RIP Queen Elizabeth

There is a myth about women and power. We are weak and emotional. We cannot take the heat, it’s too difficult, etc. The truth is that we only need the opportunity to prove ourselves.

Queen Elizabeth II died earlier today. She was 96 and on the throne for more than seventy years.

Who could have expected that the young woman who accepted the crown all of those years ago would have become the longest reigning monarch in British history? In an era in which many women kept to the traditional roles of wife and mother, the late Queen stepped into a role that was meant for a man. In doing so, she became an icon and proof that male genitals are not a prerequisite for authority.

She was more than her title. She was a beloved wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and public servant. Her life was given to her country and her family.

I remember watching her on television decades ago. My first thought was that she looked like she could be anyone’s grandmother. There was an air about her that made her seem like she was an ordinary woman first and a Queen second.

I hope that is how she will be remembered. May her memory be a blessing. Z”L.

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All Creatures Great and Small Character Review: James Herriot

The schedule for the Character Review posts will be changing to Friday (or Saturday at the latest from now on).

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the television show All Creatures Great and Small. Read at your own risk if you have not watched the show. There is something to be said about a well-written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

One of the first great adventures as an adult is our first job. That experience (at least from my perspective) forever stays with us, regardless of how long our resumes become.

In the PBS/Masterpiece television series, All Creatures Great and Small (based on the book series of the same name), James Herriot (Nicholas Ralph) is a newly licensed veterinarian who is eager to prove his worth in 1930s England. He arrives at the home and practice of Siegfried Farnon (Samuel West), hoping that Dr. Farnon will hire him.

Dr. Farnon is quite a character and would test the patience of the most understanding of people. He nearly goes home without a job, but the housekeeper, Mrs. Hall (Anna Madeley) convinces her boss to give James a chance.

He is also helped by Siegfried’s carefree and sometimes less than practical younger brother Tristan (Callum Woodhouse). He is the yin to James’s yang in terms of temperament, perspective, and professional outlook.

Over the course of his employment, James becomes a respected veterinarian, appreciated by his colleagues and the community. Though he has the option of returning home to Scotland, he stays in Yorkshire. He is also infatuated with Helen Alderson (Rachel Shenton). But Helen is spoken for. Hugh Holton (Matthew Lewis) is a local boy who is the son of the landed gentry. Eventually, Helen and Hugh go their separate ways, opening the door for James’s wish to become reality. When we last saw James, he had it all. A solid career, a fiance, and a future.

But World War II is on the horizon. He doesn’t know it yet, but everything that he knows is about to change.

To sum it up: James is an everyman. He doesn’t want much. He wants a career he loves, a family to come home to, and a place in this world to call his own. He has all that and so much more. But before he can get there, he has to go through a few growing pains along the way.

Which is why he is a memorable character.

The Buccaneers: A Novel Book Review

Marriage is a risk. Though you are saying “I do” to that person, you cannot know if this relationship will last decades or burn out before it really had a chance to begin.

The Buccaneers: A Novel, was co-written by Edith Wharton and Marion Mainwaring. Wharton passed away in 1938 while writing the novel, leaving it unfinished. Mainwaring picked up the baton decades later and finished the story.

In the 1870s, a group of five American heiresses have come of age and are ready to enter the marriage market. But because they are “new money”, they are looked down upon by the establishment. At the recommendation of their governess, the young ladies turn their eyes to England. The men they marry are titled but lack the funds to maintain their ancestral properties. While some live happily ever after, others question if they made the right choice.

I truly enjoyed this book. The first half has a fairy tale-esque quality to it. The second half reveals the reality of this world and the experience of marrying into another world that is so different from your own. It forces the characters to make decisions that they would not have made if they had married a local boy.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

The Buccaneers: A Novel is available wherever books are sold.

Summerland Movie Review

Sometimes, life can throw changes our way. We may not initially like that change, but we may end up surprised by the results.

Summerland (2020) is a BPD that takes place on the coast of England during World War II. Alice (played by Gemma Arterton as a younger woman and Penelope Wilton as the older Alice decades later) is a prickly writer who lives alone. She does not care for company and is seen as an oddity by her neighbors.

As the war rages on, children are being evacuated from the cities to the country. Frank (Lucas Bond) is a young boy who needs a temporary home. Begrudgingly, Alice takes him in. As they start to grow on one another, we flash back to Alice’s past and her relationship with Vera (Gugu Mbatha-Raw).

It’s a really sweet story about love, acceptance, and opening your heart to someone whom you never expected to. The casting is top-notch and the film is entirely watchable. It is also a reminder that love is love is love, regardless of gender or sexual identity.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

X Troop: The Secret Jewish Commandos of World War II Book Review

Behind every fictional war story is a real narrative that is sometimes more interesting than its invented counterpart.

X Troop: The Secret Jewish Commandos of World War II, by Dr. Leah Garrett, was published in 2021.

The book starts in the middle of World War II. It looks like the Allies are fighting a losing battle. In England, a plan is concocted to create a commando of unlikely recruits: young Jewish men who are refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe. None of them have had any previous military training. Most have been classified as “enemy aliens” due to being born in either Germany or Austria. In addition to being suspected of possibly spying for the other side, these young men have lost everything: their families, their homes, and everything/everyone they held near and dear.

Known as the X Troop, they take on new identities, are trained in secret, and have one goal: to defeat the Nazis. For these soldiers: the fight is personal. They are fighting for their homeland, fighting for the ones they love, and for justice.

The best way to describe the narrative is sort of real-life Inglorious Basterds. It was an amazing book. Dr. Garrett writes in a way that is accessible, readable, and, most importantly, a history lesson we should all learn. It reinforces the idea that European Jews were not just lambs to the slaughter. They fought in whatever capacity they could. From a personal stance, it gives me hope that there are good people out there, even in the midst of antisemitism, hate, and prejudice.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

X Troop: The Secret Jewish Commandos of World War II is available wherever books are sold.

P.S. Today is Memorial Day in the States. May the men and women who gave their lives for this nation (even with its imperfections) forever be a blessing. Z”L

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Operation Mincemeat Movie Review

When it seems that every story about World War II has been told, the door opens to reveal additional narratives that have remained hidden.

The new Netflix film, Operation Mincemeat premiered last week. Based on a book by Ben Macintyre, it tells the story of a secret mission to end the war via a corpse and false papers.

Among those who are in on the secret are Ewen Montagu (Colin Firth), Charles Cholmondeley (Matthew MacFadyen), future James Bond creator Ian Fleming (Johnny Flynn), Jean Leslie (Kelly Macdonald), and Hester Leggett (Penelope Wilton). They know that if they succeed, it could mean victory for the Allies. But getting to that point requires strategy, timing, skill, and a little bit of luck.

For obvious reasons, the movie was a must-see. A cast chock full of Austen actors (including the two most popular Fitzwilliam Darcys), a spy thriller set in World War II-era England, and the fight for freedom against tyranny.

I have mixed feelings about it. What was good was that the main female characters were initially more than secretaries, love interests/spouses/female family members, and background characters. They were as important to the mission as their male colleagues. I also very much appreciated the subtle reference to the Holocaust and the destruction of European Jewry. It reveals that the Allies once again knew what was going on, but did nothing to stop it (which is another topic for another time).

What was bad is that about halfway through the film, I started to lose interest. It was as if the screenwriter(s) just gave up. The other thing that bugged me was the love triangle between Charles, Jean, and Ewen. It felt unnecessary. It also trivializes Jean, making her little more than the wannabe romantic significant other instead of an integral part of the group.

Do I recommend it? Disappointingly, no.

Operation Mincemeat is available for streaming on Netflix.

Throwback Thursday: The White Queen (2013)

Women have always been the power behind the throne. But for all of that power, we are still fighting for the right to be acknowledged as leaders.

The 2013 Starz ten-part miniseries, The White Queen, takes place during the War of the Roses in 15th century England. The prequel to The White Princess, the series follows three women who all vie for the throne. The first woman is Elizabeth Woodville (Rebecca Ferguson), whose marriage to Edward IV (Max Irons), is not exactly welcomed with open arms. The second is Lady Margaret Beaufort (Amanda Hale), the matriarch of the future Tudor dynasty. The third woman is Anne Neville (Faye Marsay).

As each woman battles it out for her right to the crown, the country is thrown into a bloody battle. Someone is going to walk away the winner, but not before lives are lost and history is forever changed.

The series was and still is, intriguing. Obviously, being an American, this subject was not part of the curriculum while I was in school. While the casting is spot on and I love that the women are front and center, I found that the ending lagged a little bit. Other than that, it is thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Ridley Road Review

Hate, in all of its forms, is always around us. It is an unfortunate part of the human experience. Despite our advances in science, medicine, education, and technology, it remains ever-present.

The new Masterpiece series, Ridley Road (based on the book of the same name by Jo Bloom) premiered last weekend. The heroine of the series, Vivian Epstein (Agnes O’Casey) is the daughter of a Jewish family in England in the early 1960s. She is expected to live as her mother and grandmothers did before her: give up her job, marry the boy chosen for her, and take care of her husband and children. But Vivian wants to be more than a housewife and mother.

She follows her boyfriend Jack Morris (Tom Varey) to London. Jack is a part of the 62 group, an underground Jewish organization who are fighting against the growing fascism in the UK. Going undercover as a member of the neo-nazi group led by Colin Jordan (Rory Kinnear), both Vivian and Jack play a dangerous game of going along with their new identities while trying to keep their relationship alive.

I am absolutely loving this series so far. It’s James Bond meets a love story with a feminist coming of age narrative and a background of combating prejudice. What makes the program for me is that our heroes are ordinary people. It is, I think a reminder that change does not always come from the top. It comes from the person on the street who sees a wrong and does what they can to right that wrong.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Ridley Road airs on PBS on Sunday night at 9PM EST.

Throwback Thursday: The White Princess (2017)

When we are told of fairy tales, of Princes and Princesses, of Kings and Queens, most of the narratives end in the same way. The reality of this world is not as black and white and far more complicated.

The 2017 Hulu miniseries, The White Princess (based on the Phillipa Gregory book of the same name), is the story of the marriage of Elizabeth of York (Jodie Comer) and Henry VII (Jacob Collins-Levy). It starts off as a marriage of convenience, to end a decades-long civil war. The obstacles are many: Henry’s controlling mother, Magaret Beaufort (Michelle Fairley), Elizabeth’s love for another, and the belief that a missing York heir could unseat Henry from the throne.

If this union cannot bring England together, it could mean another generation who will know nothing but bloodshed and death. When a young man appears, claiming to be Elizabeth’s brother and the rightful heir, the fate of the nation rests on the shoulders of the young Queen. Does she follow her heart and the husband whom she has fallen in love with? Or does she choose her family over Henry?

This series is so good. The acting is superb, the drama is nailbiting and the power behind the throne is the women. What they lack in rights and a voice, they make up in intelligence, fortitude, and a backbone is nothing short of badass.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

The White Princess is avaliable for streaming on Hulu.

Around the World in 80 Days Review

When we travel, we do more than step out of our comfortable bubbles. We see the world from another perspective and perhaps learn from that perspective.

The new Masterpiece/PBS series, Around the World in 80 Days, is an eight-episode miniseries based on the Jules Verne book of the same name. The program stars David Tennant as Phileas Fogg, Ibrahim Koma as Passepartout, and Leonie Benesch as Abigail “Fix” Fortescue. Their goal (as explained by the title), is to travel to different parts of the globe and return to England within 80 days of their departure date.

To be clear, I have not read the book. I have heard of it, but it has yet to be on my TBR list. This review is based solely on the television program.

The problem is that whatever it is that should hook me in is missing. Maybe it’s because I’m not really a fan of Verne or his books. Or maybe it’s that I was just bored.

Do I recommend it? No.

Around the World in 80 Days airs on PBS on Sunday nights at 8PM.

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