Secrets of Great British Castles – Season 2

castlesNetflix has added new episodes to this great series with historian Dan Jones.  Season 2 takes you to:

  • Edinburgh Castle
  • Cardiff Castle
  • York Castle
  • Leeds Castle
  • Lancaster Castle
  • Arundel Castle

If you missed Season 1, check out my review.  Great opportunity to visit these formidable fortresses that were places of kings, queens, and intrigue through Irish, English, and Scottish history.

Victoria (ITV 2015 and PBS 2016)

victoria23 Kernels

While researching my own English ancestry, I found this quote from the local newspapers.  It indicates the deep love England held for Victoria at her death in 1901.

“The news of the death of Her Majesty Queen Victoria has brought much grief to the streets of Salford. Strong men could scarce restrain their grief. whilst wives and mothers broke down completely.” 

One hundred and sixteen years later, our fascination with Victoria continues. In fact, let’s face it, we are fascinated by the English kings and queens. To feed our need for more, a new production simply entitled Victoria arrived from across the pond to entice the former British colonies. First shown on ITV in the United Kingdom in 2015, it has finally made its way to PBS Masterpiece Theater.  Woe to us Americans, who must wait months on end to view British television.

For the past few weeks, I have tuned in to see this new version based on the Queen’s life. Unfortunately, I do not share the name “Victoria” since my birth certificate only says “Vicki.”  A part of me always mourned that my parents chose not to give me the full Victoria when baptized. Oh well…enough of that tidbit.

Victoria, the Queen, appears to have captured the imagination of many. Having thoroughly enjoyed the movie, The Young Victoria, which I previously reviewed, I find this version has a different slant to its main characters. Those of us who tuned out world history in high school are now running to Google to put in search terms for Victoria, Albert, and Lord Melbourne so we can read the real stories behind the lavish settings and costumes of this production. Beyond our own research, multiple articles have appeared online about the program and storyline to feed the frenzy. Everything from her marriage to Prince Albert to speculation about her sex life has ended up in the news.  Check out the list below.lord-m

So has this production met our expectations and given to us a satisfying period drama banquet? Since I occasionally stalk the period drama fanatics groups on Facebook, I have surprisingly met mixed reviews from viewers. I would say the majority are enjoying it but there are a few who have yawned from boredom.

On a positive note, women are swooning over Lord M and others are complaining about Albert’s annoying hair that keeps falling into his eyes.  What I find interesting about the Lord Melbourne craze, is that Rufus Sewell has been around for years starring in many productions both in the U.S. and U.K. Put him in a period costume, and the women are losing it over a middle-aged man. The love that Victoria supposedly nurtures for him in this version is by all accounts fiction since she wrote that she considered him more like a father figure. Nevertheless, a little eye candy for the ladies on screen never hurt anything.

Albert arrived on the scene, adding the intrigue of one cousin loving another cousin. Frankly, I cannot wrap my head around love with first cousins. Ever since my own made a sexual pass at me when I was twenty, the thought has somewhat turned me off. Nevertheless, these marriages were commonplace. Regardless of their family relationship, it became the love affair of Victoria’s reign, having given birth to nine children until his death that left her devastated. Not to mention the speculation regarding affairs she held later in life with Mr. Brown. If you are unfamiliar with that story, watch Mrs. Brown, the movie from 1997.

young-victoriaIn comparison to the movie version The Young Victoria and this Victoria, I honestly prefer the shorter versions to get on with the story. To add to the length of this particular production, we have the downstairs staff and their lives and love affairs, along with the upstairs life of the Queen and her court.  Of course, this is season one, and many more seasons are apparently to follow.

The sets and costumes are well done, and the lighting with candles throughout make it feel authentic in the time period. Victoria’s gowns are lavish as well as those by others, and the men are dressed in their finery and golden stitches that make you wish your boyfriend or husband would throw out his blue jeans. PBS posted a video regarding the making of Victoria and the set, which was built in an airport hangar in Yorkshire. You can view it on YouTube.  Pretty impressive.

Jenna Coleman comes across as a very immature, child-like queen playing with dolls, who eventually grows into her role as the monarch with the help of Lord Melbourne.  Albert,  played by Tom Hughes, is far different in personality, appearing inept when it comes to seducing women until he takes notes at a brothel. Frankly, I’ve not witnessed any award-winning performances by anyone yet because the scenes and dialogue do not provide the opportunity. And yes, I have become somewhat bored here and there. Perhaps, as the story continues, the acting will mature as their characters do.

On the other hand, Emily Blunt in The Young Victoria gave a much stronger performance alongside a more confident and capable Albert, played by Rupert Friend. I found this Albert to be more likable. The two portrayals of these historical figures are vastly different in each of these productions.

Regardless of whether you’ve yawned through the series on ITV/PBS or enjoyed it immensely, it serves its purpose for another period drama. As long as we crave these shows about kings and queens from England (occasionally sprinkled with a French monarch), hopefully, ITV, BBC, and whoever else will continue to make the productions to feed our addictions.

2017 will be a terribly busy year with more upcoming seasons of The Crown, Victoria, and the new White Princess on Starz. Let’s not forget Poldark and Outlander to add to that time-travel hangover, as well as a few more period movies hitting the big screens.

As mentioned above, here are the articles.

Victoria: Fact vs. Fiction – Lord Melbourne

Prince Albert: Is ITV Victoria Accurate?

Sex-Loving, Feminist Victoria is Not Your Mother’s Monarch

Toronto Review: Gemma Arterton and Bill Nighy Shine in ‘Their Finest’ | Variety

Lone Scherfig’s “Their Finest” is a relentlessly charming romantic comedy buoyed by Gemma Arterton, Bill Nighy, and Sam Claflin.

Source: Toronto Review: Gemma Arterton and Bill Nighy Shine in ‘Their Finest’ | Variety

Definitely on my watch list!  Another highly rated movie from the Brits.

Z: The Beginning of Everything (Amazon 2017)

zelda4 Kernels

Ready for streaming on Amazon is another well-done series focusing on Zelda Sayre (played by Christina Ricci), the infamous wife of the renown author F. Scott Fitzgerald (played by David Hoflin). This version is based on a book, “Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald” by Therese Anne Fowler. Naturally, I’m fascinated by this story for a variety of reasons.

The period drama begins during World War I when Zelda meets the young and handsome would-be author about to go off to war.  Struggling with his first novel and dealing with rejections, he quickly falls for the southern sweetie with a mind of her own. Zelda, to her father’s disappointment, is not the obedient young daughter he desires, but rather one who is out and about drinking and carousing with the boys in town. She wants to leave the dull southern life and see the lights of the big cities.

Her romance with Fitzgerald is quickly ignited, but he leaves for war. They write and keep in touch, and even after his return to New York, they continue to correspond. When his first book is finally published, “This Side of Paradise,” Fitzgerald is riding high on royalties, and Zelda comes to New York. They quickly marry, and she is drawn into the author’s world of booze and non-stop parties. At first, she struggles to fit in with his friends but remakes herself into the roaring twenties hot flapper that made a name for herself as Fitzgerald’s wife.

The series is well paced, though a bit slow in the beginning as you are introduced to Zelda’s world and family. Ricci has a thick-as-syrup southern accent.  At times she appears physically plain and unattractive, but as she morphs into the daring young lady at her husband’s side in New York City, she gains the attention of everyone, including the press.

If you have ever read about either of their lives, they both had sad endings.  LIFE SPOILER:  Zelda was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent her last years in an asylum where she died in a fire. Fitzgerald, a heavy drinker all of his life, ruined his health with booze, and he dropped dead of a heart attack. Eventually, their marriage ended on the rocks with both having affairs.  Nevertheless, it’s an interesting peek into the lives of a well-known couple who rode the waves of high success because of Fitzgerald’s literary fame. It’s worth the watch and will continue beyond Season One.

While watching Z, I will admit that I am more fascinated with F. Scott Fitzgerald than with Zelda. The story also shows this great author’s extreme weakness and lack of confidence. I am reminded of a quote that Robert DeNiro gave at the Oscars in 2014 introducing the screenplay category.  It’s spot on for some of the greats like Fitzgerald and Hemmingway who struggled with demons and booze in spite of their brilliance.

“The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing. Isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination, consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing, and soul-crushing inadequacy. And that’s on a good day.”

As an author, I’ve never striven to be famous. Instead, I enjoy writing stories for the sheer enjoyment because I cannot stop the addiction. Being single and alone, it also saves me from becoming a cat lady, hoarding junk, and never going out of doors. (Although I do tend to hibernate more than I should on weekends.) As far as the caffeine, procrastination, panic, self-loathing, and soul-crushing inadequacy, I totally relate but stay away from the booze.

V for Vicki

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