Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)

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

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

PBS Update- The Bletchley Circle, Call the Midwife and Mr. Selfridge

I just wanted to give two of these series currently running on PBS a big thumbs up (or a 5 teacup rating, whichever you prefer) and the other one a resounding meh!

The Bletchley Circle is soooooo awesome that ITV can't possibly leave it at just one 3 episode series. Oh, please, please, please make this a recurring series. We need more mysteries solved by these brilliant code cracking females!

If you haven't yet seen this amazing series, you were able to catch up online at the PBS website: The Bletchley Circle until they took the first episode down, the stinkers.

Someone has uploaded all three episodes to YouTube. The link is here: YouTubeBletchley. Enjoy it while it lasts!

My other 5 teacup rating goes to the second season of Call the Midwife. I was a bit skeptical of whether the BBC could keep up the amazing quality of the first season but wow, they sure have. One really gets the feel of the emerging improvements in medical care in the second half of the 20th century when you watch this show. And it always seems to make me cry and yet not seem depressing somehow. I gotta read the book when this series finishes!

Just be careful when you are watching this. Inevitably, someone either male or under the age of 18 will walk into the room just as you are watching a delivery with the midwife between the poor mother's legs!!!!

Haven't been following? Catch up here: Call the Midwife Season 2

So here comes my lukewarm assessment of Mr. Selfridge. It's okayyyyyyyyy....

Two and a half teacups (with the tea running out of the half cup)? I have been watching it. I haven't been enthralled or enthusiastic but I leave it on after Call the Midwife. A friend of mine used to work out in the same gym as Jeremy Piven and described him as "very small and squirrely".  Perhaps that is part of it but the scripts must be at least partly to blame. I love the main character Agnes Towler (played by the marvelously named Aisling Loftus) and Frances O'Connor is her usual luminous self as Harry Selfridge's wife Rose.

I will give it a few more weeks however as I did enjoy the latest installment with the Suffragettes. They are dear to my heart and you will find my post devoted to the Suffragettes here: Mary Poppins and the Suffragettes.

What do y'all think of these three PBS series?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Bletchley Circle starts Sunday April 21 on PBS

The Bletchley Circle is a brilliant period mystery drama series airing on PBS starting Sunday April 21 at 10 o'clock and continuing each of the following 2 Sunday nights.

It follows four highly intelligent women who were code breakers working at Bletchley Park decrypting codes and ciphers (most importantly those generated by the German Enigma and Lorenz machines). These women were recruited either through networks at the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Aberdeen or through newspaper contests asking to hear from people good at puzzles and crosswords. Little did they know they would be changing the course of the war.

Already awesome, right?

But just as we are finding out how supremely talented these women were, we jump ahead 8 years to 1952 and we find out that not only are they all leading boring pedestrian lives, but because of the National Secrets Act none of their friends and family are aware that they did anything more than clerical work during the war.

Anna Maxwell Martin (I love her!) plays the main character Susan, married to a nice steady bloke with a government job and is raising two lovely little children. She is happy incredibly bored!

Susan has been tracking the trail left by a serial killer, trying to find the pattern of his killings and thereby help the police with their investigation using only information from the radio and newspaper.

She soon finds out that she is over her head and decides to enlist her friends from Bletchley who each have a particular gift so they can put their heads together. Lucy (Sophie Rundle) has a photographic memory and can recall things like she has a computer in her head.

Mousy Jean (Julie Graham) is working in a library but has access to people who can get her the information they need. They don't publish everything in the newspapers you know!

Rachel Stirling plays Millie the tarty waitress who traveled the world before she ran out of money and has an affinity for maps. I love this story, I love these women and I can't wait to find out how it ends. If you missed this episode you will be able to catch up on PBS Masterpiece.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Regency House Party 2004

After writing about my pitch for a Regency reality show last week I had a few wonderful readers tell me it had already been done. So of course I had to check out Regency House Party. In fact, I lost a good part of my day off yesterday to this show which is posted in bite sized 10 minute chunks on YouTube.

This show is a sort of Regency dating game, a period version of Big Brother I suppose, and although no one gets voted off, 10 UK singletons commit to try to find their match over 9 weeks of filming. Billed as "12 footman, 17 maids, 32 chamber pots, 20 suckling pigs and 10,000 candles", Regency House Party was made by Channel 4/Wall to Wall productions who previously brought us The 1900 House, The 1940s House and The Edwardian Country House. I watched and loved all of these when they came out except for Regency House Party. How did I miss this???!!!

Filmed at the gorgeous Kentchurch Court in Herefordshire, the owners traded a refurbishment for use of the building during the summer of 2003 for filming. It was a wonderful choice as I can absolutely picture Elizabeth Bennet walking 3 miles to visit her sister Jane in one of the well appointed bedrooms.

Overall it was very well done. There were some class distinction problems at the beginning which will seem strange to we non Brits. It is amazing to me that a wealthy businesswoman with a lower class accent could feel inferior to a supposed Russian Countess who is working as a barmaid, but there you are. The football loving hairdresser gets so freaked out by the upper class boys that he leaves early. Too bad, as he was great!

Basically, the men have way more fun than the women, who have to adapt to restrictive rules from their chaperones and end up hanging out of windows or hiding in bushes to watch the men having fun out of doors. You can see everyone slowly adapt to the quieter life although every time the producers liven things up with a visiting musician or amateur theatrical the participants eat it up as if starved for any kind of diversion. Pretty realistic there, I would think!

It was a bit heavy on the dating drama (my fave relationship was with the lowliest female and the Hermit living in the woods!) as I would have liked some more details on the day to day realities. The participants seem to know that the relationships formed in this setting are fairy tale and temporary, except for the "clergyman" (a teacher in real life) who falls for someone he wasn't supposed to. He takes it really hard!

The Mr. Darcy/Mr. Bingley type host has to do some unrealistic mediation between the females (involving some of the older female chaperones) and looks quite disgusted with the bickering. A real Regency gentleman would have been outside learning the pugilistic arts with his male guests but the poor guy shames the ladies into behaving again.

Overall, a thoroughly entertaining show. I am sure my sister will be watching this on YouTube at lunchtime today and for the rest of the week! I still think there is room for another show of this type, without the dating drama. What do you all think?

P.S. Kentchurch Court seems to have ongoing financial problems even after the "free" refurbishment as they were recently featured on Country House Rescue, also done by Channel 4.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

My Reality TV Pitch- The REAL Austenland!

Who else thinks they would like to spend a bit of time in a REAL Austenland? You know, go to England, and truly immerse yourself in the day to day "reality" of life 200 years ago. I would love to and I rather think that you would too. But how costly would it be to make a theme park and who could afford to go there? So here is my pitch to BBC or ITV or whoever has the ability to make this happen.

Take your basic English country house. You know the type. Somewhere we would love to poke around in and be genteel for a week or two at least. Then add two or three females who have serious Darcy crushes (and who we can relate to as surrogates for our experience). Give them wardrobes, a ladies maid and a staff of however many it took to run a place like this in the 19th century. And then film them as they go through the day as Elizabeth Bennet would have.

And let it be truly realistic. Take away their smart phones, lace them into corsets, give them only the toiletries that a well heeled Regency lady would have had and let the cameras roll.

Let them use the facilities available for the time (OK, turn the cameras off at this point) so that we can see how it REALLY was. Candles and fires for evening light only. Books and pianoforte as the only entertainment other than walks and morning visits and games of whist. Mutton for dinner. Bring it on BBC!!!

Sooo...we could just leave it there. I mean, there would be plenty for the historians to show us about our misconceptions about how lovely the life of a genteel lady in Regency England would be. And I would love to hear how a modern woman feels like a fish out of water when transplanted a century or two. I think most of us would really enjoy Austenland but then we'd like to come home and have our smartphones and our beauty products back!

But what if we then showed these Darcy-holic women (not so very unlike ourselves) what the life of an average English woman was like? Perhaps the wife or daughter of a coal or tin miner who has to scrape by and make a small wage stretch a long way.

Show them the cooking and cleaning and marketing and gardening involved in the Regency or Victorian life of most of our non-artistocratic ancestors. I don't know about you but I don't have anyone resembling Elizabeth Bennet in my family tree. My ancestors were more like characters out of Oliver Twist or Mary Barton!

And I wouldn't want to see this through the eyes of the ever cheerful and vastly freckled Ruth Goodman, who seems thrilled to scour floors on her hands and knees and milk cows and then make her own cheese/butter/cake/whatever with plenty of energy to spare. Nooooo, that's not what I want to see (I have already watched Victorian Farm, Edwardian Farm, Victorian Pharmacy and Wartime Farm, so I know this lady cannot be worn down).

No, I want the reality TV version where a few soft 21st Century females are left weeping over laundry day, knowing that they still have to feed a family of 8 at the end of the day and weed the garden, and do the marketing before the day is done so she can then roll up her sleeves to wash up the dishes! I want to vicariously experience the dishpan hands and the communal outhouse behind the cottage!

Actually, as long as the working class families had enough to eat, they were probably just as happy as the upper class members of society...just a bit more tired at the end of the day I suppose. But I would miss my dishwasher and my computer a lot more if I were transplanted into the Austenland of my actual ancestors. No aristocracy in my family tree!

Am I alone in wanting to see this? I hope not! But the question is, what will the BBC say to my pitch? Please let me know what you think before I try to figure out who to send my idea to!


Thanks to the person who suggested that what I was pitching sounded like Regency House Party from 2004. I have already lost a few hours watching it on YouTube. Link is here, but beware. Very addictive!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

My Life So Far 1999

My Life So Far is a little gem of a film which had entirely escaped my notice until this week. The story of a boy growing up in Scotland between the World Wars it stars unknown child actor Robert Norman as Fraser Pettigrew and Colin Firth as his devout and eccentric inventor father.

It is a coming of age story for the young boy and a lesson in humanity for his father, done with sensitivity and a good sense of humour.

Imagine a gorgeous country house in rural Scotland, by a beautiful Loch and then a quirky family as seen through the eyes of a 10 year old boy. A beautiful 24 year old French cellist arrives as the fiance of Fraser's uncle and that stirs things up a bit in the household.

There is a bit of adult content in this film, as Fraser finds his grandfather's stash of "girlie pictures" and books which explain things that pre-adolescent boys want to know, but their fathers aren't comfortable communicating. may not want to watch this with the younguns, unless you want to answer some uncomfortable questions. But it is quite hilarious!

So if you want a sweet quirky film with a truly great ending, you'll love this one. And off I go on my quest to find other period films in need of rediscovering. Until something new comes out anyway!


P.S. This film is based on the memoirs of British television executive Denis Forman under the title of either Son of Adam or My Life So Far but unfortunately they both seem to be out of print.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain 1995

The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain is a film I haven't seen since it was released in 1995. I probably rented this one on VHS at the time from the local video store as I was tied down with a toddler and a preschooler in 1995. It's actually much better than I remembered!

It is the fictional story of a couple of cartographers who are mapping for the Ordnance Survey of Britain in 1917. The elder one is George Garrard  (Ian McNeice), a pompous old curmudgeon. The younger one is Reginald Anson (Hugh Grant) who is back from the trenches of France, slightly the worse for wear.

This unlikely duo stumble into a charming Welsh village with the task of mapping the hill in the town to see if it is above 1000 feet thereby qualifying as a mountain. The local claim to fame of the town is that it has the first mountain in Wales (across the English border) so there is a lot at stake when the map men come to town.

Tara Fitzgerald plays Betty, the local Welsh beauty whose job it is to keep young Reginald in town for a few extra days.

Colm Meaney plays the local pub owner and non believer Morgan the Goat, who apparently is responsible for the rash of ginger haired babies in the village.

Morgan constantly locks horns with the local Vicar, Reverend Jones played brilliantly by Kenneth Griffith, who you may recognize as the mad old man at the first wedding of Four Weddings and a Funeral. You remember;

Charles: How do you do, my name is Charles.
Old man: Don't be ridiculous, Charles died 20 years ago!
Charles: Must be a different Charles, I think.
Old man: Are you telling me I don't know my own brother?
Charles: No, no.

So if you are in the mood for a sweet film set in Wales in the early part of the last century, this is your film. It has a happy ending (I love happy endings) so this is a great one for these grey days waiting for spring to finally arrive. There are still flurries in Canada today, so this one was great to watch last weekend!

Cheers! Here's hoping spring has already arrived where you are.



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