Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)

Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)
Oh, to be in England...

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Call the Midwife Christmas Special- Guest Post by Big Sister

Below is a special guest post by my Big Sister, M.F. (minor spoilers below) If you haven't yet seen this, go to Or just go ahead and read this lovely post anyway. It will only make you want to see it even more!


We got an extra present in our Christmas stockings this week to relieve the doldrums of the post-Christmas letdown – the Call the Midwife Christmas Special which aired tonight on PBS here in North America.  And, as the special just aired on Christmas Day in Britain, I would say that we were rewarded for being extra good this year, by getting it here only 5 days after!  I think that may be a record for a British televised costume drama … 

This Special was, again, set in 1950s Poplar (a neighbourhood in the East End of London near the docks) where the nuns and nurses of Nonnatus House work diligently delivering the endless stream of babies popping out of working class mothers of the area.  My comment when I saw the first series of Call the Midwife was:
“Never mind the automobile or the Internet … birth control was the greatest invention of the 20th century!”

There are two main storylines at work in the Christmas Special – a teenage pregnancy/infant abandonment and the desperate plight of an elderly survivor of the workhouse system – all interlaced with the background story of Nurse Chummy (Miranda Hart) and the Cub Scout pack (plus many other children) putting on the Nativity Play.

In the first story, the chubby teenaged Lynette gives birth alone in the cold basement of an abandoned factory, and then leaves her son on the steps of Nonnatus House for the nuns to find.  Her fear of telling her parents and the subsequent urgent search for the birth mother (due to health complications) make for some gripping drama in the midst of the usual Christmas preparations.

In the second story, elderly ragged Mrs. Jenkins (Sheila Reid) is the woman who spent 30 years in the workhouse (until it closed in 1935 – lest we think that these were only a feature of the Victorian era) and whose five children were separated from her and subsequently “failed to thrive”.   I’m sure that my sister, Jenny, was pleased to see that the mystery of the children's fate was solved by Nurse Lee (Jessica Raine) by delving into the records of the workhouse and the birth and death records of the parish to find where they were buried – genealogy is another of her pursuits.

One of the best scenes comes when Nurse Lee and Sister Evangelina (Pam Ferris) visit Mrs. Jenkins to do some primary health care (like trying to take her vital signs and giving her a bath) – the patient is very resistant until Sister Evangelina breaks the ice by breaking wind!  “Where e’er you be, let your wind go free …” says Sister Evangelina and then offers to fart in a different musical key!  Hilarious, and completely unexpected.  The scene then ends with the two health care workers gently disrobing Mrs. Jenkins and giving her a bath and gently washing her hands and back to the strains of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” – this showed the normally gruff Sister Evangelina in a much kinder light than usual and I admit that I shed a tear or two.

Altogether, the stories all plaited together nicely and resolved with a warm Christmas glow.  Perfect!

Big Sister (helping out with the blogging over the holidays!)

Friday, December 28, 2012

10 Most Popular Posts of 2012

#1. Yes, ladies my number one most popular post of the year was the rather attractive and talented Tom Hiddleston. He has quite a following now after an exciting few years starring in The Avengers (Loki), War Horse and Midnight in Paris. He was already on my top 10 list for Miss Austen Regrets and Cranford. You will see much more of this talented actor in the future!

#2. The hunks were ruling this year with Jonny Lee Miller coming in second. He had quite a year as well, with his take on Sherlock Holmes, Elementary, set in NYC with a female Watson (Lucy Liu) doing quite well on CBS. Elementary is absolutely worth seeing, although as you can see from the photo above, he will always be Mr. Knightley to me (but his Edmund Bertram was pretty hot too)!

#3. Again, here we have another cutie. Matthew Macfadyen was wonderful in Anna Karenina in which he was working again with Keira Knightley and Joe Wright from Pride and Prejudice 2005. You will see him again soon in Ripper Street, as a Victorian police detective working on the Jack the Ripper case. I have to say that his role as Sir Felix Carbury in The Way We Live Now is still one of his best, IMHO.

#4. Michael Gambon was my fourth most popular post of 2012. He certainly belongs in my hall of fame with his appearances in Emma, Wives and Daughters, Gosford Park, Cranford, and The King's Speech among many other period drama roles.

#5. Great Expectations 2011/2012: Battle of the Miss Havishams was my 5th most popular blog post. I still can't comment on the Ralph Fiennes/ Helena Bonham Carter version as it has not yet had a wide release in North America. Here's hoping we get to see it in 2013. The miniseries version with Gillian Anderson was very good. Not earth shattering, but very good.

#6. One of my favourite posts of the year was a comparison of Sense and Sensibility 1995 vs 2008. Lots of comments on this post as so many of my readers have a definite opinion on which is the best version! And there was not a consensus of opinion by the way. Just what I was hoping for. A spirited discussion, as both versions are worthy of the designation of "best".

#7.  Although Benedict Cumberbatch was in the public eye for much of this year for his modern day Sherlock series, I prefer him in his many period roles. Although perhaps not in a powdered wig. And yet, the longer I stare at that photo, the hotter he seems to get...
Other films to get your Cumberbatch fix include Atonement, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and War Horse. Yum!

#8.  Happily, Castle Howard was my 8th most popular post of 2012. One of the most wonderful locations for shooting period drama, it is a main character in both Brideshead Revisited versions as well as the brilliant The Buccaneers from 1995. Having been there myself a few years ago, it is well worth the visit.

#9.  Romola Garai is one of the best actresses in England today. The fact that she does lots of period work is very lucky for a fan like me. Emma, Daniel Deronda, Amazing Grace, Atonement, Vanity Fair, I Capture the Castle...the list goes on and on. That reminds me, I still haven't seen her in The Hour. It looks brilliant!

#10.  Last but not least, Helen Mirren gets the nod as my 10th most popular post this year. Well deserved for films such as The Queen, Elizabeth I, The Last Station, Gosford Park and The Passion of Ayn Rand. I can't wait to see her with Anthony Hopkins in Hitchcock.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Bill Paterson- Actor of the Week

I think the first time I saw Bill Paterson was as Sandy opposite Alan Rickman and Juliet Stevenson in the amazing Truly Madly Deeply. That was way back in 1990 and he has been in so many great things since then. A few of his period pieces really stand out.

As Molly Gibson's father Dr. Gibson in Wives and Daughters, Bill Paterson stole many of our hearts. The ultimate firm but loving father, he and Justine Waddell absolutely transport me into their middle class Victorian home. Toasting cheese sandwiches by the fire is possibly my favourite scene between these two wonderful actors.

As another loving but firm father Rupert Potter in Miss Potter, Bill Paterson gets the tone just right again. And those mutton chop whiskers are hilarious. Great chemistry again here, this time with Renee Zellweger.

Well, here he is again in Victorian garb as Mr. Meagles in Little Dorrit. Not a huge role, but a significant one as the father of Pet Meagles, the romantic interest of Arthur Clennam. Always the father of a good looking and sometimes troublesome daughter?

Bill Paterson has also appeared in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The Killing Fields, Amazing Grace, and Hard Times. Did I miss any of your fave Bill Paterson films?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Downton Abbey Season 3 and Call the Midwife Christmas Special

Just in case you have missed the latest PBS membership drive (and DO please donate to keep this series going) Season 3 of Downton Abbey starts on Sunday January 6th, 2013 in North America. If you donate enough, PBS will send you the entire series on DVD before the general release at the end of January. They don't say when it would arrive at your door, but think about it and dig deep to support PBS my friends, whether or not you give enough to get the DVDs. Remember, we get it without commercials. The Brits have to contend with lots of ads on ITV.

I will whet your appetite by telling you that there is a wedding (or two), a tragedy (prepare the tissues please) and some great new characters. In my humble opinion, Shirley MacLaine was just meh, but you will have fun with the new staff downstairs! And the characters you know and love already are going to feel like old friends at the end of this series. So prepare the tea parties now! I think Series 3 is significantly better than Series 2 (I am screening the series early in order to post weekly right after each episode airs).

If you haven't already discovered the lovely ladies of Call the Midwife, do yourself a favour and add the DVDs of Series 1 to your Christmas list. Then you will be able to catch up before Sunday December 30th at 7:30 pm (check local listings), which is when we get the Call the Midwife Christmas Special.

If you have already fallen in love with these angels of the East End of London (circa 1957), then you will be watching with me as we see how Chummy is getting along in married life. I believe she directs the Nativity Play in this episode. Mayhem will inevitably ensue! My big sister will be doing a guest post on this episode on Dec 30th so come here right after you watch it for a re-cap.

So dance along with Trixie, and raise your glasses for a wonderful 2013! Period drama is finally gettin' some respect!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Anna Karenina 2012

I saw Anna Karenina this week with a group of girlfriends. Not having the time to go out afterward for our usual "gab about the film over coffee", I have been mulling it over alone for a few days now.  What did I think of the film? Hmmmm. I find it difficult to answer.

First of all, if you enjoy period drama you should definitely see this film. I can even say that I will purchase this on DVD to have in my collection. But I have to say that I want to see it again more for the spectacle and the costumes and the ingenious set design than for the story.

I will qualify this by saying that I have not read the book Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, touted as one of the best novels of all time. I do however, really want to read the novel now. And I want to see the film again after I have read the book and see if I feel differently about it. That is a recommendation for the film right there isn't it?

The acting is superb. Keira Knightley does an amazing job as Anna Karenina. She is luminous onscreen and her descent into inevitable madness is riveting. Matthew McFadyen is wonderful as Anna's brother. Very odd to see he and Keira Knightley dancing together as brother and sister, having the image of Lizzy and Darcy from Pride and Prejudice 2005 stuck firmly in my head, but he is wonderful as the philandering brother. Jude Law is appropriately cold and detached as Anna's husband Karenin. But I don't think you will be emotionally attached to these characters because there isn't time for character development, even though it clocks in at just over 2 hours long.

But I really did like it. The music was lovely, the costumes were to die for. Oh, the hats and the veils alone are worth the price of admission. And I think that Joe Wright can now be viewed as a singularly talented director. This was a real risk and he pulled it off admirably.

I think my only quibble is the same one I would level at Joe Wright's Pride and Prejudice. These books are just too long to be squeezed into 2 hours. If he could have been given the length of a miniseries to do this, it might have involved me more in the story, as one who knew little of the plot ahead of time. But in the time allotted, this is a truly wonderful film. And if it gets a lot of us to read the book, what more can we ask?

P.S. Try not to be too distracted by the familiar actors from other beloved films. Points to anyone who can spot William the ill fated footman from Downton Abbey in this. Much easier to spot Lady Mary (and Moaning Myrtle and Jane Eyre and Mary Maceachran and Elsie the housemaid and Jane Fairfax and...)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Shop Around The Corner

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that You've Got Mail was a modern remake of The Shop Around The Corner, but I had never seen the original. Now having seen the original I can certainly see why Nora Ephron wanted to rework it. If you have never seen it, do yourself a favour and see where she got her inspiration. Ernst Lubitch directed this adaptation of a Hungarian play by Miklós László called Parfumerie. He left it set in Budapest which in the beginning I thought was very odd, but it is a nice touch actually.

Let me admit at the outset that I have always had a bit of a crush on James Stewart. OK, more than a bit! How can you not adore this gentlemanly character who has just a bit of an edge to him? And can he do sexual tension or what (telephone scene from It's a Wonderful Life)?

So this is now my new fave James Stewart holiday film. I think I need to see it again now actually. And may I say, kudos to TCM for releasing it again in a package with 3 other classics. I have only watched this one and It Happened on 5th Avenue, and I am already thrilled. I still have to watch Christmas in Conneticut and A Christmas Carol with Reginald Owen over the holidays.

Hmm. What else can I say to entice you to watch this over the holidays. Oh, the scene in the coffee shop is adorable and almost exactly copied by Nora Ephron in You've Got Mail. Except that she is holding is Anna Karenina and a carnation instead of Pride and Prejudice and a rose!

(Outside the cafe window where Pirovitch is trying to spot and see Kralik's 'mystery girl')

Pirovitch: She has a cup of coffee. and a piece of cake and..(shocked) KRALIK, SHE'S DUNKING!!
Kralik: Well, why shouldn't she dunk?
Pirovitch: All right, all right.


 Pirovitch: If you don't like Miss Novak I can tell you right now, you're not going to like this girl!

Alfred Kralik: [asking Pirovitch about cost of living for married couple] Suppose a fellow gets an apartment with three rooms. Dining room, bedroom, living room.
Pirovitch: What do you need three rooms for? You live in the bedroom.
Alfred Kralik: Where do you eat?
Pirovitch: In the kitchen. You get a nice big kitchen.
Alfred Kralik: Where do you entertain?
Pirovitch: Entertain? What are you, an ambassador? Who do you want to entertain? Listen listen, if someone is really your friend, he comes after dinner. 

Are you tall? Are you short?
Are your eyes blue? Are they brown?
Don't tell me.
What does it matter, so long as our minds meet?


So, this is my recommendation to brighten up your holidays this year. And watch for Pepi the hilarious errand boy, and Frank Morgan (The Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz) as the shop owner Mr. Matuschek. And you'll be whistling the tune Ochi Tchornya for days!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

My Fair Lady- Will it be remade?

There have been rumours for a few years now of attempts to have My Fair Lady remade. Imagine if you will Hugh Grant or Colin Firth as Henry Higgins. Or Keira Knightley or perhaps Carey Mulligan as Eliza Doolittle. Apparently Emma Thompson is behind it all by writing a new screenplay and if my instincts are correct, she will have a little role in it for herself. Mrs. Higgins, Henry's mother, if I am not mistaken would be the part she would inhabit as she is quite a delightful character who gets to tell Henry what she thinks of him. Although Emma Thompson is much too young for Mrs. Higgins. Perhaps Mrs. Pearce the housekeeper?

So, assuming this is a good idea, what do we think of Colin Firth as Henry Higgins? I think he is too nice to play the self-absorbed professor. You have to be a bit of a misogynist  to play Higgins, don't you? I don't know if Colin Firth has the ability to access that part of his personality. Now Hugh Grant, oddly enough, fits the part a little better. He is a bit of a recluse...self-absorbed...can't commit to a woman... has to be Hugh Laurie, doesn't it? And he can sing and play the piano! Yes!

Who do we have for our dear Eliza Doolittle? She must be able to sing, as we couldn't have any more of that dubbing disaster that poor Audrey Hepburn had to suffer through. And she must be able to do both the accents impeccably. Maybe Carey Mulligan could pull it off. Any ideas? Surely we have seen enough of Keira Knighley lately.

And who do we have in mind for good old Colonel Pickering? I admit I am stumped here. A kindly very proper English gentleman. Who, who, who? Help me out here friends!

Olga from Ottawa gets credit for suggesting that if we have Hugh Laurie as Higgins, we have to have Stephen Fry as the Colonel. Brilliant! I have just posted our suggestions to the IMDb board. Let's hope the producers read the IMDb board for My Fair Lady (????)

Although I said I though Emma Thompson might covet the role of Mrs. Higgins for herself, wouldn't it be wonderful irony to have Julie Andrews play her? I mean, it would only be fair after she was denied the role of Eliza in the original even after she owned the part of Eliza onstage opposite Rex Harrison.

I think I have a good suggestion for Eliza's father Alfred P. Doolittle. Michael Caine would be able to pull of both the accent and be enough of a ham for this juicy role. Yup, that's it!

Now the last thing that I would like to propose is that this not be a musical but be more of a remake of the original Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. I mean, we are almost in 2013 here. Can the public handle a musical almost 50 years after the original? I think if you left the music out, it would be different enough to be a success. Or is the music what people love and it would suck the life out of the story not to have it?

Discuss amongst yourselves and post your opinions below please. I would love to know what you all think!

Did you know that Pygmalion was a figure in Greek mythology who carved a woman out of ivory and then fell in love with her? He apparently asked Venus for a bride who would be "the living likeness of my ivory girl" and the statue came to life when he kissed it.

Also, did you know that the words My Fair Lady do not exist in either the play or the film? It is apparently how Mayfair Lady sounds in a Cockney accent. Mayfair is my fave place in London (v. posh, just north of Green Park and Buckingham Palace) even though my great-grandfather was a Cockney from the East End of London. No wonder I love this story so much!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Pride and Prejudice 1940

It is truly shameful that a blog called The Jane Austen Film Club has not yet had a post on one of the very first Jane Austen adaptations, Pride and Prejudice 1940. Thankfully, Turner Classic Movies had this on last night and I enjoyed it for the umpteenth time. Sir Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson in a Hollywood classic. So here is my post.

Yes, the dresses are wrong. The designers wanted the more photogenic full skirts and mutton leg sleeves of the early Victorian period and so they just changed it. Don't think about it too much, just enjoy the flouncing around.

Also, don't sweat the fact that the story has been truncated and some characters left out entirely as it is only 118 minutes long. There are still 5 sisters, after all. And yes, they rather changed the personality of Lady Catherine at the end but again, just go with it. It was 1940 after all and filmed in Hollywood to boot, during WWII. When you think of it that way, it is a wonderful example of mid 20th Century film.

The odd bit of changed dialogue is actually wonderfully squeal worthy.

Lady Catherine: There's a very fair instrument in the housekeeper's room. You'll disturb no one there.

Elizabeth Bennet: You are really too gracious, Lady Catherine, but I shouldn't care to disturb the housekeeper.

Mrs. Bennet: Mary, Try to sparkle a little.
[Mary grins awkwardly]
Mrs. Bennet: Just a little!

Mrs. Bennet: Three of them married, and the other two just tottering on the brink!

There is much original dialogue in the film however, much more than was in Emma Thompson's Sense and Sensibility, so you may be surprised. And looking at the photo above, this may be heresy to say, but I think I would rather see a colorized version of the film when I see Greer Garson's gorgeous red hair and green dress. Apparently I am not a purist in any sense of the word.

The acting is superb. How can you complain about Olivier and Garson? And the sets are opulent. They just didn't do filming on location back then in Hollywood, so you can't expect it can you?

Just take it as it is, and you will have a lovely romp through one of the first Austen adaptations ever. I may need to see this again now.

P.S. This is a great one to see right after My Week With Marilyn. Kenneth Brannagh deserved his Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Laurence Olivier. Spot on Ken!



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