Tag Archives: Maggie Smith

A Room with a View

I have loved Italy since I was about 13.  A friend of my grandmother had just come back from Florence. I remember she had bought this immensely large map, and the back of the map was an image of the incredible rooftops and the gorgeous Duomo. Something like this:

Florence_rooftops

I thought to myself (despite the fact that no one from my family had ever gone abroad, excepting military service), that I needed to go to Florence one day.  My life’s new mission! As is usually my luck, my high school did not teach Italian.  I had to take Spanish instead.  But I took Italian at university, and finally visited Italy in April 2009. A place that had (like England) become synonymous, to me, with personal success, cultural awareness, and being some semblance of a complete person.  I am including these details because they closely resemble the way society viewed similar trips in the 19th and early 20th century.  The ‘Grand Tour‘, as it was known, was generally a trip through France and Italy, taken by wealthy young men, or by wealthy couples on their honeymoon. Occasionally there were forays into other ‘refined’ European societies such as Switzerland, Belgium, maybe a wander through Austria on the way back.  But Florence was the destination for the Grand Tour.  Because it was the birthplace of the Renaissance, which dictated art, literature, scholarship, for centuries to come.  One’s Oxbridge education wasn’t complete until one had taken the Grand Tour. Only then could you understand true art and music–a gentle reminder that (lacking even a basic ipod shuffle or smartphone) these wealthy young men & women would only ever get this one chance to see certain art, or hear certain music that wasn’t on exhibit in Britain.

So that brings us to the book.

Room with a View

A Room with a View is E.M. Forster’s account of the Grand Tour of Lucy Honeychurch, a teenage girl.  It is 1908, and less uncommon at that time for a woman to go on the tour before marriage. She is accompanied by her matronly cousin and chaperone, Charlotte Bartlett.  She is meant to follow her Baedecker guidebook, see proper museums and listen to lectures about the masters.  She is there to hear the opinions that she will parrot back for the rest of her life. That’s how the tour goes. You see the art, you listen to someone tell you what to think about it, and then you’re in the know. People back in the UK will be able to tell that you’re of proper stock if you know the right answers. Like a password.

It doesn’t work out that way for Lucy Honeychurch.  She meets several people at the ‘pensione’ (inn) where she and Charlotte stay, and they challenge her in different ways.  Though promised a view of the Duomo and the Arno, Charlotte and Lucy are given rooms with no view.  Two gentleman, father and son, offer to switch rooms.  Charlotte declines, thoroughly scandalized by the suggestion from two strangers.  If you’re reading this 100 years later, that seems ludicrous. If they want to switch, and it will make everyone happier, why on earth wouldn’t they switch? That’s precisely what the father, Mr. Emerson, says. Rather than look at things from the perspective of stifling, repressive social conventions, he looks at the thing logically. But Charlotte, who represents those social conventions completely, thinks it inappropriate because then the two ladies would have some obligation to the two men.  That’s the sort of ludicrous rule that governed society for most of the 19th and the start of the 20th century–in high society at any rate.

The Emersons and the two ladies continue to be thrown together, and Lucy is thrust into several situations where she is forced to examine the de facto logic of life that she has learned from society, and is forced to look at the reality of life. She sees a man stabbed in the street. She is kissed in a field of violets. Charlotte, sensing something inappropriate developing, hastens her out of Florence and off to finish her tour. A girl was meant to learn painting and art from the Italians, but not their violence or their passion.

Later on, back in England, Lucy is engaged to the biggest fop that ever fopped. His name is Cecil, I mean really.  He believes and engages in the social conventions of the age. He follows propriety perfectly, and is scandalized by those who don’t.  He is pretty much intolerable.  Lucy, meanwhile, finds the people she met in Florence are continuing to interfere in her life. The Emersons end up in the same town, and Lucy is confronted with George Emerson repeatedly, though she wishes she might be free of him.

A Room with a View is really about all of society breaking free from the crushing constraints of Victorian society, but it is so perfectly wrapped up in the story of this one girl choosing a-to examine the world, b-to make up her own mind, and c-to choose what she likes regardless of social conventions.  Forster manages to make all of his characters simultaneously slightly ludicrous and very likeable. Their foibles are on display, but they are also treated with affection in the text.  I was reminded of Austen, and the way she treats characters like Mr. Bennett. I really enjoyed the book as entertainment, but it was also thought-provoking. Don’t we engage in the same struggles now? We (especially women) have to decide if we’re going to pretend really hard to be someone we’re not.  Am I going to spend an hour drying and curling my hair today? Am I going to get laser treatments to remove all the hair on my body? Am I going to whiten my teeth or get my tummy tucked? And am I going to pretend it’s all natural, and say I just drink a lot of water and love eating Kale? We can devote a lot of energy to that facade. It’s a harder choice to go the other way. To spend time on being worthwhile, whether that means being a caregiver, a scholar, a writer, a musician…whatever. The world rewards you more and more quickly for the superficial. It takes strength and a bit of ego to proceed to work on our depth. In that way, life hasn’t much changed. There are still people out there that say ‘don’t marry X, he doesn’t have a college degree’. There are still people who think the best women can do is marry before everything starts to sag, and the best men can do is make enough money so that you can get a young wife. It’s harder to walk away from all of those social conventions and live a life that’s genuine, and do what you actually think is important. Different century, different rules, same struggle.

Another great thing about this book is the movie! It came out in 1985 (nearly 30 years ago!) and has an amazing cast.  Helena Bonham Carter, looking ludicrously young, plays Lucy:

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Also rather young in these pictures, though not exactly in their teens…Maggie Smith and Judy Dench as Charlotte Bartlett and Miss Lavish. I forgot to mention Miss Lavish above. She’s not in much of the book, but her character is really important. She’s a radical, a woman intellectual, a writer.  But!  Despite these things, she is still as insipid and disingenuous as those who follow blindly in the wake of propriety. She does have courage, but she doesn’t demonstrate any kind of value or wisdom as a person. It’s a big distinction Forster is making between those who complain about the world to seem intelligent, and those who act according to their morality, regardless of how they may be perceived.

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And Daniel Day Lewis as Cecil Vyse, foppiest fop that ever fopped. Since he’s a method actor, I assume he acted like an intolerable ass for the entirety of filming.

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The Edwardian era was not kind to men or women in terms of fashion. How much starch did they put into those weird paper collars? Yikes. No wonder they were so ready to go for the roaring ’20s.

I think I’ve had enough of the Edwardian era for a bit.  Back to the indecent, thoroughly scandalous middle ages with me! But I do recommend the book and the movie!

 

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Quartet

quartet soundtrackLet me start by saying I like the fact that UK filmmakers (and audiences) are unafraid of the aged population.  There are a number of incredibly brilliant English actors and actresses that still work regularly, that are older than three Hollywood actresses combined.  Similar to films like Calendar Girls and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Quartet celebrates and examines the lives of people (gasp!) over 50.  Compare this to US movies with older people (titles like RED and The Bucket List) and it becomes obvious that the UK versions of these movies are smaller, and spend far more time dealing with the everyday lives of everyday pensioners.  They have less glitz and more heart, and I find them far more relatable. I really look to them to gain perspective as I age.

That being said, I didn’t love Quartet. Sometimes these films are so small, so simple that I feel let down by a lack of more dramatic change amongst the characters assembled. I felt that way about this film at the end.

The story follows the lives of several retired opera singers and musicians, all of whom live in a private retirement home for ex-professional musicians.  First, I thought, what an immaculate place to spend your retirement years.  Surrounded by music and talented people.  On the other hand, several of the characters are (literally) divas, making life difficult for those around them.

Three best friends, all opera singers, have been living happily in this home for years. Billy Connolly (Brave) plays the lascivious, flirtatious, Wilf; Tom Courtenay (Little Dorritt) plays the Felix to his Oscar. Reginald is a bit uptight, but kind.

wilf and reginald

 

 

Their girl Friday is Cissy, the scatter-brained, good-natured, slightly bland friend.

Quartet_Cissy

The three have a fairly nice life.  The home is a good place to live, and they are surrounded by music.  The place is aflutter, preparing for an annual fundraising performance in honor of Verdi’s birthday. Everyone is being bossed around by Dumbledore Michael Gambon, a music director who embodies every bossy self-centered stereotype you can imagine. I mean, look at the man’s outfit.

QUARTET

 

 

Still, they are living a nice life and relatively peaceful.  Enter Jean Horton, played by the incomparable Maggie Smith.

Quartet SmithNot only is Jean a diva, but she is Reginald’s ex-wife.  They are incredibly awkward around each other, a situation made worse by Dumbledore’s insistence that this quartet perform their greatest song together at the fundraiser.

The film has a lot of good and interesting things to say about getting older, about letting go of the pressures of performance and the expectations of others.  Jean is nervous to sing again, convinced she won’t be able to sing as well as she did in her youth.  She worries that her fans will be disappointed.  Wilf informs her immediately that all of her fans are dead.

I liked the characters and I liked the story, but there was just a little too little action for the movie to hold my attention.  The acting was wonderful, the music gorgeous, but it was just a wee bit boring.  And having four brilliant actors is great, but they don’t actually do a lot of singing on camera.  They certainly do not sing the great opera song they supposedly perform at the end.  I understand why (not everyone is an opera singer; it’s not like learning to play the kazoo), but it feels like a bit of a cheat.  It feels like when you can clearly see that the stunt double is twice the height of the actor/actress they’re playing.

There was one strange bonus in this movie: Sheridan Smith, aka Rudi (Smithy’s sister) from Gavin and Stacey has shed her chavvy costume and looks like a proper professional woman in this movie?!

Sheridan+SmithI know she’s an actress, and not apparently an actual chav, but I did expect her to zoom off in her heelys at least once in the movie.  That didn’t happen, alas.

Downton Abbey, Season Three

Since this season doesn’t air in the US until January, please consider everything I say in this post to be hearsay and thoughts gleaned and paraphrased from others who watched the show in a totally legal fashion.

First, I’m going to start out with a few things that are non-spoilers:

Primarily, I must say that the season started out rather weak. Perhaps my expectations of Shirley MacLaine were too high? Her character was sort of flat and one-dimensional, as far as I’m concerned.  The first 2-3 episodes were very disappointing, and I was really worried they were indicative of the series as a whole. But then it turned around. Episode 3 (I think it was) was the best episode they’ve had in a long time, and the rest of the season was full of good moments, great stuff from the Dowager Countess, and some scenes that made me weep.  I thought it was a really strong end to the season, and almost met the quality of season 1. It definitely surpassed the second season, in my opinion.

Okay, from here on out, there be spoilers:
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This is me politely allowing a gap between non-spoilery and spoilery content.

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Okay, to business!

As I said above, I thought episodes 1 and 2 were pretty dreadful. The will-they-wont-they-of-course-they-will rubbish with Mary and Matthew pre-wedding was a huge snooze.  Of course they will! Before I even realized I was supposed to be worked up about it, they were already married.  They’ve ceased being interesting and are now just tiresome.

I think sometimes my annoyance with the show is that they drag on issues that have no inherent tension, and the really tense moments are generally over in one episodes’ time.  There’s a terrible sense of pacing.

The money storyline is a good example of this. It was tedious; it was also the only thing that encompassed every episode of the season.  Other issues came and went, but the money was the big one.  Can I say I totally agree with Cora’s mom that enough money from that family has already been wasted by Lord Grantham?  And what is his brilliant plan for the place? To call that American, Charles Ponzi, who can guarantee a big return in a few weeks’ time.  So he’s a real genius when it comes to finance, but he attacks everyone who tries to help or suggest change because he is so insecure about it.  It drove me crazy.  I find that Lady Grantham (the dowager countess, that is) is much better at embracing change than Lord Grantham, which is ludicrous.  And poor Matthew, who was hoping to downsize and lead a simpler life after his marriage (man did he marry the wrong girl for that) instead ends up running the huge Downton estate.

I know that Downton is necessary for the show but that doesn’t mean I agree that it should stay as it is. Were I alive at the time, I would have thought it better to embrace the times and get out of the agricultural money-owning ways of the 19th century and into a more modern frame of mind. Just because the incredible good luck of the Grantham family has allowed them to live like kings for 100s of years does not mean the world owes them. The world does not give out alimony, and current prosperity is no guarantee of the same in future.

So the money situation made me totally uninterested, despite Lord Grantham’s blustering.  But the big, game changing issue of the season–Sybil and Tom.

Can I describe how much I cried? Sybil was the only one of those three sisters I didn’t loathe. I adored her, in fact, whereas Mary is entertaining for her bitchiness and Edith is boring as always (in my opinion) So I was none-too-pleased with this turn, though I am happy Tom will be staying at Downton.  I love Tom.

I had a love-hate relationship with a lot of this season.  The characters enchanted, then disappointed me in turn.  Carson was adorable when concerned about Mrs. Hughes, but repugnant in his later dealings with Thomas (I don’t care if it is accurate to the period, it’s awful. I can’t take my modern sensibilities out of the equation, and I hated listening to it). Alfred was bungling and charming at first, and then nauseating in the final few episodes (mostly due to his dealings with Thomas). Edith won my pity at her not-wedding, my affection when she decided to write the newspaper column against her father’s and grandmother’s advice, and then my irritation again by the end of the series.  After all, she spent a few episodes last season snogging a married farmer, so how is she repulsed by some casual flirting by a married editor? Pot, kettle, etc.

The problem with Fellowes’ characters is they are all drawn black or white.  Sometimes they will slide toward the middle, but most of the time they exist on the edges.  I don’t mean necessarily their moral leanings, because Bates, for example, lives very much in the gray.  It’s more that what we are supposed to feel for them is very black and white.  We are supposed to hate O’Brien in this season, and pity Thomas.  Last season it was the opposite.  I feel weirdly abused by this all-or-nothing evil always resonating from one or the other.  Matthew is always valorous and honorable. Edith is always going to suffer from middle-child syndrome.

There’s a difference between creating characters that can be comprehended as fitting into a recognizable personality type and writing characters that are the trope. It makes their behavior predictable, and that makes me bored.

What I do think is interesting about Fellowes’ writing is that the most compelling characters are usually on the periphery of the plot line.  Some examples: Thomas’ reaction to Lady Sybil’s death. Carson’s fears over Mrs. Hughes’ health. The Downton ladies refusing to leave Violet’s brunch after Robert storms in.  I think one of the advantages of this era, and the upstairs, downstairs mentality of this era is that there are always people adjacent to the story.  There are just so many people involved when you have family and staff living in one house.  This provides lots of opportunities for people to overhear and to discover what they shouldn’t know.  Add to this the fact that it was a very private time in an already reserved society. Secrets were important and hard to keep.  There are a lot of instances where this is taken advantage of in Downton Abbey and I think those are the instances where the show is the most affective.

One final note.  That young girl in the final episode was boring and her running off was completely and utterly predictable.  It ruined the final episode and I pray that they never have her on again.  On the other hand, I truly enjoyed the Dowager Countess’ uncanny ability to trick absolutely everyone into telling the truth.  For that only, it was worth it to have her on. But please, don’t bring her back!

Upcoming British TV

You may have noticed, if you’re one of the 3 people who regularly read this blog, that content about British TV has been lacking lately.  That’s natural, given that it is summer and there isn’t much of anything new on.  But fall is approaching fast and there are a lot of good shows coming back, and a lot of new shows that look awesome.  So here’s a primer on what to expect over the coming months on TV.

Doctor Who premiered last Saturday, and another episode was just on last night.  I have grown to really love 11, though I still prefer 10 and probably always will consider him the best Doctor ever.  If you have no idea what I’m talking about, skip this bit as you are not a Whovian and won’t particularly care.

I have to say that these last two episodes have seemed rather lackluster to me.  There were some plot holes in the Asylum of the Daleks, and I saw the twist coming fairly early on.  Dinosaurs on a Spaceship was a bit better, and I love Mr. Weasley as Rory’s dad.  Something just seems off with both episodes so far, and I can’t tell if it’s the show or it’s me.  I suspect, however, that it is not me.  They’ve jumped right in as though there’s been no gap, and I could have done with a bit of a slow submersion.  I do love Karen Gillan, though, and she has been awesome as always.  I think it’s the writing or the direction to blame, but I”m having trouble putting my finger on why or how.  It’s almost like the episodes start too quickly and keep going too quickly for you to be emotionally invested.  And then they’re over, and you still aren’t particularly invested.  It’s missing some of the emotional scenes that you find in other episodes, and so far there hasn’t been anything particularly scary.  A bunch of rusty old Daleks and Filch? After the weeping angels, it takes a lot to scare me anymore, but they’re not even trying!

So why is this on my list of what to look forward to this fall? Because it’s Doctor Who! I will continue to watch it, and hopefully it will get better.

Downton Abbey

There are two trailers out right now for the third season. This one:


And this one (which I prefer):


Maggie Smith is divine.  And Shirley MacLaine as the American grandmother? Wonderful. I cannot wait to see those two in action together.

Okay so here is the big problem with Downton Abbey, and I cannot believe that in the 21st century it has come down to this.  On ITV in the UK, it premieres this month. Next week, I believe.  When will it be on PBS? January.

January?! This is ridiculous.  Why cant the studios just get together and decide to air it at the same time? Or shortly after?  As far as I know, there is no legal way for Americans to get their hands on the show before it airs on PBS or comes out on DVD (which might happen first, to be honest).  I would honestly pay to watch it, but I don’t think there is a way to do so.  Whose idea was that? I realize that ITV can’t broadcast here, and they are a British only channel, but this is ridiculous.  I suppose now I know how it feels for Brits who want to watch the latest episodes of our shows. But honestly, there should be a way to get it through iTunes or something. I am honestly not going to wait until January. I refuse.

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And a similar thing is happening with Parade’s End.

This was actually a joint venture between BBC and HBO, which means they have equal rights to air it (in my non-expert legal opinion).  This aired during August in the UK (I only know about it because I caught the last 20 minutes of one of the episodes while I was in London).  HBO hasn’t even announced an air date for the US.  BLARGH. Why do they do this to me?

In case you haven’t heard of it either, let me describe.  This was originally four novels by Ford Maddox Ford, and has been adapted into this mini-series, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall.  The plot revolves around a wealthy couple, and it is set in the early 20th century, so there are naturally comparisons with Downton Abbey. The husband is sent off to fight in the trenches in WWI.  There’s a love triangle somewhere in there. I didn’t want to read much else because I don’t want to spoil the fun of actually watching it.  If that ever happens.

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So, will anything actually be on soon for us unlucky Americans?  Yes! Thank god.

   Judging by the press photos, this one is about women who ride around on bikes in matching outfits.  Okay, actually, it’s titled Call the Midwife and I am quite excited about it, despite being horrified by the idea of childbirth and by the presence of nuns.

The show centers around a group of midwives in 1950s Britain, and it was a huge hit there. Smashed all sorts of ratings records.  It even beat Downton Abbey in the ratings. So, I’m definitely going to give it a try.  It airs on PBS, starting September 30th.

Richard Hammond’s Crash Course is also returning this fall (October 15th).  It appears they have abandoned the need to associate him with vehicles, and the show has devolved into him simply encountering as many ridiculous and possibly embarrassing Americans as possible.  There is, thought, a really cute trailer.

Another one coming down the pipeline this fall:

Spies of Warsaw

This is another period piece, a WWII-era drama set in Poland (obviously). It stars David Tennant, and that’s about all I had to know before I decided to watch it.  No firm release date yet, that I can find. I believe it comes on when The Hour and other Dramaville programming returns, which would be November, I think.

So it’s set to be another year of British cultural imports.  I do want to add, however, that as much as I joke about being forced to wait for a long time to watch British shows, I am just joking. Of course I hate the waiting, and I don’t see a need for it when we’re perfectly capable of downloading everything anyway.  But as I learned on my trip to London last month, the TV in England is really terrible.  What? What am I saying?! This is a blog about British TV, among other things, so how could I be committing such blasphemy?  I never had a TV when I lived in London, so I had little experience with it.  At my hotel, though, we did have a TV. I didn’t sit down to watch it at any point, but before bed or in the morning I would switch it on, and I was shocked by what I found.  There are only 10-20 channels, and some of them are only available at certain times of the day.  They play a lot of American programming, from old episodes of sitcoms (Frasier of all things) to really terrible American movies that wouldn’t even be shown here (Bowfinger…really?).  Then there seems to be some sort of 24-hour Big Brother channel.  Mix that in with Coronation Street and East Enders, which seem to be less slick and less attractive versions of our soaps, and that’s about all of your choices. Of course, there’s always BBC news, right?  They do news incredibly well there. But, you soon realize that it runs on a 10- or 15-minute loop, especially in the morning.  It’s not fun. If I lived there, I don’t think I’d bother having a TV at all.  So when I complain about having to wait for these mini-series, I do not mean to imply that I would rather switch places with them. They have to wait a long time for our shows as well, and well, we just have a lot more options here. Plus, no TV tax here, always a bonus. So, take the complaining with a grain of salt, and everyone let’s try to be patient, and pretend we aren’t illegally downloading these things. We certainly wouldn’t do that.

Movie Review: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

I actually watched this movie on the plane ride home from London, which was perhaps not the greatest idea. Any movie taking place in India, should probably be seen on a screen larger than 5-7 inches. After all, much of what is attractive and overwhelming about India are the colors, the sights (good and bad) and the noise. I think I should probably have seen it in the theatre, but hey, I’m not a millionaire.

Despite the fact that I think my enjoyment of it was somewhat lessened by the small screen and bad audio, I did like the movie.  For one thing, the cast is ridiculous. Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy (love him), Dev Patel, Penelope Wilton, the list goes on.  Oh yeah, and Maggie Smith! It’s just a ridiculous list of actors and actresses.  I do enjoy the fact that the British don’t mind having movies that feature people older than 50 (gasp!).  The last US movie I can remember with older people as the main actors was probably Cocoon. But all of these actors and actresses are older (besides Dev Patel, obviously) and they are all very busy in movies and shows like Downton Abbey, the Harry Potter series, Love Actually, the Bond movies, Calendar Girls (another great British movie featuring people older than 50.

The British seem to like this sort of big ensemble cast with little vignettes and snippets of people who are interconnected but not always connected enough to hold the movie together. I felt the same way after Love Actually, that sometimes things seemed a bit thrown together, and not everyone got enough time on screen to really get their identity across with the audience. It feels a bit like when I write a paper, or a story, and realize 75% through that I’ve taken on too much. You can’t do everything justice when you bite off more than you can chew, especially when it comes to storytelling. It was one of those movies where you realize after you’ve seen it that you had no idea what the character’s names were.  Everything just moved a bit too fast from one to the next in order to get a good grip on it.
Nevertheless, I really enjoyed it. The basic plot is that for different reasons (Maggie Smith’s character needs a hip replacement and there is a waiting list at English hospitals, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, and Penelope Wilton all have money concerns, and Tom Wilkinson is on a personal quest), all of these elderly English people end up in a retirement ‘hotel’ in India, run by Dev Patel’s character. In order to get guests for the hotel, he pays for their tickets from London to India. Once they arrive, they realize that the brochure they saw does not match the reality of this hotel, which is much shabbier and lacking doors on some of the rooms. But most of them don’t have the money to pay for airfare back to the UK, so they are literally stuck.

The movie seems to be mainly about assimilation. And what a challenge! I don’t think I’d last more than a few days in India without wanting to leave, and I’m sure each character wanted to leave at some point.  The person who just can’t assimilate, can’t even see anything worth loving about the place, is Penelope Wilton’s character. She spends her days reading in the garden, never leaves the confines of the hotel, and takes a plane back at her earliest convenience.  While she’s stuck there, she disparages the place incessantly and stomps on anyone else’s enthusiasm for India, its people, or its culture. She’s not xenophobic or cruel, but she’s out of her depth and cannot find her feet in this foreign land.  I think everyone can relate to that, and it makes her sympathetic even when she’s horrible. I wonder if it would be harder or easier to assimilate into a new culture at that age.  I think, both.  I just saw my Dad in the UK, and he is definitely homesick. There shouldn’t be any associated culture shock with moving to the UK, but he’s set in his ways and places comfort as a major priority in life.  With age, that does happen (I already feel it happening to me).  On the other hand, with age comes the knowledge that life is so fleeting and so ridiculous and horrible and wonderful and overwhelming, that the only thing the sensible person can do is let go and enjoy it.  At least, the wisest of us can talk ourselves into letting go of the semblance of control and allowing the world to sweep us out where it’s going to take us regardless.  The rest of the characters are much better at embracing that sense of change, of challenge, of enjoyment in whatever comes.

Judi Dench’s character narrates much of the movie, and she does mention the challenges and the rewards of moving to this completely separate culture. We see the most of her inner thoughts and feelings. Bill Nighy is fantastic, tall and besuited, and has that snort of a laugh that I adore. He is the most charming of all the actors onscreen.

Maggie Smith’s character sort of stunned me, because she’s blatantly racist! From her very first line, she is unpardonably racist.  Not that there really is a pardonable level of racism, but you see my point. It’s not an accidental bias, it’s not uninformed prejudice, it’s pure bile.  But she undergoes a transformation through the movie, and …well I’m not going to say she starts to be color blind, because I’m certain that’s not true, but she changes and opens up and becomes a much more sympathetic character. And, being Maggie Smith, it’s all done really very well.  She’s fabulous.

Tom Wilkinson’s character has the most desperately sad story, and I think his is the most compelling character.  I don’t want to give away more, so I won’t say more.

But there are two characters, played by Celia Imrie and Ronald Pickup, that seem very similar. They both want to date younger/richer people, or marry them, or whatever. They seem to mostly want sex, love, to be …not lonely anymore. Understandable, but there’s very little to their characters. I wonder if they had more scenes originally and they were cut at some point, because it just doesn’t feel full or complete. They don’t seem to add much to the movie, except some comic relief. The movie was based on a book, These Foolish Things, which I suspect might contain more on these two that makes them integral to the group or to the action in some way. But in the movie it seems they just didn’t have time.

All in all, the movie was pretty good, but it could have been a bit better. I wonder how much I would enjoy the book, as I suspect I would get to know the characters more in that format. But the main thing that made the movie better than average was the incredible actors. With so many of them in one place, it’s almost to the point where you don’t notice how great they are, because they are all great.

The DVD Shelves: Gosford Park

This is hardly a new movie, in fact it’s over 10 years old, but I had never seen it and it stars just about everyone in the British film industry.  It got 7 Academy Award nominations, so that put it at the top of my Netflix queue. And, as I seem to be making my way through the entire Julian Fellowes oeuvre, this was next on the list.

It’s commonly referred to as a mystery-comedy drama.  Whatever that is.  It seems to put its feet into every genre and not become a part of any of them.  I don’t think I knew what to make of it, not having heard much about it before hand.  It starts out like your typical upstairs-downstairs drama, in true Downton Abbey style, with the introduction of about 20 people upstairs and 20 downstairs, and alternates between the two worlds.  And of course it is remnicsent of a typical Agatha Christie work, with the murder mystery element.  But it isn’t quite either of these things.

Whatever can be said about its not being committed to a genre, the cast is spectacular.  Maggie Smith, Clive Owen, Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren, Ryan Phillipe, Kristin Scott Thomas, the list goes on. Gambon (aka Dumbledore 2.0) stars as Sir William McCordle, who is murdered (not once, but twice!) after a dinner party. Stephen Fry also makes an appearance, as a completely idiotic detective.

The most bothersome part of the movie was how confusing it was at the beginning. I could not, for the life of me, keep track of the character’s names, or who was married to whom.  I had to look up the Wiki page to try to keep track of all the marriages, because after initial introductions there was a good hour of gossip back and forth between other characters.

I wanted to like it, and on the surface it has all the elements I like in a movie/story.  British? check.  Historical? check. At least two Harry Potter actors? check!  But for some reason it didn’t particularly resonate with me.  There was too much mystery for me to focus on the class system politics, and too much social commentary to focus on the mystery.  For me, it lacked focus.

That being said, there were a lot of fun/interesting moments, Clive Owen was delightful, and Maggie Smith was spectacular as always.  She was born to play an upper class lady from the first half of the 20th century, yes?

I found it particularly interesting that Stephen Fry’s Inspector Thomson declares (obviously I’m paraphrasing) that they won’t need to question the servants (about who murdered Sir McCordle), only to people who really new him.  This is such a ridiculous notion, given the intimate details that servants were privy to in such a household.  It actually reminded me of a short story called “A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell, where a man is found dead in his bed, and the police investigate while their wives wait downstairs in the kitchen and sitting room.  The men are examining the crime scene, while the women downstairs find all the evidence of the husband’s cruelty and the wife’s probable guilt in the murder.  The men don’t find any evidence where they look, and the women hide what they find.  The point of the story (or one of them) is that men (or those in power) often lack a true understanding of the world because of their elevated place in it, whereas the lower people on the social ladder can see the truth of the world in its entirety.  Similarly in Gosford Park, the servants are able to discern who and why the master of the house was murdered, and similarly the matter is hushed up by them on the basis of his whole-heartedly deserving it.

Coming Soon

I thought I would take a day to look at what’s coming out of the UK and hitting our shores in the next few months. Warning though, this post is restricted in some ways to what appeals to me as an anglophile.  So, for example, if Big Brother UK is going to be on here, I probably won’t talk about it, because I don’t honestly care..

Films:

The Deep Blue Sea starring Rachel Weisz and Tom Hiddleston (aka Loki from Thor).  Not to be confused with the Samuel L. Jackson movie of the same name.

This trailer isn’t anything spectacular, but the cast is.  According to Wikipedia, it is from a play by Terence Rattigan, about the wife of a judge who falls for a pilot in the RAF. Intriguing, could be good. Lots of good quotes on the trailer, but no telling if that translates to an actually good film. But it has been out since November in the UK, and currently has an 88% on Rotten Tomatoes, so I’m guessing it’s going to be fairly good. It comes out in limited release here March 30th.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Could there possibly be a more boring title? I can’t think of one. But, then you look at the cast: Ewan McGregor (doing his native Scot accent for once), Emily Blunt, and Kristin Scott Thomas. And I’m in.

Seriously, though the subject of salmon fishing in the Middle East could not be of less interest to me for many reasons, this looks like a really good heart-warming sort of film that I love.  This one is coming out quite soon; limited release this coming weekend! I am definitely looking forward to this film.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

This is it! I don’t think there’s any movie that I’m more looking forward to this year.  Can you believe the cast? Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey, HP), Bill Nighy (HP, Underworld, Love Actually), Judi Dench (every period drama ever, the new Bond movies), Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire), Penelope Wilson (Downton Abbey, Dr. Who), and Tom Wilkinson (tons of stuff, most recently Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol).  Seriously though, when the US does a movie with this many superstars, it is some absolute trash like Valentine’s Day or He’s Just Not That Into You.  But this is going to be brilliant, because not only are they quite famous in England, but they are famous for being actually good actors. Cannot wait for this movie! But I will have to, as it doesn’t come out until May 4th.

Books:

Some titles I’m looking forward to in the coming months include:

Britain, etc.–A nonfiction, light, trivia-based jaunt through Britain from A-Z.  Hopefully I’ll learn something and be entertained at the same time.

The English Monster–It’s historical fiction, it’s a murder mystery, it’s based on a true story.  Set in the early Regency period, based on some real murders. Difficult to think of dreadful murders going on at the same time Jane Austen was penning her lovely novels.  I have decided lately to get more into crime fiction and this may be one of my first forays into that oeuvre.

And of course, the unnamed J.K. Rowling book will be at the top of my reading list, no matter what it is about or when it comes out.  That’s just how it is.

TV:

Life’s Too Short: I’m watching this right now on HBO. It’s a lovely and ridiculous comedy starring Warwick Davis (Willow, HP films, etc.) as a warped and foul version of himself. It’s yet another Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant project, and expect a full review once the series is done. It’s brilliant.

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Whitechapel: This one is a modern police procedural starting with a Jack the Ripper copycat.   I am starting to be rather obsessed with Jack the Ripper! This was actually on BBC America last fall, but I missed it with the holiday rush. So I’m going to try to watch it now.

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Top Gear!: Anyone that doesn’t know about this show has my pity.  Ok, I should preface this by saying that cars are not of much interest to me.  I started watching this show with my bf because he loves cars and I love England, so it was a good fit.  But it is hilarious, one of the most popular shows in the UK, and lots of fun even if you’re not a ‘petrolhead’ as they call it. Season 18 starts in April. Also, do not confuse this with the American version, which has more cars and less class.

Here is a best of montage to wet your appetite: