale, (2.13-2.14) “Such Sweet Sorrow”.

Many had complained that the two-part episode seemed over saturated with action. Or that the finale seemed more “STAR WARS” than “STAR TREK”. The action in “Such Sweet Sorrow” did not bother me. I certainly had no problems with Georgiou’s brutal fight against the Control-possessed Captain Leland. Along with Discovery’s eventual journey into the future, I had some problem’s with the episode’s writing. One of those problems involved Ash Tyler, the former Klingon whose body and consciousness had been transformed into a Starfleet officer who had died during the Federation-Klingon War. Instead of joining the rest of the Discovery crew for their journey into the future, he remained behind to convince Empress L’Rell (his or Voq’s former paramour) to help Starfleet’s conflict against Control. This would be nothing, except Ash had openly contacted L’Rell and was later by her side aboard a Klingon starship during the battle. Apparently, Alex Kurtzman and the episode’s screenwriter that Georgiou and Section 31 had went through a good deal of trouble to end Ash’s brief role as L’Rell’s aide on the Klingon home world in order to save her reign as the new Empress . . . by faking his death. Worse, Starfleet put Ash in command of Section 31, despite his limited experience with the agency and his unsuitability as a spy. Despite the fact that Georgiou had managed to destroy Control and prevent it from acquiring the massive data from the Sphere that the crew had discovered in (2.04) “An Obol for Charon”, Michael and the Discovery crew traveled into the future anyway. Following Discovery’s disappearance into the future, Captain Pike (back in command of the Enterprise) and Ash informed Starfleet that Discovery had been destroyed during the battle against Control. Why? Why did the writers feel that was necessary? I feel as if a great deal of unnecessary writing decisions had been made in this episode to justify the Discovery’s journey into the future.

For me, the biggest frustrations of Season Two proved to be the presence of Spock and Captain Christopher Pike. Especially the latter. But I will start with Spock first. Initially, I had no problem with Spock’s role in the season’s narrative. But once the crew had identified Gabrielle Burnham as the Red Angel and Admiral Katrina Cromwell had returned to Starfleet Headquarters, why did Spock remain aboard the Discovery? Why did he not return to Headquarters with the Admiral and rejoin the Enterprise crew? However, Spock’s continuing presence aboard the Discovery struck me as minor problem in compare to the presence of his commanding officer, Captain Pike.

I have been a fan of Anson Mount since he starred in the AMC series, “HELL ON WHEELS”. But I wish to God that he had never been cast as Christopher Pike in “STAR TREK DISCOVERY”. More importantly, I wish that the show runners had never utilized the character in the first place. I believe Christopher Pike was the worst aspect about Season Two of “STAR TREK DISCOVERY”. His presence on the show struck me as irrelevant. Useless. Why did the show runners have him serve as Discovery’s commander throughout the entire season? Why was he even needed? Saru could have easily remained in command of Discovery after the crew was given the Red Angel mission. This was the officer who had led the ship out of the Mirror Universe. And he had also stood behind the crew’s refusal to obey Starfleet’s order to help Georgiou to decimate the Klingon home world in the Season One finale, (1.15) “Will You Take My Hand?“. With the Enterprise temporarily out of commission, Pike could have appeared in “Brother” to hand over the Red Angel mission to the Discovery crew and to inform Spock’s disappearance to both Michael and Sarek before guiding his damaged ship back to Starfleet Headquarters. Then he and the Enterprise could have returned for the final battle against Control in “Such Sweet Sorrow”.

But no. Certain fans had raised a fuss over an African-American actress serving as the lead of a Star Trek series and cried tears over “DISCOVERY” not being “traditional Trek”. And the series’ show runners had made the mistake of listening to them, despite the fact that “DISCOVERY” was a hit. And with Pike, they had provided these narrow-minded fans with an ideal leading male character to swoon over. But why did the show runners felt it was necessary to appease these fans with the addition of Pike for Season Two? Pike was not needed. Even worse, they did not have to paint Captain Pike as this ridiculously ideal Starfleet officer. Because frankly, he came off as a bore. And bland. There were moments when the series was willing to portray Pike’s idealism and inflexibility as flaws, especially in his conflict with Ash Tyler. However, by (2.09) “Project Daedalus”, it seemed quite obvious that the show runners were determined to paint Pike as “the perfect or near perfect” Starfleet officer. This became obvious in his conflict with Ash. Even when Pike was seen to be in the wrong in both (2.07) “Light and Shadows” and (2.08) “If Memory Serves”, Pike was painted in a more sympathetic light than Ash. If only the show runners had ditched this useless conflict and focused more attention on the fallout between Ash and Hugh from Season One, I would have been more impressed. In “THE ORIGINAL SERIES” episode, (1.11-1.12) “The Menagerie”, Trek fans had first learned about Pike’s future as a paraplegic, due to an accident. Somehow, the writers managed to twist Pike’s future as some kind of “heroic sacrifice” in which he had to give up the idea of accepting Klingon time crystals to defeat Control or taking them and facing a future as a paraplegic. There was no need to include what I believe proved to be a contrived and unnecessary plot twist.

I loved Season One of “DISCOVERY”. Despite some moments of clunky writing, I thought it had provided something new and exciting to the Star Trek franchise. I became an instant fan. There were aspects of Season Two that I liked – Starfleet’s conflict with Control, Dr. Hugh Culber’s resurrection and Michael Burnham’s reunion with her mother, Gabrielle Burnham. However, there were aspects of Season Two that I disliked. Too many. And that included the season finale, (2.14) “Such Sweet Sorrow, Part II”, along with Discovery’s unnecessary trip into the future. Also, I saw no reason for the over utilization of characters like Spock and Captain Christopher Pike. I saw their presence during the season as a heavy-handed attempt with the “nostalgic factor” to win over certain Trek fans still mired in the past. It must have worked to a certain degree. Many have declared Season Two to be superior to Season One.

So in the end, I can only repeat that I do not agree with the assessment that Season Two of “STAR TREK DISCOVERY” was superior to Season One. I believe that the Trek fandom’s desire for nostalgia – especially in the form of Christopher Pike and Spock – has made Season Two overrated in my opinion and a victim of the “second season curse”. And most importantly, I saw no need for Christopher Pike to serve as the temporary commander of the U.S.S. Discovery. I found this decision by the show runners to be completely unnecessary.

 

“All Aboard the Orient Express”

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Below is a look at two major movies and a television movie that featured journeys aboard the famed Orient Express:

 

“ALL ABOARD THE ORIENT EXPRESS”

I will be the first to admit that I am not one of those who demand that a novel, a movie or a television production to be historically accurate. Not if history gets in the way of the story. But there is an anal streak within me that rears its ugly head, sometimes. And that streak would usually lead me to judge just how accurate a particular production or novel is.

Recently, I watched three movies that featured a journey aboard the legendary train, the Orient Express. Perhaps I should be a little more accurate. All three movies, “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (1974)“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (2010) and “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE” (1963) featured a famous route that came into existence nearly a year following World War I called the Simplon Orient Express. The original route for the Orient Express stretched from Paris to Istanbul via Strasbourg, Munich, Vienna, Budapest and Bucharest. Then in 1919, Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits introduced a more southerly route, due to the opening of the Simplon Tunnel. This route stretched between Paris and Istanbul, via Lausanne, Milan, Venice, Belgrade and Sofia. Writers Agatha Christie and Ian Fleming made the Simplon Orient Express route famous thanks to their novels, “Murder on the Orient Express” (1934) and “From Russia With Love” (1957). And the movie adaptations of these novels increased the route’s fame.

Both Christie and Fleming’s novels featured the Simplon Orient Express’ route from Istanbul to Yugoslavia. There are reasons why their stories do not stretch further west to as far as at least France. In “Murder on the Orient Express”, the train became stuck in a snowdrift in Yugoslavia and detective Hercule Poirot spent the rest of the novel trying to solve the murder of an American passenger. And in “From Russia With Love”, British agent James Bond and his companion, Tatiana Romanova, made it as far as either Italy or France. The 1974 and 2010 adaptations of Christie’s novel, more or less remained faithful to the latter as far as setting is concerned. However, EON Production’s 1963 adaptation of Fleming’s novel allowed Bond and Tatiana to escape from the train before it could cross the Yugoslavia-Italy border.

While watching the three movies, I discovered that their portrayals of the Simplon Orient Express route were not completely accurate. I can imagine the thoughts running through the minds of many, declaring “Who cares?”. And I believe they would be right to feel this way. But I thought it would be fun to look into the matter. Before I do, I think I should cover a few basics about this famous train route from Istanbul to Paris-Calais.

During its heyday, the Orient Express usually departed from Istanbul around 11:00 p.m. Following the rise of the Iron Curtain after World War II, the Orient Express extended it route to stops in Greece in order to avoid the Soviet-controlled countries. The only Communist country it passed through was Yugoslavia. When the train became the slower Direct Orient Express in 1962, it usually departed Istanbul around 4:15 p.m. I do not know whether a restaurant car and/or a salon “Pullman” car was attached to the Direct Orient Express when it departed Istanbul between 1962 and 1977. One last matter. In the three adaptations of the two novels, the Orient Express usually made a significant stop at Belgrade. It took the Orient Express, during its heyday, at least 23 to 24 hours to travel from Istanbul to Belgrade.

Let us now see how accurately the two “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” movies and the 1963 “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE” flick accurately portray traveling aboard the Simplon Orient Express (or Direct Orient Express) on film. I will begin with the “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS”, the 1974 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel.

 

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“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (1974)

Following the conclusion of a successful case for the British Army somewhere in the Middle East, Belgian-born detective is on his way home to London, via a train journey aboard the famed Orient Express. When an American businessman named Samuel Rachett is murdered during the second night aboard the train, Poirot is asked by his friend and director of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, Senor Bianchi, to investigate the crime.

In this adaptation directed by Sidney Lumet, the Simplon Orient Express that left Istanbul did so at 9:00 at night. The movie also included a dining car attached to the train. One scene featured a chef examining food being loaded onto the train. This scene is erroneous. According to the The Man in Seat 61 website, there was no dining car attached to the train when it left Istanbul. A dining car was usually attached at Kapikule on the Turkish/Bulgarian border, before it was time to serve breakfast. The movie also featured a salon car or a “Pullman”, where Hercule Poirot interrogated most of the passengers of the Istanbul-Calais car.

 

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According to the “Seat 61” site, there was no salon “Pullman” car attached to the train east of Trieste, Italy. Christie needed the presence of the car for dramatic purposes and added one into her novel. The producers of the 1974 movie did the same. At least the producers of the 1974 used the right dark blue and cream-colored car for the Pullman. More importantly, they used the right dark blue cars for the train’s sleeping coaches, as shown in the image below:

 

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In the movie, the Simplon Orient Express reached Belgrade 24 hours after its departure from Istanbul. For once, the movie was accurate. Somewhere between Vinkovci and Brod, the Orient Express ended up snowbound and remained there until the end of the story.

 

 

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“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (2010)

This adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel first aired on Britain’s ITV network in 2010. The television movie started with Hercule Poirot berating a British Army officer caught in a devastating lie. After the officer commits suicide, Poirot ends up in Istanbul, where he and a British couple witness the stoning of an adulterous Turkish woman. Eventually, the couple and Poirot board the Orient Express, where the latter finds himself investigating the murder of an American passenger.

I do not know what time the Simplon Orient Express departed Istanbul in this adaptation. The movie never indicated a particular time. This version also featured a brief scene with a chef examining food being loaded aboard a dining car. As I previously mentioned, a dining car was not attached until Kapikule. The movie did feature Poirot and some of the Istanbul-Calais car passengers eating breakfast the following morning. In this scene, I noticed a major blooper. Car attendant Pierre Michel was shown serving a dish to Poirot in the dining car. Note the images below:

 

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Pierre Michel greets Poirot and M. Bouc before they board the train

 

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Pierre serves breakfast to Poirot

 

Why on earth would a car attendant (or train conductor, as he was called in the 1934 novel) act as a waiter in the dining car? Like the 1974 movie, the ITV adaptation also featured a salon “Pullman” attached to the train, east of Italy. In fact, they did more than use one salon “Pullman”. As I had stated earlier, the westbound Simplon Orient Express usually acquired a salon “Pullman” after its arrival in Trieste. But in this adaptation, the producers decided to use the dark blue and cream-colored “Pullman” cars for the entire train as shown in these images:

 

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This is completely in error. As I had stated earlier, the Orient Express usually featured a dark-blue and cream-colored salon “Pullman” between Italy and Paris. But it also featured the dark-blue and cream-colored seating “Pullmans” between Calais and Paris. There is no way that the Orient Express leaving Istanbul would entirely consist of the blue and cream “Pullman” cars.

However, the train did arrive at Belgarde at least 24 hours after its departure from Istanbul. Like the other movie, the train ended up snowbound between Vinkovci and Brod and remained there until the last scene. However, I am confused by the presence of the police standing outside of the train in the last scene. Poirot and the other passengers should have encountered the police, following the train’s arrival in Brod, not somewhere in the middle of the Yugoslavian countryside.

 

 

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“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (2017)

In this adaptation of Christie’s 1934 novel, in which Kenneth Branagh directed and starred, Poirot solves a theft at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The detective hopes to rest in Istanbul after traveling there via the Mediterranean and Agean Seas, but a telegram summons him to London for a case and he boards the Orient Simplon Orient Express with the help of young Monsieur Bouc, a director of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits. When an American passenger named Samuel Rachett is found stabbed to death following his second night aboard the Orient Express, Poirot is asked to solve his murder.

 

 

This movie featured the departure of the Simplon Orient Express around 7:00 p.m., instead of eleven o’clock. However, this is probably the only adaptation of Christie’s novel that featured the strongest similarity to the real Sirkeci Terminal in Istanbul, the train’s eastern terminus.

However, I also noticed that passengers boarded via the dining car, at the tail end of the train. That is correct. This adaptation also has a dining car attached to the Orient Express in Istanbul, instead of having it attached at Kapikule, the Turkish-Bulgarian border crossing. And unlike the previous adaptations, the dining car and the lounge car are dark blue like the sleeping compartments, instead of a color mixture of dark-blue and cream-colored. Which was an error.

 

 

The movie did not feature a stop in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. It did, however, featured a brief stop at Vinkovci, before it encountered a snow drift, later in the night. Since it was definitely at night when the train stopped at Vinkovci, no error had been committed. Especially since it was not quite dark when the train departed from Istanbul. And the journey between Istanbul and Belgrade lasted roughly 24 hours. At the end of the film, Poirot departed from the Orient Express at Brod. This is also appropriate, since the train had been snowbound somewhere between Vinkovci and Brod in the novel. More importantly, unlike the 2010 adaptation, Poirot gave his false resolution to Rachett’s murder to the police … in Brod and not in the spot where the train had been trapped.

 

 

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“FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE” (1963)

Ian Fleming’s tale begins with the terrorist organization, SPECTRE, plotting the theft of the KGB’s a cryptographic device from the Soviets called the Lektor, in order to sell it back to them, while exacting revenge on British agent James Bond for killing their agent, Dr. No. After Bond successfully steals the Lektor from the Soviet consulate in Istanbul, he, defector Tatiana Romanova and MI-6 agent Kerim Bey board the Orient Express for a journey to France and later, Great Britain.

While I found this adaptation of Ian Fleming’s 1957 novel extremely enjoyable, I found myself puzzled by the movie’s portrayal of Bond’s journey aboard the Orient Express. It seemed so . . . off. In the movie; the Orient Express conveying Bond, his traveling companions and SPECTRE assassin “Red” Grant; departed Istanbul somewhere between 3:00 and 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon. The train departed Istanbul around nine o’clock at night, in Fleming’s novel. Mind you, the novel was set in the 1950s and the movie, set in the early 1960s, which meant that its departure in the movie was pretty close to the 4:15 pm departure of the Direct Orient Express train that operated between 1962 and 1977. I do not recall seeing a dining car attached to the train, during its departure in the movie, so I cannot comment on that. But after the train’s departure, the movie’s portrayal of Bond’s Orient Express journey proved to be mind boggling.

The main problem with “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE” is that Bond’s journey proved to be the fastest I have ever witnessed, either on film or in a novel. It took the train at least three-to-four hours to reach Belgrade, following its departure from Istanbul. One, it usually took the Orient Express nearly 24 hours to reach Belgrade during its heyday. During the first ten-to-fifteen years of the Cold War, it took the Orient Express a little longer to reach Belgrade, due to it being re-routed through Northern Greece in an effort to avoid countries under Soviet rule. This was made clear in Fleming’s novel. But the 1963 movie followed the famous train’s original eastbound route . . . but at a faster speed. After killing Grant, Bond and Tatiana left the train before it reached the Yugoslavian-Italian border. Bond’s journey from Istanbul to that point took at least 15 hours. During the Orient Express’ heyday, it took at less than 48 hours. And during the 15 years of the Direct Orient Express, it took longer.

Unlike many recent film goers and television viewers, historical accuracy or lack of it in a movie/television production has never bothered me. I still remain a major fan of both “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (1974 version) and “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE”. And although I have other major problems with the 2010 “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS”, there are still aspects of it that I continue to enjoy. Historical inaccuracy has never impeded my enjoyment of a film, unless I found it particularly offensive. But since I can be occasionally anal and was bored, I could not resist a brief exploration of the Hollywood and British film industries’ portrayals of the Orient Express.

“ADAM BEDE” (1991) Review

“ADAM BEDE” (1991) Review

Recently, I had come across an old BBC production that I have not seen in years. The production was a television movie based upon author George Eliot’s first novel, “Adam Bede”.

This adaptation of Eliot’s 1859 novel told the story of four young people from the rural English community of Hayslope around the end of the 18th century. This “love rectangle” revolved around a local carpenter named Adam Bede; a beautiful, yet self-absorbed milkmaid named Hetty Sorrel; the local squire’s charming grandson and heir, Captain Arthur Donnithorne; and Hetty’s cousin Dinah Morris, a beautiful Methodist lay preacher who is also attracted to Adam. How did this “rectangle” come about? Although highly regarded by the Hayslope community as an intelligent and talented carpenter, Adam has a weakness . . . namely his passionate and unrequited love for the beautiful Hetty. Unfortunately for Adam, Hetty was deeply in love, lust or simply dazzled by the handsome and charming Arthur. Did Arthur love Hetty? I honestly do not know.

As I had stated earlier, “Adam Bede” was George Eliot’s first novel. Eliot’s earlier skill as a writer is very apparent in this television adaptation. Do not get me wrong. I rather enjoyed “ADAM BEDE” very much. But it did not strike me as . . . fascinating or complex as other George Eliot adaptations I have seen. If one must be honest, the whole “servant girl get seduced by rich young man” scenario is not particularly new. I suspect that it was not new when Eliot wrote this novel back in the 1850s. I believe that Eliot had used this trope again when she wrote “Silas Marner”, which was published two years after this first novel. Both stories featured “fallen women” and both portrayed the latter in a slightly unsympathetic light. Mind you, Eliot did a good job in conveying Hetty’s struggles between the discovery of her pregnancy and the verdict during her trial. But I could not help but suspect a slight taint of Victorian morality in Eliot’s portrayal of Hetty. I believe screenwriter Maggie Wadey tried her best to overcome that rigid morality, but thanks to the narrative, I do not think she had fully succeeded. Especially when one considers how “ADAM BEDE” ended.

If I have a real problem with “ADAM BEDE”, it is the ending. If the production had been a two-part movie, perhaps . . . You know what? I suspect that stretching out the running time would not have solved what I believe was the narrative’s main problem. I believe changing the ending would have helped. One problem proved to be Hetty’s fate. After being found guilty of infanticide, Hetty was sentenced to execution. Her sentence was commuted to penal transportation to Australia at the last moment, thanks to Arthur Donnithorne. Ye-ee-ea-ah . . . I found this scenario a bit improbable. It seemed as if Eliot had tacked on this last minute fate for Hetty to avoid a truly tragic ending. Another problem I had with the ending proved to be the main protagonist’s relationship with the Dinah Morris character. The movie featured a brief scene in which Adam Bede regarded Dinah as an attractive woman. Despite this, he spent most of the production harboring a passionate, almost possessive love for Hetty Sorrel. Once Hetty was sent away for transportation, Adam became romantically interested in Dinah. Rather fast. Too fast, if you want my opinion. I realize that he was urged to consider Dinah as a romantic partner by others, but . . . yeah, I thought the final romance between the pair happened too fast.

However, “ADAM BEDE” had its virtues. One, the production did an excellent job in conveying the mores and traditions of a rural town in Britain at the end of the eighteenth century. I found it amazing how the town’s middle and lower classes were judged a bit more harshly than the upper-class residents. I noticed that although Adam is not regarded as morally questionable, many others tend to judge him based upon his moral compass . . . a lot. I also noticed that many seemed to regard Arthur’s morals with a wary eye, they seem willing to give him a pass. I doubt they would have been that generous with Adam. But that is always the case, is it not . . . at least for those who are not part of an elite social group.

If middle and lower-class men had it bad, women of all classes had it worse. Dinah Morris is portrayed as a decent and pious woman. Yet, there seemed to be a slight air of disapproval directed toward Dinah, due to her role as a Methodist lay preacher. But no one is judged more harshly than Hetty Sorrel. Even by Eliot. Audiences are expected to harshly judge Hetty for her desire for a life “above her station”. But I will give credit to both Eliot and screenwriter Maggie Wadey for injecting a great deal more of ambiguity and sympathy toward Hetty . . . especially after she became pregnant.

I also have to commend the movie’s performances. There was not a bad one in the bunch. Susannah Harker made a very serene Dinah Morris, even I did not find the character particularly interesting. James Wilby had a more interesting character to portray, namely the shallow and sensual Arthur Donnithorne. However, I do not think Wadey’s screenplay really gave the actor much of a chance to explore Arthur’s ambiguity, aside from one or two scenes. “ADAM BEDE” also featured excellent performances from Jean Marsh, Paul Brooke, Robert Stephens, Freddie Jones, Michael Percival and Alan Cox.

Julia McKenzie struck me as particularly memorable as Mrs. Poyser, the aunt of both Dinah and Hetty. Although Eliot had written her as a comic figure, the actress managed to inject a good deal of pathos and emotion into the character, thanks to the screenplay. Patsy Kensit was superb as the flighty, yet hard-luck Hetty Sorrel, who proved to be the most interesting character in this tale. Kensit managed to skillfully rise the character’s one-dimensional portrayal in the movie’s first half and embrace the ambiguous quagmire that poor Hetty ended up in the second half. Superficially, Adam Bede did not seem as ambiguous as Hetty. Superficially. But underneath the stalwart and industrious carpenter existed a proud and emotional man, whose world centered around a woman who did not love him. And man did the producers select the right man to portray young Adam – namely Iain Glen. I have been aware of the actor for several decades. And I have noticed that whether he was playing a hero, a villain, anti-hero – you name it – Glen has always managed to convey the emotional depths behind his characters on a level that very few actors have managed to achieve . . . whether through his voice or expressions. Or perhaps both. And he utilized the same level of skill in his portrayal of the emotional and lovelorn Adam. No wonder I have been a fan of his for years.

Overall, I would never regard “ADAM BEDE” as one of my favorite George Eliot adaptations. The problem is that the movie reflected too much of the novel’s narrative flaws. But not all was lost with Maggie Wadey’s adaptation. I still managed to enjoy the movie, thanks to its intriguing plot and first-rate cast led by Iain Glen. In the end, I believe it had more virtues and flaws.

Ranking of “GARROW’S LAW” Series Two (2010) Episodes

Below is my ranking of the Series Two episodes of the period legal drama, “GARROW’S LAW”. Created by Tony Marchant and based upon the life of 18th century English barrister William Garrow, the series starred Andrew Buchan:

RANKING OF “GARROW’S LAW” SERIES TWO (2010) Episodes

1. (2.02) “Episode Two” – William Garrow defends an Army captain accused of sexually assaulting a young man who works at a London shoemaker’s shop. Sir Arthur Hill hires a slimy lawyer to prove that is wife Lady Sarah Hill and Garrow are guilty of infidelity. Andrew Scott and Matthew McNulty guest star.

2. (2.04) “Episode Four” – While suffering from guilt over his failure to save a twelve year-old mute boy from the gallows, Garrow enters the civil court to hear Sir Arthur’s accusation of adultery against him and Lady Sarah. Samuel West and Emma Davies guest star.

3. (2.01) “Episode One” – The directors of the Liverpool Assurance insurance Company hire Garrow to prosecute a ship’s captain for committing fraud by throwing 133 African slaves overboard during a voyage to Jamaica. A jealous Sir Arthur accuses his wife of adultery and giving birth to Garrow’s son. Jasper Britton, and Danny Sapani guest star.

4. (2.03) “Episode Three” – Garrow defends one Captain Baillie, who is charged with malicious libel after he reports the abuse of retired British sailors at the charitably-run Greenwich Hospital to the Admiralty. Ron Cook, David Robb, Simon Dutton and Brian Pettifer guest star.

Favorite Television Productions Set in the 1800s

Below is a list of my favorite television productions set during the decade between 1800 and 1809:

 

FAVORITE TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS SET IN THE 1800s

1. “Death Comes to Pemberley” (2013) – Anna Maxwell Martin and Matthew Rhys starred in this adaptation of P.D. James’ 2011 mystery novel, set six years after the events of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel, “Pride and Prejudice”, featuring the style and characters of the latter. Daniel Percival directed.

 

 

2. “Sense and Sensibility” (2008) – Andrew Davies wrote this adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1811 novel about the experiences of two well-born, yet impoverished sisters following the death of their father. Directed by John Alexander, the miniseries starred Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield.

 

 

3. “War and Peace” (2016) – Andrew Davies wrote this adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1869 novel about a group of noble families during the Napoleonic Wars. Directed by Tom Harper, the miniseries starred Paul Dano, Lily James and James Norton.

 

 

4. “War and Peace” (1972) – David Conroy created this adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1869 novel about a group of noble families during the Napoleonic Wars. Directed by John Davies, the miniseries starred Anthony Hopkins, Morag Hood and Alan Dobie.

 

 

5. “Mansfield Park” (1983) – Sylvestra Le Touzel and Nicholas Farrell starred in this adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1814 novel about a young impoverished girl sent to live with her aunt and uncle at their elegant estate. The six-part miniseries was written by Kenneth Taylor and directed by David Giles.

 

 

6. “Jack of All Trades” (2000) – Bruce Campbell and Angela Dotchin starred in this syndicated comedy series about two spies – one American and one British – who operate on a French-controlled island in the East Indies.

 

 

7. “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (2015) – Bertie Carvel and Eddie Marsan starred in this adaptation of Susanna Clarke’s 2004 novel about the return of magic to Britain through two men during the early 19th century. The series was created by Peter Harness.

 

 

8. “Mansfield Park” (2007) – Billie Piper and Blake Ritson starred in this adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1814 novel about a young impoverished girl sent to live with her aunt and uncle at their elegant estate. The television movie was written by Maggie Wadey and directed by Iain B. MacDonald.

“CLASS OF ’61” (1993) Review

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“CLASS OF ’61” (1993) Review

Twenty-six years, ABC Television aired the pilot episode for an American war drama about the U.S. Civil War. Written by Jonas McCord, “CLASS OF ’61” told the story about three West Point graduates from the class of 1861, who found themselves on opposites sides following the outbreak of war.

I have a few corrections to make. “CLASS OF ’61” told the story about one West Point graduate, an Irish immigrant named Devlin O’Neil of Baltimore, and one cadet who had dropped out of the Academy following the outbreak of war, Shelby Peyton of Virginia. And the third man turned out to be a young George Armstrong Custer, who did graduate with the Class of ’61, but only served as a supporting character in this production. Actually, the third major character in “CLASS OF ’61” is a young man named Lucius, who happened to be a slave owned by Shelby’s father, a doctor and plantation owner. The movie followed Devlin, Shelby, Lucius and yes, even young Custer from that last day of peace before the bombardment of Fort Sumter to the waning moment of the Battle of Bull Run (or Manassas).

After Shelby dropped out of West Point, following the Fort Sumter bombardment and surrender, Shelby Peyton visits Devlin O’Neil’s home in Baltimore and discovers that the latter’s father has withdrawn his permission for Shelby to marry Devlin’s sister, Shannon, due to Shelby’s decision to follow his state into the Confederacy. Shelby also discovers that Devlin and Shannon’s younger brother, Terry, has joined a local street mob that happened to be pro-Confederate. After participating in the Pratt Street Riot on April 19, 1861; Terry ends up temporarily imprisoned at Fort McHenry before heading south to join the Confederate Army. Following his graduation from West Point, Devlin experiences difficulty in receiving an Army assignment, due to Terry’s actions. Devlin meets a Virginia belle from nearby Alexandria named Lily Magraw at a soirée hosted by long-time Washington socialite named Rose O’Neal Greenhow. Unbeknownst to Devil, both Lily and Mrs. Greenhow are Confederate spies. Shelby’s friendship with his father’s slave Lucius is tested due to the latter’s brief attempt to escape slavery with his pregnant wife, Lavinia. After killing one (or two) of the slave catchers who had spotted him, Lucius is forced to leave the Shelby plantation without his wife and head north via the Underground Railroad.

One would immediately notice that “CLASS OF ’61” has no main narrative other than a handful of major characters experiencing the first three months of the U.S. Civil War. That is because this 93-minute movie was supposed to serve as a pilot for a new series . . . which never materialized. But this loose narrative structure featuring a handful of plot lines did not deter me from enjoying the production. When I first saw “CLASS OF ’61”, I was in the throes of an obsession for the U.S. Civil War. An obsession that has not abated with time, I might add. There is a possibility that due to this obsession, I may have viewed “CLASS OF ’61” through rose-colored glasses when I first saw it. Do not get me wrong. I still managed to enjoy it. But due to the “sands of time”, I have finally noticed the flaws.

“CLASS OF ’61” has a great deal of virtues. Its biggest virtue seemed to be the cast. The television pilot featured many young players who would eventually become well known or major stars. Dan Futterman, an excellent character actor in his own right and a two-time Academy Award nominated screenwriter, gave a complex performance as Shelby Peyton. Clive Owen, who became a bigger star, gave an emotional performance as Devlin O’Neil, the Irish immigrant torn between his friendship with Peyton and his family’s patriotism toward their new country. Andre Braugher was already somewhat known for his performance in the 1989 movie, “GLORY”, when he shot this pilot. He eventually became a major television star and has received numerous nominations and won two Emmys for his work. Frankly, I thought he gave the best performance in the production as the embittered Virginia slave whose initial attempt to escape slavery would lead to him being apart from his wife and mother for several years.

The television movie also featured solid performances from the like of Josh Lucas (as George C. Custer) Dana Ivey, Penny Johnson, Sue-Ann Leeds (as Rose O’Neal Greenhow), Barry Cullison, Peter Murnik, Timothy Scott, Stephen Root, Christien Anholt and Andrew Stahl. However, I believe there were better supporting performances. One came from Sophie Ward, who gave a poignant performance as Devlin’s sister Shannon. Beverly Todd was excellent as Lucius’ pragmatic mother. Another came from future star Laura Linney, who portrayed the charming and charismatic Lily Magraw. Mark Pelligrino gave a very interesting performance as a fellow cadet from South Carolina named Skinner, especially in a scene in which the character provided off-putting instructions on how to breed healthy slaves to the discomfort of the Peytons. Robert Newman gave an intelligent performance as one of the main characters’ West Point instructors who become a Union artillery officer, Captain Wykoff. Len Cariou was effective as Shelby’s warm and intelligent father, Dr. Leland Peyton. Lorraine Toussaint shone brilliantly in her brief role as a slave woman named Sarah, who was accompanying her mistress on a southbound train also conveying Shelby had encountered on a southbound train from New York City. Niall O’Brien gave a very complex performance as Devlin and Shannon’s emotionally patriotic father, James O’Neil.

The production values for “CLASS OF ’61” struck me as solid, but not particularly top-notch. Although the movie’s setting stretched from West Point, New York to the Peyton plantation outside of Richmond, Virginia; it was easy for me to see that the television movie was set in South Carolina and Georgia . . . in the Deep South. I have noticed that many of these productions with an Antebellum or Civil War setting are shot in the Deep South states, even the narratives are set in the Upper South. Has the Upper South been developed too extensively to serve as locations for such movies? I found Michael T. Boyd’s costumes for the women characters very attractive and nearly accurate. However, I thought the men’s costumes looked as if they had came straight from a costume warehouse in Hollywood.

Recently, I had come across an old review of “CLASS OF ’61”. The New York Times reviewer seemed to dismiss the production as a nostalgic television movie with a failed plot. He seemed unaware that the movie was basically a pilot for a potential television series. When I first saw the movie, I knew that this was basically a pilot. Which is why I was not that surprised that it ended with the Battle of Bull Run without any of the plot lines being resolved. As for “CLASS OF ’61” being nostalgic . . . I am not sure about that criticism. Jonas McCord’s narrative seemed to be a mixture of a straight forward look at how Americans behaved and spoke during this tumultuous period in 19th century American history and a slightly critical look at their society. And I found its portrayal of the Bull Run battle rather interesting and detailed. However, the television movie featured a good deal more criticism of Northern racism and the Abraham Lincoln Administration. Shelby’s encounter with an abolitionist, a Maryland woman and her enslaved maid led to the latter’s soliloquy about the racism she had encountered in New York City. And another scene featured Devlin revealing his family troubles to Lily Magraw and Rose Greenhow – namely brother Terry’s incarceration inside Baltimore’s Fort McHenry and how this led to his failure to being assigned to an Army regiment.

I must admit that I found it odd that McCord seemed to focus so much on the flaws of Northern society and the Lincoln’s Administration . . . and not on the flaws of Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ own administration. After all, the state of Virginia had lost its northwestern counties during the three-month period between Fort Sumter and Bull Run, due to its citizens breaking away from the state. Considering that Shelby’s family lived in Virginia, I found it rather odd that western Virginia’s break from the state was never mentioned. On the other hand, the series did focus a great deal on slavery. Although the Peyton family were portrayed as kind slave owners who almost treated their slaves as family, the movie still managed to portray their role in slavery as something to condemn – especially through Lucius’ bitterness over being a slave, the patronizing manner of Dr. Peyton’s kindness and Shelby’s inability to understand Lucius’ desire for freedom or lack of faith in the latter’s ability to survive as a free man. I have noticed in many other productions about slavery during the Antebellum period or the Civil War, slave owners are either portrayed as kind or cruel . . . with no ambiguity in between. I must applaud McCord for his more ambiguous portrayal of Shelby and his family in regard to the slavery topic.

Were there aspects of “CLASS OF ’61” that troubled me? Well . . . yes. There were a few things. When Devlin was first introduced to Rose Greenhow at her soirée, the latter revealed that she knew a great deal about him – including where his family lived and his ranking among the West Point Class of ’61. I am sorry, but I found this hard to swallow. Was this McCord’s idea of conveying Mrs. Greenhow’s greatness as a spy? Why on earth would she have bothered to collect so much information on a recent West Point graduate who had ranked in the middle of his class? Seriously? Also in the movie, Mr. O’Neil had accused a visiting Shelby of joining a volunteer regiment called the Palmetto Guards. Earlier in the production, a cadet named Upton had accused the South Carolinian Skinner of doing the same right after the news of Sumter was announced. So I checked the Internet and discovered that “Palmetto Guards” was one of the nicknames for the 2nd South Carolina Infantry. I could understand Skinner being considered for this regiment. But why on earth would Mr. O’Neil accuse Shelby, a Virginian, of joining it? Unsurprisingly, “CLASS OF ’61” had failed to be picked up as a series. But imagine my surprise to discover that McCord had added a brief epilogue to reveal the characters’ fates. He must have been very bitter over the pilot’s fate, because he had committed some kind of “Scorch Earth” policy on the characters. Only three or four of them had survived the war . . . and one of them was George Armstrong Custer. Worse, two of his characters died in a way that was historically impossible.

Ironically, my biggest problem with “CLASS OF ’61” proved to be Shelby and Lucius’ friendship. Now I realize that human beings are ambiguous creatures. And I am also aware that some complex friendships or relationships may have formed between slaves and the owners – especially relationships that began in childhood like Shelby and Lucius. But there were aspects of the pair’s friendship that struck me as unrealistic. I found it unrealistic that Lucius would honestly express his bitterness over being a slave to Shelby, of all people. I also found it unrealistic that Lucius would tell Shelby about his lethal encounter with those slave catchers. The movie never portrayed Shelby as someone with pro-abolitionist leanings. And although he was friendly and familiar with his father’s slaves, he also shared Dr. Peyton’s patronizing attitude. It just seemed unnatural that Shelby would react with nothing more than mere surprise after Lucius had confessed to killing two slave catchers. I do not care how friendly he was with Lucius or any of the other Peyton slaves. He still harbored a good deal of his society’s casual racism and I could not see him allowing Lucius to leave the plantation after that confession.

Even after twenty-six years, I still managed to enjoy “CLASS OF ’61” Despite its flaws, the television movie managed to be an interesting and enjoying look into American society during the first three months of the U.S. Civil War. I thought Jonas McCord provided an interesting, yet inconclusive plot that showcased a first-rate cast starring Dan Futterman and Clive Owen. It is a pity that this pilot never became a series.