Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Devil’s Mistress or the Devil’s Whore

The_Devil's_WhoreI happened to catch this miniseries on TV this weekend and I found it really engrossing.  It was called The Devil’s Whore in most of the world, but we puritanical Americans needed the modified title of the Devil’s Mistress. Because if you pay her in the street she’s a dirty whore, but if you get her an apartment and buy her some gifts, she’s a classy mistress.  Apparently.

The miniseries is from 2008, and features a lot of well-known actors who have gone on to be quite famous. For the Doctor Who fans, we have John Simm (the Master) as Edward Sexby, and Peter Capaldi (the new Doctor) as the ill-fated Charles I.

Dominic West (the Wire) plays Oliver Cromwell, Andrea Riseborough (W./E., Oblivion) plays fictional Angelica Fanshawe, and Michael Fassbender (every movie ever) plays Thomas Rainsborough. Tom Goodman-Hill (Mr. Grove in Mr. Selfridge) plays Honest John Lilburne.

As you’ll have guessed (if you know even basic British history), this miniseries takes place just before and during the English Civil War.  If you haven’t learned basic British history, here’s the 2 cent tour of the era.  Charles I was a dictator of Scottish descent with a French wife.  That meant people thought he was too close to ‘Papists’, and that his policies would benefit Catholics at the expense of Protestants.  After all the bloodshed and confusion of the 16th century battle between Catholicism and Protestantism in England, the majority of the English were vehemently opposed to ‘Papists’. Charles I and Parliament engaged in a very long struggle for power, which ended with Charles I being beheaded in London.  Oliver Cromwell became the leader of the Long Parliament, and appointed himself ‘Lord Protector’.  Though he’d argued against monarchy, he very quickly established himself as a king in all but name.  This lasted until the Restoration of the monarchy with Charles’ son returning to England after Cromwell’s death.  The monarchy has existed without any real interruption since that time.

This miniseries starts with Angelica Fanshawe preparing to marry her childhood sweetheart, Harry. She’s wealthy and connected; King Charles himself attends and blesses her wedding.

Angelica Fanshawe3 (Andrea Riseborough)

We see brief flashbacks. Angelica was raised by a Catholic mother, during the very violent time just after Protestantism was established in England. Her mother abandoned her for God, and Angelica was (understandably) angry.  She proclaims that there is no god, and that is the first time she gets a vision of a demon.  She sees them all her life.

A lot is going on during the day of her wedding.  John Lilburne is whipped for distributing pamphlets arguing against the tyrannical rule of King Charles. Sexby sees Angelica and immediately falls in love with her, though he is quickly reminded that his social standing (lowly soldier for pay) prevents him from even thinking about her in an untoward way.  The ribbing of his friends causes her groom Harry to have a really pathetic problem with insecurity. He spends the rest of their marriage being jealous and angry, trying to make her give up her independence and her ability to make decisions.  To say I hate him would be an understatement.

Thankfully for me, Harry meets a sticky end at the hands of the ever-more tyrannical Charles I.  We see Angelica’s situation change overnight. She’s no longer wealthy or desired, she’s out on the streets. At the same time, Sexby, Cromwell, and Rainsborough are leading the charge against Charles; they are allied with Honest John Lilburne, but not for long.

article-1086202-027D020F000005DC-344_468x328Episodes 2 and 3 see Angelica change a lot.  She is forced to become independent and to examine the world she’s living in–rather than just accepting it as good based on her own privileged experiences.  *Cue Dylan’s ‘Like a Rolling Stone‘*  As a woman, this is a lot more difficult than for a man. She has no property, no money, no skills.  Starving, she accepts some soup offered to her by a wealthy man.  As soon as she is done eating, he tries to claim his ‘payment’.  After a bit of a tussle, she stabs him to keep him from raping her. Sexby turns up as Angelica is on the run, and helps to protect her from justice.

Angelica finally sees the bitter truth of life for those who aren’t as privileged as she has been.  Her loyalties change and she abandons the royalist cause and takes up with the Roundheads (aka those allied with Parliament in their conflict with the king.  The royalists were called Cavaliers).  She is drawn to Fassbender’s Rainsborough. He is a good mix between the too-earnest and impractical Lilburne and the severely pragmatic Cromwell. The two take up a love affair, but alas.  It’s not to be. Joliffe, the best friend of the man Angelica killed, is after her.  He wants to hang her as a murderess and a whore, and seems to take extreme pleasure in the idea of punishing a woman who wouldn’t give a man what he thought he deserved.

Things turn uglier as the miniseries continues.  Rainsborough and Angelica get married, but he is killed soon after–by his supposed friend Cromwell.  Angelica is pregnant and mourning a second husband, and is soon after arrested and sentenced to hang. She is due to be executed the same day as the king, newly convicted by a brutal Parliament and Cromwell, its leader.

As he can generally be expected to do, Sexby turns up to save Angelica. I won’t spoil what happens in the 4th episode, but it doesn’t turn out particularly well for anyone. I will say that at least one person dies, Sexby has at least one more chance to save Angelica from a terrible fate, and a baby is born at the end.

Here are a few things that struck me about this miniseries:

1-The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Under Charles I, John Lilburne is imprisoned for causing trouble, there is corruption and tyranny from a despotic ruler, and women are under the proverbial boots of incredibly awful men. After Charles I is killed and Cromwell takes over…it’s all the same.  It was a time of great revolution in England, but the changes seemed to be superficial and ineffectual.  Certainly nothing seemed to change for the better. John Lilburne rots in prison for criticizing Charles I, but he dies in prison under the governance of his supposed friends.

2-I have mixed feelings about Sexby.  I think he’s quite heroic and certainly a friend a girl wants to have if she’s going to constantly be in danger of being raped/murdered/executed.  His long slow burn of pining love for her is romantic, when it’s happening on screen.  But if it were real life, I don’t know that I’d feel the same way.  If the miniseries was set in modern times, I feel too much that he would be wearing a fedora and complaining that the girl he liked kept him in the ‘friendzone’. Side note, if you’re unfamiliar with the trope I am discussing, look at a few pages of this tumbr (or this one) and you’ll learn a new breed of  men to avoid. Sexby is a loyal and good friend to Angelica, but it’s quite clear he spends each moment hoping for more, and-once-gets unjustifiably angry and almost violent with her for not feeling what he feels.

While I find Sexby quite engaging and interesting, Angelica tells him she can never love him, and then ‘realizes’ her feelings for him almost the very next time she sees him.  Who wrote that? I have never once had that sort of reversal of feeling. Any women reading this: has this ever happened to you?  Did a man write this? Because I find it really hard to believe.

3-Note to self: do not attempt to lead a happy life during Civil War or revolution.  Both Angelica and Sexby get fucked around by the royalists and the roundheads, and the system in general.  There’s no hope for a happy ending.

4-Why on earth did they make her see the devil?  A lot of the miniseries paints Angelica as a liberated, almost modern, woman, which was very dangerous and could be considered demonic during that (literally) puritanical period.  She’s seen by several of her opponent’s as the Devil’s Whore, because she’s living a life outside social norms.  That’s all pretty powerful and makes me feel so grateful I don’t live in the 17th century. I would have been burned or drowned long ago.  The whole hallucinating a demon thing just seems like a strange distraction. It lessens the lunacy of their claims that she is the Devil’s Whore, and almost gives their accusations some weight.  I don’t understand the purpose of it at all.

Despite my reservations, I think it was a good miniseries.  I found it engrossing and easy to watch, and I did learn some things I never knew about that period of English history.  I take it all with a grain of salt, but a little bit of history and some entertainment are (in my book) a good way to spend an evening.

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Big Harry Potter news

tumblr_mhzxvzup1o1qcirsjo1_500Kermit is pretty much the only one who can adequately describe how I felt reading the big Harry Potter news this month.  NEW content, NEW movies, from J.K. Rowling.  This isn’t just snippets from Pottermore (though I enjoy those too), this is real new stuff in the same world we all love so much.

Warner Brothers and Rowling announced a new partnership on a ‘series’ of films based upon the adventures of Newt Scamander.  Rowling will write the screenplay for (at least) the first movie, because she wanted to ensure that the story was told correctly.  Which means she has had the whole back story for Newt Scamander in her head for years and years without ever needing to use any of it in a book. Scamander’s name is familiar to HP fans as the author of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Fantastic_Beasts_and_Where_to_Find_Them_2009_coverThe book (along with Quidditch Through the Ages) is a Hogwarts textbook published by Rowling for charity.  It’s a nonfiction book discussing the history of the control & classification of magical creatures, and describing the more popular/dangerous ‘beasts’ in the  magical world.

I was never particularly drawn to these nonfiction books, but I did read them both after the news came out.  There’s very little in Fantastic Beasts that gives any hint of the plot of these movies.  JKR says they will take place 70 years before the events in the Harry Potter series, so that means the 1920s.  The action will start in New York, but who knows where it will go from there.  The beasts in the book cover most of the Earth, though (naturally) the majority of them are in Europe.

From the book, we know a little about Newt Scamander.  He was born in 1897, so he’ll be in his 20s during the action of the movies. He is British and was in Hufflepuff house at Hogwarts. He works for the Ministry of Magic in the Department for the Control and Regulation of Magical Creatures. His grandson marries Luna Lovegood, though that event will clearly not be covered in the movies.

I’m so glad that JKR is returning to this world, and I really hope that there are little cameos from established characters.  Dumbledore was alive at the time, and I think she will probably have him turn up at some point.  Jo said that Dumbledore was the character she missed writing the most, and hey here’s another opportunity to write him.

That’s about the only person from the Harry Potter series that could reasonably make an appearance, but there are any number of family members that could show up.  Hogwarts and Diagon Alley and all the familiar places could easily show up on film again, which makes me very happy.  Even more exciting is the possibility we might glimpse some wizarding culture from other countries.  Is there a NYC equivalent of Diagon Alley?  I can only hope so. Undoubtedly, the search for magical beasts won’t take place mostly in cities, but I’m just hoping for a glimpse.

I don’t even care what she includes, I’m just so excited to learn more about this world.  Reading every Harry Potter book has been like looking through a pinhole camera. I get a little bit of information and I have a lot of questions, then I get a little bit more information with the next book, and I have more questions.  Most of them were eventually answered, but I will never reached a point of not wanting to know more.

JKR thanked the new CEO of Warner Brothers for making the whole project possible: “I particularly want to thank Kevin Tsujihara of Warner Bros. for his support in this project, which would not have happened without him. I always said that I would only revisit the wizarding world if I had an idea that I was really excited about and this is it.”

Well, all I can say is that I agree. Thank you, sir, for making this happen!

Jon and Steven

Luther, season 3

Luther-Season-3-Key-ArtThe long-anticipated third season of Luther premiered last week on BBC America.  For some reason, they decided to play one episode per night, so the entire season was done in 1 week. I hate when they do this, but for this show it is particularly difficult to deal with. I couldn’t sleep after the first episode, and I was really upset after episode 3.  To squeeze all that emotion into one week is a lot for me.  I think Luther requires some recovery time, because precidence has shown that he (and we as the audience who implicitly support him as the protagonist) is going to get walloped repeatedly. If no one he loves is murdered in an episode, it’s a good day for John Luther.  He could write a very good version of ‘It was a Good Day’ by Ice Cube.  That’s how shit his life is.  And to live in that world for four nights repeated is a lot to take.

In episodes one and two, he’s chasing a truly disturbing foot-fetish murderer.  A guy who hides under beds–cue me not sleeping.  He also hides in attics under semi-opaque sheets pretending to be a mannequin. And makes cat noises so you go up in the attic to see what your cat has got into.  Then he murders you and your husband, and steals your shoes.  I have an attic and a cat! And shoes! I am still traumatized by this. During episode two, someone uses the phrase ‘extremely muscular vaginas’. Hearing this, I think my face arranged itself in a perfect wide-eyed emoticon expression.  I may have done a comical double-take.  I mean, wtf.

There’s a second case where a man, Ken Barnaby seems to have killed the internet troll who was taking pictures of the Barnaby’s dead daughter and photoshopping them onto porn shots and sending them to the Barnaby.  The world truly weeps for the loss of that guy.  Luther is reluctant to persecute Barnaby, because of his own sense of conscience, and Ripley has to force the investigation to its conclusion.  The truly fun part of this subplot is Barnaby’s attempt to get rid of his own fingerprints. Color me nauseated.

Luther is also dealing with his (as usual) precarious position at work.  He’s being investigated by the British equivalent of Internal Affairs–an un-retired and slightly-obsessed DSU Stark is determined to prove that Luther isn’t just a crooked cop, but a murderer.  Fun fact–Stark is played by David O’Hara, aka Albert Runcorn in the 7th Harry Potter movie. DCI Erin Gray, who used to work with Luther and butted heads with him constantly, is Stark’s right hand woman.  They’re trying to convince DS Ripley to turn on Luther.

ds ripleyBut…come on.  DS Ripley has shown time and time again that he is unfailingly good and unfailingly loyal. He’s the un-touched one among them, and that’s why Luther protects him and cares so much for him. Still, we know Ripley is a good guy, and we know Luther can act like a bad guy to get done what he thinks is right.  The seed of doubt is planted in Luther’s mind, and in our own.

On the rare up-side, he’s met a lovely woman named Mary, who’s surprisingly innocent and normal, and makes him smile.  And be happy?!?  This can’t last, right?

Luther IIIYou won’t be surprised to hear that Luther dispatches with the foot fetish killers, because he’s Luther and he’s the smartest one in the room.

Episodes 3 and 4 deal with a different villain. Tom Marwood is, really, a dark version of Luther himself.  He’s a vigilante killer, specifically going after criminals who have been convicted, but because of flaws in the justice system, are out on parole or free to walk around.  Marwood’s wife was raped and killed years earlier, by a man newly paroled. Marwood goes after pedophiles (or paedophiles, if you’re British) and murderers, truly heinous criminals.  Like Dexter.  Of course, Luther has always walked the line of wanting to enact his own form of justice rather than relying on bureaucracy to get the job done.  But he has to take a stand for due process, and finds himself in the awkward position of having to save the life of a convicted p(a)edophile, after a mob of violent morons comes to watch and ensure the man’s execution.

You know something bad is going to happen from the first few minutes of episode 3.  Luther invites Ripley into his house, to meet Mary.  Luther is happy, talkative, easy-going.  This is new.  And ominous.  Later, Luther tells Ripley he should have been promoted long ago, because he’s capable and good at his job.  Oh no.  No no no.

I won’t spoil anything specific, but like I say, it’s obvious from the first moments of that episode that something is going to happen. This show had never allowed Luther to be happy, and he’ll be severely punished for this moment of bliss.  That’s just the way this universe works.

I will say that the moment at the end of episode 3 is when Tom Marwood stops being a vigilante out for justice and becomes just a killer.  A killer because he likes it and he can’t stop.  He’s become everything he hates, but instead of facing it he decides to blame it all on Luther, and to go after everyone Luther cares for.

Episode 4 is really suspenseful, with all the different plots coming to a head at once.  Alice re-emerges.  I like Alice–I don’t want her as a mate, but she’s a great character to watch–to help Luther get out of his current jam.

At the very end, in the very last scene, Luther takes off his signature grey coat and drops it into the Thames.  It occurred to me, just then, how much of the superhero model the show follows.  Batman, especially.  Luther always lives in the shadows, always surrounded by sadness, so that he can try to keep it light and bright for others.  Someone has to get into the mud to keep the rest of us clean, according to this universe.  At the end, though, he’s had enough.  He takes off his cape and he leaves it behind.  There are talks to bring Luther to the big screen, so I wonder what will bring him back into the fray.  Superheroes always try to escape their shit lives, but they have to come back to save someone/something they love.  They can’t live with the guilt of ignoring the idea that they could make a difference.

Luther is one of those shows, like Dexter, that is engrossing and disturbing and bleak. You’re in the trenches with this really morally-questionable, but charismatic, character.  You implicitly trust his decisions because he’s your protagonist, and the more you watch the less you question what he’s doing.  With Luther, we take his side because he is going up against the most terrifying monsters you can imagine.  He’s a saint, comparatively.  But when you step away and think about what he does, and how he breaks the rules and justifies his actions by always being right about whodunnit, it’s really terrifying. The ending especially made me sit back and say…wait a minute.  Our hero just wandered off to start a life with a murderous sociopath.  What does that say about him? What does it say about me?!

Even though Luther always makes me feel a bit squiffy about my own ethics, I will keep watching it because it is so compelling.  Season 3 was no exception.

Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity US coverI have spent a good portion of my life avoiding all literature and movies that take place during World War II. I’m an emotional and empathetic person, and I just can’t deal with it!  I was forced to read Night in middle school, and to watch Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan before I was out of school.  I can’t take it! It’s too much abject and terrible misery happening all at once, all over the world. So I’ve actively avoided anything set in the period. Until recently. I realized as I began this novel that it was the 4th WWII era novel I’ve read in as many years.  It seems I can tolerate the time period if the war is in the periphery rather than the main event.  First, there was Atonement, which pretty much ruined my life while I was reading it.  Fuck You, Ian McEwan.  You kill me every time you cruel, heartless bastard.

In the last two years, I’ve read The Book Thief (amazing, amazing book.  READ IT!) and the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (also very good), and now this.  These books were about women, which might be why the bulk of the violence is on the outskirts of the story.

Code Name Verity is the story of two girls.  Maddie and Julie.  Maddie is from the North of England, and she starts the war working in her grandfather’s motorcycle shop.  But she gets the itch to be a pilot, and as war efforts continue to require more and more people, she gets her chance.  She ferries broken planes and healthy pilots around the airbases of England in the Air Transport Auxiliary.  Her friend Julie is Scottish, well-bred, and is involved in Secret Ops.  Forgive me if I get some of these military names wrong; I have no capacity for remembering the difference between Special Forces and Secret Operations, etc.

The girls encounter each other several times throughout their work on airfields.  Their first meeting is when Julie and Maddie help an injured German pilot land his plane on their runway–by pretending he’s safely made it back to France.  Two things are really striking about these characters, given their time and place. 1-They are girls who are capable, skilled, and efficient at jobs almost exclusively reserved for men.  Maddie is a mechanic and a pilot; Julie becomes a spy.  2-They are incredibly close and good friends.  There are a lot of female friendships represented in literature as catty and jealous.  I know a lot of women who feel more comfortable with men than with other women.  Consider a character like Bella Swan from Twilight. She has almost zero female friends, and 99% of her life is caught up between two dudes.  Of course, there are a lot of problems with Twilight; I won’t go into all that.  The point is, seeing a strong and loyal female friendship is rarer than you might think.

This book is a little bit of a ‘mind game’, as the NYT blurb on the cover indicates.  The first 1/3 of the book is Julie’s narrative.  She is writing on borrowed scraps of paper after being caught in occupied France. She has been tortured by the Gestapo, and she is writing her story to delay her upcoming transfer to a concentration camp.  It’s bleak and manic, describing in detail her ill-treatment and her guilt over giving up information to the Nazi’s.  She tells the whole story of her relationship with Maddie, from its inception.  From Maddie’s point of view.  Maddie is on her mind constantly, because the Gestapo have showed her pictures of Maddie’s crashed plane and the charred body in the cockpit. The UK cover shows a more accurate depiction of the book, but I wonder if I would have read the book if it had had this cover?

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But there are twists and turns once we reach the middle of the book.  Both girls are so capable and so honest with their written accounts, that you start to believe that things might work out.  But this is Nazi-occupied France, and I’m not spoiling anything by telling you that it doesn’t all work out.  As much as I was hoping for a miracle at the end, there wasn’t one.  But the bittersweet ending makes you appreciate even more the truly bad-ass nature of these two girls, and of everyone just fighting for survival at that time.  People surviving the Blitz, the French resistance living in constant fear, the beleaguered and eternally-ruined souls of everyone who took part in the Nazi party and in the Gestapo.  Everyone was just…surviving, if they were lucky.  I really am not someone capable of dealing with this level of misery! If I think about it too much, I can’t get out of bed in the morning.

Before you have me committed for manic depression, I’ll snap myself out of it.  I had mixed feelings about the end, because the girls were so honorable and so easy to look up to, but anyone born in that time was just going to experience their fair share of misery.  Now that I’ve calmed down about the ending, I can look back and say that I really enjoyed the book. It was worth dealing with the pain to see such capable, smart, emotional, and brave women as main characters in a story.  No man to save the day; they rely on themselves.  The book also makes sure to make every character–even the Gestapo interrogator– a real human, with flaws and doubts and pleasures and pains.  Books that portray Nazi’s as superhuman monsters aren’t helping us avoid making the same mistakes in future. I think this book was really successful at taking a totally inhuman, alien concept like being a P.o.W. in a Nazi stronghold, or like hiding with a family in the French Resistance, and makes it seem real and comprehensible.  It gives life to an era I (fortunately) didn’t see.  I really enjoyed it, even though it required a lot of chocolate to recover from.

The Lady Vanishes

the lady vanishesI quite liked this little TV movie. I think the key to my enjoyment of it was that I have never seen the 1939 Hitchcock version of this same story.  It’s best not to compare anything to a Hitchcock film. The film aired on PBS in August to little fanfare, but I thought it was fairly good.

The movie revolves around Iris Carr, a free-spirited independent young woman on holiday in Croatia. She’s played by Tuppence Middleton (no relation to Pippa & Kate). Iris leaves behind her lecherous friends and catches a train back toward home (England). A fellow Englishwoman, Miss. Froy befriends her at the beginning of the trip. Iris goes to sleep, and when she wakes up, Miss. Froy has vanished.  The others in her compartment insist that there never was an Englishwoman.

If this is sounding familiar, it might be because of the Jodie Foster movie, Flightplan. I never actually saw that movie, but from the trailers I surmised that though the plot is virtually identical, it’s her daughter that disappears and not a stranger.  Trying to convince a woman her own daughter doesn’t exist is a bit far-fetched.  But a stranger?

I once sat next to a man on an overnight bus from London to Edinburgh. He slept for the first few hours.  When the bus stopped at a gas station and we all got out to use the ‘loo’ or get some snacks, he didn’t come back to his seat.  I watched them close the doors, thinking maybe I should say something.  His hat was still there on the seat.  I’m glad I didn’t say something, because I spotted him later, sitting in a different seat.  But, the point is, I couldn’t really have picked him out of a lineup if anyone had needed me to.  Dark hair…male…white-ish?  Sleepy.  That would narrow things down for the police.

So to think of meeting a stranger for a few minutes only, and then being so assured of who and what she was, despite contradictions from impartial observers…anyone would doubt what they saw.

The frustrating thing about this story is that we, the audience, of course know that she is real.  We see her with Iris, of course, but we also know that several of the people claiming she didn’t exist are lying. And we see why they are lying.  They’re all English, and they’re all lying because they don’t want to be inconvenienced by telling the truth.  A couple on an illicit weekend (he’s married) don’t want it to get out that they were holidaying together.  Scandal.  A vicar and his wife need to get home to their son, who they’ve learned is sick with Spanish Flu (you’ll remember Spanish flu from its determination to kill everyone on Downton Abbey). Then there are two old biddies who are busy passing judgment on Iris for being (what they view as) a disreputable lady, rather than helping her look for the woman.  We see lots of English people, all of whom refuse to be inconvenienced.  They know someone may be missing, and they lie to Iris’s face about it.  Terrible.

There’s even a condescending Oxford professor who I could not hate more.  If he was a doctor, I could easily imagine him as the husband from The Yellow Wallpaper. He’s the first to suggest that Iris may need to be committed for ‘observation’.  A doctor on the train, closely allied with the Croatian family Iris believes is responsible for Miss Froy’s disappearance, whispers in everyone’s ear about how Iris might be taken care of.  Drugged and shipped off to an asylum.  This is the bad guy saying this–but it’s also the ‘good guys’ saying this.  The Oxford professor. The love interest!

Let’s talk about the love interest.  Tom Hughes (from Cemetery Junction and Silk) plays Max Hare, a young man who agrees to help Iris for the obvious reason that she’s quite beautiful.  She needs his help because she doesn’t speak the language(s) of the region. The professor is his professor.  Max has just met Iris, so he’s understandably unsure of whether to believe her.  She is sure of herself, but she acts very flighty, and everyone else contradicts her statements.  Max believes her because he’s young and she’s beautiful and he wants to help her. But…his belief wavers at critical points.  Talked into calming her by the professor and the doctor, he slips her a sedative.  Uses her trust in him to give her drugs, believes he’s acting in her best interest.  Not his best moment.

There are some really interesting themes in this story.  It definitely makes a fairly obvious comment about the English and their morality–though it is important to note that nearly all of the people who kept quiet in the beginning, tell the truth in time to help.  The story is also pretty xenophobic, with the Slavic Baroness as the villain of the piece, and some institutional corruption thrown in to make you really want to stay in England for the rest of your life and never venture onto that savage continent.  But the thing that bothered me most about it was the threat of committing Iris.  This was a really big problem for many upper-class women.  Read some 19th-century literature and you’ll see it everywhere.  Lady Audley’s Secret, The Woman in White.  Ladies who make trouble for their families, their husbands, or anyone in authority, are declared mentally unstable and shipped off to an asylum for the rest of their days.  Iris was particularly vulnerable, because she has no family and no advocates.

I really like Iris, actually. She’s independent to a fault, freely admits her own bad qualities (she’s selfish and impatient).  But at the moment when she can do something important, right a potential wrong, she doesn’t give up.  Of course, I am thoroughly irritated by the fact that she doesn’t see any need to speak other languages, and doesn’t understand why more foreigners don’t speak English.  Proves that it’s not just Americans who are known to think that way, however.

Problems exist with this TV movie, independent of any comparison to Hitchcock.  Some of the threads of the story are never picked up or explained. Red herrings are far more useful when they actually have an explanation in the end.  Iris hears shots fired when she’s walking around her hotel, at the very beginning of the story.  Her train ticket reservation is gone, and she has to bribe the attendant to get on the train. Someone hits her on the head when she’s waiting on the platform, and she nearly misses the train.  There are bodies near the track.  It’s all very eery, and works to give the audience many possible theories on whodunnit, but then those things are never explained later on.  I like a mystery that connects all of the dots, so that you don’t feel quite so much like you were manipulated.

That being said, I thought the acting was good and the set was really quite beautiful. The train gave a really claustrophobic feeling to the action, and the vague location in foreign lands made Iris seem more lonely and isolated from her own society and those likely to help and believe her.  Obviously the movie takes place in the first half of last century, but it still works.  Everyone who’s traveled somewhere they don’t speak the language has had moments of that same fear.  The difficulty of making oneself believed, and the feeling that this would never happen if you were home where you belong.  I have a personal story about getting lost with no money in Croatia in the middle of a rainstorm.  But that’s a story for a different blog.