Tag Archives: Downton Abbey

The English Game Review

One of the major conflicts over the course of human history is between the working class and the ruling and/or wealthy class.

The English Game premiered on Netflix earlier this year. Written by Julian Fellows (Downton Abbey), this six part series tells the story of how football (soccer for us Americans) became the sport it is today. In 1879 England, football is a game played by amateurs. The teams are made up of members of the upper class who are well, overprotective, of the game.

When they are confronted with other teams who come from the working class, the conflict becomes more than football. It represents the idea that the traditional social hierarchy is changing. Those who were born on the lower end of the hierarchy are no longer content to remain where they are. They want a piece of the action, so to speak, and are more than willing to fight for their rights.

Representing the upper classes is Arthur Kinnaird (Edward Holcroft). Standing up for the working men and women is Fergus Suter (Kevin Guthrie).

I enjoyed watching the series. Though it is a BPD (British Period Drama), the narrative is not the standard BPD narrative. It tells the story of a time in which the world was changing and the forces it took to create that change.

I recommend it.

The English Game is available for streaming on Netflix.

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Filed under Downton Abbey, History, Netflix, Television, TV Review

Flashback Friday: Upstairs Downstairs (2010)

When it comes to BPD’s (British Period Dramas), the audience only sees the world from the perspective from the upper classes. The world is not seen from the point of the view of the servants or the average working folk.

In 2010, the reboot of the 1970’s series Upstairs Downstairs premiered. Both programs told the stories of an upper class aristocratic couple and their servants living in 1930’s England.

At the outset, the premise of the program sounded interesting. But it had two strikes against it. The first strike was that I tried watching Upstairs Downstairs, but it didn’t hook me as I hoped it would have. The second strike was that Downton Abbey premiered at the same time in the States and the rest is history.

Do I recommend it? Not really.

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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.

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Review

As much as we wish we could control where life takes us, we know that we can’t.

In the 2018 Netflix movie, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (based on the book of the same name), Juliet Ashton (Lily James) is an author in post World War II England. Intrigued by a letter she receives from Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman) a farmer on the island of Guernsey, Juliet visits the island with the intention of writing a book.

She discovers that Dawsey is part of a book club entitled The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Included in this club is Amelia Maugery (Penelope Wilton) and Elizabeth McKenna (Jessica Brown Findlay). Intrigued as to why and how Elizabeth disappeared, Juliet starts to investigate what happened during the German occupation of the island during the war. Along the way, Juliet discovers a new family and a new love that forces her to re-consider where she wants to go in life.

Award worthy, this film is not. That being said, it’s the type of movie one watches after a long week to relax. Though it helps that several of the main cast are Downton Abbey alum, it is does not do enough to overcome the film’s flaws.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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Filed under Books, Downton Abbey, History, Movies, Netflix

Howards End/Sanditon Review

Classic and beloved novels are easy targets for stage and screen reboots. The question that fans have to ask is if these reboots hold up to the text.

Last night, the new adaptations of Howards End and Sanditon premiered on Masterpiece.

Based on the E.M. Foster novel, Howards End is the story of the intermingling of three families in the early 20th century in England. The Wilcoxes are upper class, the Schlegels are middle class and the Basts are lower class. With a cast led by Hayley Atwell and Matthew Macfadyen, this story of cross-class differences and secrets is bound to delight audiences.

I have a confession to make: I have heard of the book, but I have never read it. That will soon be remedied. In the meantime, I was completely taken in by the first episode and as of now, I plan on completing the series.

Sanditon was started by Jane Austen just months before she died. An eleven chapter fragment of a novel, respected television writer Andrew Davies continued where Austen left off. Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams) is part Elizabeth Bennet and part Catherine Morland. The daughter of a large landed gentry family from the country, Charlotte is young and eager to spread her wings.

When an offer comes her way to visit Sanditon, an up and coming seaside resort, she immediately says yes. But Sanditon is a different world than the world she grew up in. One of the people she meets is Sydney Parker (Theo James, who played the infamous Mr. Pamuk on Downton Abbey), the brooding and sometimes rude younger brother of the couple who she is staying with.

For many Austen fans, Sanditon is a what-if experience. With only eleven chapters completed, we can only guess what the completed novel would have looked like. As an adaptation, so far, I have to say that I am impressed.

Like his previous Jane Austen adaptation, Davies knows when to stick to the script and when to add a little something extra.

What I liked about the series so far is that unlike most Austen heroines, Charlotte’s main reason for going to Sanditon is not to find a husband. Most of her heroines (with the exception of Emma Woodhouse) are motivated to marry because of family pressure and/or financial needs. Charlotte goes to Sanditon to see the world and experience life outside of the family that she grew up in. She is also curious about the world and shows interest in certain subjects that would not be deemed “appropriate” for a woman of this era.

I really enjoyed the first two episodes. It is a love letter to Austen fans and contains plenty of Easter eggs if one knows where to look.

I recommend both.

Howards End and Sanditon air on PBS on Sundays nights at 8:00 and 9:00 respectively.

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My Favorite Movies of 2019

Going to the movies is sometimes akin to stepping onto a roller coaster. Sometimes you love the film your seeking. Sometimes you hate it.

My favorite movies of 2019 are as follows:

  1. The Farewell: The Farewell is my favorite movie of the year because it is heartfelt, genuine and thoroughly human. In the lead role, Awkwafina proves that she can play much more than the comic relief.
  2. Avengers: Endgame: If there was a perfect way to end a film series, this film is it. Balancing both action and narrative, this thrill ride is pure perfection.
  3. Judy: Renee Zellweger is an absolute shoe-in for the Oscars as the late film icon Judy Garland. Disappearing in the role, she tells the true story of the final years of Garland’s life.
  4. Downton Abbey: Transferring a popular television show to the big screen is often easier said than done. The Downton Abbey movie is the perfect film bookend to this beloved television program.
  5. Harriet: This biopic of Harriet Tubman is nothing short of tremendous. In the lead role, Cynthia Erivo is Harriet Tubman.
  6. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: This final entry in the Skywalker saga is not perfect, but it ends with both a nod to the past and an open door to the future.
  7. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: The late Fred Rogers was more than a milquetoast children’s TV host. He taught generations of children in ways that go beyond the classroom. Inhabiting the role of Mister Rogers is Tom Hanks, who reminds viewers why we loved him.
  8. Joker: In this re imagined world from that Batman universe, Joaquin Phoenix adds new layers to this iconic character while talking frankly about mental illness.
  9. The Song of Names: Based on the book of the same name, the film follows a man who is trying to discover the secrets of a missing childhood friend.
  10. Frozen II: This sequel to the mega-hit Frozen was well worth the six year wait. Instead of doing a slap-dash direct to video type sequel, the filmmakers expanded this world in new ways, making the story even more relevant.

This will be my last post for 2019. Wherever you are, thank you for reading this year. May 2020 be bright and hopeful.

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The Chaperone Movie Review

The opportunity to travel offers more than what it appears to be. It is more than the place one goes to, it is the emotional experience and the growth that comes with travel.

The 2018 movie, The Chaperone, is based on the book of the same name by Laura Moriarty. At the age of fifteen, future silent screen star Louise Brooks (Haley Lu Richardson) is given the opportunity to study dance at a prestigious school in New York City. But a fifteen year old girl cannot travel alone, especially in 1922. Norma (Elizabeth McGovern) is there to make sure that Louise stays out of trouble.

But Norma has her own reasons for leaving Kansas and her family behind. Can she find the answers she is looking for and will Louise become the star that she dreams of becoming?

Penned by Downton Abbey scribe Julian Fellows, this movie is interesting. I appreciated the parallel character arcs of the lead characters. Though their end goals are different, their individual journeys are remarkably similar. I also appreciated the relationships with the men around them are secondary to the relationship between Norma and Louise.

However, compared to Downton Abbey, this movie is kind of meh. Though I have not read the book yet, I did not have the chill up my spine that I had with Downton.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

The Chaperone is available for streaming on Masterpiece.

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Downton Abbey Movie Review

On the surface, transforming a popular television program into a film seems easy. The beloved characters and well known narrative are already in place, it is just a matter choosing how to expand the world beyond what already existed on the small screen.

But like many things, it is often easier said than done.

The Downton Abbey film premiered last night. Set a year and a half after the television show ended, everything is tranquil. But tranquility, as it always does on Downton Abbey, does not last.

King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James) will be visiting the Crawleys while on a tour through Yorkshire. The news forces the Crawleys and their servants to be on their A-Game. But being on their A-Game is a challenge to say the least.

Upstairs, Robert (Hugh Bonneville), Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) and the rest of the family are preparing to be the perfect hosts for their majesties. Downstairs is a flurry of activity, which requires the steady hand of Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) to keep everything running smooth. That steady hand is not helped by the royal servants, who take over the running of the ship while the King and Queen are in residence at Downton.

There are quite a few movies that have been made based on television programs. A good number try, but don’t live up to the reputation of it’s television predecessor. Downton Abbey not only lives up to that reputation, it builds the reputation of the series and the world within the series.

Though some reviewers have stated that this movie is strictly for the Downton Abbey fan base, I disagree. It helps to have at least some knowledge of the television series, but it does not hinder the overall enjoyment of the film if one goes in as Downton newbie.

I absolutely recommend it.

Downton Abbey is currently in theaters.

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Thoughts On the full trailer for the Downton Abbey Movie

A good movie trailer is essentially a tease of the full movie. It gives enough away to tempt the audience to pay to see the movie, but it doesn’t (well hopefully it doesn’t) give away too much of the narrative.

The full trailer for the Downton Abbey movie was released earlier today.

Based on the uber-successful BPD Masterpiece television program of the same name created and written by Julian Fellows, the movie starts in 1927, a year after the series ended. King George V and Queen Mary will soon be visiting Downton, causing all sorts of commotion. I also fully expect there to be plenty of personal drama between the characters while the household is preparing for their royal visitors.

I am definitely looking forward to seeing this movie.

P.S. Whoever decided to end the trailer with a delicious verbal duel between Isobel (Penelope Wilton) and Violet (Maggie Smith) is a genius.

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Mrs. Wilson Review

When we marry, the expectation is that the person we are marrying is who they say they are.

In the miniseries, Mrs. Wilson, Alison Wilson (Ruth Wilson, playing her grandmother), receives a rude awakening after the death of her much older husband, Alexander (Iain Glen). Her husband was good at keeping secrets. His most potent secret was that she was not his only living wife. Coleman (Fiona Shaw), her husband’s handler from World War II is not too forthcoming with information. There is also the question of Dorothy Wick (Keeley Hawes), who keeps popping up as Alison tries to find out the truth of her husband’s life. As the series flips between the beginnings of Alison and Alexander’s (who was known as Alec) early relationship during the war to the 1960’s, where the widowed Alison is desperate for answers.

I have to admit that I am impressed with this series. I am impressed because this is a very personal story for Wilson. It takes a lot to share a personal story that is part of her family lore with the public. As a viewer, I can understand why Alison was not the last woman to fall for Alec. He was charming, intelligent and appeared to radiate qualities that would qualify him as a good man.

Both Wilson and Glen are familiar faces to Masterpiece viewers. Wilson made her Masterpiece debut in the 2006 adaptation of Jane Eyre. In 2011, Glen had a brief role as Sir Richard Carlisle, Lady Mary’s fiance on Downton Abbey. As Alison and Alec, I was rooting for them as a couple. On the same note, my heart was aching for Alison as she grieved not only for her husband, but for the husband she knew.

I recommend it.

The first two episodes of Mrs. Wilson are online. The final episode airs this Sunday at 9PM on PBS. 

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