Author: Admin

English on my mother's side - Russian on my father's. I'm a lethal combination of drama and tragedy when I write.

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)

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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.

Maximilian and Marie deBourgogne (2017)

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Currently streaming on Starz is a spectacular series in six parts entitled Maximilian and Marie de Bourgogne.  It’s a German-Austrian co-production that I found extremely well done for a period piece, not at all minding the German and French spoken throughout with English subtitles. The story is engrossing enough to keep you glued to the dialogue as you are immersed in another time in history: 1477.  Dust off your history books, because if you’re like me you’ll be glad to know this storyline does a good job of keeping to the historical facts.  To add to the authenticity of this period drama are the sets and costumes that are well done, as well as the musical score.

The story centers around two key players in the chessboard of the fifteenth-century politics in Europe. Marie is the daughter of Charles the Bold, the Duke of Burgundy, who is killed in battle by the French. With no male heir, Marie is made duchess. However, Burgundy is a male fiefdom and from day one she becomes the pawn of those in power in Burgundy and France, each attempting to wield their political maneuvers. She is encouraged to marry the Dauphin of France, who is a mere boy, as France wants Burgandy back in its power.

Then, in a faraway land of Austria, resides Maximilian, the son of the Holy Roman Emperor.  He is encouraged to wed Marie but balks at the idea until circumstances finally lead him to Burgundy.  Like a knight in shining armor, with integrity and purpose, he comes to save the day.  The series is a sweeping story of war, politics, and endearing love between two young people. Unfortunately, in real life, and portrayed with such emotion it made me cry at the end, their happiness is ended by tragedy.

I think what I liked about this series is the wonderful job the two leads did, emotionally portraying these historical characters learning to rule.  Many of the children of the main monarchs in this tale — France and Austria are merely pawns of their parents in arranged marriages to other kingdoms.

Anyway, highly recommend if you have Starz.  If not, you can get it on Amazon for $8.95 a month or purchase each episode for $2.99.  It’s worth just paying $8.95 to watch the six episodes and then you can cancel.

There are a few sex scenes but tame compared to Outlander’s first two seasons. Also, it’s a brutal time of war and torture so you may see some unsettling scenes but it’s not overly graphic and gory.

Oh, and as a matter of trivia, Queen Elizabeth II is a descendant of Maximillian, which makes his character even more interesting.

Christmas Movies 2018

Thankfully, I don’t have the Hallmark channel.  Only Netflix and ION television are putting Christmas movies in my path.  I’ve watched a few this year, so here it goes.  No doubt I’ll post again with more to come as I waste precious time I should be using to write.

PotterThe first one makes me wonder if I have a sick sense of humor since the poor movie received 0% on the tomato meter of Rotten Tomatoes. I apparently enjoyed the odd story but must have missed it last year.  It came out in 2007 and is streaming on Netflix.

Pottersville is the story of Maynard, a down-to-earth regular nice guy, whose wife is into an absolutely absurd, crazy, a kinky outlet.  You’ll have to see it to believe it.  When he discovers his wife with another man, he goes on a drinking binge and decides to dress up in a costume that makes him look like a hairy monster.  With a gorilla head, paws with claws, and a fuzzy body, he runs around the town. The next day, reports come in that people saw Bigfoot.  Of course, one sighting of Bigfoot, and the entire town goes bonkers and descends into Bigfoot mania.

Maynard really wants to tell the truth that it’s him behind the mask, but when he sees the outcome of his drunken night and how the town has come alive, he keeps it a secret.  I don’t know what it was about this movie, but I thought it cute and had a few good laughs.  Not much in the way of romance. Some parts are just stupid, I’ll admit.  Well, at least 53% of the Rotten Tomatoes audience liked it.

***

Okay, ladies, back to princes.  Netflix has a sequel to A Christmas Prince.  It’s A Christmas Prince: The Royal cristmas princeWedding.  It continues the story from last year.  The prince is now king since his father died.  It focuses mainly on Amber’s return to Aldovia, with her father in tow, before the wedding and her acclimation to becoming the queen.

Everyone attempts to mold her into the royal protocol and ways of doing things, while she comes kicking and screaming along the way.  Richard, her husband to be, is awfully busy with affairs of state, dealing with a country in debt and nothing working as it should.  The evil cousin returns but he’s not so bad this time.

It’s the usual fluff.  Can’t say I was overwhelmed by the story though Netflix users seem to be piling on five stars.

***

Swtcih

Your next royal movie (le sigh), The Princess Switch.  It’s another overused trope – two lookalikes who switch places.  The commoner, Margaret, in this switcharoo is a baker from Chicago who owns her own bakery.  The royalty, duchess of Montenaro, is betrothed in an arranged marriage to a prince.  Vanessa Hudgens plays the parts, doing quite well from speaking in a haughty poss-English accent to a down-to-earth woman who loves to bake.

Same old story.  Gee, let’s switch places.  The duchess wants a moment to see what life is like on the other side, while Margaret had always dreamed of her prince charming.  Of course, each enjoys their new roles in life and each fall in love with the individuals they should not.

It’s a fairly enjoyable movie but overly similar to so many others that use this story, which creates a tad bit of boredom and yawning.

I also watched the Christmas Crush on Netflix that came out in 2012.  Didn’t finish it.  Oh, my gosh, so over the top with four girls who attend a high school winter reunion ten years later.  Spare me.  If you hated high school, you’ll hate this one.

Another I used the fast-forward button on repeatedly and didn’t finish, Christmas Wedding Planner, on Netflix, came out in 2017.

That’s it for now!

 

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