Beecham House Review

No one is without a past, for better or for worse. Ideally, we should be able to learn from the past and watch it disappear in the rearview mirror. But that is not always the case.

Beecham House premiered last night on PBS. This six-part miniseries takes place in India at the end of the 18th century. The viewer is introduced to John Beecham (Tom Bateman). A former employee of the British East India Company, John is eager to move on from his troubled past. But that is easier said than done.

Co-written and directed by Gurinder Chadha, (Bend It Like Beckham, Blinded by the Light), the supporting cast is full of Masterpiece actors. Lesley Nicol (Downton Abbey), Leo Suter (Sanditon, Victoria), and Grégory Fitoussi (Mr. Selfridge) are three actors included in a large and diverse cast that brings the story to life.

I really enjoyed the first episode. As the lead character, John is compelling, complicated, and human. Filmed on location in India, the setting adds a level of reality that is often not seen in dramas set in this period. It could have been conceived as a technicolor, fairytale-ish land that can only come out of a dream. Authentically re-creating India as it was in the late 18th century helps to draw the viewer in further to the narrative and the characters.

I recommend it.

Beecham House airs on PBS on Sunday at 10:00.


Flashback Friday-The Illusionist (2006)

Forbidden love is a tale that is as old as time.

In the 2006 film, The Illusionist, Eisenheim, nee Eduard Abramovich (Edward Norton) is a magician with a growing reputation in 19th century Vienna. Duchess Sophie von Teschen (Jessica Biel) is invited onto the stage to participate in an illusion. On the surface, this relationship seems like a magician and a randomly chosen audience member. But it is so much more. 15 years ago, Sophie and Eduard fell in love but class and religious differences kept them apart. After 15 years, the spark of love is as strong as it ever was.

Now there is another obstacle in their way: Sophie’s fiance, Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell). More than a marriage of convenience than of love, Leopold has no problem resorting to less than honorable means when it comes to ensuring that the wedding will take place.

I have mixed feelings about this film. While the screenwriters relied heavily on a standard narrative and characters, they used the magic as an element in the film. The filmmakers also cast Rufus Sewell as the villain. This is not the first time he has played the villain/antagonist.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

War & Peace Review

War changes everything. Anyone who has ever fought in a war or let a loved one go to defend their country on the battlefield understands this change.

Leo Tolstoy’s timeless (and extremely long novel), War and Peace made it to the small screen last night. Airing on three different cable channels, War And Peace tells the story of how the conflict between Russia and France under Napoleon’s rule in the early 19th century forever changes the lives of five aristocratic families.

Pierre Bezukhov (Paul Dano), is the nebbish-y, eccentric and illegitimate son who suddenly finds that after his father’s death, he has inherited his father’s estate and is suddenly on the radar of every single female and matchmaking parent. Andrei Bolkonsky (James Norton) is the handsome, but disillusioned prince who goes to fight for emperor and country.  Married to a woman he ought to care for, but does not, Andrei leaves his pregnant wife in the country with his father and sister while he goes to fight.  Natasha Rostova (Lily James) may not be the prettiest girl in the room, but she is full of emotion, romantic ideals and energy.

I should state that I have never read War and Peace, so my review is strictly based on the first episode. With a screen play by veteran writer Andrew Davies and a cast that happily fulfills any Anglophile’s wish list for a dream cast, War & Peace joins the very long list of screen adaptations that one hopes only bring a greater spotlight to the novel and encourage greater readership of said novel.

I was drawn in by the cast, but it is the story of war and how lives change because of war that I predict bring in viewers for the next three episodes.

And of course, Janeites (and anyone who has a healthy obsession with British drama and/or Masterpiece Theater) will easily recognize actors whose work they have loved before. Outside of Lily James and James Norton, there are several Austen actors and one actress who I was sad to see leave my screen when her character was written out of Mr. Selfridge last year. Who they are, you will have to watch (or just go to the IMDB page).

Do I recommend it? Yes.

War & Peace will be airing the next three Mondays on A&E, The History Channel and Lifetime. Check your local listings for specific time and channel. 


Poldark & The Crimson Field Review

There is nothing like Masterpiece Theatre on Sunday night to usher in the work week. The vacuum that Downton Abbey and Mr. Selfridge left a few months ago was filled last night by Poldark and The Crimson Field.

Based on the books by Winston Graham and a reboot of the original 1970’s miniseries, Ross Poldark (Aidan Turner) has just returned from fighting for the British in the American Revolution. The reception that he received was unexpected. His father is dead, his home is in ruins and his sweetheart, Elizabeth (Heida Reed) is engaged to Ross’s cousin Francis (Kyle Soller). The economy is in a depression and Ross has to find a new way to revitalize his land and the lives of his tenants. When Ross rescues Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) from a beating, he expects to see a young boy under the rags. He finds a woman who is escaping a brutal home life. Offering Demelza the position of kitchen maid, Ross does not know that his life might just turn around in more ways that one.

I have not seen the original miniseries, but it’s fabled lore continues 40 years after it’s initial airing. Ross Poldark might not be Mr. Darcy or Mr. Rochester, but he comes pretty close to that stature. I know I am going to enjoy the series.

The Crimson Field is the story of three young women who have volunteered as nurses at a hospital in Northern France during World War I. Kitty (Oona Chaplin), Rosalie (Marianne Oldham) and Flora (Alice St. Clair) have no idea what they are getting into when they signed up to volunteer. They will quickly learn the brutality of war and the hard decisions that must be made. Lt. Col Roland Brett (Downton Abbey’s Kevin Doyle) is the head of the camp who goes against a superior’s orders to send a young soldier home who is suffering from what we now know is PTSD. Matron Grace Carter (Hermoine Norris) is tough on the new recruits, but she has her own story to tell.

I didn’t enjoy this program as much as I did Poldark.  I couldn’t keep up as well with the characters. But for history buffs and people like me who are suffering from Downton withdrawal, it’s not all that bad.

Mr. Selfridge Series 3 Episode 1 Review

*-This review contains spoilers from last night’s episode. Read at your own risk if you have not seen it.

After what seems like forever, the doors of Selfridges have opened once more.

The season starts with the interesting juxtaposition of life and death. The opening scene is the funeral of Rose Selfridge (Frances O’Connor).  The story then jumps ahead to the wedding of Rosalie Selfridge (Kara Tointon) to Serge de Bolotoff (Leon Ockenden). What seems like young love will turn into a bumpy road, not just for Rosalie, but for the entire family. There are rumors that Harry (Jeremy Piven) is considering buying a piece of empty land in West London and using that land to build an airline hanger. Nancy Webb (Kelly Adams) convinces Harry to use that land build homes for veterans who are begging on the street.

Among the staff, things have changed. Agnes Towler (Aisling Loftus) and Henri LeClair (Gregory Fitoussi) are as happy as they were at the close of the last series, but the residual effects from the war are still with Henri. Miss Mardle (Amanda Abbington) is not sure if she wanted to return to the store after a prolonged absence, but the store needs her. Kitty (Amy Beth Hayes) and Frank (Samuel West) are also newlyweds while Mr. Grove (Tom Goodman Hill) and Mr. Crabb (Ron Cook) worry about the store’s bottom line and the emotional roller coaster that their boss is going through.

I like this show. Harry is a dynamic, multifaceted character with many layers.  As the seasons have progressed and the store has brought success to Harry, it has not changed him. But life has. The death of his wife, his children growing up,  the war, the changes in staff and the changes in their lives has made the show more watchable as it has progressed.

I recommended this show from the first episode and I will continue to recommend it.

Mr. Selfridge airs Sunday at 9pm on PBS.

Why Downton Abbey Should Air On Both Sides Of The Pond At The Same Time: An Open Letter to PBS And ITV

Dear PBS And ITV

Thank you for bringing Downton Abbey into our lives. The fifth season premieres in the US on January 4th, 2015. The lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants  have become part of our general cultural lexicon, in addition to being must see TV.

However, it is still 5 months in between the premiere in the UK and the premiere in the US.  I am writing to tell you why Downton Abbey should air on both sides of the pond at the same time:

  1. All important ratings. I have a feeling that PBS is slightly afraid to complete with the major networks in the US who will premiere new shows and bring back current shows in the fall. It’s easier to have a mid-season premiere when the major networks have had their fun in the fall. To be honest, I don’t think they have anything to worry about. Even if PBS aired Downton at 3am on a Tuesday morning, the fans would still find a way to watch it.
  2. Spoilers. We live in an internet age spoilers are everywhere.  Two examples of this:
    1. When Sybil died in season 3, I was home when the episode had it’s initial run in the UK. The fans on twitter were not shy about sharing their grief and the news about the loss of a beloved character.
    2. In the spring, when Mr. Selfridge was nearly done in completing the second season, one of the British newspapers spoiled the end of the series in regards to Agnes’s romantic choices. I was not happy.
  3. The actors and producers only have to do press once. Instead of doing press twice ( the UK in the fall and the US in December), they only have to do it once. I’m sure they enjoy traveling and meeting overseas fans (I know I would in their shoes), but as fun as traveling is, it is exhausting.

I’m aware that ITV is a commercial cable channel and PBS is a public channel that relies on donations to survive.  There are issues when it comes to rights and editing, I understand that. It’s  not like BBC who has their own American affiliate channel and can air Dr. Who on both sides of the pond at the same time.

That being said, I believe that it would help, not hurt Downton Abbey if it were to air on both sides of the pond at the same time.


A Downton Abbey Fan


I Want To Shop At Selfridges

Last night, PBS and Masterpeice added a new series to their lineup, Mr. Selfridge.

The series tells the story of Harry Gordon Selfridge (Jeremy Piven), an American businessman who opens the first modern department store in 1909 London.

Harry is brash, bold and optimistic against all odds, a retail showman battling against a traditional world where modernity and new ideas are not always welcome.

Harry is married to Rose (Frances OConnor), but is flirting with Ellen Love (Zoe Tapper), a stage actress and Lady Mae (Katherine Kelly), his aristocratic backer.

Harry’s employees include Anges Towler (Aisling Loftus), Mr. Grove (Tom Goodman-Hill) and Miss Mardle (Amanda Abbington), each with their own personal drama.

The writer of Mr. Selfridge is Andrew Davies. Mr. Davies has written many well known series, including one of my personal favorites, the 1995 Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle Pride and Prejudice.

Mr. Selfridge is compelling and interesting. Masterpiece has added another gem to it’s lineup and I once again look forward to filling my sunday nights with Masterpiece and PBS.

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