I find the origin stories of famous historical figures to be fascinating. Knowing who they were before allows us to understand them as fully formed human beings, not just names in a textbook.
The new Starz series, Becoming Elizabeth, is the origin story of Elizabeth I of England. Then known as Elizabeth Tudor (Alicia von Rittberg), her world turns upside when her father, Henry VIII dies. Though it is her younger brother, Edward VI (Oliver Zetterström) ascends to the throne, neither she nor her elder sister Mary I (Romola Garai) are free from court intrigue. She must both deal with being a teenager and the very tricky politics of sex, religion, and power.
I am hooked so far. The young lady we are watching on screen is both ordinary and extraordinary. Her ordinariness comes from experiencing the same growing pains that we all went through at that age. The extraordinariness comes from being seen as nothing but chattel while using every tool at her disposal to survive. It is brilliant, it is entertaining, and I am looking forward to the rest of the season.
Do I recommend it? Absolutely.
Becoming Elizabeth airs on Sunday night on Starz at 8PM.
History, both personal and political, have a way of forever changing how we see the world.
Dirty Dancing (1987) is out and out classic. It’s one of those movies will always appear on “best of” lists. It is not a stretch, therefore, that some movie exec came up with the idea of a sequel.
Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (2004) is somewhere between a sequel and prequel to it’s predecessor. In 1958, Katey Miller (Romola Garai) is an American teenager who moves to Havana for her father’s job. While living in a hotel, Katey meets Javier Suarez (Diego Luna). Javier is a local boy who works at the hotel.
When Javier is fired for being friendly with Katey, she takes it upon herself to help him financially. She hopes that entering and winning a dance contest will make up for the loss of the income. But as they rehearse and fall in love, the Cuban Revolution comes ever closer to their doorstep.
I have to admit that I have not sat through this movie completely. But, I saw enough to know while it gets an A for effort, it does not hold a candle to the original film. While I appreciate the injection of history and an interracial romance, I don’t get the same feeling that I have when I watch Dirty Dancing.
The Windmere Children, a television movie, takes place just after World War II. Britain has taken in 1000 child survivors of the Holocaust. 300 of these children are taken to an estate in England to recover. They are traumatized, both physically and emotionally. They are also most likely the only survivors from their families. It is up to the adults around them to help them become children again. Played by Romola Garai, Iain Glenn, and Thomas Kretschmann, the therapists and teachers are doing everything they can to help their charges begin to heal.
World on Fire is a miniseries that tells the story of ordinary people whose lives are turned upside down by the war. Starring Helen Hunt, Jonah Hauer-King, and Sean Bean, this miniseries follows a group of individuals from various countries as they face the dangerous realities of war. Hauer-King’s character is a young man from Britain in love with two women. Hunt plays an American journalist trying to do her job in Europe as the shadow of war grows ever closer. Bean’s character is a working-class father doing the best he can to take care of his children.
I loved both. The Windemere Children is both heartbreaking and uplifting. World on Fire stands out because it tells the stories of ordinary people who must do extraordinary things to survive.
Period pieces, especially BPD’s (British Period Pieces) are known pretty formulaic. As much as I enjoy a good BPD, it’s nice to watch one that steps out of the box.
On Sunday, the first episode of the three-part miniseries, The Miniaturist (based on the book of the same name by Jessie Burton), premiered on PBS.
Petronella Brandt or Nella as she is known (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a young woman who has just married Johannes Brandt (Alex Hassell), a mysterious older man who earns his living in trade. Her treats her well, but keeps her at an emotional arms length. His unmarried and religious sister, Marin (Romola Garai) rules the household. Nella’s wedding present is a dollhouse that looks too much like the real thing. Somehow, the dollhouse is telling Nella the truth about her new life and the people in it, but what message is being sent and by whom?
I loved the first episode. It was tense, suspenseful and pulled me in immediately. If I had a time machine to move ahead to this coming Sunday, I would. But I don’t, so I have to wait.
I absolutely recommend it.
Episodes 2 and 3 of the The Miniaturist air on Sunday, September 16th and Sunday September 23rd at 9pm on PBS. The first episode is available online on the PBS website for a limited time.
From the perspective of someone watching the news at home on the television, it seems like everything is smooth sailing. But like everything in life once the curtain is pulled back, what appears to be smooth sailing is actually rough waters.
The Hour aired for two seasons on BBC America. Starring Romola Garai, Ben Whishaw and Dominic West, The Hour was a behind the scenes look at a 1950’s news program in Britain. Integrating the chaos of running a daily news program with the chaos of the character’s private lives, The Hour was a fascinating drama that captivated viewers. Unfortunately, like many shows who are not given the chance to last, The Hour was only on the air for two years. Led by show-runner Abi Morgan (whose film credits include Shame and Suffragette), The Hour had potential, but the network did not see it that way.
I really enjoyed this show. It had great writing, great acting and contained a cast of British actors that Austen fans and fans of British drama will easily recognize.
Ian McEwan’s 2003 novel, Atonement, opens with the following quote from Northanger Abbey:
“If I understand you rightly, you had formed a surmise of such horror as I have hardly words to—Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from? Remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English, that we are Christians. Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you. Does our education prepare us for such atrocities? Do our laws connive at them? Could they be perpetrated without being known, in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing, where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay everything open? Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?”
In the summer of 1935, 13 year old Briony Tallis is a budding writer with a vivid imagination. A vivid imagination that works for her writing, but does not work in real life. She witnesses an act between her elder sister Cecilia and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant who was also childhood friends with Cecilia. Not understanding what has transpired between Cecilia and Robbie, she accuses him of rape.
Flashing forward to World War II, Briony is now a young woman. She has begun to comprehend the mistake of accusing Robbie of rape and the effect it has on everyone around her. A third flash forward reveals Briony as an older woman, using her literary gifts to give Cecilia and Robbie the life that she stole from them.
In 2007, this book was turned into a movie with Saoirse Ronan as Briony at age 13, Romola Garai as Briony at age 18 and Vanessa Redgrave as the elderly Briony. Keira Knightley and James McAvoy played the separated lovers, Cecilia and Robbie.
I recommend both the book and the movie. The book is well written. The movie keeps close to the plot of the book and has a very nice cast.
Daniel Deronda is George Eliot‘s (born Mary Ann Evans) final novel. Published in 1876, it blends two different stories with one central character.
Gwendolen Haroleth is down on her luck. Gambling the last of her money away at casino in Germany, she meets Daniel Deronda, a young man who saves Gwendolen by returning to her a necklace she had gambled away the night before. There the story breaks off into two different stories: Daniel’s and Gwendolen’s.
Gwendolen’s mother has recently become a widow for the second time. She takes her children and moves in with her brother. Knowing that she has to marry and marry well, Gwendolen meets Henleigh Grandcourt, an older man with a mistress, several illegitimate children and a less than warm personality. He proposes marriage to Gwendolen and she accepts him, despite knowing that her marriage will disinherit his children and break previously made promises to his mistress.
Daniel has been raised by Sir Hugo Mallinger, a man he believes to be his father. But his heritage and his true parents are a mystery. As he is boating on the Thames, he prevents Mirah Lapidoth, a young Jewish singer from killing herself. Mirah is looking for her family. Daniel through meeting Mirah, begins to connect to London’s Jewish community and answer some questions about his unknown past.
In 2002, Daniel Deronda was made into a miniseries with Romola Garai as Gwendolen, Hugh Bonneville as Grandcourt, Hugh Dancy as Daniel and Jodhi May as Mirah.
I enjoy the book and the movie. In a literary era when the only Jewish character is Fagin from Charles Dicken’s Oliver Twist, Mirah and her brother Mordechai are drawn as fully formed human beings, with good and bad qualities. The movie has an excellent cast with as much taken from the book as any adaptation from novel to the screen can be taken.
Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.
Emma Woodhouse is Austen’s Queen Bee. She is confident in her view of the world and her place in the world. Living with her widowed father (her mother died when she was a baby, her elder sister is married and moved away), Emma is mistress of her father’s house. Unlike some of other the Austen heroines she is not a dependent on the good will of her relations (Mansfield Park), nor is her home entailed away to the nearest male relative after the death of her father (Sense And Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice).
That being said, I will compare three of the filmed Emma adaptations.
Cast: Alicia Silverstone (Cher Horowitz), Dan Hedaya (Mel Horowitz), Josh (Paul Rudd), Tai (Brittany Murphy)
Pro’s: Amy Heckerling as both director and screenwriter, perfectly adapted the novel. The transition from rural 19th century Highbury to mid 1990’s Los Angeles is seamless. The movie is totally funny, totally quotable and iconic in it’s own right.
Cast: Kate Beckinsale (Emma), Bernard Hepton (Mr. Woodhouse), Mark Strong (Mr. Knightley), Samantha Morton (Harriet Smith)
Pro’s: It is a well done adaptation. The casting is on target and the screenplay is true to the novel. Beckinsale, as the title character is both infuriating and charming. Strong is sexy and annoying in the all knowing big brother sense.
Cons: Mark Strong’s Edwardian Mullet, which really is the only con I can think of.
Cast: Romola Garai (Emma), Michael Gambon (Mr. Woodhouse), Jonny Lee Miller (Mr. Knightley) Louise Dylan (Harriet Smith)
Pro’s: This adaptation is well done and so very funny. Garai and Miller have this bickering brother and sister relationship that is just so endearing. There is almost this Benedict and Beatrice style relationship where they begin to fall in love through the bickering and in fighting.