Midsomer Murders: Why viewers love to see posh people committing crimes.

 

Midsomer Murders is an enduring hit because it is fun to see upper middle-class people kill one another, according to the show’s star.

Source: Midsomer Murders: why viewers love to see posh people committing crimes

The Lady in the Van (2015 Movie)

MrsMiracle_DVD_Sleeve3 Kernels

Let me preface this review by stating that the British do make quirky movies.  You can put The Lady in the Van into the very quirky category.  Believe it or not, it’s a true story that had been told previously in a book form and on stage.  Alan Bennett, the author, tells of his relationship with the homeless (except for her van) Mary Shepherd. Wonderful and talented Maggie Smith has played this role both on stage and film.

The story centers around an elderly woman who drives a dilapidated van. She favors Alan’s neighborhood and moves the van from house to house early in her arrival.  The neighbors tolerate her presence and attempt to be kind, offering her food and the like, but she’s undoubtedly the most cantankerous old lady you’ll meet.

Alan is a bit of an oddball himself in this story.  He’s a playwright by trade, and you see him much of the time writing about this fifteen-year experience with Mary (or maybe it’s Margaret – nobody is sure).  In his own oddball way, he has a double of himself in the storyline – the one who lives life – the other who writes about life. Alan is also dealing with his aging mother as the story unfolds.

Mary Shepherd is an interesting character herself, having lived in her youth as a gifted pianist. Twice she attempts to become a nun but the church doesn’t believe she’s nun material. When an accident happens in her van years before, she is plagued with the belief that she had killed someone. The guilt sends her down a spiral hole of despair from which she never recovers.

Lady in a Van is an interesting character study, set in a very small portion of London with occasional visits elsewhere. There is plenty of screen time with her van that eventually ends up parked in Alan’s driveway for the period of fifteen years. Maggie Smith’s costumes consist of filthy clothing and a pigsty of a location, but she shines as usual with her talent.  You may, however, find the role a bit shocking and beneath her abilities from the grand Dowager Countess of Downton Abbey to a grungy, grumpy, and stinky old lady. However, since Maggie has owned this role in the past on stage, I dare say she was the only one to do it justice on film.

In the end, it’s the story of where life can take an individual. As an elderly woman, she appears to have no more worth than the rags she wears. Nevertheless, underneath all the filth is a woman who was once revered and applauded.

Vanity Fair (2018 ITV Television Series)

3 Kernels

(but throwing my tub of popcorn at Becky Sharp)

Vanity Fair, a classic story written by William Makepeace Thackeray in 1847-48, is back on the screen…again…as a TV mini-series, now streaming on Amazon Prime. This production is an ITV and Amazon Studios remake that includes seven parts.

Let’s be clear. This story has been portrayed in film and television more times than you can change your channel.  Film versions: 1915, 1922, 1923, 1932, 1935, and 2004. Television versions: 1967, 1987, 1998, and 2018.  I ask you, did we really need another remake?

To be honest, I find no fault in this production as it is lavish and well-acted. They’ve gone to great lengths on settings, war scenes, costumes, and outrageous hats to make this appear authentic to the time period.

Nevertheless, the character of Becky Sharp, in my opinion, doesn’t need to be memorialized again on screen. By the end of the story, I’ve had enough of this selfish, soulless, money hungry, and unempathetic woman as one can stomach. Having to watch her seven hours is pure torture.  I find Becky Sharp as annoying as Lily Langtry when it comes to female leads in a book or film production.  If you haven’t watched Lillie a 1978 TV series production, you’re missing out on another interesting female climbing the social ladder in English society who by the end of the story you grow to despise.

Okay, so putting aside my dislike of the main character, I cannot fault this new series to any great extent.  The storyline, if you know nothing about the infamous Becky Sharp, is about a poor woman who is determined to climb the ladder of success through hook or crook.  She hooks her victims, hoards her money, takes advantage of others to their financial ruin, and cares nothing deeply for the human beings around her to any great extent.

The characters in the story make their fortunes, lose their fortunes, die of strokes and heart attacks, and leave to their wealth and inheritance to the next person. Of course, what makes Becky tick as a human being is somewhat understandable. Orphaned at an early age, with an art teacher as a father and dancer as her mother, she hasn’t had the best of life so far. She suggests to her best friend in one of the last scenes she became a woman at eight years of age. Naturally, you do try to find a bit of sympathy for her plight that has her turned her into such a cold-hearted, money-hungry creature, filled with vanity. 

Having seen the 2004 Movie with Reese Witherspoon, I thought the runtime of 141 minutes was enough of Becky for me to get the picture.  Any screentime with James Purefoy is worth the watch as he looked especially dapper in his English military uniform as Captain Crawley.

If you’ve not seen any Vanity Fair renditions, I would recommend you tune into this longer version.  Should the idea of watching seven, forty-seven-minute episodes (or 5.48 hours) of Becky Sharp’s personality rubbing you the wrong way, check out the movie version instead.

 

Mary, Queen of Scots (Movie 2018)

3 Kernels

When the trailer first came out, I felt excited to see this movie.  Upon its release and some of the not too stellar reviews and often complaints about historical inaccuracies, my enthusiasm didn’t lessen.  After all, as an author, I’ve taken my own creative liberties, if you will, in some of my historical and gothic romance books.

Let me preface this by saying the movie is full of stars you may not recognize underneath their hair and beards. Nevertheless, besides the leading ladies who play the queens (Saoirse Ronan as Mary Stuart and Margot Robbie as Queen Elizabeth I), are a bunch of favorites such as David Tennant, Brendan Coyle (fka Mr. Bates from Downton), Guy Pearce, Martin Compston (who you may know from Line of Duty aka Steve Arnott), any many others are hiding behind facial hair unrecognizable. A few oddities in the series are characters who are African American and Asian, which appear out of place in the court of the queens for that time period.

As far as the movie goes, for me, it does have its problems. One point that rubbed me the wrong way after watching portrayals of Elizabeth I by Cate Blanchett is an entirely different spin on the personality traits of the English queen. Unlike other works, Margot Robbie is given the role of a queen who is full of self-doubt and low self-esteem as she compares herself to her cousin Mary and almost idolizes her throughout the story. In her mind, Mary is strong, beautiful, and everything she is not, which frankly just doesn’t sit well with me. Eventually, when they meet, she comes to some sort of epiphany, but it’s only because Mary thinks Elizabeth is her inferior.

Mary, of course, is what one might expect after seeing the previews. She’s strong-willed, independent, but unfortunately is unwelcome in the world she has returned to from France. At every turn, her Catholic background and intents on running Scotland as Queen are ruined by the men around her and the poor choice of a second husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley (marrying those cousins again) and then being forced after her husband is murdered to marry Lord Bothwell.  It’s a twisted mess, frankly, of the male domination pushed by her brother who had been running the country in her absence.

Well, I won’t go into historical detail.  You can Google the rest but don’t rely too heavily upon the movie since it was said that Mary and Elizabeth never met later in life. I’ve read they did meet when they were children but not as adults, and some say they never met at all.  A point still debated.

The setting is gorgeous (apparently filmed in the UK and Scotland), and the costumes interesting with an odd choice of fabrics (denim).  A few close-ups of the dresses and men’s clothing looked perfectly stitched by machine. You might enjoy this article from FrockFlicks having a good snark at the hair and costumes. I didn’t quite get Mary’s odd choice of earrings – both different from one another or Elizabeth’s shoddy jewelry at times. The men, of course, look quite dapper in their outfits of the day.  Something about those jackets they wear makes them so attractive.  The actresses who portrayed the queens did well in their parts, even if I didn’t agree with the weak Elizabeth characterization.

At times, I found the movie sluggish, the changes between scenes jumpy, and the storyline a bit choppy and confusing if you don’t know your history and what exactly is going on.  I wanted to like the movie more than I did, frankly, so I’m only going to throw three kernels at the screen for this one, having left with a feeling of “meh.”

Oh, and though Mary has her head on the block at the end, they do at least spare you the gory details of the execution.

%d bloggers like this: